Read Wishing Lake Online

Authors: Regina Hart

Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #General Fiction, #African-American storys, #Fiction

Wishing Lake

WISHING LAKE
Peyton continued toward her mini-fridge. But with her next step, her heel caught on her office’s small, multicolored area rug. She grabbed the back of Darius’s chair to keep her balance.
Darius leaped to his feet, catching her waist to steady her. “Are you OK?”
In reflex, Peyton grabbed hold of his upper arms. She was more disconcerted by Darius’s quick action than her near fall. She stared up at him, eyes wide and lips parted. “You have great reflexes.”
His concerned expression softened. “It comes from playing ball.”
“Oh.” Her grip tightened on his biceps. The hard muscles beneath his navy jacket sleeves fascinated her. He must still work out. A lot.
“Are you sure you’re all right?”
She tried to step back, but Darius held her fast. “Yes, I’m just embarrassed.”
“Don’t be.” He released her.
Peyton’s palms itched to feel his arms again. She turned from the reporter to cross to her refrigerator, and again her heel caught on the area rug. Her lips parted on a gasp as she felt herself falling. Once more, Darius grabbed her waist, stopping her from landing on her face. But this time, he hauled her flush against him.
Her breasts were crushed against his chest. Her hands gripped his broad shoulders. His warmth seeped into her skin. His scent—soap and cedar—clouded her mind.
Peyton tipped her head back. The heat of his gaze scalded her. Her fingers dug into his taut muscles as Darius lowered his head to hers.
Also by Regina Hart
The Brooklyn Monarchs trilogy
 
Fast Break
 
Smooth Play
 
Keeping Score
 
 
 
The Finding Home series
 
Trinity Falls
 
Harmony Cabins
W
ISHING
L
AKE
REGINA HART
Kensington Publishing Corp.
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
To my dream team:

My sister, Bernadette, for giving me the dream

My husband, Michael, for supporting the dream

My brother, Richard, for believing in the dream

My brother, Gideon, for encouraging the dream

My friends, Marcia James and Linda H, for sharing the dream
And to Mom and Dad always with love
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Special thanks to Elizabeth P. for information on the Day of the Dead celebration. Any inaccuracies are solely my misinterpretation.
CHAPTER 1
An explosive bang was Darius Knight’s first clue of impending danger.
“We’re trapped.” The tension in Dr. Peyton Harris’s voice sealed the deal.
Darius rose from his crouched position beside a box of old folders in Trinity Falls University’s archive room. The cramped room measured approximately forty-five by thirty-five feet and was a claustrophobe’s worst nightmare.
He navigated the space between two of the glorified bookcases stuffed with a hodgepodge of dented and dusty boxes of historical documents. Once he’d emerged into the main aisle, he crossed to Peyton. The university’s history professor wrestled with the doorknob as though unwilling to believe the evidence in her hands.
“Let me try.” Darius waited for Peyton to make room for him.
The top of her head just reached his shoulders. The powdery fragrance of her perfume was a blessed relief from the bitter stink of mold and age that blossomed around them.
Peyton stepped aside with obvious reluctance. Darius pressed down on the door’s long, thin copper handle. It didn’t budge, not even a little. His gaze dropped to the floor.
“Where’s the door stopper?” Darius had watched Peyton kick the triangular block of blond wood into place beneath the door with the toe of her navy pumps. The wood should have kept the door open.
Peyton’s caramel eyes widened in her honey-and-chocolate-cream face. “It must be on the other side of the door.”
“Someone locked us in.” And there was nothing they could do until that person chose to let them out.
Darius returned to the bookshelves to continue his documents search. His greatest concern was suffocating on the sour stench of his surroundings. Already his eyes were tearing.
“Why would someone do that?” Peyton’s disbelief followed him into the stacks.
Hadn’t she noticed the pointed comments and questions people made about them? Doreen Fever, manager of the café at Books & Bakery, had known him almost his entire life. Why was she now confusing his lunch orders with Peyton’s whenever they were in the café at the same time? Was it to force them to interact with each other?
Darius stepped out of the book stacks and countered her question with one of his own. “How did you get assigned to take me to the archives?”
He watched the little professor smooth her hair. She’d pulled the rich copper mass into a tight bun at the nape of her slim neck. When he’d met her in July—four months ago—she’d worn her hair in a loose riot of curls that had framed her heart-shaped face. He preferred it that way.
“Foster asked me.” Peyton referred to Foster Gooden, the university’s vice president for academic affairs. “He said you needed information on Dr. Hartford’s accomplishments at TFU for your article.” She glanced around the room. “I hadn’t realized the archives were such a mess.”
Dr. Kenneth Hartford, chair of the history department, was retiring after thirty-five years with the university.
“You didn’t have to agree.” Darius leaned his shoulder against the side of the bookshelf and surveyed the archives.
This wasn’t his first foray into the dingy room. He’d known it was a disaster. Foster insisted the university didn’t have enough money to hire an archivist to maintain its historical files. Until they came into some sort of windfall—Foster’s words—the room would remain as is.
On one side of the subterranean space, mismatched gray metal shelves and mahogany bookcases strained to hold archival records. On the other side, an explosion of papers buried scarred wooden desks and battered metal cabinets. They’d been left behind by people who were unaware or uncaring of the importance of recording the university’s history. A maze of boxes formed an obstacle course in the space in between.
The archives’ one salvation was a blue binder that struggled to maintain its position on top of an abused clerical desk. The binder cataloged the decades-old boxes that someone had labeled—unlike the newer arrivals, which were anyone’s guess. Somewhere in one of those boxes was information on the honors program Dr. Hartford had revamped and the master’s of political science program he’d created. Darius hoped he found the documents soon. He could use some fresh air. Or another whiff of Peyton’s perfume.
Peyton crossed her arms over her chest. “Why wouldn’t I take you to the archives?”
“Because you still don’t trust me.” Darius held her caramel eyes.
Peyton dropped her arms and her gaze. She checked her watch, letting the silence grow. “I wish I’d brought my cell phone.”
She didn’t deny not trusting him. Why did that bother him so much? “You wouldn’t have gotten reception down here.”
“Then how are we going to get out?”
Darius checked his silver Timex wristwatch, which displayed the image of Batman’s bat-signal in the center. It was almost ten-thirty on this Friday morning in mid-October. “Give it twenty minutes or so. Someone will come.” He returned to the files he’d been searching.
Peyton followed him. “How can you be so sure? And how do you know they’ll come in twenty minutes?”
Was she oblivious to the matchmakers in Trinity Falls who were trying to push them together? Why did she think Foster had singled her out to take him to the archives? He knew it was against policy to have non-university personnel in the records room alone. However, the vice president could have accompanied Darius himself or asked his administrative assistant to escort him.
Darius sank into a crouch in front of the bookcases. “The people who locked us in here aren’t malicious. They want to give us time alone together. They’d think twenty minutes was long enough.”
Who had convinced Foster to trap him in here with Peyton? Was it Doreen? A better suspect would be Megan McCloud. The owner of Books & Bakery was the girlfriend of one of his childhood friends and a seasoned strategist. She’d shaped six independent, struggling town center enterprises into the Trinity Falls Town Center Business Association, a unified voice for their business community.
Or perhaps the responsible party was Ramona McCloud, Megan’s cousin and mayor of Trinity Falls. Ramona was a meddler as well as the girlfriend of another of Darius’s childhood friends, Dr. Quincy Spates.
Or maybe Quincy was involved. As a former Trinity Falls University professor, he and Foster knew each other well. Besides, the strategy was so lame, it had Quincy’s fingerprints all over it.
“This is absurd.” Peyton blew a disbelieving breath. “You’re talking as though you know who these people are. If that’s true, who are they and why do they want to trap us in here together?”
“They’re trying to make a love connection between us.” Darius plucked from the archive box a folder labeled
HONORS PROGRAM,
1981.
Success!
It was always fifty-fifty whether he’d find what he was looking for among the decaying files. Triumph made him light-headed . . . or maybe it was the mold.
“A love connection?” Peyton seemed puzzled.
Darius left the box on the ground and stood with the folder. He turned to Peyton. She looked as though she was about to burst into laughter.
“Why is the idea of being set up with me funny?” He stepped around her and crossed to the clerical desk.
“They’re trying to set
us
up? You and me?”
Darius eyed her over his shoulder. “Obviously, they don’t realize you’re uncomfortable around me.”
“No, I’m not.” Peyton rubbed her arms.
“Are you cold?” Darius plucked his coat from the chair behind the desk and offered it to her.
She lifted her right hand, palm out. “I’ll be fine. Thank you, though.”
Darius stepped forward, settling the garment on her shoulders. “My coat doesn’t bite. Neither do I.”
Peyton was drowning in Darius’s midnight gaze. His lightweight winter coat surrounded her. She drew a deep, steadying breath and inhaled his scent—soap and cedar—clinging to his coat. His eyes searched hers.
Peyton looked away. “Thank you.” Their voices echoed in the room . . . or was that her imagination?
“Don’t mention it.” Darius consulted the blue binder before crossing back to the bookcases to continue his search.
Peyton tracked the newspaper reporter’s progress. He was a pleasure to look at: tall and slim with lean muscles his lightweight, bronze crewneck sweater and navy Dockers couldn’t mask. When he hunkered down again to reach a box on a lower shelf, she swallowed hard, then asked for mercy. She let the silence soothe her for several long minutes.
“According to you, someone should be here in about ten minutes to let us out of this room.” Peyton broke the silence, snuggling deeper into Darius’s coat.
“Give or take.” Darius appeared to have located the box he needed. He tugged it onto the floor and started sifting through its files.
“And you think this rescuer will be the same person who locked us in here in the first place, one of the matchmakers?”
“Probably.” He seemed distracted.
“Don’t you think that sounds just a little paranoid?”
Darius arched a brow. It was one of the sexiest expressions she’d ever seen. “Do you think Megan confuses other customers’ purchases?”
Peyton was a little concerned that her last two hold requests from Books & Bakery had ended up with Darius. And Doreen was always trying to give her his food. Still . . .
“Why would Megan think
you
need help getting a date? She knows every woman in town is chasing after you.”
“Every woman?” Darius straightened. In one fluid movement, he unfolded his long, lean body and turned to face her. He gripped an aged manila folder with his long fingers. “Including you?”

Me
?” Peyton rocked back on her heels. “Of course not.”
“Pity.” Darius held her gaze.
Peyton exhaled to ease the butterflies in her stomach. She checked her rose-gold Movado watch again. “Do you really think someone will rescue us in ten minutes?”
“Ten minutes or so.” Darius crossed to the table. He collected the two worn-and-weathered folders he’d liberated from their boxes. Then he cleared a space on the corner of the table to sit.
“Did you get what you needed?” Peyton circled the desk to sit on its matching scarred chair.
She hadn’t realized how close the seat would put her to the reporter. Was that his breath she felt across her hair? She could reach out and touch him. His scent teased her.
“Yes.” Darius waved the folders. “I’ll make copies once we get out of here, then return the original folders to their boxes.”
Peyton was silent for several moments, surveying the row of bookcases in front of her and the framed photographs of campus scenes affixed to the once-white walls. She turned her attention anywhere and everywhere to avoid looking at the man in front of her. Everything about the reporter was distractingly sexy, from the shape of his head to the sound of his voice. Even the way he looked at her, as though no one else, nothing else, mattered. She adjusted Darius’s coat to keep it from slipping off her shoulders. She didn’t want to put her arms through his sleeves, though. That seemed too intimate.
She sighed with growing impatience. “What if no one comes?”
“When you first joined TFU’s faculty four months ago, I promised not to write an article about you. I’ve kept that promise. I thought that proved you could trust me.”
“What does my trusting you have to do with our being locked in here?”
“Why do I make you uncomfortable?” Darius shifted on the desk, giving her his full attention.
Peyton swallowed hard. “You’re not my type.”
“What type am I?” He gave her his arched-brow look again.
Why was he asking her these questions? “The type who has women throwing themselves at him.”
Darius’s intense, midnight gaze seemed to bore a hole into her mind. “You think I’m a player?”
“Aren’t you?”
“You’ve been in town all of four months. What makes you think you know me well enough to judge me?”
“I’m not judging you. The people in this town seem to like and respect you—especially the women.” Peyton couldn’t resist that observation.
“And that makes
me
the player? Is that the reason you don’t trust me?”
She took in the cool look in his eyes, the furrows across his forehead, the tightness around his lips. Had she hurt him?
“I—” Peyton’s response was interrupted by loud knocking. A welcome relief.
“Is anyone in there?” Foster Gooden’s voice was muffled behind the archive door.
“Yes. We’re in here.” Darius rose from the desk and walked toward the entrance. He glanced back at Peyton, lowering his voice. “As if he didn’t know.”
“We’re locked in. Did you bring your key?” Peyton shouted at Foster as she hurried after Darius. She was fascinated as always by the fluid motion of his long, lean muscles. He must work out.
The clanging of keys on the other side of the locked door filled Peyton with joy. She was getting out of here. She stood beside Darius, waiting for Foster to unlock the door, offering them freedom and fresh air.
Foster pulled open the door, then kicked the triangular block of wood back into place beneath it. “You were locked in? How did that happen?”
Was it her imagination or did the university’s vice president for academic affairs seem nervous? His smile was unsteady. His brown cheeks were flushed.
Darius inclined his head toward the door. “Someone removed that block of wood and let the door shut.”
Foster’s eyes widened. “Why would someone do that?”
“Why, indeed?” Peyton’s eyes narrowed. Was there something to Darius’ suspicions?

 

“Do you know the best thing about your mother’s walking out on me?” Simon Knight’s voice seemed to carry to every corner of the Books & Bakery café Saturday morning.
Seconds ago, Darius and his friends had been exchanging banter and laughter over breakfast at the café’s counter. Now the group grew silent as Simon joined them. Darius cringed inwardly as his father dropped onto the bar stool beside him. Tension poured down his spine, stiffening his back like cement.

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