|Publisher:||Wings ePress, Incorporated|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.57(d)|
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May l, 2003
"Up the reward another fifty thousand," Lindsey Vidrine said, cradling the phone against her shoulder and scribbling a line of circles across a note pad. "My husband had no reason to walk away. Why can't I convince you?"
"I'm sorry, Lindsey, but Michael's disappearance just doesn't add up. With no evidence of foul play and no demand for a ransom, all we have is a missing person."
Lindsey listened for the hundredth time to Lieutenant Barnes's explanation, a finding she refused to accept. She twisted strands of her hair around and around a finger, a nervous habit she enjoyed since childhood. Shaking her head in denial, she fired back when the detective paused.
"Michael loved me. He--" The intercom buzzed. "Just a minute." She placed the detective on hold and answered the page.
"What is it, Judy?" she snapped at the receptionist.
"Randy wants to see you in his office."
"Sorry, I didn't mean to be sharp with you. Tell him I'll be there shortly."
Staring at the blinking light, she wondered if she would ever discover what happened to Michael. After three years, the odds of finding any leads grew slimmer. She pushed the button. "You still there?"
"I know you're doing your best, but how can someone vanish without a trace? There must be something the police overlooked."
"Possibly, but we combed the area thoroughly and found nothing. No fresh tire tracks. No footprints on the levee or riverbank. No grass trampled down."
"Just for me, will you give it another try?"
"Tell you what. A new guy came onboard yesterday. Maybe a fresh set of eyes and ears can turn upsomething."
"Thanks. I'll be in touch."
Lindsey hung up the phone and leaned back in the chair. Like so many times before, she relived her last moments with Michael.
"Sleep in, my princess," he had whispered then tucked the blanket around her shoulders and kissed her cheek. "I'll fix us some coffee when I get back."
Instead, her first cup of coffee had come from Detective Barnes's thermos.
"These look great." Randy Glavin spread the eight-by-ten photographs over the conference table. "Just the type of scene I want."
Sam Gilmore watched the editor mull over the proofs from last weekend's shoot in the marsh. "Look, Randy, when you called, I jumped at this assignment. Not just because of the money, but because I'm familiar with your magazine's circulation. I figured I could reach some of your more influential subscribers."
Randy glanced up with calculating eyes. "I wouldn't think you'd need more recognition."
"That's not what I meant. I'm hoping to catch the attention of certain politicians."
"Yeah, right," Randy mumbled. He rearranged the photos and resumed his evaluation.
"Better yet, the pictures might influence their wives. If I could get a few of those Washington socialites to take up the cause of saving the wetlands--"
"This one." Randy held up a photograph of a sunset over a desolate stretch of beach. "Yeah, give me more shots like this. That'll get their fantasy juices flowing."
Sam shook his head. "You haven't heard a word I said."
Randy lowered the photo and tossed it onto the table. He crossed the room and settled his hefty frame into the leather chair behind his desk.
In the uneasy silence that followed, Sam wished he'd kept his mouth shut. Friend or no friend, Randy held the purse strings.
"I heard you," Randy grumbled, "but I don't give a crap about your political agenda. I hired you because you're the best at what you do.
"Southern Leisure is about the lure of adventure and the beauty of secluded hideaways. It lets the viewers find secret places to do whatever it is they can't do here. Come to think of it, that's probably why I have a lot of politicians as subscribers." Randy gave a low, closed-mouth chuckle. "If I don't give them what they're looking for, they'll take their business elsewhere. You know what losing their business would mean."
"Yeah, no more assignments." Sam shoved his hands into his pockets and walked toward the windows overlooking downtown Atlanta.
"Mr. Glavin?" A soft voice drawled over the speakerphone. "You asked to see Lindsey. Shall I have her wait?"
"No, Judy, send her in."
Sam stared at the overlapping Interstates. He pushed his hands deeper into his pockets and bit back words he knew would cost him a paycheck. Might as well face it--what he hoped to accomplish in this layout wasn't going to happen. If only he didn't need the money to see him through the summer.
He crossed to the table, gathered up the photographs and stuffed them into his briefcase. No doubt the arrival of Randy's next appointment signaled the end of their meeting.
"Okay, Randy, I'll get you what you want. If there's nothing else, I might as well head for the airport."
"Not so quick," Randy said.
The door to his office opened and a tall, willowy blonde entered the room. She moved with the ease and flair of a model. Even in her gray, tailored suit, she commanded attention. Her short, sassy hair fell just beneath her ears, and the silky strands bounced in cadence with her long strides.
"Come in, Lindsey. There's someone I want you to meet."
Sam didn't wait for Randy's introduction. "Hi, I'm Sam Gilmore," he said, meeting her halfway and extending a hand. Her tapered fingers slipped into his palm. Like an animal picking up a scent, he breathed in her fragrance then quickly let go and stepped back.
"Nice to meet you, Sam. I'm Lindsey Vidrine," she said, looking up at him.
The melodious sound of her voice played on Sam's ears like good jazz.
"Lindsey is one of my top photographers. Like you, she hails from Louisiana."
"Really? Where?" Sam stared into deep blue eyes rimmed in black. Her features fit together beautifully--the nose, the chin, the lush lips, the spacing between the eyes. A sculptor couldn't ask for a more idyllic model.
"I was reared near the little town of St. Dumain. It's on the northern most edge of East Baton Rouge Parish. Before coming to Atlanta, I lived close to LSU."
"Have a seat, you two." Randy pointed to matching wing-backed chairs facing his desk. His eyes shifted from Lindsey to Sam. "This might be bad timing since I just jumped your case, Sam, but I've got a favor to ask. I want you to take Lindsey on your next trip into the marsh and show her the waterways. She has a style all her own, and I'm curious to see how she'll handle some of your favorite locations."
Caught off guard by Randy's request, and definitely not wanting a tag-along, Sam stammered for a reply. "I ... uh ... you know I work alone." The startled expression on Lindsey's face told Sam she knew nothing of Randy's proposal. "Besides, I don't believe Ms. Vidrine would find the accommodations very appealing."
"Trust me," Randy countered. "Lindsey can handle any assignment I give her. Would a five-thousand dollar bonus improve the accommodations?"
Sam wet his lips at the thought of the extra cash, but the sensuous package of curves sitting next to him could put a wrinkle in his plans. A few days alone with her, and he might start thinking with his glands. Not good. Not good at all.
"Why not spare the lady an unpleasant ordeal? Don't you have a male photographer who could make the trip?"
Sam could almost feel fire igniting in Lindsey's eyes. She bolted from the chair and jerked her head toward Randy. While her voice remained low and unruffled, her words dripped with sarcasm.
"Since Mr. Gilmore prefers not to work with me, I'll get back to my project."
"Sit down, Lindsey. I make the decisions around here."
She eased back into her chair and let out an exasperated sigh.
"Look, Sam, more than once I've offered you a job with my company. It pays a hell of a lot more than a dead-end teaching job, which keeps you unavailable most of the time. If you teach Lindsey about the marsh, she can pick up the slack."
"She's the best I have, a fast learner and capable of taking care of herself. You won't be babysitting."
Sam knew he didn't have a chance in hell of getting out of this situation, not without jeopardizing his future with Randy. "I was only thinking of the lady."
"Don't patronize me," Lindsey retorted. "I'm a professional, and I expect to be treated as one."
"Oh, I can see we're going to get along just fine."
"Okay, you two. Cool it," Randy said. "So, I can count on you?" Randy nodded as if anticipating Sam's agreement.
"How much time do we have?" Sam asked.
"'Till the end of June. Maybe by then you two can be civil to one another. Either way, I want results. Lindsey, take Sam to your office and make the arrangements."
Randy punched the intercom button. "Judy? Send in my next appointment."
"This way, Mr. Gilmore," Lindsey said, walking briskly past the receptionist.
"Call me Sam."
Once inside her office, she closed the door behind them.
"I didn't ask for this assignment," she said, "and I'm sorry you see me as an inconvenience." She waited for him to fire back. He didn't. Instead, he smiled.
"Look, if we're going to work side-by-side for several weeks, we shouldn't be at each other's throat. What say we start over?" He stuck out his hand. "Hi, I'm Sam."
Sliding her hand into his large palm, she agreed, "I'm Lindsey."
Lindsey studied her soon-to-be companion. Chiseled biceps bulged from beneath his short sleeve shirt, and fine golden hairs glistened against his deep tan. Light brown hair, streaked by the sun, fell in loose curls across a wide forehead, and hazel eyes melted into a bronze complexion. His rugged good looks spoke of hours in the outdoors.
He was nothing like Michael. For a moment, Michael's dark hair and eyes flashed through her mind. Once again she pictured his tall, firm body entwined with hers.
"When and where do you want to meet?" she asked, shaking away intimate thoughts of Michael.
"Exams are finished by the end of May. How about the first week in June?"
She flipped the pages on her calendar. "Looks good."
"I'm impressed," Sam said, walking around her desk and scanning the certificates and plaques on the wall. "Can't imagine what I could teach you."
His deep voice sounded sincere, but when she looked up, she caught him studying more than her awards. He seemed content to let his eyes roam over her body, and she found his gaze unsettling.
"You know as well as I do, there's always more to learn," she said, bringing his attention back to her face and the subject at hand. "How about Monday, the second of June?"
"Okay by me." He reached for his wallet and pulled out a business card. "Here's my address and phone numbers. Call a few days before and I'll give you directions to my place."
She looked at his card and frowned. "You teach photography? I graduated from LSU and can't place your name."
"This is my first year. I used to room with one of the staff. He convinced me to try it. Before I got a real job, I freelanced. While I liked being able to choose my subjects, working for myself didn't always pay the bills. A steady income with summers off works best for me."
"Well, unless there's something else you need to tell me, I guess I'll see you in June," she said, fidgeting with the pen in her hand.
When Sam left, Lindsey slipped his card into her purse. On Friday, May twenty-third she penciled in the name, Gilmore. Studying the month, she decided to take off the previous week to get things together and pay another visit to police headquarters.
Dwelling on Michael's absence made her head ache. She rubbed her neck and pondered the slow investigation. Michael's abrupt disappearance made no sense. Police had found his car locked and his wallet beneath the front seat--the only thing missing, his driver's license. The scene showed no signs of violence, and fingerprints lifted from the vehicle led nowhere.
A tapping sound disrupted her thoughts, and a crop of thick, black hair appeared around her office door.
"Is it safe to come in?" Benjamin Kincaid asked, bringing the rest of his handsome self into the doorway. "I hear Randy gave you a new assignment.
Lindsey frowned. "He sure did."
"That bad, huh?"
"I'll let you know when it's over. Does Judy always eavesdrop on her boss's meetings?" When Benjamin didn't answer, she motioned to him. "Have a seat."
"Can't. Got a meeting in five minutes. How does Chinese sound? I can pick some up tonight, or if you'd rather, we can go out?"
"You must have read my mind. Let's eat in. I have some things to finish before next week's assignment. I should be through by eight o'clock."
"Hope you're hungry. I tend to overdo when I go through the buffet." Benjamin walked toward the kitchen, gingerly holding two paper bags in his arms. He slid them onto the counter while Lindsey grabbed some plates and flatware.
"There's beer in the frig," she said. "I think I'll have water." She turned on the tap.
Benjamin leaned against the cabinets and mentally seduced his favorite subject. Her tall, slender frame never failed to capture his attention and stir his imagination. Large blue eyes, almost cobalt in color, stared out from a smooth, fair complexion, and a small, straight nose ended above full, inviting lips.
He slipped up behind her, unable to resist losing his fingers in her blonde hair, shimmering beneath the overhead light.
"I missed you today," he murmured, brushing his lips against her ear. The scent of her shampoo filled his nostrils. His hands massaged her waist then moved slowly toward her breasts.
Setting her glass on the counter, she turned and pulled his hands away.
"I believe you did," she said with a smile.
"More than you can imagine." He pinned her against the counter. His lips caressed her neck, and he pressed harder against the soft curves of her body.
"Please don't, Benjamin."
Her smile faded, and he looked into eyes colder than her words. After several months of dating, she still managed to keep him at a distance, but he wanted more than friendship. "Why? How long Lindsey? Tomorrow? Next week? Never?"
She answered in a gentle and apologetic voice. "I don't have an answer for you. Maybe I'm not what you need."
He stepped back. "You're everything I could ever want."
Lindsey carried her glass to the table and sat down. "If I told you what you wanted to hear, it would be a lie. Michael's gone, but I still can't let go."
"I understand he'll always be a part of you, but that's not to say you'll never love again. All I ask is a chance." He opened the refrigerator, took out a beer and popped the tab. Would she ever accept the fact her husband might never be found? "I think it's time to change the subject," he said and pulled out a chair.
During the meal, Benjamin turned the conversation back to work. "Tell me about your new assignment."
Lindsey told him about Randy's plan for her to accompany Sam to the marsh. "Sam and I didn't exactly hit it off. I'll be curious to see how things work out. Get this. He teaches photography at LSU."
"Did you take any classes under him?"
"No. He came on staff the year after I graduated."
"I've heard Randy mention him. He's supposed to be really good. How long will you be gone?"
"Probably a couple of weeks. We'll do one round of shooting then come back to Baton Rouge to develop film and load the digitals into the computer."
"Got room in your bag for me?" He grinned.
"No, but I'll swap assignments with you."
"Oh, really? You mean you'd give up the marsh of south Louisiana for the Italian Riviera? Just one of the perks of being a senior editor."
"When do you leave?"
"Tomorrow noon. Look at it this way. If Randy goes for the layout, maybe I can convince him to let you do the shoot. Think you could handle a couple of weeks with me in Italy?"
"Italy would be no problem. You, on the other hand..." She stopped. Her words turned to laughter.
Lindsey's face glowed, and her eyes sparkled with intrigue. It was all he could do to keep his hands off her. "Do you know how beautiful you are?"
She shook her head. "No, but I accept the compliment." She stood up and carried her plate to the counter. "I hate to rush you off, but I have work to finish. My guess is you haven't even packed."
"Right you are. Come on and walk me to the door."
He stood up and slid an arm around her shoulder. Just touching her triggered an immediate reaction, one he managed to quell by the time he stepped onto the porch.
"I'll see you at the office before I leave," he said. "Can't say I like the idea of you alone in the marsh with this guy. Maybe I should do a little more checking up on him."
"Why? He's just another assignment."
"Two or three weeks? I'd feel better knowing more about him."
"Whatever makes you happy."
"You make me happy." He pulled her into his arms and kissed her.
"You are in a rare mood." She stepped back from his embrace.
"I hate not seeing you for a week."
"Then you're definitely going to have problems during June."
"Guess I'll have to find an excuse to get down there. Night, Lindsey."
He strode down the sidewalk and climbed into his car. Her fragrance lingered in his mind, and he could still taste the sweetness of her lips. Whatever it took, whatever game he had to play, he would have her.