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The Road Back

The Road Back

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Published by Bookworm-93

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Published by: Bookworm-93 on May 25, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The Road Back
Chapter One
“I’ve gotta go, Dirk,” Caryn Howard said to her brother, interrupting his five-minute phone rant about howthat arrogant bastard Thomas Falcon was responsible for Dirk’s latest pink slip in his latest new job.“Hang in there, kiddo. It’s going to get better. It has to.”Her throat aching from straining to sound positive, Caryn hit End, then carefully set her cell phone’sringer to Silent. Dirk called whenever he needed to vent. Several times a day. Caryn understood shewas the only sounding board he had left, but she couldn’t afford to lose her own job by taking too manypersonal calls.Still, it was hard to deny Dirk any comfort she could give. She had protected him most of their lives. Andin a way, she felt responsible for his situation. If only she hadn’t fallen in love with Thomas Falcon in thefirst place…She should have known better. She should have known that, in real life, Cinderella stories ended badly.Dirk should know better, too. Ordinary people like the Howards didn’t get revenge on big shots like theFalcons. They couldn’t make Thomas suffer. The best they could do was render him irrelevant, at leastin their lives.She was proud of how successfully she’d managed to erase him from her own. In the three monthssince she’d ended their engagement, as she watched her brother struggle to put back together the lifeTom had exploded, Caryn had blocked her ex-fiancé’s e-mails and phone calls. She’d tossed his letters,unopened.His persistence had been amazing. He and the word
were obviously strangers. His letters hadstopped arriving only a couple of weeks ago. She was just now beginning to hope it was finally over.Maybe now she could quit dreaming about him.Maybe she could really begin to forget.“Caryn, am I keeping you waiting?” Angelina Malone’s crisp voice, which sounded so much younger thanher seventy-five years, floated down the curving staircase. “I’m sorry. Belinda says I absolutely mustchange to a different dress, which is a damned nuisance with this cast. It’ll take ten minutes, at least.Can you tell Sidney, please?”“Sure. We’ve got plenty of time.” Caryn had to smile at her employer’s old-world manners. Angelinadidn’t owe anyone an apology, least of all Caryn. As Angelina Malone’s assistant, it was Caryn’s job towait wherever the woman wanted, as long as she wanted.She glanced out the bay window, where Sidney’s gleaming black limo waited at the end of a curving,begonia-lined drive. In the background, Richardson Bay glimmered under the glamorous silvery-pinkMarin County sunset.She couldn’t tell if Sidney was in the limo, or still in the carriage house where he lived. He probablywouldn’t even know Angelina was running behind, but she’d said she’d tell him, so she opened the door and headed out toward the car.
Caryn walked with her long skirt lifted in one fist, watching the spiky heels of her evening shoes so theydidn’t catch in the bricks. The deep blue California spring dusk was balmy. The breeze—less aggressivethan usual—let the salty scent of the ocean ride in on its back.She took a deep breath. It was so peaceful here. So unlike the noisy, claustrophobic midtown day carecenter where she’d been the administrative assistant for the past five years. Until Dirk’s arrest. Untilsomeone decided she couldn’t be trusted around small children…No, she definitely didn’t want to lose this job.As she neared the end of the drive, she glimpsed Sidney, standing in the shadows at the bottom of thecarriage house stairs. He had his back to her, but he was obviously ready to go, his posture more alertand erect than usual, and his cap at an abnormally roguish angle. He was chatting with Colby Malone,the oldest of Angelina’s three grandsons.“Hi, Colby,” she said, waving. She’d worked for the Malones a month now, and calling them by their firstnames no longer felt strange. For card-carrying members of the Rich and Fabulous Club, they weresurprisingly without affectations. “Sid, Angelina wanted to let you know she’d be a little late.”To her surprise, neither man responded right away. Instead, Colby glanced at her with an expressionthat looked almost…
Surely not. The Malones didn’t do nervous. Why should they? They hadthe world by a string, and they knew it.Colby muttered something to Sidney, gave Caryn a weak smile, then pointed vaguely toward the house.He stuck his hands in his pockets, whistled softly and moved off with exaggerated innocence.“Anything wrong with Colby?” Caryn came up behind Sidney, watching the other man slink away. “Helooked distracted.”It was only then, when she was mere inches from the beautifully cut navy blue blazer of the chauffeur’suniform, that she realized something wasn’t right.Her instincts prickled. The shadows had been deceiving. The dimensions of the man in front of her weretoo virile to be a fifty-five-year-old man. The shoulders were too broad, the nipped waist too narrow. Thehair that curled under the cap wasn’t salt-and-pepper, but chocolate-brown, glossy and full.His scent lacked even a single whiff of Sidney’s sinus-clearing arthritis cream. Instead this man smelledall male, a touch of lime, a hint of sea air…Her shoulders tensed.
 Her heart knocked. Her pulse skittered, knowing before her brain did. The worst of her nightmares had just come true.
As if he were in a film set to slow motion, the man pulled off the chauffeur’s cap and turned around, oneinch at a time.Finally her brain caught up.“I’m sorry, Caryn,” Thomas Falcon said with the smile that had always melted her like ice cream in amicrowave. “Sidney’s not here. I’m afraid you’re stuck with me.”
Chapter Two
For a long, dry-throated moment, Caryn didn’t speak.Five minutes ago, she’d been half wishing Tom were here, so that she could personally throttle him for ruining Dirk’s life.Now…Now she couldn’t even lift her strangely tingling hands. She opened her mouth, but she couldn’t catchany of her thoughts.“Tom.” She took a deep breath and a step back. “What are you doing here?”One corner of his smile tucked in a little deeper. “I told you. I’m filling in for Sidney.”Caryn’s reactions were still on slow motion, so after a polite pause Tom kept talking. Casually. As if therewere nothing strange about this. As if they’d parted yesterday, instead of three months ago. As if they’dparted with a kiss instead of tears.“You knew Sid’s daughter in L.A. was expecting her first baby next month, right?”She nodded. “Mary.”She’d heard all about it, of course. Sid could hardly wait for his vacation. He’d planned to take a week off so that he could help his daughter, whose husband was in the navy, when she first brought the newbaby home. It hadn’t occurred to Caryn to worry about who would replace him. She’d assumed someagency somewhere would just send out another steady, professional driver.“Yes. Mary.” Tom looked pleased that she’d provided the name. “Well, Mary went into labor early. Colbytook him to the plane an hour ago. I offered to pitch in.”
“Pitch in?” 
Her words fell out heavy with incredulity. She let her gaze flick over his jacket, which, she nownoticed, was not really like Sidney’s uniform at all. It was just a navy blazer. And unless she missed her guess, that butter-soft wool and flawless tailoring cost more than everything in Sidney’s closet.“Damn it, Tom. Is this your idea of a joke?”“No.” He tugged at the button of his cuff, affecting an affable indignation. “I do know a little somethingabout cars. I started out driving a limo.”Very funny. As heir to Falcon Tours, the largest tour company in the San Francisco Bay area, he’d beentaught the business from the ground up. He’d probably spent six months as a driver when he was asenior in high school. These days, when the signature Falcon Tours buses sailed by, instantlyrecognizable with the powerful swoop of deep-brown falcon wings painted against a sky-bluebackground, Tom’s only involvement was cashing the checks.Her hands had clenched into fists, but she kept her voice low. “I can’t believe you’ve put me in thisposition. I need this job. But now…”“Now what?” One corner of his wide mouth tilted up. “Surely you won’t quit your job just to avoid seeingme?”

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