When Doyle departed the security cottage a short while later, it was with Red’s words still ringing in his ears.
The agent at the camera console had told him that Thea had left a message that she wanted to speak with him when it was convenient. A quick check showed he could find her with the other two members of the Royal Court at the swimming pool behind the house, so he headed in that direction as he mulled over the situation.
The hell of it was, Red was right. The more Thea knew, the safer she would be. And while Frank had been appalled by the letters that arrived before he left—hence his gag order—he would no doubt be even more crazed by the letters and gifts that had arrived while he’d been in the middle of the African wilderness and out of touch for all but the direst of emergencies. A man smart enough to build a multimillion-dollar empire in ten short years was smart enough to know that no situation remained static.
And this one hadn’t.
The appearance of gifts as well as the sender’s now probable presence in Boulder, as implied by the chocolates, changed everything. The whack job had gone from admiring from afar to courting with flowers and candy, at least in his own sick mind, and that made him a thousand times more dangerous than he had been before. Frank would have to agree that as things sat now, his edict was no longer the safest possible choice.
The sound of laughter and splashing brought him out of his musings. Leaving behind the shadows of the graveled path as he stepped onto the polished flagstones of the pool surround, Doyle paused to slip on his sunglasses while his eyes made an unconscious circuit of the area.
Amelia Westlake sat on a chaise in the sun, her pale skin gleaming with sunscreen. Lillian Beaumont was sprawled in the hot tub, her short hair spiked up in front from the steam, her hands flying as she held a boisterous conversation with Thea, who was treading water in the middle of the free-formed pool. Thea laughed, throwing her head back as the throaty sound echoed between the waterfall and the tiled walls.
Entranced as much by the sound as the sight, Doyle found himself unable to look away from Thea as she splashed a wave at Lillian, who screeched as the cooler pool water rained over her. Avoiding retribution, Thea dove. Her long strokes brought her to the end of the pool, where she broke the surface and laughed again. With her thick chestnut hair slicked back from her face and the wide grin she wore, she reminded Doyle of a mischievous otter.
Damn. How could he tell her the truth now? She looked happier than she had in weeks. Months, actually. The specter of fear and uncertainty over her mother’s surgery had weighed on her heavily, especially when she found out her mother knew about the tumor for several months and hadn’t said anything until right before the operation.
Even after the biopsies had come back negative, Thea remained a bit too solemn, a little too cautious around her parents, as though she felt guilty for being away when her mother got sick. It had been one of the reasons Evelyn agreed to the trip, not just for her own benefit, but to give Thea the chance to accept that everything was fine, and that life could go back to normal for everyone.
Did he have the right to take that from her? No. He couldn’t do it. Not right now, anyway. Not until he knew something for sure. Depending on what Sam and Kirsten learned at the grocer, he’d reconsider defying her father’s orders. But for now, he’d keep his silence. Thea was too happy. She was enjoying herself. She was…she was…
She was practically naked!
Fighting to draw breath into lungs that had suddenly seized, Doyle stared at the expanse of honey gold skin that was exposed as Thea made her way up the steps out of the pool. His first thought was that she’d lost her bikini bottoms somewhere during her swim, since her toned, taut buttocks were right there for the world to see, water glistening on the delicious globes like diamonds on silk.
No, not delicious. Doyle shoved the word away, but he was less successful in dragging his gaze from Thea’s body, which on some dim level he now realized was encased in a thong bikini. A very small, very indecent thong bikini. Pale gold, just a few shades off her skin tone. God, what was she thinking wearing something like that? And what was he thinking, looking at her while she was wearing something like that? It was…
Doyle bit back a groan as Thea toweled herself dry. It was too much, that’s what it was. Once more he tried to look away, but his eyes seemed to have abdicated from his brain and refused to come to heel, staying greedily on Thea’s unconscious erotic motions as she dried first her barely concealed breasts and then her firm, tanned stomach, and her long, long legs. First one and then the other, from hip to knee to ankle, down the front and then up the back.
By the time she was done, Doyle was certain that every drop of blood in his body had headed south of the border and planned to make camp. Indefinitely.
The realization that he’d just gotten a hard-on from watching little Thea Fordham run a towel over her tight young body was what allowed him to drag his wayward libido back under control. Guilt rolled through him, dampening his ardor, even though his erection was going to take a bit longer to tame. Thankful for his loose-fitting khakis, Doyle wiped the mental drool from his chin and resumed walking.