Henry finished his drink, then picked up the one he’d ordered for Kevin and gulped it down in two swallows. He couldn’t seem to figure out what to do with his hands. He lifted his empty glass, swirled the ice around a couple of times, and then put the glass back down. Regan handed him her drink, and he gulped that down too.
“I’m thirsty,” he said.
“That too,” he agreed.
Regan’s heart went out to Kevin. He had backed away from Alec, but Alec grabbed his arm and shook his head. He put his finger in front of the teenager’s face and started talking. Regan couldn’t hear what he was saying, but Kevin appeared to be hanging on his every word. He didn’t look as anxious or fearful.
Alec Buchanan was a good man. She felt a tightness in her throat as she watched him, and she suddenly realized that the attraction she’d felt for him had grown into something much more complicated.
“Here they come,” Henry whispered.
Kevin came back into the bar first. His eyes were red. “We should probably go,” he said to Henry.
“So should we,” Alec said. “It’s getting late.”
Regan immediately stood. She said good night to the boys. A few minutes later, Alec was seeing her to her suite.
“Listen, I’ll be a little late in the morning. I’ve got some things to do … packing and stuff. I’ll make sure the policeman on duty stays until I get here.”
She had a feeling that the “stuff” had something to do with Kevin, but she wasn’t going to ask.
“That’s fine,” she said.
“Good night, then.”
He was pulling the door closed. “Wait,” she said.
He stopped. “Yes?”
“Tomorrow … be careful … packing. Okay?”
She bolted the door and leaned against it. She knew she would be dreaming about him tonight, but she vowed that tomorrow she would take that step back and start being practical again. There was only one little problem with her decision. She didn’t know how.
HENRY TOLD HER WHAT HAD HAPPENED. HE RUSHED INTO HER office, closed the doors behind him, and said, “I know you were worried about Kevin, so I just wanted you to know it all worked out.”
She’d been searching through her desk drawers looking for her stash of M&M’s. She immediately gave Henry her full attention. She looked up and saw how relieved Henry was. “That’s good to know.”
Henry wanted to talk. “Kevin is on his way up. That’s okay, isn’t it?”
“Of course it is.”
“He said it was real bad for a while.”
“Alec had it all set up. He told Kevin’s dad to keep the kids out of there, and he did. Anyway, Kevin didn’t want to leave, so he saw it go down.”
“Was Kevin in the house while this was happening?”
“No,” he said. “He was across the street, staying out of the way. I think maybe he was hiding so Alec wouldn’t make him leave. He said that for a minute there he was afraid of Alec. I guess a couple of his mother’s friends resisted, and Alec and the others with him had to get … uh, physical so they could get the cuffs on them. I sure wish I’d been there. Kevin said the look on Alec’s face when he was … you know, having to get physical, was scary.”
“I’m glad you weren’t there,” she said.
He pushed some papers out of his way and sat on the edge of her desk. “I’ll bet they knew Kevin was there. Alec told Kevin’s mother she’d get the opportunity to go into rehab, but she turned it down.”
“How’s Kevin doing?”
“He’s okay. He’s kind of come to terms with the way things have to be.”
“You’re a good friend, Henry.”
“Yeah, well, he’s helped me get through some tough times.” He spotted Kevin in the outer office and said, “Kevin was okay with me telling you what happened, but …”
“I still won’t mention anything,” she assured him.
Regan bent down to check her bottom drawer for the M&M’s, and when she looked up, she saw Alec standing next to Henry’s desk talking to him. Kevin was there too, standing beside his friend.
Alec evidently hadn’t gone home to change clothes after the action at Kevin’s house. He walked into her office, asked her if anything was going on, and then told her he’d dismissed the policeman and was taking over the bodyguard duty.
“Everything okay?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said.
He looked comfortable in his jeans and T-shirt, but the gun and holster were very noticeable. He caught her staring at it. “It’s part of the job, Regan.”
“Good, because you need to be okay with it.”
Why was he getting all worked up? “What’s the matter with you?”
He glanced into the outer office, saw Kevin, and shook his head. “Nothing’s the matter. Some people just don’t get the breaks they should. It was a bad way to start a morning, that’s all.”
“But it turned out all right?”
He shrugged, and that was the end of the conversation.
Alec could close up quicker than a clam. If he hadn’t been so aggravating, she would have been impressed.
By midafternoon they had fallen back into their routine. Alec took a nap on her sofa while she cleaned out files.
That evening they went back to her suite, ordered pizza, popcorn, pop, and beer, and watched a movie. It was an old classic, a love story that made her cry and made him laugh. She accused him of not having a sentimental bone in his body, and he took that as a compliment.
The next night he chose the movie, and they watched another old classic. It wasn’t a love story, though, it was a rip-’em-up, shoot-’em-up, skin-’em-alive movie with lots of special effects and aliens. He loved it.
Both of them had their feet propped up on the ottoman. She was barefoot; he was wearing socks. One had a big hole in it.
The credits were rolling when he asked, “Want to watch it again?”
She didn’t think he was kidding. “No, thank you. It was too violent for me.”
“You thought it was violent?” He acted surprised by her reaction.
“Alec, I counted thirty-two dead bodies.”
“That’s not so bad,” he said with a straight face.
“Thirty-two in the first half hour. I stopped counting after that.”
“Hey, they were aliens, and humans were their food source. What did you expect?”
“A little less face eating would have been nice.”
“Yeah, but not as scary. Man, I loved those kinds of movies when I was a kid.”
“You liked being scared?”
“What about nightmares?”
“I shared a room with my brother Dylan, and I figured if any monsters got in, the two of us could take them.” He grinned as he added, “I was kind of cocky back then.”
“Back then? I’ve got news for you, hotshot. You still are.”
He laughed. “Hotshot? I come from a family of eight, and we were all hotshots at one time or another.”
“Where do you fit in?”
“I’m third down from the top. There’s Theo, the oldest, then Nick, then me, then Dylan, Mike, two sisters, Jordan and Sydney, and then baby Zack. He’s still a wild man.”
She nudged his shoulder. “I’ll bet you gave your parents gray hair when you were a child. It’s lucky you grew up. But I guess I did some pretty foolish things too.”
“Is that a boast?”
When she didn’t answer, he nudged her shoulder.
“I’m sure I was just as reckless as you were,” she finally said.
They then spent the next hour trying to one-up each other with the dumb stunts they’d pulled as children. Alec won hands down.
“How come all of your stories about your childhood involve power tools?” she asked.
He laughed. “Not all, just some. How come you never mention your parents in any of your stories?”
“I know I told you my father died when I was little, and my mother was never at home. I remember saying good night to her over the phone.”
“Now, that’s just sad.”
She laughed. “No it isn’t. It’s just the way things were.”
“That’s no way for a little girl to grow up. How come you turned out so normal?”
“Who says I’m normal?”
“I do. I’ll bet that I know just about everything there is to know about you.” He was teasing her and being very arrogant. “I know what you like and what you don’t like.”
“I doubt that,” she said.
“You hate salmon; you’re allergic to strawberries, and you sneeze whenever you’re around roses.”
She retaliated. “You’re a ketchup freak. You put it on everything, even peanut butter sandwiches. You hate thin-crust pizza, and you aren’t allergic to anything.”
“My turn again? Okay. You’re very competitive; you’re a fullblown liberal trapped in a family of conservatives, and honest to God, I don’t know how that happened; you think you’re good at hiding your emotions, but you’re not, and you don’t trust men or marriage.”
He had touched a nerve, and she sounded a bit defensive when she responded. “You’re far more competitive than I am; you think you’re a liberal, but you’re really very conservative; you have strong, unbendable values, and, Alec, I do trust some men.”
“My mother was married twice, and both of her husbands were unfaithful. I don’t want to make her mistakes, and I’ve learned there’s no such thing as now and forever.”
“Unless you marry the right man.”
“That’s the trick, isn’t it? Knowing who’s right and who’s wrong. I think it’s all a guessing game.”
“No, it isn’t,” he argued. “And it’s not a science either.”
“Oh? Then how will you know who’s right for you?”
“Are you asking me to describe my perfect woman?”
“There’s no such thing as a perfect woman.”
“Sure there is,” he said.
“Oh? What does she look like?”
Their arms were touching, and neither one of them moved away. “She has dark hair.”
“And blue eyes. The color of violets. Incredible blue eyes.”
He was leaning down toward her now, and she thought he might kiss her. She hoped he would.
“She’s got a great body.”
“Of course she does.”
“Are you mocking my fantasy woman?”
“No,” she said, smiling. “Go on. What else? Does she have magic powers?”
He leaned a little closer. “It’s gonna be magic when we’re together.”
Oh, God, he was going to kiss her. She held her breath.
“And long legs,” he said, his voice whisper-soft now.
His knuckles gently trailed down the side of her face. She had to force herself to stay still and not lean into the caress. Why wouldn’t he kiss her? What was taking him so long?
“Does this perfect woman have a brain, or is not having a brain what makes her perfect.”
“Of course she has a brain. She’s very intelligent, has a quick wit, and she makes me laugh. She’s got this wonderful combination of vulnerability and stubbornness. And that, Regan, is my perfect woman.”
His mouth was just inches from hers. She closed her eyes and waited.
He tweaked her nose. “Got to go.”
She blinked. “You … what?”
“Got to go.”
He had his tennis shoes on, his laces tied, and was halfway to the door before she had her wits about her.
She stood, grabbed the bowl of popcorn she’d forgotten was in her lap, and put it on the coffee table.
“You have fun teasing me, don’t you?”
He was tucking his T-shirt into his jeans. “You make it easy.” He opened the door and stepped out into the hall. “Come here, Regan.”
The way he was looking at her made her stomach flutter. She walked over to the door. “Yes?”
“Let me hear you flip the dead bolt.”
“Oh. Yes, okay.”
He pulled the door closed. “Night.”
She could have sworn she heard him laughing as he walked away.
REGAN AWAKENED SATURDAY MORNING TO ANOTHER FOULWEATHER day. There’d been so much rain in the past three weeks, she thought she might start sprouting mold. Her allergies were driving her nuts too. She sneezed at least five times before she’d even gotten out of bed, and when she looked at herself in the bathroom mirror, she grimaced. Her eyes were so bloodshot she looked as if she’d tied one on the night before. Tonight there was a large, formal charity event, and she hoped she could get her allergies under control, otherwise everyone would think she’d been crying.
A hot shower helped, but not much. She still had to use eyedrops, nasal spray, and her inhaler after she got dressed. She hated being dependent on medicines to control her allergies, but at least it wasn’t an all-year thing. Spring was the worst, then fall, but she managed to function without any medication in the winter and summer.
She put her hair up in a ponytail and was ready to go.
Detective Wincott had insisted that Alec take the day off, and when she left her suite to go downstairs to her office to tear through more files, she was accompanied by one of the new security guards Aiden had hired, an ex-policeman named Justin Shephard. Wincott approved because Justin used to be a cop and knew the job. She spotted Detective Wincott sprawled in a chair that faced the elevators. He stood and adjusted his tie as they walked closer. From his ragged appearance, Regan assumed his baby girl had kept him up yet another night.
“It’s Saturday,” she said. “You should be home with your family.”
“I just put the family on a plane to go see my wife’s mother, but if she were home, she’d have me fixing things, and I’m no good at that kind of stuff.”
He stepped back as the elevator doors silently opened. “I’m filling in for an hour,” he explained. “The officer who was supposed to hang with you today couldn’t do it. His wife went into labor. I’ve got another man coming in.”