Copyright ©2000, Revised version 2014
by Julie Miller
Permission to reproduce text granted by Ladytech, Inc.
Once at their table, Emma sat
straight as a pillar, with her purse in her lap, and darted sidelong
glances at the passing patrons and railroad-themed decor. Was the place
not classy enough to meet her standards?
She'd chosen to wear casual gray
slacks and a sweater instead of something more formal. Even
dressed-down, she carried herself with an understated elegance that
garnered intrigued glances. Drew had hoped to keep things low-key so
they could talk. He didn't want to worry about using the right fork or
whether his black sweater passed a certain dress code.
Maybe he wasn't up to her
standards. He'd been touched by her concern over the phone that
morning. Paying visits to ratty neighborhoods wasn't a new thing for
him, but having someone worry about getting in late was. A four-hour nap
had left him feeling refreshed enough to be able to match wits with
Emma. Bantering or business-themed, time spent in her company was
quickly becoming an addictive thing.
He liked the challenge of her
shrewd mind, and was fascinated by the duality of her character. She was
at once killer corporate executive and caring, compassionate nurturer.
Her appearance even reflected that contrast, with her tall, strong body
and those incredible legs. He closed his eyes for a moment to picture
the long, sexy curves hidden beneath the tailored wool flannel she wore.
He opened his eyes and looked across the table into the gentle sweetness
of her freckled face. She could get a man hotter than an August
afternoon, or bring out every primal, protective urge he possessed,
depending on which personality she emphasized.
Drew had hoped for the
sweet-faced mother tonight. Instead, he realized a tad late, Ms.
Tall-Dark-and-Dangerous-to-His-Libido had climbed into the car at
six-thirty on the dot.
Fine. He could do cool and
impersonal, too. He opened his menu and pretended an interest in the
memorized list of items. The first words at the table came from the
forty-something waitress with bleached blond hair.
"Gallagher!" She punched his
shoulder and cheered him with a smile. "Haven't seen you in ages. How
are you gettin' along?"
He folded his menu and smiled.
"Fine, thanks, Jody."
She picked up his hand and
pinched the skin between his thumb and forefinger. The clicking of her
tongue carried to the next table, but he didn't mind. "I don't think so.
You get leaner and meaner every time I see you. You eatin' enough red
He twisted his mouth to keep the
grin from spreading. "I'm counting on you to fatten me up."
Jody saluted him with two
fingers to her brow, and Drew knew an unexpected satisfaction in seeing
her accept the good-hearted mission. People should have a purpose, he
thought. They always felt better about themselves and did better work if
they understood their purpose.
Every man has his job. And
every job is important.
He heard the words in his mind.
Heard them in his own voice. No, another man's voice. But he
spoke the words. He glimpsed a snapshot memory of another place and
another time. Papers, maps spread before him.
Drew flattened his palms on the
table and leaned forward, snatching at the papers, snatching at the
He opened his eyes and saw the
gold napkin clutched in his fist. He didn't understand where he was, or
what it meant.
"Drew?" Emma's cool fingers
touched his fisted hand. "Is something wrong?"
He blinked and looked up. Tiny
lines grooved beside her eyes as she frowned. Drew captured her hand in
his, grounding himself in the reality of her touch, focusing on the
careworn hints of time and caring and sadness in her beautiful face.
"Don't be sad, lady," he
reassured her. He hated when she looked so sad. He never wanted to be
one of the things that deepened the lines beside her eyes.
"What?" Emma jerked her hand
away, and the temporary warmth that had shaded her eyes vanished in a
cold snap. "What did you say?"
Drew shook his head, stymied by
his own confusion. He was a man without a memory, wasn’t he? So how the
hell did the past and present get so screwed up in his mind?
He settled back in his chair and
seized the first logical excuse that popped into his head. "Guess I'm
more tired than I thought."
Although Emma had seemed to
express genuine concern a moment earlier, the way she now squirmed in
her seat without taking her wary gaze off him didn't bode well for a
"You sure you're all right, Mr.
Gallagher?" Consumed with his fractured memory and easing Emma's
trepidation, he'd forgotten Jody's presence at the table.
"Yeah." He shrugged off her
concern and ordered a beer. "Whatever you have on tap."
"Right." He'd ruined her
exuberance with his inexplicable behavior, but she seemed to take it in
stride better than Emma. "How about you, ma'am?"
"Coffee." Her pinched look eased
for the waitress's benefit. "And ice water, please."
"Coming right up."
With Jody's departure, Emma
caught her bottom lip between her teeth again. Drew recognized the
subtle habit. A clear sign of distress.
"Is it all right if I have a
drink?" he asked. "I may be on your payroll now, but dinner's on me."
"I'm not worried about the
He clasped his hands together on
the tabletop. "What are you worried about?"
Her hot gaze snapped to his,
then just as quickly froze over. "I don't drink."
"Does it bother you that I do?"
"Your habits are no concern of
mine. But if you have more than that one beer before we're done, I'm
He wasn't sure how to explain
his opinion about drinking. He'd forgotten enough of his life already;
it made no sense to indulge a behavior that might make him forget more.
"I don't plan to get drunk."
"I'm glad to hear it."
"You gonna tell me why?"
"Are you going to tell me why
you called me lady?"
Drew backed off, wondering if
maybe she was as addled in the head as he. "Isn't it obvious? You've got
a lot of class. Of course I'm going to call you a lady."
She clutched her purse like a
shield and leaned forward. "Not a lady. Lady. A nickname.
You called me lady."
"You want me to call you Legs or
"My husband called me Lady."
A long swallow of that cold beer
sounded pretty damn good right about now. Maybe he'd just dive in head
first. But the desire to make a hasty apology faded with the return of
her defensive posture.
"Em, you've been on edge since I
pulled into the parking lot. I understand you may not want to socialize
with me. But this is a respectable enough place to conduct business.
Your nose was out of joint long before I let the lady thing slip. Why?"
Glints of light shimmered in her
hair at the quick shake of her head. "Why did you choose this place? Did
you talk to Jas or BJ?"
"No. I discovered it a couple
years back. Driving around town. I just ended up here. It felt . . .
comfortable, when I walked in. I eat here once or twice a month now. The
food's good. Simple. Plenty of it." He refused to justify himself
further. "Do you always answer personal questions with another
"Jonathan proposed to me here."
Her statement hung in the air
like the final count of a boxing match.
Drew's shoulders sank with the
depth of his sigh. He raked his fingers through his hair, shaking loose
the tension from his scalp. "Why didn't you say something? There are
hundreds of places to eat in Kansas City."
"I didn't think it would matter.
But it does. I don't think I should be here with you." Her words tumbled
all together. "I'm sorry. I know that sounds terribly rude. All the
memories—I thought I could handle it, but . . . I can't."
In a flash of insight, Drew
realized that the sadness that hung about her was a perpetual thing. For
a brief moment, he'd been a cause of it. But his confusion passed and
left him with a clear-minded purpose. He could do something to ease the
load of worry and responsibility she carried so nobly. He didn't have
the background to offer compassion. He didn't have the trust to offer a
friendly ear. But he did have the ability to take action, the means to
provide information, and the instincts to protect her and the things she
Drew pulled two bills from his
wallet and tossed them on the table. Issuing a silent invitation, he
grabbed his jacket and escorted her out the door.
A blast of wind hit them, and
Drew shifted to Emma's right side. He placed a guiding hand at the small
of her back and shielded her from the force of the frigid air. In silent
agreement, they quickened their pace along the sidewalk, then cut across
an open lane to reach his black pickup truck.
With the best of P. I.
Gallagher's habits ingrained in him, Drew scanned the parking lot for
oncoming cars, unwelcome guests, and anything else that might look
suspicious. He unlocked the passenger door first and held it open for
Before he could shut the door,
she reached out and clasped his forearm. "I'm sorry. Please don't take
Her soft touch sensitized his
skin through layers of leather and wool. Her gentle voice eased his
guilt. Deep inside, her simple gesture took away the harm of his
unintentional mistake. The raw, empty wound inside him ached with the
need to be healed by this woman.
But he looked past her through
the driver-side window without acknowledging the effect she had on him.
Two cars down. Tweed coat. Brown
sedan. Dark, beady eyes looked away when Stan Begosian realized that
Drew had him in his sights.
Drew pushed Emma into the truck
and slammed the door. A car engine turned over as he raced around the
hood and climbed in.
"What are you doing?" Emma
gasped at his rudeness.
"Buckle your seat belt." He
turned the key in the ignition. Begosian's brown sedan lurched out of
its parking space.
"I always do."
Drew crunched the truck into
gear. "Buckle it now!"
* * *
Emma obeyed the steel in his
command without immediately understanding the urgency. The squeal of
tires grabbing for traction on the wet pavement caught her attention an
instant before Drew stomped his foot on the accelerator and she slammed
back into the seat.
The black vinyl headrest saved
her from a nasty case of whiplash. "What. . . ?"
A faded brown Chrysler sped out
of the parking lot, cut in front of another car and skipped into the
second lane of traffic. Drew spun his truck in two opposite
ninety-degree angles, tossing her first into his shoulder, then back
against the door. He ignored the clear path of the exit ramp and jumped
his truck over the decorative berm that surrounded the restaurant's
"Drew!" She gripped the
dashboard and shoved her hand above her head to brace herself against
the teeth-jarring ride.
"That little weasel," Drew
muttered to himself.
Ignoring the whining echo of
numerous car horns, he, too, cut across traffic and fell in behind the
brown car at a climbing speed already well beyond the thirty-five m.p.h.
He wove in and out of the two
northbound lanes of traffic, bounced over an alley curb and closed in on
his prey. Since Drew came up with no answer to her unspoken question,
Emma tried to put herself into his position. She traced the line of his
unblinking gaze and zeroed in on the object of his pursuit.
What she saw shifted her
bewilderment from Drew to the driver of the Chrysler. "I saw that car
this morning. Behind me in traffic."
She dropped her grip on the
ceiling, her body adjusting to the pitch and roll of the wild ride. "Who
is it? Why are you chasing him?"
"Our friend Begosian. We're
being spied on, lady." She snapped her attention to the thin slash of
his mouth. The endearment sounded foreign in his voice. But the shock of
hearing it stabbed a little less painfully this time. He clenched his
face in a disgusted frown and cursed. "Sorry. Emma."
That he would correct himself to
spare her pain eased a hurtful place inside. It was a tiny gesture, but
its sheltering concern penetrated her defensive reserve, warming her
like a hug. It was a silly coincidence to hold against him, anyway. How
could he possibly know what Jonathan had called her?
"It's all right." She climbed
out of her righteous shell and joined the chase. She untucked her
shoulder from its harness and reached across his lap to find his seat
belt. With her cheek pressed to his side, she felt the rapid intake of
breath that expanded his rib cage. She inhaled the rich scent of leather
and Drew, and knew a sudden strength, an energizing rightness to working
side by side with this man. She sat up straight and pulled the belt
across his legs and chest and buckled him in. "Don't lose him."
He threw her a quick,
questioning look, and she spread her lips into a wry grin. "Can't help
it. I'm a mom."
His answering smile gleamed with
pride. "You're a trooper." All at once he jerked the steering wheel to
the left. Emma leaned to the right to counterbalance the sensation of
spinning on two wheels. "Whoa. Hold on!" he warned.
"Where's he going?"
Drew glanced to the side. "Ritzy
part of town." Emma clutched her armrest and squeezed nervously. "There
are a lot of pedestrians here."
"And even more places to hide."
Drew jammed on the brake and cursed. His arm shot out, catching her in
the stomach and saving her from crashing into the dashboard. "Move it!"
he yelled through the windshield.
A red sports car sat
perpendicular in front of the truck, having screeched to a halt inches
away from a horrible wreck. The driver traded mute insults with Drew
through his closed window. Emma sent up a quick prayer of thanks that no
one had been hurt, then followed with an equally brief request for
Begosian to run out of gas or drop a carburetor as she watched his sedan
turn a corner and disappear from sight.
"Don't panic yet." Drew's voice
returned to its low-pitched rasp. "That's a dead-end street. He's got to
turn into a parking garage or pull into a nightclub at the end of the
The red car zipped into the flow
of cars and Drew followed at a much safer speed. "Watch on your side,"
he directed, pulling into the parking garage to search for Stan's car.
"I don't see him."
When they exited back onto the
street, Drew pulled into a parking space beside a gambling club with a
garish neon sign that said Lucky’s. "Stay put," Drew commanded,
setting the parking brake but leaving the engine running. He unzipped
his jacket and reached inside. Despite the heater, Emma shivered when
she glimpsed the shiny silver color of his gun.
"What are you going to do?"
He turned to her and squeezed
her hand, kneading warmth into her fingers with his and dispelling the
chill in her heart with the rasp of his voice "Since I don't see him
climbing any rooftops, I'm assuming he went in there."
She looked at the crowd of
people standing in line outside the spotlighted double doors, waiting to
get in. "How will you find him in that mess?"
He brushed a tendril of hair
from her face and tucked it behind her ear. The soft fingertips of his
leather glove caressed her cheek, calmed her, and left a trail of
unexpected warmth in their wake. "He thinks like a cockroach. I can
think the same way.”
"What if he sees you first?"
A blast of cold air broke the
spell that had her believing his confident words. But he was gone before
she could voice her resurging doubts. She watched as his distinctive
golden head merged with the line of patrons. Since he was a bit taller
than most of them, she could still see him when he passed through to the
other side. She watched his fluid progress until he disappeared around
the corner of the building. A side door? she wondered. Think like a
cockroach. Avoid the light and slink into the darkness.
She half praised him, half
worried when she decided he must have a set of lock-picking tools on
him. He'd be just fine, she told herself. She'd read that cockroaches
had the survival skills necessary to survive a nuclear holocaust. Drew
could survive this.
She gasped aloud when she saw
one of the big, beefy bouncers leave his position at the front door and
trail along the brick wall, following Drew's path. Her eyes widened to a
painful circumference. Did roaches know when a trap had been set? How
could she warn him? What should she do?
"Make it up as I go," she chided
herself. She hid her purse beneath the seat, turned off the engine, and
pocketed Drew's keys. She locked the truck behind her, draped her scarf
over her ears, and plunged into the crowd.
Flying by the seat of her pants
was not her style. She liked to plan. Even better, she liked to make a
backup plan. She needed predictability. She craved security.
She peeked around the corner and
saw nothing but darkness. The streetlight illuminated just the top
floors of the building back here, enough to reveal that the brass lamp
above the side door had burned out. She squinted into the dim shadows,
searching for a sign of Drew or the bouncer.
"Hey!" The gruff voice came from
the side, not ahead of her. Emma took advantage of the darkness and
ducked into the shadows as the brawny security man shouted, not at her
but at a cherubic-faced teenage girl trying not to be noticed from her
place in line. The bouncer grabbed the girl by the arm and walked her to
the curb. "Does your mama know where you are?" She shook her head. He
whistled for a cab. "You gotta be twenty-one to get in here, babe. Go
A gloved hand clamped onto
Emma's shoulder and dragged her back into the alley. A second hand
muffled her startled yelp. She quickly recognized Drew's familiar scent
and ceased to struggle, but his grip held firm. He half dragged, half
carried her back through the propped side doorway.
Inside, a cacophony of music and
the louder drone of conversation assaulted her ears. Her eyes adjusted
to the light, and she could see they were in a storage area sectioned
off by plywood walls and black curtains.
Drew kicked out the doorstop,
pushed open the door, and pulled her into a partitioned cubby filled
with crated bottles of liquor. He released her to pull the curtain shut
"Did you see the bouncer?" she
whispered, giving voice to her concern. "I thought he spotted you. I
thought I could distract him. That girl did instead. I hope she's okay."
Drew wrapped his hands around
her shoulders and flattened her against the wall. His eyes glowed with
an unearthly light through the lenses of his glasses, and she fell
silent. The energy of his rage quaked through her bones.
"Damn it, Em. When I tell you to
stay put, stay put."
Question: What is the name of the gambling club Drew
and Emma follow the bad guy to?
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