, Book Two
Simone Conners had done some really stupid things in her life, but she was pretty sure what she was currently contemplating topped all of it combined by at least a mile.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we’re about to make our final descent into San Francisco. Please bring your trays and seatbacks into the locked and upright position.”
She shifted in her seat, gripped the armrest, and looked out the plane’s window. A thin layer of fog hugged the coastline, but for once she didn’t care about the incessant cold and perpetual fog on the West Coast. She wanted to get home. She wanted to see Mitch. She wanted to tell him…
Tell him what? Tell him she missed him? That she’d spent the last week thinking about the future? That she was ready for that next step? A wave of nausea washed through her, the same one she’d been dealing with for days, and she pressed a hand against her stomach. The answer to every single one of those questions scared the crap out of her.
“I don’t know what young people are thinking these days,” the white-haired, eighty-something woman seated to Simone’s right muttered as she flipped through a gossip magazine. “Look at this couple here. Divorcing already after only a month. And they’re so attractive. People just don’t commit like they used to. It’s ridiculous. They should just stay single and avoid the whole mess.”
Simone could care less about some Hollywood power couple. Managing a “Hm,” she went back to looking out the window. Her seatmate had talked nonstop through the entire flight from DC, and more than once Simone had cursed herself for forgetting her earbuds, but she’d been too wound up to tell the elderly woman to stop chattering. Because right now, commitment was foremost on her mind.
What if it was too soon? She’d grown complacent, but then…why shouldn’t she? Ten years had passed since her life had been upended, and her husband was now dead. Whatever Steve had been afraid might happen when they were married was no longer a threat. She’d been living half a life since she’d lost him. Wasn’t it time she started living the whole thing? Taking chances? Being happy? Wasn’t that the next step?
Her heart told her it was. But in the back of her mind, she couldn’t stop worrying that if she took that step, if she made that leap of faith, that something would go wrong. And the worst thing she could envision was that in a month from now, Mitch could change his mind about what he wanted. That would kill her more than never taking the risk.
Simone’s chest prickled with a rash of nerves as the city spires grew larger in the window. She didn’t know who’d she’d be today if she hadn’t chosen to run away with Steve, but part of her was thankful she didn’t have to wonder. Because if she hadn’t been that reckless girl she barely even remembered, she’d never have met Steve in the first place. She wouldn’t have her daughter, Shannon, now. She wouldn’t be worrying about a future with a man who made her so crazy sometimes she could barely think straight.
Warmth gathered beneath her ribs and sent that flutter through her belly she felt every time she thought of him.
The woman beside her slapped the magazine closed and sighed as she tugged her glasses off to hang from the chain around her neck. “You’re smart to still be single at your age, young lady. Mark my word. A man will rip your heart out and trample all over it if you let him. These women in this magazine are the perfect example. Better to be savvy, successful, and single rather than miserable with a man who will only disappoint you in the long run.”
Savvy and successful hadn’t done anything but remind Simone just how alone she’d been since her husband’s funeral. Was two and a half years long enough to mourn? What would Shannon think? Simone hadn’t been avoiding relationships since Steve’s death, but she hadn’t been looking for a man either. Mitch Mathews had simply stumbled into her life.
No, whirled into it was more like it. Just like a tornado, sucking up everything around him and drawing it all in, including her.
Tuning out the old woman’s muttering, she closed her eyes as the plane’s wheels touched down. Mitch’s goofy smile flashed in her mind, his shaggy, unkempt hair, and the way he could always make her smile, even when she’d had the day from hell or Shannon was in the midst of one of her preteen tantrums.
That flutter in her stomach grew larger and more insistent.
The plane came to a stop, and a bell dinged, indicating it was okay to get up. Stomach still swirling, Simone gathered her bag, muttered good-bye to the woman next to her as she pushed out of her seat, and reached into the pocket of her slacks for her cell. As she followed the rest of the passengers off the plane and up the Jetway, she turned on her phone and waited for the screen to load.
Four unread messages flashed, the first from the man she’d just been thinking of.
Mitch: You’d better already be on a plane, sweetheart. My hand and I have gotten way too reacquainted during the last week. Get home soon! I promise to make it worth your while.
A wicked-hot sensation rolled through her belly, and a smile spread across her lips. No, he wasn’t the kind of guy who would disappoint her in the long run. She knew it in her heart. He was the kind of guy who could make a woman happy. Blissfully so.
She moved through the terminal and read his next message, telling her he was watching her plane on the airline’s tracking website and couldn’t wait to see her. Who did that? Monitored flights because he was so anxious? Not any guy she’d ever dated. Not even her own husband.
Yards from security, she caught sight of a man with shaggy brown hair, dressed in jeans and a gray sweater, standing on the other side of the glass, holding a handful of flowers. Simone’s pulse picked up speed, and all that excitement she’d tried to keep tamped down rushed in on a wave of emotion that stole her breath.
Her feet picked up speed. She hurried through the security gate only to realize…it wasn’t Mitch.
Her steps drew to a stop. Disappointment dropped her heart into the pit of her stomach. Beside her, a woman squealed, held out her arms, and ran into the man’s waiting embrace.
And in that moment, as Simone watched the romantic reunion, she realized…that was what she wanted. That was how she felt. The disappointment was quickly replaced with a fire that sparked in the center of her chest and spread outward through every limb and vein and cell until her entire body felt alive.
She loved Mitch.
She loved him more than any man she’d ever known, even Steve. This crazy, maddening, spur-of-the-moment man who’d completely flipped her world upside down and inside out and left her so frazzled some days she wanted to scream. She loved him, and she wanted him, even knowing her past might one day come back to bite her in the ass. But for him—for them—she was willing to take that chance.
Her palms grew sweaty. All other thought fled, and her head grew so light, she was afraid it might fly right off her shoulders.
She looked down at the cell phone in her hand, wanting, needing to text him back to tell him that she felt the same way. That she’d missed him more than she ever thought she could, that she was on her way to see him right this very moment…that she couldn’t freaking wait. But before she could hit Reply, her phone buzzed.
Excitement bubbled like champagne in her veins. She fumbled with the phone and pressed it to her ear. “Mitch?”
Silence, then… “No. It’s William Holdt.”
Every cell in Simone’s body went cold. She hadn’t heard that name in years. Hadn’t expected to hear from him in just as long.
Sweat broke out on her forehead, but she worked to keep her voice calm. “Will? This is a surprise.”
“I know.” There was no humor in his voice. No friendliness either. The man who’d been in charge of Steve’s relocation had always been at least cordial. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for them to find out. I made a mistake. I trusted the wrong person. I thought enough time had passed.”
“What are you talking about, Will? Who found out what?”
“They found out where you are.”
All sound vanished. The terminal spun around Simone, travelers brushing by her in a whir. But she didn’t see or hear or feel any of it. All she knew was an icy chill rushing straight down her spine.
“I’m sorry,” Will whispered. “I—”
Distant voices echoed across the line, and Will shouted something, but it was muffled, and Simone couldn’t tell what was going on. Seconds later, a thunk echoed, followed by a grunt and the sound of some kind of commotion.
Fear clamped a frigid hand around Simone’s throat and squeezed. “Will? Talk to me.”
More silence. Her pulse beat fast and hard in her ears as she waited.
Finally, a scraping echoed, followed by Will’s low voice. “If they come for it, don’t give it to them. You remember what I told you, right? Don’t forget it and you’ll be okay.”
The phone clicked dead in her ear.
Simone stared down at the cell in her hand. Disbelief raged like an inferno inside her. Hand shaking, she hit Redial. The line went straight to voice mail.
No, no, no, no, no.
Air clogged in her lungs, and the terminal spun faster until she couldn’t focus on a single thing.
Ten years. She’d gotten sloppy. She’d thought enough time had gone by and that no one would care where she was. That everything she’d gone through had buffered her from the past. But it hadn’t. And now, when she was finally ready to start over with Mitch, that past was finally catching up with her. Threatening her one chance to be truly happy.
Her ten-year-old daughter’s smiling face flashed behind her eyes and brought the spinning terminal to a standstill.
Her feet shuffled forward. One foot in front of the other, slowly at first, then faster until she was darting around passengers, heading for the exit. Only one thought revolved in her mind. Only one thing mattered.
She had to get to Shannon before they did.