Her hair had been plastered to her head, her jacket and jeans soaked, no makeup on her face. Determination had been evident in the set of her jaw and when he’d offered to help, she’d declined at first, was a little bristly. But he’d smiled and reasoned with her.
“Got the tools and the know-how,” he remembered telling her. She’d hesitated, her gaze narrowing on him, then finally stepped aside and allowed him to do the dirty work of changing the tire and making sure the spare was good to go before tossing the flat into her trunk.
In the end, her suspicions softened, and she thanked him, and then they’d both stood awkwardly in the Oregon downpour. She’d been young and innocent, with a hint of sexuality in eyes that were identical to those of Jenna Hughes. Noticing a smudge of dirt on her cheek, he’d slowly wiped the mark away. She hadn’t stopped him and probably he’d let his thumb linger a little too long on the arch of her cheek.
Instead of drawing away, she’d met his gaze, then impulsively stood on her tiptoes and brushed her lips across his beard-stubbled jaw. “Thanks,” she said again, a breathless quality to her voice. “Really.”
Before he could respond, she’d turned and walked to the front of her car, slid behind the wheel, and driven off, never once looking back. He’d watched her leave in a spray of gravel as she’d hit the gas.
Yeah, he’d been hooked.
Now, all these years later, he was having a helluva time letting go.
The ring on his left hand was proof of it.
Cassie’s fingers were tense on the wheel. If she never saw Whitney Stone again, it would be too soon. All her talk about helping her find Allie was little more than a ploy to weasel out more information from Cassie, get some kind of inside scoop or something.
Her heart was still pounding from the confrontation. There was a chance she’d handled her face-to-face with the reporter all wrong. What if Whitney, with all her contacts, was able to help in locating Allie? What if Cassie had let her temper do the talking and the reasoning?
“No way,” she said. Stone was an opportunist.
The light changed and Cassie waited impatiently for pedestrians to cross the street two cars ahead of her. Tapping her fingers nervously on the wheel, she glanced in the rearview and for a heartbeat, she didn’t see her own reflection but that of Allie as she had been in the nightmare, her lips blue, her haunted eyes pleading.
I’m alive. Help me.
She blinked and the image was gone, replaced by her own worried gaze.
Could she? Help her sister? But how?
An angry blast of a horn behind her brought her back to the present and she hit the gas, her Honda’s wheels actually chirping as the driver behind her, a woman with a blond ponytail driving a Corvette, moved into another lane and shot her a look and an obscene gesture as she zipped past.
“Nice,” Cassie muttered under her breath as she ran the next yellow light and headed to the 110, merging into the freeway traffic. She smiled when she noticed a big black SUV, like a Chevy Suburban or something, too, charge through behind her. At least he’d catch the ticket if there was a cop around.
She’d left Stone and her goon and headed straight to Galactic West Productions in Burbank. GW, as it was familiarly called, was the place where Little Bea worked and was owned by Dean Arnette. Since no one had bothered returning her calls and texts, she’d decided that showing up in person might be more effective.
To what end? she asked herself. If anyone had known anything about Cassie’s sister, surely that person would have contacted the police.
What the hell do you think you’re doing?
“Shut up!” she said to that stupid, nagging voice in her head. She’d spent weeks in a hospital, hiding, doing nothing, while her little sister was . . . God, who knew? That was the problem. Someone had to find out. It might as well be she. But what did she have to go on? A ghost nurse? An earring in the shape of a cross? Connections in the movie business? Did she really think she could find her sister over the police? Had her hastily planned trip to California been of any use in locating Allie? How had she ever thought she could find her sister when the police hadn’t? If she’d thought she could get information from people who knew Allie, that they might confide in her when they hadn’t to a detective, she’d been dead wrong. So far. There was a good chance that her trip south was a great big bust.