Authors: Capri Montgomery
“Have dinner with me?”
“I have a date already.”
“With fire boy?”
“He’s a man.”
“Is he a man you’re planning to get to know in the biblical sense of the term?” He wiggled his eyebrows.
“Goodbye, Mitch.” She snapped.
He rushed around his desk and blocked her exit. “Have you told him yet?”
“None of your business.”
“You haven’t.” He shook his head. “Eve, no man will agree to those terms. Save yourself the heartache. Ditch him now. You don’t need him. You have me.” He grinned.
“Nobody has you Mitch, nobody but you.”
“True. I am my own man.”
She pushed past him.
“Hey, wait a minute;” he said with a stunned expression, as if he finally understood what she was saying. She didn’t wait. She left. She didn’t need Mitch reminding her of what might not be; reminding her of the conversation she needed to have with Adam. “Oh boy,” she sighed as she got into her rental car. “Be strong, Eve. Be strong.” She still had an hour before she needed to meet Adam in Flagler Beach. He was going to take her to some swanky fish place by the beach and they were going to eat outside under the stars with a perfect view of the sun setting. Unfortunately the beach sat in the east so the sun wouldn’t be sinking beneath the ocean, but it would still be beautiful. She had a few things she needed to take care of first. The most important thing was picking up the check her insurance company was cutting for the damage to her car and other personal belongings. While she had been able to recover some things, there was a great deal she wouldn’t be able to get out. She had to say, she loved her insurance company. There was no red tape. Other people were still waiting to just get the claim moving and her company had already issued payout for the full amount of her policy. Actually, that was good, because her car had gone to war with a flying hot water heater from building four hundred and her car had lost.
She was counting her blessings. First, she could be dead. Second, she could have lost everything. She was able to get most of her clothes out of the apartment and only some carried a smell of something; what she wasn’t sure, but she knew she hadn’t been able to get it out with three washings through the hotel laundry room. She disposed of what she couldn’t use and kept what she could. She got some of her artwork, her portfolio, some mementos, but her furniture was gone, probably permanently. Last she heard, part of her bedroom ceiling was now on the floor and the building had been declared off limits to all unnecessary personnel. What she managed to get out was all she would be allowed to get out. She could ask Adam to help her get some more things, but things weren’t worth the risk to his life. The dishes were expensive, but not priceless. Her mother promised her the china set that was older than all of the McGregor children, but she didn’t have the set yet, so it wasn’t in the apartment at the time.
“Mr. Domer, thank you so much for calling me about my claim. I didn’t think I would hear back from you this soon.” She wasn’t the type of person to procrastinate taking care of business. When she knew she would have to file a claim she didn’t need her brothers to remind her to do it. She had the claim in before they even showed up at the hotel.
“Your brother is a very persuasive man,” Mr. Domer laughed. The creases around his eyes deepened, and the wrinkles around his mouth showed more pronounced. His silver hair was amazingly silver, not yellow gold, not really gray, not white, but silver—and full. He was handsome. Eve imagined he probably always had been.
“My brother?” What did her brother have to do with this?
“Thomas,” he nodded. “He showed up and provided great detail as to why I should get this check to you as soon as possible.”
Eve was angry, and if she thought it was at all possible she would say there was steam coming out the top of her head. She was beyond her boiling point now. Thomas had no right. “I’m sorry,” she kept her tone measured. “He had no right to do that.”
Mr. Domer laughed. “Are you kidding me? I have a daughter your age. I would have done the same thing. She’s off at the university in Gainesville now, but she’s almost finished with her undergraduate. She would be finished, but she took a semester off to do an archeology dig abroad and she still needed four classes at the time. The dig only counted as an elective and not the required classes.” He shook his head. “This is her last semester. Are you finished with your schooling?”
Eve smiled. “Yes.”
“You should think about going onward. A Masters would be good to have.”
“I already have it,” she assured him. “I don’t have any plans to continue onward with school right now, but maybe in the future.” She was still too angry with Thomas to even think about school right now.
When she wrapped her meeting up with Mr. Domer she stopped by the bank to deposit the check, took out some extra cash to pay for her own meal at dinner, before heading to the restaurant. She stood outside her car trying to calm down. Why should she calm down? He never, in a million years, should have applied pressure to Mr. Domer. She should have waited her turn just like everybody else. Well, she was sick of the McGregor boys treating her like a kid. She was going to give him a piece of her mind.
She angrily pulled out her cell, flipped it open and punched in Thomas’ phone number. She flipped the phone closed before it could even ring. “Never in anger,” she reminded herself. She tried not to vent her anger over the phone. She knew she would say something she couldn’t take back, something that might be the last words she would ever say to the person, and she didn’t want that. She had almost lost Thomas once and the realization that it could happen again wasn’t far from her mind. She would never forgive herself if her last words to him were words of anger.
dam caught sight of Eve from across the parking lot. Her creamy caramel brown skin glowed in the light of the slow setting sun. She looked irate. What could have happened to her between the fire and now? He approached with caution. The last thing he wanted to do was kick the date off with a tongue lashing that was meant for somebody else. “Eve?” He kept his voice gentle. Twenty-six years of life had taught him about being gentle with people. He had watched his brothers in enough relationships to know when things needed to be finessed, not that Trent was much good at that, and Chase, he was okay, but Adam knew he had cornered the market on finesse when it came to women. He had practiced within his own relationships, and while he still managed to say some things that could get his teeth kicked out, most times he handled situations perfectly.
When she turned around and smiled at him, not just a smile that graced her lips, but one that was present in her strikingly beautiful green eyes as well, he was sure he was in the safe zone. “Is everything okay?”
She shook her head. “My brothers at work again,” she mumbled. “But I’m fine. I can deal with Thomas later.”
“Want to tell me about it?”
“I really shouldn’t bother you.”
“Eve, I have two older brothers. Bounce your troubles off me because I assure you I can understand what you’re going through.”
“Are you sure? I mean this is our first date. Isn’t there some rule about what not to bring to the table?”
He shrugged. “Rules are made to be broken.”
She laughed. “Don’t let anybody in law enforcement hear you say that.”
He took her hand in his. “Come on, let’s get a table and then we’ll talk.” Adam was well aware that if they didn’t get inside soon all the good tables on the roof would be taken. Everybody seemed to like to eat up top, and he couldn’t blame them. While the downstairs had an open, wrap around, patio area filled with tables and a stage for live music, the upstairs had the best views. Downstairs you could see the surrounding streets and brush covering the beach. But upstairs, the ocean was on one side and the intercostal waterway was at least visible from the other.
The environment wasn’t high-class elegance, but it wasn’t dressed down beachwear either. The dress code was strict. No flip flops, no swimwear, no shorts. Most people came in a nice pair of jeans or pants. On the rare occasions he was there he occasionally saw somebody trying to come straight from the beach to LJ’s. He also saw those people get turned away. There was, as the doorman would say, a fish place just down the street that would welcome their barely covered body with open arms, but not at LJ’s. They either covered up, or they went elsewhere.
The doorman wasn’t some feeble looking man either. He was tall, built like Arnold in his early days, and from what Adam had heard, he was an expert in two forms of martial arts. He never declared himself to be former military. He wasn’t law enforcement. He was an enigma. Nobody knew exactly what this man did before he arrived in town, but they knew what he did now.
“Two,” Adam held up two fingers for the hostess. “Up top if you have one.”
“I do,” the bleached blond smiled warmly at both of them. “Follow me.”
“Following,” he said as he took Eve’s hand in his. After they were seated he sat his menu down on the table, leaned forward and looked into her eyes. “So, what’s going on?”
She sighed. “Thomas put a rush on my insurance check. He, oh God, who knows what he said to the poor man, but my claim got pushed ahead because of him.”
“And that makes you angry?” He didn’t understand why. Most people were probably still trying to get the insurance to even consider paying. He doubted that the renter’s insurance policies covered bombs. Knowing most corporations he was sure the insurance companies would try to find any excuse not to have to dish out millions of dollars in insurance.
“Yes. I’m an adult and I wish they would stop treating me like a child.”
“I see.” He leaned back in his chair. “You know, Eve, part of being treated like an adult is to act like one.” He could tell he had made her angry by the way her eyes widened and her cheeks flamed with red heat. “Your brothers are just trying to help you. Being an adult means you realize when you need help, to ask for it, and to accept it.”
“That sounds oddly hypocritical coming from you, Adam. You moved here to get away from your brothers and their controlling ways.”
“Yes, I did. When it came to my career I needed space to breathe, to grow. But there are times when I’m glad they are the men they are. And if I were in your situation now, homeless and out of a boatload of my personal things, I’d willingly accept their help.”
“I’m not homeless,” she shook her head as if she wasn’t quite ready to admit defeat. “Thomas made sure I would have a home to move into before he left. I should be able to get in on Friday, at least that’s what the landlord said when he called me.”
“See,” Adam felt the need to remind her of the reason she had that home now.
“It’s just that I wish they wouldn’t worry so much. When they worry it makes me feel…”
“It makes you feel what, Eve?”
“It makes me feel like I’ll never be able to make them proud of me—to show them I can take care of myself. To make him proud of me,” she sighed
“So the problem isn’t really your brothers, or shall I say, brother. The problem is that you think the only way to gain his respect, to earn his love, is to show Thomas that you can handle whatever the world throws at you without needing to be rescued.” He could tell from the interaction between Thomas and Eve when he first met her brother that she was closest to him; that her world probably revolved around him. He knew that was the person she wanted to make proud the most.
“Yes!” She took a deep, calming breath. She chuckled. “Okay Doctor Carrigan, I see your point.”
“I’m not a doctor, Eve. If I were I’d have you on my couch telling you to tell me about your mother. I’d have to bill you about two fifty an hour on top of that.”
“You’re cheap,” she grinned. “And you’re good, very good. I do need Thomas to be proud of me. My whole life I’ve looked up to him, and I’ve always wanted to make him proud. I’ve cared more about making Thomas proud of me than I did my own father.” She shook her head. “I’m a little stubborn. You’ll soon learn that about me,” she laughed. “It’s from my Irish side.”
She nodded. “My mother is Italian and black, but my father is Irish. Thomas looks more like my dad, even though he has a bit of a natural tan he has more of a fair skin look during the winter, but tans very nicely come summer. I’m the darkest of the children. Gavin is effortlessly tanned with this naturally subtle bronzed skin all year long. Alyssa is…well she’s a little lighter than me actually. I guess we girls took more after our mother than our father, except I have the green eyes, which is probably in my dad’s family somewhere. Alyssa, she has these gorgeous deep blue eyes, deeper than Thomas’ blue eyes. It’s just beautiful.”
“So where do the blue eyes come from in your family?”
“My dad has blue eyes. I’m the only one with green; it’s weird. I wanted blue like Thomas, but after I got older I realized that wanting and having were two different things.”
“I like your green eyes,” he stated.
“I like them too—now. But growing up I just wanted to be like my big brother.”
He held the conversation with her, listening to her determination to make her big brother proud. It was more than just wanting Thomas to see her as an adult, to be proud of her accomplishments. Her desire almost bordered on need. She needed his approval like she needed air, like she needed life.