She dove for a vacated seat at Gate 3.
The harried woman who’d gathered her case to leave said seat shot Annie Holt an irate glare. Offering a sickly grin, Annie slid in sideways and hugged the pet carrier closer to her chest. All she got for her troubles was a grunt when her computer bag connected with the passenger next to her. Okay, so she wasn’t making any friends today.
Seriously, what did the woman expect? A fight for space was happening here. Even this podunk airport resembled a sardine can during the Christmas season. Only another hour remained until her flight, but she’d be damned if she moved from this spot.
A scarcely audible whine rose from the carrier she set at her feet.
Tink, her sweet puppy.
Annie unzipped the opening enough to insert her hand. With a gentle rub of her fingers on Tink’s silky chest, she whispered, “Please don’t have to pee. I just snagged this spot.”
The poor wee thing eyed the throng of people hovering around them. An ant in the land of yetis. Now her anxiety made sense.
“I know, sweetie. Crowds make me nervous, too.”
Rebelling against the airline’s rules, Annie opened the top of the carrier.
Tink’s blond head popped out to survey their surroundings.
“Not long now, and we’ll be on our way to the Keys. You’re going to love the beach, you know.” In an attempt to soothe, Annie continued the stroking motion. “Those seagulls and sandpipers aren’t going to stand a chance. You’ll give them all what for.”
Tink turned her goofy canine grin on Annie.
“I can see that makes you happy, you beastie.”
The single sharp bark pulled a chuckle from her. Her fur baby never failed to make her laugh.
Pure love swelled inside her for the little blond fluff ball. They’d bonded over the last nine months—two lost souls in need of companionship. Her fuzzy soulmate. The only soulmate Annie was likely to have, if her history was any indication.
Lifting the soft-sided cage, she dropped a kiss on Tink’s black-tipped nose, and in return, Tink’s abnormally long tongue swiped her chin and ended on her mouth. Annie giggled and rubbed the spot with her shirtsleeve.
Right when she would’ve mock-scolded her pup about trying to slip her tongue, a tingling started at the base of her spine.
She was being watched.
Off to one side, resting his shoulder against a pillar and observing their interaction, was a lone man. The vast expanse of his chest was emphasized by his arms crossed in front. His pose screamed casual.
He was in no way casual.
His gaze sharpened, and he eased upright.
Caught by his intense spark, a shiver of awareness coursed through her.
His stare locked with hers.
Though travelers darted between them on their way to and fro, Annie was unable to break her odd connection with the stranger. Enthralled. It was the only possible excuse for her temporary paralysis.
Reality came crashing back in the form of a woman’s booted heel connecting with the top of her foot, and Annie let out a muffled yelp.
Sonofabitch, that hurt!
She jerked and fumbled Tink’s carrier, barely managing to keep it from falling off her lap.
Mindful of the increasing crowd, she placed her laptop and the soft-sided carrier between her feet, then scooted to the edge of the chair to hunch over, protecting her two most precious possessions. A shadow fell over her, and Annie threw her hands out, prepared to defend her pup from another accident-intent tourist.
But it was her newest obsession, and he squatted down on his haunches to point at Tink.
“What kind of dog is it?” His voice was deep with a whole heap of sin.
Every cell in Annie’s body woke up and took note.
His questioning eyes were green with flecks of amber and brown, framed by thick, dark lashes that shouldn’t have existed on someone with his light coloring. Tiny lines bracketed either side, indicating he smiled or laughed frequently.
Finding her wits was a chore, but she finally managed. “Morkie.” His frown prompted her explanation. “A mix of Maltese and Yorkshire Terrier.”
“Never heard of that breed.”
The barest hint of a Southern drawl did strange things to Annie’s internal wiring, short-circuiting the pathways between her brain and mouth. She gnawed her lip to contain a girly sigh.
“May I?” he asked with a half smile.
Hell, yes! Anything he wanted. Any way he wanted.
The tilt of his head and raised eyebrows suggested she’d taken too long to respond. What had he asked? Tink barked, and Annie was reminded of his initial question. She sighed, happy her bestie had her back.
“Of course.” Did she gush? God, she hoped not. At thirty-three, gushing like a schoolgirl was frowned upon in at least one hundred and ninety of the one hundred and ninety-five countries of the world.
Strong, capable hands reached for Tink, and Annie shoved aside a twinge of jealousy. He found the perfect spot behind the pup’s ear, and her ecstatic face had Annie longing to trade places with her.
The stranger had an artist’s hands. Long, graceful fingers with calloused tips.
He played guitar and fairly frequently.
Annie knew a musician’s hands when she saw them.
The man grinned up at her. A wide, generous smile with startlingly white teeth. The average Joe didn’t have a mouth like that. Nor did the average Joe inspire a woman to write sonnets and draw hearts in place of the dots over her I’s. But this man did.
Being in the presence of all that yumminess made her overly warm. That’s when recognition hit and heart failure threatened.
“You’re Quinn Jensen!”
All signs of friendliness abruptly disappeared. To see his open, animated face lose its heart-stopping smile was a crime against humanity. Fame had drawbacks. And as one of America’s leading action stars, he must be recognized nearly everywhere.
The teen sprawled beside her had his earbuds jammed inside his ear canals and was preoccupied with an app on his phone.
She released a relieved breath and grabbed Quinn’s forearm. A current of awareness shot through her.
This man would be important in her life.
He jerked as if she’d shocked him.
She damned well shocked herself, too.
His wary, cold expression screamed for her to back the hell off. She’d spooked him and not just with the thick current of energy that transferred between them, but more likely because he was a famous actor and some strange woman had latched onto him.
“I’m sorry. I…” How could she reassure him her blunder had been an accidental slip of the tongue? That she had no intention of announcing who he was to the whole airport?
A slight tip of his head acknowledged he got her message. Reaching into his duffle bag, he pulled a ball cap out and crammed it low on his head.
“I really am sorry,” she whispered.
He opened his mouth to respond, but whatever he’d intended to say was cut off by the approach of a tall, leggy blonde.
Crikey! The woman’s legs had to be longer than Annie’s entire body. Because her mother had always told her never to hate, she quelled that particular emotion. Instead, she settled on intense dislike.
Since the man was Quinn Jensen, the clinging vine had to be Hailey Newberry. They’d been linked as a couple for ages. As he moved away with Hailey attached to his arm, octopus-style, the woman whispered something in his ear. Quinn glanced back and gave Annie a long look before turning to Hailey with a comment that caused her to smirk triumphantly.
Their whole exit scene made Annie feel about three inches tall. She shifted her attention to Tink, and the pup’s sympathetic expression made her downright irritable. Not for the first time, she wondered if the dog wasn’t a human trapped in a canine body. An empath, like her, but covered in fur.
After the abrupt departure of Quinn’s overpowering presence, she slowly counted to ten, sensing them move farther away, since she refused to look in their direction again. There was only so much humiliation a person could suffer.
To kill time and try her best not to appear pathetic, Annie pulled out her laptop and continued work on her newest client’s ancestry chart. Delving into the past was always a good distraction. Genealogy had been her anchor for as long as she could remember. Because it was her job, she didn’t have to feel guilty when she did a deep dive.
This time, however, her work couldn’t provide the distraction she needed, and her thoughts returned to Quinn Jensen again and again. To the feeling she’d had that they were somehow connected on a weird, cosmic level.
That man had some incredible genetics. Ugh! Why did she have to go there? Maybe she needed to get laid. During the last two years of her marriage, her only choices had been to turn to her battery-operated boyfriend or go without. Christ, that should’ve told her something was off in her relationship. Who goes without sex for two years running?
Apparently not Charlie!
He’d been getting his rocks off—only not with Annie.
She’d always been a glutton for punishment and had stupidly ignored the warning signs. Her convoluted thinking made her believe she could reconnect and fix their marriage. She’d been wrong. Again.
Speaking of being a glutton for punishment…
Giving into the temptation to peek again, Annie lifted her gaze to the first man to stir her juices in what was tantamount to forever. He sat in the front row at the terminal next to hers, chatting with Hailey.
What she wouldn’t give for one night with him!
Annie snorted. Half the women on the planet had probably thought the same thing.
Quinn chose that precise moment to look up. Whatever he saw—most likely her undeniable lust—caused him to pause mid-conversation. In spite of an embarrassed flush, no doubt making her appear like a boiled lobster, she wasn’t able to break eye contact.
It seemed he couldn’t, either.
For the longest moment, their gazes remained locked. There was a wealth of unspoken thoughts hidden behind the fact they were strangers and the politeness attached to it. If he’d been single, would he have approached her for her number? Probably not. He didn’t seem the type, and he had his fame to consider. Would the average woman want the man or the celebrity?
For Annie, the answer was simple. She wanted the man. The status attached to him held no appeal.
Hailey put a stop to their staring contest when she snapped her fingers in front of his face.
Quinn must have thought so too, based on the irritated look he gave her.
Kick that bitch to the curb, Annie mentally projected.
A dark frown formed, and he cast one last quizzical glance in her direction.
Prodded to wickedness by the devil on her shoulder, she grinned and winked.
Quinn’s mouth fell open.
Why the hell she’d done that was beyond her. But damned if it wasn’t funny. It took every ounce of willpower not to laugh aloud. Turning to check on Tink, she noted the look of approval. When Tink offered up a happy bark, Annie chuckled.
A quick check of her watch showed she still had roughly a half hour until boarding. Enough time to delve into a few online resources before they would announce her flight. Clicking open her three favorite websites, she struck a gold mine of information. Finding records for this particular client was going to be a piece of cake.
In the midst of creating a spreadsheet, an icy blast hit her. The hair on the nape of Annie’s neck stood at attention, and everything within her stilled. Whipping her head up, it became apparent why the warning hit so fast and furiously. Dark-gray auras encapsulated a good ninety percent of the passengers around her.
Mouth desert dry, she surged to her feet, barely catching her laptop before it impacted the floor. She spun in a slow circle, trying to determine the threat, to see if something inside the building would capture her attention.
Another flash of premonition came and went.
Time was of the essence.
After tucking her laptop in her bag, she swung it over her shoulder and clutched the pet carrier to her chest. A third chill—this one of epic proportions—slammed into her, jerking her body.
A picture of the imminent disaster flashed in her mind.
“Run! Run!” She backed away, furiously working the zipper on Tink’s carrier and continuing to scream. “Get away from these gates!”
Full-on panic hit, and she could scarcely inhale enough air to speak again.
The strangers around her were all going to die if they remained where they were. Yet there they sat, staring at her like she was bat-shit crazy. Perhaps on a normal day she might be, but not today. Right now, she needed to get everyone away from the oncoming danger.
Her gaze shot to Quinn.
“Move! Now!” she yelled at him.
Maybe it was the fact he’d seen her before she flipped out—when she’d been somewhat reserved—but he jumped up. He took three steps forward, only halting when two security agents rushed to restrain her.
“You have to move,” she stressed to him, ignoring the manhandling agents. “It’s going to crash into these gates.”
She cast a desperate glance at Hailey, hoping to find support there. The other woman was frozen in place, staring at Annie like she was an escapee from an asylum for the criminally insane.
Frustration for their inaction choked her as rough hands grabbed either arm and the security staff attempted to usher her away. Annie fought like a madwoman. Tugging, pulling, and straining like hell to break their grasp.
“No! No! You have to listen!”
Gates 3 and 4 would bear the brunt of the impact. A good portion of the passengers took her warning seriously enough to grab their items and distance themselves from the terminal. Others sat, watching her like she was brainsick.
“Goddammit! Why won’t you people listen? Please… please!”
As security became more aggressive, so did her dog. Not wanting to hurt Tink, who was snarling and snapping like she was rabid, Annie stopped fighting. As they led her away, she glanced back one last time.
Quinn had moved back to the seat he’d vacated, but he half turned to cast her a troubled look. She met his concerned eyes with a silent, mental plea. While his aura now appeared less gray in color than the others, she had no doubt he, too, was going to suffer a life-threatening injury or worse. Unable to see that beautiful star extinguished, she ducked and twisted her way to freedom.
Annie rushed toward Quinn, and he—for God only knew what reason—met her halfway. She dumped the carrier in his arms and forcefully pushed him toward the security team.
Then Annie, in a dumbass heroic move that should only be reserved for the big screen, rushed to save his girlfriend.
The high-pitched whine of an engine signaled she was out of time. The small commuter plane she’d briefly glimpsed in her mind’s eye was mere seconds from crashing through the northernmost wall.
When the other passengers finally registered their danger, chaos ensued.
Annie jerked Hailey by the arm and tried to flee, but the woman pulled away to go back for her bag. The tidal wave of people knocked Annie into Hailey, sending the two of them tumbling to the ground.
Dear God, what had she done?
She’d probably forfeited her own life to save a woman who wouldn’t do the same for her. Another flash of premonition hit, and she knew she had to protect Hailey for a very different reason.
They never managed to regain their feet, and Annie gator-rolled them closer to the row of chairs, sprawling across Hailey. A quick search for Quinn showed him struggling to get to them. A salmon battling his way upstream. And he no longer held Tink’s carrier!
Annie’s throat tightened.
Where was her baby? Being trampled to death?
Just over the pounding pulse in her ears and the deafening din of screaming passengers, she could discern a dog’s anxious yelping. Her desire to find Tink and protect her from the stampeding crowd made her heartsick.
Unable to fight against the onslaught of people trying to make good their escape, Quinn was swept backward. No help was coming from his direction, and saving Hailey was all on Annie.
The floor-to-ceiling windows made a loud popping noise, shattering into millions of tiny shards as the plane created its own entrance into the airport. The craft’s nose breaching the exterior of the building was the last thing Annie saw as a beam slammed into the back of her head just as she was scrambling up to get to her dog.
Trace Montgomery hovered by Annie Holt’s bed and bore witness when she woke disoriented, with no little amount of anxiety. The monitor, with its already sharp beeping, pinged its annoying tones faster as her heartbeat escalated.
“Annie, I’m Dr. Montgomery. I need you to stay calm.” He placed a hand on each of her shoulders, pinning her to the bed. “You were in an accident at the airport, but you’re okay now.”
“Tink! Where’s Tink?”
Annie’s blood pressure shot to stroke level, and Trace swore under his breath, hoping like hell Tink wasn’t a nickname for a missing child. A panicked mother would be impossible to control.
“Who’s Tink?” he asked soothingly.
“My dog,” she croaked, then moaned. “I have to find her.”
With little regard for those trying to help her, Annie tore at the leads attached to her, then fought him as he tried to restrain her. It hadn’t yet registered with her that she was immobile from the waist down.
Trace hollered for assistance, taking a precious moment to press the call button.
Having dealt with irrational patients before, one of the night nurses rushed in and inserted a sedative into Annie’s IV. Less than a minute later, sleepiness overtook her, and once again, she drifted toward forgetfulness, much to Trace’s relief.
His own breathing was labored due to the tussle. Who knew such a little woman could fight like a warrior? Especially fresh out of surgery.
As he watched her a moment longer to ensure she was well and truly sedated, he noticed tears seep from the corner of her eyes. Her lips barely moved as she tried to speak.
He leaned closer.
“Tink, I’m so sorry. My baby. I’m so sorry.” She repeated it like a mantra as her eyes shifted behind her lids.
Trace strongly suspected she wasn’t going to rest until she had her pet back, and he heaved a tired sigh. The day had already been brutal, and it was about to get worse. He’d come in to see if she was awake and speak to her regarding her emergency procedures, and instead, he’d gotten one more thing added to his to-do list—find Tink.
Stuffing down his irritation, he strode to the nurses station and addressed the second-shift staffers.
“Will the three of you make some phone calls? See if anyone found a dog from the airport accident. The security office at the airport, the humane society, and the local emergency vets would be the best places to start.” He ticked each potential location off on his fingers as he spoke. “Odds are if it was traveling in a carrier, it couldn’t have been too large. Probably less than ten pounds.”
The head of his team looked at him like he’d lost his mind, and he couldn’t blame her. But luckily, Monica was trained well enough to not say a word. As she pivoted to go, he called her back.
“They found Annie Holt’s computer bag close to her, and it’s stored in her room. Check for a cellphone. She may have a picture of the dog. If it’s an iPhone, bring it to me. We’ll use her thumb or facial recognition to unlock it.” He smiled to soften his request. “If it’s not, one of you will need to tell me how to unlock the damned thing. If necessary, we’ll create flyers.”
Trace returned to Annie’s room for one last check and, seeing she was no less agitated, patted her shoulder. “Don’t worry. I have everyone making calls, Annie. We’ll find Tink.”
His words seemed to penetrate her medicated haze, and she calmed marginally. The tears stopped flowing as fast, and the frantic side-to-side motion of her eyes beneath her lids stilled. Her murmured “thank you” surprised him. She’d been given the equivalent of a horse tranquilizer, and she shouldn’t have been coherent, in the least. But unexplainable circumstances happened every day in his chosen profession.
“You’re welcome. Now, for your sake and mine, get some rest. Okay?”
Trace departed to follow up on the other victims. He wondered, not for the first time, how the hell a plane had crashed into the terminal of their small airport. Freak accidents like that didn’t happen in Sagefield. In the end, he shook it off. Not his mystery to solve. He’d just pulled a double and was bone-weary. And right then, he had more pressing matters.
The movie star’s girlfriend being a primary concern.
As he entered Hailey’s room, Trace noticed Quinn Jensen dozing in the visitor’s chair beside the bed. The actor was haggard looking, and his lips were tight as if he were struggling with pain. As hard as he tried, Trace couldn’t wrap his mind around the fact the guy was here, in his hospital. One would assume celebrities of Quinn’s caliber resided in Hollywood or somewhere other than a rural North Carolina town. His presence was bound to cause an uproar and be fodder for the gossip mill for months to come. Trace could only hope like hell it wouldn’t interfere with the well-oiled machine that he’d created.
“Mr. Jensen,” he called softly to wake him. When Quinn’s lids fluttered open, Trace said, “I’m Dr. Montgomery, Chief of Surgery. We met earlier, but things were a bit chaotic in the trauma center.”
“Yes, I remember. Have Hailey’s test results come back yet?”
“The ER doctor ran a CT scan and had imaging take X-rays of her spine. We’re waiting for the radiologist to make sure nothing was missed and there’s no extensive damage. But the initial readings are normal.” Quinn opened his mouth to protest, and Trace held up a hand. “Because her primary injury was to her head, I requested a neuro consult. I imagine Dr. Adams will want another round of scans if she doesn’t wake soon.”
As Quinn absorbed all the information, Trace absently watched him. The actor had the type of rugged good looks that appealed to most: strong jaw, thick blond hair, and piercing moss-green eyes. Quinn was also a man’s man. The perfect action hero. And although Trace had seen more than one of his films and enjoyed them immensely, he was able to separate the person from the movie star. Right at the moment, the guy looked pretty fucking rough. He was a human being in need of care.
“You look exhausted, Mr. Jensen. Why don’t you take a break, go down to the ER, and get that arm examined? You’ve been sitting here in pain for hours, and there is nothing more you can do for your fiancée.”
“What if she wakes up?” Quinn’s voice was hoarse with emotion, as if he feared she wouldn’t.
“In that event, I’ll send a nurse for you immediately.” Trace always chose his words with care. The rule of thumb was never to promise when but never discourage with an if. He didn’t want to upset a patient’s loved ones, and he certainly wouldn’t reveal that Hailey should’ve woken up by now. Not without more tests.
But Quinn was quick to pick up on the dodge. Cutting him a sharp look, he pounced. “In that event? You don’t expect her to wake up?”
“That’s not what I meant at all, Quinn.” First names sometimes soothed people, and that’s what Trace hoped would happen by addressing him informally. “Let’s not jump to conclusions. Once I get the neuro results, I’ll have more to go on. When I know anything, you’ll know. Fair enough?”
Quinn rose, nodded once, and leaned in to drop a kiss on Hailey’s cheek. As he shuffled toward the door, he paused and turned back. “There was a tiny dark-haired woman brought in about the same time as Hailey. She warned… she...” He cleared his throat. “She tried to help everyone get away before… Do you know what happened to her? Is she okay?”
Trace recalled hearing the story of how Annie Holt had thrown herself on top of Hailey in an effort to save her. Her heroic actions had cost her greatly, though he wasn’t at liberty to say. “Ms. Holt sustained serious injuries, but she’s holding her own.” Trace checked Hailey’s vitals as he spoke. “Annie was in distress over her missing dog. I’m fearful it didn’t survive the crash.”
“Actually, it did. I forgot about it until now.”
“I’ve got a few of my staff making calls to find it. I wasn’t hopeful, but perhaps we’ll get lucky and find out what happened to it. God, I hope it isn’t one of those yappy, frufru dogs with a name like Tink.”
His groan earned a weary smile from Quinn.
“No, she’s actually a sweet pup. She went a bit crazy during all the chaos, but she’s fine. I had my brother pick her up and take her to a local vet for a thorough check.” He looked uncomfortable for a second. “Um, can you tell me her room number? Annie, did you say her name was? I’d like to thank her for what she tried to do and let her know her dog’s okay. Is she allowed visitors?”
Trace watched him, trying to determine if he should go against hospital privacy policies, then made an impulsive decision. The woman hadn’t had any visitors in the hours since she was admitted, and the man did have her dog. She’d need someone to lift her spirits during the recovery process. Who better than a famous actor?
“Two-fifty-six. Here in the ICU, three doors down on the right. But she’s sleeping, so get checked out first.”
“Yes, sir.” He had the feeling Quinn would have mockingly saluted if he wasn’t so exhausted and wounded, to boot.
Trace narrowed his eyes. “I mean it. Arm first. Visit after.”
The second time Annie woke up, she was quicker to acclimate to her surroundings and took a mental inventory of her body. Not one area wasn’t going to be covered in bruises, and although the mind-numbing pain medication helped, she still felt as if she’d taken on a semi-truck and lost.
One persistent thought permeated her brain fog. Tink had survived. Their connection was too strong for her to be wrong. But what had become of her fur baby was the question of the hour, and Annie’s heart ached that, for now, she was lost to her. What if she’d been taken to the pound? All those heart-wrenching songs from ASPCA commercials flitted through her mind, and she pictured Tink in a cage, scared and feeling abandoned. The image was sobering and jolted Annie fully awake.
A low vibration hummed through her veins, making her aware of the other presence in the room. The pulse of this particular person was similar to a small electrical jolt. Moving her head was a supreme effort, but she managed to shift enough to see a dark silhouette in her visitor’s chair.
“The hero of the hour finally wakes.” Quinn Jensen’s voice was like warm Mexican chocolate—just plain yummy with the perfect hint of spice. She could drink it in all day and night.
She blinked. Then blinked a second time and went for a third just to be on the safe side. Yep, he was really in her room. There was no blaming the drugs for a fantasy come to life.
Her hoarse “hi” was barely discernible to the human ear, but it was all she could manage while her ego mocked her about looking her absolute worst in front of her Hollywood crush. She wanted to yell at her inner voice to shut the hell up, but Quinn probably already thought she was a bit of a loon. Talking to herself around a witness would land her in a straightjacket.
Absently, she noted his sling and the few minor cuts on his face. It was doubtful they’d leave any lasting marks, but really, any small scaring would only add to the megastar’s appeal. He was sex on a stick and likely knew it.
“How... how’s your girlfriend?” she whispered, then winced, reaching for her sore throat.
“Alive, thanks to you. No internal injuries, but she hasn’t woken up yet.” Quinn rose from his seat, picked up a cup of ice from her tray table, and held it up as an offering. At her slight nod, he shifted the cup to his injured arm and spooned a few chips into her waiting mouth.
“First, let me start by saying your dog is at a local animal clinic to get checked out.”
Tears burned behind her lids as she closed her eyes against the punch of relief.
“Thank you,” she croaked. “I was so worried.”
“You entrusted her to me. The least I could do was make sure she was taken care of.”
Entrusted seemed tame. She’d practically broken his freaking ribs when she shoved the carrier into his hands at the airport.
As he spooned more ice chips into her mouth, he grimaced and shot her a guilty look. One she immediately recognized as feigned.
“You should also know I broke protocol and spoke with the nursing staff earlier. Seems you’re pretty busted up. A nasty concussion, a fractured vertebrae, a broken hip and leg, a few cracked ribs, a collapsed lung, and a sprained wrist. You were in surgery for quite a long time.” He spooned more ice into her waiting mouth. “They told me you were lucky. Apparently, the row of chairs next to you and Hailey took the brunt of the beam.” His warm grin caused her heart to stutter. “If you’re curious how Nurse Rachel knew, she heard it from the ER staff, who heard it from the first responders.”
“It’s called the triangle of life.” She ran a tongue over her chapped lips. “I read about it once. If you’re ever in a room with a collapsing wall or ceiling, you should try to stay next to the furniture. It provides a triangle of space and can come in handy for survival.”
Cripes! Hating that she’d just word vomited all over him, she clamped her mouth shut and grimaced.
Eyes sparkling with humor, his engaging grin widened. Had she been any less sedated, her heart rate would’ve spiked, setting off alarms and bringing the hospital staff at a run.
“That’s a handy fact to know.”
“I’m full of random factoids.” With an attempt at a smile, she accepted another ice chip and chose to ignore the humiliating image of herself with her mouth open, looking like a baby bird waiting for a worm. Thinking about Quinn’s worm would get her in a lot of trouble.
“Why did you do it, Annie? You could have easily made it to safety. And how the hell did you know it was going to happen in the first place?”
Unable to meet his disturbingly hypnotic eyes, she gazed out the window. Night had fallen, and the glass reflected Quinn’s image back to her. He seemed everywhere at once and all-too-powerful a presence. She sighed.
“I couldn’t trust anyone else to react in time. No offense, but you were still trying to process what was happening with the security team and me. And as far as the premonition I had, I don’t know exactly how to explain it.”
“Try,” he encouraged, feeding her another ice cube.
If he had been demanding or sounded skeptical, she would’ve told him to screw himself, but his curiosity was genuine, his caring real. Oddly, she felt she owed him an answer, but oh, how she hated describing her ability. “Again, I don’t know how to explain in terms that won’t make me sound batshit crazy, but—”
Two plainclothes officers walked in, cutting her off before she began. They were followed by a doctor who looked vaguely familiar.
A glance at his badge told her he was Dr. Trace Montgomery. For the life of her, she couldn’t place him, but his mannerisms reminded her of someone she knew. Probably when she was less sedated and her brain was working at full function, she’d be able to recall exactly who.
The older of the two policemen stepped forward. His buzzed hairstyle did nothing to hide his balding head. Rotund, his gut hung low over his belt and jiggled with each step he took.
“Dude could stand to lay off the donuts.”
Shocked gasps and a choked laugh echoed around her, and Annie could’ve cheerfully bitten off her damned tongue.
Heat infused her face.
“I’m sorry. I…”
What could she say? She wasn’t mean by nature, and who didn’t carry a few extra pounds around the middle? She certainly wasn’t one to judge because she loved donuts and baby had back of her own. But the officer’s edgy, cynical vibe had instantly gotten her back up. His irritated visage screamed he didn’t want to be there and talking to her was beneath him. His pissy mood, combined with Annie’s highly effective pain medication, had lowered her inhibitions and was likely to plunge her into hot water in short order. Again.
Expression a mask of pure pique, the senior of the two cops glared. “Ms. Holt, I’m Officer Fields, and my partner is Officer Reynolds. We need to ask you a few questions.”
Fucking great. She’d have no choice but to explain her freakish gift when all she wanted to do was crawl into a hole and hide until she was allowed to go home.
Dr. Montgomery was quick to tell her she only had to answer if she was feeling up to it.
“It’s fine. I don’t mind,” she lied—badly. Annie took a few shallow breaths to stave off her building anxiety. Anything more, and she’d cry from the unpleasant pressure building in her chest. She hadn’t noticed it before, but then again, Quinn Jensen was a superb distraction.
Reynolds looked at Fields, who shrugged as if he didn’t give a shit that she couldn’t breathe. Hell, they probably didn’t know about her cracked ribs and hadn’t cared enough to ask. They had a job to do, and her welfare didn’t play into it.
The sharp rush of hurt threatened Annie’s emotional well-being, and she closed her lids against the onslaught of tears. The mildly nagging pain throughout her body had turned excruciating and was making itself known. She shifted as much as her injuries allowed and tried to relax as Fields fired off questions. Most of her answers were an easy yes or no, but the tough part came all too soon.
“Ms. Holt, exactly how did you know the plane was heading for your terminal so long before it was visible? I mean, that was what your warning was about, right?”
The silence was drawn out and awful as they waited for Annie to answer.
Quickly summing up each person in the room, she attempted to get a feel for how they’d react. Fields would be disbelieving. Dr. Montgomery would be slightly less skeptical but still wont to doubt her sanity. Reynolds might be more open to her ability, though. Fresh faced and young, his golden-brown eyes held professional curiosity. As for Quinn, well, he would be forced to believe, wouldn’t he? As a witness to the crash and ensuing madness, he didn’t have much choice.
“A premonition.” A small kernel of gratification popped inside her when she saw she’d been correct in her initial estimations.
“A premonition? That’s what you are going with?” Fields sneered with an exaggerated lip curled like a Vegas Elvis.
She flinched. Drugged as she was, she found it difficult to shrug off his animosity.
“Yep. That’s what I am going with,” she retorted flippantly.
Rarely did she let it be known what she could do, but whatever they’d dosed her with had effectively eliminated her natural reserve. With the sure knowledge it would make them all uncomfortable—herself included—she confessed, “I’m an empath with occasional psychic visions.”
“An empath?” Reynolds questioned. Avid interest transformed his expression, and he leaned slightly forward as if to learn more. His curiosity earned him a scathing look from his partner.
“What the hel… ahem, what’s an empath?” Fields snapped the question.
Annie paused a few heart-pounding beats. The intense regard of all four men was like a heavy weight around her shoulders, and the urge to squirm was strong. Their interview was about to take a turn for the ugly, and she didn’t know how to stop it. Or even if she cared to at that moment.
She closed her eyes. Even groggy, the caress of the doctor’s protective concern brushed along her nerve endings. When she lifted her lids, she gave him a half-hearted smile that eased his furrowed brow.
“I’m able to tap into other people’s energy. I can literally feel their emotions and physical ailments.”
Recipient of Fields’s skepticism, she sighed. No one ever took her at face value. Why should they? Even to her, it sounded hokey, but a little demonstration was in order.
“Your right knee aches unbearably. Currently, you’re experiencing a sharp pain just below the kneecap.” Waiting just long enough for the stunned-stupid expression to cross his face, she continued. “Your left knee is sore, too, but in a different way.” She squinted at him as she mentally reached for the source of his pain. “I’m guessing you’ve had knee-replacement surgery on the left and desperately need one on the right. But you’re resistant.”
Moving on from Fields, whose weathered countenance remained frozen in shock, she addressed Reynolds. “Painful urination. Get that one checked since it is accompanied by the itch.” His cherry-red cheeks attested to her accuracy. “Oh, and there’s a strong sense of shame and guilt. I’m going to venture to say one of you is in a relationship.”
A choking sound emanated from Quinn, and Annie didn’t dare risk a glance his way, or she’d likely laugh, inappropriate as it was. After focusing on Dr. Montgomery, the urge to be bitchy died a painful death. Grief flowed through him, hammering at her psyche like forceful storm waves crashing against the shore, eroding the dunes and leaving them hollowed out. His unbearable sense of loss was palpable and destroyed her desire to be catty. She quietly stated she felt his sadness and left him alone.
Finally, she eased her head to the left to look at Quinn. “You want—”
“Enough! We get it.” His tone was diamond hard, but Annie hadn’t expected anything less. It wasn’t difficult to understand why a widely famous person preferred to keep his secrets.
She nodded her understanding, but didn’t look away.
Quinn’s uncompromising, impenetrable face was too fascinating. Too captivating. His expressive eyes too mesmerizing.
The weight of the group’s awkward silence pressed down on her, and still, she couldn’t break the spell he’d cast over her. Eventually, one of the men cleared his throat, and with great effort, Annie tore her gaze from Quinn. Suppressing a fiery blush proved more difficult. Once she realized the men were more embarrassed than she was, she smothered a grin. Causing her visitors to squirm was one of those things that tickled her funny bone. Her sister Sammy would be laughing her ass off right about now.
“Are you a witch?”
Fields’s question would normally have set her off into peals of laughter. Perhaps if she could breathe with any regularity and without a significant amount of added discomfort, she’d have given in to her amusement. As it was, she compressed her lips and avoided eye contact with anyone, lest she lose it.
People justified her abilities in the most rudimentary ways. Not that she often shared what she could do. God, no! It wasn’t fun to be the resident freak. But there were times, like these, when she had no choice. She hesitated to call her ability a gift. Hell, ninety percent of the time, she believed it was a curse.
“No, Officer Fields, I’m not a witch,” she stated succinctly. “Please be sure to tell the townsfolk they can put away their pitchforks and torches.” No one found her as hilarious as she found herself. Again, Sammy would’ve. Oh well, comedians couldn’t win over every crowd, and Annie had never claimed to be a comic. “My ability showed up in early childhood, and I have been dealing with this crap ever since. I am as happy about it as you are.”
Dr. Montgomery brought the conversation back to the original topic of discussion. “How does the premonition part work?” For a man who dealt with science, he would have a hard time swallowing her claim.
She glanced at the cup of ice in Quinn’s hand, longing for more to soothe her parched throat.
Picking up what she was putting down, he offered a spoonful.
Annie gave him a grateful smile.
As she weighed the doctor’s question, the ice melted inside her mouth, and nothing had ever tasted so sweet. All she wanted to do was have Quinn feed her ice chips forever, like a cabana boy with grapes. But the reality was he was only being kind.
“The premonitions,” he reminded her, bringing her mind back from its side trip.
How the hell was she supposed to make them all understand? Half the time, she didn’t.
From nowhere, the echo of Quinn’s softly spoken encouragement flitted through Annie’s mind, and she found the necessary words to explain.
“Energy is a living thing, mostly felt, but it also puts off subtle colors. Each shade is a clear indication of what is currently happening or about to happen in the near future. The auras of the passengers around me were all murky and dark. One or two, I could’ve shrugged off as illness, but wherever I looked, everyone’s was charcoal gray.”
For a split second, she was back at the airport, experiencing the mass terror and the sickening sensation of being snowed under. The complete claustrophobia of that moment was crushing, and she couldn’t seem to catch her breath.
A warm, comforting hand on her forearm pulled her back to the present.
Annie gazed up into Quinn’s concern-filled eyes.
God, she could get lost there.
The energy transference between them was heady. Seductive. Sweet and spicy, with fiery notes. Annie prayed he wasn’t overwhelmed with sudden lust, because he’d likely never understand the burning desire came from her.
Ripping her arm away cost herself dearly. The sharp pain in her ribs and hips was unbearable when she jerked, and she gritted her teeth to hold back a cry. But better to let him think he repelled her than let on to the truth—she wanted to tear the buttons of his shirt off with her teeth. Sniff the delicious column of his muscled neck. Bite him.
Yeah, her and about twenty million other women.
Men that sexy were lethal to a woman’s system. Mainly to her ovaries. Annie’s had woke up and began spewing out eggs like a chicken factory the second they locked eyes across the airport. She was pretty sure she was ovulating, and it wasn’t her scheduled time.
Fields cleared his throat, and his hostile stare had her wracking her brain to remember the conversation. Oh, right! The plane crash.Return to After You