Two days later my worst fears happened just like I’d be-lieved, but nothing at all like I was expecting.
I was in the process of leaving Rosario’s after my shift late one night only to be accosted by someone driving a very ex-pensive sports vehicle.
I didn’t need to see the driver’s face to know who it was.
The second Jackson Riley got out of the car and, in his usual manner, all but forced me inside, I knew this: that I wasn’t going to enjoy this conversation any more than I had the last one, but I was just as frightened.
"What do you think you’re doing?" I demanded when he practically picked me up and tossed me inside.
Jackson didn’t answer. He only smiled that little infuriat-ing smile of his that told me absolutely nothing.
I grabbed my purse and found my cell phone. "I’m calling the cops!" I told him, "They have a name for this, you know? It’s called kidnapping and it’s against the law, in case you didn’t realize that."
Again the smile, before he simply took my phone from my hand. "I wouldn’t do that, little bit."
"Don’t call me that! And why shouldn’t I? Are you afraid someone might see the real you behind all of that polished fake charm?" I was hoping at that point for some reaction. I didn’t get it.
"As it happens, I know just about every single person on the Austin police force. Trust me, it wouldn’t turn out the way you’d like it to."
That scared me—actually, everything about this guy had scared me from the second I’d met him, from that kiss the other night right up to this moment and those disturbing words.
"Calm down. I’m taking you to my place, where we can talk in peace. Where you can’t get away," he told me at last and I knew he’d seen how frightened I was.
"I don’t have anything to say to you and I certainly don’t want to hear anything you might think you need to tell me." That sounded just about as childish as I felt at the moment.
But Jackson chose not to acknowledge that little remark. Instead, he concentrated on driving through the deserted streets of one of the most influential sections of Austin.
Figures. Of course this guy would live someplace as overdone as this.
He turned onto a private drive leading up to a house that even from the road I could see was enormous. It sat away from the road against the hills, overlooking the city lights.
As the car drew closer, the lights outside the house came on, illuminating its mass. It was two stories, sprawling along the lines of the hillside almost as if it were part of the land-scape itself. The driveway curved around to the side of the house where Jackson hit a button to open the garage when we got closer.
Once the car was safely tucked away inside, he turned back to me.
"I’m not going in there," I told him with as much false courage as I could manage in the face of the grin. Of course I was—he knew I was. The only question was would I go will-ingly or would he be forced to help. I decided the safest way would be under my own power.
"Good decision," was all he said when he came around to my door and waited for me to get out.
The house was just as impressive on the inside as it was on the outside. In the enormous living room there was a wall of windows that looked out beyond the deck to the city be-low. I knew without even considering it that this place must have cost a fortune. Not that it mattered. He could certainly afford it.
"Would you like something to drink?" That had me for-getting the spectacular view before me and turning back to Jackson who stood just behind me, watching me. Was this guy nuts? I didn’t want to be here at all. He’d brought me here against my will and now he was acting like this was a social visit?
"Why did you bring me here, Mr. Riley?" That was just about all I could manage to get out and not sound scared to death.
"Okay, we’ll do it your way then." He left me standing alone, mouth open from shock, shaking my head. I had no idea what kind of game he was playing, but I suspected I didn’t really want to know either.
When he returned, he was carrying a thick folder in one hand. Even before Jackson Riley spoke, I knew I didn’t want to know what was in that folder.
"You didn’t do like I asked you to, Maggie. Ben is more determined than ever to stay and that’s all because of you." His glance slid over me as if to say he didn’t understand his nephew’s infatuation with me. "The funny thing is when I ask
Ben questions about you, he doesn’t really know anything ex-cept that you have a grandmother somewhere in a small town. That’s strange, don’t you think, considering he’s so enrap-tured with you that he’s willing to give up a very promising future just to stay here with you? You haven’t told him any-thing about yourself, have you?"
I tried without much success to hide my shock as well as that sickening feeling inside at what I knew was coming next. He’d found out all about my past. It was all right there in that little folder. I saw the truth in that triumphant look in his eyes.
"That got me curious," Jackson continued, watching the reactions as they played across my face. Reactions that I couldn’t even begin to hide as each of his words hit me hard. "So I decided to do a little checking up on you. See what you’ve been hiding."
He held the folder up again and I felt my heart strike its usual frantic cadence whenever someone got too close.
I’d never, ever shared anything about my past with Ben, or anyone else for that matter, because I was just too ashamed of it all.
Now this man, the man that I’d been trying to convince myself I hated, knew about my past. That much was evident in the blue eyes that observed me like a predator waiting to de-vour his next victim.
"So you know." I somehow got those words out.
"I know everything. All about your mother—and your past. The real question is why doesn’t Ben? Why haven’t you told him?"
I didn’t bother sticking around to answer that question or to hear anything more that he might have to say. He could do whatever he wanted with the information in that folder as far
as I was concerned. Even use it against me with Ben if he wanted to. I no longer cared.
I started for the door when that very disturbing voice stopped me.
"Where are you going?" Through all the cool unemo-tional, in-control sound of it, I could almost swear there was just a little hint of regret or something bordering on human. But when I turned back to him, my hand still on the door, the look in those cold eyes told me I was wrong. Jackson Riley wasn’t human and I was a liability to him. He couldn’t afford to be human with me.
"I’m leaving, Mr. Riley. Do whatever you want with all of that." I pointed to the folder still in his hand before opening the door. "Because you see, it really doesn’t matter to me what you think of me." And just like that, and I think to his complete surprise, I walked out of his very expensive house and away from Jackson Riley.