Wife by Wednesday (Chapter Five)

Blake rubbed his hands over his face for the umpteenth time that day. Samantha's text message shook him and he hadn't been able to speak with her since.

What the hell was Vanessa thinking? What did she say to his wife? Married less than a week and already Blake found himself trying to find ways of keeping his lover and wife separate. Blake hadn't even spoke with Vanessa since he put the ring on Samantha's finger. He'd tried to call her, once. But when her housekeeper said she wasn't taking his calls, he didn't think they had anything more to say to each other.

Jacqueline had sent him a cold "call when you're tired of her" retort.

What did the word viper mean? It couldn't be good.

Dammit. If it would take something other than a full day flight, he'd be on his plane now. Making rash decisions wasn't his style. His plan was to return to the States Sunday evening when he could retrieve his wife and escort her to Europe.

Unless Samantha needed him sooner, he'd stick to his original plan. Still, the thought of seeing her held an appeal that rivaled breathing. Their conversations on the phone brightened his day in ways he didn't expect. Their flirting would prove troublesome if they were in the same county. An ocean apart felt safe. Maybe that's why Blake found himself opening up to her. Women had always been a game to be played. First in attracting them, which wasn't hard, and then seducing them. Although he didn't set a time limit with the previous women in his life, he never encouraged relationships to last longer than six months to a year. His attraction usually waivered much sooner than that. Monogamy and Blake were strangers. He inherited that one trait from his father.

Samantha didn't need to be played. For the first time in his adult life, honesty with the opposite sex felt safe.

His phone beeped as a text message arrived.

"Sam," he breathed her name. Hoping.

It wasn't her.

He read the message from his bank informing him of activity on the credit card he'd given to his bride.

Maybe Vanessa's visit wasn't a complete waste, he mused. He noticed the amount charged and smiled. Samantha's comment about women being emotional creatures swam in his mind. Apparently, his wife wasn't immune.

****

Traumatic times in one's life often led to a sixth sense about things. At least that's what Samantha believed. Lord knew she'd shouldered enough drama to last two lifetimes in her short handful of years.

The camera-toting rejects moved on to the latest imploding starlet whose drug addiction and reckless behavior landed her in jail. Thankfully, they forgot all about the new duchess living in the lowlands of Tarzana. Yet still the heavy weight of being watched, the eyes of someone followed Samantha around.

And it was starting to piss her off.

The last year of her father's freedom was anything but. Samantha had noticed new students on campus who never seemed to go to class, but always managed to cross her path. Dark cars followed her convertible and parked across the street from her hangouts. The phones in her home made a clicking noise whenever she picked up the line. It got to the point where Samantha dressed in her bathroom or the huge walk in closet to ensure some measure of privacy.

Blake hadn't revealed all the particulars on who would be watching their marriage over the next year, only that someone would. Their time together would need to be convincing, their time apart seem difficult for both of them. She supposed the daily phone calls from Blake were a way of measuring their affection. At least the phone records would reveal a daily conversation.

Samantha convinced Blake that Vanessa's visit hadn't affected her. This was probably the only half-truth Sam had given to her husband to date. No need for him to know how tilted she'd become. Of course, her credit card bill spoke for itself. Julia Roberts' movie character held nothing on Samantha. Designer suits, dresses, shoes, and handbags. She sat in a salon for a half day of manicures, pedicures, facials, and a haircut. A couple of large brimmed hats and dark sunglasses helped cover her appearance yet still the creepy sensation of eyes picked her out of a crowd.

"You're being paranoid," Samantha told herself as she pulled the shades down early in the afternoon on Friday.

Glancing at her watch, Samantha calculated Blake's time in Europe. He'd done most of the calling and she thought it would probably look good for her to take the initiative if in fact someone audited the calls. She picked up the landline and reached for paper on her desk with his home number.

The dial tone buzzed, clicked, and buzzed again.

Samantha froze in place.

She knew that sound. Remembered it far too well. After dropping the phone back in the cradle, she considered her options. Calling Blake on her cell was one, but for all she knew a camera watched and a microphone was somewhere in her house. Thank goodness most of her recent talks with Blake had taken place on her cell outside of her house.

Leaving her house and making the call was another option.

Then there was option number three. If the person, responsible for bugging her phone were listening and hoping to hear a discussion about a fake marriage, they were going to be very, very disappointed.

The government had invaded her privacy before. The results were deadly. Although the stakes weren't as high this time, there was no way Samantha was going to allow anyone a chance at taking what was rightfully Blake's to keep.

For better or for worse, Blake was her husband… for the next fifty-three weeks anyway.

Samantha toed off her shoes and removed the cordless phone from the cradle once again. With her cell phone in the other hand, she first sent a text.

Are you home?

Her phone buzzed. For the first time all week.

She started dialing his number. Keep your cell handy and play along.

Blake stared at the screen of his cell phone and shook his head. "Play along? What's that supposed to mean?" He was about to type in his question when his house phone rang.

When he answered, Samantha's husky bedroom voice practically purred over the line. "Hi, honey."

Honey? Where had that come from? He opened his mouth to ask but Samantha kept talking, each syllable more enticing than the next.

"How was your day?"

"Busy. I'm looking forward to a half a day off tomorrow." His cell phone buzzed. Do you hear that click in the line?

He read Samantha's question and started to answer aloud. "Samantha, what's going – "

"God, I miss you. I wish my passport would hurry up and get here so I can join you."

Blake's eyes shot up. Samantha didn't sound like she'd been drinking, although he did like the thought of her missing him. Still, he knew bullshit when he heard it.

Someone is bugging my phone. Keep talking.

"What?" Bugging her phone?

"I said I miss you," Samantha's breathless voice wavered.

"I miss you, too," he whispered slowly as he typed back. WTF is going on?

Samantha chuckled. "You know what I've been thinking about all day?" The 900-voice collided with the text messages, both of which started to screw with his brain. If someone had bugged her phone, they'd been in her house. His jaw started to ache and heat built inside his body. He was too damn far away to reach her.

"No, why don't you tell me?"

Being watched. Think someone's listening to us now.

"I've been thinking about that sexy smile of yours."

He hesitated in his text reply. "You think my smile's sexy?"

"You know I do. I miss seeing the laughter in your eyes when we're together."

Blake knew her words were for the person listening, but the effect of them was no less potent. Samantha might not be an actress, but she was doing a hell of a job now.

We need to get you out of there.

"You know what I miss about you?" he asked, keeping the conversation exactly where she'd put it.

"Tell me."

I have to agree with you. She texted.

He was shocked she agreed without a fight. "What?"

"I said tell me what you miss about me." Samantha redirected him.

Blake set the phone aside and concentrated on her words.

"I miss that wild hair of yours pressed on my pillow." The image was one he pictured often, even if he hadn't seen it…yet. "The way you moisten your lips right before I kiss you."

"You do?" Her voice grew rough.

"I miss the lavender scent of your skin. I'm going to have the gardeners plant bushels of it here so every time I walk by I will be reminded of you." Where had that come from? And since when was he a poet?

The phone was silent for a moment. "Samantha? Are you still there?" He glanced at his cell to see if she'd sent another text. She hadn't.

"I'm here. I just… I need to be closer to you. Maybe I should move into your home in Malibu."

He smiled. "I'm glad you finally agreed."

"Everything happened so fast, I thought it would be best to move slowly. Now it just seems silly."

"You're an independent woman. I understand. But we'll be spending time here in Europe and there. It would be better for you to get comfortable in both places. Then at least I know where you are when we have to be apart." Funny, every word he said was true but if there wasn't another set of ears listening, he probably wouldn't say any of it.

"You're… dammit!" Her expletive exploded from her lips.

The hair on his neck stood on end. "What's wrong?"

"I-I stubbed my toe." She sounded pissed, not hurt.

His phone buzzed. Found a camera.

"What are you doing?" he asked. He took to his feet and started to pace.

"Picking out a few books to take to your house. When will you be here on Sunday?" If he hadn't been listening, he wouldn't have noticed the tremor in her voice. He pressed the number to Neil and sent an urgent text. Get to Sam's now! I'll call you in a few minutes.

"I'm going to rearrange my plans and fly in sooner." As in tonight.

"That isn't necessary," she said.

"I disagree. We've been apart too long." Those words felt exactly right, despite their agreed upon contract.

She let out a deep breath. "You won't get an argument out of me."

"I'll call later."

"Don't do anything rash," she told him. "I'm fine."

But he wasn't. Someone was spying on his wife, listening to her conversation…watching her. And that was taking catching them in a lie too far.

"I'll be there by morning."

"I'll look forward to it."

Blake smiled and hung up the phone.

Pack what you need for today and tomorrow. Neil is on his way.

He placed a call to his bodyguard, explaining the situation. The next call was to his pilot. He rubbed his frustrated hands through his hair and scrambled to make arrangements to leave. His long-distance marriage no longer felt safe. His brain buzzed with an urgency that kept his toe tapping, his hands wringing to weave around someone's neck. Would his cousin stoop to this level? Or was Vanessa utterly scorned and wanting some crazy revenge? Even Parker and Parker couldn't be eliminated from the short list of suspects since they stood to gain an extra measure of cash should Blake and Samantha's marriage be exposed as a fraud.

Twenty minutes later, his phone rang en route to the airport.

"Samantha?"

"Yeah, it's me." She sounded worn out. Depleted. "I'm at your place."

"Then it's safe to talk. My security would detect a bug. How are you holding up?"

She sighed. The sound grew heavy in his ear. "I'm pissed. I thought my days of bugged phones and hidden cameras were behind me. Who would go to these lengths, Blake?"

"I've been asking myself that question since you called. I have people working on it. We'll find out."

"Let me know what I can do to help. Whoever is responsible has an enemy in me." The spark in her voice was better than the deflated one of a moment ago. His feisty redheaded wife could be a fireball when cornered.

"I'll be in late tonight. What room did you chose?"

"Oh, ah, I-I wasn't sure who knew what around here so I told Neil to put my things in your suite," she stammered. "I can move."

He warmed into the thought of her head on is pillow, her eyes drifting to sleep in his bed. "Don't move. You're right. I trust my staff, but I don't think we should alert them."

"Are you sure?" She sounded vulnerable again. The strong desire to pull her into his arms and envelop her with his strength was painful.

"Please. I insist." He knew better than to demand. Samantha took his commands and tossed them in his face whenever possible. Asking nicely was new to him, but he grew better at the task every day.

"All right. I'll see you in the morning."

His finger tapped along his phone after he hung up. The image of Samantha curled up in a tight little ball on his bed, her eyes wide with fear, choked him. His fingers clutched hard against his palms. Whoever did this had made a huge, costly mistake. He would crush the person who violated his wife's privacy on this level. Paparazzi on public streets, eavesdropping while standing in line at a store, fine, but this? What if there was a camera in her bedroom? What if someone watched her dress, watched her bathe?

No wonder she sounded scared.

The more he thought about it, the harder it was to see anything but red.

****

Half memory, half dream, Samantha's sleep-filled brain filtered images of her walking through campus, a backpack slung over her shoulder.

Someone followed behind her. She'd seen him before, but couldn't place his face. The panic in her blood started after she'd revealed her deepest thoughts to her business professor.

In the back of Samantha's mind, she knew she was dreaming. Knew where the dream was headed and tried desperately to stop it.

A picture of her childhood bedroom flashed in her mind. A candid conversation with a trusted friend. Her mother, alive, telling her to mind her mouth.

Jordan, just into her training bra, laughing at something their dog, Buster, was doing.

All these images mixed and coiled tight in Samantha's chest.

Two men wearing dark suits and holding a badge removed her from her classroom and questioned her. Only instead of asking about where her father was, what he was doing, they asked about Blake.

"What he's doing is illegal, Samantha. Thousands of people suffer because of him."

No! She fought the dream, willing the images to change.

They pressed forward and fear gripped her heart.

Samantha shot up in bed, her breathing rapid and her heart rate soaring. In a flash, Blake pushed out of the chair he'd been sleeping in and rushed to her side.

"Sam, are you okay?" His hands captured her arms to steady her.

Forcing her breath to slow, she nodded. "Bad dream."

"You're shaking." The words left his mouth and his arms circled around her and pulled her into his chest.

She probably should have pushed away, but couldn't find the energy. She sucked in the deep pine scent of masculinity that always followed Blake around. This close it was more potent, powerful. Samantha leaned into him and closed her eyes.

He ran his hands over her back, and smoothed her hair. "It's okay," he whispered.

The force of her dream left an imprint on her heart. The memories of her mother alive, her sister whole. All gone.

It was her fault.

Blake held her for what felt like forever. When she lifted her head from his chest, she noticed for the first time he still wore a dress shirt and slacks. His jaw held a day's worth of stubble and his eyes were heavy with concern. Always sinfully handsome, he still looked tired.

"I'm okay now," she told him.

Even though he moved back, he didn't let go. His hands traced the outer edges of her arms before grasping her fingers to his.

A strong sense of being anchored, of belonging, washed over her. Blake's eyes rounded over her face as if searching for physical signs of abuse. His worry for her caught in her throat and the attraction she'd felt for him swelled inside. As vulnerable as she felt, she knew better than to flirt with him or bring to his attention that she was in his bed and wearing only a light nightgown.

Breaking eye contact, Samantha glanced across the room. "You were sleeping in the chair?"

"I only meant to check on you. I must have drifted off."

But his shoes had been kicked off by the chair, his coat folded over the back of it.

"What are we going to do? Someone is taking desperate measures to catch us in this lie."

"They took it too far." His hand tightened on hers.

She squeezed back. "So what do we do now? Leaving the house will only push whoever is behind this away for so long. The Fed's cased our house for over a year while building their case. We've no way of knowing if someone is watching, listening, all the time." The thought of dodging cameras and bugs on phones for a year gave her a headache.

"I'll find out who did this. It's still illegal to penetrate someone's home and record them."

"It might be illegal, but it won't stop them. We need to convince them they're wasting their time. Otherwise, somewhere, somehow, one of us is going to mess up and reveal just how temporary this marriage is. Then you'll lose everything you stand to gain and it will somehow be my fault."

His eyes narrowed and he tilted his head in question. "Why your fault? We both said 'I do' for the wrong reasons."

Afraid he'd see her past sins in her eyes, Samantha removed her hands from his and pulled her knees into her chest. Staring at the opposite side of the room, she said, "Maybe it won't be all my fault…"

Blake shifted into her line of sight and placed a hand on her knee. The heat of his palm radiated up her leg and snapped her attention to the man sitting beside her. "Now that we know how dirty we're being played, we need to win on their terms. We'll use their cameras to show them how wrong they are about us."

"How do you suggest we do that?"

A tilt of his lips hid a grin. The worry in his eyes started to fade. "You and I'll go to your house and pack your things. Before we get there I'll send over a team to find any other cameras that might be hiding."

"Won't that be obvious?"

"Was it obvious when whoever planted them did it?"

She'd wondered about that all night. The phone repair guys were the only ones in her house since she and Blake married. "No."

"We'll find the cameras and play to them."

Her pulse picked up speed. "Play to them?"

Blake reached out and tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear. The feel of his fingers on her skin sizzled. He felt the current too; she could see it in his beautiful grey eyes. "Would it be so hard to kiss me again? For the camera?"

She licked her lips and watched his as he spoke.

"A kiss?"

His palm cupped her cheek. "Maybe some heavy petting. There has to be a room void of cameras that we can escape to… let the person watching wonder."

Oh, she wondered. Wondered what it would feel like in his arms. She'd thought of kissing him again ever since their wedding day.

"What would that prove?" she asked, ignoring how his thumb stroked her cheek and brought erotic images of his hands on other parts of her body.

"It would prove we're intimate, that we enjoy each other outside of the public eye. As long as they think we're oblivious of their surveillance, it should work. What do you say, Samantha? Are you up for the challenge?"

She stopped staring at his lips and found him staring at her. He already knew how to get her riled and ready for a fight. "I'm up for it."

His grin turned into a huge smile. "Atta girl. Now, why don't you have the cook make you breakfast while I try to catch a couple hours sleep. Then we'll take a trip to your place. That should give my men the time they need to find all the bugs."

He dropped his hand to his side and pushed off the bed.

"Blake? What about tomorrow? The next day? How are we going to keep this up for a year?"

"One day at a time, sweetheart. We're two intelligent people with the same goal. We'll figure something out."