Liz's Progressive Novel
Yeah, I don't like that name either so you need to help me think of another one.
Here's Chapter 4 per your suggestions. If I may ask a favor, please share my link with any friends you think might enjoy our story. I would greatly appreciate the support!
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1. I have no idea if this is going to work.
2. This will be raw and unedited. You will see all my ticks and flaws that drive my editors crazy!
3. See #2. This can't be stressed enough.
4. I reserve the right to re-write any previous parts if needed.
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, business, places, events and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
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PLEASE keep the comments coming. Chapter 5 needs some of your marvelous input.
Emma Matthews stood proudly on the deck of the Shark Tracker as she navigated the waters back to the dock after a successful tagging. Her sun streaked brown hair flew behind her in the breeze as the boat rose and dipped with each wave. Dark sunglasses shielded her hazel eyes from the beating sun. A strong wave sprayed her face. Emma laughed and whipped off her glasses. She was never happier than when she was flying across the blue sea.
Behind her she could hear the conversation of her co-workers which was still focused on the fourteen footer they had tagged that day. It had been an exceptional tag and Emma couldn’t wait to get back to her office and begin entering the data they had gathered and begin tracking the great white they had named Mary Beth. Jeff would take the biology samples back to the lab and begin running diagnostics on them. Soon, they would know all the secrets of Mary Beth and would be able to track her movement.
“Hey Em, do you think MB’s heading north?”
“That would be my guess, this early in the season.” As a marine biologist Emma knew shark patterns this time of the year headed north. One of the exciting parts of her job was when a shark varied from the norm and went rogue. You’ve never seen a group of scientist more excited than when a deviated pattern was noted.
Emma turned back around and lowered her speed as the dock drew near. She cut the engine and drifted in the last few feet before pushing the button to lower anchor. Paul was already on the dock tying her down. Emma picked up her bag and cases. Paul would close the boat for the day.
“See you guys tomorrow. Five sharp.” Emma waved at the groaning group and sailed past Paul and the guys with her head already running the data pattern she planned to use for Mary Beth.
Once in her office she sat her things down and powered up her computers. While she waited for them to come on she put a pot of tea on and changed from her one piece bathing suit to a T-shirt and cut-off blue jeans shorts. That was the wonderful convenience of working from home. Emma’s office was the open sea or in her one bedroom cottage overlooking the ocean. Sometimes she was required to be onsite at the lab or training facility.
Just as she was tucking in to work her phone rang. After checking the display she grimaced before she pushed the button to answer.
“Hi mother,” always mother, never mom. Emma put her mother on speaker phone and opened her Shark Tracker program. She had learned long ago it was best to only listen with half an ear. Neither of her parents approved of her career choice, her mother especially. Her mother would have been happy if she had married well and had already produced two point five offspring.
“Emmaline, seven o’clock sharp tonight, and wear a dress. Not one of those awful sundresses of yours either, a cocktail dress, preferably black. You know how your skin looks all mottled with those garish colors you insist on wearing. And do something to that hair of yours. I wish you would let me make you an appointment with my stylist. She could tame that wild hair of yours into some semblance of order. You get that from your father’s side you know.”
“Yes mother.” Emma said and then popped her head up from her computer and ran her mother’s conversation back through her mind, “I mean no mother, I will fix my own hair, but thank you for offering.” Emma answered politely.
“And Emmaline, wear make-up, you simply must cover that sun damage on your face. Why you think a tanned face is acceptable is beyond me. You should be taking care of your skin at your age you can’t be too careful.”
Emma propped her elbows on her desk and dropped her head into them. She was only thirty years old, and always used sunblock on her face and body, and reapplied often. People said her skin looked sun-kissed and healthy. She couldn’t help it, she spent the majority of her day outside, and mostly on the water. That was, after all, where the sharks she caught and tagged were.
But of course, her mother didn’t really understand her job and she wanted to keep it that way. “Yes, mother I will be there on time. I promise.” Her mother thought she worked at an aquarium, and Emma would do nothing to dissuade her from that misassumption.
“Very well, be sure that you are. You know your father doesn’t like to be kept waiting. I will send the car for you at six fifteen.”
“Yes mother.” Her father could care less if she was five minutes late. Her mother however would have a cow. Emma would admit that she did have time issues, but she had never been late to her parent’s dinners. Well, not very late. Expect for that one time and then she was extremely late. That however, had been the sharks fault not hers and had required fifteen stitches in her leg, which her parents never knew about and never would.
Emma told her mother good-bye and hung up wondering who was on the menu tonight. Once a month her parents would invite her to dinner and just happen to have invited a pre-vetted single male candidate for her dating pleasure. Her mother always sent the limousine to pick her up, so said candidate could take her home. To date, no one her mother had chosen as acceptable even registered on Emma’s hotness scale.
At precisely seven o’clock that evening Emma, in her black above the knee cocktail dress walked into her parent’s foyer. She stopped to smell the roses, literally on the round marble table under the massive chandelier hanging two stories above. She could hear everyone in the back parlor but she took her time enjoying the flowers and sticking her head in the kitchen to tell Sally and Maude hello before she walked through the grand French doors and greeted her parents.
“Hey Daddy.” Her father wrapped her in a hug.
“How’s my little girl?” Her dad gave her a kiss on the cheek.
“I’m fine we had an exciting day at work.” Her father had a better understanding of her work but he still had no idea of the extent of her involvement.
“There she is.” Emma turned at her mother’s greeting.
“Stewart, this is our daughter Emmaline. Emmaline this is a friend of your fathers, Stewart Rawleigh.” Her mother literally preened over the introduction as she picked invisible lint from Emma’s dress.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you Mr. Rawleigh.” Emma said as she shook his hand politely before cutting her eyes towards her mother. Surely her mother wasn’t seriously entertaining the idea that Mr. Stewart Rawleigh was candidate material. He had to be close to her dad’s age.
“Stewart, please Emmaline.” He said as he clasped Emma’s small hand in his large, cold, and clammy hand.
Emma smiled uncomfortably as his eyes roved her body stopping way too long on her breasts. She tried to politely remove her hand from his but he held tightly, “Stewart, and please call me Emma.” A shiver ran through her and it wasn’t a good shiver.
“Why don’t you children run along and get to know each other before dinner is announced. The roses are lovely this time of year, Emmaline would be more than happy to show you Stewart.”
Emma’s could tell her mother was very pleased with herself. Without causing a scene she accompanied Stewart to the garden, and for the remainder of the night played twister getting away from his grouping hands. There was no way she was letting Stewart take her home.
Two hours later Emma sat in the back of Stewart’s limousine steaming mad. Her mother had insisted she allow Mr. Pawsy to take her home. Her feet hurt from the ridiculous shoes she had worn to please her mother, she had a headache due to the riveting conversation she had been made to endure throughout dinner and now, she was stuck in the back of a car with a very unwanted hand on her knee for the fifth time.
She had had enough. “Stewart,” she said sweetly. “If you don’t remove your hand from my knee, I will remove it for you and I can’t promise your fingers will be in the same condition they are now?” Emma said sweetly, but with a determined glint in her eye.
“Oh now, Emma,” Stewart patted her on the knee, “we are just getting to know each other. Your folks are real happy we’re going to start seeing each other.” His hand on her knee began to more up her thigh.
Emma brushed his hand off her leg and demanded, “What?” He had to be delusional if he thought she wanted to see him again. Once was more than enough.
Stewart put his arm around Emma’s shoulders and pulled her close into his side. “I told your mother your age didn’t bother me at all.”
“My age. Wha…” Emma was too stunned to move away. He really thought she was too old for him? He had to be at least twenty years older than her.
“We’ll date and get to know each other, and well, you know, take things for a test drive,” he gave her shoulder a squeeze, and winked at her before he continued, “and then we’ll get married in a month or two.”
“Married…” Emma looked around the limousine for a camera. This had to be a joke. The guys at work at to be in on this.
“I’m sure you want kids right off before your eggs dry up. Your mother said she would only need a month to get a shindig ready.” Stewart’s hand returned to her knee and Emma could smell his kickin’ breath move closer to her face.
“Stop the car.” Finally her senses returned. She sat up straight, and in doing so knocked Stewart in the nose with the top of her head as he moved in for a kiss.
“Driver, stop the car now.” Stewart held his nose and moaned about it being broken. She hadn’t hit him that hard. He was just being a baby.
The limousine pulled over to the side of the road and stopped. Emma opened the door and got out as quickly as she could.
“Mr. Rawleigh, there has been a misunderstanding. I am not on deaths door, and I am certainly not going to marry you. If my mother said I was, she was mistaken. I will not now, or ever consent to marry you.” With that she slammed the door in his shocked face and started walking towards the bus stop. The limousine sped away and that was fine with her.
She had only gotten as far as the corner when a siren sounded behind her and a police car screeched to a stop in front of her. Two police officers got out of the car and walked towards her, “Ma’am, may we see some identification?”
“What?” Emma’s heel hit a rock and she tilted precariously before she caught herself and straighten back up.
“We need to see your identification.” One officer repeated as they both surrounded her and nodded to each other. It was obvious the perp was intoxicated. She couldn’t even stand up.
Emma reached for her bag and then realized she must have left it in Pawsy’s car. “I’m sorry. I must have left my bag in the limousine.” She pasted her best innocent smile on.
“Ma’am, solicitation is against the law.” One of the officers said as he reached behind his back.
“Solici…what?” Emma couldn’t process what his intentions were, “No, no…” When the lightbulb went off in her mind, she was so shocked, she couldn’t even defend herself. They thought she was a prostitute?
“Put your hands on the hood of the car ma’am and spread your legs.” The other officer said as he spun her around facing the police cruiser.
“No, you don’t understand. You have it all wrong.” Emma tried to turn around and explain but a hand pushing on her back prevented her from moving.
“Ma’am are you resisting arrest?” One officer asked just before Emma felt cold hard steel touch her skin.
Before Emma knew what was happening, she was handcuffed and sitting in the back of a police cruiser with her head spinning. What had just happened?
Leo waited in his car across from the police station. His mark, Vito Ramone Vargas had been picked up for questioning, and had called his number one to pick him up. Leo had been working for the past week trying to find out who Vito’s supplier was and how his drug shipments were getting in.
It had been a while since Leo had been in the field and felt the rush of adrenalin when working undercover. He missed that part of it. The part he didn’t miss was being shot at, living in roach infested motels, and being away from his family for months at a time. That was why he had started his own business. Now days, he ran operations from the comfort of his desk, or war room.
This job had come up suddenly and everyone else was already on another case. The money was good but that wasn’t why he accepted. Eliminating a major trafficking ring was all the incentive Leo had needed.
Leo and his five hand-picked friends from his SEAL days were now partners in a top secret security business. They were called in by governments and major corporations all over the world to handle situations before they became situations. Their mode of operation was to come in under the radar and leave just as invisibly.
Leo had finally gotten inside Vargas’ inner circle. Soon now he would be able to supply his people with the name they needed, and Vitto, and his cronies would be history. His eyes drifted to the front door as he reached into his duffle bag, and pulled out a bottle of water. The waiting…he didn’t miss at all.
Leo scratched his earlobe. The earrings were driving him crazy. How did women wear them all the time? It had been years since he had worn an earring but he needed to look the part. His wardrobe department had gone a bit overboard dressing him.
His phone vibrated, he smiled when he saw the name on the display. His mother had no idea of the time zone he was in. By her time she was just settling in to watch her favorite shows on television. “Hi Mamma.” His eyes kept watch on the two large glass doors for Vito.
“Lorenzo, what is this I hear, you no come to the family dinner on Sunday? Why do you wanna make your Mamma cry? Your father just said, Lorenzo is working this weekend. Working! Since when does my boy work on the Sunday. Your father, he must be wrong. This is right, yes Lorenzo?”
Leo smiled, his mom had lived in the United States for over forty years but she still had a thick Italian accent, “I’m sorry but yes, I’m working this weekend.” Leo scrunched down in his seat as two uniformed officers exited the building.
“But why? I wanted you to meet Mrs. De Santos’ daughter. She is a lovely girl I know you will be so happy to meet her. She would make a good wife Lorenzo and her hips they are wide, she will have many babies. This I know.”
Leo scrubbed his hand down his scruffy face before answering, “I’m sorry Mamma, but I will be working.” He knew what that statement would mean to his mother, it would be like waving a red flag in front of an angry bull, but he would be lucky to wrap the assignment up within two weeks.
“What will I tell Mrs. De Santos? I have already told her you will be here to meet her daughter. They have made plans already.” Leo frowned, his mother switched to Italian which was never a good sign.
“I don’t need help finding a wife, Mamma.” His mother had been trying for years to set him up with any and every marriageable age women in town.
“This I do not believe. You never bring anyone home. I worry Lorenzo. I worry that you will die and never know the happiness that your father and I have had, sharing our lives with each other and with our children. That is what I want for you.” He pinched the bridge of his nose, his mother had turned on the tear works as well.
“I know Mamma, and I want that too. But, I have to do this my way.” He said softer, hoping she would understand and back off. It wasn’t like he wasn’t trying to find a wife. Okay, so it was like he wasn’t trying to find a wife. But what was the rush? He was only thirty four.
“When?” She pressed him for an answer the tears mysteriously dried up, “You are not even dating anyone. You need my help to find a nice young woman. Let me help you. I will call Mrs. Amaya. She knows all the eligible young women…”
“No Mamma,” Leo cut in. He needed to put a stop to her meddling before she contacted Mrs. Amaya. Leo shivered at the thought. “I mean, that’s not necessary. I am already seeing someone.”
“You are?” He knew his mamma would pounce on that information, “Who? Is it someone we know? When did this happen and you didn’t tell your Mamma? Lorenzo this is wonderful, you have made your Mamma very happy. When will we get to meet her?”
“We aaa, haven’t been dating long.” Two more police officers came out and got into their squad card.
“But you know she is the one?” His mom was probably already planning the wedding dinner menu and decorating the church.
“Um, yeah. She could be the one. So you don’t have to worry anymore Mamma.” He looked to the heavens and held his breath. Luckily he didn’t see or hear any lightning bolts.
“I must meet her Lorenzo. Next Sunday, bring her to Sunday dinner with the family.”
“Mom, we just started dating. I can’t do that to her. She will never see me again.”
“Lorenzo,” His mother scolded, “you do what your mother tells you to do. No argument. Next Sunday. I will not invite the cousins. They have no manners. They act like they were raised in a barn I always tell your father this.”
“Mamma, I’ve got to go. I love you.”
“I love you too my son. Next Sunday.”
Leo disconnected the call and tossed his phone into the seat beside him and hit his head over and over again on the steering wheel. What had he gotten himself into now? How was he going to produce a girlfriend that didn’t exist in two weeks?
He stopped pounding his head against the wheel, he could ask his secretary Shannon to pretend to be his girlfriend. After all her husband Mitch wasn’t only his business partner he was also his best friend. If he had a wife he would let Mitch borrow her for Sunday dinner.
Leo sat up straighter as the door of the police station opened. It was about time our boy Vargas came out. Leo blinked his eyes and looked again. It wasn’t Vargas.
“Hello beautiful.” Leo said to himself as he watched the tall leggy vision leave the building, cross the street, and walk down the sidewalk, directly towards him. The closer she came the better the view. He couldn’t decide. Was her hair brown or blonde? Some pieces were a darker blonde or was it a light brown? And then some looked like the sun had streaked parts almost white. All the different shades mixed together made her hair come alive and glow in the darkness of the night as it bounced around her shoulders.
Leo gave up all pretense of watching for Vargas. He only had eyes for the bombshell coming his way. Her black dress looked conservative at first glance, but the closer she came the less he cared about Vargas slipping past him. The short, tight, black, number showed off her bare shoulders, and arms to perfection. Her tanned legs looked even longer in those ridiculously high heels.
But oh what he wouldn’t give to see her in those heels…only those heels. The handcuffs in his back pocket practically burned a hole through his pants begging to be used. He could see her now, handcuffed to his bed with those lethal heels and nothing but her creamy smooth skin in between.
Leo kept his eyes on the lovely lady. She paused on the sidewalk. Her arms wrapped around her waist as she shifted from foot to foot looking up and down the road anxiously. He thought he saw her brush away a tear. Women’s tears were his downfall. Before he could stop and talk himself out of it, Leo slammed the car door and walked slowly towards her.
Hearing someone approach Emma glanced towards the noise, and her beautiful blue eyes widened in fear.
Leo slowed his approach, he didn’t usually have that effect on the ladies but then again he didn’t usually look like a biker gone bad either. His own Mamma wouldn’t recognize him right now.
Emma’s heart stopped when she saw the huge rough man walking towards her. All of the news articles she had never heard or read about abductions raced through her mind. She glanced across the street hoping to catch the attention of an officer going in or out of the station. It seemed her luck was still holding out on her tonight. There wasn’t a soul in sight.
She nervously shifted her eyes back to him. He was close enough now for her to see some of the intricate tattoo’s decorating his arms. There wasn’t an inch of un-inked skin showing. She couldn’t help but wonder how long it took to cover such a massive area. His biceps must measure a foot in circumference easily. His dark gray t-shirt was pulled tightly across his chest, and she could see more ink coming from under the collar and up onto his neck. He even had ink on his right cheekbone. She couldn’t quite make it out, a star maybe or a tear?
Each time his shaggy brown hair whipped in the breeze, Emma caught a flash of gold hoop earrings. A menacing black skull cap was pulled down low on his forehead, and his intense brown eyes were fixed directly on her. She knew where the saying ‘deer in the headlights’ came from, because there was no way she could break the trance his eyes had her under. She was incapable of turning around and running back across the street to safety.
“I’m sorry ma’am,” Leo said as he held his hands up, in what he hoped, was a non-threating gesture. “I didn’t mean to frighten you. You just looked like you needed help. Is everything alright?” Leo didn’t know how to assure her he meant her no harm. Looking the way he did, and as late as it was, he really couldn’t blame her for being suspicious. Her eyes kept darting from him to the police station and then back to him.
“Back up mister, I know karate and I’m not afraid to take you down.” Emma forced her five foot four inch body, into at least, five foot eight and one quarter inches of pure female terror in heels. She planted her heels shoulder width apart like her karate instructor had taught her and balled her hands into tiny fists of fury. Her only thought…why didn’t she go back for lesson number two.
Oh please, he would love to be horizontal with her Leo thought, as he tried to hide his smile at her weak attempt to intimidate him. She was a small thing and even the thought of her taking him down was ridiculous and…exciting. “It’s late. Someone like you shouldn’t be out this late in this area.”
“Someone like me?” Emma repeated. Her chin went up and her entire posture changed from one of combat to one of irritation and outrage.
Leo could almost see the hairs on the back of her neck stand up she was so irate. Once again he fought the smile that threatened. “Yes. Someone beautiful, like you.”
“Are you flirting with me?” Emma didn’t understand it. She should be terrified of the monster man in front of her. But there was just something about…his eyes. That was it. She saw no threat or danger in his eyes.
Leo gave her what he hoped was his best smile before answering, “Well if you have to ask I must not be doing it correctly. My name’s Leo.” He held out his hand to shake but all she did was stare at his hand.
Emma had never seen a hand as big as the one in front of her. She worked with some huge guys, but the hand being held out to her was massive. He could probably crush her throat with very little effort. The span of his hand would probably reach all the way around her neck. She tilted her head to get a better look at his fingers. They were long and lithe with neatly trimmed nails, which didn’t really match the rest of him.
She jumped when he cleared his throat. She felt her face heat and couldn’t believe how rudely she had been staring. Finally, she he reached out to shake his hand and marveled at how tiny her hand looked in contrast to his. When he enclosed her hand into the warmth and strength of his, his heat spread through her body, all the way to her most infrequently used girl parts.
“Emmma.” She squeaked out, cleared her own throat and tried again. “I mean, my name is Emma.” She said as she smiled into the most amused and gorgeous brown eyes she had ever seen. They reminded her of the baby seals she had catalogued a few years back. Mesmerizing. They really shouldn’t make her shiver inside, at least not in a good way.
“It’s nice to meet you Emma. Can I help you get somewhere?” Leo chanced taking a few steps closer.
“No, I mean, I do need to get somewhere but I can find my own way.” Emma watched him warily. If she sprinted she could probably make it off the sidewalk before he caught her.
“Are you sure? I would be happy to see you home safely.” Leo saw her hesitancy and once again he didn’t blame her. If any of his sisters or female cousins got into a car late at night with a strange man, especially one as rough looking as he was, they wouldn’t be able to sit for a week, because he would tan their hides.
He took his phone out and handed it to her. “Here, do you need to call someone to come get you.”
Emma looked at his cellphone. She had already called her friends from the police station. They were still out celebrating their catch. She had left messages on their phones. That only left…she grimaced at the thought, her parents. No way would she call them to rescue her from the police station.
“No thank you, I don’t have anyone to call that I haven’t already left messages with.”
“Can I call a taxi for you?”
That would be nice, but she didn’t have her bag which meant she had no money to pay for the cab. If she ever saw Pawsy again, she just may feed him to a shark! No, she wouldn’t do that to a shark, Pawsy would probably give the shark indigestion.
“No thank you, I’ll just wait here until my friends come.”
Leo knew he was going to regret what he was about to do, but there was no way he could leave her, “Here, take my phone, and call anyone in the contact list. Ask them if it’s safe for me to take you home.”
Emma glanced at his phone. She had one just like it, but in his hand it looked like a toy phone. What choice did she have? The guys probably wouldn’t check their phone till in the morning and she didn’t relish the idea of sitting outside for the remainder of the evening. Was she crazy to think about doing as he asked? She stretched her neck and looked up and down the road for a taxi but nobody was out at this time of the night.
“Thank you,” she took his phone and pulled up the contact list. Scrolling through she found the one name she knew she could trust and swiped the arrow to place the call.
Her blue eyes met curious brown ones as she waited for the phone to ring. “Hello.” A voice with a heavy accent said. If she hadn’t been watching Leo closely, she would have missed the tiny flicker of fear that entered his eyes and then just as quickly left.
“Umm, yes ma’am my name is Emma Matthews and I’m calling for Leo.” She still couldn’t make out the ink on his cheekbone.
“I can see that, you are calling from his phone. Oh, is this his fidanzata? Emma, ahh what a bellino name. His papa and I are so happy we will meet you on Sunday. We have waited so long for our Lorenzo to bring a ragazza speciale home to meet us. I must call his brothers and sisters, they will be so happy you are coming to our home.”
“No, ma’am. I mean…” Emma had to hold the phone away from her ear as the one sided conversation continued at a higher octave. All Emma really knew was she was excited about something special and she sounded like a proud mother. So her son, whom she was looking at now, could be trusted to see her home safely. However, he was looking a little green around the edges at the moment.
Emma shrugged and handed the phone back to Leo, his mother still talking a mile a minute.
“Mamma,” Leo tried to interrupt again, he listened to his mother go on and on about Sunday. He swallowed and closed his eyes. How was he ever going to get out of it now? She thought she had actual proof his girlfriend existed. Now he not only had to find a girlfriend, but her name had to be Emma.
Emma’s eyes sparkled in humor as she watched the big bad man get taken down by his Mamma. How cute was that? The fierce looking man in front of her called his mother, Mamma? If she had any reservations left, the last of them just dissolved.
“Mamma, I must go now. I love you too. I will try Mamma.” Leo hung up the home and waited for Emma’s reaction. He didn’t have long to wait.
“Lorenzo?” Emma asked looking up at him through her lashes.
“Italian.” Leo shrugged with his hands, and offered in response.
“Ahhh, that explains it. I had no idea what your mother was saying half the time.”
“You’re invited for Sunday dinner.” Leo said in defeat.
“Why would your mother invite me?”
“Because, you’re my girlfriend.” He explained.
“What?” Emma couldn’t have heard him correctly.
“Listen, can I explain in the car. Let me take you home.” Leo held out his hand again.
Emma hesitated only a moment. The ridiculously buff and rough looking man in front of her would see her home safely. Of that she had no doubt. How she knew that…she had no idea. She placed her hand in his once more and felt a hum move through her. “Okay, let’s go.”
Leo knew he would have to do some fast talking tomorrow if he wasn’t there to pick Vargas up tonight. He’d just tell him he lost track of time in the arms of a blonde and the bottom of a bottle. That, Vargas would understand. After pulling away from the side of road Leo didn’t give Vargas another thought.
“So, what happened, if you don’t mind me asking?” Leo was curious about her reason for being at the police station. He tried to keep his eyes on the road and away from her amazingly toned and tanned long legs which were only a few inches from his hand.
“No, I don’t mind. Some of it you might even sympathize with. I have a very overbearing, yet well-meaning mother.” Emma couldn’t explain it. From the moment she got into his car she had never felt safer in her life. Why was she not leery of this sinister looking man?
“Say no more, I totally understand. She’s trying to marry you off?” Leo shifted gears at a stop light and glanced her way. She was so beautiful she took his breath away. Leo had learned long ago to be cautious of beautiful women. They were usually way too high maintenance for him. But, Emma wasn’t giving off that type of vibe.
“Exactly! You feel my pain, right?” Emma pulled her hair over her right shoulder and readjusted in the leather seat, “Once a month I have to show up at my parents’ house and be paraded in front of their latest bachelor of the month. Mother always has a car sent for me so I can spend time getting to know him when he takes me home. This month’s bachelor offering was a little too handsy for me so I told the driver to pull over and got out of the limousine.”
“He left you? Alone, at night?” Leo wanted to find the creep and do bodily harm to any man that would leave a woman alone like that.
“Yeah, with a squeal of tires and my bag. I had no identification on me so when the police saw a woman walking down the street…well, you can imagine what they assumed.” Emma tried to keep her eyes off of his thigh and hand as he changed gears. But each time he pushed the clutch in the muscles in his leg tensed and stretched the ripped denim of his jeans. Her mouth became dry at the same time her body overheated.
Leo chuckled, “Yeah, I can imagine.” His eyes left the road for an instant as he glanced her way. The flush of her face puzzled him.
“It was relatively easy to sort out at the station. They were only doing their job.” Emma looked out the window at the passing scenery which she was in no way paying attention to.
“So if you have no bag I am guessing you have no keys either.” Leo asked.
“Oh dear, I hadn’t thought of that. There’s a coffee shop near my house, I will wait there till morning. My neighbor has a spare key. I don’t want to bother her this late at night.”
Leo didn’t wait for her to finish speaking before he had his phone out. “Nash. Contact limo services for Ocean Island. A mister…” Leo looked to Emma and waited.
“Stewart Rawleigh.” Emma was puzzled, the Leo that was talking on the phone was another total contradiction to the Leo she met on the street, straight and to the point as if he was used to taking charge…as if he was used to being in charge.
“Stewart Rawleigh hired a limo tonight. His guest left her bag. Have it delivered to…” He looked at Emma once again.
“1447 East Ocean Drive,” Emma gave him her address. She had no idea what was going on.
“1447 East Ocean Drive. Our ETA is forty minutes.” Leo disconnected and tossed his phone on the console between them.
“What was all that about?” Emma asked.
“Your keys will be waiting on us.” Leo glanced her way and smiled.
“How did you do that?” She shook her head in disbelief.
“I know people.” Leo gave her his best smile and winked.
Emma sucked in her breath, his smile should be illegal, it was totally overpowering to her female bits. She was afraid to ask what kind of people. “So, what type of work do you do?” Perhaps she shouldn’t have asked him that. With the way he looked, and he was waiting outside a police station, did she really want to know.
“I’m in…security.” Leo stumbled over, he couldn’t blow his cover, at least not yet.
“Oh, like a bodyguard?” She could believe that. He would have no problem with intimidation.
“Something like that. What about you?” It would be safer for her to not know what he was really doing in town.
“I work with Oceanic Research.” Emma vaguely answered.
“Oh really, what do you do?”
“I work with really big fish.” Emma was used to people’s reactions when she said she worked with sharks. She rarely gave the full details of her job. You were either a shark fan, or you weren’t. Most she was sad to say, weren’t.
“So what, you spend your work day out on the ocean fishing?” Leo laughed and shifted down to make a turn.
“Technically that is a correct assumption.” She tilted her head and tapped her index finger against her lips.
Leo laughed, “ya know sometimes you say things that are totally geeky.”
Emma laughed, that was a comment she was used to, “That’s me Nerdy Girl.”
She was so cute and so innocent. He needed to drop her off and forget about her. He glanced her way again and this time caught her looking at his legs. His reaction to the look on her face was instant and strong. He might be able to drop her off, but he surely wouldn’t forget about her anytime soon.
“So, what is this about Sunday dinner with your mom?”
That certainly deflated his mood quickly, “You know how your mom pushes you to find your one true love, settle down and then start shooting out babies? Well, that’s my mom as well. She called earlier today and threatened to get the neighborhood matchmaker involved if I didn’t hurry things along. I may have told her I was already seeing someone, and now after talking to you, she thinks my someone’s name, is Emma.” All the names in his contact list, and she had to call his mamma.
Emma laughed at his predicament. “Wow, you really are in trouble.”
“Tell me about it. I’ve already been thinking of borrowing my best friend’s wife to pose as my girlfriend for the day.”
Emma laughed again. She hadn’t had this much fun on a date in a long time. Whoa, date? This wasn’t a date. Did she want to date him? He wasn’t anything like the guys she usually dated. He wasn’t even in the same area code as the men she usually dated. She sneaked another glance at his rugged and dangerous good looks from under her lashes and almost swooned. Yes, swooned. Now she finally knew what that word meant.
Leo was especially nothing like Marcus. Marcus had been one of her mother’s finds. Marcus was from the right family according to her mother with loads of family money behind him. They had dated for a year before he proposed. At her mother’s urging Emma had accepted. She didn’t have any valid reason for saying no, and she was getting older. They got along alright, he was thoughtful and considerate, but they had no chemistry.
Two months before the wedding Emma logged on to his computer to look through their gift registry, and that was when she found pictures of Marcus, and several women, naked, and enjoying themselves on what was supposed to have been a business trip.
Emma chanced another glance at Leo. Nope, Leo was nothing like Marcus. “Leo, if you want. I mean I hope this isn’t too forward of me. But I would be happy to be your fake girlfriend for a day, if it would help you out. I mean, you have been so nice to make me feel comfortable, and then to drive so far out of your way to bring me home. Not to mention getting my bag from Pawsy’s car.”
“Pawsy?” Leo stopped her for clarification.
“You know, he wouldn’t keep his paws off me.” Emma explained.
Leo growled deep in his throat. The thought of Emma warding off unwanted hands wasn’t a pleasant thought. Maybe he would look Mr. Rawleigh up before he went home.
“Anyway, if you want, I would be happy to fill in for you.”
Here was the answer to his prayers. But she was too nice a girl to put her through his family. “Emma…” he paused trying to come up with an explanation.
Emma knew that look, and she couldn’t really blame him, “It’s okay Leo. I understand. You had someone a little less geeky in mind. I get it. Really I do. Don’t think another thing about it. I don’t know what I was thinking. I mean why would you want to go out with me.”
“Emma stop. Please just stop. You misunderstand. Of course I would want to go out with you. You’re beautiful. I just can’t put you through meeting my family. I appreciate the offer I really do, and I would love to take you up on it, but I just couldn’t do that to you. You’re such a little thing you wouldn’t even make it to the dinner table.”
Emma giggled and then began to laugh out loud. “Oh Leo, you have no idea. I can assure you, your family is no worse than mine.”
“Well then Emma, I am truly sorry about that.” He loved the way her eyes danced with laughter. Their hazel color was neither blue or green, but somewhere in the middle.
His comment set her giggles off again. “How did we get so lucky?” She was finally able to get out once the giggles subsided. When he didn’t respond Emma glanced towards him. Leo wasn’t laughing or even smiling. But he was looking at her with such raw emotion she couldn’t breathe for a moment. Intense desire blinded her and she intuitively leaned towards Leo.
“Emma, I want to kiss you.” His eyes focused on her pink tongue peeking from her slightly parted lips.
“I…I wish you would.” Emma leaned closer lost in his eyes.
“I really shouldn’t.” Leo willed his body to obey what his mind was screaming, “stop!” Instead he brushed a stray strand of her sun streaked hair behind her ear and leaned closer still.
“But you will, right?” Emma asked breathlessly as she tilted her head and closed her eyes waiting for his kiss.
In answer Leo closed the remaining few inches between them and ran his tongue over her bottom lip, tasting her. She tasted of champagne and strawberries. He felt the breath of her sigh, and moved the kiss deeper, claiming her lips. The floral scent she wore wove its way around him, through him, into his lungs, and straight to his core. He breathed her in as he parted her lips with his tongue. Never had he been so captivated by a simple kiss.
A car passing broke the spell and brought them both back to reality. Emma looked into Leo’s eyes and smiled. He felt it too…it was there in his eyes. For once in her life Emma knew what it meant to be devoured by someone’s eyes. Because that was exactly the way Leo was looking at her. That thought only excited her more.
She was confused. Yes, she had been kissed plenty of times, but no one had ever kissed her like Leo. Was that the spark everyone always talked about? She shook her head to try and clear her thoughts and looked around clueless as to where they were. When had Leo pulled over? She glanced out the window and finally noticed they were parked in her driveway. When had that happened?
She glanced back at Leo and he looked just as muddled as she felt.
They spoke at the same time, shared a smile, and Leo tucked the same errant strand of hair behind her ear. “Emma, I really want to see you again.”
Emma fell into the deep dark puddle of his brown eyes and shivered. Leo radiated strength and power. By all outward appearances she should be running for her life. Yet, here she sat, unable to leave his side and walk into her house without some hope of seeing him again.
“I would like that Leo.” Was she crazy to even contemplate seeing him again? Nothing could ever come of it. Her parents would have her committed if she ever brought Leo home for dinner. After they hid the silver. But in the darkness of the car with only the street lights for illumination she saw more clearly than she could on even a sunny day. She really wanted to see him again.
“Can I get your number?” Leo asked nervously.
Emma thought his uncertainty was sweet, she held her hand out for his phone. After entering her number she handed it back. What had she done? They both got out of the car and walked towards the house. Leo reached for her hand and Emma felt a warm rush as her hand fit perfectly into his.
“Can I call you tomorrow?” He asked hopefully.
“Yeah, I’ll be out at sea most of the day, reception is sporadic at best, but we’ll be back by five, five-thirty at the latest.”
“What, it depends on if the fish are biting?” Leo joked.
“Yeah, something like that.” Emma smiled, he had no idea how accurate his statement actually was.
Leo opened her screen door, and bent to pick up her bag, “your purse ma’am.” He made a grand show of handing it to her.
Emma giggled. When had she turned into a giggling girl? “You know some mighty find friends sir.” She routed around inside her bag, and finally found her door key. Leo took the key and opened the door, and flipped the light switch.
“You know, this lock is not very safe. You don’t even have a dead-bolt. Anyone could kick it in with very little effort.” He would have to see about getting her something safer.
Emma took her key back and walked through the door and tossed her bag on the table behind the couch. It was really sweet that he was concerned about her safety. “I’ve lived here for years this lock has been perfectly fine.”
She felt extremely small standing beside him. In the car they had been sitting down and the difference hadn’t been as noticeable. Her feet were killing her in her silly heels and she wanted more than anything to kick them off but they did offer her at least four inches of much needed height around Leo. She still had to tilt her head back to look up at him.
Leo walked in behind her not waiting for an invitation. If her front door was this bad he had to check out the backdoor. “I would say you’ve been lucky, not fine. Your backdoor is probably the same.”
“Well, no.” Emma hesitated to say, “The back door is a sliding glass door and I have a very…unique way of locking it.” He would really go crazy when he saw the broken broomstick in the track she used as a lock.
“What?” He didn’t wait for an answer, “I have to see it.” he mumbled as he walked through her house.
“Wait, Leo.” Emma called out. When she reached him he was already holding her “lock” in his hands and didn’t look very happy. She should feel intimidated by his look, but…nope, she didn’t. Not even a little bit.
“A piece of wood?” Leo couldn’t believe she depended on a broken piece of wood to keep anyone out of her house.
“Well the lock broke.” Emma tried to explain. She had intended to have it fixed several years ago but something always seemed to come up.
“And why didn’t you have it repaired? This is not safe Emma.” He pinched the bridge of his nose and counted to ten.
Emma didn’t like the tone of his voice. She wasn’t a little girl to be scolded and that was precisely the way he sounded. “Well it’s worked perfectly fine.”
“Tomorrow, I will send someone over to outfit you with locks that are safe. His name in Tiny, but that name is deceiving. He is anything but. What time do you leave for work?” Leo was already texting Tiny.
“No, Leo.” Emma said sternly, or at least what she thought was sternly, it had no effect on him whatsoever. “I can have my own locks fixed or not fixed. That is…”
“What time do you leave for work Emma,” Leo interrupted her. “Please.” He added.
Emma crossed her arms and told him, “Five thirty.” He gave her a look, like he didn’t believe her, “What? It’s when the fish are biting.” She explained.
Leo grinned, she was so feisty when she got her feathers up. “Fine, Tiny will be here before you leave. I give you my word it is safe to leave him in your home.”
“Leo, no.” Emma had to make him listen to reason. There was no way she would allow a man she had only known for a few hours to railroad over her like this. She would simply put her foot down. No, there was no way he was doing this.
“Emma, please understand.” He pleaded with her, his brown eyes going dark and doing that puddling thing to her insides again. “Security is my business. I couldn’t leave anyone I care about without adequate security measures. That is just not the way I am.”
“You care about me?” Emma asked breathlessly. “You just met me?”
“Yeah,” Leo had to stop and run that over in his head. He had only met her a few hours ago but yes, he did care about her. He cared about her safety, which was as much of an admission as he could or would make. “I guess I do. I care about your safety Emma. Like I said, it’s my job.”
“Okay Leo.” She finally relented. It seemed important to Leo and she did need a new lock. It was nice of him to offer. “Two locks. And have Tiny leave me a bill on the table.”
He gave her brilliant smile and decided to leave quickly before she changed her mind. “I’ll call you tomorrow. Good night Emma.” He stopped just before opening her door.
“Night Leo. Thank you again for everything you did for me tonight.”
With a soft kiss of promise Leo closed her front door. Emma watched as he got into his car, and she even watched until his taillights were no longer visible.
Emma leaned back against the wooden door with stars in her eyes. “Oh my gosh, he is so hot.” She admitted out loud, right before she hung her head. What had she done?
Emma stumbled to the door and pulled it open to stop the incessant knocking, and blinked at the site that greeted her.
“Hey, You’re Dr. Matthews aren’t you? I recognize you from that special you did on Great Whites. Cap didn’t say it was you that needed a security upgrade.” Tiny knew with only one, why Leo put a rush on her order. She was a looker and in her pajamas, which he bet was only a t-shirt and panties, she looked positively delicious. He couldn’t blame Leo for getting him out of bed to be here before she left work.
Emma had to blink again, this was Tiny? Leo was right, his name was very deceptive. Nothing was “tiny” about him. He looked like a life size teddy bear, and she had an incredible urge to hug him.
“Tiny?” She asked, and couldn’t keep the smile from her face. Tiny had to be at least six foot two. A red ball cap sat on a head full of shoulder length chocolate brown hair which blended in nicely with his full red beard. How was that even possible? Brown hair, red beard?
His blue plaid shirt buttoned over a very broad chest, and tucked into the tapered waistband of blue denims. He was just as massive in girth as Leo, but where Leo was intense, Tiny just made you want to cuddle up with him. How this man could ever be considered intimidating…Emma just didn’t see it.
“Yep, that’s me. Cap said you have to leave for work at five thirty. I didn’t want to miss you.” Tiny wiped his feet on her door mat.
Emma stepped back to make room for Tiny to enter. Her foyer had always seemed to be adequately sized until Leo and Tiny entered. “But it’s not even five?”
“Wasn’t sure how long it took you to get ready ma’am.” Tiny answered sheepishly and tried to keep his eyes on interesting items in the room, instead of on the second best looking woman he had ever seen. His wife, and love of his life, being the first.
“About five minutes.” Emma looked at the clock on the wall longingly, she could have slept for another thirty minutes. “Come on in. Would you like a cup of coffee?”
“Sure, if it’s not too much trouble.”
“Oh!” Finally her brain woke up enough for her to realize what she was, or rather wasn’t wearing. Her mother would have a cow if she knew she had been entertaining guests in nothing more than a t-shirt and her underwear.
“I’ll be right with you. Go on in the kitchen. I think there’s some leftover cake in the fridge. Help yourself.”
Emma raced to her bathroom, took care of business, brushed her teeth, cleaned her face, pulled her hair back into a ponytail, and pulled on a pair of cut off denim shorts over her one piece black swim suit, and in under ten minutes was back in the hallway.
When she walked into the kitchen Tiny already had the coffee going and a cup set out for her.
“I hope you don’t mind, I went ahead and started the coffee. It was the least I could do since I woke you up and all.” He poured them both a cup.
“No problem, I appreciate it.” Emma took the offered cup. She served them both a piece of the leftover cake, and they sat around the kitchen bar.
“My daughter is going to flip when I tell her I met the Dr. Matthews.” Tiny said before he consumed half the piece of cake in one bite.
“That’s very kind of you to say. How old is your daughter?” Emma broke off a small bite of cake and watched in amazement as Tiny wolfed down his piece in two bites. She even cut his piece twice the size of hers. Oh, the grocery bill he must have.
“She’s twelve.” Tiny wiped his mouth on his sleeve and took a gulp of hot coffee. “Shark Week at our house is a special event. She looks forward to it all year long. She even follows along on your website tracking the sharks through the year.”
“That’s wonderful. I’m glad she enjoys it. Is she interested in a science career?”
“At the moment, but who knows what will happen in six years time.”
“I always knew I would do something that involved the ocean. It has always called to me. I’m never comfortable away from it for long periods of time.”
“Isn’t it scary? I mean what you do. Tagging live sharks. I’ve seen you on your television specials. You jump right in the water with them.”
“I don’t fear any marine life Tiny. I understand and respect that I’m a visitor in their world. Would your daughter like to come out with us on a tagging mission sometime?”
“Wow! Would she ever, I may be father of the decade.”
“So, you and Leo are friends?” Emma asked casually.
“Yeah, I’ve known Cap since his seal days.”
Leo was a Navy Seal? Cap must be short for Captain which would mean he was used to being in charge. One piece of the Leo puzzle fell into place. “Do you work with him now? In security?”
“In security…” Tiny quickly covered by adding, “yeah, I do. Well, I better get started. Thanks again Dr. Matthews for the coffee and the invitation for Sammi,” at her confused look he added, “my daughter. I will lock up when I leave.”
“Sure, leave your phone number on the kitchen counter and I will call you to set up a date for Sammi to join us. You and your wife are invited as well.”
Emma pulled into her driveway close to dark, put her jeep in park, cut the engine, and then sat to regain enough energy to get out. There wasn’t a bone or muscle in her body that wasn’t screaming at her. They had hooked a Great White early in the day and fought for hours landing him, only to have him slip the hook at the last possible minute. Emma estimated he would have been at least a sixteen footer.
She looked down at her hands, blisters had already began to form. She grimaced when she tried to close her fingers. She rotated her shoulders to alleviate some of the stiffness. Everyone on the team took turns at the lines. She had opted for a double shift giving the others a breather before the tagging process began. She knew they would need to be fresh for the strenuous activity of tagging, gathering bio data, after landing she shark. One slip up could mean serious injury. But then the shark had gotten away.
Some days were like that. They had trolled around the area hoping to pick him up again, but once hooked they rarely got a second chance with the same shark.
Emma sighed and made her trembling legs step out of her jeep. She unloaded her equipment with a groan, and made her way wearily to her front door. A bath, a glass of wine, and bed were the only things on her mind. Well, and Leo. He had been on her mind all day long. She had been thinking about their kiss when the shark had gotten away. It had taken her a few moments before she had realized the shark wasn’t on her line any longer, and that had never happened to her.
She had gotten a very cryptic text from him around three in the afternoon. Only four digits. Eight, two, six, nine. What did they mean?
With her key out and ready to unlock her door his text finally made sense. A keypad was in the place of her door lock. In fact, she had a whole new doorknob. She bent and looked for a place to put a key. There was no place to put a key. She reached for the door knob and the keypad lit up. She punched the numbers in that Leo sent her and a red light appeared at the top of the panel.
She grumbled as she dug in her pack for her phone. She must have gotten the numbers wrong. With her phone in one hand she punched the numbers in again. This time a green light appeared and she smiled when she heard the click as the door unlocked.
This would be cool to never need a key to get into her house. She would need to remember those numbers. Two, six, eight, nine. She could do that. She had a doctorate degree, she could surely remember four numbers. Leo had gone way overboard. A lock, she had told him he could replace her lock. She pushed the door open and froze.
A loud beeping sound came from a panel mounted on the wall in her foyer. A panel that hadn’t been there that morning. She dropped her bag, and ran to the panel, her heart beating rapidly. How did she make it stop? She quickly read every menu option but nothing said “off”.
A keypad appeared on the panel screen. She started pushing numbers trying to get it to turn off. Nothing was working. Was it the same numbers the door used?
She was in such a panic from the noise she couldn’t remember the numbers. Her shaking fingers punched in the numbers she thought were correct, but the stupid screen said error. She tried again. Error. She took a deep breath to try and calm herself, and tried again. Her hands were shaking so badly she had to delete and start over twice before she got the numbers entered. Error. Emma groaned, the numbers must be wrong. She lunged for her pack and dumped the contents searching for her phone. The deafening beeping making her shake with terror.
Before she could locate her phone the panel spoke. “The police have been alerted of an intrusion. Your picture is now on file. Exit the premises immediately.”
Emma jumped up and ran back to the panel screaming, “NO! NO! Stop! Don’t call the police! It’s me, I live here! Hello?!
Leo pulled up as a police vehicle pulled out of Emma’s driveway. Another cruiser sat empty with the blue light flashing silently. Leo didn’t have a good feeling about this. In fact, if Emma ever spoke to him again, he would be one very lucky man. Tiny had called when her alarm went off and had sent him the video. She had been struggling to disarm the system. She was not going to be happy. The one thing he had to remember was no matter how funny he thought it was…show no amusement. Emma wouldn’t appreciate the humor at the moment.
In his defense, he had been trying to contact her all afternoon, and had even been sitting in her driveway at five fifteen. He was going to teach her how to use her new security system, but she hadn’t been home like she said she would be at five thirty. Finally at seven he had gone to get them takeout for dinner. He knew she would be too tired to cook after putting in such a long day at work.
While he was gone, she had gotten home, and then…it happened. With Chinese takeout in hand as a peace offering he swallowed and decided to get it over with. He met an officer coming out of Emma’s door.
“Again, Dr. Matthews, I’m very sorry ma’am. I hope you understand we were only following procedure. Handcuffs and body searches are standard protocol for home invasion suspects.”
Leo didn’t hear what Emma said but the officer left quickly excusing himself as he breezed by Leo. When Leo stepped onto the porch, and saw Emma in the doorway he knew he was in trouble. Big trouble.
He made a quick decision and hit her with his killer smile. Through the years his smile had gotten him to more bases than he could count. He would apologize and explain what had happened. It was an honest mistake. He was only trying to be nice.
Emma’s eyes silenced him before he could get the first word of his apology out. Leo thought he actually saw steam rise from her hair as she stood seething in the doorway. One hand on the door and one hand on the door frame. She was breathtaking.
Her eyes made contact with the bag of food in his hands. “I hope you like Chinese?” He offered the bag up to her.Without a word, Emma grabbed the bag of food from his hands, gave him a final scorching look, and slammed the door in his face.