Authors: Karen Rose Smith
In Linc's bedroom with the door closed, Jake said, "She's upset."
"Do you think I don't
that?" Linc asked almost angrily.
"Whoa! You've got to keep a cool head. You know that. This isn't like you."
No, this wasn't like him at all. He felt as if he'd tumbled down the proverbial rabbit hole and couldn't figure which way was out...or if he even wanted to get out. He blew out one very long breath, rubbed the back of his neck and asked his friend, "What's Gillian holding back?"
"I don't know that she is."
"Oh, yes, you do. You've been around her a lot more than I have and I know she's not telling us something."
"Maybe she doesn't feel it's time."
"I know what Emma is imagining. Someone is holding Paige and doing terrible things to her. We have to figure this out and fast."
"You sound as if you have a plan."
"I do. I want you to tail Levine tonight."
"What if he stays in all night watching TV?"
"Not likely from his posts on his
page. He seems to favor private clubs. You know that as well as I do. I want him out and about alone, someplace where I can approach him."
"Linc, I don't think this is a good idea."
"I think I can get through to him. I've gotten to know Emma, and if he cares at all about Paige, he might care about her sister, too."
"And what if he's mixed up in something shady?"
"Then you'll have my back. I'm not carrying. I guess you are."
Jake's lack of response told him he was right.
"Tail him and then call me. I'm not leaving San Diego without answers."
Jake's eyes were worried. "I hope you know what you're doing because if you mess this up, Emma's never going to forgive you."
If he messed this up...he was never going to forgive himself.
After Jake and Gillian left Linc's suite, Emma called Becky. She couldn't wait to talk to her daughter, though she was concerned Becky would want her there, not here, and she'd feel even more torn up than she felt now.
But Becky seemed to be having a blast with Maris. "We went for ice cream, watched Barbie and had hot dogs with French fries!"
Becky's enthusiasm buoyed Emma and she was so relieved that her daughter didn't seem to miss her. "So what are you and Maris going to do tonight?"
"Look at my American Girl doll book."
Becky had wanted an American Girl doll for the past few months, but the expense wasn't something Emma could justify. By Christmas the doll might be a possibility. "Then what?" Emma prompted.
"Read ten books and count stars."
Counting the stars was Becky's favorite bedtime ritual. Usually by the time they'd counted twenty or so, her daughter's eyes were already closed.
"Sounds like a plan. If you keep busy with Maris, I might be home before you know it. I'll call you again in the morning, and maybe we can have breakfast together, long distance style. You can slurp your cereal while I eat my toast. Okay?"
"I love you, honey."
"Love you, too. Here's Maris."
After Emma spoke to Maris for a few minutes, she told her she'd call her the following day to give her an update.
Linc was standing at the counter, holding a mug of coffee. During their meal, his gaze had been on her more than it wasn't. She'd eaten because she knew that was best. But she'd kept out of the conversation with Jake and Gillian for the most part. She'd been frustrated with Linc, his attitude and everything that wasn't happening. He knew it. She knew he wasn't the type of man to just let it pass.
She supposed that was a good thing because Barrett had let so many things pass him by. Especially their daughter and watching her grow up as she learned new things about her world and about herself each day. Emma hadn't minded his absence so much for herself. And she supposed now that that fact was telling. But she had minded for Becky's sake.
Emma set her cell phone on the table by the sofa, gearing up for another round with Linc. One way or another, she was going to be kept in the loop.
Trying to keep the tension between them to a minimum, she went to the refrigerator for a bottle of water. Zack had told her to stay away from caffeine. He'd called her with her blood work results before they'd left. Everything had checked out that her tests were normal. She just needed to follow his advice and take better care of herself.
After she plucked a water bottle from the fridge, she unscrewed the lid. She took a few swallows, eyed Linc and asked him, "So are you going to tell me what you and Jake discussed?"
She plopped the bottle down on the counter, turned and headed for her bedroom before she said something she'd regret. Or heard something she didn't want to hear.
But Linc had apparently been prepared for her reaction. He stepped in front of her and wouldn't let her pass. "Jake is handling it. He's going to give me a call later, and I might have to go out. That's all you need to know."
He was six feet two of imposing male. Dressed in khakis and an oxford shirt with the sleeves rolled up his forearms, she felt that ever-present pull of attraction even as they went toe to toe. That chemistry between them made her even more frustrated.
"What gives you the right to tell me what I need to know?" she demanded.
gives me the right."
Before she had time to blink, he'd pulled her into his arms and his lips came down on hers...hard and possessive...as if this kiss would be the answer to everything. Fleetingly she thought of yanking away. But maybe she'd find answers here.
With the feel of his shirt rough against her palms, erotic twinges rushed through her body. That happened whenever she was near Linc. The taste of coffee on his tongue built up all her sensual anticipation. She became fully aware that even though she might not find answers in Linc's arms, she did need an escape from everything that was happening. He was providing her with one.
Before, Linc's kisses had been passionate, but restrained. There was no restraint tonight in his raw hunger. Because they were alone? Or simply because he was tired of holding his desire in check? Tired of letting her freeze him out? Tired of ignoring the obvious chemistry between them?
Everything that had happened between them until now had been heightened by emotions running amuck. How could she figure out what she was feeling for him when her whole world had turned upside down? Right now, Linc wasn't helping that feeling. In fact he was intensifying it a hundredfold. And at this moment, she was letting him.
Suddenly Linc broke off the kiss, put a little space between them and held onto her shoulders. She was aware of his strong muscled forearms. Everything about Linc was strong...including his resolve and his determination to get what he wanted. Yet he possessed an integrity she hadn't experienced with many men.
"If this isn't what you want, I'll go into my bedroom and lock the door. You're safe here with me, Emma. I'm not going to cajole you into something you don't want."
Oh, how she wanted. Those green eyes, that thick dark hair, the slight cleft in his jaw that any woman would want to touch told her a night in his arms could be heaven. Didn't she need heaven right now? Didn't they both?
Feeling a little like Cinderella without a fairy godmother—this man was powerful, rich and full of confidence as he figuratively swept her off her feet—she succumbed to the attraction she'd felt from the first day she'd met him. "Make me forget, Linc. Just make me forget."
With a groan that said he was more than willing, he enfolded her into his arms again, beginning another kiss that could lead them straight to his bedroom. The problem was—they didn't make it to the bedroom.
Their kiss took fire fittingly enough in front of the gas fireplace. His fingers fumbled with her blouse buttons as hers tried to separate the plackets of his shirt. Neither wanted to put a stop to the passion as they kissed. So they grappled with material, popped buttons, and hungrily mated their tongues in kisses that fueled their desire.
Finally his hands were on her bare midriff and hers sifted through his chest hair.
Yes, she wanted to escape. Yes, she wanted to go someplace with Linc she'd never been. How did she know it was possible with him? She just knew. His touch electrified her and made her body tremble in anticipation. Her touch? She couldn't tell exactly how it was affecting him, though he seemed hungry to have her, hungry to rush ahead. Yet hungry to pleasure her, too.
Linc Granger wasn't all about taking his pleasure then falling asleep. He was all about mutual satisfaction.
Her clothes lay strewn across the floor first, but his swiftly followed. Soon they were kneeling before each other on the carpet, fingers in each other's hair, their kisses angling for the finest taste, the most fervent exploration, the deepest kiss. She barely registered her nakedness, the carpet beneath her, the glow from the fireplace. Linc came to her with an urgency she felt, too. They only had this moment in time. Then it would vanish.
She opened her arms to him and wondered what was wrong when he hesitated. But he didn't say a word, just grabbed for his khakis, took a wallet from his pocket and something from there. A condom. He was prepared with a condom. It happened so fast and only took a few seconds. Then he was back, kissing her again, touching her, making her believe she was the only woman in his universe.
When he entered her, she welcomed him. Each thrust pushed her into more glorious sensations...more physical satisfaction than she'd ever known. When she wrapped her legs around his hips, she'd never felt a more perfect union. Her climax shook her body and tumbled her into sensations she'd only ever fantasized about. Linc's release came as she still trembled around him...still held on tight.
With world-shattering intensity she realized she'd fallen in love!
Emma awakened a few hours later, cuddled into Linc's shoulder in his king-sized bed. He'd carried her here, brushed her damp hair from her eyes and then they'd started all over again. They'd touched and satisfied and dozed until she'd forgotten where she was and why she was here. Maybe that had been his purpose. She only knew she'd gotten lost in him.
Something had roused her from sleep and she realized Linc was reaching for his cell phone. He must have put it on the night stand. After kissing her brow, he lifted it to his ear. He listened for a few moments, then said, "I'll be there in fifteen minutes," and clicked off.
Disentangling himself from her, he said, "I have to go out."
"Where?" She realized she was as worried about his safety as much as learning more about her sister.
"We've been through this, Emma. I'll be back as soon as I can. If you need anything, call Gillian. Or the main desk. Ask for the manager. He and I go way back."
"Call Gillian, not Jake? Is he going to be with you?"
When Linc climbed out of bed, Emma couldn't help but admire the good shape he was in—magnificent shape. He was so long-waisted with a flat stomach and slim hips, powerful looking athletic legs. Was he a runner? She didn't even know. Yet she'd slept with him. She'd fallen in love with him.
...And he'd pulled a condom from his pocket as if it was an everyday occurrence.
"What's the matter?" he asked. "Besides the fact I won't tell you what you want to know."
He sat on the edge of the bed and cupped her chin in his palm. "Liar. I know you, Emma."
"Do you? Do I know you?"
"Where's this coming from? Do you have regrets?"
There was no indication in his voice whether he did or not. And that was part of the problem. What was he feeling?
"I've never had a one-night stand before."
His face still remained neutral though his jaw tightened a little. She wanted to punch his chest and ask—
Didn't the past few hours mean anything to you?
"What makes you think this was a one-night stand?"
"Wasn't it? You had condoms in your wallet...as if you do this all the time!"
"You would have preferred I didn't protect you? Protect us?"
"That's not my point," she said quietly. "You're the type of man who usually gets what he wants. Tonight you wanted me. I wanted you, too. And I wanted to escape." Her voice cracked on the last word. "But I have a daughter to think of. You have a life that doesn't usually include single moms and their children."
"So much for Google," he said with a shake of his head and a snort of disapproval. "Do you want to know why I don't date a woman more than a few times? And I don't give paparazzi a shot of my personal life if I can help it? I'll tell you. In my last
relationship, the woman I thought I was going to marry had an abortion without telling me."
Emma felt her heart lurch. "Linc—"
"So, yes, I make sure I carry condoms. I'm making sure an accidental pregnancy doesn't ever happen again."