Authors: Kate Allenton
Gracie clutched the file a little tighter. “Mr. Jacobs, my father thinks I’m a joke.” She’d never
said it out loud before, even though she’d thought it all of her life. Her heart felt as though it were crushing in her chest. “He thinks I’m flighty, and I can’t handle it.” Gracie lifted her chin. She wanted to make her point crystal clear. “He’s wrong about one thing. I take my family’s safety seriously. If I have any chance or opportunity to help keep them safe, then I’m going to do everything” –Gracie narrowed her eyes—“
I can to see that it happens. She clutched the file tighter in her fingers. “If you want out, tell me now, because I’m doing this with or without your help.”
are Elizabeth’s sister, aren’t you?” His question came out as a statement. His voice was firm and final when she noted the twinkle of his eye.
Ethan held up the paper. “So what’s this?”
e pointed to the paper. “It’s a list of all of the major players attending the party. Mr. Floyd, my old boss, had me type up the invites. They are somehow involved in all of this, and that is what I’m trying to figure out.”
Ethan glanced down at the paper.
“And the numbers?”
“I’m not sure yet.”
Gracie’s reply was quick and to the point. She didn’t have a clue what the heck the numbers meant.
Ethan nodded and lifted his gaze. “Are you sure I can’t talk you out of this crazy plan? What about if I go and figure this out for you
? Would you stay at home?”
She shook her head. “Nope, I’m trying to find another way inside their group. Most of those people know I worked for Floyd. I’m hoping I can find another way to get close
“I’ll help you figure this out.”
Ethan pulled her into his embrace and wrapped his arms around her. It wasn’t an intimate hug. Heck, if anything, this man thought of her as a kid. She’d become fond of him when she’d met him in Southall, even knowing that it would never be more. Gracie turned her head and leaned into him. It was a nice feeling. Finally someone understood what she was trying to do and giving her his support.
SUV was coming up her driveway. She couldn’t see who exactly was behind the wheel, but she could tell it was someone from the unit just by the vehicle. Ethan kept his arm around Gracie’s shoulder as they turned toward the oncoming vehicle.
He leaned down and whispered
, “My gun is in my waistband. Do you know how to shoot?”
I don’t think it’s a threat.”
Ethan didn’t remove his arm. The door to the SUV opened
, and Ridge stepped out. His dark sunglasses covered his eyes, and even though he was a twin, Gracie could have picked him out in a lineup. His demeanor was so much different than his brothers.
, “Not again.”
down and then returned his gaze to their new intruder. Ridge stopped in front of them, pulled the sunglasses from his eyes, and narrowed his gaze as he glanced from her to Ethan and back. “Gracie?”
Gracie glanced up at Ethan
, and without a word, he pulled her into a hug again and then bent her over his arm and kissed her like she’d never been kissed before. Gracie’s arms went around his neck, more for fear of falling over backward than because of the passionate moment. It wasn’t hard to figure out kissing her was for her benefit, most likely because of what she’d whispered. Gracie didn’t open her mouth for Ethan. She just ran her hand through his hair as he held her where he wanted her.
Ethan eased her up and leaned his forehead against hers. “I’ll
see you tomorrow.”
Gracie closed her eyes.
She wasn’t trying to make Ridge jealous. Ethan’s kiss had been pointless, but she appreciated it just the same. He’d had good intentions so she didn’t pull his gun on him like she had with Ridge, although she might have been tempted for not asking if that was what she wanted.
He kissed her palm one more time
, as she’d seen all of the men in Southall do a thousand times. It was a show of respect, nothing more. “I’ll pick you up at seven.” Ethan slid behind the wheel of his car and drove down her long drive.
Gracie turned back to Ridge. His scowl had
worsened, the fine lines of his face deepening with a vague hint of disapproval, and now he folded his arms across his chest. “Gracie, who was that?”
“Just a friend.
He’s my date for tomorrow night.” Smiling, she turned and jogged up the stairs to her house, knowing that he’d follow.
felt Ridge’s stare on her back as he stomped behind her.
, “You kiss all your friends like that?”
Refusing to answer his question, s
he left her door open as she walked in and chuckled at the innocent looks Tara and Cathy gave her as they backed away from the window. “Everyone, this is Ridge.” She didn’t even look behind her. “Ridge, these are my best friends, Tara and Cathy.” She stepped into her kitchen, poured a cup of coffee, and turned, offering him the mug before she filled one for herself. “Why are you here, Ridge?”
Her cell phone chirped from the kitchen table and vibrated
, almost sliding off the table to the floor. She grabbed it and glanced down at the caller ID. Not recognizing the number, she let it go to voicemail. Stuffing the phone in her back pocket, she turned to Ridge once more.
He glanced over at her friends
with his brows dipped before meeting her gaze again. “Can we talk in private?”
She didn’t answer as she debated whether or not it was a good idea.
His expression was closed, as if guarding a secret.
He held out a hand.
“Please.” His facial features softened as if it would make a difference to her reply. His steady gaze held hers. “Gracie Lou, I wouldn’t have come all of this way if it wasn’t important.”
n times like this, she wished she could read minds or at least had human lie detector skills like Cathy. Memories of their shared kiss flickered through her mind as a reminder of the heat they were capable of producing when they were together.
Gracie met Cathy’s stare,
and the simple nod of her head confirmed Ridge was telling the truth. At least he thought why he came was important, though it might be debatable if she would see it the same way. Tara grinned and wiggled her brows. Her friends approved, even if she didn’t.
“Let me take you to lunch.”
He let his hand fall to his side and took a tentative step in her direction.
athy nodded to Ridge as she grabbed Tara’s hand and started pulling her out of the kitchen. “Why don’t you let her cook for you? We have to drive into town to pick up some stuff we forgot to pack.”
parted before she quickly snapped her mouth shut again. Her friends were bailing on her and leaving her with the one man she couldn’t trust herself with. That one unexpected kiss in her kitchen the night before had set her body in flames. No more wondering what his lips would feel like on hers. Her years of wondering had come to a delicious mouth-watering end. She was no longer a little girl with a crush. She was a woman that knew exactly what his lips could do to her and that was the problem. She met his gaze and narrowed her eyes. “Fine.”
She was going to have to make this quick. The sooner she got him to leave
, the better. After untwisting the tie from the bread, she grabbed the cheese and butter from the fridge. “I hope you like grilled cheese sandwiches.”
She hadn’t even heard him slid
e up behind her. His cologne drifted to her nose, giving away his position. His breath caressed her ear. “I’m not hungry, Gracie…at least not for food.”
Gracie turned to find herself trapped
once more against her kitchen counter. Her gaze landed on his lips, and she remembered the heated kiss they’d shared. Her voice was sultry even to her own ears. “You know how this ended last night.”
A lazy smile curved his lips
. “You didn’t shoot me, princess.” He leaned down; her lids slid closed in anticipation of another kiss. Seconds ticked by without the press of his lips. Her eyes slid open as heat rushed up into her cheeks. His deepened voice sent a shiver down her spine. “I won’t take from you what you don’t give freely.”
Gracie shook her head
to clear the confusion while pushing against his chest. “You did last night.” Her tone concealed the mixed emotions tearing her up inside. She turned back to making her sandwiches. “What changed?”
moved next to her at the counter and started to butter the bread. A shiver of apprehension rushed through her from even the slightest brush of his arm against hers. She closed her eye imagining their sweat covered bodies tangled between the sheets.
It was a mistake.”
His words pulled her from the fantasy playing in her head.
Gracie’s eyes slid open as she tried to mask the disappointment. It had been a mistake; she knew it last night. But to hear him say it brought on a whole new slew of emotions. Her heart sank in her chest, and she lowered her head.
Ridge clenched his eyes closed. He hadn’t meant for it to be so brutally honest. “Gracie…”
She held up her hand. “It’s fine.” She turned to him. “You’re right.
Is that what you wanted to talk about?”
He read the confusion
in her eyes as her smile slipped for a brief second, and he’d almost missed it. The way her shoulders drooped told him all he needed to know. She turned the knob on the stove and set the pan on top of it. Tension filled the air, and he’d created it. Why was everything so difficult when it came to her? He was out of his element. This wasn’t just another woman he was trying to seduce; this was the freaking General’s daughter.
Ridge leaned over and turned the stove off. He took her hands in his and brought them up to his lips, kissing the
inside of her wrist as a lover might do. “Come sit with me.”
He pulled her
to the table and sat next to her then laid a hand over hers. “I need you to understand something.”
“I want to be clear about this.” He cleared his throat, not sure if he was doing the right thing. “I like you, Gracie, and I’d like to get to know you better.”
“What’s changed Ridge? I’ve known you for years and you’ve never been interested. Why now?”
His first reaction had been another lie. Something else to make him look even better in her eyes, but at the last minute he went for the truth. “I’ve always thought of you as off limits. I’m not carefree like my brother, not caring what others might think.” He let her hand go and leaned back in the chair. “I just don’t think you and I would work out.”
She pushed her chair out and stood
, crossing her arms over her chest. “I’ll ask you one more time, Ridge. Why are you here?”
Ridge ran his
hands through his hair and then down over his face as he contemplated telling her the truth. He stifled the growl of frustration that only she’d brought out in him. He’d pissed her off, and the truth wasn’t going to set him free. If anything, it was going to get him kicked out of not only her house but her life too. So he did the one thing he’d sworn he would never do…he lied. He stood towering over her and lifted her hand again. “Just because I said I didn’t think we’d work out doesn’t mean I don’t want to try.”
He was going to hell for leading her on, but he didn’t see any other way around it
if he wanted her to lower her guard. There had been a hint of truth to his words. He really didn’t see any chance of them working out, but he was going to have a good time finding out. Now if he could only convince her his words were true.
…” She paused as if she were mulling his words around in her mind.
“Just give me chance
“Ridge, I’ve got a lot going on right now. I’m not sure I can afford the distraction.”
He pointed behind him without taking his gaze off her. “You have time to go on a date with your friend, but not with me? All I’m asking for is one night to prove to you I can be the man you want.”
Her tongue stroked her bottom lip as if to taunt him
, and he balled his fists to keep from pulling her into his arms. He took a chance. “I understand. Goodbye, Gracie.” Unable to resist feeling her skin on his lips, he leaned over and kissed her on the cheek before turning to leave. He took one tentative step, then two before he realized she wasn’t coming after him. He walked out the front door and pulled it closed behind him almost making it back to his truck before her door flew open. She jumped down the stairs and skidded to a stop in front of him. His heartbeat sped up as he held his breath. He tried to impose his will on her.
Just say yes,
he repeated over and over in his mind as he waited for her to say something. Anything.
Any night but tomorrow night. I have a benefit to attend.”
“Why don’t you let
take you to the benefit?”
Gracie shook her head. “Sorry
, hot shot. I already made a promise.”
Ridge tried his best not to get pissed off. Who in the hell was
he? He’d be finding out soon enough when he made it back to the compound. Her date’s license plate would give Ridge all the information he needed. He bit his tongue and tried not to make the princess mad. He nodded once and raised his palm to her cheek, stroking her bottom lip with the pad of his thumb before pulling the SUV door open. He turned one last time to look at her. “The night after then. I’ll pick you up at six.”
Ridge watched the heat travel into her cheeks and couldn’t suppress the grin from forming on his lips. Oh yeah, he wanted her al
With legs that felt like jelly, Gracie stood in her driveway until Ridge was out of sight. She placed a palm on her belly to squelch the desire his simple touch had produced, desire she refused to act on. Had he really just asked her out and was she crazy for agreeing right when she was about to infiltrate another territory boss’s trust and compound? On top of having her friends still to worry about. Her interest in the sexy Connors should have been squelched from the start, although she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She shook her head and mumbled, “I should have shot him when I had the chance.”
turned back to her house and pulled her cell phone out and listened to the message that went to voice mail. An old friend of hers on Floyd’s payroll confirmed Sinclair was the new territory leader in town.” Seems her suspicions were now concrete.
Walking with purposeful strides
, Ridge made his way through the compound. He handed a piece of paper to Jonah, the unit’s IT guy, and pulled up a chair. “I need to see what you can find out about the owner of this car.”
Jonah started clicking away on his keyboard
Ridge kept his eyes trained on the computer screen. His lips thinned as the information popped up on screen. Jonah stroked another key, and then it was on the big screen in front of all of the techs. “His name is Ethan Jacobs, and he’s from Southall.”
Jonah turned to regard Ridge. “Hey
, isn’t that where Lydia, Thompson, and Briggs came from?”
Jonah returned to his keyboard
, and after a few more strokes of the keys, he pulled up a bio on Ethan Jacobs. “Yep, he’s employed by Tactical Maneuvers. Lydia’s brother-in-law owns it, and Briggs worked with them before they sent him here.”
Ridge crossed his arms over his chest. “What the hell is he doing here?”
Jonah tapped his restless fingers on the desk as if it was some major task that he’d had to stop himself from clicking at the keyboard. “Beats me.”
Ridge stood and patted him on the back
. Uneasiness settled over him. “Keep digging and let me know what you find.”
Jonah nodded and never lifted his gaze from his computer. “You got it
e left the compound again. He’d get quicker answers if he went straight to the source, but he wasn’t ready to tip his hand just yet. He knew who could tell him more about the stranger and what the hell was going on.
Ridge pulled into the driveway and let out a sigh. At
least Jamie and Briggs were home. There was always a big possibility they wouldn’t give him any information, especially after what had happened with Floyd and Jamie’s little sister, but all he could do was ask. He parked the SUV and saw Briggs, Jamie and her sister, Sarah, off in the distance. Sarah had her head hung back as she gripped the tire swing that was attached to the tree.