Authors: Rachel Branton
Tags: #lds, #Christian, #karen kindgsbury, #Romantic Suspense, #ariana, #Romance, #Suspense, #a bid for love, #clean romance, #dee henderson
Yes, but not now. Not with Mia watching us. Not when my heart was leaping about in my chest. From stress, of course. It wasn’t every day I lost a fiancé and married a near stranger with a questionable past.
“Kiss her and let us go,” Mia teased.
Gage looked over at her, surprise on his face, as though he’d forgotten she was there. “Oh, yeah.” He bent toward me swiftly and planted a fast peck on my cheek.
“Lame.” Mia rolled her eyes. “If Aiden kissed me that way, I’d kick him out.” She grabbed hold of my arm. “Tessa, maybe a little time away will make him less shy.”
I’d never thought of Gage as shy, but he did seem to have a little color in his face at the moment. I laughed and winked at him. “See you later, sweetheart. Don’t miss me too much.”
“I always miss you,” he countered. “Need any money?”
Likely a clear reminder of our deal and what I owed him. Aware of Mia’s gaze, I choked back a retort and held out my hand sweetly. “Sure. You never know what wonders I’ll find.”
To his credit, he didn’t hesitate to draw out his wallet and place a fifty-dollar bill in my hand. “Is that enough?”
I stared at it, feeling suddenly awkward. I didn’t want his money—he was the employee here. But I couldn’t give it back with Mia watching, so I crumpled the bill and shoved it into the pocket of my black pants. “Perfect.”
He gave me a mocking grin. “Have fun.” He bent down and kissed me again, this time putting his arms around me and drawing me close. I tried to resist, but my muscles refused to obey, as if they had a mind of their own. His lips touched mine softly and then more firmly. Blood rushed through my veins, and fire tingled on my back and shoulder where his hands touched me.
When we broke away, the one thing I knew was that last night hadn’t been a fluke. Either he was better at kissing than any man I’d ever kissed, or I was far more attracted to him than I was willing to admit.
Neither thought gave me much comfort.
“That’s more like it.” Mia gave us a thumbs-up like a judge revealing her rating. “Dylan’s in his bedroom. He’ll need help with his math.” She grabbed my hand and pulled me toward the door. I stumbled after her like a sleepwalker.
Gage didn’t move from where I left him, his veiled eyes digging into me as we went out the door.
I thought. I might be attracted to him, but at least it wasn’t all one way. If questioned by the attorney, he could truthfully admit to feeling attraction for me. Maybe letting him help me hadn’t been such a bad idea after all. Well, besides that little issue of murder, and with Mia proclaiming his innocence, that had become almost easy to overlook.
Before the door closed behind us, I saw a flash of something cross Gage’s face that chilled me to the bone.
I didn’t know who it was directed toward. Was he angry at me? Or the situation? I put my hand in my pocket and clutched the crumpled bill.
Mia was climbing into a small red car. I blinked a little in surprise before hurrying around to the passenger side. “You can drive?” I asked. She didn’t reply so I touched her arm to get her attention and repeated the question.
She laughed. “Of course I drive. Believe me, I notice a lot more than you people who hear.” She backed down the drive and onto the road, turning the car with obvious skill.
Okay, so I guess it was a dumb question. I mean, I didn’t remember anything about hearing on the driving test, and there were all those mirrors to see any flashing ambulance and police lights. Mia probably did notice more than most hearing people.
“Sorry,” I said, but she didn’t respond. Her attention was on the road, not on my lips, and rightly so. I’d taken my hearing for granted all my life, and being with Mia was eye-opening.
We drove in silence to the police station. My hands itched to turn on the radio, but I managed to control them. Maybe if I had experienced more silence in my life, I wouldn’t be here in Kingman, attracted beyond all reason to an ex-con whom I knew so little about. Of course, it didn’t help that he looked the way he did and that Julian had broken my heart.
Julian. I wondered if he’d written me off, or if he was holding a powwow with my parents on how to get me back. The girlish part of me wanted him to ride in on his white horse and prove his innocence, but the woman in me knew he had never been truthful and wouldn’t start now. Letting the music blot out these thoughts would have been a lot more comforting than having to rehash them.
Mia touched my hand, and I realized she’d been saying something. I broke from my reverie and saw we were already at the police station. I climbed out, and she pushed a button on her key chain to lock the door. The lights went on and off to signal her success. Nice, since she wouldn’t have heard a beep.
I noticed she’d removed her apron and changed from her jeans and T-shirt to a tan pantsuit that did little for her pale skin. She was still lovely but blended into the scenery more, like a woman trying to hide. Maybe she was.
“I need to talk to Ridge Harrison, please,” she told the lady at the desk in a forced but fairly clear voice.
“I’ll see if I can find him.” The lady was turning away as she spoke, reaching for her phone, so Mia couldn’t have read her lips.
“She’s seeing if she can find him,” I told Mia, making sure she was watching my lips.
Mia looked back at the lady. “He knows I’m coming. I called him.”
“Okay.” The woman looked between us several times before saying rather loudly, “What’s your name?”
“Have a seat. I’ll let him know you’re here.”
I turned away, unable to stop the laughter.
“What?” Mia said, signing something at the same time, probably forgetting I didn’t understand sign.
“She’s talking really loud,” I mouthed.
Mia grinned, and her face gained a bit of needed color. “People do that a lot. I never know, though. It really used to irritate Gage. Before he . . .” She hesitated, her smile vanishing, and I knew she meant before he went away because he wasn’t around others with her much these days. If my guess was correct, he’d distanced himself to protect her and Dylan.
“Mia.” I looked at the voice, and Mia followed my gaze.
A police officer in uniform emerged from a hallway. He was of average height, clean-shaven, and nice looking. His hair, so short it was almost shaved, was that indescribable shade between dark blond and light brown. He looked as if he kept fit, probably in a gym, and not because he was vain about his appearance but because he didn’t want lack of preparation to be what allowed a perp to get away. He walked with the confidence of someone you could go to in times of need, knowing he’d be able to help you.
“Hi, Ridge,” Mia said. “This is Tessa.” She looked nervous, and I wondered why when the officer was so personable. I waited for her to add that I was her sister-in-law, but she didn’t, and I felt relieved not to have to lie to yet another person. We shook hands, and I noticed his eyes were the delicious color of milk chocolate.
“So, what can I help you with, Mia?” He was talking to her but looking at me, probably deciding what color of orange to call my hair, or wondering if he’d seen me on a rap sheet somewhere. No, that was just my guilty conscience. Once I extracted myself from this marriage sham, I was never, ever going to do anything remotely wrong again.
For the first time I began to worry about what kind of legal trouble I might get into if anyone official discovered my real motive for marrying Gage. If someone contested my reasons for marriage, and I lost, did I lose everything? Go to jail? I really should plan my fiascos a little more carefully.
“Is this about the children you’ve been working with at Sarah’s House?” Ridge asked. “The counselor says you’ve done a tremendous job with them.”
Mia’s eyes skittered over a couple who were coming into the police station. “Can we go somewhere else to talk?”
“Oh, sure.” He motioned us to follow him down the hall. “So, Tessa, I haven’t seen you around before. How long have you known Mia?”
“Not long.” I wouldn’t say we’d only met today because that would lead to questions about how long I’d known Gage and why he hadn’t introduced me to Mia long before the wedding. “You?” I asked.
“Since we were little kids. We weren’t close growing up, but I was best friends with her husband. Aiden was gone on her even then. He always knew they’d end up together.”
“Sounds like a great guy.”
“He is.” He turned his face more sharply in my direction. “There was a bit of talk when they got together after high school—you know, two misfits and everything—but it wasn’t anyone’s business, and the talk didn’t last. They make a fine couple.”
“What do you mean?” I’d seen a picture of Aiden at Mia’s, and besides being very blond—even his eyebrows were white—he looked completely normal. I knew from things Gage and Mia had said that Aiden could hear just fine.
“Mia didn’t tell you? Aiden’s an albino. Apparently not as severe a case as some, but he’s very pale, and his eyes are sensitive to light. Always wearing sunglasses. Never could be out much in the sun when we were young or his skin would burn.”
“I didn’t know that. He looks normal in his pictures.”
“He is in everything that counts. Just like Mia. She’s the best sign language translator they’ve ever had at Sarah’s House. I recommended her when a mother showed up with three deaf kids claiming her husband was abusive. The kids opened right up to Mia. She knew just what to say. Those kids love her.” Admiration filled in his voice.
“Stop talking about me.” Mia slugged him on the arm.
“What?” Ridge said, looking to her.
“I can always tell. You turn your head so I can’t see your lips.” Her gaze switched to me. “Is he telling you about my work at Sarah’s House or about Aiden being a freak of nature?”
I laughed because she was dead on. “A handsome freak of nature, if he is one,” I added, remembering the picture. Aiden had the kind of smile that made you want to join in.
Mia grinned. “I know. Can’t wait for you to meet him. I already called, and he’s seeing if he can come home early.”
“Great.” That meant I could make sure Aiden knew what was going on with Mia’s investigation and get on my way. If there was something funny going on here in Kingman, it probably wasn’t smart to get involved. I had my own problems to deal with.
We’d finally arrived at a small room, where Ridge had to kick out two officers who were watching a training video on a small screen. They good-naturedly agreed to make a run for doughnuts.
“They have no intention of getting doughnuts,” Ridge said, rolling his eyes. “They always say that to mess with visitors’ heads. You know, the whole cop and doughnut thing.”
We sat down, and almost immediately Mia pulled the note from the small brown purse she carried. “I’ve been looking into the murder,” she said in her direct way. “Asking some questions. I have proof my brother didn’t kill anyone. Look.”
Ridge carefully unfolded the note, and I noticed he didn’t wear a wedding ring. After he’d read the paper, he let it drop onto the desk. “I’ll have it dusted for prints, but how long have you had it? How many people have touched it?”
“Just me and Tessa and whoever put it in my mailbox yesterday.” Mia shifted uncomfortably. “I didn’t think about prints.”
“Does Gage know about this?”
“No. I didn’t want to get his hopes up. But don’t you think it means something? If someone didn’t have something to hide, they wouldn’t threaten me.”
Ridge leaned back in his chair and sighed. “Gage entered a no-contest plea, and he was convicted. Only the skill of his attorney prevented him from being in prison a lot longer.”
“He was convicted because no one would look at any other evidence!” Mia said, her voice rising. “It was him or me, and you know Gage would never let me go to prison. This note has to prove something. I was just looking around, asking questions about that night, and then this suddenly shows up in my mailbox. Whoever killed that monster is still here. I know it! And this time I’m going to fight for Gage. I was too young and too scared then, but not anymore. Not since I’ve been at Sarah’s House. Those poor kids are willing to fight for each other and their mom, and that’s what I’m doing for Gage, even if he doesn’t want me to.”
I had to struggle to understand her impassioned words, but Ridge seemed to follow every word. He folded his hands over his lean stomach, elbows on the arm rests of his chair. “But it’s over, Mia. Gage is out and working. He’s bought a house. He’s gone on with his life.”
over!” Mia stood, her small frame shaking, and her voice becoming high pitched with emotion. “He can’t live here and watch Dylan grow up. He can’t go pick up my son from school or run to the store when he’s visiting unless he’s grown out his beard so no one will recognize him. To everyone in Kingman, he’ll always be a murderer. What about his children, if he ever has any?” Here she cast a sorrowful glance at me before rushing on. “Please help me, Ridge.”
“She’s scared,” I added. “And after reading that note, I think she has a right to be.”
“Of course, I’m going to look into it.” Ridge smiled reassuringly at us. “I promise I’ll do everything in my power to discover who wrote this and why. At the very least, I’ll give a couple of pranksters a tour of our jail. Meanwhile, I don’t want you to get your hopes up too high, Mia. A lot of time has passed, and you have to understand that while I want to help your brother, it may not be possible. Even if it is possible, it’ll take a while.”
“But you’ll investigate?” Mia pressed.
“Yes. Of course.” He grinned. “I just said I would, didn’t I?”
Mia nodded, the fight seeping from her body. “Thank you.”
“I’d like a list of people you were asking questions and what kind of questions. Any Internet sites you visited or mailing addresses you wrote to. That will help me figure out where to start.” Ridge handed Mia a notebook and a pen, and she sat down again and began writing.
“So where are you from?” Ridge asked idly, his eyes dropping briefly to my hand on the arm rest. Ah, so guys did the ring check like women did.
I felt consternation when I looked at my own hand. I must have left the fake ring back at Mia’s when I’d taken my shower. “I’m from Flagstaff,” I said, “but I’ve been working in Phoenix.”