Chapter 1 – The Watcher
Frank Grand stood on a wind-swept bluff overlooking the bleak Montana prairie and maneuvered his drone to zoom in on two figures standing in the parking area of the Interstate 90 rest stop. He focused the control console on his primary target—attorney Tillman Rosenbaum.
At six-seven, Rosenbaum owned any courtroom he entered. Frank had seen him in action, felt the boom of his James Earl Jones voice, and watched as opposing counsel and even some judges shriveled under the fierce obsidian stare.
Beside him stood a tall, slender woman with wide-set doe eyes. Rosenbaum stroked her braided hair that shone in the sun like a bright copper penny. His long, angular face looked like a stick of butter melting in a microwave.
The bigger they are, Frank thought, the harder they fall.
The original plan was to kidnap his children. From the way Rosenbaum gazed at this woman, adding her into the equation would drive the stakes even higher.
Frank panned the camera to admire the attorney’s Mercedes G-Wagon SUV. Hundred and twenty grand minimum. With his cut of the ransom, Frank might buy one for himself.
The couple got in the Mercedes and merged onto the interstate, eastbound toward Billings.
Frank retrieved the drone, secured it in the hard-sided case, and set it on the passenger seat of his Crown Vic Police Interceptor. He drove down the hill and followed Rosenbaum’s SUV.
Tawny Lindholm studied the dark curly hair, long profile, and jutting chin of Tillman Rosenbaum, her boss and, as of recently, her lover. “I thought we were going to Yellowstone.”
Tillman’s wrist steered easy on the wheel. “We are.”
“You missed the turnoff to Highway Eighty-nine.”
“Yeah.” The Mercedes continued east on I-90, smooth, steady, its destination evidently predetermined.
A wave of uneasiness crested over Tawny. She shifted in the leather seat, facing him. “Are we going to Billings?”
Where he lived on a sprawling estate with his ex-wife in one wing, him in the other, and three teenage children stuck in the middle.
“Do you mind?”
“What are you pulling, Tillman?” Although Tawny adored the brilliant lawyer, she didn’t always trust him.
“Tomorrow’s Judah’s bar mitzvah.”
Damn him. He’d manipulated her again. “You lead me to believe we’re going on vacation, except now you spring a little detour to shove me down your family’s throat.”
Tillman faced her, a sheepish grin tugging one side of his mouth. “Judah likes you. He wants you to come.”
“Crap, Tillman, he’s only met me once.” Tawny recalled the awkward dinner at his home almost a year before when he’d introduced her as his new investigator.
“You made a big impression,” he said. “That’s three generations of Rosenbaum men you’ve bewitched.”
She hugged herself, again regretting that she’d crossed the line with her boss. “Number one, I don’t believe you. Number two, you’re an asshole to deceive me. Number three, I am not going to intrude on a sacred family event. Your kids have enough problems without introducing Dad’s new girlfriend into the mix.”
“I’ve told them we’re together, Tawny. It’s not a secret.”
“Hearing about someone who lives four hundred and fifty miles away in Kalispell is a whole lot different than coming face to face with the other woman who’s the reason their parents won’t get back together.”
He let out an exasperated huff. “Number one, you were never the other woman. Number two, you already know I’m an asshole. Number three, you’re not the reason. They know Chell and I will never reconcile.”
“Hope is hard to kill in kids.” Tawny stared out the window at the rolling hills, new green growth reawakening from winter. The scent of sagebrush wafted through the air vents. “I don’t understand you, Tillman. Why am I more concerned about disrupting their lives than you are? They’re your family.”
“You could be my family too…someday.”
His sideways proposal made her mushy inside but she held strong to her resolve. “No chance of that, at least not until the kids are grown. I’m not making it harder for them than it already is.”
“I want you there.”
“Newsflash, Tillman.” She threw back the taunt he’d often used on her, especially when he thought she was being naive. “You’re the daddy. That means you have to give up what you want for your kids’ sake.”
His cell rang through the radio. He punched the Bluetooth. “Judah, my man!”
“Hey, Dad, when are you getting here?” High squeaks alternated with low, gruff tones.
Poor kid, Tawny thought. How well she remembered the changing voice of her own son Neal at age thirteen. And the embarrassment that came with it.
Tillman answered, “Couple more hours.”
“Well, hurry up. Mimi and Arielle are fighting World War Three. Mom may kill both of them if you don’t get here soon.”
“As fast as I can without getting a ticket.”
“Hey, Dad, y’know that hot redhead that works for you? Is she coming?”
Tillman slid a sideways glance at Tawny, not bothering to hide his smug smile. “Hang on a sec, got another call coming in.” He tapped Judah’s call to hold. “Are you going to disappoint him?”
Tawny glared at him. “You’re rotten to manipulate me.”
“Never pretended to be otherwise.” He lifted one shoulder. “Well?”
She stared out the window, irritated, but stuck in a box.
He tapped the speaker. “Yo, Judah. Yeah, that hot redhead’s sitting beside me. She can’t wait to give you a big, sloppy, congratulatory kiss for becoming a man.”
Not in this lifetime, Tawny fumed.
“Da-ad, did you put me on speaker?” Lots of cracks. “Can she hear what I’m saying?”
“No worries, son, she’s taking a nap.” He disconnected.
Tawny didn’t know whether to slug Tillman or kiss him for saving the boy from being mortified. How could the man be such a jerk on one hand, yet so sweet on the other?
He settled back in the driver’s seat, still steering with his wrist, a smirk pulling the side of his mouth.
But it was her own fault. She’d broken rule number one: don’t sleep with the guy who signs your paycheck.
Silence pulsed between them. She spotted a corral of sheep, new lambs skipping over mud puddles. On the far side of the highway, black cows grazed on a hillside, wobbly-legged calves sticking close to their mothers. Everywhere, new life, new growth surrounded them, yet their new relationship was souring faster than milk left out in the midday sun.
After several moments, his deep voice filled the car. “Bet you didn’t bring anything to wear except jeans and hiking boots, right?”
“Silly me, I thought we were going hiking and horseback riding and camping. Why would I pack nice clothes?”
“Don’t worry, we’ll stop at the mall and I’ll buy you something sexy and expensive. Least I can do to make up for misleading you.” He reached across the console and fingered the tail of her french braid. His voice lowered. “I suspected you’d refuse to come. Guessed right. But, Tawny, it’s important for you to be involved.”
She squared herself in the seat. “Your closing arguments are striking out with this jury of one.” She spread her hands in a can’t-you-understand gesture. “I’m not kidding, Tillman. Just drop me at a motel and go take care of your family obligations. When you’re done, you can pick me up and we’ll go to Yellowstone like we planned.”
“Have you ever been to a bar mitzvah?”
“You’ll find it interesting. A lot of tradition and history.”
“I’d love to go to a bar mitzvah…just not your son’s.” How could the brilliant lawyer, who read juries flawlessly, be so dense when it came to the feelings of children he loved?
“Look, we’ll just drop by the house, you can say hi to Judah then I’ll take you to a hotel.”
Without warning, Tillman swerved across the center divider of the interstate, jaw clenched. The SUV rollicked and bumped over the rough ground, tires kicking up mud, as he made a radical, illegal U-turn. Seconds later, the vehicle regained the pavement, now headed west, the direction they’d just come from.
Tawny clutched the armrest. “What are you doing?”
He said nothing, pushed the speed to eighty. At the US 89 junction, he turned south, slowing only slightly through the outskirts of Livingston. Ahead, a green highway sign listed the roads and campsites that were open in Yellowstone.
“Dammit, Tillman. Stop the car. This is childish. You’re not missing your son’s bar mitzvah and you’re not shoving me into any more corners.”
His jaw jutted, as if daring her to take a swing at him. “What the hell do you want, Tawny? I’ll do anything you want. You just have to tell me what it is.”
Sadness stirred in the angry confusion burning inside her. “It’s not what I want. It’s not what you want. It’s what’s the right thing for your kids. Can’t you see that?”
He let up on the accelerator and turned into a shaded pull-out where remaining patches of snow had turned into slush-mud. The SUV stopped.
His penetrating, dark stare always unsettled her, half sexy, half scary. “You’d be good for my kids. That’s why I want you around them.” His cool hand caressed her cheek. “I wish you’d been their mother instead of Rochelle. Maybe if you’d raised them, loved them, given them what they needed, they wouldn’t be so screwed up now.”
His words irked her because he’d insulted his ex, who’d no doubt tried hard to be a good mother. At the same time, his compliment touched Tawny. Her own kids weren’t perfect, particularly Emma, but they’d grown up into good, decent adults. But she could never be the mother of his children—they already had one. “That’s not fair to Rochelle. Teenage years are awful, no matter how you raise them. You just have to hunker down and get through it.”
A trace of smile lifted the side of his mouth. “Someone as wise as you normally has a long gray beard.”
The tease in his dark eyes diffused her frustration. “I do have one. I keep it in a drawer in my dresser.”
“You’ll have to model it for me sometime.” His boyish grin melted her resistance.
She leaned over and kissed him. “OK, when we get to Billings, take me to a motel. You scope out the mood at your house then we’ll see.”
“OK, but you’re staying in a suite at the Northern.”
“Motel Six is fine.”
“The hell it is.”
“I can’t afford the Northern.”
He stared down his nose at her. “You aren’t paying.”
“I feel like a kept woman.”
“And I plan to keep you as long as you’ll have me.” His lips brushed hers before he jockeyed out of the slippery slush and headed back to the interstate.
Tawny settled in the seat beside the infuriating, arrogant man who’d saved her from prison and had given her a better job than she could ever hope to have without an education.
A man who would do anything for her.
And who had tossed her once-quiet life into unrelenting chaos.