“These should be a good place to start,” Manny said, pulling one of his father’s many journals from the perfectly organized shelves. The one he’d chosen was clearly labeled Cohen Family Genealogy. He glanced over his shoulder at the open library door, knowing if his dad walked into the great room, he would see them. Manny took Aloise’s hand and brought her and the book to the far end of the library, out of sight of the doorway.
Page one had a narrative explaining the various sections and charts. He decided to start with his father and work his way back. Jacob Cohen was the second youngest of Levi Cohen’s six sons.
“Es él,” Aloise said, pointing to the name of the oldest son. “Liam Cohen. He was my father’s business partner.”
“And your father’s name is not on this chart anywhere?” Manny asked, relieved excitement in his chest.
“Nope.” Aloise grinned and lifted her eyebrows seductively. “No estamos relacionados.”
“But what happened that caused my father to hate your father so much that he would forbid me to see you?”
“That is a mystery,” Aloise said playfully. “I think we need to play amateur detective and see what we can find out. We have successfully found our first clue. ¿Qué sigue?”
“Let’s take my Jeep into town, fill a gas can, bring it back to your car, then you can follow me back out of the woods—wouldn’t want you getting lost again—and we’ll go talk to your dad. Maybe he can shed some light on the situation.”
“What if he acts the same way your padre did?”
“Let’s hope he doesn’t.” Manny paused, noting the worry lines on her forehead. “Is he a violent man?”
“No.” She waved a hand dismissively. “I mean, not really. More…controlling, old-fashioned, insistent, overbearing.”
“Were you kidding about him not letting you date until after your sister marries?” he asked softly.
“Not kidding.” Aloise shook her head and widened her eyes. “They control everything we do. And living all together on a yacht, we can’t sneak anything past them. That’s why I had to leave when we docked. I took one of the rental cars and just drove. Told them I was going shopping and exploring.”
“Did you ever make it to the shopping before you got lost?”
“Nah, I didn’t really want to shop. I just wanted to get away from them. Plus, I think they wanted to get away from us too.”
“Mi hermana, Alondra.”
“Right. Your sister. And you all live together on the yacht?”
“Yep!” She popped her ‘p’ with exaggeration. “Tight quarters.”
“I would hate that,” Manny said, glancing out one of the many windows cut into the walls of the library. Every room in the house had more windows than should physically fit. The effect was the feeling of living in nature.
“I want to be free,” Aloise whispered, her eyes drawn in the same direction as his. “Not just free of the tight quarters, but free of my parents’ oppressive control, free of the constant travelling, free to start a life, to put down roots.”
“You could come live here,” Manny said, only half joking. “You could marry me and live happily in this beautiful forest.”
“It is a beautiful forest.” She didn’t argue, but she didn’t acknowledge his suggestion either.
“Come on. Let’s go rescue your car.” On their way out of the library, he slipped the genealogy journal back on the shelf and snuck out into the great room. Skirting the kitchen to avoid his father, they took the long way around to the garage.
“That is your Jeep?” Aloise stopped short. “I was picturing a little sporty thing with roll bars and open sides.”
“This, my dear, is the all-terrain Jeep Gladiator North,” Manny proudly opened the passenger door and offered his hand to help her up. “It’s designed for slogging through feet of snow like we have here in Northern Michigan. I live in the middle of a forest, remember? A person could get lost around here if they’re not properly equipped.”
“Don’t I know it,” she grumbled, placing one hand in his and reaching up for the assist handle above the door. Manny put his hand on her lower back as she lifted herself up into the giant truck.
He waited for her to get settled then closed the door and walked around back, clicking the remote to open the garage door and smiling at his vanity license plate that read HNTR4LFE. He thought it was clever. He loaded a small gas can into the bed of his truck and opened the driver’s side door.
“Comfortable?” he asked when he was seated. As he pulled his seatbelt around and clicked it into place, he noticed she wasn’t wearing hers. He unbuckled himself and reached all the way over—his face drawing tantalizingly close to hers—and pulled her belt around. Reaching down beside her leg he found the latch and clicked her belt into place. He whispered in a husky voice, “Wearing seatbelts is the law in Michigan.”
“I never knew seatbelts could be so… caliente.” Aloise was breathing heavy.
“I never knew having a woman in my Jeep could be so hot either.” His face was still very close to hers.
“Have you had many women in your Jeep?”
“Not unless you count that doe I shot last year, but she stayed in the bed of the truck.”
“You had a woman in your bed?” Her whisper was practically a breath. Two inches closer and he could have kissed her.
“Never,” Manny said. “Yet…”
For another few seconds, he held her gaze then sat back and reached again to click his belt back in place. He started the Jeep and it roared to life and he backed out of the garage.