running from the past Page 3

Minutes later when the men were devouring their dessert, Caleb strode into the kitchen.

He wasn’t smiling and she couldn’t read his somber expression. Maybe he hadn’t liked the meal so much after all. Her mouth went dry. “Is everything all right?” He nodded and offered her an almost apologetic smile, as if he were surprised himself at the quality of the meal. “More than all right. Half the men in there want to propose to you based on that meal alone. What did you season the chicken with?” Emma soaked up the small compliment and fought the heat rushing to her cheeks.

“It’s a family secret, sorry.”

“Everyone’s pretty much finished so if you don’t mind I’d like to introduce you to everyone.”

“Uh, sure.” She trailed behind him into the quiet room.

He kept a firm grip on her upper arm as he rattled off names. It was hard to focus with him so close and holding her in such a possessive way. Why was he doing that anyway? Holding on to her as if she belonged to him? She resisted the urge to yank her arm away. It was crazy but her heart beat such a staccato tattoo against her rib cage she feared he could somehow hear it. As soon as he finished, the men stood and started clearing the table.

“Please leave everything, you don’t have to—” Caleb’s grip tightened. Not painfully but the pressure on her arm increased. He took a small step back out of the way so that she had no choice but to follow. In single file, the men strode out of the dining room like a parade of mimes. She winced when she heard the clanging sounds of them dropping the china into the sink.

When the last man had gone, she looked up at Caleb in confusion. Before she could question, he answered. “Since it’s your first night and you look ready to fall asleep on your feet I told the men to clear the table and I’ll be doing the dishes.”

She opened her mouth to protest but he put a surprisingly gentle finger over her mouth. “Don’t argue. This is probably the only time I’ll do this. Unless of course you make dessert like that again.” He winked, strode into the kitchen and started shoving plates into the dishwasher. Again she cringed. Even if he did have a tight butt and forearms to drool over, he was like the proverbial bull in a china closet. No grace or finesse.

Part of her wanted to argue but the part with the tired feet and droopy eyes let him win. “Okay.”

She started for the hallway but turned at the door. “I’ve got the quiches in the fridge. I’ll need to pop them in the oven in the morning. What time is breakfast?”

“Seven.” He didn’t glance up, just continued shoving dishes into the machine.

Twenty minutes later, Emma stood under the pulsing rhythm of the shower, letting the jets massage her aching body until the water turned chilly and forced her to get out.

Not bothering to blow-dry her hair or to put on clothes, she lathered herself in vanilla lotion before slipping between the cool, cotton sheets. After setting the digital alarm, she finally let herself relax. Tomorrow was a new day.

For the first time in eight years, she felt safe. Completely and utterly safe. Sure, it had a lot to do with the rough looking man downstairs but that was okay. No one knew where she was and even if they did, she had a sneaking suspicion that Caleb slept with one eye open and a gun under his pillow anyway. She wondered if he slept in the nude too. The unexpected thought sent a jolt of awareness straight to her vagina. She shouldn’t care one way or the other what he wore to bed. For all she knew he had a girlfriend.

No, she doubted it, because if she was his girlfriend, she wouldn’t spend one night out of his bed. Any woman with a pulse would have to be crazy to leave him alone. She hadn’t even given him her real last name and she was fantasizing about going to bed with him.

She groaned and buried her face in one of the pillows when a soft knock on the door jerked her back to reality. Panic clutched her throat for a millisecond. An intruder wouldn’t knock. It had to be Caleb. Clutching the sheet to her neck she called out,

“Come in.”

A second later Caleb’s large frame filled the doorway. He stopped abruptly and stared at her, mouth partially open. She glanced down in confusion but nothing appeared out of place. All body parts were covered. What was wrong with him? “Uh, can I help you?”

He shook his head and cleared his throat and whatever trance he’d been in, vanished. “I just wanted to let you know I left my company credit card on the kitchen counter in case you need to do any grocery shopping tomorrow,” he mumbled, his voice barely audible above the sounds of her own breathing.

“Okay, thanks. Won’t you be at breakfast tomorrow?”

“Probably not. I’ve got a meeting at the bank early tomorrow morning and I’m meeting with a breeder in the afternoon so you probably won’t see me until tomorrow night. If you need anything Robert will help you. He’s the one—” She nodded and clutched the sheet a little higher. Despite his soft speech, he stared at her as if he’d like to eat her whole. Damn her traitorous body, that thought wasn’t such a bad one. Involuntarily she clenched her thighs together and swallowed, trying to ignore the heat pooling between her legs. “I know which one he is. Thanks.” He gave a slight nod, then shut the door behind him. She stared at the closed door for a few moments before burying her face in the pillow again. This could not be happening. She was on the run from a maniac and her hormones were going haywire.

Clearly, she had issues.

* * * * *

She slept in the nude. She fucking slept in the nude. Caleb couldn’t believe it. That was a bit of information he didn’t need to know. Now his fantasies, which were getting worse by the second, kicked into overdrive. She’d tried to hide herself but what she probably didn’t know was the nightlight next to her bed cast a soft, amber glow around her, shining right through the thin sheet. Illuminating her small, pert breasts perfectly.

Her nipples had been rock hard underneath the sheer material.

How was he going to do this? He couldn’t live under the same roof as her and not go insane. He’d thought her beautiful before but sitting in bed with wet, dark hair cascading around her heart shaped face, sans makeup, she looked like a goddess. A goddess with huge, guarded eyes waiting for him. Only for him. He’d seen the appreciative glances from his men tonight so more than likely he would make an announcement tomorrow. She was off limits.

Chapter Three

Breakfast had been ridiculously easy and the cleanup even easier. Out of the three large dishes, there hadn’t been one scrap of quiche left. It was as if they’d literally licked the plates clean. Her pride swelled a little but she had a feeling that after a month of Caleb’s cooking, they’d be grateful for anything half-way decent she threw in front of them. The ravenous grunts she’d heard earlier were a good indication that Caleb would want to keep her around. Which is exactly what she’d been counting on. At least until she could figure out who she could trust.

After she loaded the dishwasher, she started an oversized load of laundry then dusted the entire downstairs. She didn’t venture into Caleb’s room because she wasn’t sure if that would be invading his privacy too much. Considering he was a bachelor, she was surprised the house wasn’t a complete mess. Besides the kitchen and dining room, his office was the only room actually lived in. Even that room was basically clean so all she had to do was dust, straighten up the clutter on his desk and empty the wastebasket. The formal living room, the den, and the two downstairs bathrooms looked untouched except for a thin layer of dust over the lamps, wooden slat blinds and other furniture. She planned to vacuum the rugs later, but first she had some errands to run. At least she managed to start a second load of laundry and put the first load in the dryer before she left. How Caleb had managed to let his clothes pile up for so long was beyond her.

February in Florida was an unusually chilly month for the sunshine state and as she’d come to realize, it was even colder the farther north and farther away from Miami she’d driven. Remembering the frantic rush she’d been in when packing, it was a wonder she’d remembered to bring as much stuff as she had. She donned a camel-colored, belted, wool coat for added warmth, locked up the house with the key Caleb had left for her and went in search of her truck. It wasn’t where she’d left it so she ventured toward the stables.

Male voices grew louder the closer she got to the huge barn so she knew she was headed in the right direction. Although she heard voices, she wasn’t exactly sure how to get inside. After passing six closed Dutch-style doors along the side of the barn, she found the entrance.

Once inside, she realized that the closed doors from the outside were individual stables and they all had horses inside. Her boots crunched over the wooden planks and dirt as she passed bales of hay and strange looking machinery. Emma tried to ignore the snorting animals and smell of fresh forage. It wasn’t necessarily a bad odor, just different from what she was used to.

She continued toward the end of the long stable but jerked to a halt before rounding the corner when she heard her name.

“I’d definitely hit it,” one said.

“I’d do her for her cooking skills alone,” another said.

“Yeah, I’d like to bend her over the kitchen table and…” whoever was talking stopped and she could just imagine the nasty hand gestures he was making.

“I don’t know guys, I think Caleb might have something to say about that. Did you see the way he dressed up for dinner last night?” They all started laughing, so she pivoted on her heels, afraid to hear more and hurried back in the direction she’d come. She’d find her truck on her own. Just as she stepped back out of the barn and into the fresh air, she slammed into a broad chest.

Gentle hands steadied her and she found herself staring into Robert’s concerned eyes.

“You all right, hon? What are you doing out here?” His slow, soothing, southern drawl was just as relaxed as the way he walked.

“I’m just looking for my truck,” she mumbled. She could feel heat creeping up her neck and face at the men’s crude remarks. It wasn’t that she’d never heard men talk about such things—Ricardo’s men were disgusting pigs—but she’d never been the object of discussion. At least not that she knew of. Back home no one would have had the guts to talk about her in such a fashion, even if they knew the truth about her and Ricardo. It was all about pretense.