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Her Secret Thrill(9)

By:Donna Kauffman



“No intrusions into the other parts of our lives.” She said this almost to herself.

He felt hope blossom in his chest. “Right. This is just for ourselves. No expectations other than that when we’re alone together, we leave everything else outside the door and just enjoy each other. Maybe explore some of those other hidden desires and wants you’ve wondered about but haven’t wanted to give your partner an insight into.”

She pulled out of his arms. “I don’t know, Jake. This was undeniably wonderful. But I don’t know if I can just…I don’t know…schedule something like this into my life. It seems so—”

“Perfect,” he said, unwilling to give up. “I’m not seeing anyone seriously. You?”

She shook her head.

“Like I said. Perfect. Consider it an outlet. Something you give yourself, like a trip to the spa or something.”

She laughed.

“Okay, okay, but you know what I mean. What’s so wrong with that? No one has to know. And if we meet someone in our personal lives that we intend to get serious about, then that’s it. No questions asked. Otherwise, it will last as long as we both want it to.” He walked to her. “No intrusions into each other’s lives. We control this. It is what we want it to be. Nothing more, nothing less.”

She looked into his eyes again, then finally looked away. “I don’t know.” She pulled away again and went to the bathroom. “I just don’t think I can do that. I’m sorry, Jake.” She disappeared behind the bathroom door. He didn’t pursue her.

What he did instead was to grab some hotel stationery and write down his itinerary for the next several months. He jotted down where he’d be, on what dates, and at what hotels. He tucked it into her purse for her to find later. Maybe by then she’d have a change of heart.

At the bottom of the note, he wrote, “Now you know where to find me.” And he signed it “Your Secret Thrill.”





5




“LIZA, I CAN’T.” Natalie tucked the phone against her shoulder and nodded to her assistant, Nancy, who had just layered her desk with another stack of files. She signed several forms, flipped the folder shut and handed it back to Nancy who silently mouthed that she was late for a meeting. Natalie made the okay sign and took hold of the phone. “No, Liza, there is no way I can fly out there this weekend. I’ve got two depositions to take, and a brief to write that will take a ton of research.”

Besides, she knew Jake would be in California this weekend. In San Diego. Which was very close to L.A. Too close. “I promise I’ll try next time. And it would help if I had more than three days’ notice.”

She was still laughing at Liza’s less than politically correct response after she hung up. Her friend’s sense of humor was just what she needed today. She looked at the mess in front of her and groaned. These past two weeks had been brutal, her workload doubled since her immediate supervisor had landed in the hospital with acute appendicitis.

More laughter was the least of what she needed. What she really needed was a break. Jake’s sexy grin popped into her mind, along with the rest of his heart palpitation-inducing body—something that happened with alarming frequency these past two weeks. And as she had every time previously, she shut the image down directly. So what if she had to do that a dozen times a day, and sometimes that was before noon?

But today his image persisted. As did memories of that glorious morning she’d spent in bed with him. Surely she’d blown it totally out of proportion. If she ever saw him again—which she wouldn’t—she would probably be forced to realize it had been average at best. Better to leave herself with glorious, if somewhat debatable, memories.

“Yeah,” she said with a heartfelt sigh. “Thanks for the memories.” Then she grabbed a small fraction of the mountain on her desk and headed out the door.



THREE HOURS LATER she returned to her desk with more work than when she had left. She felt numb with the kind of battle fatigue one could only feel after a long session with the partners.

Nancy popped in a moment later. “Your sister on line two.”

“Which one?” Not that she was in the mood to hear from either of them. If she had to listen to them vent about the rigors of chairing yet another country club committee or charity drive, she’d surely lose it and say things that were never said in her family. But no one could keep her from feeling them, thank God.

She didn’t wait for Nancy to reply, but punched the button and picked up. After the past three hours, dealing with either sister would be child’s play. “What’s up?”

“It’s father. He’s golfing.” It was Sabrina, her oldest sister. The drama queen. Great.

Natalie sat back in her chair. “Horrors. Thank God you caught this aberrant behavior in time! Have him locked up immediately.”

Sabrina also had no sense of humor—a Holcomb genetic trait that had somehow skipped over Natalie—as her long-suffering sigh indicated.

“Spare me your sarcasm today, Natalie. I have a brutal headache.”

Sabrina had very convenient brutal headaches. “Fine. So Dad is golfing again. This is a problem, why?” And why is it now my problem? Although, she already knew the answer to that one. She was the only one of the four Holcomb children born with a backbone made of sterner stuff than a spaghetti noodle. Real genetic freak she was. Not for the first time she wondered if Mom had had a fling with the mailman or something.

“Natalie? Are you listening to me?”

No, not really. “Yes, yes.”

There was an impatient huff, then Sabrina said, “You know perfectly well his cardiologist told him to take it easy after his last…episode.”

“You mean heart attack.” Natalie had zero patience for their New England, upper-crust doublespeak today. “He had a heart attack, Rina. An episode is something you watch on television.”

“You know Daddy forbid us to use that term.”

Yes, Natalie knew very well. Wouldn’t look good on the company bio for the founder and CEO to be human. Have to stay strong, never let them see you sweat. Much less have a heart attack. They’re hell on those stock options.

“So why are you calling me?” she asked needlessly.

There was a pause, and Natalie prepared for the sudden switch to Ms. Wheedling Sweet Voice.

“Nat, you know Daddy listens to you, honey. Why don’t you call his caddy’s cell phone and ask to speak to him.”

“And say what? Leave the sixteenth hole immediately or else I’m telling on you?” Natalie didn’t have the time, much less the patience, for this. “Honestly, Sabrina, he’s a grown man. If he chooses not to listen to his doctor, then that’s his business. We’re not his keepers.” Which wasn’t precisely the truth.

Ever since her mother died, back when Natalie was still in boarding school, her two sisters and older brother had begun turning to her when things needed saying to their father. Said things usually having something to do with the family business, a.k.a. their livelihoods and source of the children’s trust funds. Probably because she was the only one who didn’t rely on Holcomb Industries for her daily bread.

She hated being the baby of the family.

“Just call him for us, Nat, okay? He listens to you.”

When he feels like it, she thought. “I’m really busy. It’s crazy here and—”

“You could stop all this nonsense of working in the city, Nat, and come home where you belong. I don’t know why you think it’s so important to establish yourself outside the family. After all, our father didn’t slave all his life so that his children would have to start from scratch. It’s almost insulting when you think about it. And before you lecture me on the importance of a career, keep in mind the charitable works Melissa and I provide to the underprivileged. You could always help us out, because, Lord knows, we are overburdened as it is. You can’t believe the hours I’ve spent organizing this year’s food drive. Of course, if you insist on using that law degree, Daddy will make a place for you at work and you can…”

Lose my freaking mind, along with what little privacy I’ve ever had, Natalie finished with a silent scream, tuning out the rest of the speech she’d heard a million times before. “I’ll call him, okay?” she said, when Sabrina came up for oxygen. Anything to shut her up. “Give Reese and the boys a hug for me,” she added quickly, before her sister could wind up again, and hung up.

Nancy popped in again. “Harwood on line three. He’s not happy.”

Natalie nodded, then let her forehead drop to the pile of folders on her desk. If she were a lesser woman, she’d throw a nice little tantrum. She sat up and pushed her hair back from her face. But you’re not a lesser anything, you’re a Holcomb. God help me, she added, then instructed Nancy to get her father’s caddy on the phone before she picked up line three.



FIVE HOURS LATER Natalie whimpered into her loft, kicked off her heels and sank her grateful toes into the thick carpet. She set down the cardboard carton of work she’d toted home and ignored the blinking message light on her phone. Probably her brother Chuck or, worse, her other sister Melissa, calling to whine for something else.

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