Authors: Barbara Dunlop
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance
“I slept with him, Jilli. I did it. I jumped into bed with a man I barely knew.”
There was a beat of silence.
“You slept with him already?” asked Jillian.
“Go ahead. Give it to me. Tell me how stupid I am, that I’m lacking self-respect, that I’ve let down the sisterhood.”
“You didn’t do anything wrong.”
Jade pulled back her phone and stared at it for a moment.
She returned it to her ear. “Huh?”
“Sometimes the heart wants what it wants.”
“This isn’t about my heart. And it sure isn’t about his heart. I look exactly like his last girlfriend. Who, by the way, broke his heart.”
“He has a girlfriend?”
“Had. Short term, which seems to be the case with all his girlfriends. The man has holiday flings instead of relationships.”
“I didn’t know he had a girlfriend,” said Jillian.
“How would you know that? How would you know anything?”
“Well…the way you described him. It didn’t seem like he’d have a girlfriend.”
“His sister says they split up a couple of months back. Logan was devastated, and I look just like her.” Jade groaned out loud and scooped up her wineglass.
“It might not be so bad,” said Jillian, but she sounded pretty uncertain.
“I’m flying home day after tomorrow. This has been the worst vacation ever.” Jade took another drink.
“Was the sex at least good?” asked Jillian.
“Off the charts.”
“On a scale of one to ten, it was a twelve.”
“At least you’ve got that going for you.”
“You mean if I have to be a notch on his bedpost, at least I had fun?”
“Something like that. Oh, Jade, I’m so sorry.”
“It’s not your fault.”
Again, there was silence.
Yeah, Jade couldn’t think of anything to say either.
“Gotta go, Jilli. I’ll talk to you in a couple of days.”
“Sure,” said Jillian, sounding depressed. “Bye.”
ogan found himself
standing outside Jade’s hotel suite door, composing and discarding opening lines. “Hello” was too generic. “I missed you” seemed ridiculous after only five hours. And “thank you” seemed somehow disrespectful.
Finally, he just knocked. He’d play it by ear. Maybe she’d say something first, and it would give him inspiration.
He waited. Then he knocked again.
“Jade?” he called through the door. Amy had told him Jade had gone back to her room only an hour ago.
“Go away,” came her muffled voice through the thick door.
“Are you all right?”
“Please, Logan. I don’t want to do this.”
Did she think he wanted to hop into bed with her? He did, but that wasn’t why he was here. He wanted to talk to her. They’d left the dock ridiculously abruptly after everything they’d shared. He wanted a conversation, that was all.
“Let’s not drag this out.”
Now he was truly baffled. “I’m not here to say goodbye.” He paused. “Open the door, Jade.”
He heard the lock slide, and she cracked the door.
“There’s nothing else to say,” she told him.
“There are lots of things to say.” Even though they’d talked for hours on end at the cottage.
“I’m not walking away like this. What’s going on? What happened? You’re innocent. Sam proved it. This is our first chance to talk without that obstacle hanging between us.”
“What are you doing, Logan? Do you feel guilty, is that it? I’m a big girl. I knew what I was doing when I hopped into bed with you. You don’t have to let me down easy now just because your family had me thrown in jail.”
“Let you down easy?” He wasn’t letting her down at all. “I want to talk, Jade. Full stop. Nothing more. If you let me in, I promise nothing more will happen. I won’t make love to you again, no matter how much you beg.”
He glanced from side to side. “There’s nobody out here.” Then inspiration hit him. He raised his voice. “But there could be people in these rooms. Do you really want me to shout things out in the hallway?”
She dragged open the door, a scowl on her face. “I never begged.”
He stepped across the threshold. “There was that one time last night.”
She shut the door behind him. “A gentleman would never have mentioned it again.”
He smiled at her. “I guess I’m not a gentleman.”
She still looked ticked off. “No kidding.”
He reached for her, but she jerked back.
“What?” Was it his turn to beg?
“Fine,” she snapped. “But you made me say it.”
“Amy told me about Sasha.”
“What about Sasha?”
Surely Jade had had previous men in her life. They were both adults.
“She showed me a picture.” Jade took a couple of backward steps. “I’m one in a long line. I get it. I’m a substitute for the woman you lost.”
“But let’s not pretend this is anything different.”
“I have eyes, Logan.”
“I never lost Sasha.”
“You asked her to stay.”
He raked a hand through his hair. “I did. And I was wrong. I thought I felt something for her. But since I met you, I can’t even remember what she looks like. She was nothing. I am so unbelievably, indescribably glad that she left.”
Jade stared at him, her chest moving up and down with deep breaths. “How can I believe you?”
“You can’t,” he admitted. “You shouldn’t. All I can ask is that you give me a chance.”
“Give you a chance for what? I’m leaving here in two days, Logan. This is a holiday fling. You’ve had them before. You’ll have them again.”
He was fighting not to go to her. “I’ve never had anything like this before.”
“That’s nice of you to say. And I appreciate the consideration. But let’s leave it up at the cottage, okay? If I do that, my dignity is intact. We were stranded together, blah, blah, blah, under extraordinary circumstances, blah, blah, blah, you rescued me, kind of saved my life on the lake, whatever. But it was just one of those things. If it follows me back here, where I’m making a deliberate choice to sleep with you again, well, then…”
“I said I wouldn’t make love to you tonight. No matter how much you beg.”
“We both know what you meant.”
He did take a step forward. “No. Obviously only one of us knew what I meant. I meant I wouldn’t make love to you, no matter how much you beg. I’m not here for sex, Jade. I wanted to spend some time with you. Now I want to convince you that you are
one in a long line. You are absolutely
a substitute for anyone. You’re beautiful and unique and amazing, and I did you wrong. I should have trusted you. Now I do, and that’s why I’m here.”
She swallowed, and he could see the uncertainty filter through her eyes.
“Let me do this right, Jade. You’re the most amazing woman I’ve ever met. I called you a liar and fed you grilled ham and cheese. You can’t make me live with that for the rest of my life.” He shifted another inch forward. “There’s a great steakhouse, right across the street.”
She obviously fought a smile.
He dared to take the final step that brought him to her. “Candlelight, fine wine, filet that melts in your mouth.”
“I am a little hungry,” she said in a soft voice.
“All that hard work at the spa?” he dared joke.
Her shoulders squared. “Don’t underestimate the concentration required for a good pedicure.”
“I promise, I won’t.”
She glanced down at her T-shirt and yoga pants. “I should change.”
She did smile. “You’re blind as a bat.”
Then she headed for the bedroom, leaving him to brace himself on a chair back in relief.
As they lingered
over dessert, Jade watched the candlelight flicker on Logan’s face. It reminded her of the fireplace last night, the orange flames reflecting off his bare chest and shoulders. She fought the arousal brought on by the memory.
“Virgil sounds like he needs therapy,” said Logan.
“It wouldn’t do him a bit of harm,” she agreed. “Funny thing is, he’s married. His wife has a graduate degree, a good job, and by all accounts is independently wealthy. I never understood what she sees in him.”
“Probably just as well.”
“Maybe he’s different at home.” Jade had assumed that had to be the case.
“People are usually different in different circumstances.”
She nodded. She agreed with that. “I’ve definitely been acting out of character here.”
His gaze warmed on hers. “I hope you don’t feel guilty about acting out of character.”
“I meant I haven’t been working.”
“You’re not supposed to be thinking about that.”
“That’s true. But I only promised not to do it. Thinking’s free.”
“That it is,” he agreed with a nod.
At the sound of her name, she glanced up from the table.
“Sam?” She was surprised and pleased to see him. “You came back?” She was instantly happy to have a chance to thank him in person.
“I came back.” He looked to Logan.
“Hi, Sam,” Logan greeted him.
“I’m sorry to interrupt. But I have a few things to talk about with Jade.”
“Please, join us.” Logan gestured to a chair.
“I’m afraid I need to talk to her in private.”
Something flitted through Logan’s eyes. It didn’t seem to be anger, more unease than anything else.
Jade took in Sam’s serious expression as well. She wanted to tell him to speak freely in front of Logan. But she knew she couldn’t do that. Sam had said he still had connections in the tech world. He might have discovered something about Ewan and John, and it could be better for Logan if he didn’t know about it.
“Can we take a walk?” Sam asked her.
But Logan came to his feet. “I’ll go sit in the lounge. You two can talk here. If that’s what you want.” The last statement was directed at Jade, and his expression said he wouldn’t leave unless she agreed.
“Thank you,” she told him. “I should probably talk to Sam.”
Logan gave a tight nod. Then he reached across the table and gave her hand a reassuring squeeze.
Sam watched the gesture, but his expression was inscrutable.
As Logan walked away, Sam took the chair cornerwise to Jade. She sat up straighter, leaning closer so they could keep their voices low.
“How much do you know about WNT?” he asked her.
“They approached me a couple of months back to offer me a job. I wasn’t looking to make a move. But I was curious, you know, to see what was out there.”
“They made an offer. I said no. But they kept coming at me. They were getting more aggressive when I left on this weird vacation. Next thing I knew, Ewan and John were standing there in lockup admitting they’d framed me and telling me they’d make it all go away if I’d come work for them.”
“You don’t want to get mixed up with WNT.”
“I wish I’d never answered that stupid e-mail.”
“They had a plan in place to incriminate you in New York City. But then you left. This thing with Twin Peaks seems to have been ad hoc.”
It took a moment for the information to sink in. She let it settle. “Two questions, Sam.”
“Are you freakin’ kidding me? And who the hell are you?”
Sam smiled. “I’m not kidding you. It would have been worse if it had happened in New York. It would have been more organized and harder to figure out. And I’m just a guy who’s been in the tech business for a very long time. Now, I have a question for you.”
“Okay.” She was more curious than ever after that answer, but probing Sam’s background didn’t seem like the most important priority for the moment.
“Do you have any idea how good you are?”
“What do you mean?”
“At your job.”
Jade gave a shrug. She realized everybody had their strengths, including her. “I guess I’m pretty good. My files keep getting more complex, and they’ve been keeping me busy on the security side lately.”
“There’s a reason WNT won’t leave you alone. You’re unique.”
“I’m just another analyst. There are thousands…okay, at least hundreds like me out there.” There was no point in claiming false modesty in this conversation. Her test scores in college had always been high. She knew she was assigned the complex files, and that her colleagues came to her for help on a regular basis. She understood she had an unusually logical brain. She also knew she was fortunate to have found a niche where she could excel.
“You need to get away from them,” said Sam.
they? Criminals? Foreign? What?”
“They’re officially on our side. They’re not government, but they are affiliated. Trouble is, they bend, if not obliterate, the rules. There’s always a risk of being caught and disavowed. And once you’re in, you’re in.”
“I don’t want in.” She knew she was stating the obvious, but the fear she’d pushed away was returning in force. “Are they still in Mirror Falls?”