Her Secret Protector(10)

By: Roxanne Snopek

She also kept gripping and releasing her hands and that pretty, pink bottom lip was slightly chapped, as if she’d been biting it a lot lately.

“I’m not a billionaire or a starlet,” she said. Her voice was tight and clipped. “And mine is more of a virtual problem.”

Fidgety, pale, breathing too quickly. She hadn’t responded to the sex tape comment, which was interesting. Though by the look of her, she was probably just too embarrassed to say the words.

“As you mentioned in your email. You drink coffee, yes?”

Brandy might be a better choice but he could hardly offer her that at this time of day.

“Yes. Black. I don’t have a lot of time, Mr. Nash.”

“And I don’t waste mine, Ms. Logan. You’re having a full-fat latte. I don’t want you passing out in my foyer.”

The espresso machine started sputtering just as she did, sparing him her indignant response. He put a swirl through the foamy head and handed her the mug.

“Thank you.”

Her hands shook slightly, making a rise of foam slip over the lip of the mug. He gave her a paper towel, then led her to the office.

“Sit. Please,” he added. He spent too much time with the dogs.

He gestured to one of the upholstered guest chairs sitting opposite his massive desk and she lowered herself into it, carefully watching her beverage.

“So, what version of virtual cufflinks have you lost?”

She sipped her coffee, then set it down with shaking hands and put a small, portable drive on his desk.

“I’m a photographer, Mr. Nash,” she said, looking down at her hands. “I take pictures of family gatherings, weddings, school events, that sort of thing.”

“Yes. And?”

She hesitated, then looked up. “But I used to have a different specialty.”

Her cheeks were flushed but she met his gaze evenly.

“I’m guessing it’s not professional poker,” he said, hoping for a smile. He didn’t get it. “Continue.”

“Mr. Nash.” She took another deep breath. If he wasn’t mistaken, there was a flash of anger underneath the discomfort. “This may be a small matter to you, but to me, it’s extremely important. Cherry Lake is my home. My family is here. I’ve lived here almost my entire life. I realize you wouldn’t understand this, but that means something to me.”

Ethan flinched as her mild barb struck a very sensitive nerve. She wasn’t the only one to make sacrifices for family.

“I’m not a mind-reader, Ms. Logan. Nor do you, or anyone in Cherry Lake for that matter, know me.”

She blinked, then shook her head lightly. “You’re right. I apologize. This is… difficult for me.”

He felt like he’d just kicked a puppy. He got up from behind his desk and pulled a chair next to hers. He touched her hand lightly.

“No. I apologize. How about we start again? How can I help you, Ms. Logan? Or is it Mrs. Logan?”

Pathetic. He was pathetic.

“I’m single, if that’s what you’re asking.” A ghost of a smile touched her lips. “And you might as well call me Carrie.”

“Carrie,” he said. “I’m Ethan. Pleased to meet you.”

Her eyes were very blue, he noticed, unable to look away. He liked blue eyes.

“Yeah, we’ll see,” she said, making a face. “I guess I’ll just have to show you. May I?”

She gestured to his laptop and he swivelled it around so it faced them both.

“Do a search on my business,” she instructed. “Forever Yours Photography.”

He typed in the name and watched as a string of results appeared. The first few were obviously her business site but the others looked different.

He heard Carrie’s breath catch in her throat as the first image filled his screen and as soon as his brain processed the picture, he understood why.

The girl in the photo stood in a doorway, facing three-quarters away from the lens, her face in profile. She was naked, except for a length of gauzy fabric that draped from shoulder to hip, then down her legs to puddle at her feet. One leg was bent slightly at the knee, her heel propped against the opposite ankle, allowing a shaft of light to shine between her thighs. Her arms were crossed above her head, her long blonde hair tumbling down over her back, her head tipped up, her eyes shut as if in ecstasy. Her lips curved in a slight, secretive smile.

In the background, on a table beside the window, stood a large piece of chipped blue crockery. A single rose lay on the table, its petals past their prime, beginning to fall. The over-saturated red of the petals was repeated on the lips and toenails, contrasting with the color of crockery. The rest of the image was stark black and white.

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