Secure Location - By Beverly Long
Meg was halfway through her salad when her office door swung open. She looked up, saw him, swallowed too quickly and coughed as if she had a two-pack-a-day habit. When she finally stopped, her eyes were tearing.
Cruz hadn’t moved from the doorway.
His gaze lingered on her face, bold, blatant. Heat was the immediate reaction, starting in her neck and flooding her cheeks until finally it seemed as if the top of her head might explode. Finally, he shifted his gaze and she let out the breath she’d been holding.
The curtains on the big windows were open and he studied the hotel’s towering cypress trees, the manicured flower beds and the exquisite stonework. He gave no indication that he was impressed by the lushness of the San Antonio River Walk. Turning ever so slightly, he inspected the room, looking at the cherry desk, the matching credenza, the leather chairs. “Nice digs,” he said finally.
Her first corner office. She’d worked twelve-hour days for the past year to earn it. “It’s fine,” she said, ignoring the impulse to defend the space.
He nonchalantly rubbed his hand across his chin. Her mostly empty stomach jumped when she saw that he wasn’t wearing a ring. It was pure craziness that she wasn’t sure if that made her sad or happy. She didn’t want him to be alone. Had never wanted that. But then again, she couldn’t stand the thought of him being with someone else.
Which was why she tried not to think of him at all. And most days, she managed pretty well. Leaving him had almost killed her. She couldn’t risk that kind of pain again. “Look,” she said, “I don’t mean to be rude but I’m pretty busy.”
He tilted his chin down. He needed a shave. “It’s been a year, Meg, and you don’t have ten minutes?”
It had been one year and twenty-two days. She’d seen him only once during that time period, but he’d been unconscious, probably hadn’t even known she was there. “I’m sorry. You caught me a little off guard.”
He nodded and continued to boldly stare at her. Her bare arms felt chilled and she resisted the urge to pull at the edges of her V-neck blouse.
She stood up fast. So fast that her skirt caught the corner of the plastic container on her desk and flipped it. Salad spilled out onto the desk.
She ignored it. There’d be plenty of time to clean up the mess later. When he was gone.
“I like the hair,” he said, surprising her.
She wore it shorter than she had before. “Yours is longer,” she said. He’d worn a buzz cut for years and while his thick dark hair was still cut close, it was long enough for anyone to see the natural wave. Other than that, he looked the same.
She thought she recognized the faded brown cargo shorts and the T-shirt that was stretched across his broad chest. She definitely knew the well-worn sandals.
He looked at the nameplate on her desk. “Senior Vice President, huh? Congratulations.”
It was her turn to nod. He’d never been a jerk about her working. Maybe because he’d been raised by a woman who had worked way too hard. “How’s your mom?” she asked.
“Good. Still at the hotel but she’s finally cut back to part-time.”
Maria Montoya had been the hardest working, most welcoming woman that she’d ever met. Her husband had left her and their four children when Cruz, the oldest, was just twelve. She’d managed to hold her family together, to feed and clothe them working six days a week cleaning rooms at a hotel. When Meg had told her goodbye, it was the first time she’d seen disapproval in her soft brown eyes.
“And Sam?” Without thought, her eyes went to Cruz’s leg. It had been shattered by a bullet when Cruz and Sam had tried to stop a robbery-in-progress at a small coffeehouse. Sam wasn’t blood but the closest thing to it. He’d been Cruz’s partner for five years and he’d been the one at the scene, urging Cruz to hang on. Had been the one to call her, to tell her the awful news.
“Claire’s pregnant. They just found out.”
Meg leaned back against her desk, letting the wood take her weight. “That’s great,” she said, hearing the brittleness in her voice, hoping like hell that she was hiding it.
He moved farther into the room. Close enough that she could smell his scent—it was soap and citrus and evoked memories of warm summer nights and a porch swing that took up