Finn MacBain was standing outside the entrance to St. Michael’s Catholic Church waiting for his brother’s wedding to begin. He wasn’t ready to go inside yet. Beck would come and get him when it was time. It was warm today. The sun was shining, and it was at least seventy degrees, he guessed, maybe seventy-five. He and fellow agent, Ronan Conrad, had spent a week working in Chicago where it had been around ten degrees every single day with crazy below-zero wind chills. The heat felt good on his face. He liked being outside, cold or hot, and he liked being home, too. It had been such a long time.
His cell phone rang, reminding him that he needed to turn it off before the ceremony. He saw who was calling and felt a wave of exhaustion. On-again off-again Danielle was trying to reconnect with him. He wasn’t about to get into that drama. He’d had enough, and he simply didn’t have the stamina for any more of her games. He declined the call and turned off the phone. He should go in, he decided, and was about to do just that when he saw her. The vision in blue. He watched her cross the parking lot and start up the walkway, her high heels clicking against the brick. He noticed her body first, of course. It was damn near perfect. The short, fitted dress showed off her curves and her long, gorgeous legs. Her stride was every bit as sexy as her body. The way she moved was sensual and seductive. She was absolutely beautiful. Her long dark hair, the color of midnight, fell in soft curls just below her slender shoulders.
She must have felt him watching her, for she suddenly turned and looked up the hill. When she saw him, she stepped off the path and started walking toward him. He wanted to swallow, but he couldn’t seem to remember how. He had never reacted to any woman this fiercely, this quickly, and it shocked the hell out of him. What had happened to his self-control? He excused his bizarre behavior by reasoning that she was no ordinary woman. He didn’t want to stare, but the closer she came, the better she looked. Beneath her thick dark eyelashes were the most beautiful, crystalline blue eyes he had ever seen, and her rosy lips were full and inviting.
She stepped directly in front of him and gave him a heart-stopping smile. The dimple in her cheek was sexy as hell. So was her scent which was light and feminine.
Her eyes sparkled with laughter when she stretched up, kissed him on his cheek, and said, “Hello, Hotshot.”
He was speechless. Peyton Lockhart? He couldn’t believe it. She was all grown up. She had gone from a skinny little girl who always looked worried about something or other to this beautiful woman with a devastating smile. When did this happen? The transformation seemed to have taken place overnight, but then Finn realized he hadn’t been around while she was growing up. He’d gone to California to do his undergraduate work at Stanford and had stayed there for law school. During that time his parents had downsized to a smaller, more energy-efficient home about a mile from their old house in Brentwood. Whenever Finn was home on break, he never had enough time to go back to the old neighborhood.
Finn overcame his surprise enough to speak. “Don’t call me Hotshot.”
“You didn’t know who I was, did you, Finn?” she asked, saying his name to placate him.
“I didn’t have a clue,” he admitted. He was still trying to get past his initial reaction and stop acting as though he had never seen a beautiful woman before. This was Peyton, the little girl who would sit on the front steps and wait for him to come home from high school so she could tell him about her day. She was a nuisance back then, and now a temptress.
“Are your sisters here? I won’t recognize them either, will I?”
“Yes, they’re here already. I’m running late.”
Beck whistled from the doorway to get Finn’s attention.
“Aren’t you in the wedding?” she asked.
He nodded. “Yeah, I should go in. It’s good to see you again.”
Peyton didn’t want to miss the bride walking down the aisle. “It’s good to see you, too.”
It had suddenly become awkward, and she didn’t understand why. He wasn’t leaving. Beck whistled again, but Finn didn’t move.
“Are you going to the reception,” he asked.
“No, I’m afraid I can’t.”
“Maybe I’ll see you after the wedding, then.”
Peyton continued on, but when she glanced back, she thought it strange that Finn was still standing in the same spot.
The church was packed. She was able to squeeze into the back row just in time to watch Beck and Tristan escort their mother down the aisle. Finn walked behind with his father.
The MacBains were all good-looking men, but Peyton thought there was a little something extra with Finn. Charisma, she decided. He was definitely charismatic. The camera sure loved him. The last time she’d seen him being interviewed on television, which was quite a while ago, she thought he looked so handsome and sophisticated. There was a weariness about him now, though. She didn’t know what kind of work he did for the FBI, but she had the feeling it was taking its toll.
The priest walked onto the altar signaling for the ceremony to commence. It was a perfect wedding without a single misstep. Even Father John, who was known to ramble on and on during his sermons, kept his remarks short and interesting. He spoke of love and marriage and the blessings that would come from them. Peyton wondered if true love really did exist anymore. Was there such a thing as happily-ever-after? She hoped so. She didn’t want to become a cynic. She saw the way Tristan looked at his bride, and she wanted to believe in love, even though she had never experienced it herself.
She was one of the last to leave the church because she kept running into people she hadn’t seen in years. Most of them wanted to know what she was doing now. She answered with half truths. While she didn’t come right out and lie, she made it sound as though she had just returned from France where she had been cooking up a storm. There wasn’t any need to go into the details of her employment fiasco.
Finn stood outside with Beck watching the guests file out of the church. He spotted Peyton as she emerged. She was immediately surrounded by Navy men in white, all vying for her attention.
“Beck, see that woman over there?” Finn asked, nodding to the group. “Do you know who she is?”
“No, but I’m gonna find out. She’s gorgeous, isn’t she? Have you met her yet?”
“Yes, and so have you. That’s Peyton Lockhart.”
Beck didn’t believe him. “That scrawny little kid? That Peyton Lockhart?”
Finn didn’t bother to answer because Beck was already pushing his friends out of his way to get to her. He watched his brother lift her off her feet and hug her, and her smile indicated she didn’t mind.
The guests mingled outside the church, waiting to offer their good wishes to the bride and groom, and Finn was smack in the middle of them. Ronan stood off to the side having a conversation with Father John. Finn joined him, and while they listened to the priest, they watched the crowd.
By the time Peyton congratulated the happy couple, it was getting late. She noticed what time it was and headed toward her car. The reception wouldn’t begin until seven, and she was going to miss the celebration because she had to report to work. She had taken a temporary job as a sous-chef at Harlow’s restaurant. This definitely was not her dream job, but she hated being poor, and it was a way to make ends meet while she looked for something else. The owner had given her enough time off to attend the wedding, but only after she promised to be back for the Saturday dinner crowd. She had promised to be there by six.
She couldn’t find her sisters, but she saw her parents talking to some friends near the church steps. She waved to them as she made her way through the crowd.
Finn had walked down to the parking lot to get away from the noise. He was listening to phone messages and turned just as Peyton was approaching. He offered to walk her to her car.
“How come you aren’t coming to the reception?” he asked.
“I have to work,” she answered. She dug the keys out of her little clutch and hit the unlock button. Standing beside her car, she said, “It really was good to see you.”
“I’m sorry we didn’t get to—” He stopped. “When did you get this car?” he asked, staring past her and frowning.
“About a year ago. Why?”
Finn moved closer and squatted down next to the rear bumper. “These are bullet holes.”
“Yes, they are,” she agreed. She didn’t seem the least fazed. “I’ve got to get going or I’ll be late for work.”
He wasn’t about to let her leave. “They haven’t been here long.”
“The bullet holes?”
“Yes, the bullet holes,” he said.
“It happened a while ago.” Peyton wasn’t going to explain the Dalton nightmare now. It would take hours. She remembered how shocked she’d been when she first noticed the holes below her bumper. If she hadn’t dropped her keys behind the car, she probably never would have seen them, and when she realized they were from bullets, she nearly had heart failure.
“Look at the paint around the holes. It wasn’t that long ago. Do you know when it happened? You do, don’t you? Did you park it and when you came back…you weren’t in the car, were you? One of the holes is damned close to the gas tank. Tell me you weren’t in the car.”
He was asking questions so rapidly, he wasn’t giving her time to answer.
“Yes, I was in the car. I was on the highway when it happened. He wanted me to stop. I didn’t know he shot at me until I was back in Texas. The holes are so low, I didn’t see them until a few days later. In fact, you’re the only other person who’s noticed them.”
“You couldn’t hear gunshots?” His voice was brisk, no nonsense. He was all FBI now.
Her hand went to her hip. “I was in the middle of a blizzard at the time. All I could hear was the howling wind.”
“Where exactly were you?”
“Northwest of Minneapolis. Finn, I’ve got to leave.”
She wasn’t going anywhere until she gave him a few more details.
“Who did you report it to?”
Peyton knew he wasn’t going to like her answer. “I didn’t report it.”
“Because you didn’t realize he was shooting at you.”
“But when you did see the bullet holes—”
She cut him off. “I didn’t report it.”
“Why the hell not?” Frustration made his voice sharp. “He could be out there now trolling for his next victim, and maybe this time he’ll hit the gas tank, or worse, the driver.”
She shook her head. “No, he won’t.”
“Did you get the make or model?”
“I have to leave.”
“No, you have to answer me.”
“You know what, Finn. You’re just as bossy and stubborn as you were when I was a little girl.”
“And you’re just as aggravating. Now answer me.”
She gave in. “It was a big white truck, and I know for a fact that he isn’t out on the highway looking for other victims.” Unless someone gets on Drew Albertson’s bad side, she silently added. She took a step closer. “And I’m not a victim. I took control of the situation and forced him to stop chasing me.”
“How?” he asked, trying to concentrate on what she was saying and not how sexy she was or how good she smelled.
“I sent him into a field. Actually, I sent him through a fence into a field.”
“How did you do that?”
“Some…intricate driving moves.” Slamming on the brakes and going into a spin that she was helpless to control could be considered an intricate move, couldn’t it?
“Intricate driving moves, huh?” he repeated, smiling.
“Yes,” she said. “He didn’t get hurt,” she hastened to add. “His car sank into the snow, and he was stuck. I pulled over to make sure he didn’t need an ambulance. I watched him get out and start pounding his fists on the truck.”
“You saw the shooter?”
Uh-oh. Too late, she realized she shouldn’t have mentioned that fact because now he was going to ask her another hundred questions. She decided to stop him before he got started.
“I didn’t get a close look at him, but I’ve got a good idea who he is.”
He seemed to take the news in stride. “Okay. Who is he?”
“His name is Parsons, and he works for the company that hired me. I guess you could say he’s with Human Resources.”
He nodded calmly, but she noticed his jaw was clenched. “Since you never reported the incident to the police, he wasn’t arrested.”
“Why was he chasing you?”
“Because I left,” she said, evading the details. “They really hate it when you leave the company.” She shrugged, “…so they shoot at you.”
Peyton thought he would think her answer funny, but apparently he wasn’t amused. She was sure he would have kept her there with his questions for the rest of the evening, or until he had the entire story, if a groomsman hadn’t appeared and told him he had to return to the church for photos.
Finn answered that he would be right there, then opened the car door for Peyton. Before he started back up the hill toward the church, he turned to Peyton and said, “We aren’t finished with this.”