Authors: Patricia Rice
Tags: #psychic, #comedy, #wealthy, #beach, #Malcolm, #inventor, #virgin, #California
Why should she care what he liked? It was her head and her life.
Liar. She’d wanted him to kiss her. She’d wanted to feel like a female and not some tool to be used. There for a little while—at the beach, when they’d danced—she’d almost thought it would happen, that she might actually attract a man’s interest.
At this rate, she could die a virgin. Did she have to seduce the damned man? Not happening. She was an introvert for a reason.
She crawled between the sheets and pulled the blankets up so she could have the windows open and hear the surf.
She heard him return from the bathroom. He’d turned out all the lights but she thought he was wearing a t-shirt and boxers. They didn’t make him look any more approachable.
“I’m sorry about your fiancée,” she whispered. She hadn’t intended to say that, but the weird part of her brain had thought it a good idea.
“She wanted more than I could give,” he said, climbing into his own bed. “Her friends said she was probably manic depressive. I didn’t know. Maybe I could have done something if I had understood, if I’d got her some help.”
“Not unless she wanted to change. Manic depressives are capable of logical thought. They can ask for help. But those highs are like drug highs—very addictive in their own way. Suicide damages more than just the person committing it, but the illness apparently prevents them from thinking beyond themselves.” She’d had lots of time to study suicide.
“I forgot you took psych. How old were you when your mother died?”
His voice was distant. She tried to read it, but he could just be being polite. Or digesting what she’d told him. She wanted it to be the latter.
“Sixteen. Vera was thirteen. She left no note. We were absolutely shattered. I still can’t believe she did it. I wish I had the last journals she wrote, but the general took them away. Since then, I’ve developed a thousand suspicions but no proof. At the time, we just thought he was being good to take care of us even though we weren’t his kids. We tried our very best to be the best kids he could have.”
“Bastard didn’t appreciate what he had,” Magnus said dismissively. “I take back what I said earlier. Your new hair makes your eyes seem to take up half your face. A blind idiot like him probably won’t recognize you. Good night.”
Nadine lay there stunned, trying to accept this new perspective.
Magnus didn’t seem much concerned with her stepfather’s opinions and probably not his survival. He expected her to feel the same way. And she should. She knew the general’s ruthlessness. And she knew he hadn’t really seen her as a person, which probably did make him a blind idiot.
But she’d spent most of her life as an invisible robot, trying to please her stepfather. This new perspective was exciting. Maybe, just maybe, she might be as important as the general—in this new and alternate universe she was now inhabiting.
For the first time in her life, Nadine was free to wonder what would happen if the general died.
If anything had happened to Vera, she might be ready to help Magnus make certain that he did.
“We need to be on the road,” Magnus roared, prowling the perimeter of their small suite the next morning.
need to be on the road. I don’t see the advantage of exposing myself to more people than necessary,” Nadine countered, amazed at the amount of courage she’d gained since Mad Max had entered her life. When her response didn’t cause him to shout the roof down or fling her over his shoulder, she dared to continue. “We need information, and we don’t have it.”
“I waited until your credit card arrived. What are we waiting for now?” he demanded.
At least he was listening. Score one for the commando.
“For a destination,” she said firmly. “I like the anonymity. Our landlady doesn’t mind if we have breakfast sent up instead of dining with her. This is a crowded beach town with strangers everywhere, so the locals don’t notice me. I canceled my hair appointment because of your paranoia, but I’m not driving aimlessly all about.”
Okay, so seeing her photo flashed all over the news had made her jittery and hiding made her happy. She didn’t see a problem with that.
“You like the Wi-Fi,” he translated, partially accurately. “You’re stuck in Librarian mode, but it doesn’t work so well without the general’s active files.”
Nadine scowled at his perceptivity. “His new guru has abandoned all the servers with which I’m familiar,” she admitted. “I can’t even find his computer.”
“Today’s the last day we can stay here,” he reminded her. “The room is reserved for tomorrow. You can’t hide here any longer.”
Nadine refused to admit defeat, although having to appear in public again was beyond daunting. “The general has gone down a mole hole. We’ll need to lure him out, but I can’t even begin to figure out how until Vera is safe. Surely your brother will have word from his team soon.”
“Not if your sister was simply sending supplies to that school. We have no reason to believe she’s anywhere near it. You haven’t found any other purchases or Facebook friends, have you?” He stopped at each window to examine their surroundings as he paced.
“Not yet. She’s savvy and knows the general might trace her, so she’s lying low, just like I told her. I wish I could meet your Francesca. Maybe between the two of us we could mentally reach her.” Frustrated, Nadine sent another probe into the internet universe—just about as useful as mental telepathy at this point.
Mad Max’s laptop sounded a warning alert. He dropped into the desk chair—he’d usurped the desk, leaving her the couch or the table. He hit a few buttons and Conan’s face filled the Skype screen. Even Nadine looked up to see what that portended.
“We’ve got a ‘maybe’ sighting on Vera,” Conan announced.
Dorrie’s face came into view. “Nadine, my family is desperate to meet you. If you can’t get past the annoying Oswins, we’ll come tie Magnus up.”
Fascinated, Nadine pushed her glasses up her nose and crouched at desk height, peering under the large biceps blocking her. This was her biggest glimpse into the world of people the general had tracked, the distant family she’d never known. She didn’t know how to relate, except for the matter at hand.
“Tell me about Vera first,” she asked. “Then I’ll decide whether to push him over the edge.”
Magnus knuckled her head, presumably to remind her that he was right there. It was amazingly reassuring knowing that he wouldn’t shout at her impolite comments.
A new face appeared on the screen. This person had spiky dark red hair—the rich deep color Nadine had always admired. Combined with cutting high cheekbones, and expressively wide lips, her face screamed movie star, but Nadine wouldn’t recognize a star if they named her.
“We want you to stay with us but it’s too dangerous,” the redhead announced. “Oz has found a place not too far away. It has good internet so you can order groceries, if you want, instead of going out.”
“Hiding is what Pippa would do.” A big man who looked like a more polished Magnus with longer hair appeared in the screen. “We could just put you in her hide-out but then Pippa couldn’t hide there. I’m Oz, and I owe you for returning Donal to me. I thought a little more accessible hiding place would allow you to get out and about.”
“Vera?” Nadine asked insistently, a little overwhelmed by these strangers she’d once tried to help.
“Nadine’s TMA,” Magnus said helpfully. “Stay focused, folks. What have you got on Vera?”
“TMA?” Conan reappeared, apparently turning the computer to prevent family from crowding around.
“Too Much Attention. Borderline Asperger’s, probably. Vera?” Nadine asked again.
“Autistic!” she heard someone in the background shout. “That explains the mind-reading.”
Nadine wanted to pull what was left of her hair but she followed Mad Max’s example and tried to wait patiently. Magnus set her in front of him, letting her perch on the edge of his chair between his legs. The powerful muscles of his thighs almost distracted her. The man could crack bones with those thighs. She tried not to snuggle too far back and learn what she was missing.
“Our guy on the scene spotted a teacher at the school who might fit that photo you sent us of Vera wearing a blond wig. He’s staying away until we have more info and permission from you to go forward.”
Nadine squeezed her nose between her palms and tried to think while Magnus’s voluble family chattered in the background and her mind spun with fear and excitement.
“Give her a minute,” Magnus said in his grave tone. “You say you have a place where we can stay? Where we could take Vera?”
“Down by the coast. Place is filled with rentals and weekend palaces. Strangers won’t be noticed like they would be up here at Oz’s place. It’s only about half an hour away. One of Oz’s clients is filming in Australia and agreed to let us use it. Gated community. Alarm system. No questions asked,” Conan said. “I’ll take it if you don’t want it.”
Magnus snorted. Nadine interrupted. “Please, let us take it until we can get Vera there. We might need help in reaching her. She won’t speak to strangers, and I don’t want her to be scared off. I’ll have to send her a warning of some sort.”
“And when we’re done, the two of you can have it for a honeymoon hideaway,” Magnus suggested.
“Honeymoon hideaway, I love it!” Dorrie said in the background. “Can we have the butler back?”
“Butler?” Magnus asked warily.
“The place comes fully staffed. We have to send them on a paid vacation before you arrive,” Oz answered, peering over Conan’s shoulder. “I don’t think the staff will object.”
“I was thinking more of a cottage in the desert sort of thing,” Magnus grumbled, “not one of your movie productions.”
Nadine elbowed him. She tried to imagine a palace on the coast with butlers but the distraction created by his family blanked her mind.
“Nadine deserves the best. You can go crawl under a car like a rattlesnake if you’d rather,” Oz offered.
Nadine snickered, but the man behind her didn’t flinch or get mad. She eagerly drank in the family dynamic. She’d spent her life tip-toeing around family. This free-for-all was an eye-opening experience.
Dorrie shoved her way past the men. She had green eyes, too, Nadine noticed, which stood out rather noticeably against her Oriental coloring.
“Francesca wants to meet you. She’s my cousin, the pilot who helped us find Bo, and a telepath, too. She thinks maybe if the two of you work together, you might reach Vera without alerting anyone.”
“Having one of my men
Vera would be more effective,” Conan said dryly.
“No!” Nadine nearly shouted. “She was taught to run if a stranger called her. She probably won’t have a phone anyway, or not one whose number you can trace. When can I meet Francesca?”
“You do realize your method of communication is ridiculous in this day and age?” Magnus asked impassively.
Nadine pinched the bridge of her nose and nodded. This way led to madness was what he wasn’t saying.
Undeterred, Magnus continued. “It will take us nearly six hours to drive up there. This is Saturday. The traffic through L.A. should at least be moving. We’ll be there this evening.”
Nadine wanted to hug him for understanding. Instead, all she could do was bounce excitedly. “Thank you! And if there’s anything I can do to help with the wedding, just name it. I appreciate how much time I’m taking away from the preparations.”
The red-haired Pippa leaned over Conan’s shoulder. “My mother and I are having fun with that. Dorrie has her wedding dress, and she and her grandmother have feng shui’d the entire house. The others just plan on showing up. Having you and your sister attend would be a treat. You’re family!”
“I’m not family,” Nadine pointed out regretfully. “We just occupy the same family tree somewhere back in the dark ages.”
“That’s all it takes. See you soon.” Pippa backed away.
Magnus wrote down the directions to their new safe house and signed off.
Nadine fell back against the bed, exhausted by the emotional, confusing interaction. She needed to calm down or she was likely to have another fit.
She couldn’t calm down. They might have found Vera! And the Malcolm women wanted them for family? Not if she and Vera had to flee to Nicaragua.
Priorities, she had to prioritize her worries. “I don’t suppose we could drive past that school before we settle into our luxury hideaway?”
“It’s Saturday. What are the chances we’ll see her? It’s a few hours out of the way. Your call, though.” Magnus began packing up his laptop.
Nadine sighed. “You’re right, but I hate it. I want to walk up to the school and search the grounds, sneak into their office and look for employment records, stand on the roof and shout. So what I want is probably not the best choice.”
“Oz pretty much did all that and worse when Donal went missing. That’s why we know the routine. You’ve helped us. Now we help you. We should have bought a suitcase for our things.” He glanced around at the new clothes scattered about.
His steadiness blessedly calmed her as her own screaming emotions couldn’t. She could Zen out on his solidity—at least while Magnus was working for her and not against her.
“We can pick up a tote on the way. There’s not so much that we can’t carry it down now.” Nadine hurriedly folded all her new attire, fished a Target bag out of the trash, and began dumping her personal items into it.
When she glanced up, Magnus was dumping a box of condoms into the plastic bag he’d retrieved from the trash.
Condoms. He’d thought about having sex. With her? Please, lord, let it be with her. If she knew Vera was safe, she really wanted to celebrate. What better way than to move forward into the life she’d never had—with this man who gave her courage she hadn’t known she possessed.
The possibility that Magnus was thinking of having sex with her so fuzzed her brain that she meekly followed all his instructions, gathered her precious belongings, and trailed down to the car without a word.
“It may not be Vera,” he warned as he pulled the car out of the lot, apparently misunderstanding her silence.
“I know, but it’s one hope more than I had yesterday. And meeting Francesca will add another.” She squeezed the pink bunny while pondering the possibilities. “Vera isn’t a great receiver, but if she’s worried and trying to reach me, she’ll be more open than usual. I’ve never worked with anyone else or from such distances, but I don’t know what else to do. It’s kind of exciting knowing someone else who might have the same weirdness as I do.”