Cora tapped her nails on the table and glanced at her watch. Other people were laughing and talking over dinner all around her while her temperature rose. She hated waiting for anyone, and this was more irritating because she was worried about her father. He never ran late. Never. She called his cell and office once more and left another message when he didn’t answer.
Jerry was her only living family member and she knew she worried too much about him. He did the same with her. It’s me and you. That’s what they always said.
Usually she found Dad waiting at a table for her, with dinner ordered and the most expensive bottle wine available ready to serve. Because he had lived most of his life with limited resources, he enjoyed splurging on her. Keith Holloway paid him way more than his accounting job required, but that was something she had been grateful for when they desperately needed the money. That was back when she started college. Now she was a top reporter in the area and making her own money.
I should go. She grabbed her purse and threw a twenty on the table, although she hadn’t ordered anything.
Outside, warm June air washed over her as she walked past the blooming rhododendrons lining the building. The soft breeze brought the relief of escape, as silly as that was. Cora filled her lungs and exhaled, trying to send the stress out with her breath. She’d go home and wait for her dad to call. He’d feel horrible for making her worry, and that dissolved any lingering anger.
Summer had exploded into full bloom, turning her home in central Oregon into a paradise. The sweet smell of flowers and freshly cut grass filled the air.
“Cora Evans?” A voice from behind stopped her as she pushed the unlock button for her red Miata. She turned and found a tall man watching her with intense, rich hazel eyes, set in a chiseled face. He was more than handsome with lighter than expected eyes. His dark hair looked almost too long. Almost.
They stared at each other like teenagers going on their first date, both trying not to smile. It was that perfect moment when you catch a stranger’s eye and share a second of blatant appreciation for each other. But this wasn’t a passing look on the street. He wanted something.
A sportscaster? Then again, not everyone worked in her industry. And what did it matter what he did, when he was focusing on her like he’d found the lost city of Atlantis?
She couldn’t look away, either, even while she felt her body temperature rising.
“Miss Evans?” He raised one eyebrow as he waited for her to answer. She managed to pull her eyes away from his face to his striking blue dress shirt long enough to collect herself.
“Yes?” Cora hesitated, looking up again and drowning in his warm hazel eyes. Almost by habit, she took a mental picture of the man, and didn’t mind the chore at all. She kept a detached gaze and took in his surprised eyes, full lips, and bronze complexion.
Oh, he’s a model! He wanted some press.
Strangely enough, he acted as mesmerized as she felt.
“I didn’t expect . . .” He searched for the words to finish his sentence, but by now the pause had grown too long to cover.
“You didn’t expect me?” she asked, amused. The semi-sharp angles on his clean-shaven face gave him a determined, focused look, and those eyes were focused on her like he’d never seen a woman before.
Now he could be amused because his words put a rose blush on her cheeks. She had no idea of how to answer that, unless she wanted to say, “Are you busy tonight?”
Wow. After an hour of staring at each other over dinner, maybe she’d let him steal a kiss. They could take a walk and visit the park where he could gaze into her eyes, tell her how beautiful she was, and ever so slowly lean in for a kiss. He’d pretend to be shy, of course, but knowing. She could picture his bedroom eyes and the unspoken question…
Wait! She needed to figure out where on earth her father had gone.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to embarrass you, or scare you just then, but I needed to let you know your father couldn’t meet you tonight.”
Then why didn’t he call? And who are you?
“You know my father?” she asked out loud. He didn’t answer her question, and Cora wondered if he preferred for her to stare at him and forget she asked. His sure, sweet smile made her want to smile back at him, but she dug down deep for some self control. Something was off here. Finally, she said, “I don’t believe I’ve met you before.”
He flashed a smile, a bright, friendly and sexy-as-all-get-out smile.
“No, you haven’t. I’m Nick.” He extended his hand, and she hesitated, but then shook hands. They didn’t shake, just firmly held on for a quick minute. “I just stopped by to let you know your father’s tied up at work.”
She spent hours interviewing people and practicing active listening and eye contact. So why did this feel so awkward?
“I tried to call him.” How ridiculous. Why did her father send a stranger to relay the message? Anything to do with Jerry’s work and Keith Holloway got questions running through her mind. People throughout the city applauded Keith as a hero for donating money in all the right places, but she just didn’t trust the Holloways.
Her reporter skills kicked in even while she laughed inwardly. Not everything was a scandal waiting to happen.
She asked, “Why didn’t my dad just call me?”
With an overly helpful expression, he said, “He’s busy at the moment.”
He’s lying. But why? Three facts intrigued Cora: the man’s hesitance, his good looks, and the fact that she had never met him or heard her father mention him. Nick… the name didn’t ring a bell at all. She wanted to know more, but at the same time she felt the need to get out of there.