Excerpt: A Time for Secrets
I had to get away from the man in black, chasing me down the sidewalk in downtown Devon, Florida. Something like this always happened in the movies. The mild-mannered bank teller decides to take a break at the beach nearby and wham!—she's attacked by a huge man who's always dressed in black—usually at night. It would be cool to see it on the big screen, but this was different. This was reality, it was lunchtime, and I was the victim.
I ran into the middle of a busy street. The man dressed in black wouldn't be stupid enough to follow, I hoped. While I waited on the yellow lines, cars blasted their horns as they passed. This wasn't exactly one of my brightest ideas, but being chased by a muscle-clad man isn't an everyday occurrence either. As I glanced back at him still standing on the sidewalk from where I'd started, he glared at me, then watched the traffic pass by.
When the traffic light changed, I finally got a break, so I dodged waiting cars and ran to the other side. Some Asian men on the sidewalk watched me approach, but I ignored them, checking for the big man in black running after me.
I ran south, dodging pedestrians on the sidewalk. The small town was crowded for a Friday morning in early May, which was a small break in time between Spring Break and summer vacation. Located on Florida's west coast, Devon was a small, often-forgotten town, between Fort Myers and Naples.
At the next intersection, I turned west onto another sidewalk, finally able to see the Gulf of Mexico in front of me. I could feel the man in black lessening the distance between us and glanced back to verify my thoughts. For some reason, the Asian men were behind him by about a hundred yards, making me wonder if they were going to the beach, too. But why would they run? The ocean wasn't going anywhere. Maybe they were just tourists, excited to be here.
Once I hit sand at the end of the brick building, I turned a corner and ran smack-dab into a beautiful specimen of a man with blue eyes and short brown hair.
He stopped me with both hands on my shoulders before I bowled him over. "Slow down."
"Sorry." I gasped, moving to run past him.
He grabbed my arm and held me back. "Are you out jogging?"
I didn't have time for chitchat. "Not exactly." I looked behind me. The man in black wasn't there, but I was sure he was hiding somewhere.
"Why are you running, then?"
"Someone's chasing me." I extracted myself from his grasp and took off down the beach. Running for all I was worth, I knew I could outrun the man in black. I'd practiced running distances for some time, in case something just like this would happen. I knew it was just a matter of time, but never thought my chaser would be so large and evil looking.
The handsome man caught up and ran in front of me right just as I reached the water line. He was a fast runner, because I'd been in training for a while. He turned in front of me and ran backward to watch me.
"Stop," he said, trying to breathe.
I tried to push past him. "I can't. I'll be killed."
He took hold of my hand and pulled me toward him, gasping for air. "Why?"
I wished I had my purse with me for defense, just in case. He was stronger than I was, because I couldn't pull myself from his hand. I leaned down to catch my breath for a moment, then stood up. "Are you a serial killer?"
Mr. Adorable laughed at me, the creep. "No. What's going on?"
I sucked in some air. "There's a huge man in black chasing me. He looks like a murderer."
The man turned to look behind me, from the way I'd come, and let go of my hand. "There's no one there."
I spun around. The beach was empty, except for a few families with kids, about a hundred yards away from us. "Where did he go?"
"I have no idea." I turned back to see him. His expression seemed to indicate that I was nuts.
He continued. "I'm friends with the local cops if you need help."
"I don't know what I'd tell them. How can I prove someone's after me if they've disappeared?"
He nodded. "You're right. If you said anything, it would look like you're crazy." He'd just confirmed my worst fears. He thought I was nuts. "Have you eaten lunch yet?"
The man in black was chasing me and this guy was thinking about lunch? How odd. I should've said 'no' and gone back to work, but for some reason, I felt safe with this man. I doubted the man in black would return when this guy was near me. "No, I wasn't going to eat lunch. I was just heading out to walk on the beach, but someone else had other ideas." I toed off my flat shoes and poured out the sand. Running in a skirt wasn't fun, but at least I wasn't wearing heels.
As soon as I replaced the shoes on my feet, the man grabbed my hand, and shook it. "The name's Mark Dallas. I'd like to take you to lunch." He watched me for a minute. "That is, if you'd like to come with me."
I waved him off. "Oh, I can't impose—"
"No imposition whatsoever and I promise." He checked my left hand. "No husband coming to hunt me down, so you're free, right?"
"No, no one…anymore. I'm free."
My life. What a joke. "It's a long story, but definite history." Mark's smile was endearing, and I couldn't refuse those eyes anything they wanted. I had to remind myself to be wary. "I'm Amy Watson, by the way."
He rested my hand in the crook of his elbow and walked with me up the beach toward a small hotdog shop. "I guess I'm just lucky to be here over lunch today. Otherwise, I wouldn't have been able to save you from whoever was chasing you."
"I guess so."
He glanced at me. "Why were they chasing you?"
I could only imagine, but this guy didn't need my baggage or any of my secrets. If someone was willing to chase me for it, he certainly didn't need to be involved. "I have no idea. I'm a nobody. It's not as if I have money hanging off me or anything." I turned toward him. "You're not friends with the man who was chasing me, are you?"
He pointed toward himself. "Me? Do I look like I'd be friends with a chaser, even an invisible one?"
Invisible? He didn't believe me. "Not really. I just have to make sure you're not a serial killer or something."
"Hmmm…interesting." He paused for a moment. "That's the second time you mentioned that. But, think about it. If I'm friends with the police, could I possibly be a serial killer? I highly doubt they'd consider the police their friends."
"How do I know you're friends with the—"
A cop walked out of a shop near us, as if right on cue. "Mr. Dallas? How are you doing today?" He shook Mark's hand and smiled.
"I'm fine, Craig. Hope the kids are doing better."
"Yes, they're fine now. It was just the flu. Take care." The policeman walked back the way I'd come from around the corner.
"I stand corrected," I murmured. "How do you know him?"
"The whole police station comes over to work to make sure we're safe. We feed them donuts to guarantee they'll come back." He leaned closer to me. "They're suckers for donuts, especially the filled ones."
He straightened back up to his full height, about four inches taller than me, at least. "Near here. I just came to the beach for something to eat so I could get outside."
"Near here where?" I asked, narrowing my eyes. I couldn't think of any subversive businesses close by that might harbor serial killers. However, I should've brought my purse with me, because not only did I carry weapons, it made a great club if I hit someone just right.
Without answering me, Mark opened the door to the restaurant with a grin and we stood at the back of the line to order.
"I work at Madcap Software," he finally said. "Ever heard of it?"
I couldn't believe it. I'd finally met someone from there? "It's the best place to work in the area. If I just had the background in programming games, it would be my top choice for employment. What do you do there?"
Mark leaned up to the clerk. "I'd like two hotdogs with the works, and two colas."
The woman nodded, as if she were in the presence of royalty. "Yes, sir, Mr. Dallas." I never got service with like that and clerks didn't know my name, either.
Mark looked over at me. "I program games. What's your background?"
I glanced at the clerk then back at Mark. "They know you here?"
"Sure. A lot of people know me. I guess I'm just a likeable guy."
I dug some emergency cash from my pocket. "Well, likeable guy or not, I'm paying my way."
"No, this is mine." He placed his warm hand on mine. "I have to save the damsel in distress. It's my job."
I laughed at him, but stood firm. "No, I have to pay the prince for saving me. That's just the way it is."
"A prince?" He smiled, his white teeth all but blinding me, but I concentrated on those dimples. What a gorgeous man, but I wasn't about to fall for it. Yet. But I could see myself being worn down to beg him for a date.
I had to participate in the conversation, reminding myself of that fact. "Yes, sir. I don't know how you did it, but the man in black was gone after you appeared. You're either a prince or a knight in shining armor…or you have a death wish from a chaser." I kept digging in my skirt pocket, but had to keep glancing toward the door for the man in black.
My pocket was empty. Where was the rest of my money? I should have more than two dollars with me—or did I forget again?
Mark wrapped his fingers around my hand, making my head pop up to meet his very blue eyes staring me down. "You're not paying. I insist." He pushed my hand away from my pocket, but kept my other hand in his grip.
My eyebrows flew upward in awe, just from the power and masculinity of the man. On my scale of one to ten for a perfect male, I'd have to give him a twenty, at least. I used the scale to determine whether a man was worthy of me or not. Mark was good; there was no doubt about it. He was better than Connor, who'd only gotten a maximum score of five the entire two years we'd been dating. Since I'd found out he was also married, that score went down to a negative seventeen. However, I didn't trust anyone for a reason, and if Mark was out to get me, I was a dead duck. I had to keep my distance. My secrets had to remain as such, and no one, not even a prince with dimples, could get them from me.
I must've looked like an idiot as I stared at Mark, because he chuckled and paid the bill. While he carried the tray of food to a small table, I followed along like a little puppy. We sat down across from each other and he handed me a hot dog and a soda.
"You okay now?" he asked.
I had to look behind me at the door, just to make sure it was okay. I didn't see the bad guy, so I figured I was safe for the time being.
I turned around toward Mark. "Sure. Thanks for lunch."
"No problem." He leaned up closer to me. "I have my reputation to uphold, being a prince and all."
"And I feel like Cinderella with the stupid glass slipper, too. I bet she couldn't run in her shoes either. That's probably why she lost one on the stairs."
Mark laughed as he bit into the hot dog. He swallowed, watching me just as I took a bite and got ketchup all over my face. He picked up a napkin before I could move, wiping the red goo off my lips. He was powerful and the type of man who could handle anything. If knights in shining armor existed, Mark would be the one leading the pack. But I imagined the devil would look good and appear to be a knight if he wanted someone to fall for him, too. So I had to appear neutral on what I thought of Mark.
"What's your background?" he asked.
I swallowed, popped back to reality, and took a drink. Would he even understand me? Only one way to find out. "I'm working on my master's degree in mathematics and business computing so I can get a real job."
He didn't seem to be fazed, which was interesting in itself. "How many more classes do you have to go?"
I did a double take, not sure whether he really knew what he was talking about or if he was blowing smoke for some stupid manly reason. If he did understand me, he was smarter than I thought, because most men would've been running out the door by this time in the conversation.
I had to answer him. "Just the one I have right now. I have a test tonight, one project to turn in, and I'll have my master's degree. I can't wait, either."
"What then?" he asked, definitely interested.
I couldn't believe it. Men like Mark didn't have brains…or did they? "As soon as I write my résumé, I'm out of Florida. Time to move on."
He looked sad and confused. "Before you leave, you should try Madcap."
"No, because my classes aren't in games programming. It's much different."
"What class are you taking right now?" He took a huge bite and stared at me with those adorable eyes.
I had to stop watching this guy. He probably thought I was a crazy person. So I took a big bite of my hotdog before answering him. "Data administration."
Mark coughed, choking on his hot dog. I hopped to my feet and ran to his side of the booth. "Are you okay?" I patted him on the back.
He coughed some more, put up his hand, and took a drink. "I'm fine. It just went down the wrong way. Did you say data administration, as in management and modeling?"
How did someone like him even know what I was talking about? No one in their right mind knew anything about such topics. "That was the old title for the class. Why?" I returned to my seat.
"That's a very difficult class, from what I hear."
Who was this guy, anyway? Games programmers didn't cross over to business programming. At least they didn't in any of my classes. "How do you know that?"
He studied my face for a moment before he leaned closer. "Why are you so defensive? Are you in trouble? It would all fit if you've been chased. What are you hiding? Is it something you want to tell someone, just in case, or do you want to be protected?"
I sat back. That was an odd statement from him, as if he knew more than he was saying. "No, I'm not in trouble." I was a bad liar. "I just wondered how you knew about the class I have right now."
"Oh." He waved me off as if it were no big deal. "I know some people who've taken the same class. It's with Dr. Urban, right?"
"Yes, it is. Do you know him?" Something didn't seem right. How would he know people who've taken a class in data administration if he programmed games? Maybe there was more to games programming than I'd imagined.
He bit his lips for a moment. "I don't really know him, but have heard rumors that he's tough. How's the class going?"
I leaned closer, making sure no one would hear. "I have the highest grade in the class, but that's a secret."
"Why is that?"
"Dr. Urban and I have…history together. I've had him for many classes. I usually give him notes on the side so he can actually teach the course."
"You tell your own professor how to teach?" Mark sat back. "What other courses did you take from him?"
I shrugged, not wanting to tip my hand. "Oh, you know, different things. Why?"
The bell over the door of the restaurant tinkled, making me turn around and stare to see who'd walked in. An Asian man entered the restaurant, watching me. I ignored the man and turned back toward Mark, because men gawked at me all the time because of my blonde hair and blue eyes, or so they told me. I usually blew off any man who was that superficial.
Mark thrust his hand into his pocket, pulled out his cell phone, and pressed a number. "Join me." He ended the call, picked up my hand, and kissed the back of it.
"What was that about?" I whispered.
"Protection," he whispered back, leaning up closer to me. "You're very pretty. I have a request." Hearing concern in his voice and watching him frequently glance toward the door made me worried. Was the man in black in the building? I was scared to even look.
"Protection from what?" I probably sounded a bit hysterical, but considering Mark kept watching the door, I figured I was justified.
"Forget about it. Now about my request—"
I didn't even remember what he'd asked me. "Forget the request." Even though I tried to keep my voice down to a whisper, it was sounding more and more like a hiss. "What's going on? You look like you're staring at a ghost or something."
"Don't worry about it." He looked up at the door and nodded. I tried to turn around, but he pulled my chin toward him and gave me a kiss…a knock-you-out, make-your-knees-weak kiss. As soon as he moved away, I fell back to my seat and closed my eyes, wondering how to recover. I couldn't fall for this guy, because he might be the enemy—a well-rehearsed enemy.
I heard fingers snapping near my face. "You okay?"
I opened my eyes slowly. "I think I'm in your power." I pulled myself back together and crossed my arms. "Now quit freaking me out and taking over here. I don't know if I trust you yet, and don't like being accosted by your lips."
I don't think he even heard what I said.
He glanced back at the door again, nodded, and put his phone in his pocket. "Now about my request—"
"Uh-huh." I watched him massage my hand. "Ask away—anything you want, because I don't remember any request after a kiss like that." Or even before a kiss like that.
"One kiss and you're mine?"
"Appears so, even though it's against my will and I'd rather not fall for any man right now." I met his eyes. "Whatcha want?"
"We have to fix that kiss thing. Go out with me tonight—that's my request."
I shook my head and pulled my hand from his, returning to the present. "I don't know. I'm on the rebound and just don't know right now. You could be the devil or something and I need to protect myself."
"On the rebound?"
"Uh-huh." He didn't answer my last comment so I figured he either really was the devil and wanted me to fall for his advances, or ignored the comment about protection. Regardless, I crossed my arms, wondering about his hearing. He didn't look that old to be deaf.
He put his hand on my arm. "Why would someone let a beautiful blonde-haired, blue-eyed princess like you get away?"
I backed away. "Some come-on line. Now are you going to explain everything to me?"
"Nope." He leaned closer. "I was being serious. You're absolutely beautiful. Why are you on the rebound?"
"I got rid of some…dead weight. That's why I was going to the beach today. I needed to be alone."
"Who is this 'dead weight'?"
"His name's Connor. He's a psychology professor at the University." I sighed, thinking it through. No one would be interested in this story. "It's not that big of a deal, really, and it'll make it easier to move away when I get my master's degree."
"Go out with me tonight to celebrate getting rid of Connor?" He almost begged me, but I couldn't relent. I had to keep my distance.
"I don't think I can date right now." I leaned up closer to him. "Besides, how do I know you're not a crazed psycho or something?"
He chuckled, appearing more than amused with me. "I'm not a crazed psycho."
"Uh-huh." I crossed my arms. "And I'm to believe you? You think I'm going to date you now?"
He sat back, letting out a huge breath. "Not a date, just a celebration of getting rid of Connor. Please? We'll be out in public, too, so you can trust me."
His tone and beautiful eye contact got me. I should've walked out the door, but I was in his power and had no choice. No other woman would've argued with me about Mark Dallas. He was worth it. He was a perfect twenty out of ten, after all. Also, he knew the cops, which was a definite plus. But there was something there that seemed almost secretive about him.
I studied him for a moment, thinking it through. He'd be fun to play with, at least, until I figured out how bright he really was. I didn't date beneath my intelligence level, not because I was a snob, but I didn't want them labeling me as a nerd or something.
I nodded. "Fine. I'll meet you somewhere, but I pay my way. I don't want to owe anyone anything."
"It's my treat and I insist."
I leaned closer, challenging him with my narrowed eyes. "I'm not helpless."
"I know that." His voice was almost a whisper as he chuckled. "But I want to treat you right. Please?"
I was in big trouble, because the butterflies were doing double wing-flaps in my stomach. What was it about this guy? Was it the invisible dimples that only showed up when he grinned, or was it the compassion oozing out of him? It was hard to tell because I was a sucker for both of those things. I still couldn't trust him. "We'll see. What time and where?"
He checked his watch. "After your class at Luigi's Italian Restaurant."
"I'm done around six. I'll meet you there, and it's not a date."
His smile and dimples were endearing but not as mesmerizing as his blue eyes. "Not a date. Got it. Just dinner and a celebration."
I finished my hot dog and drink, and glanced at my watch. "I have to go back to work. Thank you for lunch."
"Where is work?"
"Near here. I'm a bank teller."
His face sported confusion. "You have your college degree and you're a bank teller?"
"It pays the bills until I can get a real job. A 4.0 GPA in Mathematics for undergrad doesn't exactly pull in the jobs." I had to throw that information out there, just to see if he cringed or backed away slowly. But instead, the guy smiled, making me wonder what was going through his mind. He was probably figuring out a way to get rid of me—and my brains.
"Tonight at six at Luigi's," he said.
I stood to leave, but Mark was at my side in an instant. "I had a thought," he said. "Why don't I walk you back to work?" He kept glancing out the door and grabbed my arm.
"Why? It's very close to here."
"In case that man returns who was chasing you. I want to make sure you're safe. That's all."
I had to give him one last test, to see if he was honorable. "You're a true knight, but I bet your girlfriend won't be too happy about that, though."
He took me outside into the sunshine. "No girlfriend, no wife. You're in luck." So he wasn't like Connor, or he was lying. I didn't have time to check it out, so I had to take him at his word. I hated that thought.
Mark picked up his pace, checking behind us every so often.
I didn't see anyone following us, but just played along. "So, are you from around here?"
"No, my family lives in the Washington D.C. area. Yours?"
Uh oh. D.C.—that meant governmental. I had to be extra careful, just in case, after being warned against governmental types. But this guy was just a games programmer, so he, personally, couldn't be governmental. I had to give him the benefit of the doubt. "I'm alone here. What brought you to Florida?"
"Oh, the job. We rounded the corner near the street to where I first saw the chaser, but the man in black was now gone, as well as the Asian men.
Mark took my hand and we waited at the red light. Once it turned green, we walked across the street together. "Do you come down to the beach often?" he asked.
"Not really. You probably do, since you seem to know everyone in that hot dog shop."
He smiled. "Not really, but people seem to know who I am."
"Well, I don't. Are you on the news or something?"
"No, not the news. I just like treating people well, and it seems to follow me no matter where I go." He was being more than cryptic, making me wonder what he was hiding.
We stood in front of the bank and he turned to face me. "Well, have a great afternoon at work." He handed me his card. "If you have any problems, give me a call."
I glanced at his simple white business card, containing his name, phone number, and the words 'Madcap Programmer' under it. "I will. Thanks for lunch and—"
He pulled me to him. With one arm around my back, he stroked my hair and seemed to glance behind me.
"Is he back?" I whispered.
"No, I don't think so. But I'm watching out for you. Want me to meet you after work to make sure you're safe?"
"I'll be fine. I'll have the security guard walk me to my car."
Mark moved closer, his lips touching mine gently at first, then turning passionate, while I kissed him back. He was hot and the things his kiss did to me—oh baby. I was in big trouble if he were the enemy.
Mark backed away with a grin, making his dimples appear just slightly. "If you need me, call, please?" He asked in such a warm tone, I had to remind myself we were out in public.
My cheeks heated up while my breath hitched. "Sure."
He let go, took a few steps away from me, and turned back suddenly. "Six. Luigi's Italian Restaurant. Don't forget."
"Yes, sir." Upon entering the bank, I told Benny, the elderly security guard, what had happened. He didn't seem too upset about it but wanted to talk about what his wife sent him for his lunch—tuna and sauerkraut, mixed together. And here, I thought I had a weird lunch.
I said goodbye to Benny and headed for my window. As soon as I got there, I called the cops.
"Devon Police," a surly man said.
"My name is Amy Watson, and I'd like to know about someone named Mark Dallas. I just met him and I want to know what you've got on him."
The man laughed for a long time before clearing his throat. "He's one of the most well-respected citizens in Devon. He's friends with everyone here at the station and in various surrounding police departments. Why?"
Weird. "Well, he was worried about someone in the restaurant and called for someone to join us, but they never did."
The man's voice turned from jovial to serious. "What restaurant was it?"
"Sal's hotdogs, down at the beach. Why?"
"I'll take care of it." Click.
I stared at the dead phone, not sure what had just happened.
"That's a phone, Miss Watson. Now get to work." I turned around to see my boss' angry face.
"Yes, Mr. Johnson." I unlocked my teller window and got to work. My mind wasn't on the job, but on the situation from the beach. Why would someone run after me? It made no sense.
Within fifteen minutes, a strange looking man wearing blue jeans and a white polo shirt walked into the bank. I was working with a customer, but the man in the white polo looked odd and out of place. Ever since I'd had some things stolen from my apartment in the past, I always seemed to be looking over my shoulder for some reason.
"That's two hundred dollars," I said to Mr. Perkins. He was at least a hundred years old and couldn't hear me anyway, but I counted it out in front of him.
"Thank you, Amy. I love coming in here just to see you." He patted my hand and gave it a squeeze. After offering him a half-smile, I watched as he moved his walker and turned away. He headed for the door, past all the other customers. The man in the jeans and while polo shirt seemed so out of place, leaning against the wall with crossed arms while staring at everyone—especially me.
I picked up my phone and dialed the number for the security guard.
"Yes?" Benny was old, maybe sixty, with coke bottle glasses and a hearing aid. He didn't do much to make me feel safe, but he was better than having no security guard.
I covered the side of my mouth, to hide what I was saying. "Benny, it's Amy. Who's the guy at the wall wearing the white shirt and jeans?" I tried to keep my voice down, but knew he couldn't hear much.
"Guy? Wall? Jeans?" He yelled over the phone so loudly, everyone in the place could hear him. They all turned to see him on his cell phone—even the man in jeans.
I turned my back to the door. "Benny, not so loudly. He'll hear you."
The door to the bank opened with a tinkle of the bell, but I ignored it. "Benny, I have to go, but keep an eye on things."
"Sure!" he yelled. I didn't need to listen over the phone, because I could hear him yelling the whole way across the room.
A rapping at my station had me spinning around while I hung up the phone. I didn't know what to say, as I stared at the two men in front of me, in complete shock. "Mark? Dr. Urban?" Neither one of the men looked very happy.
"We need to talk to you," Mark said.
This was weird. "You do?"
"Yes, we do," Dr. Urban said. "I was pulled out of my class just to come to see you." He opened a folder in his hand, took out a stapled set of papers, and laid it on the counter.
I read over it. It was the final exam for my class. "What? But I'm taking this tonight." I pointed to the paper. "Why do you have it here, now? I have to work."
"You're done," Mr. Johnson said, from behind me. "Take the rest of the day off, and you can use my desk to take the test."
"Do you have your final project done?" Dr. Urban asked.
"Sure. It's in my car. But what's this all about?"
Mark leaned closer, looking almost grim. "Someone from the police department just called me. It seems that my lunch date wanted to know who I was. I figured we needed to get to know each other better. So, I've made…arrangements for you to finish your test early, get out of work early, and go to dinner with me. Right now."
"Dinner?" I looked at the clock on the wall. "At one o'clock in the afternoon? You can't do that. I have to take the test tonight and finish my work."
"Nope. All expenses paid vacation day," Mr. Johnson said, still standing behind me. "Now go to my office, get the test done, and hand in your project. You're done for the day."
With a glance over at the man in jeans, I leaned closer to Mark and Dr. Urban, motioning for Mr. Johnson to join us. The four of us stood close in a huddle.
"Look. That man at the wall dressed in jeans has been standing there since I got back from lunch. I don't trust him and can't just walk away. What if he's a bank robber?"
All three men turned toward the man in jeans. "What man?" Dr. Urban asked. He turned to see me again. "Are you delusional, suffering from burnout from too many classes?"
I looked up toward the wall. The man was gone. I looked a second time, but he was definitely not there. "Where did he go?"
Mark picked up the test and handed it to me. "Doesn't matter. Take the test and let's get going. I have a schedule."
Dr. Urban checked his watch. "Me too. Hurry up."
Mark held out his hand. "I can get your project from the car. I need your keys."
"I can get it." I pulled my keys from my purse, under the teller's window.
"No, you have a test to take." Mark kept his hand outstretched for the keys. "Which car and where is it in the car?"
I put the keys in his hand, the warmth of the touch incredible as I tried to remember his questions. "The project's on the passenger's seat in a manila folder. My car's the blue clunker across the street at the grocery store."
Mark looked confused. Welcome to my world, buddy. "Why are you parked across the street?" he asked.
"Because her car's an eyesore," Mr. Johnson said. "We have a reputation to uphold."
"I see." Mark nodded, but he didn't look like he understood.
Wait until he saw my car. He'd really understand, then.
I grabbed the test and a pencil from my station, and went into Mr. Johnson's office. As soon as he closed the door behind me, I could hear the three men laughing and whispering. Whatever floated their boats.
After answering everything on the very simple final exam in about twenty minutes, I returned to the lobby, seeing the three men sitting near the front windows, drinking sodas. They were all laughing, and I was sure it was about me. I grabbed my purse at my station on the way to join them.
"You're done?" Mark said to me. "Just in time."
I handed the test to Dr. Urban, who graded it right in front of all of us, which was our arrangement. He put an A+ at the top and stood up. "It was a pleasure having you in my class." He shook my hand. "Now I have to go back to work." He turned toward Mark. "I'm glad I could help." After he shook the hands of the other two men, he left the bank. It was the oddest thing I'd ever witnessed. What did he help Mark with, anyway, other than harassing me early with a final exam?
Mr. Johnson patted me on the back. "Good luck." He walked away. Weird. He didn't even complain that I was leaving early.
I grabbed my things from my window and closed it up before approaching Mark.
"Ready to go?" Mark asked me.
"No. We have a few stops to make, first." He took my hand and directed me toward the door. "You need a new car. I agree with your boss."
"What kind of stops?"
He took me outside and directed me toward a small red sports car, parked at the curb. No other car was parked nearby.
"Is this your car?" I asked, pointing.
"They pay programmers well at Madcap."
He chuckled and bit his lips. "Sure do. Now I have a few places to take you. Are you game?"
"Where are you taking me?" For some reason I trusted this guy, which made me worried. I knew better.
"Just some fun places. I promise it's very innocent." He unlocked the passenger's side door with the remote on his key chain, and opened the door for me. "Why are you so untrusting?"
"Don't worry about it."
I started to get into the car, but his hand on my arm stopped me. "I will worry about it." He leaned closer. "What's going on?"
He probably thought I was psycho, so I pasted a smile on my face. "Nothing. Now what did you want to show me?"
"It's now a secret. Two can play that game." He helped me into the bucket seat on the passenger's side of the car, and walked around to his side. Once he got in, he revved the motor, pulled out, and drove down the street.
"I'm not playing any games." I crossed my arms. "Put yourself in my shoes for a minute. I'm chased by a man in black over lunch, run into you, literally, and when we're eating lunch, you make a phone call to someone while watching the door. And to top it all off, you pull some sort of strings that get me out of work and make me take my test a few hours early while a potential bank robber is watching me. What would you think?"
"I guess I'd be a little leery, too."
"So where are we going?" We passed by some businesses on the streets, then I turned back to him when he didn't answer me. "Well?"
He glanced in the rearview mirror. "Just sit back and relax. We're going to have fun today."
"Great." I just hoped it wasn't psycho fun. At least I had a weapon—my purse.