When I Find You: A Trust No One Novel (2 page)

BOOK: When I Find You: A Trust No One Novel
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There was no mention of Johnny in the morning paper she read while awaiting her plane’s departure, but she’d had a bad feeling. He wouldn’t have allowed Reggie to come after her if he’d been all right. At the very least, he was probably wounded. Her mind shied away from the idea that he might be dead. Nick and Eddy’s father simply couldn’t be dead.

What would Reggie have done to her if he’d found her? Was he still looking?

When Johnny asked her to leave for the weekend, he’d given her cash and instructed her not to use her credit cards for anything on her trip. She hadn’t thought much about it at the time. He was always very generous. Now she was painfully aware he’d been trying to protect her, just as he’d been doing since the first day she showed up on his doorstep.

The au pair agency was negligent in not telling her that the Fontana family was associated with the Mafia. Maybe they were afraid they’d never find anyone to fill the position if they disclosed that information, or maybe they were as clueless as she was. In any case, seven-year-old Eddy and nine-year-old Nick were great kids. Courteous, intelligent, mischievous. The boys won her heart almost immediately. Two weeks later she overheard one of the landscape crew mention the mob and the name Fontana in the same sentence. The revelation came just a little too late. Darcy couldn’t leave her job . . . leave those two boys. So she ignored the truth and avoided Johnny’s associates when they came to the house. For three years she’d been accepted as though she were part of the family. Not once had she been afraid . . . until now.

Darcy dismissed the idea of visiting her friend the minute she got to the ticket counter at O’Hare International. Her father was the one she needed now, even though she knew it would hurt facing him again. A retired chief of police with thirty years on the force, he’d know what to do.

She purchased her ticket with cash and wore ragged blue jeans, a dark brown corduroy jacket over a long-sleeved yellow shirt and a baseball cap pulled low over her eyes, her telltale shoulder-length red hair tucked out of sight. She was on the run with no idea what she was doing. How could she? In her darkest dreams she’d never imagined she’d be running for her life.

After she boarded the plane, she relaxed a little. Surely Reggie wouldn’t bother to follow her once she left Chicago. She’d be safe if she could only get home. For what must have been the hundredth time, she glanced around the cabin, unable to shake the feeling someone watched her.

The two seats beside her were unoccupied. A man sat in the aisle seat opposite her. The window seat beside him was empty. He was about her age, maybe a little older, dressed in jeans and a light blue polo shirt. His sun-streaked blond hair and tanned skin suggested he hailed from somewhere warm and tropical. If it was sun he was looking for, he’d be disappointed in Portland. An iPad balanced on his lap, and whatever he was studying kept his gaze glued to the screen.

After another furtive look around, Darcy turned back to the view from her window and her thoughts as the plane shuddered and rocked its way through a rough patch of turbulence.

“Son of a bitch!”

Darcy’s gaze flew to the man across the aisle as he latched on to the armrest of his seat with a white-knuckled grip. As soon as the plane evened out again, he glanced around the cabin, a sheepish expression on his face. He caught her watching him, even though she ducked her head and tried to hide under the brim of her hat.

His self-deprecating laugh pulled her gaze up again. “Sorry, but that scared the crap out of me, and you’re making me look like a wimp.”

She laughed. “I’m not a huge fan of flying either. That whole defying-gravity thing is hard to wrap my head around.”

He looked directly at her with dark brown eyes that searched hers intently. “Then why aren’t you a sweat-soaked basket case too?”

The thoughts foremost in her mind today apparently overruled any anxiety caused by a little turbulence, but she couldn’t explain that to him. She shrugged. “I guess I’m a little distracted today.”

“I tried that.” He pointed to his iPad. “Can’t say it worked all that well.”

Darcy smiled. The poor guy tensed again as the plane hit another bump.

In the next instant, a heavyset man in a brown suit shoved himself into the aisle seat of Darcy’s row. She gasped as she jumped to her feet, banged her head against the overhead bin, and scattered her magazine, purse, and cell phone on the floor beneath the seats. Reggie’s words invaded her mind—
girl . . . take her out . . . upstairs.
Pressed against the interior wall of the aircraft, there was nowhere to go and nothing to do but wait for his next move. Two painful breaths later, the man glanced at her with glazed eyes that barely focused, and his red, blotchy face told her the rest of the story. This guy represented a danger only to his liver. She had majorly overreacted.

The blond man across the aisle stood, his concerned gaze on her face. “I take it he’s not with you?”

She shook her head once, then gave a dismissive wave with one hand, hoping he hadn’t noticed the terror on her face or the way her pulse still hammered in her neck.

The blond man frowned and set his iPad on his seat, stepped into the aisle, and leaned toward the drunk. “Excuse me, sir. I think there’s been a mistake. Do you remember where you were sitting?”

“Huh?” The man tilted his head. “This isn’t my seat?” He glanced at Darcy, then did a double take. “No-sir-ee! I’d remember sitting by a hot babe like you.” He hoisted his bulk up, and the younger man stepped back to allow him into the aisle.

Darcy watched his progress toward the front of the plane and tried to force her breathing back to normal. Probably too much to hope that the blond man would go back to his reading and let her recover her composure in private. Sure enough, when she looked at him, he waited in the aisle, studying her.

“He startled me.” She avoided his eyes, dropped into her seat, and leaned over to pick up her things.

He stepped toward her, slid into the middle seat next to hers, and snagged her purse from the floor. “I noticed.” He handed her purse over as his gaze swept her face again. “Okay now?”

“I’m fine. Thanks for your help.” Great. She’d managed to arouse his suspicions without even trying. The last thing she wanted to do was attract attention to herself. She had to get a grip.

“My pleasure, but I expect something in return.”

His voice teased, but she waited apprehensively for him to continue.

“I may need you to talk me down off the ceiling the next time we hit turbulence.”

She smiled faintly. “Sure. It’s the least I can do.”

“I’m Grant, by the way.” He stuck out his hand.

“Darcy.”

“I’m pretty sure he’s harmless, but I could hang out with you for a few minutes just to be sure.”

“That’s really not necessary. I’m sure you’re right about him. I don’t want to take you from your reading.”

“That book will be there when I get back . . . unless you want to be alone.” His gaze rested questioningly on her.

He gave her the perfect out. She should take it if for no other reason but to keep him from getting involved and possibly becoming a target. Not to mention the fact she didn’t know him. How did she know
he
could be trusted?

He came to her aid immediately when he saw her distress, and his fear of flying wasn’t an act. She really was being paranoid now. Would it hurt to sit and visit with him for a while?

She pushed her doubts aside and smiled. “Some company would be nice.”

Grant settled into the seat beside her. “What’s in Portland, Darcy?”

“A rental car, I hope. I’m on my way home to Tillamook.” Doubt fluttered at the back of her mind. No need to tell him her life story.

“You’re kidding! I’m from Pacific City. We’re practically neighbors.” He turned sideways in his seat to stare at her. “You look familiar. Have we met? What year did you graduate?” He went on without giving her a chance to respond. “Ever go to dances in Pacific City?”

Darcy dropped her gaze and the familiar shame warmed her cheeks. “I . . . didn’t go to dances much.” Talk about an understatement. One prom was all it took to learn her lesson.

He watched her for a moment with a puzzled expression before he turned toward the front again. “I worked in Tillamook one summer.”

“Where?”

“It was a small hardware store just off the highway. They’re probably not even there anymore.”

“Maddox Hardware?”

“Yeah. You know the place?”

“Intimately.” Darcy laughed. “My aunt and uncle used to own it. I worked there every summer while I was in high school, except the year I went to see my grandparents in Colorado. That must have been the summer they hired you.”

“That explains why they never hired me back. I thought they didn’t like me.” Grant’s eyes twinkled with humor.

“Don’t feel too bad. I don’t think they liked me very much either.” She grinned. He was easy to talk to and reminded her of things she used to like about small towns. She’d been away a long time and had forgotten what it meant to trust your neighbor or leave your car unlocked or have people you could count on. She missed that and, for just a moment, she forgot all the bad things about small town life and indulged in the nostalgia that crept over her. When she glanced up he was watching her, and heat crept into her cheeks again.

He looked away and cleared his throat. “You live in Chicago? What do you do there?”

“I’m a nanny.”

“Really? Kids and diapers and schoolwork?”

“There’s much more to it than that.”

“You enjoy it?” He cocked an eyebrow skeptically.

“Go ahead. Make fun of me if you want to, but helping children grow up is not wasted effort. I make a difference in their lives.” She stopped when he smiled.

“I’m just giving you a hard time.” His expression grew serious. “I see it’s no joke to you. I apologize.” A second later a mischievous glint shone in his eyes. “Wow! I wish I’d had a nanny like you.”

It wasn’t the first time someone had suggested being a nanny wasn’t a real job, but she didn’t care what anyone thought. She was proud of her profession, even if her father thought she’d wasted the education he’d paid for.

“I didn’t mean to embarrass you, and as for being a nanny . . . I bet you’re a damn good one. We all have to do what we think is right.”

She met his eyes and, just for a second, there was something in his expression that seemed out of place. Darcy puzzled over it but then smiled in relief as he steered the conversation to things less personal. The tension left her body as they laughed and talked. For a little while she was able to forget about Johnny and stop worrying about whether Reggie would follow her. The time passed quickly, and she was almost sorry when the plane touched down in Portland.

Neither of them had checked any luggage, so they walked together to the same car rental booth. Grant was about to step up to the counter when he turned back to her. “Why should we both rent a car? I have to go right through Tillamook.” He held up a hand as she started to answer. “I know . . . we’ve only known each other a few hours, but we don’t exactly qualify as strangers anymore either.”

Yesterday Darcy would have refused the offer without a second thought. Why was she even considering it now? Sitting and talking with him in a plane full of people was one thing. Accepting a ride from him was just something a woman alone didn’t do. She was comfortable with him, however, and felt safer than she did on her own. They grew up just a few miles from each other. He knew her aunt and uncle and had been to football games at her school. First dates were almost always with someone you’d just met and that was considered acceptable. Admittedly, the whole dating scene was out of her area of expertise by choice, but what was so different about this?

“Darcy?”

“It’s nice of you to offer, but I can’t. I’m sorry.” She bit her lower lip and watched him for any sign of offense taken.

“Okay. Maybe next time.” He smiled, walked up to the counter, and was soon occupied with paperwork.

The other window was closed, so while she waited her turn, she wandered a short distance away. People-watching always proved entertaining, and nothing brought out the socially challenged quite like big city airport terminals. Near the baggage claim area, a teenage girl with black hair, lipstick, and fingernails swore profusely and screamed at an older man whom Darcy assumed was the girl’s father. Frustration and hopelessness settled in the father’s eyes.

As he corralled his daughter and moved away toward the exit, another man caught Darcy’s eye. Thirty-something and tall, a close-cut beard gave him a rugged look, his long black hair tied back with a strip of leather. In an army-green canvas jacket, he leaned against a column in the center of the room. Confidence emanated from him in the casual manner in which he looked around the crowded terminal, hands partially shoved in the front pockets of his jeans.

Curiosity and something akin to excitement stirred in her as her approving gaze wandered up his muscular legs to his narrow hips and trim waist, lingering on his wide chest and broad shoulders. When she reached his face, she tensed as steel gray eyes met hers boldly. His lips quirked in a crooked smile, and he took a step toward her.

Fear wrung a tiny gasp from her throat even as she had to force herself to break eye contact. Could he be one of Reggie’s men? Could they have found her already? As she backed away, her gaze darted from side to side. Anyone in this terminal could work for Reggie. Suddenly unable to breathe, she had to get out of this airport. She swung around and ran right into Grant. He held up his car keys.

“Your turn.” He swept a hand toward the kiosk.

“I changed my mind. I’d like to go with you.” The words tumbled out in one breath.

His questioning gaze swept her face before he smiled and nodded. “Ready to go?”

As she followed Grant from the building, she glanced back toward the man in the canvas jacket. He was nowhere to be seen. She let her breath out slowly and scolded herself for overreacting yet again.

In a parking garage near the terminal, they found their car—a late model blue Toyota Corolla. She threw her bag onto the backseat with his, removed her jacket, and laid it neatly on top. Then they headed out of town, stopping only long enough for Darcy to use the bathroom at a convenience store.

BOOK: When I Find You: A Trust No One Novel
10.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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