He’d been here so many times before, this room that was almost familiar, the wall of mirrors reflecting an image he’d tried to forget. He didn’t know the woman who struggled. Couldn’t see the face of the man whose hands encircled her throat. Marc didn’t know who they were or when this happened. Not until they turned. He watched her slim body sag and disappear from view. Raised his head and gazed in horror at the man in the mirror.
Marc stared into the eyes of a killer. His very own dark brown eyes.
“Marc? I’ve got honey oat muffins just out of the oven. Are you awake?”
Mandy. He rolled to his back, sucked in a deep breath and concentrated on slowing his racing heart. “Be out in a minute. I overslept.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll keep them warm for you. Not gonna let you starve.”
He heard her laughing as she went back down the hall. The last remnants of the dream faded away, but Mandy was in the kitchen and the muffins were warm.
All was once again right with the world.
* * *
“Hey Marc! Your cell phone’s calling you.”
Marc reached into his pocket and laughed. “Crap, Ben. Where is it? I thought I had it.”
“Sounds like your bedroom.”
With a half-assed salute, Ben Lowell threw his military duffle over his shoulder and headed for the front door. Marc raced down the hall to his bedroom and grabbed the phone off the bedside table. It stopped ringing the moment he reached for it, so he glanced at the caller ID before returning the call.
No. On second thought, he wasn’t about to return this bastard’s call. A notification popped up, telling him he had voicemail. He deleted the message without listening, shoved his phone in his pocket, and went back to the front room.
It looked like the cab was here for Ben and his fiancée, Lola Monroe. “This your bag, Lola?” When she nodded, he said, “I’ll take it down.” He picked it up and pretended to fall over. “Pack the set of horseshoes for the trip? Gonna play a game on the mall in DC?”
“Of course.” Lola’s expression never wavered. “Thank you. Tell Ben I’ll be there in just a sec.” Then she went back to her conversation with her sister Mandy, an extension of what the guys had been calling the long goodbye over the past few days. The girls were close. He wondered how Mandy was going to handle the two of them being apart for at least a week.
Though his biggest concern was how he was going to handle being alone with Mandy. Worrying about it had kept him awake nights for most of the week, but there was nothing he could do about it now. Hauling Lola’s suitcase, he headed down the front stairs to the waiting cab.
* * *
The moment the door closed behind Marc, Mandy remembered. “Don’t go yet, Lola!” She raced back into the kitchen and grabbed the bag of chocolate chip cookies off the kitchen counter. She caught her sister as she was reaching for her new carry-on bag.
Lola paused at the door. “Okay. What’d I forget now?”
“You didn’t. I did. I forgot to give you the cookies I baked for you and Ben to munch along the way.”
“Yum! Thank you.” Laughing, she took the cookies from Mandy. “You realize, I actually hope we’ll both be sleeping. I can’t believe my first trip in an airplane’s going to be in the dark. I won’t get to see anything.” She stuck the cookies in her bag. “Thanks. I’m going to miss you.”
“I’m going to miss you, too. Now hurry. The cab’s here.”
Lola gave her a tight hug and whispered in her ear, “You just want me out of here so you can finally get Marc all to yourself.”
“Yeah. Like that’s going to do any good.” Mandy exhaled. Loudly. Frustration was too simple a word, especially when Marcus Reed and his lack of interest wasn’t the only thing that had her upset tonight. “Text or call me when you two get to your hotel, okay?”
“I will. Love you, sis.” Lola winked and added, “Good luck.”
Smiling, because that was the best she could do, Mandy merely shrugged. “One can hope. You, too. Have a safe trip. Let me know when you get there.”
One last hug, and then Lola was practically skipping down the stairs. Ben grabbed her bags and stuck them in the trunk while Marc helped Lola into the back seat, leaned in to kiss her cheek, and then shook Ben’s hand before Ben got in beside Lola. Mandy waited beneath the porch light and waved as the cab pulled away from the curb, heading to San Francisco International Airport.
Silly, how she actually felt sort of weepy, standing here on the top step, watching Lola leave with Ben. She and her sister had never really been apart, but they’d been alone so much as kids, they had practically raised themselves. Now Lola was headed to DC with Ben while he testified at a pretrial hearing in a case against a powerful senator. They’d be gone at least a week.
Yeah, she was going to miss Lola, and Ben, too, but not for the obvious reason. Their absence meant she’d be here alone with a man she’d lusted after for years.
One she’d fallen head over heels in love with when they’d finally met.
A man who’d been one of their roommates for a little over two months now—sixty-three days, to be exact. The only problem? Marc didn’t notice Mandy at all. Why should he? The guy was gorgeous, brilliant, rich—the list was endless—while Mandy was nothing but the ex-barista for a now defunct coffee shop. She’d still had a job this morning, but she hadn’t quite gotten around to telling any of her roommates she’d suddenly joined the ranks of the unemployed.
Standing alone, watching Marc as he said goodbye to Ben and Lola, she wished she were something better, someone more. A woman Marc might look up to and respect. A woman he could love.
He turned then, glanced at the house, and actually made eye contact with her for one brief moment. Then he bowed his head and, with both hands shoved deep in his pants pockets, walked slowly toward the front steps.
He couldn’t have made his feelings any more obvious. It was clear he was dreading the idea of the two of them alone together for however long the hearings in Washington, DC lasted. Sighing, Mandy turned away and went inside. Marc walked slowly up the steps and followed her into the living room.
She’d wondered for weeks what it would be like, finally to be here alone with Marc.
Now she knew. It was going to be absolutely heartbreaking.