A few moments later, Rachel returned to his table. “Is there anything else you’d like?”
A few answers, he wanted to say but didn’t.
“Would you like more tea or anything else?”
“No, thank you. I’m fine.”
“Well, your burger should be right up. How’s the soup?”
“It may be the best I’ve ever tasted.” He offered her a light smile.
“Thanks, I made it myself.”
A thief of the biggest medical breakthrough in history, and she could cook too. Just how many talents and law-breaking commandments did this woman possess? “It’s tasty and gone.”
“Can I take your bowl? Or would you like some more? Refills are free.”
“You can take the bowl.”
Zack moved the bowl closer to her at the same time she reached for it, and her hand brushed against his. It was nothing more than a light touch skin to skin. But her touch sizzled on him. His mouth suddenly went dry.
He wanted her.
Just like that.
He wanted her in a way he hadn’t wanted any woman, ever. He could easily envision standing and kissing her. And he didn’t care who watched.
He sucked in a breath and fought down a shiver as his insides grew tight. When he swallowed, he found his throat painful.
The bowl slipped from Rachel’s grasp, but she managed a quick catch.
“Careful there.” He cleared his throat.
“Sorry,” she said at the same time.
He met her gaze, and the need to shiver was gone. Now he felt warm all over. It was as if she’d touched him again, like putting her palms flat on his chest or his abdomen. Neither of them had moved. Who the hell is this woman? He’d met hundreds of women, some of whom he thought worthy enough to stand by his side. And yet, he’d never reacted to one like this. He shook his head to clear his thoughts.
What am I thinking? I can’t want this woman. I can’t desire this woman. Now or ever.
A tiny voice touched him and said, why not enjoy her, and then destroy her?
Because he didn’t work that way, that’s why. He was not that kind of monster.
Perhaps she recognized him. Perhaps she knew why he was there. Perhaps she knew he was there to stop her.
She didn’t look at him as if she knew who he was.
But she did look at him as if she wanted to know who he was.
A few moments later, she brought his food out.
“So what exactly are you doing in town?” she asked as she slid the plate in front of him.
She tried to make her question sound casual, but there was just too much bluntness in her words.
And like lies told in board meetings, Zack recognized a need-to-know question when he heard one. “Just a vacation.”
“It’s a bit cold for that, don’t you think?” she asked.
He wanted to ask her if the lake was too cold for diving since that was how she’d managed to steal his computer program—by retrieving it from the lake after Darrel Green tossed it in. “Well, it’s never too cold to do a bit of ice fishing, now is it?”
The grin she gave him was enough to say, yeah, right. “I don’t mean any disrespect, but you don’t look like the fisherman type.”
Her words told him she was as interested in him as he was in her. This could get very interesting. “Oh? What type do I look like?”
“The type who’d be in a boardroom dressed in a tan suit. Or perhaps a guy who works with computers all day.”
For a long moment, Zack couldn’t reply. Damn, he didn’t like how well she read him. Perhaps she had a file with his picture and information under the counter. He’d never know. What he did know was that she was too observant for a waitress in an out-of-the-way diner lost in the mountains in the middle of nowhere.
“Okay, so I have a confession,” he said. “I do sometimes wear a suit. And I do know how to find my way around a computer. But it was suggested that I take a vacation. A colleague told me about this place, said it was a beautiful escape, a place to get away from the rest of the world. So here I am.” Not exactly all a lie. The man in charge of the security detail had said those exact words when he’d told him where Darrel Green had gone with his stolen information. And the smile Zack gave her was one he often used to get what he wanted.
“Well, good for you,” she said.
He thought she bought his words.
“So where are you staying?”
“I rented a house for a month.”
“You did need to get away, didn’t you?” She grinned, and it looked genuine.
He grinned back, liking the way her mouth softened. He pulled a piece of paper with directions and the address of the house out of his jeans pocket. “Yes, I did. Maybe you can tell me the easiest way to find this place. I had hoped to arrive here in the daylight but couldn’t quite seem to make it.”
She glanced at the address and the picture of the house he’d rented. “Yes, I know that place. The backyard has a deck that stretches all the way to the lake. I think you’ll like it. If you go back down Main and take a left on Oak, you’ll come to the lake. Take another left on Lake Drive. It’s the third house on the right. You can’t miss it.”
“Thanks.” He folded the paper and stuck it back in his pocket.
“You’re welcome. Enjoy your burger.”
And a moment later when she came back with the pitcher of tea, she didn’t bother to ask if he wanted more. She just refilled his glass.
Later, he stood the deck of his rented log house and looked at the frozen lake before he took in the dark house next door. He stopped at the sight of Rachel and her dog, Mav, standing on her own deck watching him.
The fire in him grew steadily.
He sucked in a lungful of cold air and discovered there was no controlling his reaction to her. There was only learning to live with it. “I’m afraid you had the advantage.” His yell was unusually loud over the snow and distance and stillness.
“Oh?” she called back
“You knew we were neighbors before I did. You could have said something.”
“Sorry.” Her answer was short.
He grinned, knowing full well if she was sorry about anything, it was that she’d gotten caught spying on him. But he let it go. “I’d invite you for a drink, but my refrigerator’s empty.”
“And I’m afraid you have the advantage.”
He sure as hell hoped so.
“You know my name, but I don’t know yours.”
For a half second, he contemplated giving her a fake name. Then he chose not to. He would have to live down an alias with everyone in town if he did. And he may need the trust of others in the future. He couldn’t start things off with a lie. “Zack McCullin.” Under the moonlight, he studied her, watching for any sign of recognition or worry or perhaps even fear at the sound of his name.
“Well, Zack McCullin”—she spoke his name without any hesitancy or worry or fear in her voice—“why don’t you come over here? My fridge isn’t empty.”
Night had settled in like a dark blanket over the lake. The misty snow was still in the air but not as hard as before.
By the time Zack reached her, Rachel was still peering out over the lake through a pair of binoculars. The dog watched the lake, too, as if he expected to see a creature break its way up through the ice.
“See anything interesting?” He bit his tongue to keep from adding, Like someone breaking a hole in the ice and dropping in a plastic, watertight container with a flash drive?
She took the glasses from her eyes and looked up at him. Her light eyes sparkled with reflected moonlight, and her face looked somewhat softer to him, not on alert, although still looking ready—ready for what, he had no idea. Her eyes looked a bit less haunted, too, but not by much.
“Nothing unusual,” she replied. “Everything’s calm.”
He shrugged. “That’s good, right?”
“That’s very good.”
The dog nudged him. Zack reached down and scratched his chin. “Hi, Mav.”
Satisfied with his greeting, Mav moved away closer to the edge of the deck and looked out at the lake again.
The flatness of Rachel’s confirmation told him there had been a time once when things weren’t so calm. He wondered what had caused the ripples.
“I promised you a drink. Let’s go in. We shouldn’t be out here in the dark, anyway,” Rachel said before she turned and headed up the deck, which, unlike his, was completely cleared of snow. The dog stared at him a long moment, as if to say come on, what are you waiting for? Then he too followed.
“Why not?” he asked. “Afraid of the bogeyman?”
She paused in her step and turned back to meet his gaze. “As a matter of fact, yes, I am. And you never know when he might be lurking out here.”
Zack didn’t like her serious tone. In fact, he fought down a shiver. There was more to this place than met the eye. There was even a scent in the air, something more than mountain freshness. Zack couldn’t place it. But he was determined to find out what the secret was.