She went and picked up her tattered cloth bag, hefting it over her shoulder after checking the contents. She stopped right in front of him, her deep brown eyes angry, but also showing a hint of vulnerability and fear. “Just tell me why you’ve been following me. Are you some kind of crazy stalker?”
Kade felt his anger rise up at the thought of anyone causing this woman distress, and some personal annoyance that Asha obviously thought he was some kind of psycho. “No. Is someone stalking you?”
Their eyes locked, and she searched his face, as though she were looking for the truth. “I don’t know,” she answered honestly. “But I know someone has been following me. I’m assuming it’s been you. And yeah, I got some messages that didn’t make any sense to me. Did you really expect me to answer you? I don’t even know you. What do you want from me?”
It was a loaded question that he could have answered in many different ways because of the unusual response his body was having to her presence, but none of them were quite appropriate at the moment. More than likely, any one of the answers that came immediately to mind would have her running away screaming. Kade dug into his pocket and pulled out his wallet, chagrined that he’d frightened her by following her. She’d been running away from fear, a woman alone who didn’t like an unknown guy following her. It had never occurred to him that she might be scared of him, and for some reason, he didn’t like that thought. Holding up a picture of Maddie and Max, he said, “It was me. I’m doing a favor for friends. We think there’s a possibility that you could be related to my brother-in-law and his sister. I’ve been trying to track you down for almost two months. I’m not trying to hurt you. I just wanted to talk to you.”
Asha put her fingertip on the picture and traced it slowly. “These two people?” She sighed. “Do I look like I’m related to these two? My mother was a Caucasian American, but my father was an Indian immigrant. I don’t look anything like these two people. I can tell they’re related. They look a lot alike.” A brief look of regret and sadness flickered in the depths of her dark eyes.
“They have the same mother and father. There’s a chance that they could be your half-siblings, related on your mother’s side,” Kade answered, his heart clenching as he saw the wistful expression on her face. She was trying to put on a brave front, but she looked so weary, so alone, and it made him want to shelter her from anything and everything that made her feel that way. He wondered when she’d last eaten a good meal or slept for a decent length of time.
Looking away from the picture and dropping her hand, she pierced him with a doubtful look. “That’s not possible. There’s no way I’m related to them. Please leave me alone,” she answered sadly and dejectedly as she headed for the door.
Kade grasped her upper arm before she could make any forward progress. “Don’t you want to know for sure? What if you are related?”
Shrugging her arm away from him, she answered, “I’m Indian.”
“But you were born here? To an American mother?”
“An American mother and an Indian father who I can’t even remember,” she agreed, her body starting to tremble. “I was born here, but my foster parents were from India. I was raised as an Indian.”
Kade had felt the heat of her body through the thin material of her shirt. “Are you okay?” He lifted a hand to her face, only to find it burning hot. “You have a fever.”
She’s undernourished, exhausted…and ill. Fuck! Doesn’t she have anyone out there who gives a shit about her?
“I’m fine,” she replied weakly. “I’m just a little under the weather. And it’s been a long day.”
Bullshit. She’s sick. I can see her starting to sweat, and she looks like she’s about ready to keel over.
“You’re sick.” Kade put an arm around her waist to steady her.
She moaned softly, leaning her weight against his body as though she wasn’t able to stand without help. “I need to go. I can’t be sick.”
“You’re staying,” Kade answered hotly. There was no way he was letting her walk out the door in her condition. She’d be on the floor before she ever left the hotel.
She wiggled out of his grip and headed unsteadily for the door, Kade hot on her heels.
She opened the door and turned to look at him, her eyes bright with tears and probably fever. “Please. Just leave me alone. My life is difficult enough right now. I can’t deal with anything else. I’m not related to those people in the picture, and I wish you’d stop following me.”
Kade opened his mouth to reply, but he stopped short as her body began crumpling to the ground. He caught her just in time, scooping her into his arms and slamming the door closed. Taking her to the big bed, he laid her on the comforter. Staring down at her, he realized two things immediately: she was very sick, and this was the woman in that unsettling drawing he had seen in her collection. It had been a self-portrait, a woman pouring out her own emotions on a drawing pad.
“Fuck,” Kade uttered irritably, realizing that Asha wasn’t really very coherent. Her eyes were closed and her body was as limp as a wet noodle. Her thin shirt was drenched with perspiration, and her skin was fiery hot.
Her eyes flickered open momentarily, and she squinted at him, as though she were slightly confused. “I love your shirt. It’s so…happy and colorful,” she murmured softly, attempting a weak smile. “I really need to go now. I have things to do,” she said groggily, her voice lacking conviction.
Kade would have smiled if he wasn’t so panicked about having a woman this sick on his bed. She was as weak as a kitten and he doubted she could even get to the edge of the bed without help. He admired her tenacity, but she wasn’t going anywhere on her own steam.
“Yeah, we are going,” Kade answered, wrapping her now trembling body in a blanket from the bed. “To the hospital.” He might be able to do minor first aid on sports injuries, but he had no idea what to do with a woman as sick as Asha was at the moment.
Her eyes flew open wide, her expression now panicked and her teeth chattering. “I c-can’t g-go there—it’s expensive…” Her voice trailed off as she started coughing so hard that it rocked her fragile body.
Fuck! She’s sick as hell, and all she’s worried about is the expense?
Her illness scared the shit out of him. In fact, it terrified him almost as much as the possessive, protective instincts he was experiencing as he realized how vulnerable she was at the moment. But mostly, it bugged the hell out of him that she was actually frightened. He didn’t ever want this woman to be scared of him or anything else on the planet. Why...he wasn’t quite certain, but he’d leave that mystery for another time. All he wanted at that very moment was to see her well and healthy. In fact, the need to get her that way was about to become an obsession.