Chapter Twenty-two. Grace twirled once in front of her closet mirror, the silky black folds of the cocktail dress rippling with the motion

Grace twirled once in front of her closet mirror, the silky black folds of the cocktail dress rippling with the motion. She stared at her reflection, critically assessing her appearance. Something was definitely different but she couldn’t explain it. She started at the top of her head and studied herself—all the way to the polish on her toenails. Her hairstyle was the same. The shoes weren’t new. She’d applied her makeup the same way, but she realized she’d started wearing thicker eyeliner to accentuate her eyes. Maybe that was it.

Maybe you’re just out of practice.

She hadn’t gone out in nearly a year, and while she never would have chosen the slinky dress for a first date, Dina had requested it and she was thrilled to comply.

The doorbell rang and she glanced at the clock in the dining room. Dina was fifteen minutes early. She had a witty comment prepared as she flung open the door, but it died on her lips when she saw Logan standing on the porch. She wore her standard cargo shorts and blue denim work shirt and she was carrying a small package wrapped in brown mailing paper. When she smiled, Grace’s heart melted again. I didn’t need the Root of Passion for that to happen.

“Hello, Grace. I’m sorry I missed you at the hospital. I needed to see you so I hope you don’t mind. I had a friend look up your address.”

Grace raised an eyebrow. “That friend wouldn’t be your drug connection by any chance, would it?”

Logan ignored the question and said, “I’ll make sure all of your clothes are shipped here.”

She nodded, remembering the stunning green dress. What would Dina say if she saw me in that?

Desperate to change the subject, she asked, “How’s your father?” Chester had been home from the hospital for a week.

“He’s great, thanks to you. He’s so happy to be home.”

“I’m sure. I thought you’d gone on to another assignment.”

“No, I was just avoiding you. I didn’t think you wanted to see me and I didn’t want his doctor to be uncomfortable in front of him.”

“How considerate. You’re right. I don’t want to see you.”

She started to close the door but Logan stepped in its path. “Please, Grace. I just need a few minutes.”

“You have nothing to say that I want to hear. Now, if you’ll please get out of my doorway, I’m getting ready for a date.”

Logan remained planted in the doorframe, and she grinned broadly. “I was hoping that was the reason you looked so hot. I guess you’re working on number five.”

She glanced up, surprised by Logan’s forwardness.

Logan leaned closer and whispered, “Frankly, I prefer the biker outfit.”

Maybe it was her charm, or maybe it was what she wanted to hear. She didn’t have time for analysis so she opened the door and motioned her inside.

“I won’t stay long. I just wanted to say that I’m sorry our weekend ended the way it did, and I wanted to give you this.”

She held out the package and Grace tore off the paper, exposing a red leather photo album. The words Our Trip were stamped in gold across the front. The first black-and-white photo was of Grace listening to Chester’s heart, her expression serious. Next, she was sitting in the cocktail lounge at the airport, her posture so ramrod straight she could see the veins in her neck. She was wringing her hands and her lips were a straight line of tension. She remembered a few times when Logan had aimed the large lens in her direction, but some of the pictures were a surprise. She looked awkward and timid coming out of the clothing shop wearing the amazing green dress, but her breath caught at the next shot—asleep on the hotel bed, naked, the sheets haphazardly tossed to the side. Logan must have stood on a chair, for the camera hovered above Grace, exposing her from head to toe, lying on her stomach, her blond hair caressing the side of her face. She thought the photo was incredibly artistic and erotic.

She blushed and turned the page to two pictures she remembered, one of her between Kazmar and Lena and the other standing next to Penny, who looked radiant in her red cocktail dress. While Grace stared into the camera, Penny stared at her, smiling, almost beaming. It was one of those pictures where one subject was prepared for the click of the shutter and the other was caught a moment too soon, revealing her private thoughts. She gazed at the expression on Penny’s face. She didn’t know what to think.

She laughed when she turned the page, for staring back at her was a woman she didn’t really know. One photo showed her astride the Harley, leaning against the backrest, her fingers laced behind her head. The tiny T-shirt had ridden up, revealing much of her belly, and her eyes were closed. It was the most sexual picture she ever had taken.

The last photo was a headshot of her on stage, her hair a mess, singing into the microphone a la Janis Joplin. She thought she remembered that moment. It was near the end of the second verse when she’d decided to throw herself into the song with total abandon, pushing Dr. Grace Owens entirely out of her psyche. That’s how you look on E, Grace. She returned to the photo of the woman sitting in the airport cocktail lounge and couldn’t believe the difference. I certainly don’t feel like the same person.

“May I?”

Logan took the book from her and flipped to the picture of her in the bed. “I’d like to use that one in my next show, if you don’t mind.”

“What?” Grace asked, suddenly thinking of thousands of people ogling her body. “Why would you ever want to do that?”

Logan wrapped her arms around Grace. “When I look at this picture, I see the Sistine Chapel, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and so many of the other wonderful places I’ve traveled. This is a beautiful photo, Grace. It’s the epitome of how I will remember you.”

God, she’s so smooth.

Their lips connected, and as suddenly as it had begun, it stopped. Logan stepped away and leaned against the dining room wall.

“I think it’s better if I stay over here,” she said. “I don’t think your date would approve if she found us in bed together.”

Grace steadied herself against one of the chairs. “How do you do this to me? I should be furious with you. You drugged me.”

“I know,” Logan said quietly. “I’m sorry about that. The truth is, I started to fall for you, and I needed an insurance policy.”

“What do you mean?”

“Something to keep us apart. I meant what I told you, Grace. Relationships don’t work for me, not with this job. And I’m not a moronic bitch who keeps trying to be involved when she already knows the outcome. It wouldn’t be fair.”

“I agree.”

“But, I can’t help my feelings. And I had serious feelings for you. The E served two purposes. I was truly worried that you wouldn’t follow through with some of the things you really needed to do, and I knew that if you found out you’d hate me. Broken trust is the best way to prevent a relationship.”

Grace shook her head. “I can’t even relate to where you’re coming from. But you had no right to drug me, particularly for your selfish reasons. That makes you a bitch in my book.”

Logan’s eyes fell to the floor. “I suppose you’re right.”

“What if Eva hadn’t shown up? I might’ve never known about the E.”

Logan glanced up and said quietly, “No, then I would’ve told you when we got back. Eva spared me the hard part, but your anger and loss of trust were inevitable.”

Her lip quivered, and she willed herself not to cry. “I see.”

“But if I had to do it over, I’d do the same thing. And I’m sorry if that makes you angry. It’s just that when I saw you with my dad, I was so impressed. And when I started snapping the pictures in the hospital, the lens showed me another side of you, the unexplored possibilities.”

She rolled her eyes. “Oh, please.”

Logan reached for the photo and pointed at the picture of her in bed. “I know it sounds crazy, but I saw this photo in my head two days before I took it. I knew you would look this beautiful when you slept. The rest of these pictures were just fun. And that’s what last weekend was, Grace. It was fun.”

She couldn’t disagree. The photos were the proof. What she’d said to Eva was true. She’d never had that much fun in her life. She glanced up at Logan and nodded.

“Well, I need to go.” She opened the door and looked back at her. “I hope you have fun again, Grace. You can’t live carefree every day, making love with strangers or playing drinking games—”

“Why not? You do,” she said with a chuckle.

Logan laughed and shrugged. “Most people aren’t me. You’d never want my life anyway, but I’m glad I could be a part of yours. There’s someone out there for you. She’s closer than you think. And thanks for saving my dad.”

She left and Grace repressed an urge to cry, knowing that Dina would arrive in minutes. She took deep breaths and blinked several times to push back the tears. She ran back to the bathroom and had just finished applying her lipstick when the doorbell rang again.

“Hey,” Dina said when she opened the door, a lazy smile on her face. Her eyes wandered up and down Grace’s body. “You look amazing.”

“You too,” she said, studying Dina’s skintight jeans and black dress shirt. “Just let me get my purse and I’ll be ready to go.”

She disappeared into the bedroom, and when she returned, Dina was holding the photo album, staring at the photo of naked Grace. She looked up from the book, her eyes smoldering.

“That must have been some trip.”

“It was.”

She couldn’t think of anything else to say, so she stood there while Dina slowly turned each page, judging her, deciding if she wanted to date someone so free and loose. She stared at the karaoke photo for a long time, and then she finally closed the book and returned it to the table. Grace prepared herself for a quick goodbye, an evening alone and a future of hard stares every time Dina drove by.

“So, who are you?” Dina asked with a searing gaze.

The question surprised her. “I’m not sure anymore. The only way that album could have existed a month ago was with Photoshop. Now, I’m just confused.”

Dina slid into her arms and stroked her back. “Then let me help you. I’m very enlightened.”

“You want to make me your project?”

“I guess that’s one way to put it.”

Her heart beat faster. Dina’s fingers traced the muscles in her back, touching each curve, exciting her.

“But you’re so young,” she said, her voice cracking as Dina buried her lips in the hollow of her neck. “What could you possibly teach me?”

“I’m an old soul.”

Dina pressed her against the wall and deftly unclasped the ribbons of silk that covered her breasts and yanked down the zipper. The dress slid to the floor, and she closed her eyes, preparing for her body to be showered with kisses and caresses. You want it, Gracie. You know it.

Instead, when she opened her eyes, Dina was standing on the other side of the room, her arms crossed.

“What are you doing? I thought—”

“You have to want it, Grace. It’s not about people doing things to you, seducing you, leading you into romance. You need to take charge.”

She laughed. “Is this some sort of sex-esteem workshop?”

Dina strolled into the living room, dropped into an overstuffed chair and propped her boots onto the ottoman. Grace couldn’t tell if she’d closed her eyes, ready to take a nap, or if she was studying the ceiling.

It’s up to you. Do you want her? Either pull the dress back on or make a move.

She glanced at the little album on the table, and the black-and-white photos shuffled through her mind like a slideshow. She kicked off her pumps and stepped out of the dress. A patch of moonlight shone onto the living room rug like a spotlight, and for a moment she was reminded of the karaoke stage. She stood in its center, invigorated by the glow against her body, facing Dina, who stared at her intently. Even when she dropped her silk panties to the floor, Dina’s gaze never wavered. She smiled slightly, and it was all Grace needed. She crawled into Dina’s arms—and took charge.