Read Forbidden Days (The Firsts) Online
Authors: C.L. Quinn
Table of Contents
BY C.L. QUINN
Brought to the real world by T.C.Butts for Charlie Quinn of Last Best Hope
One week earlier…
Tampa Bay, Florida
The nearly constant sunshine…that’s why they came in such numbers. Florida was the landing site for a lot of people to retire in a warm sunny place. She’d wanted that, too, but so much more. Her life had been…remarkable, unusual. Coming here was not so much retiring for her rather than…being released.
He’d always taken wonderful care of her. But their days together had been finished for some time. Time. That had been the enemy. He had all the time in the world…and she was just spending the last of hers.
She’d loved him, although she knew he’d never been capable of loving her, but she’d been happy. And she would have stayed with him even if she hadn’t been compelled to. It had been six years since he’d sent her here. It had taken four of them to settle in and find her place amongst her kind again. Well, it was home now.
Her little garden called…she’d been surprised how much she enjoyed encouraging beautiful flowers to grow. Especially the roses. He’d called her his cactus rose…pretty, but with thorns. Now, tending the flowers, she caught her reflection in a mirrored pool. And turned away. She was an old woman now…it showed so much in her face. Old. And in what she believed would be the last year of her life.
the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
The Desiderata. It had been right. If only she could have finished this journey with him by her side. That had never been a possibility, but he’d wanted to do right by her. It was okay. She was happy now. They’d had a long life together. Her memories were sweet.
A little yellow kitten mewed from beneath one rose bush.
“You little beast. Does Maxie know you got out? I’d better get you home before she has a heart attack. Another one. Come here you little stinker.”
Usually he came right to her, purring instantly when he was picked up. This time he shrank back.
“Now, what in the world…” she mumbled as she started to lean under the bush to pick him up. A shadow fell across them both. Ah, that’s why he was afraid. One of the other residents had wandered over. She straightened to greet them, pleased that even in her ninth decade she stood straight and tall. As she turned, something came down and struck her head, the proud woman crashed to the ground. And there, amongst her most prized flowers, she looked up and saw her killer. She didn’t recognize him but she knew he was not from this place.
Her last thought was of the love of her life. A final word on her lips, a cry for him he would never hear. “Bas…”
Gratefully, she passed out before the killer finished his work.
Okay. She’d been convinced to try it again. As a professional woman who controlled all elements of her life, she was used to, mostly, things going her way. She believed you just had to logically determine what it was you wanted, research until you had a viable plan, and institute it. Period. Usually, mostly, things turned out exactly how we design them to. She absolutely subscribed to that philosophy. Except when it came to relationships. Those…she’d never really logically determined out. Those…had always failed. And that had been okay, too. Her life was full, rich, enough friends and associates to enjoy. Financially, her accountant already had her set up to retire at forty…if she wanted to. So, she’d never really missed a companion in her life. And after the failures…? She wasn’t interested in trying again at this point.
But her receptionist Bennie had convinced her she
to meet this man. He was an attorney,
a deal breaker, although she’d had some rough dealings with them in the past. But Bennie assured her they were meant to be. So here she was at
, a ridiculously expensive French restaurant that wasn’t her choice, meeting her “perfect mate.” Right. Not. Well. Maybe.
She stopped before a long row of mirrors to take a quick look and make sure her open car window hadn’t damaged her hair
much, brushed the bangs back into place, tucked a few errant wisps. Dating had just never been her thing, never gone well for her. She turned her head side to side, trying to see what he would see when he first saw her. People told her she was stunning; she’d heard it often over the years. She let her eyes scan her face. Hmmm. She didn’t see it. What she did see was the other thing she’d heard people whisper about her over the years. That she was a cold fish.
she could see. She just didn’t connect well to strangers, and she knew she came off as frigid. Especially with men. But in her field of genetic research, it had never been necessary to have those skills. Still, she promised Bennie she would try tonight,
try to be engaging, witty, and interested. And she meant it. She’d try.
She nodded at the host, letting him know she was meeting someone who should already be inside. Ten minutes late wasn’t unusual for her, and she hoped like hell he didn’t get offended and leave. He’d wanted to meet her after work, and well, she worked a lot, late a lot. Her eyes moved quickly over the ten or so diners there so late, and found him easily, the only one there with a white lily on the tabletop. Okay, Bennie wasn’t wrong…he was flat out gorgeous. He’d opted for a charcoal gray shirt, snug fitting enough to see the results of numerous workouts. His hair was the color of wheat, full, with bangs so long they scored his baby blues. Yeah, physically, he was pretty perfect. Though now was the hard part. They had to begin a conversation, and find out which one of them bored the other almost immediately.
His eyes had been on her the entire way across the dining area, his smile a promise that he liked what he saw too. Her own copper hair was twisted into a coil cinched against her head tightly, but the smooth hairline emphasized what were classically beautiful features. Her eyes were green, deep green, with an intensity that startled people and sometimes made them uneasy. He smiled at her with perfect electric white teeth as she arrived at the table and he stood.
“Zachary?” she asked.
He leaned forward to take her hand. “Yes. And you must be Punk.”
She sucked the air between her teeth, her smile slipping just a little. Bennie…
“Actually, I go by Park. Or P.K. Whatever you’re comfortable with.”
“Park, it is. Please, have a seat. I’ve ordered some wine. A Garrus rose. Is that good for you?”
Very expensive choice. He was trying to impress. She sat down and pulled up close to the table.
“Yes, I enjoy a quality rose.” Well, that was lame. She really wasn’t very good at this. It’s funny how she could be completely at ease…witty and funny around people she knew well. But strangers…she was a social disaster. Yes, this was going to be the last one. If love ever came to her, it was just going to have to march right up to her house and bite her on the ass. This was her final “date.”
It went downhill from there. He was charming and amusing, and she had nothing of relevance to say back to him. It was just so
! What do you say to someone you do not know? Someone you don’t have anything in common with, which was established pretty early in the evening? She didn’t know how social butterflies did it, but it was not in her DNA. And putting herself through the embarrassment of another failed attempt at romance was just not worth it. Bennie was a sweetheart, she just didn’t understand the depth of Park’s problem.
After the third course, Zachary leaned in.
“Hey, I don’t think this is going too well for you. You seem distracted. Is there something..some
else in your life? Maybe a recent breakup or something? I just get the idea you’re somewhere else. Maybe we could even reschedule if that would be easier for you.”
He was so kind. He deserved better. And Park decided to let him go. He didn’t need her and her troubles in his life. He was a gorgeous, athletic, successful man. He could find any number of beautiful smart women out there. And he would. So she leaned toward him, too.
“That’s right, Zach. There
someone else, and I just can’t seem to let that go right now. Will you forgive me? I don’t know about rescheduling. I’m sorry, but I think I should go. I really do apologize.” She stood up, her luxurious satin napkin falling to the floor. She couldn’t even make a graceful exit. When he started to come toward her, she put up both her hands to stop him. “Just..Just let me go. I’m fine. I’ll be fine.”
Park grabbed her bag and walked as quickly as she could from the room considering she was wearing four inch heels she wasn’t accustomed to. As she left the restaurant, she paused and caught her breath. Well, that disaster was over. Nothing like a self-fulfilling prophecy to spoil a good time. She shook her head at her own folly and headed to the left. She didn’t notice the shadow she’d picked up as she went around the corner to a side street where she’d parked near a coffee shop that had closed its business.
When she reached her little Mercedes, which she’d loved the moment she saw it, she got behind the wheel. And just sat there. When was she going to be able to get past those old wounds? No matter how successful she was, no matter how many people told her she was beautiful, she always felt like that homely little girl her mother used to laugh at. She knew the abuse she’d suffered as a child was extreme. No one had ever said anything kind to her, and although she could recognize that intellectually now, she had never been able to put it completely behind her. Tears threatened, and since she was alone, she wasn’t too worried. She would never cry in front of anyone else, though. But here, in the dark, in her own car with no one around, it was a safe zone. She could breathe…and she could cry if she wanted to. Just this once, and then she’d be done. She would not be the victim of her childhood. No matter how bad it was, she was an intelligent adult and she could compartmentalize those things. As she always had.
Her hand reached out to the dash to pull up the song she liked to play when she felt like this, but it never made it. Instead, it hit a hard body as someone suddenly thrust himself into her locked car. It had been locked, and she knew this because she was anal about those things. Her hand always went automatically to the locking mechanism when she got into the car. So how the hell…
She started to get out of the other side when he grabbed her head and looked deep into her eyes. His were dark as pitch, with obscenely long lashes. She sat still since he had her head in what were obviously powerful hands, because she couldn’t even turn it, and tried to think what to do next.
“Drive. Take me to Vancouver,” he said, his voice deep, hypnotically so, and compelling. He
have the most beautiful eyes…
What should she do, what should…well, they tell you to never let them take you to a second location, never let them take you to a second…
“No!” she yelled explosively.
He pulled back, shock on his face, but he didn’t let her go…she was still captured in his hands.
“What?” He seemed to be processing her answer. She figured he was pissed that she didn’t squeal and cry and do what he told her to do. And now, along with being scared to death, she was also angry.
“I said no! If you want to steal my car, go ahead, but I’m not going with you. I sure the hell am not driving you!”
He was still so startled he almost let her go, but when she grabbed the chance to try to run, he caught her head in his hands again…and she didn’t even see him move…then pulled her face back to his. Closely. She could smell him and it was intoxicating. What kind of cologne could he be wearing that was so powerful?