She flattened it against her chest and crossed her arms over it, ensuring that he wouldn’t snatch it away. She wanted his help with this, but she didn’t want him to take any risks without her there to watch his back. No way was she letting him take over and go all macho on her.
“So what are we going to do?” she asked.
He ignored the fact that she was holding the file against her breasts and slid it away from her. She was sure he hadn’t meant to make her nipples bead up with the inadvertent caress, but they did anyway. It was enough to make a girl wonder how her body would react if he actually touched her—the teenage girl lurking inside her with the bad case of hero worship.
Thank goodness that girl wasn’t behind the wheel anymore.
Isabelle shifted her arms to cover the shameless effect he had on her body. He didn’t need any more advantages over her than he already had.
“We’re not going to do anything. You’re going to go about your life,” he told her, “and I’m going to look into this. Talk to the police again and see what I can figure out.”
So much for him not going all macho. “I never intended for you to swoop in and take over.”
“No one’s swooping. Besides, you’ve already done all the hard work researching everything. Let me take a turn.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“I thought you already said the police couldn’t help you.”
“And you think they’ll help you?” she asked, her voice rising up an octave in irritation.
Grant shrugged. “Maybe. It’s worth a shot. If you’re not the only one coming to them with the concern that there’s something going on, maybe they’ll be convinced to look into it more thoroughly.”
As much as she hated to admit it, that made sense. In fact, it would probably strengthen her case if he went to the police on his own instead of with her.
A slow, languid smile curved his mouth. “Besides, we don’t want them to think I’m being swayed by a pretty face, now, do we?”
Isabelle suppressed the shiver his compliment caused and forced herself to focus. It didn’t matter if he thought she was pretty. Not one bit. And if she kept repeating it to herself long enough, she’d believe it.
“If we do it your way, you have to promise to come back and tell me what they say.”
“Coming back is not a problem,” said Grant. “Until this is settled, I’m staying here with you.”
She stood there silent from shock, able only to blink and stare at him like a fool.
Grant sleeping under her roof only a few feet away, so very accessible? Grant at her table, sharing meals and conversation? Grant in her shower all naked and slick with no one to wash his back? She’d never survive it. Even if she managed to stay strong enough not to seduce him while he was here, her house would never be the same again. She’d see him everywhere she looked. “You can’t.”
He actually had the audacity to look hurt, giving her a sad little pout that made her feel like she’d pinched a puppy. “What? I’m not invited?”
No. He absolutely was not. Not if she wanted to stay sane. “You’re not good with rejection, are you?”
“Not enough practice, I guess.”
“It’s nice to know I can help you learn this valuable life lesson, then. I am a teacher, after all.”
“Maybe, but I’m sure as hell no second grader.”
Isabelle was stunned silent again. How had he known she’d moved to teaching second grade? She’d never told him. “Have you been checking up on me?”
He pointed to the stack of ungraded homework, to where her student’s name was. Right under that was Miss Carson, 2nd grade.
Grant lifted his blond brows and shot her a charming grin. “See? I’m not too shabby at this whole investigative stuff. You should let me stay.”
“I thought you said you were starting a new job. I don’t want you to get fired.”
“Let me worry about that. I’ve got it covered.”
“What will Dale think?” she asked.
“Dale?” His eyes shot to her left hand, and she knew he was looking for a ring. The smile slid from his face and his eyes went flat. “I didn’t know you had a boyfriend.”
No way was that jealousy she was hearing. Not from Grant I-can-get-any-woman-I-want Kent. Was it?
“Dale is my foster son.”
His smile came back, so bright she could hear it warm his voice. “Seriously? That’s great.”
She hadn’t realized until that moment how important his opinion of her decision to become a foster mom was. A satisfied glow filled her up, making her steps a little lighter. “He hasn’t been here long, just since August. It’s working out well, though. He’s a great kid. Well, nearly a man, I guess. I only wish I’d found him sooner.” For too many reasons.
“He’s had a rough time. His mother is dead. His biological father was released from prison a few months ago and wants him back, which I’m not going to let happen. The man was locked up for assaulting his wife, for heaven’s sake. He says he’s rehabilitated.”
“Rehabilitated my ass,” ground out Grant. “Once an asshole, always an asshole.”
Isabelle grunted her agreement. She couldn’t have said it better herself. “I’d love to adopt him, but I don’t see that working out.”
“Even if there wasn’t an issue of Dale still having a father who wants custody, I don’t know if the adoption paperwork would go through before he turns eighteen in a few months.”
“Eighteen is still young enough to wish you had a family,” said Grant.
Isabelle’s heart squeezed hard for a moment. Grant would know all about how it felt to be a young man with no family of his own.
She kept her tone light rather than let him think she felt sorry for him. “Dale will always be part of my family, whether or not we have the paperwork to prove it.”
“You’ve grown into one hell of a generous woman, Isabelle.”
His praise made her face warm. If he kept acting like this, she wasn’t going to stand a chance of keeping her distance. He’d walk away again with her half in love with him, and she wouldn’t be able to do a thing about it.
Only this time, it wouldn’t be puppy love.
That thought scared her straight. She had to be careful with Grant. He was her weakness. Her childhood hero. She needed him to talk to the police, but that didn’t mean she needed to fall for him in the few hours it would take him to do so. It was best if they just kept their distance and dealt with this as quickly as possible, with all of her body parts still her own and him well on his way to his new life.
“Does your son know what’s going on?”
“No. And I don’t want him to, either. He’s got the SATs coming up, and he’s working his butt off studying for them. I don’t want anything to distract him.”
“If you let me stay, I promise he’ll hardly notice I’m here.”
Isabelle snorted at that. “You couldn’t go unnoticed if you wanted to.”
He lifted a brow in challenge. “Wanna bet? I could tell you some stories that would make you change your mind.” He gave her a smile that made her legs tremble. “Though I do have to admit that the idea of you noticing me has its appeal.”
“Don’t you dare flirt with me,” she warned him.
He took a step closer so that his body nearly touched hers. He lifted up a few strands of her slippery hair to his nose and breathed in. His low hum of approval vibrated the air between them. “Why not, Isabelle? A little flirting never hurt anyone.”
Isabelle felt frozen, unable to move away from him. “Maybe it never hurt you, but then, you’re not the one left behind wondering what went wrong.”
God, he was so beautiful. Age had been good to him, honing his features to sharp, masculine edges. He looked harder, stronger, like the kind of man a woman could count on to stick around. She had no idea how he pulled off the illusion, but she couldn’t let herself fall for it.
“Is that what happened, Isabelle? Is that why you’re alone? Someone left you behind?”
Too many someones. Her mother had given her away at birth, more than a dozen foster parents had decided not to keep her, countless friends had walked away over the years, along with two men she thought had loved her. Even Dale would be leaving for college next fall.
People left. That’s just what they did.
“I’m not alone. I have Dale.”
“You know what I mean. Why aren’t you married yet? Why hasn’t some man snatched you up so the rest of us can’t get to you?”
An old ache throbbed inside her, but she was so used to it she hardly noticed. She wanted too much from the men in her life, and she’d never found any who loved her enough to give it to her. And she wasn’t willing to settle. Her future was too important to too many special people.
“I guess no one has been good enough for me yet,” she told him.
He slid his long finger over her brow and along her cheekbone. Isabelle had to work hard not to shiver at his touch and give away the effect he had on her.
“Now, that I can believe,” he said.
“Don’t do this,” she begged.
“Touch me like this.” Even as she said it, she leaned closer to him, unable to stop herself.
“Like I’m a woman.”
Grant laughed and cupped her cheek in his wide palm. “Honey, you’re all woman, but if you want me to keep my hands off, I swear I’ll try.”
His hand fell to his side so he was no longer touching her, but she still couldn’t pull out of that gravitational well that surrounded him. She stood there, unable to move or even blink. She’d had too many girlish daydreams about this man over the years, and here he was, only inches away, coming on to her. It was too surreal.
He kept staring at her with that wicked light glittering in his eyes. “I have to admit, you surprised me. I was expecting some tiny little frail thing. You’re all grown up and did a great job of it, too. And I don’t just mean your killer body, either. Taking in Dale couldn’t have been an easy decision for you.”
Killer body? That kind of praise was nice from anyone, but coming from Grant it was practically a narcotic.
“You’re wrong,” she told him, struggling to focus on the rest of what he said. “It was the easiest thing I’ve ever done.”
Grant shook his head, giving her a crooked grin. “Like I said. All grown up.”
She wasn’t sure exactly what he meant by that, but she let it slide. There was still the matter of him staying here for her to deal with. “All things considered, I don’t think you should stay here. What will Dale think?”
“It’s not like I’m asking to sleep in your bed. The couch will work fine. I’m just an old friend in for a visit.”
“An old friend who can’t keep his hands to himself or stop flirting long enough to have a conversation?”