Claire Taylor is running for Mayor, and she’s been advised to clean out her proverbial closets – including covering up the initials she had inked on her ankle many years ago. When it comes time to get the cover-up though, she can’t go through with it, and when she’s plunged into a world of threats, explosions and kidnapping, suddenly her tattoo is the least of her worries.
Adam Cranston hasn’t seen Claire since high school, but when he sees his initials on her leg, it brings back feelings he was forced to ignore in his youth. When a publicist asks him to protect Claire during her campaign, he’s caught between his attraction to a woman naive to the dark side of politics and a family that will stop at nothing to win.
He nodded, and ran a finger over her skin once more. She fought a shiver from his touch. “It’s nice work. Who’s the lucky guy? Or unlucky, I guess, considering why we’re here.”
She laughed, feeling the blush was creep higher on her cheeks. “It was a guy I had a huge crush on in high school. It sounds silly now, but he sort of inspired me to do more – to want more out of life.”
“So what went wrong?”
She shrugged, giving him a sheepish grin. “He…ah…he barely knew I was alive, to be honest. We weren’t exactly in the same social set.” Or on the same planet, for that matter, she mused silently. He’d been rich, the son of a senator. There was no doubt in her mind that his parents wouldn’t have approved of him dating the daughter of a strung-out stripper.
“But you inked his initials on your ankle.” It wasn’t a question, and Claire just nodded, avoiding eye contact. She’d never told anyone the story before, and after tonight it wouldn’t matter anyways. Still, she blinked back sudden tears that threatened to spill over. He laid his hand casually over her calf and she could feel him watching her. That feeling that she’d met him before tugged at the edges of her memory.
She looked at him again, focusing on the lines of his face. They’d definitely met before, and she frowned. He must not recognize her. “Have we-“
“So you want me to cover this up?” He spoke quickly, and she wondered if it was just bad timing, or something else.
She nodded again. “I’m announcing my candidacy for Mayor tomorrow. Stacy – my publicist – thinks that some curious person will notice the initials and start digging into my background. She’s afraid of the impact it might have on my campaign if people start wondering who the mystery guy is.”
“I see.” He turned back to the counter, a chill moving over her skin when his hand left her ankle. “And you’re willing to give this up for politics? Seems like you have a lot of history with this guy, whether he knows it or not.”
She shrugged. “I don’t really see the problem, personally. I’m the only one who knows who he is for sure, and I’m not talking. I have far bigger skeletons in my closet to worry about.” She blinked back the sudden moisture building in her eyes. “But Stacy says that’s the point – get rid of the small problems so we can focus on the bigger ones.”
“Seems kind of backwards to me,” he said, handing her a plastic sleeve holding a sheet of design sketches. “You have a couple of choices here,” he said, his matter-of-fact tone helping her regain control. “I can work the lettering into a vine or some flowers – you can pick something from this sheet.” She glanced at it. The images were well drawn, but generic. Somehow it didn’t seem right to cover up something so symbolic with leaves or flowers.
He tapped her tattoo firmly with his index finger, bringing her attention back to him. He looked straight into her eyes, a challenge reflected in his stare. “Or I can touch this up for you, make the lines crisp, add a little color, and you can keep your inspiration intact. Might not be such a good idea to mess with something like this.” He raised his eyebrows, pinning her with his gaze. It was like he could see into her mind, knew all the questions and desires swirling like fireflies in her brain.
She broke eye contact, looking down at her ankle. When she’d taken Jenny’s dare, she never imagined what an impact that afternoon would have on her life. Now it had brought her back to the starting point, to the same decision with far bigger things at stake. Did she dare hold on to the past, or was it time to let go of her girlish dreams?