The Ideal Man (Buchanan-Renard 9)

Page 26

Max sat for a while, sipping his beer and mulling over Ben’s words. In truth, every minute he wasn’t focusing on the Landry case, he was thinking of her. It had been just a few weeks since he’d seen Ellie, but it seemed like months. He missed her.
What the hell had happened to him? The woman had blindsided him. She got right into his heart before he knew what was happening. He’d never felt this way before, and he didn’t like it one damned bit. It made him vulnerable.
Don’t get attached. That’s what she’d told him, and she was right. There were hundreds of reasons they couldn’t be together. The most obvious, they lived four thousand miles apart. Her life was centered on her career, and so was his. Their jobs were stressful and consuming. He couldn’t ask her to live with the danger that surrounded him, nor could he ask her to rearrange her life to fit his. No, it would never work.
Ellie wasn’t given the choice to go to Honolulu or to stay home. Agent Goodman called her and explained that he and she were taking a flight out in four days. He believed that should give Ellie plenty of time to notify the hospital that she would be away for at least one week but probably two.
“What happens if I refuse to go?” she asked.
“Why would you refuse to go to one of the most beautiful cities in the world?” Sean asked.
“But if I did refuse?” she pressed.
“The prosecuting attorney would make it legal and force you. You don’t want to make her do all that paperwork, do you?”
She really didn’t have a choice. Getting away from the hospital turned out not to be such a big deal, but figuring out what to pack was a colossal pain. Ellie didn’t have enough clothes in her closet to wear for one week, let alone two on an island. Her bathing suit—providing she could find it—was at least ten years old. She lived in scrubs, not sarongs and little island print dresses.
Swallowing her pride, she called Ava and explained her dilemma. Her sister had just gotten back from her honeymoon, so she was somewhat pleasant, and she loved having Ellie at her mercy. After complaining about Ellie’s odd figure—she was a perfect size six except for her chest—she took the opportunity to give advice. Ava told her she was overendowed and should consider a breast reduction.
“You’re joking, right?”
“You’d be a size four if you did,” Ava said.
“I’d be built like a mannequin.”
“Clothes drape beautifully on mannequins.”
“I’m hanging up now.”
“No, no, don’t do that. I can’t help it if you won’t take constructive criticism. I’ll go through the boutique and send everything you need, everything but undies and nightgowns, so spend a little money and buy some. I know you have it. Mom told me you paid off most of your loans with the money from that award and that you put twenty thousand dollars in their household account. There was a huge fight because Dad didn’t want to take it, but Mom won and said the money would help with their grandchild.”
“How did they take the news that they were going to be grandparents?” she asked.
“Oh, you know. Shocked at first because it was the good twin.”
Ellie laughed. “But now?”
“Very excited,” she said. “Dad’s looking for a crib.”
“Oh God, don’t let him find a deal. Make him buy retail.”
They talked about Annie and the help she was going to need to get through the pregnancy, and then Ellie said, “I appreciate your help with the clothes. Send me the bill.”
“Don’t forget to buy shoes, Ellie. And for God’s sake, accessorize. Little strappy sandals and flats will work with what I’m going to send. I’ll toss in some cool hoop earrings and bracelets. And, Ellie, promise me you’ll wear the short royal blue dress I’m sending. I’m looking at it right now. You’ll be stunning. Promise.”
“Okay,” she said. “I promise . . . unless it’s lewd.”
“Too late. You already promised.”
“Which means it’s lewd?”
“No, no, just a little low-cut. I’m sending everything overnight, so let me hang up and start packing what you’ll need. I’m betting you won’t have to have any alterations.”
After she ended the call, Ellie checked the time and decided to drive over to Frontenac shopping center. Traffic was backed up on the highway, so she took side streets through Clayton and got there in twenty minutes. She parked in front of Neiman Marcus, ran in and purchased the undies and gowns she needed. She even splurged on a short silk robe. The store was having a shoe sale, and Ellie was able to get the sandals, flats, and a gorgeous pair of red stiletto heels she doubted she would ever wear. But she just had to have them because they were 70 percent off and looked great on her feet.
Was she turning into her dad? If it’s a deal, get it regardless?
She told herself she wasn’t getting new clothes to impress or entice Max. No, of course not. She needed the clothes because she had decided to start dating again, to get a social life outside the hospital. She would learn to have fun even if it killed her. When was the last time she had gone out to a club? A year ago? More like three years, she realized. Even then, she’d gone home before the party really got started. She’d preferred her bed to jumping up and down to shrieking music.
Thursday morning she returned to Neiman Marcus to pick up her alterations. She had found a beautiful Armani summer fitted jacket and a pair of slacks and a skirt to wear with it. If she had to go into court, either outfit would be more than appropriate. She asked the alterations lady to pack the clothes in tissue so that all Ellie would have to do would be to unzip her suitcase and put everything inside.
Millie insisted on driving her to the airport, and she kept up the conversation most of the way.
“You haven’t mentioned Max,” she remarked.
“I’m over him.”
“I see,” Millie said. Ellie could hear the smile in her voice.
“Almost three weeks, Millie, and not one word. He just walked away, and I’m doing the same. I told him not to get attached.”
“And he didn’t.”
“But your reasons for trying to keep your distance have changed, haven’t they?” Millie asked. “Your life isn’t out of control any longer. Patterson is dead. Doesn’t that change things?”
She didn’t answer the question but said, “He lives in Honolulu, and I live here.”
Fortunately for Ellie, they had reached the airport, and Millie couldn’t prod her any longer to be reasonable.
Sean was waiting for her at the boarding gate. Ellie was surprised their seats were in first class and wondered what that had cost. She certainly didn’t balk at the expense, though. The seats were much wider than in coach, and there was more leg room. She had carried her laptop with her and planned to read a couple of medical journals on the flight and maybe even watch a replay of the 2000 Super Bowl that she’d downloaded. She’d thought it would be fun to watch Kurt Warner lead St. Louis to victory again.
“We’ll get to Honolulu at eight tonight, which is midnight our time,” Sean said.
“Will Max and Ben be at the airport?” She couldn’t stop herself from asking.
He shook his head. “They’re in Maui. I don’t think they’ll be back until tomorrow.”
“What have they been doing for the past three weeks?” she asked casually. It had actually been two weeks and five days, but she thought, if she gave the exact amount of time, Sean would know how much she missed Max.
“They’ve been undercover in the warehouse most of the time. Long hours wearing dirty clothes.” He added, “It was worth it, though. They got the Landrys in the middle of making a weapons buy.”
“Yes, I heard. Ben’s wife texted me the news.”
“Tomorrow afternoon is the evidentiary hearing. Landrys’ attorneys are going to try to chip away at the charges. They requested the preliminary.”
“Were the Landrys given bail?”
?No,” Sean answered. “Their attorneys will tackle that, too. They’ll try to get them out.”
Ellie thought about how hard Max and the others had worked to get the Landrys behind bars. Now their well-paid attorneys would attempt to get all the charges thrown out. There was little chance a judge would toss out the weapons charges because the Landrys were caught red-handed. The attempted-murder charges weren’t as clear-cut. She assumed that part of Willis Cogburn’s deal was that he would testify against the Landrys in return for leniency. It would be a new beginning for him, and she wondered if he would take advantage of his second chance and try to become a decent, law-abiding citizen. She had her doubts. From hit man to what? Store clerk? That would take some adjustment.
Her thoughts moved to Carlos Garcia. He, too, had been given a second chance, and she hoped he would make good choices and grow old with his wife and child.
Ellie decided to take her mind off all her worries and watch the Super Bowl replay. Sean leaned over the armrest and watched it with her.
By the time they reached Honolulu, she was ready to stretch her legs. A driver was waiting for them and drove them to their hotel. Ellie’s room was lovely. It had a balcony, and she could see the ocean from it if she leaned out and looked to the left. She could hear the waves from her room, though, and she fell asleep to the soothing sounds of the surf.
Max was pacing in the lobby while he waited for Ellie. Sean had told her to be downstairs at one o’clock, and it was now fifteen minutes to one.
This was going to be the most difficult thing he had ever done in his life. He was trying to figure out what he was going to say to her. Using cell phones had been out of the question while he and Ben had been undercover, and he didn’t want to talk to her on the phone anyway. He wanted a face-to-face for what he believed was going to be a miserable confrontation.
Ellie wasn’t going to like what he was going to tell her and, in fact, would probably be furious with him, but it didn’t matter. Even if she didn’t understand, he knew what was best for her—as arrogant as that was.
He hated upsetting her. God knows, she’d been through enough, but he needed to explain what was on his mind because it was the right thing to do.
Max turned around and walked to the steps leading down to the pool. His mind raced.
Ellie stepped off the elevator and was walking across the marble floor of the lobby when she suddenly stopped. Max was standing in front of her. His hands were crammed in the pockets of his suit pants and his back was to her, but it was Max, all right, because her heart was doing that stupid, crazy beating, like a possessed drum.
Oh God, how was she going to get through this?
Nice to see you again. Yes, she remembered that’s what she had decided to say. It was dorky, but it was the best she could come up with. Nice to see you. Forget the again, she decided.
He slowly turned around. “Ellie.”
They stood five feet apart staring at each other. She thought he looked tired; he thought she looked beautiful. Neither one of them said a word for what seemed a very long time.
It dawned on her that he was glaring. She retaliated by doing the same. The only thing missing was a pair of dueling pistols.
“You need to listen to what I have to say,” he said.
Oh no, had he chosen a public place so she wouldn’t make a scene when he told her he was moving on. She braced herself for heartache. “Go ahead.”
He took a step toward her. “I love you. We’re getting married, and that’s the way it is. Get used to it.”
“Wait . . . what?”
He grabbed her hand and tried to pull her along. “Come on, we’re going to be late.”
“Wait . . . what did you . . . wait.”
He led her into an alcove and repeated word for word what he had just said. Her back was against the marble wall, and he’d braced his hands on either side of her. She wasn’t going anywhere until he let her. She looked shell-shocked.
“I said, I love you. We’re getting married, and that’s the way it is.”
“You love me.” It wasn’t a question. She was having trouble understanding.
“Yes, I do, and you love me. I don’t want to hear any of your ‘Don’t get attached’ and ‘Don’t fall in love with me’ nonsense. I’m marrying you, Ellie Sullivan.”
Tears welled in her eyes. “I don’t hear a word from you for a month,” she said, “and now you think you can—”
“Yeah, I do think.” He leaned down and kissed her. “Your lips are so soft. You love me. I’ve missed holding you in my arms.”
She tried to push him away. He was like a boulder that wouldn’t budge. “You don’t tell someone you’re going to marry her. You ask.”
He tried to kiss her again, but she turned her cheek, and he kissed her earlobe instead. “I asked your dad.”
“You did?” She sounded breathless. “What did he say?”
“His exact words? ‘Oh God, not another wedding.’ ”
The palms of her hands were pressed against his chest. “Did he approve?”
“Yeah, he did. I offered him a deal he couldn’t refuse.”
“What kind of a deal?” she whispered, dazed by what was happening. Max loved her. How could such a wonderful thing be happening to her? What had she done to deserve this?
“I promised to love you and protect you and do my best to make you happy.”
“Max, it’s too soon to know if you love me. We haven’t known each other—”
“I love you.”
“We should think about—”
“I love you. Get used to it.”
“Such a romantic,” she whispered.
His lips brushed over hers. “I need to hear you tell me you love me.”
She could see his vulnerability. She put her arms around his neck. “I’ve loved you from the moment I met you.”
“I know I can be gruff and abrupt at times,” he confessed. “And I admit I’m a little opinionated. And I’m not always sensitive . . .”
She put her finger on his lips to stop his litany. “You’re also caring, honest, kind, gentle . . .”
His arrogance was firmly back in place.
“So, I’m irresistible, huh?” he said with a grin.
She laughed. “You’re the ideal man.”
Max wished he had been allowed to bring a camera into the courtroom to film Ellie on the witness stand. She made mincemeat out of the two-thousand-dollar-an-hour lawyers and did it with such grace.
The judge explained that this was an evidentiary hearing to determine which charges would be permitted and which would be thrown out for lack of evidence.
Ellie sat in the witness box with her hands folded in her lap, a serene expression on her face while she waited for the defense attorneys to try to discredit anything and everything she said.
Christopher Hammond, the lead attorney, had the most insincere smile she’d ever seen. He was a tall, distinguished-looking man, who, in his designer suit and perfectly knotted silk tie, was elegantly dressed . . . except for one little flaw.
The Landrys sat at the defense table, stone-faced. Mrs. Landry in her conservative white blouse and cardigan sweater and Mr. Landry in his navy blue business suit looked the picture of propriety. Ellie had not been in the courtroom during Willis Cogburn’s testimony, but Max had told her how Willis had described in great detail his relationship with the Landrys and then recounted the actions he’d taken under their orders. The slick attorneys did their best to discredit him, but Willis held up under the pressure. After an hour of testimony, he had actually become brave enough to make eye contact with the Landrys.
Hammond, his hands behind his back and staring at the floor, paced in front of the witness box for a few seconds, weighing his words before addressing Ellie.
“You have an impressive résumé, Dr. Sullivan,” he began. “Someone as young as you a trauma surgeon . . .
and to have received the recognition that you have . . . very impressive indeed.”
If he expected her to chitchat, he was mistaken. She simply stared at him and waited. Once Hammond realized he couldn’t charm her, he got down to business. He asked her to tell him what Willis Cogburn had said while she was attending to his injury on the roadside.
She answered his question but didn’t embellish.
“Did you believe Mr. Cogburn when he told you he had been hired to kill you?”
“Yes, I did believe him.”
“It’s been established through testimony in this court that Mr. Cogburn has lied on numerous occasions to avoid prosecution. Your reasons for believing a habitual liar?”
The prosecutor started to object but sat back down as Ellie responded.
“He shot at me. So, yes, I believe he was trying to kill me.”
“We are not here to determine Mr. Cogburn’s actions,” he reminded. “We are here to determine whether or not Mr. Cogburn was acting under the instructions of Mr. and Mrs. Landry. Do you consider yourself to be observant, Dr. Sullivan?”
“I do.”
“You were in a terrifying situation,” he said. “Willis Cogburn has admitted firing several shots at your vehicle in an attempt to blow up the fuel tank. Fortunately, he missed, but he did shoot out a tire.”
“Is there a question, or are you just reminiscing?” the prosecutor asked.
Hammond continued, “Do you remember how many shots were fired?”
“I believe three shots were fired.”
“But you’re not certain.”
“Yet you claim to be observant.”
“I do.”
“Under gunfire, I would think your perceptions would be greatly compromised. You were running for your life.”
“Again,” the prosecutor said, “is there a question in Mr. Hammond’s ramblings?”
“Your ability to assess would be affected, wouldn’t it?”
Ellie looked at the judge, then turned to Hammond. “If you’ll recall, I’m a trauma surgeon. I’m trained for crisis situations.”
“Yes, of course you are, but you have to admit this was different. You were being hunted by a crazed man who believed he had been hired to kill you. A delusional gunman.”