Sample the first three chapters!
“No one can tell, when two people walk closely together, what unconscious communication one mind may have with another.”― Robert Barr, Selected Stories of Robert Barr
Dev Medina couldn’t get the golden goddess off his mind. Who was she? Would he meet her in Galveston as he hoped? He should be planning how to approach Dr. Michael Peterson, his main purpose for making the hour’s drive down here from his home in Houston. Yet, as he crossed the causeway bridge leading to the barrier island, surrounded by the sparkling blue-gray water of Galveston Bay, his thoughts kept drifting to her.
She had first appeared on the night his former best friend, Conn O’Shea, and his lady, Lara Spenser, arrived on his doorstep. They’d waked him from a dream of the golden woman strolling toward him along a sunny beach – just as he was about to ask her name. Since then, she’d visited him twice more in identical dreams, and he’d come to suspect the beach where they were destined to meet lay here on the island. Whether it did or not, he knew he would encounter the gorgeous creature in the flesh sooner or later because when he had vivid, repeated dreams like that, they always came true.
After he passed on Lara’s secret message to Dr. Peterson, maybe he’d ask the man if he knew of a woman fitting the description of his golden girl. It couldn’t hurt.
Reaching the island, Dev tooled down Broadway, the main artery running eastward diagonally across the long, narrow land mass. He missed the majestic oaks that used to grow along the boulevard. Hurricane Ike’s salty storm surge had killed them all back in 2008.
He had the doc’s address and since he’d been down here many times, he had a pretty good idea where to find his place. This being Saturday morning, he hoped to catch the man at home. He’d thought of calling and making an appointment to see him before leaving home, but had failed to think of a plausible reason for his urgent request. After all, he couldn’t blurt out the truth over the phone. That might scare off the doc before they even met.
Now, though, he decided he’d better phone first rather than show up unannounced. What he would say, he still didn’t know. Turning into a narrow parking lot outside a stately old mansion now occupied by law offices, he stopped and dug out his smart phone. He easily found Dr. M. Peterson’s home number on the internet and tapped in the numbers. His call was answered on the third ring.
“Doctor Peterson’s residence,” said a woman’s soft Hispanic-accented voice.
“Hello, can I speak to the doctor, please.”
“The doctor is not in, señor. Will you leave a message?”
Frowning, Dev considered giving his name and asking the woman to tell Doc Peterson it was vital they meet as soon as possible, but he decided against it. As before, he didn’t want to alarm the man. “Uh, no, I’ll call back later. Thanks.”
He sighed and drummed his fingers on the steering wheel of his Range Rover, disappointed that he couldn’t immediately carry out the task he’d volunteered for in order to keep Lara safe. Not to help Conn out, that was for damn sure! He gritted his teeth at the thought.
Shoving aside bitter memories, Dev headed for the hotel on Seawall Boulevard where he usually stayed during trips to Galveston. He hadn’t made a reservation but since it wasn’t the height of tourist season, he had no problem procuring a room. Taking an elevator to the third floor, he dropped off his duffle bag in the room then doubled back downstairs to grab some lunch in the hotel’s informal grill.
Once he’d filled his stomach, he debated whether to call the doc’s place again but figured it was too soon. Instead, he decided to check out the beach. Maybe he’d get lucky and meet his dream girl. Besides, this would probably be his last time on the beach until next spring. The warm gulf coast weather was holding, but it wouldn’t last forever. Decision made, he went to his room, exchanged his chukka boots for the sandals he’d packed and secured his shoulder length hair in a tail at the base of his neck to keep it off his face on the windswept beach.
He wasn’t the only one out to enjoy the warm day. A number of people dotted the long sandy beach, although it wasn’t overly crowded. Rolling up his jeans to mid-calf, he kicked off his sandals and swung them by two fingers as he strolled along the shore, enjoying the feel of wet sand shifting under his feet and squishing between his toes.
The sun beat down through his shirt onto the tender, barely healed skin of his back exactly as it had in his dreams of the golden goddess. Just a coincidence? A frothy wave rippled around his ankles then receded, revealing a half buried soft drink can. He prodded it out of the sand with his big toe and stooped to pick it up. What was the matter with people, dropping litter everywhere as if the planet was nothing but a huge garbage dump?
Disgusted, he shook water and sand from the can and looked around for a trash receptacle. To his left, he saw a group of teenagers playing beach volleyball, an elderly couple strolling hand in hand along the sea wall behind the beach, and a family gathered on a blanket, eating a picnic lunch. A trash can stood maybe a hundred yards away. To his right, he spotted a closer one and started toward it. Then a figure in the distance caught his gaze and he froze.
He held his breath, uncertain about what he was seeing. The figure shimmered in the sun, appearing almost ghostly. It was a woman, he thought. Could she be the one he’d been dreaming of? He stared, mesmerized as she slowly drifted closer. Heart pounding, he watched her scuff at the sand and playfully dodge waves just like in his dreams. Now and then she glanced out to sea and at the gulls diving for fish. Noticing that her long, windblown hair was the same honey-gold as her skin, he had no further doubt. It was her, his golden goddess!
She drew closer still, allowing him a better look at her tall, voluptuous form. Wearing a sarong done in colors of gold, brown and green that hugged her curves, she made Dev’s blood burn with a heady urge to unwrap that gorgeous body.
Suddenly, she stopped, brushed her hair away from her face and stared straight at him. Her bold yet feminine jaw, high cheek bones and strikingly light eyes were familiar to him from his dreams. Even so, she made his breath catch. His gut clenched and his heart tried to jump out of his chest. He couldn’t tear his gaze away as her long, beautiful legs closed the distance between them. She halted a few feet away and crossed her arms under breasts that would fit perfectly in his hands.
“Excuse me, do I know you, mister?” she asked, arching tawny gold brows. Her ice-blue eyes glittered like diamonds. Her voice sounded curious but cool.
Should he mention his dreams of her? No, she’d think he’d lost his marbles “Don’t reckon we’ve met before, little lady. I’d remember if we had,” he drawled and grinned, knowing exactly how she would react.
“Then why were you staring at me?” Her luscious pink lips flattened into a thin line and those diamond eyes of hers drilled into him.
He dropped the exaggerated drawl. “Sorry, ma’am, no insult intended. You made such a pretty picture that I just couldn’t take my eyes off you.”
Her cheeks took on a pink glow and her mouth softened. “I accept your apology.”
Grinning, he said what he’d said in his dreams. “If you don’t mind me saying so, a beautiful woman like you should be used to admiring stares.”
She blushed a brighter shade of pink. “Thank you for the compliment, Mr. . . .”
He held out his hand to her. “Medina, Dev Medina, ma’am. And what might your –”
“Mickie!” a man’s voice shouted, cutting him off.
Dev’s golden goddess turned and waved to the guy, who came striding up the beach from the opposite direction she’d come from. Dressed in white shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, with his dark hair waving in the sea breeze, he looked like he’d stepped out of an ad for resort wear. He set Dev’s teeth on edge.
Mickie – nice name – faced him again and smiled, with a hint of regret he thought. “Excuse me, I have to go. Sorry.” Her gaze held his for a brief moment; then she hurried to meet the interloper.
Deflated, Dev watched the man put his arm around her. He said something that made her laugh and bent to kiss her cheek. Dev ground his teeth as the two strolled away, itching to go and break them apart. The woman was supposed to be his. If not, why had he dreamed of her?
Dev prowled back and forth across his hotel room, pausing now and then by the wall of windows. Staring past Seawall Boulevard and the beach beyond, he watched the rolling waters of the gulf, but the sight didn’t really soak into his consciousness. All he saw in his mind’s eye was her, Mickie, his golden goddess. Her beautiful face and glittering eyes held him captive, just as in his dreams. He knew with every fiber of his being that she was meant for him, not that slick dude she’d walked off with.
He pounded a fist into his other hand, halfway regretting he hadn’t punched the other guy in the mouth and hauled her away caveman style. Thankfully, his civilized side had warned him he wouldn’t score points with her by acting like a jerk. Now, though, he wished he’d at least asked for her phone number.
How was he to see her again when he didn’t know her full name or where to find her? Unless . . . . Maybe he should stay here a while after completing his mission for Lara. If he hung out on the beach every afternoon, would his golden girl return? Yeah right. Who was he kidding? She might not even live on the island. She could just be here for the weekend, the same as him, in which case she might not return for weeks or months, if ever.
Scrubbing a hand over his jaw, Dev cursed roundly and swung away from the window. It wouldn’t do any good to stay here brooding over the woman. He had a job to do. Rather than phone Dr. Peterson’s house again, he decided to drive over there and ring the bell. If the doc still wasn’t home, he’d park nearby and wait for him to show up.
Peterson lived in Galveston’s historic East End, where nineteenth century architecture harked back to the island’s heyday. Some of the Victorian homes – Painted Ladies he’d heard them called because of their many colors – were of average size, others he would call mansions. All were ornate and pricey, meaning the doc must be doing okay, no surprise for a doctor, Dev supposed.
Familiar with the area, it didn’t take him long to find the right house. He parked out front and looked the place over. Raised on stilts or blocks like most buildings on the island after the deadly hurricane of 1900, it was two stories high but not very wide, with only a few yards separating it from neighboring homes.
Dev assumed the house had suffered flood damage in Hurricane Ike, but the owner had obviously seen to its repair. Painted light tan with darker tan and green trim, decked out with fancy Victorian gingerbread, and framed by palm trees and oleanders, the place was picture-perfect.
Striding up the pavestone walk, he climbed a flight of steps to the front door and pressed the buzzer. Nervous because he still didn’t know exactly what he would say to the doctor, he stuffed both hands in his pants pockets and waited. Within seconds, he heard footsteps approach inside. The door opened to reveal a stout woman with tan skin and graying hair combed tightly back from her round face. A dark blue dress outlined her matronly form.
“Can I help you, señor?
“Yes ma’am, I’m here to see Dr. Peterson. I phoned earlier.”
“Ah, sí, I remember. The doctor came home a few minutes ago only. I do not think –”
“Who is it, Bianca?” a woman called from somewhere within. Her voice sounded familiar.
“It is a man who called before, señora.”
Dev heard high heels clicking on a tile floor. The housekeeper – he assumed that’s who she was – stepped aside. A tall woman walked out of the shadows and Dev stopped breathing. It was Mickie, his golden goddess! Instead of a sarong, she now wore a black cocktail dress that hugged her shapely figure then flared out below her hips, ending a few inches above her knees, showing off long, gorgeous legs. She looked sophisticated and every bit as beautiful as on the beach.
“You!” she blurted, halting a few feet away, light eyes wide with surprise. “Did you follow me?”
Dev released his breath. “No ma’am. I’m here to see Dr. Peterson.” He paused to clear his raspy throat. “I had no idea I’d find you here.”
She frowned. “Do you have an appointment?”
“Uh, no, but I need to speak to him, the doctor, I mean.”
Her lips quirked upward and she made a strangled sound, like suppressed laughter. “Oh, you do, do you?”
“Yeah, it’s urgent. Are you his wife?” He sure hoped not. “Can you give him a message for me?”
Her half-smile faded. “No, I am not his wife and I won’t take a message. If you really need to see the doctor, call the office on Monday and make an appointment.” She started to shut the door but Dev grabbed the edge of it and stopped her.
“I said this is urgent. It can’t wait ’til Monday.”
“Let go of the door!” she demanded, angry color flooding her cheeks.
“Un-uh. Is the doc here? Tell him I must speak to him. Now.”
She glared ice-cold daggers at him. “I am the doc!” she said through gritted teeth. “And I demand you let go of my door!”
Stunned, Dev nearly lost his hold. “You’re Dr. Michael Peterson?”
“No, you dunderhead! I’m Dr. Michaela Peterson. Now release this door and leave right now, or I will call the police.”
“Ah, hell!” Feeling like a damn fool, Dev sighed and shook his head. “I’m sorry, ma’am, I mean Dr. Peterson. I got the code wrong. I missed the ‘A’ at the end of your name.”
She stopped shoving at the door but continued to scowl at him. “Code? What code? What are you talking about?”
“The code Lara Spenser had me decipher. I’m here to deliver a message for her.”
The doc’s fine golden brows lifted. “I don’t know any Lara Spenser,” she said uncertainly.
Dev frowned, wondering if she was playacting because she didn’t trust him. Then it dawned on him that Spenser might be an alias Lara was using to conceal her true identity. “Maybe not, but you do know her uncle,” he replied. “Or you did. His name was Malcolm Flewellen.”
She sucked in her breath audibly. “Did you say was?”
“Yes ma’am. He was killed in a car accident several months ago.”
“Oh no!” Color drained from her face. Releasing the door, she staggered off balance and sagged against the entry wall.
“Hey, easy there!” Alarmed, Dev threw the door wide open, stepped inside and gripped her arms. “Don’t go fainting on me.
The woman named Bianca, who had backed away during their battle for the door, now rushed forward. “Doctor, you must sit! Señor, in there,” she directed, flapping her hand toward a room to the left.
Nodding, Dev wrapped an arm around Michaela and steered her into what turned out to be the living room. Steps dragging, she leaned against him, making him intensely aware of her womanly curves and the subtle flowery scent drifting from her hair. He led her to a wicker chair and eased her down onto the cushioned seat. Breathing fast and shallow, she collapsed against the chair’s high rounded back and closed her eyes.
Bianca eyed him warily. “You will not hurt her, yes?”
“No ma’am, I’m here to help her, I swear.”
Her dark eyes continued to study him. Then she nodded. “I will bring water,” she said and hurried off.
Dev crouched beside the chair and grasped his dream girl’s cold hands. She didn’t resist. Rebuking himself again for not properly decoding her name, he studied her face. Even pale with shock, her skin retained a light golden tint. Did she spend a lot of time sunning on the beach, he wondered, or was it her own natural color?
Bianca returned a moment later. She stepped to the doc’s other side and gently pressed a glass of water to her lips. “Drink, señora. It will help,” she coaxed.
After a few sips, Michaela’s eyes fluttered open. Looking dazed, she stared at Bianca then turned her head toward Dev, still crouched at her feet. Her gaze suddenly sharpened and going rigid, she wrenched her hands from his. She started to say something to him but caught herself, instead addressing the housekeeper.
“Thank you, Bianca. I’m fine now. It’s past your quitting time. You can go.”
“You are sure, señora? I can stay if you need me.”
“No, I’m all right, really. Go home to your family. I’ll see you on Monday.”
Bianca glanced worriedly at Dev, who had risen to stand with hands on his hips, observing the women’s exchange. “As you wish, señora.”
Dev took a seat on the doc’s sand-colored couch. She eyed him suspiciously while they waited in silence for the housekeeper to leave. Once the front door clicked shut behind her, Michaela spoke.
“How do I know you’re telling the truth, Mr. . . . Medina, was it?”
“Dev Medina,” he said with a nod, wishing she’d use his first name. Prepared for her question, he pulled out a silver chain necklace with a pendent attached to it. “Lara gave me this to show you. She said you would recognize it.” He reached over and laid it in her hand.
Catching her breath, she stared at the object. Then her icy blue eyes met his. “Tell me what you came to say.”
“First, I think you know Lara by a different name. Flewellen perhaps?”
She compressed her lips and eyed him in wary silence.
Figuring he’d guessed right, Dev leaned forward and clasped his hands between his knees. “Lara was injured pretty badly in the accident that took her uncle’s life. Later, she learned it was no accident. Someone tampered with the car. They meant to kill Malcolm Flewellen and probably Lara.”
Michaela turned pale again. “But sh-she’s all right now? She’s safe?”
“Yes. She’s with a friend of mine. He’s taking her someplace where the Hellhounds – that’s what she calls the ones who are after her – will have a hard time finding her.” Realizing he’d just called Conn O’Shea his friend, Dev wondered how that had slipped out. He damn sure didn’t consider the man his friend any longer, not after what had happened on their last job.
“These Hellhounds you say are after Lara, who are they?”
Dev sat back and crossed his arms. “I don’t know. She doesn’t know either from what she said. After recuperating from the, uh, accident, she evidently found out they were trying to get their hands on her, so she took off for Ireland and hid out there. That’s where my . . . acquaintance met her. He saved her from the bad guys when they tracked her down. The two of them escaped and came to me for help.”
The golden goddess furrowed her lovely brow. “What kind of help?”
He shrugged. “I’m good at solving riddles and Lara had a big one to solve. She didn’t know how to locate you and the other Guardians. That’s what you’re called, right?”
“She told you about us?” she blurted, clutching the silver pendant to her chest.
“Don’t worry, she didn’t give away all your secrets. She just needed me to find you.” Dev smiled, trying to appear modest. “And I did.”
Michaela stared at Dev Medina, feeling disconnected from reality. He’d turned her world upside down with news of Malcolm Flewellen’s death and now he sat there watching her with intense blue eyes, much darker than her own. Waiting for her to speak, she realized.
Lifting her chin, she let him know he couldn’t intimidate her, even if he did look capable of tearing her limb from limb. Big and handsome in a blunt-featured way, with brownish blond hair tied back in a short tail, he wore a maroon polo shirt with a pocket-size Texas A&M University logo monogrammed in white over his heart. The color complimented his tan complexion and stretched taut across a brawny chest and arms roped with muscle. Had he used his strength to ruthlessly take what he wanted from Lara?
Breaking eye contact with him, she studied the Celtic knot pendant Malcolm had presented to Lara at her initiation, signifying her status as his apprentice. Had she truly given it to Medina, or had he ripped it off her dead body? Had she revealed the Guardians’ existence willingly or had he tortured the information out of her? Michaela had no doubt he could inflict terrible pain if he chose. She must be careful.
“How exactly did you find me?”
He scraped a hand over his square jaw. “It’s like this; I was a code breaker in the Army. Lara has a book that belonged to her uncle. In it there are six pages written in code.”
Michaela stiffened, guessing what those pages contained, and Medina nodded as if reading her mind. “Lara figured each page held the location of one Guardian, but she couldn’t decipher the code.”
“So she asked you to decode the pages?”
“Yes. Conn, my . . . acquaintance, told her about me and brought her to my place in Houston.”
“But why would she trust you with the book?” Frowning, she studied him, searching for any sign of deceit.
“Lara trusts Conn and he trusts me.” He shrugged his broad shoulders. “And I guess she felt she didn’t have a choice. After nearly being captured in Ireland, she was desperate to warn you and the others about the Hellhounds. She wanted to come to you herself, but Conn convinced her it was too dangerous. That’s why I’m here instead.” He returned her stare unflinchingly, as if willing her to believe him.
Michaela used her special gift to lightly touch the surface of his mind. She didn’t dare probe deeper. Most people could not tell when she gently pried into their thoughts, but she had run into a few individuals over the years who perceived her mental touch. Besides, she considered it unethical to snoop in other people’s thoughts except in cases where it might help her understand a patient’s mental disorder. From what she could tell, Medina’s psyche appeared untainted by evil, although the heated vibes he projected as he looked at her made her squirm in her chair. She also sensed an unusual undercurrent of psychic power, although she couldn’t discern what his gift was without conducting a deep probe.
“Supposing I believe you, what is Lara’s message for me? Other than news of Malcolm’s death, that is?”
“She advises you to be cautious and not trust strangers.” He held up his hand when she opened her mouth to challenge that statement. “Besides me,” he added with a disarming grin that made him more handsome and less intimidating. It did unexpected things to her insides.
“Lara also urges you to leave here.”
Michaela frowned. “Leave my home, leave Galveston? Why should I do that?”
“She’s afraid the Hellhounds will find you.”
“How? No one outside our immediate circle knows who we are. No one except you and this Conn you mentioned.”
He arched his sandy brows. “Malcolm Flewellen’s killers found out he was guarding something valuable or he’d still be alive and Lara wouldn’t be on the run. It’s possible they also know there are others Guardians.”
She looked away, staring across the room, seeing nothing. He was right. Malcolm’s murderers might know about all seven sacred scrolls and the Comhairle, the Council of Guardians. Did they know she was on the Council, that she guarded one of the scrolls? The thought made her shiver, but even so, how could she just pick up and leave? Her practice was here. She had her patients to consider and –
The doorbell chimed again, giving her a start. Remembering her dinner date, she glanced at her watch. “Oh! I didn’t realize the time.” She rose and thrust the pendant at Medina. “Put that away. No one must see it. Excuse me,” she added and, ignoring his frown, hurried to open the door.
“Hello, Andrew,” she said with a smile for her handsome caller.
“Good evening, gorgeous.” Dark gaze sliding over her, he flashed a dazzling grin in return. He wore a charcoal gray suit, crisp white shirt and subdued tie. His black hair was perfectly combed, reminding her that her own unruly mane needed taming.
“Come in, please. I’m not quite ready. Uh, I have unexpected company.”
His grin slipped. “Anyone I know?”
“No, I don’t think so.” She led him into the living room where her other guest stood, face a stony mask of displeasure. A muscle jumped along his clenched jaw.
“Andrew Kohler, this is Dev Medina.” She clasped her hands, watching the two men exchange unfriendly stares.
“I saw you on the beach, speaking to Michaela,” Andrew said, his words clipped.
“Yeah, I remember you, too,” Medina drawled with a laser-blue glare. “This is twice today you’ve interrupted my conversation with the lady.”
Andrew puffed out his chest. “And it’s twice you have delayed her date with me.”
Oh dear, this isn’t good, Michaela thought. Clearing her throat, she stepped between the two, facing Medina. “I need time to think over what we discussed. Why don’t you give me your cell number before you leave?” She emphasized the last two words. “I’ll call you.”
He glowered at her for a moment, making her stomach knot. Fearing he might refuse to go, she breathed a sigh of relief when he gave a brusque nod. She grabbed a note pad and pen from beside her landline phone on a nearby table and handed them to him. He jotted down his number with slashes of the pen then handed both items back to her.
“Talk to you soon, Doc,” he said curtly and strode from the room, bumping Andrew’s shoulder as he passed – deliberately, Michaela was certain. The front door slammed shut after him.
“Who was that uncouth oaf?” Andrew sneered. “What did he want with you?”
“He’s here on business.” Taken aback by his demanding tone and the surge of rage rippling off of him, she wasn’t about to tell him anything more. He had a right to take umbrage at Dev Medina’s rude behavior. That she could understand, but they’d known each other for barely one day. He had no business questioning her in such a tone, with such violence behind it.
“I need to fix my hair,” she said. ”Have a seat. I’ll be ready in a few minutes.” Turning on her heel, she marched into the hall and upstairs to her bedroom, suddenly wishing she hadn’t agreed to go out with him. However, she didn’t relish his reaction if she told him she’d changed her mind, so she went ahead and styled her hair. Brushing the wavy mass into a semblance of order, she started to pin it back from her face with her favorite cloisonné combs with their Celtic knot designs but stopped, substituting a pair of much plainer gold combs. They went well enough with her black dress. She’d save the others for another time, another man perhaps.
Dev Medina’s bold features popped into her head, leading her to pause and stare at her reflection in the vanity mirror. She didn’t seriously want to get involved with him, did she? No, of course not!
Andrew’s description of him as uncouth wasn’t entirely wrong. Even so, she kept picturing Medina’s broad shoulders and engaging grin in her mind’s eye. She also recalled his warning – from Lara, he claimed – not to trust strangers.
Her heart stuttered. Andrew was a virtual stranger to her. And those enraged vibes he’d given off moments ago were so over the top. Could he be one of the so-called Hellhounds?
Good grief! Medina was making her paranoid. Giving herself a shake, Michaela freshened her lipstick, draped a black silk shawl splashed with coral roses around her shoulders and picked up her clutch-style evening bag. Then she rejoined Andrew in the living room. She found him pacing slowly back and forth across the hard wood floor.
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” she said from the room’s entrance.
He stopped and looked up. A gleaming smile spread across his face. “You’re worth the wait. You look lovely.”
“Thank you, Andrew. Shall we go?”
“Indeed we shall.” He stepped to her side, offered his arm and walked her out, every inch a gentleman. So different from Dev Medina.
* * *
Dev strode away from Michaela Peterson’s house feeling frustrated and angry. He longed to go back and flatten that pretty boy who’d barged in between him and his golden goddess again. She was meant for him, not Kohler. He considered following them just to make sure she was okay. Jealousy had nothing to do with it.
Quit lying to yourself! You’re jealous as hell, he admitted. But if Michaela were to spot him following her, she might think he was one of the Hellhounds. Then she’d never trust him. Like it or not, for now he had to give her some space.
Damn, he still could hardly believe she was the one he’d come to find for Lara. He’d thought nothing could ever shake him again after the horrors of war in Afghanistan, but discovering his golden girl was Dr. Peterson had knocked him for a loop. The part of his brain that gave him the sight sometimes played tricks on him, but this time it had been right on target. His scowl lifted. The doc didn’t know it yet but she was going to be his. It was fate.
Driving back to his hotel, he wondered how he could convince her to leave Galveston and her life here behind. He knew it wouldn’t be easy, especially with Kohler in the picture. He slammed his hand against the steering wheel. Who was the bastard? Had Michaela known him long? Was she serious about him? The questions swarmed around his brain like furious hornets.
It was almost dark when he arrived back at the hotel. Parking the Range Rover, he walked into the lobby. Instead of going to his room, he headed into the restaurant for a meal and a stiff drink. The place was packed, no surprise on Saturday night, but it further aggravated his foul mood. Squeezing into a spot at the bar, he caught the bar tender’s attention and ordered a whiskey neat.
The brand wasn’t his favorite but after a few swallows, it helped sooth him somewhat. He ordered another, pivoted with it in hand and leaned back against the bar’s rounded edge. Sipping his drink, he glanced around the room. Every table was taken. Should he have the hostess put his name on the waiting list or order food at the bar? Short on patience, he decided on the latter.
Just as he was turning to place an order, the dude next to him bumped his arm, causing him to spill the rest of his whiskey down the front of his favorite A&M shirt.
“Shit!” he muttered.
The young punk, who was dressed like an urban cowboy, pivoted with a beer mug in his hand and stared at Dev’s wet shirt. “Sorry, man, I didn’t mean to give you a bath.” He broke out laughing and poked the guy beside him in the ribs, sharing the joke.
Already on a short fuse, Dev’s temper exploded. He slammed his empty glass down on the bar and, with a furious growl, hauled back and planted his fist in the punk’s face. The skinny kid cried out and toppled against his pal. The beer mug slipped from his grasp, shattering to pieces on the floor and spreading a golden puddle of beer. Several people gasped or cursed and scuttled out of the way.
Groaning, the kid clutched his bloody nose. His older, shorter but more heavily muscled buddy steadied him and glared at Dev. “You didn’t have to do that, mister. He said he was sorry.”
“Yeah, he was real sorry. And who are you, his nanny?”
Stepping around the kid, the man snarled, “No, I’m his brother, you stupid redneck!” Then he swung, landing a hard right on Dev’s jaw, knocking him backward against the bar.
Seeing stars, Dev shook his head to clear it. When his ears stopped ringing and he could see straight, he heard customers complaining to the wait staff and noticed bar patrons had crowded into the restaurant area, giving him and the two brothers a wide berth. The kid stood hunched over the bar, dabbing at his nose with a cocktail napkin. The older guy stood in a fighter’s crouch, head tucked low and fists up, ready to deliver more punishment. He was several inches shorter than Dev, but he sure could hit.
“You pack a hell of a wallop, mister. You a pro?”
The man straightened slightly, scowling at Dev from beneath dark, bushy brows. “No, I learned how to protect myself and my little brother the hard way, on the streets. You want me to prove it?”
“No, I believe you.” Dev grinned and winced as pain shot through his jaw. Cupping the tender area with his hand, he felt it starting to swell. He would be a pretty sight tomorrow when he hoped . . . no, planned to see Michaela Peterson again.
“Look, I had a bad day and I lost my temper. Sorry for taking it out on the kid. I mean your brother.” He offered his hand. “I’m Dev Medina.”
His opponent slowly relaxed. Lowering his arms, he hesitated then firmly clasped Dev’s hand. “Russell McKinney.” He tipped his head toward his brother. “He’s Junior.”
“Ah, Russ, don’t call me that. You know I hate it,” the kid protested, straightening away from the bar. He sounded like he had a bad cold, obviously because he couldn’t breathe through his puffy nose. Facing Dev, he added, “My name is Bobby McKinney. I’m sorry, too, for making you spill your drink.” He ducked his head. “And for laughing at you.”
Before Dev could reply, a tall black guy strode into the room, past watching customers. Bald as a baby’s bottom and built like a linebacker, he wore a navy blue blazer with the hotel logo monogrammed on his breast pocket. Dev realized he must be hotel security and raised his hands in the universal sign of surrender. Russell McKinney took his cue and did likewise.
“It’s all over,” Dev told the big man. “Sorry for causing a ruckus.”
Crossing his massive arms, the bouncer – that’s what he really was – eyed all three of them with a frown that could turn sweet cream sour. “You boys need to leave,” he said in a voice as deep as the Grand Canyon. “This is a respectable hotel. We don’t put up with barroom brawls.”
“Yes, sir. My brother and I were just on our way out,” the elder McKinney said. “Come on, Bobby, let’s go.” Glancing at Dev, he jerked his thumb toward the lobby then strode from the restaurant with the kid on his tail.
Dev pulled out his wallet and slapped down a hundred bucks on the bar. “For the damages and your trouble,” he told the bar tender, who had moved to the far end of his domain, out of harm’s way. With a nod at the intimidating security guy, he followed the two brothers out. He found them waiting inside the hotel entrance.
“We’re going to go grab some burgers. You want to join us?” Russell asked.
“Sounds good to me.” Stomach rumbling in approval, he agreed to meet them at their favorite café a few blocks away.
The place wasn’t fancy but Dev’s man-size burger was grilled to perfection and loaded with onions, cheese and tomato slices the way he liked. The fries that came with it were thick and fresh-cut, not shipped frozen from some far off location. Only problem was he had to take small bites and chew slowly to minimize the pain in his jaw.
“You boys live on the island?” he inquired between bites.
“For now. We’re from up north, Detroit to be exact,” Russell replied. “We’re here on a job.” He gulped down a hefty swig of cola. “What about you? You sound local.”
Dev cocked an eyebrow. After years of globe hopping he didn’t think he had much Texas accent left. “You’ve got a good ear. Houston is my hometown, an hour up the road. I drove down here to visit someone.” He chewed another bite then asked, “What kind of work do you do?”
“I’m a construction manager. Bobby’s a roughneck learning the ropes. We’re working on the hospital.”
“The UT Medical Branch?”
“Yeah. The place really took a beating in the hurricane back in ’08, but it’s coming along good. With the changes we’re making, the structure should stand up better to the next big blow.”
“That’s great. So, when the job’s done what comes next? Will you stay in Galveston?”
“Hell no! You southern boys can keep the heat and the humidity. Give us some snow and ice. Right, Bobby?”
“Sure, Russ,” the kid mumbled with a marked lack of enthusiasm.
Smothering a painful grin, Dev got them talking more about themselves and told them about his days in the Army, omitting a lot they didn’t need to know. Before he parted ways with the pair, he found out where they were living and requested Russ’s cell number, saying he might have a little side job for them. Something told him he would need their help in protecting Michaela Peterson until he convinced her to leave the island.
* * *
Michaela smiled when Andrew announced he had made a reservation for them at The Steakhouse in the luxurious San Luis Resort on Seawall Boulevard, where he was staying during his visit to Galveston. It was one of her favorite dining spots and one of the most expensive on the island. Her escort was evidently out to impress her.
“Nice place,” he remarked as they entered the restaurant, tucked in off the San Luis’s grand Promenade Walk. “I ate here the first night I was in town. The food is as good as I’d heard.”
“Mmm. I’ve always found it delicious,” she said, letting him know she was no stranger to the quiet elegance of mahogany and leather appointments and fabulous cuisine the Steak House was famous for all over Texas.
They were seated promptly and their server instantly appeared with menus and a wine list. Once they placed their order, the waiter faded into the background, allowing them privacy.
“Are you enjoying your stay on the island?” Michaela asked, spreading a linen napkin across her lap.
“Very much. The weather has been perfect.” Andrew glanced out the plate glass window and nodded at the vast expanse of silvery gray water beyond the sea wall. “And I don’t see views like this back home.” He turned his dark brown eyes to her. “Or like you.”
“You know how to flatter a girl, sir,” she said with a crook of her lips.
He reached out, laying his hand over hers on the table. “It’s not flattery. You’re lovely, Michaela, and fascinating. I hope to unlock all your secrets.”
“You think I have secrets?” Stiffening, she fought not to withdraw her hand from his. It was probably an innocent statement, but Dev Medina’s warning made her wary. She’d just met Andrew last night while out with friends for a drink after work. Had she been unwise to accept his invitation to join him for a walk on the beach today, and subsequently for dinner tonight?
“Don’t all women?” Grinning, he winked at her.
Okay, so he was simply flirting with her. She relaxed as their conversation turned to less personal subjects. Their food soon arrived and Michaela enjoyed her filet with all the trimmings, along with the well aged Bordeaux Andrew had chosen for them. While they ate, he entertained her with tales of life in Minneapolis, where he worked as a stock broker. He was down here on a getaway from the chilly northern autumn, he’d explained last evening.
He proved just as charming as he had then, yet his derisive remark about Dev Medina lingered in her head. She recognized it as territorial male behavior, but the enraged vibe she’d picked up from him at that moment still bothered her.
A mind probe would reveal if he harbored some nefarious interest in her, but she didn’t seriously consider it for the same reasons she hadn’t dared probe Medina’s mind. Anyway, she couldn’t do it with Andrew sitting across from her, watching her. She would have to close her eyes and concentrate; he’d know something was going on. And what if she discovered some malevolent intent in him and he sensed her intrusion? She might find herself in real danger.
“Would you like to go for a stroll along the sea wall and look at the stars?” he asked a few moments later as he paid the check and left a hefty tip for their waiter.
“I’d love to, but I have some case files to go over. Do you mind if we call it a night?” It wasn’t a total lie; she did have two patient files to review, but they could wait until tomorrow.
Andrew’s mouth hardened for an instant then relaxed. “Of course. In your profession and mine, work must come first.”
“That’s true. Thank you for understanding.” She smiled gratefully when he rose to pull out her chair and help her on with the silk shawl.
He drove her home and saw her up the steps to her front door. As she dug the key from her handbag, he asked, “Can I see you again, Michaela? Tomorrow perhaps? It promises to be another beautiful day.”
“I’m not sure I’ll be free,” she hedged. “But you have my number. If you want, you can call me, say around noon. I should know by then whether I’ll be tied up or not.”
“I’ll do that.” He leaned in to kiss her cheek and waited until she was safely inside.
She pressed her ear to the door, listening until his footsteps faded away. You’re being ridiculously paranoid now, she scolded herself. If you’re not careful you’ll soon be thinking everyone is out to get you, like some of your patients. Yes, but in my case there really might be someone out to get me and the scroll I guard.
Shoving the disturbing thought aside, Michaela made sure all the doors and windows were locked then retreated to her bedroom. Maybe she would treat herself to an hour or two of reading for pure pleasure instead of studying patient files. She stepped out of her black open-toed pumps, placed them neatly away in her closet and started to unzip her dress. Pausing, she glanced at the print of Renoir’s La Balançoire – The Swing – hanging over her bed.
She hadn’t looked behind it in some time. Perhaps she should make sure all was well.
Michaela set aside the electronic bug detector she’d used to check her bedroom for hidden monitoring devices. She always took this precaution before removing the scroll from its hiding place. Best to be safe, she believed, especially in view of the possible new threat Dev Medina had warned her about.
She walked into her en suite bathroom and pulled out the vanity drawer, filled with an assortment of combs, hair clips and makeup paraphernalia. Hidden amid the jumble, where she hoped no one would ever think to search was a small, thin security wrench. She retrieved it, stepped back into the bedroom and padded across the white plush carpet to her bed. Turning back the mint-green comforter and tossing pillows out of the way, she climbed onto the high mattress and knelt in front of the cherry headboard.
She used the little wrench to loosen screws on the back of the guilt picture frame, a security system she had installed herself, with considerable difficulty, to prevent anyone from removing the print. Once the screws were loosened, she carefully lifted the piece off its hangers, revealing the wall safe behind it.
Laying the print behind her on the bed, Michaela worked the safe’s combination lock. It clicked and released and she opened the door. Inside the safe lay a small metal tube, bluish in color and cool to the touch when she lifted it out. She shifted to sit on the bed with her back against the headboard and unscrewed the tube’s tightly sealed cap. Setting it aside, she tipped the container and gently removed the ancient scroll it protected.
Exactly how old the document was, she didn’t know except that it dated back to the time of her Tuatha Dé Danann ancestors, thousands of years ago. Even as old as it was, the creamy white parchment had remained supple and free of discoloration, no doubt thanks to the unique metal tube.
This scroll had been in her family for untold generations, passed down from one specially gifted member to the next. Each was chosen for his or her ability to read another person’s thoughts, in honor of the author of this scroll and his prophesy. Awestruck as always when handling it, Michaela reverently unfurled the precious relic. She had long since translated the ancient alien text under her mother’s – her predecessor’s – guidance, as all apprentice Guardians were required to do. Although she had committed the words to memory, they still sent chills down her spine as she read them again.
I Cáel am blessed with the ability to look into another’s thoughts, a gift bestowed upon me by Danu, the Great Mother. Glory to her name! Now, she has also allowed me to behold a time far in the future when my gift will be shared by many among the race of humankind, and it will not be the only power granted them.
Some will heal with a touch of the mind as our own healers do. Others will move objects with naught but a thought or leave their bodies and travel afar. Still others will communicate with animals or possess a special talent for growing food plants, while some may control armies or the world’s wealth.
These are only a few of the gifts Danu shall grant the far distant inhabitants of planet Earth. Until that time, I and my descendants are charged with guarding this prophesy, which is the Word of Danu.
Michaela sighed and closed her eyes for a moment, filled with the mellow euphoria she always experienced after reading the treasured prophesy. It was like being touched by the hand of the Goddess. Glory to Danu, indeed!
Coming back to herself, she rolled up the parchment scroll, inserted it into the metal tube, closed it and placed it back in the safe. Once she had secured the Renoir print to the wall, she prepared for bed. She no longer felt the need to read in order to relax. Turning off the bedside lamp, she snuggled beneath the lightweight comforter and drifted to sleep.
Her dreams were peopled by dark figures chasing her, held at bay by a sword wielding Norseman with long blond hair, bulging biceps and Dev Medina’s face. A ghostly white hand reached down to touch his head as if blessing him. She recognized the hand of Danu. Her eyes flew open and she sat straight up in bed, breathing hard, still seeing her dream image. Was her subconscious telling her to trust the man? Or had the Goddess just sent her a message?
* * *
Dev woke up early Sunday morning. After showering and shaving, he ordered breakfast from room service then showered and dressed while he waited. Later, as he tucked into pancakes, eggs and bacon, he caught the morning news on CNN. All of which took up less than an hour. After that he paced his room, stared out the window and waited for a call from Michaela Peterson.
Ten o’clock came and went with his impatience growing by the minute. Why didn’t she call? He’d spelled out the danger she potentially faced. Didn’t she believe him? Was she thinking over what he’d told her? Or was she otherwise occupied?
Imagining his golden goddess lying in Andrew Kohler’s arms, Dev ground his teeth. He couldn’t stand the idea. Jealousy was a large part of it, but his gut also told him there was something fishy about the man. And he trusted his gut.
This wondering and waiting was driving him crazy. Cussing, he grabbed his phone and punched in her number. She answered on the second ring.
“Mr. Medina, I thought we agreed I would call you,” she said in a frosty tone.
“Yeah, we did, but the day is nearly half gone. I was worried you. Have you made up your mind to leave Galveston like Lara advised?”
“No I haven’t,” she snapped, “and I won’t be pushed into it. Is that clear?”
“You’re being stubborn and it could cost you your life.” If they’d been in the same room, Dev might have given her a good shake. He heard her catch her breath.
“I . . . I believe you’re trying to help me, but it’s not an easy matter. I can’t just pick up and go. There are my patients to think of.”
He tamped down his temper. “Okay, I get that, but can’t you arrange for some other doctor to see them? They’d have no choice but to find another doc if you turned up dead.”
She made a choked sound in his ear. “That’s a cruel thing to say.”
“Maybe, but it’s the truth.” He hated hurting her, but he had to make her see reason.
“I’ve worked so hard to build my practice, to gain my patients’ trust. To just walk out on them now, I don’t know if I can do it.”
Her unhappy tone tugged at Dev’s heart. Cleary she really cared about her patients. That said a lot about the type of person she was. “Look, why don’t we set it aside for now. It’s a nice day. How about we meet for lunch then take a walk on the beach? That way, I can be sure you’re safe and keep an eye open for anyone who might be following you.”
“You think I’m being followed?” Her voice shook slightly.
“Honestly I don’t know, but those Hellhound dudes tracked Lara down. I’d like to make sure they’re not on your trail.”
“I suppose you’re right. Where do you have in mind meeting?”
“Why don’t I pick you up and you can choose a place to eat?”
“All right. Give me an hour to get ready.”
“You’ve got it. I’ll see you then.” Dev disconnected with a smile on his face. Today he’d have her to himself with no pretty boy to come between them. He looked forward to getting to know her better. It would also ease his mind to have her close, he admitted, no longer smiling. The feeling that he needed to protect her was growing stronger.
* * *
Michaela stared at her phone for a moment, wondering why her blood raced at the thought of seeing Dev Medina again. She barely knew him and even though he might be right about her being in danger, she didn’t care for his dogged insistence that she walk away from everything she had worked so hard to achieve. Furthermore, she’d never gone for the muscle bound type before. Yet, there was something about him that called out to her.
Deciding her self-analysis could wait, she showered, washed her hair and blew it dry. She considered donning another of the colorful sarongs she loved but settled on tan walking shorts that showed off her long legs and a wrap top in a shade of rose that complimented her skin tone. Adding a matching headband to hold back her hair, she applied a touch of lip gloss and stepped into a comfortable pair of sandals. She’d just stuffed a small blanket into her straw beach bag when the doorbell rang.
Hurrying downstairs, she set the bag on the floor near the door, opened it to greet Dev and gasped at the sight of him. “What happened to you?” she asked, staring at the swollen, discolored left side of his jaw.
He grinned and winced. “I got into a little altercation last night.” He touched the ugly contusion. “Don’t let this bother you. It’ll be better in a few days.”
“No doubt, but it looks painful now.” Quelling a foolish urge to reach out and comfort him, she retrieved her beach bag and drew her keys out of the inside pocket.
“Let me take that,” he said, relieving her of the bag as she struggled with it while locking the door. “So, where do you want to eat?”
“I was thinking of Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s on Harborside Drive, on the opposite side of the island from the beach. Is that alright with you?” She turned to accompany him down her front steps and out to his vehicle.
“That’s fine. I’ve been there and I like their crawfish po-boys.”
“For me it’s their lobster bisque.”
He held the door for her while she climbed into his cherry-red Range Rover. “By the way, you look beautiful in that outfit. It sure shows off your suntan.”
She smiled up at him. “Thank you, Mr. Medina. I confess I’m a sun lover although I try not to overdo it. You have quite a tan yourself.”
“Mine comes from the Tex-Mex side of my family. And you don’t need to be so formal. Call me Dev and I’ll call you Mickie, okay?” He winked and closed the door then walked around to the driver’s side.
“You heard Andrew call me that, I assume,” she said as he buckled up and started the car.
“That’s right. I take it he’s your boyfriend.” He pulled out into light traffic on her street.
“Not really. I just met him Friday night.”
“Yeah? How’d you meet him?”
“I stopped for a drink with some friends and he introduced himself.”
“And he asked you out. A fast worker, huh?”
She glanced at him, noting his tight lips. “Perhaps. He was alone on the island and in need of a friend, he said.”
“Mmm. So he’s not from here. What else do you know about him?”
“Only what he’s told me. He’s from Minneapolis, where he works as a stock broker.”
“What’s he doing down here? And why did he pick you to cozy up to?”
“He’s here on vacation.” She frowned at him. “And just maybe he finds me attractive.”
Dev laughed. “Oh, I don’t doubt that. He’d have to be blind not to.”
She permitted herself a pleased grin but quickly sobered. “I gather you think he might be one of them, the Hellhounds?”
He shrugged, powerful shoulders flexing beneath his navy blue t-shirt. “I don’t know, but he’s a stranger. Remember what Lara said about trusting strangers. It could be dangerous.”
“I’m aware of that, but he hasn’t said or done anything suspicious.” Well, except for that angry vibe she’d picked up from him yesterday after his encounter with Dev. Tapping her fingers on the car door’s arm rest, she wondered if it was simply jealousy or if Dev was right to distrust Andrew.
They arrived at Fisherman’s Wharf and she pushed the uneasy question to the back of her mind. They were shown to a table overlooking the harbor and the tall ship Elissa, a restored nineteenth century sailing ship docked next to the Texas Seaport Museum. Admiring the three-masted beauty, they placed their orders without bothering to look at a menu. The service was excellent, the food as good as always. They made small talk until almost done eating, when Michaela raised a subject that had been nagging at her.
“I hope you don’t mind me asking, but do you have some sort of special mental ability?”
Dev paused with a last bite of po-boy halfway to his mouth. Eyeing her warily, he lowered the morsel to his plate. “That’s an odd question. Why do you ask?” His expression remained unperturbed but she’d caught a flash of alarm in his eyes.
She leaned forward and spoke quietly. “Because I possess such a gift and I have detected a hint of psychic power from you.”
His Adam’s apple bobbed. He stared at her for a moment and said, “This isn’t the place to talk about it. Are you done?” At her nod, he caught their waitress’s eye and requested the check. He didn’t say another word until they sat behind closed doors in his SUV. Then he turned to face her.
“Exactly what kind of gift allows you to detect psychic power?”
“I don’t know if there is a name for it, but when I’m near someone with ESP, I sense it.” She dropped her gaze, gripped the edge of her seat and drew a deep breath. “I can also read other people’s thoughts.”
“Good God! You’re a mind reader? Are you reading my thoughts right now? Have you been doing it all along?” He sounded affronted.
“No!” She shook her head adamantly and looked him in the eye. “I can’t often do it at random, and I would not probe your mind without your permission. I swear.”
Frowning, he studied her closely. “But you sensed I have some kind of ESP.”
“Yes. It struck me yesterday and I feel it now.”
Turning away, he grasped the steering wheel and stared straight ahead. After a charged silence, he said, “Psychic gifts run in my father’s family. He’s empathic.” He glanced at her. “You know what that means?”
She nodded.” It means he can feel other’s emotions.”
“Right, including pain, rage and depression. Because of that he has a hard time around groups of people. His father, my granddad, was good at predicting the weather. He was a rancher and always knew when it would be a good year for grazing cattle or when there would be a drought. My great grandmother was a medium. She could see and speak to ghosts, so the story goes.” He shot her another glance, tawny eyebrows raised as if asking whether she believed such a thing was possible.
“Many charlatans have claimed that ability,” she said, “but I know one person who truly can see shades of the dead, and converse with them.”
“Yeah? Then maybe my great granny wasn’t crazy and the stories about her are true.” He swiveled in his seat to face her again. “And then there was my great-great-grandmother Jessie and her brother and sister. They came to Texas back in the 1870s from Chicago. All three possessed some kind of psychic power. Jessie had the sight.”
“Ah, she could look into the future, a very special gift.”
“Yes, she could, and I’m like her. Every now and then I dream of something that hasn’t happened yet, and it comes true.”
Michaela caught her breath. “You’re a seer! I’ve never met a seer before. Does Lara know of your gift?”
He shook his head. “No. Nobody outside my family knows about it.” He smiled, electric blue eyes twinkling. “Except for you, of course.”
“Thank you, Dev, for trusting me with your secret,” she said, flustered beneath his gaze. He was like the ancient ones, those who had handed down the seven great prophesies she and the other Guardians were sworn to protect. A sudden thought struck her.
“Your great-great-grandmother, was she Irish?”
“Yeah, how’d you guess?”
She stared at him, unable to speak. Oh Goddess! Could it be? Were he and his Irish ancestors descended from the Old Ones? Clearing her tight throat, she said. “Ireland is the birthplace of my mother’s ancestors. Those like me, the other Guardians, also trace at least part of their ancestral roots to Éire. With what you’ve told me about your family, it’s quite possible we are related far back in time.”
“No kidding! Then I guess we’re kissing cousins.” He winked and grinned crookedly.
Michaela grew hot all over. “I wouldn’t say that.” Looking out her side window, she fiddled with a lock of hair and tried to ignore his deep, knowing laugh.
“Okay, time to head for the beach.” He started the car and tuned the radio to a soft rock station. Humming along with the music, he left her to her disordered thoughts.
They found the beach more crowded than the day before. Stowing their footwear in Michaela’s beach bag, which Dev insisted on carrying, they strolled barefoot along the sand until coming upon a relatively quiet spot. There, they spread the blanket she’d brought along and sat watching gentle waves lap the shore.
“Hard to believe peaceful water like this can turn so deadly in a hurricane,” Dev said.
“I was thinking the same thing. Were you in Houston when Ike hit in 2008?”
“No, I was on a job halfway around the world, but I’ve heard how bad it was.” He crossed his legs Indian style and asked, “Did you evacuate?”
“Oh yes, I wasn’t brave enough, or crazy enough, to try to ride out the storm. Some of those who stayed didn’t live to tell about it.”
“How far inland did you have to go?”
“Many evacuees went to San Antonio or Dallas-Fort Worth where emergency shelters were set up, but my sister lives in Oklahoma City. I drove up there and stayed with her.” Leaning back on her hands, she added, “Galveston residents weren’t allowed to return until almost two weeks after the hurricane. The roads were too choked with debris until then. When I finally made it back here, I found my house had been flooded with several feet of water.”
“Must have been rough.”
“It was, but I count myself lucky because I had a house to come back to. Many weren’t so fortunate. Their homes were completely demolished or swept into the Gulf, especially on the west end of the island where Ike made landfall. In poorer areas on the bay side, many houses were also badly damaged. Some still stand empty and boarded up.”
Dev leaned forward and scooped up a handful of sand. Sifting it between his fingers, he asked, “Do you see your sister often?”
“Not really. It’s been close to two years since we last got together. She’s married with two school age children and my practice keeps me pretty tied down.”
“How do you think she’d feel about you coming for an extended visit?”
Michaela straightened abruptly. “And put her and her family in danger if the Hellhounds track me there? No! I won’t do that. How can you even suggest it?”
He raised his hand in a conciliatory gesture. “Okay, okay, it was just a thought. You’re right, bad idea. But you have to face the fact that you can’t stay here. It’s just not safe.”
“We don’t know that for sure yet, and I’m not willing to turn my life upside down until I must.” Rubbing her arms as if suddenly chilled, she pushed to her feet. “I need to go home. Now!”
Muttering under his breath, Dev stood, shook out the blanket and stuffed it back in her straw bag. “All right, let’s go.”
The ride back to her place was accomplished in an uncomfortable silence. When they arrived, he toted the beach bag up the steps to her door, waiting while she unlocked. She reached to take the bag from him but he swung it away.
“Un-uh. I want to check and make sure you don’t have any uninvited guests. In fact, I insist.” He met her uncertain gaze, daring her to argue.
“Very well, but you’re being obsessive.” She opened the door and led him inside.
“Maybe, but better safe than sorry.” He deposited her bag on the floor and said, “Stay here while I look around.”
Michaela didn’t like being given orders but she did as he said, crossing her arms and impatiently eyeing the living room wall clock. Dev returned within a few moments, mouth set in a determined line that made her faintly nervous. Had he found some sign of an intruder?
“All clear for now,” he said.
She released the breath she hadn’t been conscious of holding. “Good. Thank you for checking even though it wasn’t really necessary.” She started to move aside so he could leave, but he blocked her path.
“You’re welcome.” His big hands settled on her waist, drawing a startled gasp from her throat. She stared into his eyes as he stepped close, pressing her against the hard length of his body. Then he bent his head and kissed her boldly, taking advantage of her parted lips to explore the inside of her mouth with his tongue.
Her head swam with the heat and taste of him. Her hands climbed his muscular chest to rest on his wide shoulders while his mouth did amazing things to her senses. She wanted the kiss to go on and on but as swiftly as he began it, he released her and backed away.
“Dream of me, golden girl,” he said in a husky rumble. “And be sure to lock up.” Then he strode out the door, leaving her stunned and breathing hard.
Leaning against the entry wall, she hugged herself and listened to him descend the stairs. Only after his footsteps faded away did she come to her senses enough to close and lock the door. Making her way on wobbly legs into the living room, she dropped into her vintage fan back wicker chair, leaned her head back and thought about what had just happened.
After chewing Dev out for suggesting she go stay with her sister and calling him obsessive for wanting to check out her house, she had expected him to angrily stomp out. Instead, he had taken her completely by surprise with his kiss. And what a kiss! Her insides were still on fire from the effects of it.
Several minutes passed before she noticed the blinking red light on her nearby phone. She pressed the play button and listened to three messages, all from Andrew, progressing from friendly to clearly annoyed. Not caring for his tone in the last one, Michaela almost decided not to call him back, but good manners drove her to hit redial. He answered on the second ring.
“Michaela? I’d about given up on you,” he said, not bothering with any niceties.
“Hello, Andrew. I’m sorry, but I did tell you I might be unavailable today.”
“Did you get my messages on your mobile number?”
She touched the pockets of her shorts, finding them empty. “No, I forgot to take my cell phone with me. Sorry,” she again said.
“Yeah? What kept you tied up so long?”
“I was with a friend,” she replied, struggling to hold her temper. She was rapidly growing tired of his jealous sounding questions.
“Was it that big ox, Medina?” he demanded in a snide tone.
“That’s really none of your business.” Fed up, she added, “I don’t think we should see each other again. Please don’t call me.” She disconnected, hoping he would abide by her request.
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