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Authors: Sandra Owens

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BOOK: Falling for Her
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CHAPTER FIVE

S
ugar stood in the dark and peeked through her blinds. Why was Jamie just sitting there? Should she have invited him in? She almost had, but settled on an impulsive kiss, afraid he’d reject her invitation with the disdain he normally showed toward her. Finally, he drove away, and she dropped the blind back into place.

God, why did she have to act so stupid around him? He’d just made her so nervous that she’d giggled like an idiot, then hadn’t even remembered to turn on the car’s lights. But he’d been nice to her, and he’d said he worried about her. How long had it been since anyone had cared enough about her to worry? She picked up the cat making figure eights around her legs and held him above her head. “He’s worried about me, Junior. What do you have to say about that?”

Dale Junior meeped, his word for
feed me now
! Apparently, her cat didn’t understand the importance of having someone concerned about her. Something had changed. Jamie had actually smiled at her. How pathetic that a few kind words and a brief smile had sent her heart racing.

Junior meeped again, louder and more insistent.

“Okay, okay. I’m fixin’ to feed ya. Have some patience.” She carried him into the kitchen and set him down. At the sound of the can opener, his figure eights took on the speed of his namesake behind the wheel of a race car.

Once Dale Junior was happily feeding his face, Sugar went into the living room and turned on her stereo before heading to her bedroom. She stripped off her clothes, dropping them in the hamper, then turned on the bathwater. After adding vanilla-and-coconut-scented bubble bath into the tub, she walked back to the kitchen to pour a glass of wine.

Hannah would have been mortified walking around nude, even alone in the privacy of her own home. It had been a coincidence that she’d read a novel not long before she put her plans to disappear into motion. In it, a government agent was teaching a man wanted by drug kingpins how to disappear.

One of the things he’d drilled into the man over and over was to do absolutely nothing the same. Don’t watch the same TV shows, don’t subscribe to the same magazines, don’t have the same interests, no matter how much you might love something. “You must become a new man, a completely different man, if you want them to never find you,” the agent had said. “Dangle one tiny thread of what they know about you, and they will find you.”

Sugar had taken the advice to heart, figuring the author must have researched how to drop from sight when writing the story. If Hannah liked something, Sugar didn’t. If Hannah didn’t like something, Sugar did.

Sugar liked wine, NASCAR races, cats, and walking around her house nude. She tried not to miss mint green tea, the Discovery Channel, her dog, and her warm, comfy robe. At least she’d managed to find a good home for her schnauzer before running away. When Rodney had asked where Baby was, Hannah had lied to him for the first time in her life, telling him her dog had gotten out and run away. To support the lie, she’d posted flyers on light poles and cried for a week.

The tears had been real.

Two long years she’d been alone since then, afraid to make friends, fearing she would slip up. But she seldom felt a stir from Hannah these days—she wasn’t sure she could go back to the person she had been no matter how hard she might try. Now that she had a taste of all she’d been missing, she had no desire to give up her new life.

Sugar set the wineglass on the edge of the tub and stepped in. Reaching over, she turned off the water and leaned back, sinking down. “Mmmm. Feels good.” As she sipped her wine, she found herself thinking about her new friend, Maria. She’d never had a girlfriend after her mother died. Friends visited each other’s houses, and never knowing what her father’s mood might be, she hadn’t dared to invite anyone over.

She was almost afraid to hope that someday she could consider Maria her best friend. To have a girlfriend she could call if she just needed to talk, maybe someone to shop with on occasion, wouldn’t that be something?

Maybe a day would come when she would even have a boyfriend. She’d never had one of those before. Rodney didn’t count. Not wanting to go there and spoil her good mood, she closed her eyes and brought Jamie’s face to her mind. Wouldn’t he make a fine boyfriend? So what if it was a dream that would never come true? Nothing wrong with wishing.

“Mowwl.”

“When are you going to learn the word is
meow
?” Sitting on the rim of the tub, Junior blinked green eyes at her before turning his attention to swatting bubbles, one of his favorite things to do.

She’d found him a year ago behind the Booby Palace, a dirty, starving kitten. A cat was the perfect pet for her, and Junior had turned out to be a good listener. When he brought his paw up to his mouth and licked it, he wrinkled his nose and did a cute little tongue flick.

“Silly boy. No matter how many times you test them, they’re still going to taste like soap.” He wasn’t a pretty cat, just a common orange tabby with a bent tail and the tip of one ear missing. She’d always wished he could talk so he could tell her what had happened. Pretty or not, she loved him dearly.

“The water’s getting cold. Are you ready?” Apparently, watching the water drain was a fascinating event to a cat. To hers, anyway. She left him to his amusement, wrapped a towel around herself, and picked up her wine.

It was time for her nightly ritual of surfing the Internet to see if bad cop and bad cop were up to anything. An hour later, she sat back. Her greatest hope was to one day see that their dirty deeds had caught up with them. Nothing would please her more than to have a picture pop up of the two of them in handcuffs, doing the perp walk in front of cameras.

Although she watched for bad cop’s and bad cop’s crimes to catch up with them, if that ever happened, there was no doubt in her mind that Rodney would try to drag her down with him. Running away from an abusive situation was one thing, but there was much more to her disappearance than that.

She stared at the picture of Rodney at a ribbon cutting for a new beauty salon, her father standing close behind in his usual ass-kissing place. It saddened her that the man she’d once adored was no more. After her mother died, he’d started drinking. That was bad enough, but then he’d met Rodney Vanders, the chief of police of the small town of Vanders, South Carolina. The Vanders had ruled the town with an iron fist for four generations. Rumors abounded of the bribes and bullying by Rodney, his father before him, and so on. Unfortunately, everyone was too afraid to do anything about it.

Junior jumped onto the table and tried to catch the cursor. “Well, Junior, it appears nothing’s changed.”

She started to turn off the computer but paused. Should she? Probably not, but her curiosity got the best of her. She typed in Jamie Turner of Pensacola, Florida, then James Turner. Nothing. She’d lay odds the boss had a hand in keeping his men under the radar. To test her theory, she entered the names of the other men from K2.

“You really are scary, boss man,” she murmured when her prediction proved true. It only made her want to work for K2 even more. After she started her new job, she’d talk to Maria about things she could do to stay hidden.

Taking a guess, she typed in James Turner and broadened her search. There were a lot of them, but she paused when she came to a James Sr. from Akron, Ohio. It was an obituary for a husband and wife killed in a car crash ten years ago. They were survived by their son, a James Jr., age twenty. She guessed Jamie to be about thirty, give or take a year. Right age.

After that, it was easy to find the article detailing the accident. “Oh, God, Junior. He was driving the car.” Her cat lowered his body onto the desk, prepared to listen as he did each night when she ranted about bad cop and bad cop. “Says here he was speeding and hit black ice. His father was having a heart attack, and Jamie’s mother was in the backseat with him. Neither one of them had on their seat belts, only Jamie. They were both killed, and Jamie walked away without a scratch.”

If that had happened to her, she’d never get over the guilt. Was this her Jamie though? She keyed in a search for Jamie Turner of Akron, Ohio, and was surprised at the number of hits. Jamie the quarterback, winning the homecoming game with his Hail Mary pass. Jamie the homecoming king, laughing as a crown was put on his head. Jamie smiling at the homecoming queen who looked back at him with adoring eyes. Then there was Jamie winning a gold medal at the state swimming finals. Jamie pitching a shutout against the school’s rival.

“Holy freaking Batman, Junior. He’s Superman.” Or, he had been. After high school and the wreck, the only thing she could find about him was a follow-up article on the school’s hero a few months after the accident, announcing he’d enlisted in the navy.

What she found interesting: there were no stories about him after he graduated until the accident. Wouldn’t a kid that talented go to college? Surely, he’d had scholarship offers. There was a missing piece, though, and she was more determined than ever to solve the puzzle of Jamie Turner.

What she now understood, however, was why he never laughed.

Jamie intentionally arrived at K2 thirty minutes early for the sole purpose of getting into the inner sanctum before he’d have to acknowledge Sugar Darling. SNAFU. There she was, a cheery smile on her face.

“Good morning, Jamie. Thanks again for seeing me safely home.”

It would be rude to ignore her, so he stopped at the receptionist’s desk. “No problem. Are you working there tonight?”
Shut up, mouth.
Not his concern. The purple blouse turned her eyes the violet color he liked best. They were almost as pretty when they were blue, though.

“I am. Two more weeks, then I’m done with them.”

“I’ll follow you home tonight . . . You know, just to make sure there aren’t any problems,” he said before punching in his code. Just because he wanted to make sure she wasn’t hassled didn’t mean anything.

“Thank you. I appreciate it.”

As he entered K2’s inner sanctum, her words registered. She was leaving the Booby Palace? Good, then he could stop worrying about her.

He backed up a step. “You’re welcome.” Now that he stood behind the receptionist’s counter, he could see she wore a black skirt that stopped several inches above her knees. His gaze followed her long, shapely legs down to the black do-me heels with little straps. Somehow, whatever she wore always seemed to be a mix of classy and sexy. Very sexy.

It had been years since he’d allowed himself to even think of having wild monkey sex, but lust slammed through him with the force of a torpedo hitting its target. England’s eggs, he wanted her. Right there, right then. On top of the counter, on the floor, he didn’t really care.

“Jamie?”

He jerked his eyes up and felt his face flush. Was he blushing? What was it about Sugar Darling that made him want to throw all his rules out the window? She stared back at him, and he about bit off his tongue to keep from asking her out to dinner.

“What?” It was like being back in high school, trying to act cool around a hot girl and failing miserably. It was both awkward and exciting, but in the intervening years, he’d apparently lost his smooth moves.

She lifted one lovely shoulder in a shrug, the gesture pulling her blouse apart enough for him to see the creamy valley of her breasts.

There were times in a battle when it was wise to retreat and regroup, and he decided it was one of those times. “Well, have a nice day.” What a total dork he was, but her eyes softened, and she smiled that gorgeous smile of hers, and he found himself smiling back.

“You have a nice day, too.”

For the first time ever, he had trouble concentrating on his job. All he could think about was Sugar Darling, imagining her naked except for her do-me heels. He pictured her under him, over him, in a bed, and against the wall. Wild monkey sex—he wanted it, and he wanted it with her. From the way she looked at him, she was definitely interested.

What was he going to do about it?

Since the accident, he’d not questioned his self-imposed rules. There were times he’d like a beer or glass of wine, but it was an easy enough rule to follow. He especially didn’t miss the drugs. Did miss the cursing a bit though.

BOOK: Falling for Her
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