Authors: Barbara Dunlop
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance
“We don’t know what happened.”
“Oh, yes, we do.”
“Will you let her talk?”
Logan clamped his jaw.
“Jade?” Amy prompted.
Jade brushed her hair back with a shaky hand. “I just want to get out of town.”
“What happened?” Amy’s tone was sympathetic.
Jade paused. She swallowed. She closed her eyes for a long moment. Logan assumed she was getting her story straight.
“Like I said, it’s complicated. At first I thought it was a mistake. I borrowed the hotel’s Internet—”
“Borrowed,” Logan scoffed.
“Shut up,” Amy repeated.
It took Jade a moment to start again, and for some reason, Logan felt guilty. Which was ridiculous. He was
buying into this wounded innocence act.
“I checked my e-mail,” said Jade. “That’s all. The next thing I knew, the sheriff was at my door.”
“Is that enough?” Logan asked Amy. “Can we stop now?”
“She said ‘at first,’” said Amy. “What was the second part.”
Jade looked up at Logan. Her luminous eyes seemed to trap him. They were shimmering, as if she was only just managing to keep from crying. This was night and day from the vivacious woman he’d spent the day with yesterday. Either something was off here, or she should be up for an Academy Award.
“You remember those men?” she asked him.
“What men?” The question was out before he had a chance to stop it. He kicked himself for engaging in the conversation.
“The ones in the lounge last night. You asked me if I knew them.”
She shook her head. “No, I didn’t. But they knew me. And they framed me.”
Logan blinked himself back to reality, dragging his gaze from her. “Now you’re just making it up as you go along.”
She turned back to Amy, obviously realizing she was a more sympathetic listener. “I’ve been kicked out of the hotel. I can’t get a flight to Denver for three days. Believe me or not, but I need to stay well away from Ewan and John.”
“You know their names?” Logan asked.
She looked at him again, causing his chest to contract. “They introduced themselves. I’m sorry to barge in like this. I know you think I’ve harmed your family. I only wanted to ask if you’d fly me to Denver.”
“He’ll fly you to Denver,” said Amy.
“He will not,” Logan countered. Jade had gotten herself into this mess. She could bloody well get herself out.
“What the hell is your problem?” Amy demanded.
problem? You’re the one buying into this crap. This con artist spent yesterday grilling me about the family, our businesses, setting us up to rip us off.”
“You’re rewriting history,” said Jade.
“What happened yesterday?” asked Amy.
“Nothing,” both Logan and Jade answered simultaneously.
Amy drew back in obvious surprise. “Fine. Okay. Logan will fly you to Denver in the morning. For tonight, you can stay with me.”
“What?” Logan barked. Let Jade loose in the family home with nobody to watch her but Amy? There’d be nothing left by morning.
Amy came to her feet. “She is not sleeping on the street.”
“Well, she’s not going to have the run of Mom and Dad’s house, either.”
“Good grief, Logan. She’s not going to steal the silver.”
“We don’t know that. She can stay with me.” He was in a much better position to keep an eye on her, and stop her if she tried anything overnight.
“Well, that’s inappropriate,” said Amy.
“Take it or leave it,” he said to Jade. “But if you want my help, I am not taking my eyes off you until your feet hit the tarmac in Denver.”
Her hand tightened on the small purse in her lap as she looked up. “I’ll take it,” she told him softly.
Once again, her eyes seemed to flare into his, changing the pressure in his chest and inappropriately engaging his sympathies.
Man, she was good.
Taking in the
layout of Logan’s small house, Jade tried to tell herself there was a bright side to being here. She might be on the receiving end of Logan’s animosity and distrust, but he was unlikely to toss her in an offshore prison or demand she work for him in a questionable high-tech organization. And the last place Ewan and John would look for her was with a member of the Edwards family.
Unsure of what to do, she parked her suitcase next to the brown leather sofa and simply stood there. The room was warm and cozy, with throw rugs on hardwood floors, an open-beam ceiling and a natural stone fireplace. Logan had moved into the kitchen. She could hear the sounds of running water and clattering dishes.
She forced herself to follow him. “Do you mind if I use your shower?”
He stilled, his back to her, seeming to decide if there was anything of value in his bathroom. The moment stretched, and her discomfort grew.
“I won’t steal the condoms,” she joked.
He turned his head to glare at her.
She decided to be honest. What did she have left to lose? “I smell like the holding cells. It’s not pleasant.”
He gave a brisk nod. “Top of the stairs. Take a right.”
He didn’t answer, but turned on the faucet again, turning away.
She carried her suitcase up the stairs, telling herself she’d get through this and that her current circumstances were far better than the alternative. After all, it would have been a very long, very chilly night on the streets of Mirror Falls. At least here, she could clean up, get a little sleep, and then get to Denver, where she could start to figure this mess out.
She stripped out of her clothes, wrapping them in a plastic bag and tucking them into an outside pocket of her suitcase. Then she retrieved her toiletries and stepped under the hot spray of Logan’s shower.
Like the main floor, the bathroom was mountain rustic. The shower was large, made of natural stone with a big overhead spray. There was a double-size tub in a windowed alcove, dual sinks, and plenty of fresh, fluffy towels. For some reason, Logan hadn’t struck her as the domestic type, but the room was nicely decorated. The countertops, a mottled gray, were scattered with candles and ceramics.
She scrubbed her body with lavender shower gel and washed her hair, rinsing in some wildflower-scented conditioner. It took a lot of hot water, but eventually she felt clean again.
She was running low on clean clothing, but she found a pair of black leggings and a dusty-blue sweaterdress. She pulled a pair of chunky knit, multicolored socks onto her feet, combed out her hair, and decided makeup would be a ridiculous waste of time.
She took a moment to brush her teeth before stuffing everything back into her suitcase. Then she steeled herself, unlocked the door and headed back downstairs.
To her surprise, Logan was cooking.
She ventured slowly to the kitchen archway, standing there for a moment, wondering what on earth to say.
“Hi,” she finally decided.
He turned, staring at her in silence. His gaze dropped to her feet, but he didn’t make any comment.
“Can I help?” she asked.
“I’m making pesto chicken.”
She took a couple of steps forward. “Sounds good.”
“I’m relieved that you like it.”
“I do. But even if I didn’t, I’d lie.”
“That doesn’t surprise me.” There wasn’t a single trace of humor in his tone.
She sighed in defeat, noting a breakfast nook beyond the counters. It had a view along the lakeshore, a lighted pathway that stretched the length of town, and the houses and businesses beyond. A white cloth covered the table, and a creeping plant sat in the middle in a yellow ceramic pot.
“If you point me to the plates…”
For a moment, she didn’t think he was going to answer.
“Top cupboard, left of the sink,” he said.
She moved in that direction. “Thanks.”
“This isn’t blissful domesticity,” he told her.
“Still, I appreciate you not letting me starve.”
She made up her mind to bury her anger. None of this was Logan’s fault. She couldn’t even blame him for suspecting her. He barely knew her, and it seemed that she’d been framed by men who knew how. The more amazing turn of events was that Amy hadn’t condemned her along with everyone else in her family.
“Did they feed you in jail?” he asked.
“No. I must have missed brunch, and I left before dinner was served.”
“Are you…” He stopped talking.
She turned to see him grip the lip of the countertop.
“Do you…” he began again.
He turned. “Do you need something right away? Are you that hungry?”
She’d avoided crying all day long, but for some reason his reluctant question got to her. He couldn’t stand the sight of her, but he didn’t want her to go hungry.
Her throat clogged up, and she quickly turned away, opening the cupboard to block his view of her face. “I’m fine.”
He opened the refrigerator. “I’ve got some cheese here, some crackers, a few vegetable sticks?”
“It’s okay,” she managed, focusing on positioning the plates on the table, lining up the geometric pattern on the plates with the inlaid wood of the tabletop. “Don’t worry about me.”
They both fell to silence, and she let the minutes slip by without bothering him.
“Screw it,” he finally said from behind her. “I’m opening a bottle of wine. You want some?”
She hesitated. But nothing could make the situation any worse. It followed that alcohol could only make it better.
“Yeah,” she answered.
While she located his flatware, she heard the wine cork pop. She set knives and forks out on the table, while he poured the wine.
“Napa Valley,” he told her. “Cabernet sauvignon.”
“Anything’s fine.” She lined a fork up exactly half an inch from the plate.
“This is a lot better than ‘anything.’”
She turned to look at him. “I didn’t mean it as an insult.”
He didn’t exactly smile, but his expression did soften. “I know. Come and have a drink.” He pushed one of the glasses toward her on the breakfast bar.
“Thanks.” She crossed the kitchen, focusing on the marble countertop pattern, the crystal wineglass, the porcelain sink and designer faucet. Anything to keep from looking at Logan.
“Probably should have let it breathe,” he said.
She lifted the glass and took an experimental sip. The flavors bloomed in her mouth, the alcohol flowing smoothly down her throat. She took another sip, resisting the urge to down the entire glass.
“This is really great,” she told him.
“It was the closest bottle to the corkscrew. I was in a hurry.”
She gave a nod, reminding herself that he couldn’t care less about her personal dining experience.
“Anything else I can do to help?”
“Eat,” he told her, moving to deposit his glass on the table. “Come and sit down.”
She moved to take the chair opposite his glass.
He opened the oven and removed a serving dish of pasta, chicken and chopped vegetables. The scents of basil and parmesan teased her senses.
“That looks fantastic,” she told him as he set the dish in the center of the table.
“I’m not trying to impress you.”
“I know. But I don’t know how else to do this. I’ve never had dinner with someone who hates me.”
He handed her a pair of serving utensils. “I don’t hate you.”
She shot him an expression of disbelief.
He took his seat. “I mean, I don’t wish you dead or anything.”
“That’s comforting.” She lifted some pasta onto her plate. “It honestly hadn’t occurred to me to fear falling asleep tonight.”
“Well, it occurred to me that I might want to stay awake.”
“You can’t possibly think I mean you harm.”
“I was worried about the family jewelry.”
She handed him the utensils. “You have family jewelry?”
“Funny how that perked up your interest.”
“It did not.”
“Yes, it did.”
“You keep surprising me, is all. I would not have taken you for a guy with heirlooms.”
“And I would not have taken you for a girl with a criminal record.”
“I don’t have a criminal record.” Though, for a horrible moment, she wondered if Ewan and John were capable of breaking into the justice system and planting a fake criminal record in her name.
“Never been caught?”
“Never committed any crimes.”
“Except for computer hacking.”
That was true enough. And not just last night.
“I do use my evil powers for good.” She took a first bite of the pasta dish and moaned as the flavors melded. It was heavenly.
“End justifies the means?”
“A lot of the work I do is in cybersecurity. I break into the bad guys’ computer systems to keep them from hurting the good guys. You are an amazing cook.”
“Did I surprise you again?”
“Absolutely.” She took another bite.
“So, you’re some kind of hacking genius?”
“I wouldn’t have thought so. I mean, I’m good enough, I guess. And that’s where this thing falls apart from your standpoint. I’m definitely good enough not to get caught.” She took another drink of the wine. If anything, it was getting even better.
“You slipped up this time.”
“No, I didn’t. I wouldn’t. I never do.”