Read Always Devoted Online

Authors: Karen Rose Smith

Always Devoted (2 page)

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When Emma finished the interview, she felt wrung out.  Not a new feeling these days.  But after she thanked Tessa, she turned to find Linc waiting for her.  It was easy for her to think of using his first name and she wasn't sure exactly why.

She'd worn a flowered sundress for the interview, a dress she often wore when taking sales orders in her gift basket shop,
Occasional Baskets
.  But now she wished she'd worn something a little more sophisticated...because Linc Granger in his custom-tailored suit, tie and expensive shirt shouted sophistication.

Who was she kidding?

She'd never been sophisticated.  Hard working and tasteful, maybe, but never sophisticated.

After the camera lights shut down and she stood, Linc took her elbow.  She felt the heat from his fingers through her whole body.  It was an odd, wake-up feeling that she'd never experienced with Barrett.

Barrett.  He'd only been gone a year.  How could she even be attracted to someone else? 

Okay, so that's what this feeling was toward Linc Granger...attraction.  So much for that.  He certainly didn't drive his car in her neighborhood.

Linc glanced around the set where techs were bustling by and men in suits strode purposefully here and there.  He frowned.

Even frowning, his face was ruggedly handsome with character lines around his eyes that cut deep.  From laughter?  Or worry?

Turning his focus back to her, he asked, "My car service picked you up, right?"

"Yes, thank you.  It was nice to relax for a change driving into the city."

He smiled, and then the smile slipped away.  He actually looked uncertain for a moment, but only for a very fleeting moment.  "We're not going to find privacy here," he explained.  "Even in my office I'm constantly interrupted.  Would you consider taking a drive?  I have a place on the beach—"

At her surprised expression he held up his hand in a "stop" gesture.  "This is not a proposition," he assured her, his voice lowering.  "I can even provide you numbers of a few good friends if you want to check me out.  I just believe we need privacy for this discussion."

And just what discussion was it?  "I checked you out before I agreed to do this interview," she admitted.  "At least as much as I could."

He looked mildly amused.  "So, what did you find when you checked me out?"

"I found out that everything you do pretty much turns to gold.  You went to Cal State for a degree in Cinema and TV Arts.  You directed a couple of small films, afterward turning that money over into investments.  Then you started gathering professionals around you who wanted to make the same films and then TV shows that you did.  You've produced cable documentaries as well as network hits.  But that all involves business, not your character or your personal life."

"My personal life is off limits to reporters."  That was said without any amusement at all.

"I did find a couple of Google images with you escorting celebrities or models to charity functions and social galas.  But that really didn't tell me much."

His eyebrows arched, thick eyebrows over deep green eyes that made her feel a little fluttery inside.  Okay, maybe a lot fluttery inside.

"So why did you decide to do the interview?" he asked.

"Because I found transcripts of other interviews you produced.  They were honest and considerate of whomever was being interviewed.  I also liked your..."  She hesitated.  "Your point of view when we talked.  I didn't feel you were going to sensationalize what had happened to me.  You proved it just now when you stepped in."

The nerve in his almost-square jaw worked for a moment.  Then that small giveaway of tension was gone.  "I want to discuss something other than letting the police direct the investigation to find your sister."

That's all she needed to hear.  "Let's go for that drive."

A half-hour later they were in Linc's sporty silver luxury sedan, heading toward the ocean.  Up until now they'd made small talk about the interview, about Tessa, about Emma's daughter who was learning so fast and growing so much.  She'd called Becky's sitter before they'd left to make sure Maris and her daughter could find something for supper if she wasn't back in time.

At a lull in the conversation, Emma watched Linc's large hands on the steering wheel.  He'd discarded his suit jacket and tie and opened the top two buttons on his shirt before he'd climbed into the car.  Sitting beside him like this, the atmosphere seemed oddly intimate as the day started winding down and the sun sank lower on the horizon.

"Not much longer," he told her.

She sent him a small smile.  "Am I looking impatient?"

"No, just a little nervous.  Are you sure you don't want to call my best friend?"

That probably would have been wise.  But Linc seemed straightforward.  "Tell me about your best friend."

After Linc cut her a glance, he focused on the highway again.  "His name is Nathan Bradley.  He's a family man with two daughters from his first marriage he sees a lot, and a little boy, Matthew, from his second marriage.  He's an internet security expert who flies all over the country, taking care of important people's networks."

"I like the fact that you put his family history before his work."

"Would it make you feel better if I told you I baby-sit for Nathan?  I did before he married Gillian and I do now.  Their kids call me Uncle Linc."

She laughed.  "Maybe I should talk to

He laughed, too, and glanced at her again.  Something intangible passed between them that she seemed to feel in her heart.  How crazy was that?

Fifteen minutes later, Linc turned off the highway and took a series of turns.  After he drove down a long drive, they exited the car and Emma looked around. 

A one-story house sprawled before her and she could see the ocean beyond.  "What a beautiful setting," she murmured.

"I like it.  It's worth the commute.  We're alone here.  If you prefer to walk the beach instead of going inside, I'll understand."

Alone with Linc Granger.  Maybe she should have trepidations about that, but she didn't.  She felt excited.  Because they were going to talk about a way to find her sister?  Or because he was one very sexy man?

Because he was going to give her information to find a way to find Paige, of course.

"I'll shed my shoes and we can walk the beach," she decided, taking the safer route.

"Give me five minutes to get comfortable and then we'll walk.  There's a deck around back.  Would you like something to drink?"

"No, I'm fine."

"Be right back."

Emma found cushy chairs and chaises on his deck, but she was too fidgety to sit.  Instead, she stood at the railing, looking out at the ocean, wondering if her sister was still alive and if she was,
she was.  She'd spent so many hours while Paige had been gone thinking about that—praying, hoping and trying to stay positive.  But how could she when such dark visions invaded the others?  Paige's car wasn't worth the bald tires it had been running on, so no one would have wanted to hijack her car.  Had she had engine trouble again, left the vehicle and started walking?  Had someone picked her up and then—

There were those dark thoughts that Emma didn't want to have, but knew she had to be realistic about.

When Linc emerged from the house he wore a blue polo shirt and denim cutoffs.  His feet were bare.

"Ready?" he asked.

"Ready to find my sister," she agreed.

She kept her shoes on until they reached the bottom of the wooden steps where grass and sand began.  Then she took them off and laid them on the step.  Seagrass tickled her legs as they made their way across the sand to the packed beach.

As they walked along the shore, the wind tossing their hair, Linc asked, "Do you believe in things you can't see?"

Her gaze met his.  "You mean religion?"

He blew out a breath.  "No, that's not what I mean.  I'm just going to lay this all out," he said.  "If you want to walk back to my house, get in the car and go home, that's fine.  But I felt this was an option you should consider."

"You're not talking about a private investigator, are you?"  The spray from the ocean misted them as they left their footprints on the shoreline.

"Sort of."

"Linc, I can't afford one.  I hired someone the first week after Paige disappeared.  But he couldn't find anything and I couldn't afford to have him go on looking.  When Barrett died, he didn't have life insurance.  It was one of those things he kept putting off doing.  Thank goodness I had my business, but with insurance costs and the mortgage, I don't have much left over each month."

Linc stopped and took her arm.  Again his touch made her tummy somersault and her pulse race.  But she had to focus on what they were discussing, not her reactions to him.

"Emma, this isn't about money.  It's about a gift my best friend's wife has.  Nathan's wife, Gillian, works with another friend of mine, Jake Donovan.  Jake used to be a cop.  Then he turned to private investigation.  But after he met Gillian, his life changed.  For the most part he and Gillian find missing persons, especially lost children.  They started a foundation for this purpose.  People they've helped have donated a lot of money.  Funds just seem to stream in because it's a good cause."

"So Nathan's wife, Gillian, is a private investigator, too?"

"No, she's not.  Nathan found Gillian through Jake as a last-ditch effort when his ex-wife disappeared with his daughters.  Gillian found them for him.  She has a gift.  Some people would label her a psychic.  She doesn't think of herself that way.  She just seems to be able to tune in to missing persons.  She gets sensations and feelings and in themselves they're not enough.  But when family members are questioned, or Jake does research tracking down information Gillian gets, they've got a 99% success rate."

Emma was astonished by what Linc was telling her.  He was a rational businessman and yet he obviously believed in what he called Gillian's gift.

"Let's walk some more," she said to Linc, pulling her arm from his clasp because she couldn't think straight with his hand on her skin.

Silent as they walked, he glanced at her every now and then.  She could feel that glance, feel his concern and compassion for her.

Finally she said, "My dad left after Paige was born.  We never heard from him again.  My mom was really hurt by his abandonment.  When she felt hurt, she went to church, taking us with her for the same comfort she found there until she died of breast cancer."

Linc stopped walking again.  "I'm sorry."

She could see he wasn't just saying the words, he was sorry.  And there was a deeper understanding in his expression that made her wonder about his background.  "Thank you.  The reason I'm telling you this is—before mom died, she took my hand and she made me promise that I would take care of Paige and if I ever had children that I would take them to church.  She thought everyone needed to believe in something outside of themselves, just like she did and just like Paige and I did."

"Do you take Becky to church?"

"I do most weeks.  She attends Sunday School while I go to the service.  So what I'm trying to say is that I believe in something outside of myself."  She looked toward the ocean and waved her hand.  "I believe in the power behind this."

Facing him again, she requested, "So tell me more about Gillian."

"The way I understand it, when she was ten she was hit by lightning.  It was after that the sensations started to come to her.  She's a caring person.  She loves her husband and son, and Nathan's daughters accept her as a second mom."

"And she teamed up with a former cop."

"Jake had heard about her, looked into her success rate and then recommended her to Nathan.  After she found Nathan's daughters, Jake was a believer."

"Are you sure there's no fee, Linc?  I can make a donation, but I don't know how much."

"They don't charge."

"But you've donated to this foundation," she guessed.

"I have.  I believe in the work they do."

Emma stared at the sun beginning to set, the sky shot through with pink and orange.  She thought about Paige and the empty car and dark nights when she couldn't sleep wondering where her sister was, crying because she was afraid Paige had been hurt, crying because she was afraid she was dead.

"Let's walk back," she said, needing to think about all of this.

Linc didn't initiate conversation as they walked, as gulls screeched, as waves pounded the shore.  The tide was coming in, creating puddles in the sand that she was barely aware of as she sloshed through them.  Linc stayed by her side, walked where she walked, a force to be reckoned with himself.

She would have kept walking, but Linc tapped her shoulder and pointed to his house across the expanse of loose sand and grass.  When they reached the steps, she wiped the sand from her feet and slipped them into her shoes.  He let her precede him.

Once they were standing on the deck, she made a decision.  The ocean wasn't as loud up here but it still carried a resonant voice, a pounding that was a backdrop.

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