The cove, p.20
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       The Cove, p.20
 

         Part #1 of FBI Thriller series by Catherine Coulter

  “Yeah,” Dillon said, wondering why it didn’t occur to her to give him any of the credit. “Let me help you up. You don’t look half bad in Quinlan’s coat. A little long, but other than that, it’s a perfect fit. Anyone who can ride a motorcycle like you do has to have the broadest shoulders in the land.”

  “How did you find me? Oh, dear, my head.” She shook her head, then blinked her eyes. “It’s just a bit of a headache. My shoulder hurts a little, but that’s all. No hospital.”

  Quinlan couldn’t stand to see her weaving around, his coat torn at the left shoulder, two buttons popped on her blouse. “You’re not wearing a bra.”

  Sally looked down at the gaping blouse. There was no way she could pull it together. She just buttoned James’s coat. “Dillon got me a training bra when he went out and bought all these charming duds that are three sizes too small. I couldn’t even get the thing fastened.”

  “Well, I didn’t know what size. Sorry it didn’t get the job done.”

  She kicked him in the shin.

  “I didn’t mean it like that, dammit,” he said, rubbing his leg. “I’ll think of something and tell you later.”

  “You’d better not.”

  Quinlan took her arm and gently pulled her toward him. “It’s all right now, Sally. It’s all right.”

  He pulled her against him. “Are you sure you don’t want to have a doctor check you out?”

  “No doctor. I hate doctors.”

  That made sense to him. He didn’t point out that a doctor wasn’t the same as a shrink. He wondered in that moment if Beadermeyer even was a doctor. He said to Dillon, “When you get a minute, do some checking on Beadermeyer. I’m beginning to wonder if he’s just a ruthless crook.” To Sally he said, “All right. But you need to rest. Let’s find a place to stay the night.”

  “How did you find me?”

  “We just missed you at your grandparents’, just as we did at your mother’s. We figured you had to be as tired as we were, so we called all the motels in this area. It was easy. You’ve got a lot to learn about running, Sally.”

  She realized then that she’d lost, she’d really lost. And it had been so easy for them. If they hadn’t tracked her down on the highway, then James would have just come into her motel room. Easy, too easy. She was a turkey. She looked down at her dead Honda 350, at its twisted frame and blown back tire.

  “My bike is ruined. I just bought it. I was just getting it broken in.”

  “It’s all right. It doesn’t matter.”

  “That bike cost me nearly all my money.”

  “Since it was my three hundred dollars, I’m willing to write it off.”

  Everything had turned upside down. Nothing was as it should be. She eased her hand into the coat and pulled out his gun. She pressed it against his lower ribs.

  19

  “NOT AGAIN, SALLY,” he said, but still he was careful not to move.

  “She’s got your gun on you again, Quinlan?”

  “Yes, but it’s okay. I think she’s learned a bit more since the last time she did it.

  “Sally, it’s over now. Come on, sweetheart, pull that sucker back. Whatever you do, don’t forget that hair trigger. Damn, I think I’ll have it modified a bit next time I’m at Quantico. Actually, if you could slip it back into my shoulder holster once we’re in the car, I’d appreciate it. My shoulder holster’s been empty since you stole my gun. I feel half-dressed.”

  “I don’t want to shoot you, James, but I do want to get away from you. You did betray me. You know I can’t trust you. Let me go, please.”

  “Nope, not ever again. You know you can trust me. It pisses me off that you’re even questioning that. Listen up, Sally. You’re with me now until all this is over. Would you rather trust your mother or your grandparents? Oh, yeah, your sweet little granny is a piece of work.”

  “No, I don’t trust any of them. Well, I do trust Noelle, but she’s all confused and doesn’t know what to believe—whether I’m a lunatic or not. I’d bet that all of them have called Beadermeyer, even Noelle. If she called him it wasn’t to turn me in, it was to get some answers. Oh, God, do you think Beadermeyer would hurt her?”

  Quinlan didn’t think he would hurt her unless his own skin was in really deep trouble, which it would be shortly, but not just yet. But he said, “I don’t know. Beadermeyer could do anything if he felt threatened, which he probably does, since we busted you out of his sanitarium. Hey, did you know I even threw meat to those dogs to save you?”

  She looked up at him in the darkness. “What dogs?”

  Dillon said, “There were guard dogs at the sanitarium, Sally. James tossed meat to them so they wouldn’t tear our throats out. One of the dogs was leaping up trying to get James’s ankle when he was carrying you up that fence.”

  She could see the shadows and blurred lines of his face. “Well,” she said at last, aware that she couldn’t hold that gun up for much longer because her shoulder hurt like the very devil, “shit.”

  “That’s what we’ve been thinking for the past six hours,” Dillon said. “Come on, Sally, give it up. Quinlan’s determined to help you. He’s determined to protect you. Let him be possessive. I’ve never before seen him like this. It’s a real treat.

  “Now, come on, you guys. Let’s get out of here before some motorists come by and stop or worse, someone calls the local cops.”

  Quinlan didn’t even think about it, he just scooped her up in his arms and carried her to the Porsche.

  “You’re no he-man,” she said in the bitterest voice he’d ever heard. “It was just a six-foot walk. A nerd could have carried me that far.”

  “It’s my gun,” he said, leaning down and lightly kissing her ear. “It’s heavy.” When he settled her on his lap in the passenger side of the Porsche, he held out his hand for the gun.

  She looked at him for a very long time. “You’re really feeling possessive about me?”

  “You stole my money, my credit cards, my car, and the photos of my nieces and nephews. I had to catch you so I could get that stuff back.”

  “Bastard.” She gave him the gun.

  “Yeah, that’s me,” he said. “Thanks, Sally. No more trying to run away from me?” he asked as he tossed the gun into the back seat.

  “I don’t know.”

  “Tell you what, I won’t strain your options. I’ll handcuff you to me, how’s that?”

  She didn’t answer, her head pressed against his shoulder. She hurt, he realized, and here he’d been teasing her. “Just rest,” he said. He looked at Dillon. “How about finding us a nice motel?”

  “Contradiction in terms. Are you paying or is the FBI?”

  “Hell, I’m rich now that I’ve got my credit cards back. It’s on me, all except your room, Dillon.”

  “Tomorrow we’ll buy you some clothes that fit.”

  She was standing there, staring at the large motel room. There was a sitting area and a TV and a king-size bed.

  She turned to look at him. “It’s payback time?”

  He cocked his head to one side. “What do you mean?”

  She nodded toward the bed. “I gather I’m to sleep with you in that bed.”

  “I was going to ask that you take the sofa. It’s too short for me.”

  She gave him a baffled look, then walked to the bathroom, saying over her shoulder, “I don’t understand you. Why aren’t you furious with me? Why aren’t you yelling? I’m not used to reasonable people, particularly reasonable men. Just look at you, the very image of long-suffering Job.”

  A bruise was coming up along her jaw. He wondered just how badly her shoulder was hurt. “I would be pissed at you if I hadn’t seen you go flying off that motorcycle. You gave me a gray hair with that stunt.”

  “It was a slick spot. There was nothing I could do.”

  “Take a nice long shower. It should help your aches and bruises.”

  Five minutes later there was a knock on the adjoining door.

  Qui
nlan opened it up. “She’s in the shower. Come on in.”

  Dillon was carrying a big bag from Burger King and a container holding three big soft drinks. He set them down on the table and threw himself on the sofa.

  “What a mess. At least it seems like she’s not going to try to run again. I didn’t know you had such charm.”

  “Hang around and maybe you’ll get a few pointers.”

  “What the hell are we going to do, Quinlan? We’ve got to call Brammer. We don’t even know what’s going on with the rest of the investigation.”

  “It just occurred to me that it’s the weekend. This is Friday night—well, actually Saturday morning. We’re sort of off duty. We’ve got until Monday before we have to be the good guys again, right?”

  Dillon was leaning back against the sofa, his eyes closed. “Brammer will have our balls for breakfast.”

  “Nah. He would have had our balls if we’d lost Sally. But we didn’t. Everything will be fine now.”

  “I can’t believe your wild-eyed optimism,” Dillon said, opening his eyes and sitting up when he heard the shower turn off. “They have all sorts of those little shampoos and conditioners and stuff in the bathrooms.”

  “Your point?”

  The blow-dryer went on.

  “No point, really. Let’s eat.” Dillon said. He took a big bite of his burger, saying with his mouth full, “I’m stressed. I need to work out. Thank God tomorrow’s Saturday. But damn, the gym will be crowded.”

  It was nearly three o’clock in the morning. It was quiet and dark in the room. He knew she was still awake. It was driving him nuts.

  “Sally?” he said finally. “What’s wrong?”

  “What’s wrong?” She started to laugh. “You have the feelings of a rhino. You ask me what’s wrong?”

  “Okay, you have a point, but you need to sleep and so do I. I can’t go to sleep until you do.”

  “That’s nonsense. I haven’t made a sound.”

  “I know, that’s what’s so crazy about it. I know you’re scared to death, but if you’ll remember, I promised you that I’d protect you. I promised that we’d get this mess all cleared up. You know I can’t do it without you.”

  “I told you, James, I don’t remember that night. Not a single thing. There are just images and sounds, but nothing solid. I don’t know who killed my father. He may not even have been killed when I was there. On the other hand, I could have shot him. I hated him more than you can begin to imagine. Noelle swore to me that she didn’t kill him. There was more, but she didn’t have time to tell me—if, that is, she would have told me in any case.”

  “You know you were there when he was shot. You know very well you didn’t shoot him. But we’ll get back to that later.”

  “I think my mother didn’t tell me the truth because she knows I did shoot him. She’s trying to protect me, not the other way around.”

  “No, you didn’t shoot him. Maybe it was because she didn’t have time since we showed up. Or maybe it was because she’s protecting somebody else. We’ll find out everything. Trust me. She told the cops and us that she’d been out all evening, alone, at a movie.”

  “Well, she told me she’d been with Scott. Which means she had a witness to prove she didn’t kill my father.”

  “Scott? Your husband?”

  “Don’t be cute. You know he’s my husband, but for only a very short time longer.”

  “All right. We’ll take care of things. Now, it’s late. We’ve got to get some sleep.

  “I just wanted to tell you that you ran a good race, Sally, real good. When I just happened to spot you leaving the motel on that motorcycle, I nearly dropped my teeth. That was real smart of you to ditch the car and buy a bike. It took us totally by surprise.”

  “Yes, but it didn’t matter when it came right down to it, did it?”

  “No, thank God. Dillon and I are good. That and lucky as dogs on the loose in an Alpo factory. Where were you going?”

  “To Bar Harbor. My grandfather gave me three hundred dollars. It was all he had in his wallet. When I counted it, I became aware of a certain irony.”

  “You’re kidding. Three hundred exactly?”

  “Right on the button.”

  “I didn’t particularly care for your grandparents. The maid showed us into this back study. They were watching some Home Shopping show. I’ve got to say that was a surprise. Mr. Franklin Oglivee Harrison and wife watching that plebeian show.”

  “That would have surprised me too.”

  “Sally, would you like to come here to the big bed? No, don’t freeze up on me. I can see you freezing from here. I’ll bet your shoulder aches too, doesn’t it?”

  “Just a little bit. More sore than aches. I was very lucky.”

  “You’re right about that. Come on now, I promise not to attack you. Remember how well we both slept in The Cove in my tower bedroom? It can’t have bothered you all that much, since you were willing to tell the bikers about it quick enough.”

  The silence lasted for a full minute. She said, “Yes, I remember. I don’t know why I opened my mouth and blabbed it to total strangers. I had that horrible nightmare.”

  “No, you remembered what had happened to you. It was a nightmare, but it was real. It was your father. At least you finally told me that.

  “Come here, Sally. I’m exhausted and even you—super female—have got to be teetering on the edge just a bit.”

  To his relief and pleased surprise, she was standing beside the bed in the next moment, looking down at him. She was wearing one of his white undershirts. He pulled the covers back.

  She slipped in and lay on her back.

  He lay on his back four inches away from her.

  “Give me your hand.”

  She did. He squeezed her fingers. “Let’s get some sleep.”

  Surprisingly, they did.

  When Quinlan awoke early the following morning, she was sprawled on top of him, her arms wrapped around his neck, her legs parted, lying directly on top of his. The undershirt had ridden up to her waist.

  Oh, damn, he thought, trying not to move, trying to tell himself that this was just something else a professionally trained FBI agent had to learn how to deal with. So it hadn’t been covered in the sixteen-week training course at Quantico. No big deal. He had experience. He wasn’t sixteen. He breathed through his teeth.

  Yes, he would handle this situation with poise and composure. He felt the heat of her through his boxer shorts. He was just a smidgeon of material away from her, that was all, and he knew that composure was a big thing at this point.

  “Sally?”

  “Hmmmm?”

  He was harder than his uncle Alex’s divining rod. No way he was going to scare her. As gently as he could, he pushed her off him onto her back. The only thing was that she didn’t let go of him. He had no choice but to come down over her. Now Uncle Alex’s divining rod was between her legs, just where it belonged.

  What the hell was poise anyway? It didn’t seem too important right this moment.

  “Sally, I’m in a bad way. Let me go, okay?”

  Her arms eased around his neck but she kept her fingers laced.

  He could have easily pulled away from her, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. She was slight and warm and he thought where he was and where she was a very nice thing. He loved the feel of her arms tight about his neck. He liked her warm breath against his neck.

  He thought having her here beneath him until he croaked would be a very nice thing.

  He was staring down at her. He opened his mouth and said, “Sally, would you marry me?”

  Her eyes came open in a flash. “What did you say?”

  “I asked you to marry me.”

  “I don’t know, James. I’m already married.”

  “I’d forgotten that. Sally, please don’t move. Do you want to take your arms off my neck?”

  “No, not really. You’re warm, James, and I like your weight on me. I feel safe and li
ke everything just might be all right. Somebody would have to go through you to get to me. They’d never make it, you’re too solid, too strong. Please don’t roll off me.”

  Solid and strong was he? He turned even harder. “You’re sure you’re not afraid? After what happened to you at the sanitarium, I won’t want to scare you.”

  She frowned even as she tightened her arms around his neck. “It’s odd, but you never scared me except when you came roaring through Amabel’s door like a bull that day, that day when my father called me for the first time. But after that, not at all, not even when you walked in on me and I’d just come out of the shower.”

  “You were so beautiful, I thought I’d lose it for sure.”

  “Me? Beautiful?” She snorted, and he was charmed. “I’m a stick, but you’re nice to say it.”

  “But it’s true. I looked at you and thought, She’s perfect. I really like that little black mole on the side of your belly, just beside your left pelvic bone.”

  “Oh, dear, you saw that much of me?”

  “Oh, yes. A man’s eyes can move real fast when the motivation is there. Why don’t you dump Scott Brainerd and then you can marry me?”

  “I don’t think he’ll mind at all,” she said after a moment. “Actually he’s already dumped me, despite those pleas he made on TV.” She was rubbing her hands over his shoulders and upper back. His skin was warm and smooth. “Shortly after we were married, I knew it had been a mistake. I was as busy as he was, always on the go, always going out to meetings and parties and functions in the evenings, always talking to people on the phone, always having people over. I loved it, and he seemed to at first.

  “Then he told me he’d thought I would give all that up when we got married. Evidently he expected me to sit around until he got home and then feed him and probably rub his back and listen to him talk about his day, and then strip if he wanted sex. At least that’s what he’d expected. Where he got that idea I’ll never know.

  “I tried to talk to him about it, but he would just shake his head and tell me over and over that I was a crummy wife, that I was unreasonable. He said I’d lied to him. That wasn’t true. It came as a total shock to me after we were married when he started pitching fits over my schedule. While we were dating it had been just the same and he’d never said a word. Once he even told me how proud he was of me.

 
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