The Missing Heir(8)

By: Barbara Dunlop



She tipped her head back to look at him. “And what brought you to Atlanta, Cole Parker?”

He gave a small shrug. “It’s December. Have you seen a weather report for Alaska?”

“Not recently. Maybe never.”

“It’s cold up there.”

“So you’re on vacation?”

“For a few days, yes.”

For the first time, she allowed herself to take a good look at his face. She realized he was an astonishingly handsome man, deep gray eyes, a straight nose, square chin, all topped with thick, dark hair, cut short and neat. She couldn’t detect aftershave or shampoo, but there was something fresh and clean about his scent.

He was probably six-two. His shoulders were square, body fit and trim. And his big, square hands seemed strong and capable where they held her. In a flash, she realized she was attracted to him.

“Amber?” His deep voice startled her. That sound was another thing she liked about him.

“Yes?”

“I asked if there was anything in particular we should see.”

Had he? How had she missed that?

She quickly corralled her thoughts. “The botanical gardens are beautiful. Or you can do outdoor ice-skating. My favorite is Atlantic Station. A little shopping, a little Christmas-light gazing, some hot chocolate.” She couldn’t help thinking about Zachary and the Christmas events he might enjoy as he got older.

She’d easily come to love seeing him every day. He was a bit fussy in the evenings, but the poor little guy had been through a lot. His mother and father were both gone, and he had no way of knowing why it was happening.

She was doing her best to substitute. And she’d wrapped her head around the possibility of raising a baby. Though she couldn’t yet imagine her life with a child, a school-age child, then a teenager, then a young man. When she thought that far ahead, she feared she wasn’t capable of pulling it off. But she knew she had to come through for him. She was all he had.

She felt a sudden urge to rush home and hold him in her arms, reassure him that she’d figure it out.

“Are we close to the exit?” she asked Cole, thinking she could slip out and get herself home.

“I’ll dance you over there,” said Cole. “Tired?”

“Partly. But this isn’t exactly my thing.”

“I thought the über-rich thrived on fresh crab, Belgian torte and champagne.”

“I’m not über-rich.” Though she could understand how he would make that mistake. Lately, everybody seemed to assume that guardianship of Zachary made her an instant billionaire. It was far more complicated than that.

“Right,” he drawled.

She didn’t want to have this debate. “Thank you for the dance, Cole.”

His expression turned serious. “I did it again, didn’t I? Stuffed my foot in my mouth?”

“Not at all. I am tired, and I really appreciate you escorting me across the ballroom. It was going to take hours at the rate I was going.”

“I’ll get you to the front doors,” he offered.

“That’s not necessary.”

“It’s my pleasure.” His hand dropped to the small of her back. “I’ll glower at anyone who tries to talk to us along the way.”

She couldn’t help but smile at that. And, to be truthful, it did seem like a prudent course of action. The lobby and foyer were full of people. Her name and face had been in the news for the past three weeks, so she was easily recognized.

“Then, thank you,” she told him.

“Let’s go.”

He picked up the pace, drawing her across the mezzanine floor lobby and down two sets of elevators. People stared as they passed but didn’t approach them. For a fleeting moment, she wondered if he’d consider a permanent gig as her escort. This was certainly more pleasant than her trek into the event.

“The doorman will get me a cab,” she told Cole as they came to the glass front.

“No need. I have a car right here.”

“Cole—”

“And a driver,” he finished, moving through the front door. “I’m not plotting to get you alone. I’ll get you home safe and sound, nothing else.”

As she stepped onto the sidewalk, she felt its cold hardness through the dancing slippers, and her memory kicked in. “My shoes.” She turned. “I left my shoes upstairs.”

“I’ll go back for them,” he offered. “You don’t need to walk all that way again.”

“Taxi, sir?” the doorman inquired.

“I’ve got a car waiting,” Cole answered, handing the man a tip. “A sedan for Aviation 58.”

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