Quest for Love: Los Angeles Armstrongs 1 (The Armstrongs Book 7)

BOOK: Quest for Love: Los Angeles Armstrongs 1 (The Armstrongs Book 7)
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Quest for Love

Los Angeles Armstrongs

(Chuck and Linda)

 

L.A. Armstrongs Book 1

Armstrong Series Book 7

 

 

Jessica Gray

This is a work of fiction. All characters, names, and places in this book exist only within the author’s imagination.  Any resemblance to actual persons or locations is purely coincidental.

 

Quest for Love, Los Angeles Armstrongs, Book 1

All Rights Reserved

Copyright © 2016 Jessica Gray

 

This book is copyrighted and protected by copyright laws.

No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without prior written permission from the author.

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Chapter 1

Chuck Armstrong had driven up the tree-lined driveway over a quarter of a mile and shook his head at the ostentatiousness of the property. From the black wrought-iron fencing protecting  the huge house to the large marble lions sitting on either side of the front steps, every single detail shouted money.

The owner of this mansion clearly wanted everyone to know how rich and famous she was. Evangelina Ross was often touted as the best actress of the decade. 

He’d seen most of her films and was impressed by the way she so readily adopted a different persona in each. With every passing year and every movie, she’d amassed more Oscar or Golden Globe awards. A small shiver of nerves ran down his spine and he shook his shoulders. No, he couldn’t let her acclaim go to his head. He was here to work, not swoon over an actress.

As one of the most sought-after private investigators in Los Angeles – and Hollywood – meeting famous people was nothing new for him. Most of them were surprisingly down to earth once you got past their public façade.

Chuck parked his SUV in the driveway and turned the vehicle off, checking the rearview mirror once more before sliding out the door. He took a moment to survey the front of the large house. A three-car garage sat off to the side, all doors closed, only a small covered walkway separating it from the main house. A newer small SUV, silver in color, was parked in front of the garage, but no other vehicles could be seen.

In the distance, he heard the sound of a lawnmower. Given the size of the property, it was reasonable to assume a full-time gardener was employed year round.

Giving the outside of the property one more courtesy look, he turned his attention toward the mansion itself. Three stories, brick exterior with a tile roof, and elegant wrought-iron balconies off the upper rooms. Green ivy climbed up one brick wall, and through the windows he could see elegant curtains.

Evangelina Ross had been very secretive on the phone, and he wondered what exactly she needed him for.

Chuck stepped to the front door and used the brass knocker to announce his arrival. While he waited, looking at the professionally landscaped flowerbeds and neatly trimmed lawn, he stuck his hands into his pants pockets.

The wooden door opened and a very thin, almost waif-like young woman stood there. She acted awkward at finding him standing on the front step and had a hard time meeting his eyes. Holding onto the door, she hid part of her body from his view momentarily before she seemed to force herself to step forward and greet him properly.

Not at all the demeanor of the typical housekeeper to the rich and famous. She looked more like a frightened rabbit.  His eyes skimmed her appearance more closely as it came into view, gauging her age at twenty-something. Her face didn’t have the youthful appearance of a teenager, and yet the way she carried herself made her seem much younger and definitely lacking in self-confidence.

Even though the rail-thin woman was far from his usual curvaceous type, he was instantly mesmerized. Her straight and long blonde hair contained a variety of different shades mixed in. Golden blonde, dark blonde, even a hint of a strawberry blonde here and there. Beautiful.

Long lashes framed her soulful brown eyes, making it difficult to concentrate on anything else. Her creamy smooth skin didn’t show the fashionable tan – real or fake – but was very pale, almost transparent. He assumed that was due in part to how thin she was. Too thin.

He wondered whether she was caught up in the modern notion that real women didn’t eat anything but lettuce leaves, or maybe she had an eating disorder. A variety of thoughts ran through his brain as his eyes leisurely traveled down her body. At 5'9" in height, she would be lucky if she weighed in at one hundred pounds soaking wet.

She wore jeans with rips in the knees and wear spots on her thighs, and an oversized t-shirt hung loosely from her shoulders, as if she were trying to hide from the world. An unfamiliar ache settled in his gut as he noticed her prominent elbows and collarbones, with no fat or muscles to soften the bones.  Her posture was so timid, it pained him to watch. What problems did this beautiful woman hide from the world?

When he slid his eyes back up to her face, the depth of pain reflected in her eyes caught him by surprise. Physical or emotional, it was hard to tell, but there a whole world of pain in her eyes – along with loneliness.

Chuck had the sudden urge to wrap her up in his arms; he planted his hands on his hips to steady himself against the powerful impact she had on him. He wanted to hold her, to promise her that nothing was ever going to hurt her again. His protective instincts roared to life with a force he wasn’t prepared for, leaving him momentarily stunned.

That had never before happened with a woman he wasn’t related to.

“Can I help you?” she asked hesitantly in a low voice, the words jerky, as if being forced from her mouth.

Her voice reached into his soul the same way her eyes had done seconds ago, and he had to swallow before he could answer. “I’m here for a meeting with Evangelina Ross.”

The girl glanced up at him from beneath her lashes and shook her head. “She’s not home yet, but… you… you’re welcome to wait inside.” Then she stepped back to let him inside.

“Thank you. I’m Chuck Armstrong.” He wanted to offer his hand, but she’d already retreated into the house and was now wringing her hands.

Chuck gave her an encouraging smile. “And you are?”

She swallowed nervously. “I’m Linda. Evangelina’s daughter.”

Daughter? How could the world’s most famous actress have a daughter too shy to open the door?
He stepped inside and pushed the door closed behind him. Linda led the way towards a small sitting room.

“Please be seated,” she offered, picking up a phone near the door and ordering water and coffee to be brought to the room. Then she cast another nervous glance at him before slipping silently out of the room.

Chuck wanted to call her back, utterly confused because he felt sad that she’d left. He wanted her to stay and talk to him, which in itself was more than unusual. His five siblings always teased him that his favorite sentences consisted of two words maximum, and he’d have no problems in pronouncing less than one hundred words in an entire day.

A smile curled his lips. That would be the same amount of words his younger sister Vivian spoke in one minute. And yet here he was, having the overwhelming desire to
talk
to a stranger.

Something about Linda called to him, intrigued him, made him want to know everything about her. Most of all he longed to know learn what had put that look of pain and loneliness in her eyes. So he could make it go away.
Man, get a grip. Focus.

He walked to the window and observed the gardens while he waited for the elusive Evangelina Ross to arrive.

Chapter 2

Linda rushed from the sitting room, resisting the urge to flee to the safety of the lush gardens in the back of the house – far away from the handsome stranger waiting to see her mother.

She stopped in the hallway, leaning against the wall and closing her eyes as she struggled to calm her racing heart. That was a mistake, though, because instantly the vision of his attractive face with the empathic blue eyes appeared in her mind. It was as if he’d seen straight into her soul. Into her true self.

With Chuck she hadn’t been able to hide the way she’d become used to doing. That revelation left her feeling unsettled. No one saw the real Linda. Except for her dogs. And her dog training partner Nate. He was the only living, breathing human being who knew her true personality.

The thought of her dog Courage helped to release the tension meeting Chuck had caused, and her heart rate began to slow down. As an Animal Assisted Therapist, she wasn’t surprised. Animals, dogs especially, had powers of intuition, and she’d witnessed their calming influence on patients time and again.

She had trained Courage to become a therapy dog herself from a puppy, and couldn’t imagine tackling life without him. He was as much therapy to her as he was to her patients.

Along with Nate, they trained several younger animals to become personal therapy dogs. Each would eventually go to an individual needing their special brand of therapy. But until then, they lived at the doctor’s office, where they had an entire floor equipped for their needs.

When she’d caught her breath enough to dare walk up the stairs to her room, she made another mistake and glanced at the closed door to the sitting room.

Tingling sensations upset her stomach and her thoughts focused – again – on the strikingly attractive man behind the door. 
Chuck Armstrong
. Even his name sounded like music in her ears. The tingling sensations intensified as she recalled his broad shoulders, short black hair, and his piercing blue eyes. Those eyes. Her face took on a dreamy expression as she longed to go to the bottom of his eyes.

He was tall, around 6'1" or 6'2", and with his muscled frame he could easily work as a bouncer in a nightclub. His sheer presence made her stomach squeeze. The knowing look in his eyes... it was as if he’d sensed her hidden emotions. Her inner turmoil. It was impressive, to say the least. And unsettling.

Linda tore her glance from the door, but his image lingered in her mind. The dark blue jeans molding his impressive butt very nicely. The powder blue Henley t-shirt showing a dusting of dark chest hair, and his bulging biceps stretching the sleeves of his t-shirt. She imagined what he might look like without a shirt on.
Yum!
She bit her lip as the sound of Chuck’s deep voice echoed in her mind.

Shaking her head, she rushed around the corner, barreling straight into her mother.

“Linda! How many times have I told you – a lady does not rush around corners, nor does she walk with her eyes focused on her toes.”

Linda backed up, regaining her footing and trying to avoid an outright confrontation. “Sorry, Mother. Uhm… there’s a man here to see you…”

“A man? I hope you were civil,” her mother groused, her tone indicating she doubted that was possible.

Linda held onto the words that wanted to spew forth, and instead stuck with the facts. “I showed him to the front room and ordered water and coffee to be brought to him.”

“And yet you couldn’t stay there and talk with my guest for five minutes?” her mother asked, exasperation evident in her tone of voice and the short shake of her head.

Nothing is ever good enough. I’m never good enough.
“He’s waiting,” Linda murmured, moving around her mother and fleeing toward the back door. She tried to contain the turmoil the conversation with her mother had created, as she left the house and headed for the garden bench she’d claimed as her own years earlier.

Why are you still living here? Putting up with her criticism? She hates you. You shouldn’t have to put up with her constant berating and demeaning words.

She reached the bench and sat down, morosely answering her own question by recalling the words of her mother. Words she’d heard time and time again.
“Because you are incapable of living on your own. You’re good for nothing. You’re lucky I put up with you. God knows no one else will.”

Linda’s eyes filled with tears and she swallowed heard. Her mother had showered her with harsh words since she was a little girl. She was never good enough. Never smart enough. Never pretty enough. She just wasn’t… enough of whatever was demanded. Not for her mother, and certainly not for anyone else.

I’m worthless
. Tears rolled down her cheeks as that thought consumed her mind. She hated that voice in her head. It was bad enough her mother belittled her whenever they crossed paths; but her own brain making sure she never escaped the feeling of unworthiness? She was caught in a constant barrage of negative thoughts, constantly reinforced by the very woman who was supposed to have protected her and helped build her confidence.

I really am worthless. I wonder how much longer she’ll want to put up with me? When she reaches her limit, what will happen to me then? Where will I go and what will I do?

BOOK: Quest for Love: Los Angeles Armstrongs 1 (The Armstrongs Book 7)
9.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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