Get control of your thoughts, girl, she told herself. She cleared her throat, straightened in her chair, and folded her hands on the desk. “You don’t need to stay, Detective.”
“Alec,” he reminded her.
“Okay,” she said. “You don’t need to stay, Alec. I’ll be fine here. I’m sure you have better things to do than babysit me.”
“You’re still not catching on, are you? You’re not getting rid of me. The only place I’m going is to your sofa.” He added, “And just so you understand, I’m with you until you’re bedded down for the night.”
“Are you going to tuck me in?”
She was actually being a bit sarcastic, but he didn’t take it that way. “That depends on you,” he said.
His eyes sparkled with devilment. She swallowed. “Oh?”
She inwardly groaned. Was that the best she could come up with? Oh? Sophie would know what to say, and she’d say it in a teasing, come-get-me voice.
Alec leaned against the side of her desk. “How long have you been living here?”
“A while.” She didn’t want to explain why. She picked up a stack of what looked like messages and began to go through them.
“So how come?”
Ignoring him hadn’t worked. He was still half sitting on the side of her desk while he waited for her to explain. She watched him pull his tie loose and drop it on the corner of her desk. She wouldn’t be surprised if he kicked off his shoes next.
“Could you get any more comfortable?”
“Yes, I could. So how come?”
He definitely wasn’t going to give up. “I had an apartment …”
She sighed. “But I moved back home when my mother became ill.”
He frowned. “Was she alone?”
“No. She had nurses and a full staff to see to her every need, and my stepfather, Emerson, was still living there, but she wanted me close to her … until it was over.”
“And when was it over?”
“Eleven months ago.”
“And your stepfather?”
She stiffened. “What about him?”
Alec knew he’d poked a sore spot. Her body language intrigued him. She looked as tightly wound as a clock spring. “I just wondered what happened to him.”
“Nothing happened to him. He’s still living in the house.”
“With the staff?”
“Yes,” she said.
“That must be lonely for him.”
She scoffed. “He isn’t lonely.”
“How come?” he prodded.
“He lives there with his new wife.”
“Ah.” Now he understood the reason for her prickly, uptight attitude.
He said the obvious. “He didn’t mourn long, did he?”
He’d hit a nerve. Regan decided not to mince words. “No, he didn’t mourn long. In fact, he didn’t mourn at all. He was never faithful to my mother for the very short time they were married, and he was already sleeping with Cindy before my mother became ill.”
“And he married Cindy.”
She was as stiff as a surfboard again. “Three days after the funeral.”
Man, that was cold, he thought. “I guess it bothers you to talk about this, doesn’t it.”
“It’s a little late for that question, isn’t it? How come you’re so curious about my family?”
“I’m not curious about your family.”
“Oh? Then why all the questions—”
He cut her off. “I’m curious about you.”
It wasn’t what he said so much as how he said it, with a warm glint in his eyes she couldn’t quite decipher. Was he flirting with her? No, of course he wasn’t. Why would he be interested in her when he could have any woman he ever wanted? And probably had. She was such a straitlaced … nerd. Yes, a nerd, she thought, especially when compared to her friends. Regan believed that everything about her was ordinary, boringly ordinary.
She did have money, however, as Spencer and Walker pointed out every chance they got, and Regan was sure money was why most men paid attention to her. At various functions they swarmed around her like hungry bees. Spencer called them parasites. Alec wasn’t a parasite, though, and he didn’t seem to be the least impressed with her money. The man was simply being a good detective, and that was why he asked so many personal questions.
“You’ve been assigned to protect me,” she said. “And that’s why you’re so curious about me.”
He didn’t miss a beat. “That too,” he said as he turned and walked across the office.
She swiveled in her chair to face the computer and pretended to be busy. Out of the corner of her eye she watched him. He plumped a couple of pillows and sat down on the sofa with a loud sigh.
“Damn, this is comfortable,” he said. “So tell me, Regan. How long was your stepfather married to your mother?”
She didn’t look at him when she answered. “Long enough to think he should get half of everything she owned.”
“Is there a legal battle brewing?”
“I know he’s consulted a couple of attorneys in hopes that one of them will find a way to break the prenup. By now he must know that my mother didn’t own much of anything, not even the house she lived in.”
“The house Emerson’s living in with Cindy?”
“Huh. So who owns it?” Before she could answer, he said, “Aiden? Or do you and all your brothers own it jointly?”
“All of us.”
He leaned forward. “And yet you’re the one who moved out?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
She turned back to the computer screen, hoping that he would let the subject drop.
No such luck. “So how come?”
She began to laugh. “You just don’t give up, do you? No wonder you’re a good detective.”
“How do you know I’m good?”
“I just do.”
“Not good,” he said, and in a burst of ego, he added, “Great.”
She laughed again. “I wish I had your confidence.”
“You still haven’t answered my question,” he reminded her.
He took his loafers off, swung his feet up on an ottoman, and stacked his hands on his chest.
“How come I moved out of the house? I promised my mother that I would let Emerson stay on in the house for a year. She hoped that he would be able to get it together in that time.”
“You mean get a job?”
“Yes,” she said. “She never knew he cheated on her, at least I don’t think she did, and she certainly didn’t think he would remarry so quickly.”
“Aiden agreed to this year plan?”
“Of course. It’s what our mother wanted. Why wouldn’t he agree?”
“He seems to be the one who calls all the shots and runs things around here.”
“He’s the most ambitious one in the family and certainly the most driven,” she said. Frowning, she added, “But you’re right. He does like to run things around here. I just wish …”
“I just wish I understood why he thinks he can run my life.”
“That one’s easy.”
“Oh? Why then?”
“You let him.”
REGAN HAD CLEARED HER DESK. EVERY PIECE OF PAPERWORK had been signed, mailed, or filed; every e-mail had been read, deleted, or answered, and every phone call had been returned.
She had miscalculated and had thought it would take her several more days to get everything done, and she wasn’t happy about being caught up. She wanted to bury herself in work to keep busy. An idle mind … worries. At least hers did. She drummed her fingertips on the desk.
She still hadn’t openly acknowledged that she was in danger and that she needed a bodyguard, because to do so would put it all right there in front of her face, and she would have to deal with it. She knew she was being foolish, maybe even a little cowardly, but at the moment she didn’t particularly care. She was scared and feeling powerless, and that was just plain awful.
Alec closed the magazine he was reading and then picked up a remote and turned to her. He saw her expression and asked, “What’s the matter?”
He knew she had to be feeling caged. Every move she made was being watched. He decided he wouldn’t press. “Okay,” he said. He held up the remote and asked, “Where’s the television hidden?”
“Push the top button,” she said.
He was intrigued. As soon as he pushed the button, a seam in the wall adjacent to the window slowly slid back to reveal his dream come true. An entertainment center filled with all the latest technology. He whistled over the size of the flat-screen plasma TV.
He settled back to watch the news but glanced at her again and noticed the frown hadn’t gone away. “Come on. Tell me. What’s the matter?”
“Nothing. I was just thinking.”
She wasn’t going to tell him the truth—that she worried she wouldn’t have enough courage when she needed it—or admit that she was afraid of being afraid, because she knew he wouldn’t understand. How could he? He probably put himself in harms way all the time. He was used to danger, and he was used to standing up when it mattered.
Was he ever afraid? Probably, but she doubted that fear would ever stop him from doing what was needed, and wasn’t that what courage was all about—not letting the fear stop you from doing the right thing?
She realized she hadn’t answered him. “I was thinking about that expression, an idle mind …”
“Gathers no moss?”
She smiled. “I don’t think that’s how it goes.”
She lost him then. The sports portion of the news came on, luring him like a siren with the promise of scores and clips from all the games. As though in a trance, he immediately turned back to the television screen. She was exasperated. What is it with men? At least the men in her life. Alec’s behavior was like Aiden’s and Spencer’s. No matter how busy her brothers were, they stopped everything at the sight of a baseball, football, or soccer ball. Any kind of sports game grabbed them. They were addicted to the Sports Channel and couldn’t go to sleep without knowing the latest scores. She had a feeling her bodyguard had the same affliction.
Regan dusted her desk blotter and then began to turn one of the pages of her Far Side calendar back and forth while she surreptitiously studied Alec. He had a beautiful profile, she decided. A nice, straight nose, a great mouth. His hair was dark and thick and kept drooping down on his forehead. He needed a haircut. His hair was given to curl, and she had the insane urge to touch it. Were other women drawn to him the way she was? No doubt, she thought. With his good looks and his sexy aura, he probably had women falling all over him. Oh, she knew his type. He had that bad-boy, love-them-and-leave-them thing down pat. How many tears had been shed over him? How many hearts had he broken?
“You about finished?” His gaze never left the television when he asked the question.
How long had she been staring at him? “Just about,” she answered as she quickly looked at her desk and began to shuffle papers around.
She was saved from having any other discussion about her behavior when her phone rang. She almost fell out of her chair when she lunged for the receiver.
Cordie was on the line. Just hearing her voice made Regan feel better.
“Are you all right?” she asked. “Is Sophie?”
“Yes, we’re both fine.”
“You took your time calling me back. I’ve been worried.”
“Worried about what? Everything’s fine, and I only just now checked my messages. Sophie and I have been real busy, and I’ve got loads to tell you, but first things first. I’ve got to make you feel bad because you didn’t come with us.”
Regan smiled. She was so relieved to know her friends were okay. Now that she had Cordie on the phone, Regan could take her time telling her everything that had happened.
“And how are you going to make me feel bad?”
“The weather. It’s beautiful here, and do you know why?”
“I’ll bite. Why?”
“It isn’t raining. How is it there?”
“Eighty degrees, not a cloud in the sky, absolutely no humidity, and there’s a soft breeze—”
“Tell the truth,” Cordie interrupted.
Regan laughed. “We’re supposed to get more rain tonight, and it’s chilly here. And now I do feel bad because I didn’t go with you. Satisfied?”
“Yes,” she said. “And since it’s still so awful in Chicago, I’m staying here, until I run out of sunscreen, anyway.”
“If you’re about finished talking about the weather, I’ve got some news.”
“Oh? How much do you want to bet my news is bigger?”
“I doubt that, but you go first.”
“We’re already piling up evidence against Shields.”
Regan straightened in her chair. “Really? So soon?”
“Yes,” she answered, her voice brimming with enthusiasm. “It was easy, too, because Shields always has the women he brings down here stay at the same hotel. It’s called The Murdock, and it’s a small, family-owned place with lots of charm. Most of the staff have been working there for years. They’re very loyal.”
“And that’s important because …?”
“They remember past guests.”
“Okay. Go on.”
“We’ve gotten the names of two women Shields had down here last year, and guess what? They were both widowed, and they were both very rich. Oh, and we also got copies of Shields’s bank accounts.”
Cordie repeated what she’d just said. Then Regan blurted, “That’s illegal.”
Alec was watching her. She was pretty sure he’d heard what she’d said. She smiled at him, then turned her chair to face the wall and lowered her voice. “How in heaven’s name did you get his bank records? If you aren’t careful, you’ll both end up in jail.”
“We are being careful,” Cordie assured her. “We didn’t break into the bank to get the records. Someone got them for us.”