Night shadow, p.13
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       Night Shadow, p.13

         Part #2 of Night Tales series by Nora Roberts
 
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  He looked back at her. “Not then. I died that night.”

  The way he said it, so flat, so passionlessly, had her blood going cold. “You’re alive.”

  “Death’s almost a technical term these days. Technically, I died. And part of me slipped right out of my body.” Her face grew only paler as he spoke, but she had to know. He had to tell her. “I watched them working on me, there on the docks. And again in the operating room. I almost—almost floated free. And then … I was trapped.”

  “I don’t understand.”

  “Back in my body, but not back.” He lifted his hands, spread them. He’d never tried to explain it to anyone before, and wasn’t certain he could. “Sometimes I could hear—voices, the classical music the nurse left playing by the bed, crying. Or I’d smell flowers. I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t see. But more than that I couldn’t feel anything.” He let his hands drop again. “I didn’t want to. Then I came back—and I felt too much.”

  It was impossible to imagine, but she felt the pain and the despair in her own heart. “I won’t say I understand what you went through. No one could. But it hurts me to think of it, of what you’re still going through.”

  He looked at her, watched a tear slide down her cheek. “When I saw you that night, in the alley, my life changed again. I was just as helpless to stop it as I had been the first time.” His gaze shifted down to the mask she held tight. “Now, my life’s in your hands.”

  “I wish I knew what was right.”

  He came to her again, lifting his hands to her face. “Give me some time. A few more days.”

  “You don’t know what you’re asking me.”

  “I do,” he said, holding her still when she would have turned away. “But I don’t have a choice. Deborah, if I don’t finish what I’ve started I might as well have died four years ago.”

  Her mouth opened to argue, to protest, but she saw the truth of his words in his eyes. “Isn’t there another way?”

  “Not for me. A few more days,” he repeated. “After that, if you feel you have to take what you know to your superiors, I’ll accept it. And take the consequences.”

  She shut her eyes. She knew what he could not. That she would have given him anything. “Mitchell gave me two weeks,” she said dully. “I can’t promise you any longer.”

  He knew what it cost her and prayed he would find the time and the place to balance the scales. “I love you.”

  She opened her eyes, looked into his. “I know,” she murmured, then laid her head against his chest. The mask dangled from her fingers. “I know you do.”

  She felt his arms around her, the solid reality of them. She lifted her head again to meet his lips with hers, to let the kiss linger, warm and promising, even while her conscience waged a silent battle.

  What was going to happen to them? Afraid, she tightened her grip and held on. “Why can’t it be simple?” she whispered. “Why can’t it be ordinary?”

  He couldn’t count the times he had asked himself the same questions. “I’m sorry.”

  “No.” Shaking her head, she drew away. “I’m sorry. It doesn’t do any good to stand here whining about it.” With a sniffle, she brushed away tears. “I may not know what’s going to happen, but I know what has to be done. I have to go to work. Maybe I can find a way out of this thing.” She lifted a brow. “Why are you smiling?”

  “Because you’re perfect. Absolutely perfect.” As he had the night before, he hooked a hand in the belt of her robe. “Come to bed with me. I’ll show you what I mean.”

  “It’s nearly noon,” she said as he lowered his head to nibble at her ear. “I have work.”

  “Are you sure?”

  Her eyes drifted closed. Her body swayed toward his. “Ah … yes.” She pulled away, holding both palms out. “Yes, really. I don’t have much time. Neither of us do.”

  “All right.” He smiled again when her lips moved into a pout at his easy acquiescence. Perhaps, with luck, he could give her something ordinary. “On one condition.”

  “Which is?”

  “I have a charity function tonight. A dinner, a couple of performers, dancing. At the Parkside.”

  “The Parkside.” She thought of the old, exclusive and elegant hotel overlooking City Park. “Are you talking about the summer ball?”

  “Yeah, that’s it. I’d considered skipping it, but I’ve changed my mind. Will you go with me?”

  She lifted a brow. “You’re asking me at noon if I’ll go with you to the biggest, glitziest event in the city—which begins eight hours from now. And you’re asking me when I’ve got to go to work, have absolutely no hope of getting an appointment at a hairdresser, no time to shop for the right dress.”

  “That about covers it,” he said after a moment.

  She blew out a breath. “What time are you going to pick me up?”

  ***

  At 7, Deborah stepped under a steaming-hot shower. She didn’t believe it could possibly ease all the aches, and she was over her quota of aspirin for the day. Six hours in front of a computer terminal, a phone receiver at her ear, had brought her minimal results.

  Each name she had checked had turned out to belong to someone long dead. Each address was a blind alley, and each corporation she investigated led only to a maze of others.

  The common thread, as Gage had termed it, seemed to be frustration.

  More than ever she needed to find the truth. It wasn’t only a matter of justice now. It was personal. Though she knew that warped her objectivity, it couldn’t be helped. Until this was resolved, she couldn’t begin to know where her future, and Gage’s, lay.

  Perhaps nowhere, she thought as she bundled into a towel. They had come together like lightning and thunder. But storms passed. She knew that an enduring relationship required more than passion. Her parents had had passion—and no understanding. It required even more than love. Her parents had loved, but they had been unhappy.

  Trust. Without trust, love and passion faded, paled and vanished.

  She wanted to trust him. And to believe in him. Yet he didn’t trust her. There were things he knew that could bring her closer to the truth in the case they were both so involved in. Instead, he kept them to himself, determined that his way and only his way was the right one.

  With a sigh, she began to dry her hair. Wasn’t she just as determined that her way, only her way, was the right one?

  If they were so opposed on this one fundamental belief, how could love be enough?

  But she had agreed to see him that night. Not because she wanted to go to a fancy ball, she thought. If he had asked her out for hot dogs and bowling, she would have gone. Because she couldn’t stay away. If she was honest, she would admit she didn’t want to stay away.

  She would give herself tonight, Deborah thought, carefully applying blusher. But like Cinderella, when the ball was over, she would have to face reality.

  Moving briskly, she walked into the bedroom. Spread over the bed was the dress she had bought less than an hour before. Fate, she mused, running a hand over its shimmering sequins. He’d said he liked her in blue. When she’d rushed into the dress shop, frantic, it had been there, waiting. A liquid column of rich, royal blue, studded with silvery sequins. And it fit like a glove from its high-banded collar to its ankle-skimming hem.

  Deborah had winced at the price tag, then had gritted her teeth. She’d thrown caution and a month’s pay to the winds.

  Now, looking in the mirror, she couldn’t regret it. The rhinestone swirls at her ears were the perfect match. With her hair swept up and back, her shoulders were bare. She shifted. So was most of her back.

  She was just slipping on her shoes when Gage knocked.

  His smile faded when she opened the door. Her own lips curved at the sudden and intense desire she saw in his eyes. Very slowly she turned a full circle.

  “What do you think?”

  He discovered, if he did so very slowly, he could breathe. “I’m glad I didn’t give you more
time to prepare.”

  “Why?”

  “I couldn’t have handled it if you were any more beautiful.”

  She tilted her chin. “Show me.”

  He was almost afraid to touch her. Very gently he laid his hands on her shoulders, lowered his mouth to hers. But the taste of her punched into his system, making his fingers tighten, his mouth greedy. With a murmur, he shifted, reaching out to shut the door.

  “Oh, no.” She was breathless, and unsteady enough to have to lean back against the door. But she was also determined. “For what I paid for this dress, I want to take it out in public.”

  “Always practical.” He gave her one last, lingering kiss. “We could be late.”

  She smiled at him. “We’ll leave early.”

  ***

  When they arrived, the ballroom was already crowded with the glamorous, the influential, the wealthy. Over champagne and appetizers, Deborah scanned the tables and the table-hoppers.

  She saw the governor glad-handing a well-known actress, a publishing tycoon cheek-bussing an opera star, the mayor exchanging grins and guffaws with a bestselling author.

  “Your usual crowd?” Deborah murmured, smiling at Gage.

  “A few acquaintances.” He touched his glass to hers.

  “Mmm. That’s Tarrington, isn’t it?” She nodded her head toward a young, earnest-looking man. “What do you think his chances are in the debates?”

  “He has a lot to say,” Gage commented. “Sometimes a bit tactlessly, but he has a point. Still, he’ll have a hard time swaying the over-forty vote.”

  “Gage.” Arlo Stuart stopped at their table, patting his hand on Gage’s shoulder. “Good to see you.”

  “Glad you could make it.”

  “Wouldn’t have missed it.” A tall, tanned man with a wavy mane of snowy hair and clear green eyes, he gestured with his glass of Scotch. “You’ve done nice things in here. I haven’t been in since you finished the renovations.”

  “We like it.”

  It took Deborah only a minute to realize they were talking about the hotel. And that the hotel belonged to Gage. She glanced up at the opulent crystal chandeliers. She should have known.

  “I like knowing my competition has class.” His gaze flicked to Deborah. “Speaking of class. Your face is very familiar. And I’m too old for you to consider that a line.”

  “Arlo Stuart, Deborah O’Roarke.”

  He took Deborah’s hand, holding it in a hearty squeeze. “O’Roarke—O’Roarke.” His eyes were both friendly and crafty. “You’re the hot lawyer, aren’t you? The D.A. who knocked that little creep Slagerman down a peg. The newspaper pictures aren’t even close.”

  “Mr. Stuart.”

  “The mayor has good things to say about you. Very good things. We’ll have to have a dance later so you can tell me all you know about our friend Nemesis.”

  Her hand jerked in his, but she managed to keep her eyes level. “It would be a short conversation.”

  “Not according to our favorite journalist. Of course Wisner’s an ass.” He had yet to release her hand. “Where did you meet our up-and-coming D.A., Gage? I must be frequenting the wrong places.”

  “At your hotel,” he said easily. “The mayor’s fund-raiser.”

  Stuart gave a hearty laugh. “Well, that will teach me to run around drumming up votes for Fields, won’t it? Don’t forget that dance.”

  “I won’t,” she said, grateful to have her hand, sore fingers and all, back in her lap.

  When he walked away, Deborah wiggled her fingers. “Is he always so … exuberant?”

  “Yes.” Gage picked up her hand and kissed it. “Anything broken?”

  “I don’t think so.” Content to have her hand in his, she glanced around the room. Lush palms, a musical fountain, mirrored ceilings. “This is your hotel?”

  “Yeah. Do you like it?”

  “It’s okay.” She gave a little shrug when he grinned. “Shouldn’t you be socializing?”

  “I am.” He touched his lips to hers.

  “If you keep looking at me like that—”

  “Go on. Please.”

  She let out one long, unsteady breath. “I think I’ll take a trip to the powder room.”

  Halfway across the ballroom, she was waylaid by the mayor. “I’d like a moment, Deborah.”

  “Of course.”

  With an arm around her waist, flashing a broad political smile, he steered her expertly through the crowd and through the high ballroom doors.

  “I thought we could use a little privacy.”

  Glancing back, she noted mat Jerry was moving their way. At a signal from the mayor, he stopped, sent Deborah an apologetic look and merged back with the crowd.

  “It’s quite an elaborate event,” Deborah began, schooled enough to know the mayor preferred to launch a topic himself.

  “I was surprised to see you here.” He nudged her away from the doors toward an alcove that held potted plants and pay phones. “Then again, perhaps I shouldn’t have been, since your and Guthrie’s names have been linked so often lately.”

  “I’m seeing Gage,” she said coolly. “If that’s what you mean. On a personal level.” She was already weary of playing politics. “Is that what you wanted to talk to me about, Mayor? My social life?”

  “Only as it affects your professional one. I was disturbed and disappointed to learn that against my wishes you’re remaining on this investigation.”

  “Your wishes?” she countered. “Or Mr. Guthrie’s?”

  “I respected and agreed with his viewpoint.” There was a flash of anger in his eyes he rarely showed outside of the privacy of his own offices. “Frankly, I’m displeased with your performance on this matter. Your excellent record in the courtroom does not override your reckless mistakes outside of it.”

  “Reckless? Believe me, Mayor Fields, I haven’t begun to be reckless. I’m following my superior’s orders in pursuing this matter. I began it, and I intend to finish it. Since we’re supposed to be on the same side, I’d think you’d be pleased with the dedication of the D.A.’s office in this case, not only with our persistence in tracking down and prosecuting the men trafficking drugs, but in finding Montega, a known cop killer, and bringing him to justice.”

  “Don’t tell me whose side I’m on.” Clearly on the edge of losing control, he wagged a finger in her face. “I’ve worked for this city since before you could tie your own shoes. You don’t want to make an enemy of me, young lady. I run Urbana, and I intend to keep right on running it. Young, overeager prosecutors are a dime a dozen.”

  “Are you threatening to have me fired?”

  “I’m warning you.” With an obvious effort of will, he brought himself under control. “You either work with the system, or you work against it.”

  “I know that.” Her fingers tightened on her evening bag.

  “I admire you, Deborah,” he said more calmly. “But while you have enthusiasm, you lack experience, and a case like this requires more experienced hands and minds.”

  She stood her ground. “Mitchell gave me two weeks.”

  “I’m aware of that. Make sure you play by the book for the time you have left.” Though his eyes were still hot, he laid an avuncular hand on her arm. “Enjoy yourself this evening. The menu’s excellent.”

  When he left her, she stood there for a moment, quietly shaking with rage. Grappling for control, she strode toward the ladies’ room. Inside, she stormed through two arching ficus trees and into the adjoining room with its rose-colored chairs and mint green counters. Still seething, she tossed her bag onto the counter and plopped down into a chair in front of one of the oval lighted mirrors.

  So the mayor was displeased, she thought. He was disappointed. He was disturbed. She grabbed a lipstick out of her purse and concentrated on painting her lips. What he was, she thought, was spitting mad because she had bucked him.

  Did he think there was only one way to do things, only one route to take? What the hell was wr
ong with taking a few detours, as long as they led to the same destination? Especially if they got you there quicker.

  She tossed the lipstick back into her purse and reached for her compact. In the glass, she met her own eyes.

  What was she thinking? Only twenty-four hours before, she had been sure there was only one way, only one route. And though she wouldn’t have appreciated the mayor’s tactics, she would have applauded his sentiments.

  And now? She dropped her chin on her hand. And now she just wasn’t sure. Wasn’t she, even at this moment, veering outside of the system that she believed in? Wasn’t she allowing her feelings, her personal feelings for Gage, to interfere with her professional ethics?

  Or did it all come down to a matter of right and wrong, with her not knowing which was which? How could she continue, how could she function as a lawyer, if she couldn’t see clearly what was right?

  Maybe it was time to examine the facts, along with her own conscience, and ask herself if it wouldn’t be better for everyone if she did withdraw.

  As she sat studying her own face and her own values, the lights went out.

  Chapter 9

  Deborah clutched her evening bag and set one hand on the counter to orient herself. Big, fancy hotel like this, she thought, and it blows a fuse. Though she tried to see the humor of it as she stood, her heart was pounding. She swore when her hip bumped the chair as she groped through the dark.

  Though it was foolish, she was afraid, and felt both trapped and smothered by the dark.

  The door creaked open. There was a shaft of light, then blackness.

  “Hey, pretty lady.”

  She froze, holding her breath.

  “I got a message for you.” The voice was high and piping with a giggle at the end of each sentence. “Don’t worry. I’m not going to hurt you. Montega wants you all for himself, and he’d get real mad if I messed you up any first.”

  Her skin iced over. He couldn’t see her, Deborah reminded herself as she fought the paralyzing fear. That evened the odds. “Who are you?”

  “Me?” Another giggle. “You’ve been looking for me, but I’m hard to find. That’s why they call me Mouse. I can get in and out of anyplace.”

  He was moving toward her soundlessly. Deborah could only guess at the direction of his voice. “You must be very clever.” After she spoke, she too moved, shifting a careful foot to the left.

  “I’m good. I’m the best. Ain’t nobody better than old Mouse. Montega wanted me to tell you he’s real sorry you didn’t get to talk more before. He wants you to know he’s keeping an eye on you. All the time. And on your family.”

  For an instant her blood stopped flowing. Her thoughts of outmaneuvering him, of slipping past him to the door, vanished. “My family?”

  “He knows people in Denver, too. Real slick people.” He was closer now, so close she could smell him. But she didn’t move away. “If you cooperate, he’ll make sure your sister and the rest stay safe and snug in their beds tonight. Get the picture?”

  She reached into her bag, felt the cool metal in her hand. “Yes, I get the picture.” Pulling it out, she aimed in the direction of his voice and fired.

  Screaming, he crashed into the chairs. Deborah sprinted around him, ramming her shoulder against one wall, then another until she located the door. Mouse was weeping and cursing as she tugged and found the door jammed.

  “Oh, God. Oh, God.” Panicked, she continued to pull.

  “Deborah!” She heard her name shouted. “Get away from the door. Step back from the door.”

  She took one stumbling step backward and heard the heavy thud. Another, and the door crashed open. She ran into the light and Gage’s arms.

  “You’re all right?” His hands were running over her, checking for hurts.

  “Yes. Yes.” She buried her face in his shoulder, ignoring the gathering
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