For the Sake of His Heir(8)

By: Joanne Rock

“Any news about your grandmother?” he asked.

“She hasn’t picked up any of my calls or returned my messages.” Brianne didn’t know if the phone was dead or the ringer was shut off, but each time she tried Nana’s number and got no answer only made her worry more.

“Did you get someone to go over to see her?”

“No.” Guilt nipped at her, and she wondered if Gabe could have managed the feat if she’d allowed him to take the task as he’d wanted. “The agency I called said it was too late in the afternoon to schedule a same-day visit. They suggested I call the police if I was worried about her safety.”

“Did you?” His blue eyes skimmed over her, making her too aware of his nearness.

Nodding, she tried not to notice how good he smelled. “I did. I wanted to find out if Nana had reported the mugging, first of all, but there’s nothing on file with the police. Then, when I asked about someone checking on her, they promised they would send a car out in the morning.”

“We’ll be there sooner than that,” he assured her. “Is this all your luggage?” He reached for the soft-sided bag and retracted the handle into the bottom before he set it in the trunk of the SUV, muscles flexing in a way that pulled the fabric of his jacket taut across his shoulders.

“That’s it.” She peered into the vehicle and saw Ms. Camille’s daughter, Nadine, sitting beside Jason’s car seat and called out a greeting before returning her attention to Gabe. “I’m not even sure what I packed. I think I just grabbed something out of each drawer and tossed it in there.”

She kept picturing the nightmarish scene of a mugger stealing from her grandmother. She hated that anyone would target someone elderly and frail.

Gabe frowned as he walked with her to the passenger side of the vehicle and opened the door for her. “You should stay with me when we get to New York. My half brother Ian invited me to use his place for the next month while he and his wife are abroad. They have a spacious five-bedroom apartment in a hotel in midtown. There’s concierge service, so if you’ve forgotten anything—”

“No, thank you.” She buckled her seat belt and leaned into the soft leather chair, hoping he would drop it. She didn’t want to be rude, but she couldn’t accept more gifts from him. Her pride wouldn’t allow it. She’d been a charity case once and knew how demoralizing it felt to need a handout. “You’re already doing enough for me.”

Turning to Nadine and Jason, she gave the baby’s chubby knee a pat to say hello. Jason tipped his head sideways against the car seat, as if he couldn’t keep it upright any longer, but smiled at her sweetly. “Gah!”

The boy was so adorable, his dark curls and blue eyes already like his father’s. She wondered if it made it easier or more difficult for Gabe that Jason didn’t favor his mother more. How could Theresa have signed away her rights to raise this precious child?

Gabe took his place behind the wheel and they began the drive inland, leaving the hotel and everything she’d worked hard for in her life.

“Do you know I haven’t been on a plane since I arrived here fourteen years ago?” She made the observation as a peace offering, hoping he’d forget about her refusal to take up residence with him in a fancy Manhattan hotel.

It was tough enough to be around him as an employee today. She wouldn’t push her luck by getting closer to him personally.

“Are you a nervous flyer?” he asked, steering around a tourist caravan pulled off to one side of the road to snap photos.

She was only nervous about sitting too close to him. His kindness and attention were quickly wearing away the boundaries she’d put up, defenses she thought were solid.

“I don’t think so.” She didn’t recall much about the long-ago journey. She’d cried most of the way, convinced her life was over. “It was a stressful trip, but only because I was being uprooted. I should have returned home long before this.”

She had plenty of reasons, none of them good enough to fully explain her complicated feelings about her family.

“I’m glad you’re going with me.” He glanced her way as he rolled to a stop at a quiet intersection.

The remark was a garden-variety, friendly thing to say. But ever since he’d held her earlier—even though it had been strictly for comfort—she’d been hyperaware of Gabe McNeill. Her throat went dry.

“That’s kind of you to say, but I can’t imagine it was easy wrapping up your business at the hotel in just a few hours.” She smiled over her shoulder at Nadine, needing a distraction from the warmth in Gabe’s blue eyes. “Nadine, you must have been surprised to get a call with so little notice.”

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