Ashton’s Secret Excerpt:
"I think you'd better leave."
"I think you're right. But first--"
"I meant leave Ashton."
She was stunned; he was serious. “Is that before sundown or after?”
“The sooner the better, since I’m sure you’ve collected enough shots for a magazine layout in the last week and you can’t take pictures here.”
Meghan didn’t take kindly to the word, “can’t.” It hadn’t been in her vocabulary for the past four years. “Excuse me, but what makes you think I can’t take pictures of this property?”
He looked startled for a second, as if he wasn’t used to having his orders questioned, then said evenly, “If I understand the law, you need permission from the owner when you photograph property for publication.”
There were loopholes in his knowledge, ones she didn’t care to point out. She nodded. “Go on.”
“I’m not giving my permission.”
She widened her eyes innocently. “You own the whole town?”
He was not amused. “I own this property, as you well know. And you are trespassing.”
So they were back to that again. Reluctantly, she confirmed her fist impression of Nicholas Hawkinson: When provoked, he could be a dangerous man. Clearly he ached to speed her on her way, preferably by tossing her through that set of double doors. But his obvious capacity for restraint told her she was safe—as long as she didn’t push him too hard.
She tried a different tack. “I understand how you feel. I wouldn’t like it either if I found some stranger poking around my home. With a camera, no less. All I can say is I thought the place was deserted, and I couldn’t resist taking a look around.”
“In spite of being warned against it.”
She offered her most disarming smile. “I’m stubborn that way sometimes. But I am sorry for trespassing." She held out a hand. "If you’ll accept my apology, maybe we can start over.”
He looked at her, long and hard, and ignored her outstretched hand. “I’m not interested in starting anything with you. Now leave.”
Meghan felt her cheeks flame, but held her tongue. Stepping past him with the dignity of a diplomat's daughter, she retrieved her camera equipment. As she hefted the bag onto her shoulder, her gaze touched on the hanging pitchfork. She pictured Nicholas Hawkinson standing under it, her hand on the rope that released it. The image soothed her bruised ego.
She turned, smiling sweetly. “Thank you for your time. I’m staying—”
His dark eyes narrowed. “Good bye.”
“Of course. Good bye.” Making her way across the loft, Meghan descended the narrow wood steps into the dry, dusty garage. At the bottom of the steps, she paused. Hidden in a corner stood a half-covered motorcycle. She’d missed seeing it earlier, her attention focused on the steps leading to the loft. Her heart beat faster as she recalled a line from Heather’s letter.
He has a Harley, and takes me riding.
“He” was Hawk, the man Meghan needed to find. The man who could answer her questions about what Meghan had believed until a week ago to be an open and shut case of suicide. Despite the coroner’s report and her mother’s firm conviction that her eldest daughter had killed herself, after reading Heather’s letter, Meghan couldn’t help but wonder if her sister’s death had been an accident.
Heather had mailed the letter from Ashton the day she’d disappeared. Three days later, she’d turned up dead. But by then Meghan had been on her honeymoon in Australia, too far away to make it back in time for the funeral. Her mother had collected her mail. Then deliberately kept Heather’s letter from her.
Why, Meghan intended to find out…in Ashton.
Slowly she drew back the motorcycle’s oilcloth cover and brushed away layers of grime obscuring the manufacturer’s name. Her heartbeat soared when she saw the distinctive back and orange bar and shield Harley Davison emblem that appeared.
If Nicholas Hawkinson wasn’t Hawk, he knew who was.
Heart hammering, Meghan stared at the bike, torn between returning to the loft to demand information about its owner and letting common sense rule. The man was already angry with her. Approaching him now with a barrage of questions could only be a losing proposition. Her own state of mind wasn’t so hot, either. She might have more success if she gave them both time to calm down.
Forcing herself to leave the barn, she spied a battered pickup parked on the street. The license plate had been issued in Texas. The truck’s cooling engine pinged at her accusingly. She recalled Hawkinson’s unkempt appearance, the exhaustion she’d seen in his face. No wonder he’d been in no mood to entertain her curiosity. He’d obviously been on the road a few days.
Her timing stank. Meghan looked up and down the maple-and-oak-lined street, her disappointment at her latest failure to obtain information about Hawk leaving her feeling as wilted as an unwatered plant. The weather channel predicted another week of record high June temperatures for western New York. More bad timing. She sighed. At least the air wasn’t steaming with humidity, like it was in D.C. Just oven-hot and relentlessly dry.
The hairs on the back of her neck prickled. She knew without looking that Nicholas Hawkinson stood at the loft door, watching her. The sensation of dark eyes burning into her back made her want to turn around and wave out of spite, but she didn’t. She couldn’t antagonize the man, not when she needed his answers.
She broke into a smile, imagining the look on his face when he realized she was staying in the bungalow across the street.