Authors: Karen Rose Smith
Linc didn't seem to want to overextend any boundaries. He flipped up the end of one of Becky's pigtails. "It was nice meeting you, Becky. Thanks for inviting me to read one of your books." He stood. "You have lots of sweet dreams."
Then he walked out of her daughter's bedroom briskly, saying over his shoulder to Emma, "I'll make that call again." His words seemed a bit terse and Emma wondered what had happened.
After she tucked Becky in, counted stars, kissed her goodnight and turned on the night light, she closed her daughter's door part way and went to the living room. The house she and Barrett had bought had fit their income level. Barrett had always told her it was just temporary, until they could afford something bigger. But Emma had always been happy here. Her living room was comfortable, decorated in tan, russet and navy. Some of Becky's dolls lay scattered across the sofa, plastic animals littered the coffee table.
Linc was standing by the picture window talking on his phone, staring out into the dark night. He ended his call as she crossed to him, hopeful now that he'd reached Gillian Bradley.
"Gillian and Nathan had gone to dinner. They'd switched off their phone for a while. She'd been about to call me. She said she'd be glad to meet with you, but that you shouldn't expect too much. She never knows what will happen."
"When?" Emma asked, thinking only of her sister now. For a short time tonight, she'd been able to set aside stress and worry, probably because her attraction to Linc had given her something else to think about.
"If we meet with her tomorrow morning, she said Nathan can watch Matthew. Does that work for you?"
"Becky has preschool tomorrow. I drive her there around 8:30. It's a few blocks from here."
"Around 9:30 should work, then," Linc decided. "I can give you directions to Gillian's or I can pick you up."
"I can drive myself," she responded quickly. She was used to standing on her own two feet and didn't want to depend on anyone, certainly not this man who was out of her league.
"All right. Do you want me to meet you there, or do you want me to stay out of it altogether? I do want you to keep in mind that Gillian and I will be discussing this even though any tips the hotline receives will be routed to the detective in charge. I never know what else might develop from airing the interview."
Work with a psychic. Just what did that entail? Linc was saying he probably had connections she'd need, so her answer was obvious. "I'd like you to be involved, but I know how busy you must be."
"Everyone is busy with what they make themselves busy with. I can clear my schedule in the morning."
"Then I really would like you there." For moral support, as well as his connections, she realized. "Would you like that coffee?"
He checked his watch. "I'd better go. I have other calls to make tonight. I'll let Gillian know we're on for the morning. She suggested you bring a picture of your sister and something personal of hers if you have it. A piece of clothing is always good...jewelry, too."
"Her clothes are here. With the close of the semester at school, she'd emptied her dorm room."
"So she lived with you when school wasn't in session?"
"Yes. And babysat for me. She's great with Becky..." Emma's voice trailed off. Then she swallowed and went on, "As I told Tessa, she'd just finished earning an associate degree and was looking for work."
Linc looked as if he wanted to console her...or something. But instead, he walked through the living room into the kitchen and then to the carport door.
Emma stepped outside with him. Night had fallen. The neighborhood was quiet except for the slam of a car door, a dog barking in the distance. Wisteria grew along the side and roof of the carport and Emma suddenly felt as if she and Linc were standing in a world of their own. The kitchen light sent a dim glow outside, but he was standing in shadow and she couldn't altogether see his face.
"Today turned out to be quite different than I expected," she told him.
He shifted toward her and she could see him more clearly. The brisk tone he'd used before was gone as he said, "The interview itself had to wear you out, let alone the stress from my suggestion. If you aren't entirely comfortable with this idea, Emma, just say so. It doesn't have to go any further."
She considered her interview, their walk on the beach and everything Linc had said. "It's been three months, Linc. The trail for the police is long dead. I can't sleep at night wondering where Paige is and what's happened to her. She's only twenty. She had her whole life in front of her."
"She might still have. That's why we're going to see Gillian."
"To get answers, one way or another," Emma concluded, not knowing if she could believe a psychic, not knowing what would happen next.
The anguish in her voice must have brought Linc closer, because suddenly he was near enough to touch and was holding onto her shoulder. "It's better to know the truth than to constantly think about the worst, don't you think?"
His hand slid under her hair and she could feel his thumb on her neck and his finger almost caressed her. "Emma."
The sound of her name was a warning, telling her she should step away if she didn't want what was going to come next. But the intensity in Linc's eyes, the nerve working in his jaw, the potent attraction she'd felt from the first time she'd met him urged her to stand absolutely still. The silence between them was heart-poundingly loud. The air seemed to quiver with anticipation.
Then Linc bent his head and she lifted her chin. His mouth came down on hers with a demand that she couldn't deny. The pressure of his lips was momentary and then his tongue slipped into her mouth. She felt herself reaching for him, sliding her hand up his nape, relishing the feel of his thick, dark hair. When she melted against him, he held her tighter. She could feel his belt buckle against her midriff, feel his arousal that took her breath away. This man desired her, really desired her. The way he kissed...
...Told her he was an expert. From what she'd read, he'd never married. She hadn't dated much in high school because of her mom being sick. Caring for her and watching over Paige had taken over most waking hours. She'd met Barrett after their mom had died while she was going to school at night to earn her degree. He'd been her first and only. Lincoln Granger so outclassed her in so many ways, she'd better not get caught up in the moment or use him as an escape because of what was happening with her sister.
He must have felt her withdraw even before she actually withdrew because he ended the kiss and backed off, slowly releasing her.
She found her footing on the asphalt, composed herself as best she could before she looked up into his eyes.
"If that wasn't what you wanted, it won't happen again." His voice was just a bit husky and she was glad to hear he'd been affected by the kiss, too.
"I don't know what I want. This is a confusing time."
"I know. I certainly don't want to make it more confusing." His voice took on that brisk tone again when he said, "Let me give you Gillian's address." He took his wallet from his back pocket and slipped out a card. He was careful when he handed it to her, that their fingers didn't touch. Because if they did, they might kiss again?
"Do you need directions?" he asked.
"No, my car has a GPS."
"Good. Then I don't have to worry about you getting lost. I'll see you at Gillian's tomorrow at 9:30."
Then Linc Granger walked down her driveway to his car, climbed inside, backed out and drove away.
Emma felt lost already.
The following morning, shaken up more than he wanted to admit by last night's kiss—a woman's kiss had never done that—Linc concentrated on ringing Nathan's doorbell. He was purposefully five minutes late because he'd guessed Emma would be early. She'd be over-the-top anxious about this appointment. At least if he showed up last they wouldn't be alone together, wouldn't have to look into each other's eyes and remember that kiss.
Gillian opened the door to the two-story stucco home and smiled up at him. "Hey, Linc. Emma and I have been having a cup of coffee. Would you like some?"
"Black," he said tersely, and Gillian arched an eyebrow at him.
He knew she didn't read minds or anything like that, but sometimes her intuition was just a little too uncanny.
He followed Gillian through the foyer into the living room and there Emma was. She'd worn a peach skirt and matching tank, with white beads around her neck and white sandals on her feet. He noticed right away that her nails were painted one of those neutral shades. Remembering her fingers in his hair, he wished he hadn't noticed. He wished everything about her didn't cause a reaction in him.
Gillian went to the coffee table and poured him a mug of coffee. When she handed it to him, he mumbled, "Thanks," and sat in the wing chair beside the sofa. Practically speaking, he had to break the silence between him and Emma. "How are you this morning?"
She gave him what was supposed to pass as a smile. "Nervous."
He nodded, understanding that.
"Emma was just giving me some background," Gillian told him.
"She wanted to know about us growing up, how close Paige and I were."
Linc decided to just keep quiet and listen. He knew Emma and Gillian had to connect.
"So...you took care of Paige and essentially acted as guardian of her after your mother died," Gillian prompted as if Linc's arrival hadn't interrupted their conversation.
"Yes. After I married, she lived with us until she went to school. Then she stayed with us on holidays and throughout summer vacation. After Barrett died, it was a comfort to have her around. She was so good with Becky."
Linc knew Gillian just wanted Emma to relax and go into stream of consciousness memories.
"She got along with your husband?"
"Oh, yes. They were like big brother and sister."
Gillian didn't miss a beat and asked next, "Can you tell me some of Paige's favorite places to go?"
"Like me, she loved the beach. She also liked hiking. Before Becky was born, the three of us would do that together. But most of all, she just liked to go any place quiet and sketch. She was quiet as a child. I think mom getting sick pushed her even deeper into herself. She'd always been artistic and was hardly ever without her sketch pad."
"So she wasn't the type who would attend frat parties and bar hop?"
"I don't know exactly what went on when she was at school, but I doubt that very much. Her artistic nature spoke loud and clear when she painted blue streaks through her hair. But that was how Paige expressed herself—blue hair and funky clothes she designed."
"Did she date much?"
"No. One guy lasted longer than all the others, Craig Jamison. They dated for about six months. But that was almost two years ago. She broke it off with him before Barrett died. They'd had a big fight about something. She wouldn't tell me what. It was so sudden. I thought maybe he wanted to get more serious and she didn't, or vice versa. But she just wouldn't tell me. She said it was over and she was moving on and that was all that mattered."
Linc wondered if the cops had questioned Craig Jamison and what they'd decided about him, if he was a person of interest.
"Did you know this Craig well?" Gillian inquired.
"Not well but I liked him. He spent Thanksgiving and Christmas with us."
"Do you think he was the type of person who would harbor a grudge if Paige was the one who broke it off?"
"Are you asking me if I think he had something to do with her disappearance? If he did, I'm a very bad judge of character."
Linc used several means to figure out if someone was a good judge of character. He would use that litmus test here. Holding up his hand for a moment, he stopped the flow of Gillian's inquiries, and Gillian acknowledged that he wanted to break in.
"How long have you been running your business?" Linc asked Emma.
"I started it right out of business school."
"The bank gave you a loan?"
"Yes. I had a small inheritance from my mom and her life insurance. That was my collateral so to speak."
"And has your business grown in the past five years?"
"Yes. I've turned a larger profit each year. I plan to pay back the loan in two more years."
"Do you have repeat customers?"
"They're the core of my business."
"Do you have a key to your neighbor's house?"
Now she looked mildly annoyed, as if wondering what any of this had to do with why she was here. "Yes. I take care of Maris's plants when she's away, and just check on the place. She has a key to mine, too, of course, because of Becky."
"Are you still in touch with any of your friends from high school?"
Now she finally did erupt. "What does this have to do—"
He didn't get defensive because he understood Emma felt he was interrogating her, not just filling in information about Paige. "Just answer my last question."