Losing Control (Chapter Nine)

Throughout the evening, Taryn was introduced to some of Cole's friends from his youth. When they were alone, they talked about work, but neither broached the subject of that dance. Or of that near-miss kiss.

It was as if they'd both silently agreed never to mention it. Forget it had ever happened. Only Taryn doubted she could ever forget that swirling giddy feeling of surrender. The pull at her core was near impossible to resist. If she hadn't experienced the sensation for herself, she simply wouldn't have believed it existed.

But Cole was her boss. The future of her beloved project lay in his hands. Her physical side might have longed for his mouth to cover hers…for him to sweep her up and away somewhere ultraprivate. Her rational side, however, warned that clearly she was losing her mind. If they got involved, the lines would be forever blurred. It was bad enough fighting to keep him from tossing her out of Hunters on her ear. How much worse to be sacked and left to rot by someone who had held you? Kissed you?

Humiliating, to say the least.

* * *

The following week at work, although they were pleasant and spoke, neither she nor Cole discussed that evening. When Friday morning rolled around – the day they were scheduled to fly out – Taryn was excited. This was an important step toward seeing her show actually on the air. She was also near paralyzed with dread and fear. What if Cole got too close again? Forget that. Given her reaction when he'd held her on that dance floor, what if at some point she lost all reason and tried to kiss him?

By the time she'd finished packing, Taryn had come to a conclusion. One step at a time. If Cole tried to weave his magic over her – if she felt as if she wanted to be seduced – she would cross that burning bridge when she came to it.

At 9:00 a.m., Taryn answered a knock on her door.

Looking mouthwateringly sexy in a pair of dark blue jeans, Cole spotted her luggage waiting in the foyer.

"That's one serious-looking suitcase. We're only away for two days, right?"

Cole had insisted he drive them to the airport. He was here thirty minutes early, but she wasn't ready to leave just yet. She wasn't particularly comfortable with him watching her finish up here, either.

Dragging her gaze away from the V of bare chest visible above the opening of his shirt, she headed off with him following. "I have a few things to tidy up before we leave."

In the kitchen, she pulled a bag of cat biscuits from the pantry while Cole strolled over to her Formica counter.

"You have a cat?"

"She's not mine. Not really."

"Then why are you feeding it?" he asked as she set the food bowl down outside the back door and brought the water bowl in for a refill.

"It has a name. Muffin."

"Cats have name tags now?"

"She's a stray. But she's yellow and fluffy like a vanilla cake." Muffin just seemed to fit. She crossed back over to place the fresh water outside, too. "She's close to giving birth."

"Well, do you think you should encourage her?"

She sent him a look. "I can't just leave her and her kittens to starve, or be picked off by birds and snakes. I'd bundle her up and take her to the vet if I could get close enough. Even with her big belly, she's too quick to catch."

"Maybe she's a free spirit." He shrugged. "Maybe she doesn't want a home."

Taryn remembered saying the same thing to Vi last week. But her aunt was right. No one, and that included a cat, chose to be without someplace to feel safe and warm and wanted.

As she turned back from locking the door, Cole's cell phone beeped. He spoke for a couple of minutes then, thoughtful, slotted the phone away.

Moving to the sink, she asked, "Something up at the station?"

"No. That was Brandon checking in."

"More news on your father's situation?"

The sleeves of Cole's casual white button-down were rolled to below the elbow. Now he rested two bronzed forearms horizontal on the counter and absently rotated the platinum watchband circling one wrist, a habit that, she'd noticed, he'd inherited from his dad.

"Seems the man who Jeremy Judge chased in front of that car had a gripe with Hunter Enterprises News division. A year ago he spoke with one of our reporters about a financial institution moving to foreclose on his mortgage. The editor didn't pick up the story. When the man's home went under, he decided to blame us. Brandon hasn't been able to find anything else remotely criminal in his background." He rotated the watchband again. "His wife had left him. Kids are grown-up, moved away."

To Taryn's mind that made the situation all the worse. Sounded like that man had no one to turn to, no one to listen. Maybe he felt he had nothing to live for, which made the "falling under a car" part of the story more believable. All his problems were over now.

At the meals table, she collected a vase then crossed to drop dried blooms and brittle leaves into the trash. She adored choosing flowers for their perfume and color. It was her weekly indulgence. She only wished they lasted longer.

Cole had strolled over to a window. Drawing back the curtain, he scanned the scene outside. Was he looking for the cat, or something – someone – more sinister?

"The gunman didn't have a psychiatric history." He dropped the curtain. "Guess tough times can bring out the worst in us all."

Perhaps, but, "People have choices."

His smile was curious. Maybe admirable. "A woman of integrity."

"What are we without it?"

"Ask my siblings. Wait. I take that back. Wynn at least tries."

Filling the vase with water to soak, Taryn reminded herself, Wynn was the brother who looked after the magazine arm of Hunters in New York.

"He has good intentions," Cole said, checking his cell again. "But I'm afraid my younger brother has a tendency to think with his heart before his brain. Which is probably better than Dex's drawback."

Dex…Cole's movie-making brother in L.A., Taryn thought, checking the setting then clicking on the dishwasher.

"He's got it up here as far as business is concerned." Cole tapped his temple. "Unfortunately he prefers to think with lower portions of his anatomy."

"I've read about his exploits," she said.

"I doubt he'd mind me saying that was skimming the surface."

"What do your brothers think about their father's situation?"

He followed as she moved around the house, making certain windows were locked.

"We shared a conference call," Cole said. "Wynn and Dex both want to fly out, give him some moral support. See if there's anything they can do."

"Your brothers aren't all bad, then."

She glanced over her shoulder. Cole's expression had turned wistful, as if he might be remembering happier times. Then his brows knitted again.

"I couldn't get in touch with Teagan."

"Your sister." She locked the last window. "She seems to keep a low profile. She's never mentioned in the gossip mags."

"When she was a kid, Teagan was a showstopper. Quick-witted, pretty as a bell, talented. She used to make us all sit down and watch her Spice Girls performances. Being the baby and the only girl, she got damn near everything she wanted."

Back in the foyer now, where her luggage waited, Taryn grinned. As if any Hunter child would have done without.

"What does she do in the company?"

"Teagan wants nothing to do with Hunter Enterprises. She calls her lack of interest 'independence.' I call it ingratitude. She runs her own fitness business out of Washington."

"You don't talk?"

"Not for a while."

"So Teagan's the stray who doesn't want a home?"

He did a double take then gifted her one of those sexy grins that secretly made her melt. "Guess she is."

Taryn caught the time on the wall clock. Her stomach jumped. Cole had arrived early, but now they were in danger of running late.

"We'd better go." She extended her bag's handle. "Don't want to miss the flight."

"Which is to where exactly?"

"Let's say a place where the sun and sea rule."

"And that narrows it down."

"All I can add is that I hope you packed sunscreen."

A thought exploded in Taryn's mind – a forgotten item – and she rushed into her bedroom with her bag rolling behind. She'd do her work, but she planned to have a window of time off, too. Her already stuffed bag could hold two more teeny-weeny can't-do-without pieces.