Night shadow, p.12
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       Night Shadow, p.12

         Part #2 of Night Tales series by Nora Roberts
 
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  “I love you.” She wrapped tight around him as the words poured out.

  They filled him, even as he filled her. They moved him even as their bodies moved together. He buried his face in her hair. Her nails dug into his back. He felt his own shattering release, then hers as she cried out his name.

  ***

  He lay in the dark. The roaring in his head gradually subsided until all he heard was the sound of traffic on the street below and Deborah’s deep, unsteady breaths. Her arms were no longer tight around him, but had slid off. She was still now, and quiet.

  Slowly, unnerved by his own weakness, he shifted from her. She didn’t move, didn’t speak. In the dark, he touched a hand to her face and found it damp. And he hated that part of him that had caused her grief.

  “How long have you known?”

  “Not until tonight.” Before he could touch her again, she turned away and groped for her robe. “Did you think I wouldn’t know when you kissed me? Didn’t you realize that no matter how dark it was, no matter how confused you made me, once this happened I would know?”

  It wasn’t just anger in her voice, but pain. He could have withstood the anger. “No, I didn’t think of it.”

  “Didn’t you?” She switched on the bedside lamp and stared at him. “But you’re so clever, Gage, so damn clever to have made such a mistake.”

  He looked at her. Her hair was tumbled, her pale skin still flushed and warm from his hands. There were tears in her eyes, and behind them a bright anger. “Maybe I did know. Maybe I just didn’t want to let it matter.” He rose and reached for her. “Deborah—”

  She slapped him once, then twice. “Damn you, you lied to me. You made me doubt myself, my values. You knew, you had to know I was falling in love with you.” With a half laugh she turned away. “With both of you.”

  “Please listen.” When he touched her on the shoulder, she jerked away.

  “It wouldn’t be wise to touch me just now.”

  “All right.” He curled his hand into a fist. “I fell in love with you so fast, I couldn’t think. All I knew was that I needed you, and that I wanted you to be safe.”

  “So you put on your mask and looked out for me. I won’t thank you for it. For any of it.”

  The finality in her voice had panic racing through him. “Deborah, what happened here tonight—”

  “Yes, what happened here. You trusted me enough for this.” She gestured to the bed. “But not for the rest. Not for the truth.”

  “No, I didn’t. I couldn’t because I know how you feel about what I’m doing.”

  “That’s a whole different story, isn’t it?” She swiped away tears. The anger was dying away to misery. “If you knew you had to lie to me, why didn’t you just stay away from me?”

  He forced himself not to reach for her again. He had lied and, by lying, hurt her. Now he could only offer the truth and hope it would begin to heal. “You’re the only thing in four years I haven’t been able to overcome. You’re the only thing in four years I’ve needed as much as I’ve needed to live. I don’t expect you to understand or even accept, but I need you to believe me.”

  “I don’t know what to believe. Gage, since I met you I’ve been torn in two different directions, believing I was falling in love with two different men. But it’s just you. I don’t know what to do.” On a sigh, she shut her eyes. “I don’t know what’s right.”

  “I love you, Deborah. Nothing’s lighter than that. Give me a chance to show you, time to explain the rest.”

  “I don’t seem to have much choice. Gage, I can’t condone—” She opened her eyes and for the first time focused on the long, jagged scars on his chest. Pain slammed into her, all but bringing her to her knees. Dulled with horror, her eyes lifted to his. “They did that to you?” she whispered.

  His body stiffened. “I don’t want pity, Deborah.”

  “Be quiet.” She moved quickly, going to him, wrapping her arms around him. “Hold me.” She shook her head. “No, tighter. I might have lost you all those years ago before I ever had the chance to have you.” There were tears in her eyes again as she lifted her head. “I don’t know what to do, or what’s right. But tonight it’s enough that you’re here. You’ll stay?”

  He touched his lips to hers. “As long as you want.”

  Chapter 8

  Deborah always awakened reluctantly. She snuggled into sleep, easily blocking out the honks and gunning engines from the street. A jackhammer was machine-gunning the concrete, but she only yawned and shifted. If she put her mind to it, she could sleep through an atomic bomb.

  It wasn’t the noise that had her opening her groggy eyes. It was the faint and glorious scent of brewing coffee.

  Ten thirty, she noted, peering at the clock. Ten thirty! Deborah struggled to sit up and discovered she was alone in bed.

  Gage, she thought, pressing the heels of her hands to her eyes. Had he ordered breakfast again? Eggs Benedict? Belgian waffles? Strawberries and champagne? God, what she would have given for a simple cup of black coffee and a stale doughnut.

  Pushing herself from the bed, she reached down for her robe, which was lying in a heap on the floor. Beneath it was a swatch of black cloth. She picked it up, then lowered herself to the bed again.

  A mask. She balled the material in her hand. So it hadn’t been a dream. It was real, all of it. He had come to her in the night, loved her in the night. Both of her fantasies. The charming businessman, the arrogant stranger in black. They were one man, one lover.

  On a low groan, she buried her face in her hands. What was she going to do? How the hell was she going to handle this? As a woman? As a D.A.?

  God, she loved him. And by loving him, she betrayed her principles. If she revealed his secret, she betrayed her heart.

  And how could she love him without understanding him?

  Yet she did, and there was no way she could take back her heart.

  They had to talk, she decided. Calmly and sensibly. She could only pray she would find the strength and the right words. It wouldn’t be enough to tell him she disapproved. He already knew it. It wouldn’t be enough to tell him she was afraid. That would only prompt him to reassure. Somehow, she had to find the words to convince him that the path he had taken was not only dangerous, but wrong.

  Deborah braced herself, prepared.

  When the phone rang, she muttered an oath. Struggling into her robe, she climbed across the bed to snatch up the receiver.

  “… Deborah’s sister.” Cilla’s voice held both amusement and curiosity. “And how are you?”

  “Fine, thanks,” Gage said. “Deborah’s still sleeping. Would you like me to—”

  “I’m right here.” Sighing, Deborah pushed at her tousled hair. “Hello, Cilla.”

  “Hi.”

  “Good-bye, Cilla.” Deborah heard Gage set the phone on the hook. There was a moment of humming silence.

  “Ah … I guess I called at a bad time.”

  “No. I was just getting up. Isn’t it a bit early in Denver?”

  “With three kids, this is the middle of the day. Bryant, take that basketball outside. Out! No dribbling in the kitchen. Deb?”

  “Yes?”

  “Sorry. Anyway, Boyd checked out those names, and I thought you’d like the information right away.”

  “That’s great.” She picked up a pen.

  “I’ll let Boyd fill you in.” The phone rattled. “No, I’ll take him. Keenan, don’t put that in your mouth. Good grief, Boyd, what’s all over his face?” There was some giggling, a crash as the receiver hit the kitchen floor and the sound of running feet.

  “Deb?”

  “Congratulations, Captain Fletcher.”

  “Thanks. I guess Cilla’s been bragging again. How’s it going?”

  She looked down at the mask she still held in her hand. “I’m not at all sure.” Shaking off the mood, she smiled into the phone. “Things sound normal out there.”

  “Nothing’s ever normal out here. He
y, Allison, don’t let that dog—” There was another crash and a flurry of barking. “Too late.”

  Yes, it sounded perfectly normal. “Boyd, I appreciate you moving so fast on this.”

  “No problem. It sounded important.”

  “It is.”

  “Well, it isn’t much. George P. Drummond was a plumber, owned his own business—”

  “Was?” Deborah interrupted.

  “Yeah. He died three years ago. Natural causes. He was eighty-two and had no connection with a Solar Corporation or any other.”

  She shut her eyes. “And the other?”

  “Charles R. Meyers. High school science teacher and football coach. Deceased five years. They were both clean as a whistle.”

  “And the Solar Corporation?”

  “We can’t find much so far. The address you gave Cilla was nonexistent.”

  “I should have guessed. Every time I turn a corner on this, I run into a dead end.”

  “I know the feeling. I’ll do some more digging. Sorry I can’t be more helpful.”

  “But you have been.”

  “Two dead guys and a phony address? Not much. Deborah, we’ve been following the papers out here. Can you tell me if this business has anything to do with your masked phantom?”

  She balled the black cloth in her hand again. “Off the record, yes.”

  “I imagine Cilla’s already said it, but be careful, okay?”

  “I will.”

  “She wants to talk to you again.” There was some muttering, a chuckle. “Something about a man answering your phone.” Boyd laughed again, and Deborah could almost see them wrestling over the receiver.

  “I just want to know—” Cilla was breathless. “Boyd, cut it out. Go feed the dog or something. I just want to know,” she repeated into the receiver, “who owns the terrific, sexy voice.”

  “A man.”

  “I figured that out. Does he have a name?”

  “Yes.”

  “Well, do you want me to guess? Phil, Tony, Maximillion?”

  “Gage,” Deborah muttered, giving up.

  “The millionaire? Nice going.”

  “Cilla—”

  “I know, I know. You’re a grown woman. A sensible woman with a life of her own. I won’t say another word. But is he—”

  “Before you take this any further, I should warn you I haven’t had coffee yet.”

  “Okay. But I want you to call me, and soon. I need details.”

  “I’ll let you know when I have them. I’ll be in touch.”

  “You’d better.”

  She hung up and sat a moment. It seemed she was back to square one, all around. But first things first, she reminded herself, and followed the scent of coffee into the kitchen.

  Gage was at the stove, in jeans and bare feet, his shirt unbuttoned. She wasn’t surprised to see him there, but she was surprised at what he was doing.

  “You’re cooking?” she said from the doorway.

  He turned. The impact of seeing her there in the strong sunlight, her eyes sleepy and cautious, nearly bowled him over. “Hi. Sorry about the phone, I thought I could get it before it woke you up.”

  “It’s all right. I was … awake.” Feeling awkward, she took a mug from a hook over the sink and poured coffee. “It was my sister.”

  “Right.” He put his hands on her shoulders, running his hands gently down to her elbows and back. When she stiffened, he felt the pain knife into him. “Would you rather I wasn’t here?”

  “I don’t know.” She drank without turning around. “I guess we have to talk.” But she couldn’t bring herself to face it yet. “What are you making?”

  “French toast. You didn’t have much in the fridge, so I went down to the corner and picked some things up.”

  So normal, she thought as her stomach clenched. So easy. “How long have you been up?”

  “Two or three hours.”

  When he walked back to the stove, she turned around. “You didn’t get much sleep.”

  His eyes met hers. She was holding back, he thought, on both the hurt and the anger. But they were there. “I don’t need much—not anymore.” He added two eggs to the milk he already had in a bowl. “I spent the better part of a year doing nothing but sleeping. After I came back, I didn’t seem to need more than four hours a night.”

  “I guess that’s how you manage to run your businesses, and … the other.”

  “Yeah.” He continued to mix ingredients, then dunked bread into the bowl. “You could say my metabolism changed—among other things.” Coated bread sizzled when he placed it in the skillet. “Do you want me to apologize for what happened last night?”

  She didn’t speak for a moment, then opened a cupboard. “I’ll get some plates.”

  He bit off an oath. “Fine. This only takes a few minutes.”

  He waited until they were seated by the window. Deborah said nothing while she toyed with her breakfast. Her silence and the miserable look in her eyes were more disturbing to him than a hundred shouted accusations.

  “It’s your call,” he said quietly.

  Her eyes lifted to his. “I know.”

  “I won’t apologize for being in love with you. Or for making love with you. Being with you last night was the most important thing that’s ever happened to me.”

  He waited, watching her. “You don’t believe that, do you?”

  “I’m not sure what I believe. What I can believe.” She cupped her hands around her mug, her fingers tense. “You’ve lied to me, Gage, from the very beginning.”

  “Yes, I have.” He banked down on the need to reach out for her, just to touch her. “Apologies for that really don’t matter much. It was deliberate, and if it had been possible, I would have continued to lie to you.”

  She pushed away from the table to wrap her arms around herself. “Do you know how that makes me feel?”

  “I think I do.”

  Hurting, she shook her head. “You couldn’t possibly know. You made me doubt myself on the most basic of levels. I was falling in love with you—with both of you, and I was ashamed. Oh, I can see now that I was a fool not to have realized it sooner. My feelings were exactly the same for what I thought were two different men. I would look at you, and think of him. Look at him, and think of you.” She pressed her fingers to her lips. The words were pouring out too quickly.

  “That night, in Santiago’s room, after I came to and you were holding me. I looked up into your eyes and remembered the first time I had seen you in the ballroom at the Stuart Palace. I thought I was going crazy.”

  “It wasn’t done to hurt you, only to protect you.”

  “From what?” she demanded. “From myself, from you? Every time you touched me, I …” Her breath hitched as she fought for composure. That was her problem, after all. Her emotions. “I don’t know if I can forgive you, Gage, or trust you. Even loving you, I don’t know.”

  He sat where he was, knowing she would resist if he tried to approach her. “I can’t make up for what was done. I didn’t want you, Deborah. I didn’t want anyone who could make me vulnerable enough to make a mistake.” He thought of his gift. His curse. “I don’t even have the right to ask you to take me as I am.”

  “With this?” She pulled the mask from the pocket of her robe. “No, you don’t have the right to ask me to accept this. But that’s just what you’re doing. You’re asking me to love you. And you’re asking me to close my eyes to what you’re doing. I dedicated my life to the law. Am I supposed to say nothing while you ignore it?”

  His eyes darkened. “I nearly lost my life to the law. My partner died for it. I’ve never ignored it.”

  “Gage, this can’t be personal.”

  “The hell it can’t. It’s all personal. Whatever you read in your law books, whatever precedents or procedures you find, it all comes down to people. You know that. You feel that. I’ve seen you work.”

  “Within the law,” she insisted. “Gage, you must see what you’re doing
is wrong, not even to mention dangerous. You have to stop.”

  His eyes were very dark, very clear. “Not even for you.”

  “And if I go to Mitchell, to the police commissioner, to Fields?”

  “Then I’ll do whatever I have to do. But I won’t stop.”

  “Why?” She crossed to him, the mask fisted in her hand. “Damn it, why?”

  “Because I don’t have a choice.” He rose, his hands gripping her shoulders hard before he let go and turned away. “There’s nothing I can do to change it. Nothing I would do.”

  “I know about Montega.” When he turned back, she saw the pain. “I’m sorry, Gage, so sorry for what happened to you. For what happened to your partner. We’ll bring Montega in, I swear it. But revenge isn’t the answer for you. It can’t be.”

  “What happened to me four years ago changed my life. That’s not trite. That’s reality.” He laid his hand against the wall, stared at it, then pulled it back to stick it into his pocket. “You read the reports of what happened the night Jack was killed?”

  “Yes, I read them.”

  “All the facts,” he murmured. “But not all the truth. Was it in the report that I loved him? That he had a pretty wife and a little boy who liked to ride a red tricycle?”

  “Oh, Gage.” She couldn’t prevent her eyes from filling, or her arms from reaching out. But he shook his head and moved away.

  “Was it in the report that we had given nearly two years of our lives to break that case? Two years of dealing with the kind of slime who have big yachts, big houses, fat portfolios, all from the money they earn selling drugs to smaller dealers, who pay the rent by putting it out on the streets, and the playgrounds and the projects. Two years working our way in, our way up. Because we were cops and we believed we could make a difference.”

  He put his hands on the back of the chair, fingers curling, uncurling. She could only stand and watch in silence as he remembered.

  “Jack was going to take a vacation when it was over. Not to go anywhere, just to sit around the house, mow the grass, fix a leaky sink, spend time with Jenny and his kid. That’s what he said. I was thinking about going to Aruba for a couple of weeks, but Jack, he didn’t have big dreams. Just ordinary ones.”

  He looked up, out the window, but he didn’t see the sunlight or the traffic crowding the streets. Effortlessly he slid into the past. “We got out of the car. We had a case full of marked bills, plenty of backup and a solid cover. What could go wrong? We were both ready, really ready. We were going to meet the man in charge. It was hot. You could smell the water, hear it lapping against the docks. I was sweating, not just because of the heat, but because it didn’t feel right. But I didn’t listen to my instincts. And then Montega …”

  Gage could see him, standing in the shadows of the docks, gold glinting in his grin.

  Stinking cops.

  “He killed Jack before I could even reach for my weapon. And I froze. Just for an instant, just for a heartbeat, but I froze. And he had me.”

  She thought of the scars on his chest and could hardly breathe. To have watched his partner murdered. To have had that moment, that instant of time to see his own death coming. The sharp, shuddering pain that ripped through her was all for him.

  “Don’t. What good does it do to go back and remember? You couldn’t have saved Jack. No matter how quick you had been, no matter what you had done, you couldn’t have saved him.”

 
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