Two hours later James sat at the wheel of the car outside and waited. Twenty minutes after that he got out.
She’d be fine of course, he wasn’t really worried. He’d got into the office and Googled the name of the place as soon as his computer had powered up. Atlanta House—a safe shelter for young mothers to stay while they waited for their babies to be born. A place where they could try to keep up their schooling and learn basic parenting skills too. A place to go when no one else would take them in.
He figured it was a charity stop for her. Of course she’d be keen to be seen doing ‘her bit’—especially with her brother Alex putting the hard word on her. It was the done thing for a wealthy socialite—to be known as a great charity supporter. James walked up the path, eyeing the building with cynical disfavour.
Liss’s interest here could only be about appearances—only to further her own cause. His mother was exactly the same—on the committee for this, fund-raising for that…but the primary purpose had been to maintain the façade.
Liss was probably faking her way through every minute of her time inside there. Doing it out of a sense of duty, not any real desire.
He did wonder about the plastic crate, though.
After he knocked, the door was answered smartly by a very pregnant teen whose eyes grew even rounder than her tummy as she stared at him, and then at his car parked illegally right outside. He asked for Liss.
‘She’s in the common room. I’ll get her for you.’
He took a step through the doorway, lingering in the hall as the young woman headed towards the sound of giggles. He looked at the notice board covered with pictures of young mums cradling newborn babies— cards and postcards and letters of thanks and progress reports. He half expected to see a picture of Liss sitting in a circle of beaming girls—their most famous visitor. He figured one would be up there soon. She’d sign some saccharine message on it and it would be framed and hung proudly. Then it would fade in the light and gather dust and she’d probably never darken their door again. Irritated, he walked away from the brightly coloured board and further along the hall.
The high-pitched tones of the teenager carried clear back to him.
‘Liss, there is a seriously hot guy here asking for you.’
He heard a muttered, ‘Oh, hell, is that the time?’
More laughter, sounds of disruption, comment.
‘Wow, you can move faster than lightning.’
‘Is he your boyfriend?’
‘No.’ Liss’s answer came quick and loud.
‘Is he your bodyguard?’ another girl asked.
James stilled as he felt a ridiculous spurt of pleasure in that idea—all the vulnerability in the place must be making his protective male instinct rise.
‘Actually he’s my boss.’
‘Do you have to work , Liss?’
‘Everyone has to work, Sandy.’ Her tone was light.
‘But you’re a princess.’
‘I still have to eat.’
She appeared then, in the doorway, seeming to float in on the laughter. The girl who’d answered the door followed close. Then a collection of faces filled the frame.
James stayed statue-still and stared—hardly aware of the others, only her. He was barely conscious of his smile stretching wide. Her colour was high again and the blush grew when she saw how far he was along the hallway. For a moment their eyes met. Her colour deepened yet more. Her gaze slipped as she walked towards him, concentrating on balancing the crate. He drank in her appearance like a parched man who’d been stuck in a desert for months. She looked slim next to the pregnant girl and in her skinny jeans and casual tee she didn’t look that much older, and there was something different about her hair. Fresh and shining, she was even more attractive now than her glam-girl look of the night before. And for a crazy second he wondered what she’d look like with the blossoming curves of impending motherhood.
‘Sorry, James, I lost track of the time. Have I kept you waiting?’
James shook his head as he took the crate off her, clearing the wayward images, as careful to avoid any contact with her hands as she was to avoid contact with his eyes. In the face of so much fertility he couldn’
t help the way his brain was working. The thought of S-E-X was screaming to him in capital letters. And all he could see was Liss in the centre of the action—with him.
He gave himself a mental pinch. Grow up. Act mature. Stop thinking X-rated thoughts every time you so much as glance at her. But it was impossible not to when she looked so relaxed. He wanted to magic her away with him and start to play.
‘I’ll be back again, soon, OK?’ Liss called to them from the door after the chorus of thank-yous and goodbyes from the girls.