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"WHERE IS SHE?" Adam Drake asked the minute Rebecca opened her front door.
She'd been expecting him for the past half hour. Heck, Becca had even raced to meet him at the front door of her home when she'd heard his car pull into the driveway. What she wasn't expect-ingoh, no, what she absolutely did not expectwas what he looked like.
Holy crawdad, she thought, using Lindsey Drake's favorite expression, one she'd heard time and time again since the moment she'd offered to bring the little girl to her home rather than have the police take her to a shelter when they couldn't reach her father right away. She'd been expecting someone pudgy, maybe even short a few strands of hair. Someone who spent the weekends stroking his ego by lording it over other drivers whenever he won a race, maybe even someone who made a play for the trophy girls. But this man...this man looked like someone the trophy girls made a play for.
"Mr. Drake. Hi. I'm Rebecca"
"Where is she?" he asked again, looking like he just might push past her if she didn't invite him in soon. Good heavens, her head didn't even reach his shoulders. He was the Incredible Hulk, Mr. Clean come to life (but with a full head of hair), his small, flat nose set between brilliant green eyes.
He was staring. No, waiting. Impatiently. "She's, ah, she's in the back," she said. "Swimming," she added when he brushed by her the moment she stepped back from the door.
"Lindsey," his big voice boomed, echoing off her twelve-foot ceiling. "Lindsey Samantha Drake, answer me right now!"
"Lindsey Samantha Drake can't hear you," Rebecca said, tapping him on the shoulder."Insulated glass," she offered by way of explanation. And there he went staring at her again. "She's through here," she said.
He followed her, Rebecca feelingwhat?as she walked in front of him. Maybe self-conscious, she thought as she led him past the living room and through a double-wide arch that led to the kitchen and ultimately the back patio.Yeah. That was it, she admitted. Self-conscious. She felt awkward in a way that reminded her of when she was a teenager and the local hunk had come into the McDonald's where she'd worked. She'd been so flummoxed she'd put his food in a Happy Meal box.
"Daddy," Lindsey called out the minute she spotted her father standing beneath the veranda, the two-by-two planks above their heads painting shadowy prison stripes on his light blue shirt.
"Lindsey Samantha Drake, get out of that pool now."
Rebecca jumped. The word now sounded like the crack of an uncorked motor.
Lindsey, who'd been in the midst of pushing herself out of the water, paused, droplets dripping down her face and arms and onto the faux stones that surrounded the kidney-shaped pool, the look in her eyes reminiscent of a squirrel caught in the KC lights of a truck.
"Now," he yelled again when she sunk back down in the pool.
"Mr. Drake," Rebecca said. "Is it really necessary to yell?"
"Is it necessary?" he asked, turning back to her. "Is it necessary?" he repeated and Rebecca thought for a second that his eyes might start bulging like a Chihuahua's. "Perhaps it's not necessary to you, but I just spent a full day scared out of my wits that someone had kidnapped my daughter, and so she ought to be grateful I'm just yelling instead of hauling her sorry butt out of the pool and paddling it with that pool net over there."
"You were supposed to think I was going to Brandy's house after school," Lindsey offered in a tiny little voice. "Just like I always do when it's an early release day."
Adam turned back to the pool. "Maybe," he said in a dead-calm voice, "you should have told Brandy that."
"I left a message on her cell."
Mr. Drake smacked his head. "Oh, well, that was good thinking, especially since Brandy's cell phone was taken away from her last night. And so no wonder she looked confused when she showed up on our doorstep right after I read your note about going home with her after school."
"Oops?" he repeated softly, taking a step toward his daughter. Lindsey sunk even farther into the pool like a hippo hiding from a predator. A guilty hippo. "Oops," he said again, glaring down at the pool. "I spent hours talking to every law enforcement agency in Kentucky, every missing persons bureau and every troubled teen counseling center alerting them that my daughter might be a runaway or might have been kidnapped or might have who knows what. They were this close to issuing an alert." He touched his thumb to his index finger. "Only suddenly I get this phone call from the world-famous Rebecca Newman"
"I'm not really world famous," Becca said quickly.
"The world-famous Rebecca Newman explaining that, no, my daughter's not missing. Oh, no, she's in Mooresville, North Carolina, begging for a job." He drew his shoulders back, which made them look even more impressive, Becca noted.
"For me," he said, stabbing at his chest with such force Becca winced.
"I'm sorry, Daddy," Lindsey said, peering up at him between thick red lashes, freckles looking more pronounced against her pale skin. "I was going to call you after I was done talking to Ms. Newman."
"Do you have any idea what you've put me through?"
"You could have been mugged or raped or worse on that damn bus."
"But I wasn't"
"You think that makes me feel better?" he asked, leaning toward her. "You could have been. You could have been abducted. You could have been taken away from me, and if that had happened..."
Rebecca saw him lean back, saw him swallow, saw his hands clench. Then, like leaves suddenly too tired to hang onto an autumn branch, his anger just fell away.All at once he looked like he wanted to pull his daughter to him. And probably never let her go.
Rebecca felt her throat tighten. "Go get your clothes," he said quietly. Lindsey looked down, the crystal blue water stirring around her neck and lapping at her ears. Then she slipped from the pool, settling at her father's feet. She paused for a moment, as if waiting for him to do somethingmaybe pat her on the head, or hug herand when he didn't, her shoulders slumped. Blue eyes that had looked so brave this morning looked perfectly miserable when they met hers. Rebecca resisted the urge to reach out and comfort her as she walked by leaving wet footprints in her wake. As much as she hated to see Lindsey's misery, she knew it was earned. From the sound of things, she'd put her father through hell.
The moment the door closed behind Lindsey, Mr. Drake turned to her. "Ms. Newman, I'm sorry for being so short with you. Obviously, I was anxious to see my daughter. I swear, since her mother left, sometimes she seems like ten going on thirty. But she's not just my daughter...she's my best friend, too. And if I'd lost her..."
He'd have felt as if his world were ending, and she knew the feeling well. "It's okay," she said, feeling suddenly tongue-tied.
It was then, as he faced her fully, that Rebecca felt it again, that same frisson of awkward awareness she'd noticed when she opened up her front door.
Adam Drake was a hunk.
And for a woman who'd seen every size and shape of race car drivernot to mention quite a few good-looking menthat was saying quite a lot. His black hair matched black lashes that lined his eyes in such a way it almost looked like they were rimmed with eyeliner. The irises between those lashes were the exact same color as the pool tiles that rimmed the watera green so crystalline they looked almost translucent.
"No, it's not okay. After all you've done, the least I could do was hold on to my temper."
"It was understandable," she said, having a hard time maintaining eye contactand yet unable to look away. "You've had a tough day."
He took a step toward her. "But offering to bring her home with you," he said. "To let her stay here with you while I drove down this afternoon, that was above and beyond. I still can't believe she took off like thatspent the whole morning riding a bus just to meet youbut I'm grateful for your help."
Why had she greeted him at the door wearing nothing more than a white bathing suit top and an after-pool skirt?
"I couldn't let the police take her to a shelter," she said, resisting the urge to go to her lounge chair and don the matching thigh-length top. "Not after talking to her. She's something else, your daughter."