Authors: Kate Allenton
Ethan placed his palm over her trembling hand. “Gracie…”
She couldn’t pull her gaze from the stranger’s. He held her in a trance.
Ethan stepped in front of her and pulled her into his arms
, breaking the connection. “What’s wrong?”
His chest blocked her view, but somehow she knew the man was still watching and waiting.
Her entire body shook. Her legs threatened to give out. It was a miracle she was still standing at all. “We need to leave.” A foreboding feeling ran through her veins. She shouldn’t be here. She was in trouble, although she couldn’t pinpoint why. Her voice came out in a whisper. “We need to leave now.”
Ridge’s comm clicked in his ear. Brody’s voice sounded urgent. “Get me a visual on whoever Gracie was looking at. Now!”
The urgency in his brother’s voice told him everything he needed to know. Something was wrong. Something was very wrong. He moved through the
double doors quickly, only slowing down when he’d emerged back in the ballroom. “Who has visual?”
Another voice chirped in his ear. “I do. Are you getting this guy? Are the lenses letting you get a read on him?”
Jonah’s voice came through the comm. “We’ve got him, but the computer can’t identify him. Who has the visual on Gracie?”
Ridge scanned the partygoers for any sign of her.
Another voice chirped in his ear. “Jacob’s just whisked her out of there. She’s gone.”
Ridge’s heart thumped in his chest. Gracie had been in trouble
, and he hadn’t had a clue. He stomped through the ballroom and out the front door. He walked over to the black van, threw the door open, and climbed inside. “What the hell happened?”
win turned in his direction and hesitated while giving Ridge a look that told him he wasn’t going to like the response. “After she left you and found Jacobs, she started staring at someone or something. She turned white as a ghost, and her whole body was visually trembling. Something or someone spooked her, so I panned some of the cameras in the direction she was staring, and I didn’t have a clear shot, but Johnson got one.”
Jonah started clicking at the keyboard. A big
, broad man with dark wavy hair and a menacing face filled the scene. “This guy.” He turned toward Ridge. “He’s the one.”
Ridge’s brows dipped. “Who the hell is he?”
Jonah turned back to the computer and started clicking the keyboard again. “I ran him through our typical databases, but nothing’s coming up. I’m still trying to get an ID.”
et his head drop in his hands and ran his fingers through his hair. “Where is she?”
Brody’s lips pulled into a thin line.
“She left. Jacobs got her out of there in the blink of an eye. She’s probably halfway home by now.”
Ridge pushed the van door open and climbed out. “
Brody scurried out after him. “Dude, think about this for a minute.” Ridge spun around on his twin.
His hands were balled in a fist.
“There’s nothing to think about. She’s going to end up getting herself killed if
I let her go through with her hair-brained idea. I don’t know about you, Brody, but I can’t live with her getting hurt or, God forbid, her death on my conscious.” He balled his fist. “Can you?”
Brody put his fists on his hips. “So you think she’s going to listen if you go over there and put your foot down
like some caveman and demand she not do something? You honestly think it works like that in her head? You’re assuming she would just roll over and take orders from you?”
Ridge threw his hands up. “What the hell am I supposed to do?” Ridge pointed back toward the country club. “She’s obviously freaked ab
out something. How can I protect her if I didn’t even see it happening.”
“And why didn’t you? Your job is to watch out for her!”
“I thought she was fine damn it.
was with her.” Ridge turned back toward the SUV he’d arrived in and started walking. His brother appeared beside him and patted him on the back. “Go back to base and cool off, and in the morning, we’ll come up with a plan. I’ll station a detail around her property and make sure she’s safe for the night, and tomorrow we’ll deal with it.”
Ridge nodded. He
felt his face turning red and the electricity vibrating between his fingers. He did need to calm down, and quick, before he started shooting lightning bolts out of the damn tips of his fingers. He’d take out the surrounding power and transformers for twenty blocks.
Ridge took a deep breath and ti
lted his head from side to side, trying to ease the tension. “Fine, I’ll go back to the compound, but I want you on her detail. You’re the only one who knows how important this is for me.”
Brody nodded. “I’ll take care of it.”
Gracie arrived home to find her best friends fast asleep. She’d sent a reluctant Ethan home promising she was fine. She wanted to be alone. She needed to be alone. She wanted the peace and tranquility that living on the outskirts of town afforded her. She slipped on her nightclothes and slippers, grabbed her coffee
, and walked out onto her porch. It wasn’t the nighttime that scared her; she preferred it. She took a seat on her swing and pushed with her foot, setting it in motion as she listened to the frogs croaking and the sounds of nocturnal animals of the forest surrounding her house. She gazed up at the stars as she sipped her coffee and debated whether she should go through with her plan. She’d been spooked tonight, and there was a possibility it could happen again.
It almost didn’t make sense for her to continue, but there was still that
heavy feeling in the back of her mind that if she didn’t then her family and friends would end up hurt. Her intuition had never steered her wrong before. The man with the dark eyes looked familiar. Someone she couldn’t place but automatically knew what was important.
Gracie walked back inside her house and locked the door. A migraine was forming again. She needed sleep before it became a full
-blown attack that would keep her in bed for days. Gracie kicked off her slippers and slid into bed, hoping for a restful night’s sleep.
She closed her eyes and fell into a deep rem. Images appeared behind her lids. Images that she’d thought long and buried played out like a movie as she remembered that fateful night in college.
She was on a path through the forest during fall. Dead leaves surrounded her feet. It was a path she’d taken more than once and was now blocked by the largest man she’d ever seen. She was in another trance as she had been tonight. Fear crept into her spine as his black gaze held hers. She involuntarily took a step closer to the large, dark-haired man. Her gut wrenched and screamed at her to stop, to turn and flee. Her body didn’t listen. It was as if he held an invisible string wrapped around her and was pulling her slowly toward him. She knew in her mind if she didn’t fight she was going to die.
She tried unsuccessfully to still her feet from moving closer to the man. She knew her eyes widened in fear of what he might do to her when she
was in his grasp. Her legs wobbled as she took her next step and the one after until strong familiar arms wrapped around her midsection from behind. Her best friend, Adam, whispered in her ear, “Fight him, Gracie. He’s only here because of me. You have to leave.”
He moved to stand in front of her
with his hardened brown eyes and even darker brown hair. His hands squeezed her arm. “Run…and don’t look back.”
Her gaze moved to his,
and tears streamed down her face. She shook her head and grabbed his hand and tugged at him. “Come with me.”
He didn’t move
. “I promise he won’t hurt you, but you have to go.”
She shook her head. “Not without you.”
He shoved her back, almost making her lose her balance. “I can’t protect both of us. You have to run!” he said with more urgency in his voice. She spun on her heel and took off running as fast as she could back down the trail. Fresh tears slid down her cheeks, making her vision blurry. She tripped, knocking her head on a rock, and her last thought was that she needed to go back to help him.
A scream ripped through Gracie’s throat as she shot up in her bed. Sweat beaded her brow. Her clothes were soaked as if she’d just run a marathon. Her memory of the night came crashing back in the light of the new day
, and she whispered into the silence of her room. “Adam.”
The pressure in her head lightened as the thoughts came flooding back. She rubbed her temples. Why had she forgotten? How is it even possible that she’d forgotten that night and her best friend
after he saved her life? Her heart sank into her chest as a tear slipped down her cheek. She covered her mouth with her hand as she raced toward the bathroom, slamming the door behind her. What the hell was happening to her, was she losing her mind. Adam and the evil man were real. She’d seen them last night. Why had she suppressed the memories? Or had she? Everything in her stomach rose to her throat as she leaned over the commode until nothing was left but dry heaves.
There was a light knock on her bathroom door.
“Just a minute.”
“Are you okay? We heard you scream.” Tara’s worried voice carried through the wood.
Gracie pushed herself up and over to the sink, cupping water from the facet and rinsing out her mouth. “I’m fine. Can you start a pot of coffee? I need to take a quick shower.”
Tara hesitated. “Sure, if you’re sure you’re okay.”
Her friendships with Tara and Cathy had been automatic. Being daughters of some of the other gifted families may have brought them together, but it was care for one another that gave them strength. It wasn’t until the spring of the forgotten night that they’d transferred into her college, but it was as if they were meant to be friends. They each knew when there was something wrong. There wasn’t going to be any way to hide her realizations from them. “I’m fine. I’ll explain over coffee.”
“I’ll have a mug waiting for you.”
Gracie stepped into the shower. Her mind was racing to make sense of forgetting such an important person in her life. She came up empty with no logical reason of how it had happened, only that it had, in fact, happened. She remembered it now, as if it had happened yesterday. Gracie dressed and walked into the kitchen, her head still foggy, trying to come up with an explanation.
She plopped down in one of the chairs and picked up the mug
, lifting it to her lips. Her friends were worried. She knew they were. It was unspoken, but the feeling was there.
“Tell us what happened
,” Cathy said as she reached for her hand and gave a gentle squeeze.
Gracie shook her head
to clear her thoughts. Maybe confiding in Cathy and Tara might shed some light on what she’d remembered. “Do you ever remember me mention a guy named Adam, from college?”
Tara and Cathy shared a look of confusion before Tara answered. “You’ve never mentioned anyone named Adam before today.”
Sipping her coffee, Gracie let that information sink in. “I didn’t remember him until last night.”
Tara leaned back in her chair. “Gracie, you aren’t making any sense.
Are you sure you’re feeling all right?”
Gracie pushed from her chair
, walked over to the fridge, and pulled out a carton of eggs and some cheese. She glanced over her shoulder as she broke the shell of the first egg and dumped it into the bowl. She paused after she threw the shell away. She turned and leaned against the counter as she explained her dream…no, she corrected herself. Her forgotten memory. They sat in silence and listened to her whole dream from the night before.
Tara stood and
pulled a pan out of the cabinet.
Cathy started pulling veggies from the fridge. “Okay, let’s figure this out.”
And that was why these two women were her best friends. They didn’t think she was going crazy. They might not understand how she’d forgotten as she had, but they were there to help her. She wanted to pull them into a hug and squeeze them tight. Her heart lifted from her stomach back into her chest.
Tara sprayed the pan and turned on the burner. “Let’s say for argument
’s sake that when you fell and hit your head you did indeed forget that night and seeing Adam again made you remember.” She paused and turned toward Gracie. “Where has he been all this time? Why hasn’t he contacted you…if you were best friends?”
Gracie continued to add eggs to the bowl before whipping them. “That’s the part I don’
t get. I can almost understand since I hit my head that I forget, but what about him? What’s his excuse?”
Tara’s face clouded
. “This Adam character was with Sinclair, right? And didn’t you say that you have a job interview today?”
A smile lit Tara’s face. “Well then, you’ll just have to land the job and see what you can find out.”
felt her brows furrow. On top of finding out about Black and Sinclair, she had another mystery she had to solve. She was surprised she didn’t have a migraine from thinking of all of the possibilities. She straightened and turned back to making their omelets. “I think you’re right. I deserve an explanation, and I’m damn sure going to get one.”
The rest of the afternoon passed in a blur. Ethan had called to check in on her and explained that he was still researching the list. Ridge had also called
, reminding her of a date she’d almost forgotten. Her interview with Sinclair hadn’t shed any new information, but she had gotten the job and was due to start on Monday. Although she was surprised he wanted to interview her on a Saturday, it wasn’t earth shattering when she’d realized he was in desperate need of help. She’d used the same fake name and IDs she’d used when working for Floyd in case of a background check. Her objectives were all starting to fall into place, except for one.
Ridge was still a factor she hadn’t figured out. She questioned her decision for the date she’
d agreed to. He’d told her to dress casually when she’d asked where they were going. Jeans, a black silky button down blouse, and her favorite knee-high black leather boots rounded out her outfit. She sat on her porch watching the sun set behind the trees as she waited nervously for him to show up.
Her stomach did flip-flops when his SUV pulled down her drive and stopped in front of her house. He slid out of the vehicle and she rose with mixed emotions to greet him. She licked her lips as he approached. His jeans hung just right off his hips, and the dark blue sweater stretched across his chest showed a peek of the white shirt underneath. He stopped at the bottom of her steps and held out his hand, waiting for her to take it. “You ready?”
Words escaped her so she nodded and grabbed her purse from the table. She
hollered over her shoulder to her friends peering through the window. “Don’t wait up.”
s drifted to her ears and put a smile on her face.
Ridge pulled up in front of a log cabin on the other end of town
, a place she would have picked herself just for the surrounding woods and sense of peace it gave off.
“Where are we?”
she asked sliding out from the passenger seat and meeting him in the front of the SUV. He laced his fingers with hers.
“Welcome to my sanctuary.” He held her hand
and guided her up the steps onto the wraparound porch, and slid the key in the lock.
“I thought you lived on base
,” she said entering the cabin behind him. She glanced up at the tall ceiling framed by logs. The place was cozy and homey, and nothing she would have expected from a bachelor.
“I do, but when I take
time off or just want some time away from everything, then I come here.” He walked to what she assumed was the kitchen and returned with two glasses of wine. “I hope you like red.”
She took the wine glass from his hand and sipped. “I didn’t think you took time off. I thought you were all about the job.”
He motioned to the couch, and she sat. He poked at an already lit fire, stirring the red embers to life. “There’s a lot you don’t know about me, Gracie.” He replaced the poker and turned toward her. “But I’d like to change that if you’d let me.”
Gracie felt her face flush. She hadn’t thought about Ridge in any other capacity besides her father’s second
-in-command. She took another sip of her wine, letting his comment soak in. “Ridge, be honest with me. Why the sudden interest?”
He moved to sit next to her
, slid the wine glass from her hand, and let his fingers lightly touch hers before setting it on the table next to his. He cupped her cheek and leaned in. Before his lips touched hers, he whispered, “I’ve always been interested. Can I kiss you?”
, unable to speak.
His lips moved against hers. He
slid his tongue against the crease of her mouth, and she opened for him placing her hands on his chest. He leaned in closer and, tilting his head, he deepened the kiss, which elicited a moan from her. His heart beat fast beneath her palms. His body betrayed him. He wanted this every bit as much as she did. She ran her fingers up into his hair while he made slow circles on her back. Her breasts felt heavy as she arched, pushing them harder against his chest.
rested his forehead against hers breaking their heated kiss and gave one last nip to her bottom lip. “I’m sorry, Gracie. I lost myself in the moment. I didn’t want to move this fast.”
Her gaze held his. “Don’t apologize, Ridge. I wanted that kiss as much as you wanted to give it to me.” No sooner
had the words left her mouth than she felt the heat creep up into her cheeks. A buzzer in the kitchen sounded, and he pulled away. The heat of his body against hers was instantly gone and left a cold chill in its wake. She moved closer to the fire and called after him, “I wouldn’t have been able to eat until we broke the ice.”
She heard him chuckle
as he pushed the double doors open to reveal a table on the wooden deck. “I hope you don’t mind dinner under the stars.”