Seduced:The Unexpected Virgin(6)

By: Emily McKay

It was like jogging. You just put one foot ahead of the other. You never give yourself permission to think. You just move. You forget the pain streaming through your muscles. Forget the blisters forming on your heels. Forget the anguish of watching a loved one being eaten alive by cancer and not being able to do a damn thing to stop it. You just move.

And if you’re fast enough and you don’t ever stop, you somehow manage to stay in front of it.

For the past three years, he’d worked eighteen-hour days getting the Cara Miller Foundation started and running smoothly. He’d contacted every wealthy or influential person he’d ever met and hit them up for support or donations. He’d found work that he was passionate about and he’d devoted himself to doing it.

He’d visited other charities. He’d studied the way they were run. He’d learned from them, revamped their models. And started over again. Never staying in any one place long enough to catch his breath. He’d worked tirelessly. He’d done it in honor of his wife’s memory. But he’d also done it because it helped him forget her.

It was a dichotomy he wasn’t sure he was ready to contemplate during a morning run on the beach. His muscles burned and his joints ached as his feet ate up mile after mile. But he still kept on jogging, slowly acknowledging that Ana was certainly right about one thing. Hannah’s Hope needed him, but it needed him for more than a quick stop off on the way to some other destination. If he was going to help Hannah’s Hope, it needed to be more than drive-by charity work.

Jogging was the one thing that cleared his head. The one thing that blocked out all the nonsense. Music had been that way for him once. Back before Cara got sick. But cancer had taken not only his wife but every musical urge he had. There’d been a time when he couldn’t go a day without playing the guitar. When songs had teased at the edges of his mind no matter what he was doing. All that was gone. Now all he had was jogging. But you couldn’t run forever. Sooner or later, you had to stop, catch your breath and turn around to go home.

So Ward slowed his steps. He stopped for a moment, braced his palms on his knees and bent over to suck in deep lungfuls of salty air. Then he turned around and started for the condo. But he didn’t run there. He walked the rest of the way. By the time the condo was in sight, the sun was peeking over the rooftops across the street from the beach. He was just in time for the sunrise.

Ana arrived at Hannah’s Hope late the following day after a very discouraging meeting at the bank. Sure, they had plenty of money—for now—but more paperwork was the last thing she needed right now. Especially since the paperwork required involved signatures from board members. While Rafe was always willing to sign papers, it sometimes took days for him to get around to it. Since she needed the papers by morning, someone from Hannah’s Hope would have to drive over to Worth Industries and wait around for Rafe to actually get a pen in his hand during a free moment. And just now that felt like time she didn’t have to spare.

As she let herself in the back door of Hannah’s Hope, juggling her briefcase and purse, she called out, “I’m not really here. I’m just dropping off my laptop on my way over to…”

She let her voice trail off as she glanced around the back room and realized no one was there to hear her explanation. Where was everyone?

Usually by this late in the morning, both Christi and Omar were there. She stuck her head through the doorway of the office they shared, but found it empty. She set down her laptop on her desk chair and followed the sound of voices to the conference room.

She took in the scene before her in one rapid sweep. Christi and Omar were seated on the near side of the conference table. Emma Worth sat up at the head of the table, her own laptop open in front of her. One arm was still encased in a purple cast from a recent car accident, so she was typing one-handed. A bowl of fresh fruit sat in the center of the table, as well as a tray of pastries and muffins wrapped in the Bistro by the Sea’s signature bright blue papers. A box of their coffee sat on the bookshelf with a stack of paper cups. The divinely pungent scent of coffee filled the air, with the subtle undernotes of blueberry muffins. Obviously, someone had decided to have breakfast catered in. And she suspected that same person was currently standing at the front of the room writing on the whiteboard.

Ward was dressed in jeans and a plaid flannel shirt. His back was to her as he wrote, but she could tell by the way the fabric draped that it was unbuttoned. Probably to hang open over some muscle-sculpting T-shirt that would drive her to distraction. His wavy hair curled over the back of his collar, making her fingers itch to run through those curls.

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