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Someone Like Her(8)

By:Sandra Owens

 “I tried to ignore it. I even threw it in the garbage when I couldn’t stop thinking about it. That same night, I got out of bed and dug it back out. I don’t know if I can make you understand, but the only parent I have to define myself by is my mother, and she never loved me. Not that she loved Logan either, but at least she sometimes seemed to like him. I didn’t even get that from her.”

 Soulful eyes peered up at him. “She might be dead, but I can still hear her. ‘You’re so stupid, Maria.’ I heard that one over and over. ‘I wish you’d never been born, Maria.’ That one was her favorite.”

 Jesus. The way her voice had changed just then—sounding exactly like a vindictive, chain-smoking bitch—planted a clear picture in his mind of how it must have been for her as a little girl. He’d give a thousand dollars to unsee it. It was one thing to be aware of how Maria and the boss had grown up, but he’d never considered the hurt that lived in her.

 “Your mother was the stupid one, Maria. You must know that.”

 “Must I?” She shrugged as if having a mother who hated her was of no importance. “So, to answer your question—”

 “Question?” If he’d asked a question, he couldn’t remember it. He couldn’t get past the hurt little girl she’d once been . . . still was.

 “Pay attention, Jake. I don’t talk about my mother to just anyone.”

 Whoa. He didn’t want to be special to her. Couldn’t be even if he wanted. Not only had her brother threatened to do him bodily harm if he so much as looked at her wrong—wrong meaning with lust in his eyes—but he was Romeo. He didn’t do permanent, and she was as special as they came. Maria deserved better than he could ever give her.

 He stared out at the empty parking lot, unable to meet her eyes. “Go on. You were telling me about your mother’s book.”

 A squirrel raced down the tree nearest them, followed seconds later by another one. A spring mating dance ensued between the two before they disappeared into the branches above him. Were they getting it on even as he sat in a now-stifling car with the one woman he could never have, no matter how much he wanted her? He turned on the car and rolled down both their windows.

 “I just kept wondering, you know. If I could find my father, would he love me? Maybe not right away. I don’t expect that, but later, if he had a chance to get to know me. So, I got the book out of the garbage and searched for men with Spanish names. I found three. Are you curious how many stars they got?”

 Not even. He switched off the ignition. “Only if it’s relevant to what happened.” Did she realize she was seeking validation that she was loveable from a man she’d never met? What if she did find her father and he wanted nothing to do with her? What would that do to her?

 “It’s not, and I’m glad you don’t want to know. Leave it to Lovey Dovey to keep records like that. I felt dirty just reading it. Anyway, you know if you put a computer in front of me, I can find anything.”

 That was an understatement. She’d been instrumental in hacking past firewalls and exposing the dummy companies behind the cult that had kidnapped her brother’s wife. Like a bloodhound on the scent, Maria had found their compound location in the Ozarks, and sniffed out the leader’s sordid background. Without her, the outcome might have been much different.

 Considering it was one of her mother’s johns she was searching for, it might be better if she wasn’t so computer savvy. “So, you went to work tracking down father possibilities?”

 “You know me so well, Jake. I love that about you.”

 He would have taken her words as a joke if her eyes hadn’t turned wary. There had been a sort of longing in her tone—a wistfulness. She couldn’t possibly mean she loved him. He’d long ago admitted that there was chemistry between them. The attraction he’d felt for her had turned to full-blown lust on the night of her twenty-first birthday party.

 Kincaid had walked into the restaurant where they were meeting to celebrate, his wife on one arm, Maria on the other. The air had swished out of Jake’s lungs. Maria had been away at school, and he had avoided her whenever she came home on breaks, and hadn’t seen her in almost a year. The black-haired beauty on the arm of her brother hadn’t been the girl he remembered. Somehow, in that time, she’d transformed into a woman, and a sexy-as-hell one at that.

 He glanced at their hands where they rested on the console, hers browner than his, and rubbed his thumb over her skin. “Tell me the rest.”