Undercover Father

By: Mary Anne Wilson

PROLOGUE

  Fort Worth, Texas

  RAFE DAGGET LOOKED at the “perfect” woman across the table from him at one of the best and most intimate restaurants in the city. He wasn’t so sure she was perfect, or even close. But Dave Lang, his friend who had talked him into this blind date, had been adamant.

  “She’s pretty, smart and she loves kids. She’s perfect, Rafe, just perfect.”

  Rafe had tried to get out of the date, but Dave hadn’t given him a chance. “We all loved Gabriella, you know that, and there won’t be another woman like her, Rafe.” Dave’s slightly florid face had gone from intently concerned to being touched by a sad but knowing smile. “But, buddy, it’s time. It’s been two years. You need to get out and meet people. You have to move on with your life, for your sake and the sake of the twins.”

  Rafe watched the woman talking to him, and part of him reluctantly agreed with Dave’s assessment. His blind date was pretty, in a girlish sort of way, with an upturned nose, dark eyes, full lips and red hair cut into a stylish feathery cap. But perfect? He doubted that. As much as he doubted Dave’s pronouncement that it was “time to move on.” Why did everyone believe that two years was the magic amount of time to get over a death that left rubble behind and a gaping hole in a life?

  “I always thought four children would be perfect,” his blind date was saying earnestly, leaning toward him across the table, making intent eye contact with him. “Just perfect.”

  Rafe reached for his water glass, breaking the contact when he realized how freely people tossed around the word perfect. On top of that, he couldn’t remember the woman’s name. Felicia, Fanny? He swallowed a good half of ice-cold liquid before he put the goblet back down on the white linen cloth.

  “Two boys, two girls,” she rattled. “Two years apart.”

  “Hmm,” he murmured, because he was thinking that the restaurant, with its dim lights and soft mood music, suddenly seemed claustrophobic. He’d been here before, in another life when the world had been right. Then it might have been perfect.

  He drained the rest of his water as his nameless date leaned closer to him across the table. Now he didn’t know what she’d been saying and tried to pick up the threads of her conversation. She tapped her bare wrist. “And my biological clock is ticking. If I want to have children, I need to get started. Francine, I said to myself a few weeks ago, you’re thirty years old, and you’d better get on with things.”

  Francine. That was it. And Francine was dead serious about what she was saying. “Absolutely,” he said, buying time while he tried to figure out how to end this date as quickly as possible.

  “Absolutely,” she echoed with an emphatic shake of her head. “As soon as I know that I’m having a child, I’m going to apply at the Briar School. Fantastic school. Do you know they vet everyone who applies? Quite hard to get your child into it.”

  Rafe casually glanced at his watch. They’d been at the restaurant for only half an hour, but it seemed like a lifetime. “A good school is important,” he murmured, just to say something.

  She grinned a toothy smile, as if she’d won a jackpot, and reached over to tap the back of his hand. “From what David told me about you, I knew you’d understand, that we’d be on the same page.”

  Understand what, and what page? Then she answered without him having to actually ask the question. “David said you are a terrific father to your two little boys, so I knew you’d be up on the schools. So, what school do they attend?”

  He shrugged. “They aren’t in school yet.”

  “But I thought David said they were around five?”

  “They’re four. They’ll be five in a few months.”

  “But at that age...” She shrugged, obviously bothered. “Surely they’re on the list?”

  “They’re on the list for kindergarten in the fall,” he said. “And they’re pretty excited about it, at least Greg is. Gabe isn’t so sure he wants to go, but if his brother goes, he’ll tag along.”

  “Oh, what school?” she asked, her interest piqued again.

  “The elementary school near where we live.”

  “Public school?” she gasped, as if he’d said they were going into a labor camp. “Why would you do that?”

  He drank more of the ice water that the waiter had just poured for him. “It’s the school my wife and I planned on for them.”

  Francine sat back, looking a bit flustered. “I’m sorry. That was insensitive of me. David explained about your loss, how your wife was...taken, and you were left with the two boys.” She reached out and patted his hand again. An action he knew was an attempt to show sympathy, but it felt intrusive and wrong to him, the way her words did. “I’m sure things would be different if she was still...here.”

  If Gabriella was here, the boys would still be going to that school, and he wouldn’t be enduring this stupid conversation with a woman who was looking for a husband. He moved his hand away and sipped more water before he said, “Yes, things would be very different.”

  “How long has it been since she...she passed?”

  Passed? Was taken? “Since she died?” he asked bluntly, and wished he had more to drink.

  “Yes,” Francine murmured somberly.

  “Almost two years,” he said. Then his cell phone rang, and he took it out of the pocket of his dark suit coat as if he’d been thrown a lifeline. He glanced at the screen and saw that it was Zane Holden, the CEO at LynTech Corporation, and a man who had proved to be a good friend to him when he needed one.

  “Excuse me for a minute,” he said to Francine. “I need to take this.” He put the phone to his ear. “Zane?”

  “Yes, it’s me, Rafael.”

  Zane was the only person who ever called Rafe by his given name, except for his mother. He’d said it fit, with Rafe’s naturally bronzed skin, the ebony hair, black eyes and high cheekbones. Rafe didn’t know if it fit or not, but it felt right coming from a friend he’d known since the very early days of his career in corporate security. They hadn’t seen each other recently, not since Zane had gotten married, but they kept in touch.

  “What’s going on?” he asked, ignoring the waiter setting plates of food before them on the table.

  There was no friendly small talk. “I need to speak with you as soon as possible. When can we get together?”

  “What’s going on? You and Lindsey—”

  “No, it’s business, and I need your help.”

  It was a given Rafe would do anything for Zane personally or on a business level. Zane had been the one to drag him back into the land of the living when he’d needed it the most. He glanced at Francine, who was picking at her meal and trying to appear not to be listening to his conversation. He wasn’t about to feel guilty, only relieved that he had the perfect excuse to leave. “I’ll call you back in five minutes.”

  “Five minutes,” Zane said.

  Rafe ended the call and smiled apologetically at Francine. At least he hoped he pulled that off. “I’m so sorry, but a business emergency just came up. I need to go.”

  “Oh, yes, okay,” she said, and would have stood, but he motioned for her to remain where she was.

  “No, you stay and enjoy your dinner.” They’d come in their own cars, so that wasn’t a problem. “Please, it’s paid for.”

  She hesitated, then sank back in the chair, obviously not happy, but not about to make a scene. “Okay, but call me?”

  He nodded, not about to agree to a lie out loud, then left. He settled the bill on the way out, and exited into the softness of the Fort Worth night. He gave the valet his parking ticket, then stood off to one side of the entry door. The night was balmy and clear, with a huge moon hanging over the city. He was obscenely relieved to be done with his first and last blind date, and actually felt as if he could breathe again. Then he called Zane back. The CEO answered on the first ring.

  “It’s me,” Rafe stated.

  “Thanks for returning my call,” Zane said, while Rafe watched a black Jaguar pull up to the restaurant.

  “No problem. Now what’s wrong?”

  Two women got out of the sleek black car, handed their keys to the valet, then walked toward the entry. One was tall and leggy, the other shorter and more compact. Both were blonde and dressed to kill.

  “A security leak at LynTech,” Zane was saying in his ear.

  “Let me give you Hal Simmons’s private number and he can take care of things.”

  “No, I need you on it,” Zane said.

  Rafe had been watching the blondes, and was taken aback when the tall one stopped about three feet from him and very deliberately gave him the once-over. Her eyes roamed every inch of his six-foot-two-inch frame, skimming over his dark suit, the white, collarless silk shirt, then met his gaze. She didn’t even blink.

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