The Ideal Man (Buchanan-Renard 9)

Page 20

Was it getting hotter in here?
Max put the towel on the rack in the bathroom, then went to the kitchen to get a beer. He noticed Ellie’s face was flushed.
“Are you okay?”
“I need to buy a pregnancy test.”
The announcement didn’t faze him. “Okay,” he said. “Can it wait until tomorrow?”
She smiled. “Yes.”
Max opened the beer bottle, tossed the lid in the trash can, and sat down beside her, scooting her over to the end of the sofa so he wouldn’t be near the lumpy springs. He took a drink and said, “Isn’t it a little too soon to know if you’re pregnant? It’s only been one day,” he added. “And I used protection.”
“It’s not for me,” she said, exasperated.
She took a drink of his beer and handed it back to him. Max reached for the remote, but Ellie was quicker.
“It’s for Annie, isn’t it?”
Her eyes widened. “How did you know?”
“I’m an FBI agent. We’re trained to be observant. Now give me the damned remote.”
“Not until you explain.”
“First of all, there’s the process of elimination. Your mother is a little too old to get pregnant.”
“True,” she agreed.
“And Ava can barely stand to look at you, so she certainly wouldn’t confide in you.”
“And that left Annie.”
“Yes,” he said, reaching for the remote again.
She stretched her arm out to the side and held the remote in her fist.
“But there were other signs,” Max continued. “And we agents are trained to pick up on those signs.”
She rolled her eyes heavenward. “Like?”
“Annie didn’t drink any wine.”
“Neither did we.”
“Her complexion was gray.”
“She was tired.”
“She threw up.” He halfheartedly tried to grab the arm with the remote.
“Where did she throw up?”
“In the trash can in your father’s office. Fortunately, the can had a liner.”
“What was she doing in his office?”
“Talking to me.”
“About what?”
“She needed a favor.”
“Are you going to tell me what the favor was?”
She sighed in frustration. “Maybe she threw up because she had eaten something that disagreed with her. Were you there when it happened?”
“I held her hair back for her.”
“That was sweet.” She kissed him on the cheek and handed him the remote.
He immediately began to channel surf. “But the number one reason I know why she thinks she’s pregnant . . .”
“She told me.”
Ellie thought about it for a minute and said, “Annie doesn’t want anyone else to know. I wonder if she told Ava.”
“No, she didn’t. She doesn’t want to take anything away from her focus on the wedding. Ellie, do all women get crazy about their weddings like Ava?”
“You mean act like a maniac?”
“No, not all brides behave like Ava.”
He nodded. “Where do you want to get the pregnancy test? I think I saw a drugstore when we were pulling into Winston Falls.”
“Oh no, no, no. The entire town would think I was pregnant if I purchased a test here. My parents would hear about it before we got back home.”
“I’ll be meeting Agents Clark and Hershey before they get here tomorrow. I’ll set it up in another town nearby. We could find a pharmacy there.”
“There’s a plan,” she said, smiling. She took another drink from his bottle and handed it back to him. “You really won’t tell me what favor Annie wanted?”
“I don’t know what the favor is,” he said. “We didn’t get that far. But when I find out what she wants, no, I won’t tell you. It’s an FBI agent and client confidentiality issue,” he teased. “If she wants you to know—”
“Agent and client? That’s a new one.”
“That’s right.”
“Help me understand. She asked for a favor, but she wouldn’t tell you what it was?”
“Couldn’t tell me,” he corrected.
“Why not?” She sounded disgruntled.
“Her face was in a trash can.”
“I guess I’ll have to ask her.”
“I’d have a trash can handy when you do.”
Yawning, she stretched her arms above her head and stood. “It’s still beastly hot in here. Think we could turn the fan up a notch or two?”
Max turned the television off and followed Ellie. “Let’s go to bed.”
She noticed the door to the smaller bedroom where she planned to sleep tonight was closed. She opened it and felt a rush of hot air.
“You’re going to have to keep your door wide open, or my room won’t get any air.” She walked into his room to feel the cooler temperature.
“Do you want to sleep with me?” he asked.
She didn’t answer him. Max couldn’t have heard her anyway. A scant second after asking the question, he flipped the switch up to high on the air conditioner and was nearly lifted off his feet by the noise.
Ellie fell back onto the bed. The entire floor seemed to vibrate, and the bed was doing a shimmy to the middle of the room. It sounded as though a Lear jet was landing in the apartment.
She couldn’t stop laughing. She wiped the tears from her cheeks and tried to catch her breath. She was getting a stitch in her side watching Max. He was cursing the air conditioner while turning every possible lever and button to get it to stop. He finally unplugged it.
The unit didn’t die easily. It shuddered again. Its last gasp was so forceful, the glass in the window above rattled . . . then blessed silence.
Max stood over Ellie watching her. She was on her back with her arms above her head, and her laughter was so joyful and uninhibited. He dropped down on top of her, careful to keep his weight off her, and pinned her with his pelvis on top of hers, and his hands holding hers. He looked down at the tears in her eyes. God, she was something else.
“Daddy got another deal, didn’t he?” she asked.
He slowly nodded. Then he leaned down and kissed her. She pulled her hands free and wrapped them around his back.
“It’s going to get hot in here,” she whispered.
“Yeah, I know.”
He was nuzzling her neck, and she couldn’t stop herself from stroking his back and his shoulders. “You probably shouldn’t let me do this, Max.”
She pushed his shoulders back and rolled on top of him. Her shirt had ridden up, and she could feel him pressed against her. She stretched her body over his, slid her fingers into his hair, and kissed him on the mouth, a hot, wet kiss that made her want much, much more.
Max tightened his grip on her hips. Her breath was warm and sweet.
“If you don’t want to do this, stop messing with me,” he said.
She kissed the pulse at the base of his neck. “I want to, but I worry about you,” she whispered. “This could become habitforming for you.”
She was moving downward, kissing his chest as she moved erotically against his pelvis. Her hands were stroking him, driving him crazy. When she reached his stomach, she smiled at his indrawn breath.
“I don’t want you to become attached to me,” she said.
She moved lower, and he couldn’t think. Only when he knew he was about to lose control did he take over. He rolled off the bed, telling her he’d be right back, and he returned in seconds. He wasn’t gentle as he took her shoulders. He saw the passion in her eyes and knew she was ready for him. He entered her forcefully, and she cried out as the sensations began to build. She dug her fingernails into his shoulders.
Neither one could talk then, for the mating ritual was consuming them.
Max made it last longer this time so that she would climax before he did. W
hen she lifted her hips to take him deeper inside and cried his name, he buried his face in her shoulder and found his own release.
Later, as Max was coming out of the bathroom, he fully expected Ellie to be sound asleep, but she surprised him. She was resting on her side waiting for him. As soon as he got into bed, she curled up against him and said, “I’ll have sex with you if you answer a question.”
“What’s that?” he asked suspiciously.
“Is Simon going to be traded to the Colts?”
He laughed. “We just had sex.”
“I understand it’s possible to do it more than once.”
“We have done it more than once. At least a hundred times last night.”
She kissed him. “You wish. It was four, not a hundred. Will you ask him?”
He rolled onto his back and pulled her close. She rested her cheek on his shoulder. “Tell me how you became a Daniels.”
His sigh was long and drawn out.
“You don’t want to tell me?” she asked.
“I don’t like talking about it.”
She didn’t prod, and five minutes later Max said, “My parents died in a car accident. A semi ran into them. I was five years old at the time. I didn’t have any relatives, and the lawyer the court appointed me in foster care pocketed all the insurance money. I didn’t have good luck with the three families I was placed with. The last was the worst.”
“How old were you then?”
“Seven,” he answered. “I ran away. It was the dead of winter, and I was hiding behind a Dumpster. I remember being so cold and feeling helpless.”
“What happened?”
“Simon happened. He was on his way home and saw me. He took off his coat and gave it to me and dragged me home with him. I was kicking and screaming, but I stopped when he vowed I would never have to go back to that foster home.” There was a smile on his face as he continued. “Simon was just a year older than I was, but he was big for his age and sounded as though he could pull it off. I believed him, anyway. So I went along. I lived in his house for over a week before his parents found out about me. The bruises from my foster parents were still evident. Simon’s dad was an attorney, and he, too, promised I’d never have to go back.”
“What was his mother like?” she asked.
“Loving,” he said. “And kind.”
“Did they adopt you right away?”
“If you were to ask them, they would tell you I adopted them. It became final when I was eight, and by then two more had joined the family. Bishop and Sebastian. And that court-appointed attorney who pocketed the estate money . . .”
“Sent to prison,” he said. “And Dad was able to get most of the money back. He put it in a trust fund for me.”
“When did Bradley and Tyler and Adam join the family?”
“You remembered their names.”
“Of course.”
“Bradley and Tyler came five years after I did, and Adam was the last to become a Daniels a year later.”
“No girls?”
He laughed. “Mom and Dad said it would be cruel to inflict the seven of us boys on a sister. We were a rowdy bunch.”
“They sound like wonderful people.”
“The best.” He yawned. “We’ve got to do something about the heat in here.”
“I say we give the window unit another chance. You plug it in, and we’ll keep it on low.”
“Stay here. I’ll take care of it.”
The plan worked. It seemed that, on low, the air conditioner cooperated. Ellie begged him to push the lever up a notch to medium to see what would happen. And once again the Lear jet all but blew them out of the room. Luckily, when he flipped it back to low, the humming sound returned.
Ellie had another good laugh, rolled onto her stomach, and was sound asleep seconds later.
Max was standing in the living room waiting for Ellie when Annie motioned to him from the hallway.
“Could I speak to you in private?” Annie asked. Since he was the only one in the room, he thought the question odd. “Yeah, okay.”
“In your office?”
He laughed. “My office. I guess I’ve been using it a lot, huh?”
Annie nodded. “Ellie and I know what you’re doing. You’re hiding from Ava and John. I like the man, but oh God, he’s boring. I shouldn’t have said that, I know, but he really is.”
Max followed her to the office. She went in first and held the door. Once he was inside, she shut the door and leaned against it. Her complexion was green. Max reached under the desk for the trash can and held it out to her.
Annie noticed the leery look in his eyes. “I’m okay,” she said.
“You don’t look okay.”
She patted her cheeks, trying to get some color back. “It’s the smell of coffee. It makes me sick to my stomach.”
Max set the trash can down but kept it close just in case.
“I’m sorry about throwing up last night. I hope that didn’t gross you out.”
“I’ve got six brothers. Nothing grosses me out.”
“I’m also sorry I didn’t finish our conversation. After I ran upstairs to brush my teeth, I was having second thoughts.” She looked uneasy and tentative.
“Would you like some fresh air? We could go out on the porch to talk.”
She shook her head. “Ava’s waiting in the drive.”
As if on cue, they heard a horn honk.
“She can be impatient,” Annie said.
“About the favor . . .” She hesitated.
“Can you find someone for me?”
“I can try.”
“I don’t want him to know I’m looking for him. I just want to know where he is because . . . because . . .”
The tears started, and Max was at a loss as to what to do or say. “Oh, don’t do that,” he implored. “Come on, don’t . . . Let me go get Ellie or your mom. Don’t cry, Annie. I’ll find him for you.”
He didn’t know how to comfort her. He went to her, thinking he could guide her to her sister, but as soon as he touched her shoulder, she leaned into his chest, and the tears turned into gut-wrenching sobs.
What the hell? Max put his arms around her and held her. “It’ll be okay,” he promised. “It’ll be okay.”
Ava was honking the horn nonstop, and Ellie went looking for Annie while her mother ran outside to tell Ava to stop making so much noise.
Ellie opened the office door and saw Max trying to console her sister. He was patting her back as she cried all over him. Ellie quietly pulled the door shut. Then tears came into her eyes. How could she not love this man?
Ava could damn well wait.
The article about the garden party was in the local newspaper Friday morning. Ava was upset. She had requested that they run the piece on Saturday because more people read the Winston Falls News on weekends, not during the week.
The first line in the article gave Ellie chills. It stated that Ava’s sisters—as in plural—were hosting the affair. And that meant that anyone who read the paper would know she was back in town.
Had Ava deliberately included her as a way of getting rid of what she called “vicious rumors”? Ellie hoped not because that would make Ava a colossal bitch.
She couldn’t ask her because she and Annie had already left on a day full of spa treatments and errands.
Ellie was finishing her second glass of milk, watching the repairman and her father cross the backyard to get to the air conditioner. Her mother was sorting through mail at the table.
“Have you seen the article in the paper about the garden party?” Ellie asked.
“Yes, I did. It was quite nice, wasn’t it?”
It was apparent she hadn’t noticed the word sisters, and Ellie decided not to make an issue of it. She would just be adding to her mother’s worries.   “The backyard looks beautiful,” she said instead.
Claire beamed. “I thought the tent would make the yard look so much smaller, but I think it actually looks bigger now.”
Max appeared in the doorway. “Are you ready to go?”
“Where are you going?” her mother asked, looking anxious. “You’re not leaving Winston Falls, are you? You promised you’d stay, and Aunt Vivien and Aunt Cecilia will be so disappointed if they don’t see you. They’re arriving this afternoon.”
“Mom, we’re just doing some errands and meeting the agents Max has asked to help.”
“Dressed like that?”
“What’s wrong with the way I’m dressed?”
“Eleanor, you’re wearing tattered jeans and a T-shirt, and those shoes . . .”
“I thought I’d show Max the falls. That’s why I’m wearing my old tennis shoes.”
“At least take a change of clothes. You don’t want to embarrass Max in front of his friends.”
“She could never embarrass me,” Max said. He tilted his head toward the door.
Ellie kissed her mother on the cheek and whispered, “We’ll be home in time to help with dinner.”
Ellie assumed Max hadn’t seen the article in the paper. She waited until they were on their way out of town to tell him.
He didn’t take the news well. “Son of a . . .”
“Maybe no one will notice.”
The look he shot her made her feel foolish. “Okay, but very few people read the local newspaper.”
The muscle in his cheek twitched. That wasn’t a good sign. Hoping to change the subject, she said, “Would you like to see the falls today? It’s a little hike, but not too bad.”
He shot her the look again. “What?” she demanded.
“We aren’t on a vacation, sweetheart. I’m supposed to keep you alive, got that? And trampling through the woods with a picnic basket isn’t part of my job description.”