Authors: Ashley Quinn
scrubbed a hand down his face, weary after a long day of staring at files and
reports. His search for Ranger Jack and Andrew Emerson was going nowhere.
After giving the description of Ranger Jack to the supervisory park rangers,
Ben had a whole host of candidates. They’d all said the same thing: they had
several rangers fitting that bill, but none by the name of Jack. Hoping to
find something to narrow down the pool, Ben requested all the personnel files
of the area rangers. He didn’t realize there were so many. And not all of
them had physical descriptions, so he was having to run the names against DMV
photos of the ones without physical characteristics listed. So far, none of
them matched with the name. His next step was to run background on the men who
met the physical description, hoping that something would pop in conjunction
with the name “Jack.”
Andrew Emerson was in the wind. If the man lived in the area he had an
out-of-state license, because he hadn’t shown up on any DMV searches.
frustration level wasn’t helped by the fact that he couldn’t get a certain
chestnut haired beauty out of his thoughts either. As a result, Ben was
irritated and tense and ready to shoot something.
phone vibrated on his desk. Ben snatched it up. “Davidson,” he snapped, not
bothering to look at the caller ID.
tell me Gemma’s with you,” Tristan’s frantic voice came over the line. Ben
immediately sat up straight, the personnel files forgotten. He’d never heard
Tristan like this. Not even in their most dire situations when their missions
had gone FUBAR.
I don’t know where she is. Why? What’s going on?”
just got a call from Buncombe County sheriff’s office. They found Gemma’s car
off of highway seventy, just north of Weaverville. It was crumpled against a
tree and on fire.”
was on his feet and headed for the door before Tristan finished talking. “
her car?” he asked.
Ben heard the tremor in Tristan’s voice and felt an answering one vibrate
tried calling her?”
you at the accident site?”
mind raced as he climbed in his SUV. Something didn’t feel right with this and
it wasn’t just the fact she was missing. Why was she on the highway to
Asheville? The Mabley house was north of Marshall—the opposite direction.
going to call the FBI tech department. Have them ping her phone and see if we
can’t get a location,” Ben said, slamming the car into drive and peeling out of
the parking lot. It was a long shot because it could be a lump of melted
plastic in the car, but if she had had her phone on her person when the car
crashed it might lead them to her. “I’m headed your way now.”
you there.” Tristan hung up and Ben immediately dialed FBI dispatch and
requested to be put through to the tech department. He quickly outlined his
request and had a location of her phone just as he came up on the accident
answer though, didn’t make much more sense. It was in downtown Asheville. Ben
pulled off behind a Buncombe County cruiser and flashed his badge to the
officer maintaining the perimeter. He was let through and pointed in the
direction of the officer in charge of the scene.
spotted him walking up and broke away from the deputy. “What did you find
glanced over the smoldering wreckage of Gemma’s jeep. The flashing blue and
red lights of the emergency vehicles casting an eerie glow through the smoke
lingering in the air. “Her phone pinged at a location in downtown Asheville.”
frown only deepened. “Why would she be in Asheville?”
don’t know. Has there been any sign she walked away from the crash?”
shook his head. “Not yet. They’re bringing dogs in to search the woods.”
nodded. “Good.” He put a hand on Tristan’s shoulder. He could see that the
younger man was trying to hold it together, but the situation was taking its
toll. “I’m going to head to Asheville and see if I can’t find her there. Text
me a picture so I can show it around. You stay here in case the dogs turn
something up. I’ll call you if I find anything and you do the same.”
nodded. “We have to find her, Ben.”
“We will.” Because Tristan was right. They
to find her. He didn’t
know how either he or Tristan would get on without her.
drove as fast as he dared to Asheville. He called the tech department back
when he entered the city so they could guide him to where Gemma’s phone still
steadily pinged. He pulled up outside a row of restaurants and shops in the
swanky part of downtown. This was a close as the tech could get him, so Ben
now found himself having to search six building—three on either side of the
street that were within range of the ping.
eyed the businesses around him, searching for a target where she’d likely be if
she were here voluntarily. There were two restaurants, a bookstore, and
several high-end clothing boutiques. He didn’t even want to think about the
private residences above the stores. He’d go there once he’d exhausted all
disregarding the clothing shops, Ben headed for the closest restaurant. At
first glance, he doubted she was here. Unless she had a date. It screamed
elegance and romance. Ben didn’t know if she was dating anyone, but he doubted
that she would go out on a date, especially in Asheville, without telling her
brother she was going out. The two were too close and he knew that Gemma knew
that Tristan would worry if she were out late and he didn’t know where she
was. Still, Ben flashed her photo at the maître’d and asked to wander the
dining room. He made quick work of the room without spotting her.
on the street the bookshop was next. He quickly discovered it was closed and
made his way to the remaining restaurant, a pub-style place that catered to
Asheville’s young, career-minded crowd. If she wasn’t in here, he was
seriously going to consider calling in back up. Worry edged the lines of his
body as he pulled open the heavy door.
to Smith’s Grill. How many?” The young hostess quickly greeted him, a bright
smile lighting up her face.
showed her his badge. “I’m actually here looking for a woman.” He pulled up
Gemma’s picture on his phone. “Have you seen her come in here tonight?”
hostess studied the picture. “Maybe. Why? Did she do something?”
shook his head. “No, she’s not in any kind of trouble. She’s just missing and
I’m out exhausting every possibility trying to find her.”
girl looked at Gemma’s picture again before she shrugged. “Honestly, it’s been
hopping in here all night, so she could have come in and I just don’t remember
or one of the other hostesses could have showed her to a table.”
sucked in a deep breath trying to corral his frustration. “Do you mind if I
take a look around? See if she’s here?”
right ahead. I hope you find her.”
smiled his thanks and wandered further into the packed restaurant. The bar was
the first area he came to and he quickly scanned through the women. Not seeing
her he moved into the dining room. Every table was crammed full of people and
Ben had to pay almost as much attention to where he was going as to faces in
the crowd. He made it three quarters of the way through the room when his
hopes started to fade. There were only a handful of booths at the back of the
room behind the pillar that he’d yet to check.
hoping for much Ben rounded the column.
Gemma had been prepared. Well, after the fact, but still, she didn’t have to
worry about bumming a ride from Tristan or Ben again. When Stacy had asked if
she could keep the car one more night since hers still wasn’t ready and she had
another class later that evening, their boss, Mona, had piped up suggesting a
girls’ night for herself and Gemma. Gemma had readily agreed. It had been far
too long since she and Mona had been out on the town together and it had the
added benefit of removing the possibility that Ben would be her ride home
again. A win-win in any situation.
watched the people milling around the restaurant from what she could see from
behind the wooden pillar. Her limited view didn’t really matter though. She
wasn’t really seeing anything anyway. Instead, her mind was elsewhere. She
kept remembering Ben’s eyes last night when she’d jumped in his SUV. He’d
immediately noticed that something wasn’t right. Concern and determination had
shone glaringly bright from the clear blue-green depths. He had wanted to help
her and would do whatever he could to do so.
shivered under the remembered intensity of his gaze. He was working his way
under her skin at an alarming pace. He had handled the Caleb incident last
night with no hesitation or disdain. He could have easily argued. She knew he
was a busy man tracking a killer. His willingness to take her where she needed
to go endeared him to her all the more.
when she’d awakened this morning fully clothed in her bed, she’d known it was
Ben who had put her there. Tristan would have at least taken off her jeans.
She loved that Ben was a gentleman, but at the same time she didn’t. It made
him all the harder to resist.
in mind, Gemma was determined to stay away from Ben. If she wasn’t sure she
could resist him she’d be damn sure to avoid him.
awfully quiet,” Mona said, startling Gemma from her musings.
Oh. Yeah. It’s been a nutty few days and I’m just trying to make sense of it
all, I guess,” Gemma replied, sitting straighter in her seat.
knowing smile turned up one corner of Mona’s mouth. “You sure about that? You
sure it’s not a certain astonishingly gorgeous FBI agent that’s monopolizing
felt her cheeks flame, but didn’t respond. She sipped her drink to keep her
mouth busy so she wouldn’t blurt out the truth.
chuckled. “You think I didn’t see the two of you dancing around each other the
other day? You two were practically shooting sparks.”
face flamed hotter.
did a double take. “Oh my God! What happened? Did you sleep with him?”
Not in the sense Mona was thinking anyway
, Gemma thought. She willed
the blush away. “Of course not! I’ve only known him a few days.”
sometimes that’s all it takes. But I’m guessing you kissed him if the color of
your face is anything to go by.”
silently cursed her fair skin. What she wouldn’t give to have swarthy coloring
right about now.
chuckled again. “You did, didn’t you! Oh, you have to give me details!
Please tell me that a man who looks like that can set your undies on fire with
just a kiss.”
couldn’t stop the laugh that bubbled out. “Holy crap, Mona! Really?”
grin only grew. “What? I remember what it was like when Blake and I first
dated. I kept spare underwear in my purse because he could heat me up with a
look. And you look at Agent Davidson the same way I still look at Blake.”
I know you want everyone to be as deliriously happy as you are, but Ben is not
the one to make me that way. He doesn’t even live in this state. And he’s
over a decade older than me.” Gemma said, trying to discourage her friend.
Mona was wrong. Ben may heat her up, but he wasn’t the one for her. There
were just too many obstacles in their path.
his age is a bonus, trust me. A seasoned man knows a lot of tricks in the
bedroom. And one of you could always move. As much as I’d hate to see you go,
I wouldn’t begrudge you moving to be with him.”
Mona said was true. But could Gemma really move and leave everything she knew
behind? That was a question she wasn’t ready to answer yet. Thankfully, she
was saved having to say anything by the arrival of their entrees.
was downing a mouthful of fries when a man entering her field of vision drew
Do you not answer your phone anymore?” As if magically conjured from her
thoughts, Ben stood over her table. But the expression on his face was not the
tender and caring one she’d been remembering. He was absolutely furious. His
blue-green eyes had turned to the color of hardened steel and the tight clench
of his teeth made the muscles in his chiseled jaw and cheeks jump.
gulped down the sudden heavy mass of potato and just stared.
and I have been trying to get a hold of you for over half an hour now! And
here you are, plowing through a plate of fries and a burger like you haven’t a
care in the world.” He gestured at her half empty plate.