Still The One (Family Stone #4 Jack)(4)

By: Lisa Hughey

Each image and the emotion behind the remembrance pierced her heart, until she was sure she must be bleeding out onto Jill’s intricately woven, twenty-thousand-dollar Persian carpet.

Jack stopped in front of Jillian, dropped his duffel to the floor, and held out his solid, wide palm. “Jack Stone.” His hands were big and scarred and tough, just like the rest of him. Those hands had caressed every inch of her body and brought her to heights of ecstasy that she hadn’t climbed since he’d left.

He looked good. Damn him. Better than good, great. He had some new lines around his eyes, and his hair was a little longer. His face had matured, the softness of the young adult he’d been was now honed to a sharpness that only ramped up his attractiveness. A thin strip of hair was missing from his right eyebrow, a white scar creased the arch, and her heart stopped as she recognized that the missing strip was likely from a bullet graze.

He’d almost had his head blown off.

She swallowed down the fear that mushroomed through her. Based on the faded whiteness of the scar, the damage had happened a long time ago.

He’d filled out since she’d last seen him, and he’d already been big to begin with. His physical size had been comforting and engendered a feeling of safety and security for a girl who’d had far too much upheaval and violence in her early life.

Not that Jack knew anything about that, of course. She’d never told him about her childhood. She wasn’t supposed to tell anyone. Ever.

Jillian introduced herself, then said, “This is my associate, Bliss Lee.”

Jack nodded briefly at Bliss, but didn’t offer his hand. Instead he propped his hand on his waist. “We’ve met.”

We’ve met? We’ve met? That’s it? That was how he was going to acknowledge their history to her boss? “Jack,” she said firmly, refusing to let him see the pain his presence and his casual dismissal of their past relationship brought. She couldn’t bring herself to say it was nice to see him.

Jack kept his focus on Jillian and barely acknowledged Bliss’s presence. “Let’s get down to business.”

“Would you like a cup of tea or coffee?” Jillian offered politely.

Bliss was still stuck in the same spot, rooted to the floor. He’d spoken of the most influential and impactful relationship of her life as if it were a random, accidental encounter in a crowded cafeteria. We’ve met?

“What I’d like, is to find Maria Torres.” His abrupt shift from observing niceties to cold, hard soldier was just what she needed.

That jolted Bliss and she realized it was time to take over this meeting. Enough of the old memories and the old Bliss. She wasn’t the same girl she’d been when they’d ended and it was time Jack Stone figured that out.

“Agreed.” Bliss gestured to the brocade wing chair in the grouped seating off to the side of Jillian’s desk. “Have a seat.”

She marched over to the other wing chair and sat down as elegantly as possible. She picked up the dossier that held all the information they had about Maria Torres. Everything that Bliss had used to relocate her to a safe house where she didn’t have to worry about being found by José Fernandez. And yet Maria Torres had blown out of that safe house, and almost guaranteed safety, within hours of getting settled there.

Bliss hadn’t ever lost a client this way and the fact that she hadn’t realized that Maria intended to rabbit from the safe house—as soon as Bliss left—rankled. Maria hadn’t given any indication that she was skittish or worried about her safety. Maria had listened and absorbed everything that they had told her. Promises to keep her safe. Assurances that José Fernandez would not find her. A guard close by in town if she needed anything.

Maria had seemed to accept their reassurances. But then she’d left.

Bliss understood the fear. Better than most. But Maria was less safe wandering around the country without the protection of Adams-Larsen than she had been tucked in that little Iowa farm town, and Bliss still couldn’t understand why Maria had felt the need to bolt. But Bliss had to put aside her ego and find Maria damn quick before José Fernandez did.

They knew that her prison guards would have learned of Maria’s escape from her confinement in Salinas a few days ago. They visited once a week to drop off food and pick up garbage. Maria had left the moment they had departed her prison last week. But they would have been back this week and discovered that she was gone.

Adams-Larsen and the U.S. Marshals were confident that Fernandez was now looking for Maria based on a cryptic phone conversation between Fernandez and two unknown accomplices. Adams-Larsen was pretty sure that Fernandez had panicked and was trying to tie up loose ends.

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