Night shadow, p.14
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       Night Shadow, p.14

         Part #2 of Night Tales series by Nora Roberts
 
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  crowd. “He’s inside.” When he started to push away, Deborah held on tighter. “No, please.”

  His face grim, Gage nodded to a pair of security guards. “Come and sit down.”

  “No, I’m okay.” Though her breath was still shuddering, she drew away to look at his face. She saw murder there and tightened her hold on him. “Really. He didn’t even touch me. He was trying to frighten me, Gage. He didn’t hurt me.”

  His voice was low as he studied her pale face. “Is that supposed to make me want to kill him less?”

  With a burly guard on each arm, the weeping Mouse stumbled out, his hands covering his face. Deborah noted he was wearing a waiter’s uniform.

  Alarmed by the look in Gage’s eyes, she pulled his attention back to her. “He’s in a lot worse shape than I am. I used this.” With an unsteady hand, Deborah held up a can of Mace. “I’ve been carrying it with me since that night in the alley.”

  Gage wasn’t sure if he should laugh or swear. Instead, he pulled her against him and kissed her. “It looks as though I can’t let you out of my sight.”

  “Deborah.” Jerry elbowed through the onlookers. “Are you all right?”

  “I am now. The police?”

  “I called them myself.” Jerry glanced up at Gage. “You should get her out of here.”

  “I’m fine,” Deborah insisted, glad the full-length dress concealed her knocking knees. “I’ll have to go down to the police station and make a statement. But I need to make a phone call first.”

  “I’ll call whomever you like.” Jerry gave her hand a quick squeeze.

  “Thanks, but I need to do this.” Behind him, she spotted the mayor. “You could do me a favor and hold Fields off my back for a while.”

  “Done.” He looked at Gage again. “Take care of her.”

  “I intend to.” Keeping Deborah tight at his side, Gage led her away from the crowd. He moved quickly across the lobby and toward a bank of elevators.

  “Where are we going?”

  “I keep an office here, you can make the call from there.” Inside the elevator, he turned her to him again and held tight. “What happened?”

  “Well, I didn’t get to powder my nose.” She turned her face into his collar, breathing deeply. “First, Fields waylaid me and read me the riot act. He’s not pleased with my performance.” When the elevator doors opened, she loosened her hold so they could walk into the hallway. “When we parted ways, I was seeing red. I sat down in the powder room to repair my makeup and my composure.” She was calming, and grateful the shaking had stopped. “Very elegant, by the way.”

  He shot her a look as he slid a key into a lock. “I’m glad you approve.”

  “I liked it a lot.” She stepped into the parlor of a suite and crossed the thick oatmeal-colored carpet. “Until the lights went out. I was just orienting myself when the door opened, and he came in. The elusive Mouse,” she said as her stomach began to churn again. “He had a message for me from Montega.”

  The name, just the name, had Gage’s muscles tensing. “Sit down. I’ll get you a brandy.”

  “The phone?”

  “Right there. Go ahead.”

  Gage was fighting his own demons as he moved to the bar for the decanter and two snifters. She’d been alone, and however resourceful she was, she’d been vulnerable. When he’d heard the screaming … His fingers went white on the decanter. If it had been Montega instead of his messenger boy, she could have been dead. And he would have been too late.

  Nothing that had happened to him before, nothing that could happen to him in the future, would be more devastating than losing her.

  She was sitting now, very straight, very tense, her face too pale, her eyes too dark. In one hand she held the receiver while the other vised around the cord. She was talking fast, to her brother-in-law, Gage realized after a moment.

  They had threatened her family. He could see the possibility they would be harmed was more terrifying to her than any attempt on her own life.

  “I need you to call me every day,” she insisted. “You’ll make sure Cilla has guards at the radio station. The children …” She covered her face with her hand. “God, Boyd.” She listened a moment, nodding, trying to smile. “Yes, I know, I know. You didn’t make captain for nothing. I’ll be fine. Yes, and careful. I love you. All of you.” She paused again, inhaling deeply. “Yes, I know. Bye.”

  She replaced the receiver. Saying nothing, Gage pushed the snifter into her hands. She cupped it a moment, staring down at the amber liquid. On another deep breath, she tipped the glass to her lips and drank deeply. She shuddered, drank again.

  “Thanks.”

  “Your brother-in-law’s a good cop. He won’t let anything happen to them.”

  “He saved Cilla’s life years ago. That’s when they fell in love.” Abruptly she looked up, her eyes wet and eloquent. “I hate this, Gage. They’re my family, all I have left of family. The idea that something I’ve done, something I’m doing, could—” She broke off, pulling herself back from the unthinkable. “When I lost my parents, I didn’t think anything would ever be as bad. But this …” With a shake of her head, she looked down at the brandy again. “My mother was a cop.”

  He knew. He knew it all, but he only covered her hand with his and let her talk.

  “She was a good one, or so I was told. I was only twelve when it happened. I didn’t know her very well, not really. She wasn’t cut out to be a mother.”

  She shrugged it off, but even in that casual, dismissive gesture, he saw the scars.

  “And my father,” she continued. “He was a lawyer. A public defender. He tried hard to keep it all together, the family—the illusion of family. But he and my mother just couldn’t pull it off.” She sipped the brandy again, grateful for its numbing smoothness. “Two uniforms came to school that day, picked me up, took me back to the house. I guess I knew. I knew my mother was dead. They told me, as gently as possible, that it was both of them. Both of them. Some creep my father was defending managed to smuggle in a gun. When they were in the conference room, he cut loose.”

  “I’m sorry, Deborah. I know how hard it is to lose family.”

  She nodded, setting the empty snifter aside. “I guess that’s why I was determined to be a lawyer, a prosecutor. Both of my parents dedicated their lives, and lost them defending the law. I didn’t want it to have been for nothing. Do you understand?”

  “Yes.” He brought her hands to his lips. “For whatever reason you chose to be a lawyer, it was the right decision. You’re a good one.”

  “Thanks.”

  “Deborah.” He hesitated, wanting to phrase his thoughts carefully. “I respect both your integrity and your abilities.”

  “I feel a but coming on.”

  “I want to ask you again to back off from this. To leave the rest to me. You’ll have your chance to do what you do best, and that’s prosecute Montega and the rest of them.”

  She gave herself a moment, wanting, as he had, to make her thoughts clear. “Gage, tonight, after the mayor came down on me, I sat in the powder room. Once I got over being mad, I started to think, to examine my position, and my motives. I began to think maybe the mayor was right, maybe it would be better if I turned this over to someone with more experience and less personal involvement.” Then she shook her head. “And I can’t, especially now. They threatened my family. If I stepped back, I’d never be able to trust myself again, to believe in myself. I have to finish this.” Before he could speak, she put her hands on his shoulders. “I don’t agree with you. I don’t know if I ever can, but I understand, in my heart, what you’re doing and why you have to do it. That’s all I’m asking from you.”

  How could he refuse? “Then I guess we have a stalemate, for now.”

  “I have to go down and make my statement.” She rose, held out a hand. “Will you come with me?”

  ***

  They wouldn’t let her talk to Mouse. Deborah figured she could work around that eve
ntually. By Monday, she would have the police reports if nothing else. With Mouse under tight security, it was unlikely the same kind of accident could befall him as it had Parino.

  For the answers she needed, she would bargain with Mouse, just as she would have bargained with the devil.

  She gave her statement, wearily waited while it was typed for her signature. On Saturday night, the station was hopping. Hookers and pimps, dealers and mugging victims, gang members and harried public defenders. It was reality, an aspect of the system she represented and believed in. But it was with relief that she stepped outside.

  “Long night,” she murmured.

  “You handled yourself very well.” He laid a hand on her cheek. “You must be exhausted.”

  “Actually, I’m starving.” Her lips curved. “We never did have dinner.”

  “I’ll buy you a hamburger.”

  With a laugh, she threw her arms around him. Perhaps some things, some very precious things, could be simple. “My hero.”

  He pressed his lips to the side of her throat. “I’ll buy you a dozen hamburgers,” he murmured. “Then, for God’s sake, Deborah, come home with me.”

  “Yes.” She turned her lips to his. “Yes.”

  ***

  He knew how to set the stage. Perfectly. When Deborah walked into the bedroom beside him, there was moonlight drifting through the windows, stardust filtering through the skylight, candle glow warming the shadows. Roses—the scent of them sweetened the air. The sound of a hundred violins romanced it.

  She didn’t know how he’d managed it all with the single phone call he’d made from the noisy little diner where they had eaten. She didn’t care. It was enough to know he would have thought of it.

  “It’s lovely.” She was nervous, she realized, ridiculously so after the passion of the previous night. But her legs were unsteady as she crossed to where a bottle of champagne sat nestled in a crystal bowl of ice. “You thought of everything.”

  “Only of you.” His lips brushed her shoulder before he poured the wine. “I’ve pictured you here a hundred times. A thousand.” He offered her a glass.

  “So have I.” Her hand trembled as she lifted her glass. Desire, fighting to break free. “The first time you kissed me, up in the tower, whole worlds opened up. It’s never been like that for me before.”

  “I nearly begged you to stay that night, even though you were angry.” He slipped off one of her earrings, then let his fingers rub over the sensitive lobe. “I wonder if you would have.”

  “I don’t know. I would have wanted to.”

  “That’s almost enough.” He drew off her other earring, set them both on the table. Slowly he slid out one of her hairpins, then another, watching her. Always watching her. “You’re shivering.”

  His hands were so gentle, his eyes so urgent. “I know.”

  He took the glass from her limp fingers and set it aside. With his eyes on hers, he continued to free her hair. The whisper of his fingertips on the nape of her neck. “You’re not afraid of me?”

  “Of what you can do to me.”

  Something flared in his eyes, dark and dangerous. But he lowered his head to gently kiss her temple.

  Heavy-eyed and sultry, she looked up at him. “Kiss me, Gage.”

  “I will.” His mouth trailed over her face, teasing, never satisfying her. “I am.”

  Her breath was already coming fast. “You don’t have to seduce me.”

  He ran a finger up and down her bare spine, smiling when she shuddered. “It’s my pleasure.” And he wanted it to be hers.

  The night before, all the passion, all the fierce and angry needs had clawed their way out of him. Tonight he wanted to show her the softer side of love. When she swayed against him, he withstood the swift arrows of desire.

  “We made love in the dark,” he murmured as his fingers flicked open the trio of buttons at the back of her neck. “Tonight I want to see you.”

  The dress shimmered down her, a glittery blue pool at her feet. She wore only a lacy chemise that lifted her breasts and skimmed transparent to her hips. Her beauty struck him breathless.

  “Every time I look at you, I fall in love again.”

  “Then don’t stop looking.” She reached up to undo the formal tie. Her fingers slid down to unfasten the unfamiliar studs. “Don’t ever stop.” She parted his shirt with her hands, then pressed her mouth to the heated skin beneath. The tip of her tongue left a moist trail before she lifted her head, let it fall back in invitation. Her eyes were a rich blue gleam beneath her lashes. “Kiss me now.”

  As seduced as she, he branded her lips with his. Twin moans, low and throaty, shuddered through the room. Her hands slid slowly up his chest to his shoulders to push the dinner jacket aside. Her fingers tightened, then went bonelessly lax as he softened the kiss, deepened it, gentled it.

  He lifted her into his arms as though she were fragile crystal rather than flesh and blood. With his eyes on hers, he held her there a moment, letting his mouth tease and torment hers. He continued those featherlight kisses as he carried her to the bed.

  He sat, holding her cradled in his lap. His mouth continued its quiet devastation of her reason. He could almost see her float. Her eyes drifted shut. Her limbs were fluid. In arousing contrast, her heart pounded under his hand. He wanted her like this. Totally pleasured. Totally his. As he drew more and more of that warm exotic flavor from her mouth, he thought he could stay just so for hours. For days.

  She felt each impossibly tender touch, the stroke of a fingertip, the brush of his palm, the oh-so-patient quest of his lips. Her body seemed as light as the rose-scented air, yet her arms were too heavy to lift. The music and his murmurs merged in her mind into one seducing song. Beneath it was the violent roar of her own speeding pulse.

  She knew she had never been more vulnerable or more willing to go wherever he chose to take her.

  And this was love—a need more basic than hunger, than thirst.

  One quiet, helpless gasp escaped her when his lips whispered over the tops of her breasts. Slowly, erotically, his tongue slid under the lace to tease her hardened nipples. His fingers played over the skin above her stockings, lightly, so lightly, gliding beneath the sheer triangle of material.

  With one touch, he sent her over the first towering peak. She arched like a bow, and the pleasure arrowed out of her into him. Then she seemed to melt in his arms.

  Breathless, almost delirious, she reached for him. “Gage, let me …”

  “I will.” He covered her next stunned cry with his mouth. And while she was still shuddering, he laid her on the bed.

  Now, he thought. He could take her now, while she lay hot and damp in surrender. There was moonlight on her skin, on her hair. The white lace she wore was like an illusion. When she looked at him from beneath those heavy lashes, he saw the dark flicker of desire.

  He had more to show her.

  His knuckles brushed her skin, making her jolt as he unhooked her stocking. Almost lazily, he slid it down her leg, following the route with soft, openmouthed kisses. His tongue glided over the back of her knee, down her calf until she was writhing in mindless pleasures.

  Trapped in gauzy layers of sensation, she reached for him again, only to have him evade and repeat each devastating delight on her other leg. His mouth journeyed up, lingering, pausing, until it found her. His name burst from her lips as she reared up. Nearly weeping, she grasped him against her.

  And at the first touch, the strength seemed to pour into her.

  Furnace hot, her flesh met his. But it wasn’t enough. Urgent, her fingers pulled at his open shirt, tearing seams in her desperation to find more of him. As she ripped the silk away, her teeth nipped into his shoulder. She felt his stomach muscles quiver, heard the quick intake of his breath as she pulled at the waistband of his trousers. Buttons popped off.

  “I want you.” Her mouth fixed ravenously to his. “Oh, Lord, I want you.”

  The control he had held so tightly slip
ped through his tensed fingers. Desire overpowered him. She overpowered him with her desperate hands, her greedy mouth. The breath was clogging in his lungs, burning as he struggled out of his clothes.

  Then they were kneeling in the middle of the ravaged bed, bodies trembling, eyes locked. He hooked a hand in the bodice of the lace and rent it ruthlessly down the center. With his fingers digging into her hips, he pulled her against him.

  During the rough, reckless ride, she arched back. Her hands slid down his slick shoulders, then found purchase. She sobbed out his name as she tumbled off the razor’s edge of sanity. He gripped her hair in his hand and drove her up again. Again. Then he closed his mouth over hers and followed.

  ***

  Weak, she lay on the bed, one arm tossed across her eyes, the other hanging limply off the mattress. She knew she couldn’t move, wasn’t sure she could speak, doubted that she was even breathing.

  Yet when he pressed a kiss to her shoulder, she shuddered again.

  “I meant to be gentle with you.”

  She managed to open her eyes. His face was close. She felt his fingers move in her hair. “Then I guess you’ll just have to try again until you get it right.”

  A smile curved his mouth. “I have a feeling that’s going to take a long time.”

  “Good.” She traced his smile with a fingertip. “I love you, Gage. That’s the only thing that seems to matter tonight.”

  “It’s the only thing that matters.” He put a hand over hers. There was a bond in the touch, every bit as deep and as intimate as their lovemaking. “I’ll get you some wine.”

  With a contented sigh, she settled back as he got up. “I never thought it could be like this. I never thought I could be like this.”

  “Like what?”

  She caught a glimpse of herself in the wide mirror across the room—sprawled naked over pillows and rumpled sheets. “So wanton, I guess.” She laughed at her choice of words. “In college I had a reputation for being very cool, very studious and very unapproachable.”

  “School’s out.” He sat on the bed, handed her a glass, then tapped his against it.

  “I guess. But even after, when I started in the D.A.’s office, the reputation remained.” She wrinkled her nose. “Earnest O’Roarke.”

  “I like it when you’re earnest.” He sipped. “I can see you in a law library, poring over thick, dusty books, scribbling notes.”

  She made a face. “That’s not exactly the image I prefer at the moment.”

  “I like it.” He lowered his head to capture her chin gently between his teeth. “You’d be wearing one of those conservatively tailored suits, in those very unconservative colors you like.” She frowned a bit, making him chuckle. “Sensible shoes and very discreet jewelry.”

  “You make me sound like a prude.”

  “And under it all would be something thin and sexy.” He hooked a finger in a torn swatch of lace and lifted it to the light. “A very personal choice for a very proper attorney. Then you’d start quoting precedents and making me crazy.”

  “Like Warner v. Kowaski?”

  “Mmm.” He switched to her ear. “Just like. And I’d be the only one who knew that it takes six pins to hold your hair back in that very proper twist.”

  “I know I can be too serious,” she murmured. “It’s only because what I do is so important to me.” She looked down at her wine. “I have to know what I’m doing is right. That the system I represent works.” When he drew away to study her, she sighed. “I know part of it’s ego and ambition, but another part of it is so basic, Gage, so ingrained. That’s why I worry how you and I are going to resolve this.”

  “We won’t resolve it tonight.”

  “I know, but—”

  “Not tonight,” he said, laying a finger over her lips.

  “Tonight it’s just you and me. I need that, Deborah. And so do you.”

  She nodded. “You’re right. I’m being too earnest again.”

  “We can fix that.” He grinned and held up his glass to the light. The champagne bubbled.

  “By getting drunk?” she said, brow lifted.

  “More or less.” When his eyes met hers, there was a smile in them. “Why don’t I show you a … less serious way to drink champagne?” He tilted his glass and had a trickle of cool wine sliding over her breast.

  Chapter 10

  Gage lost track of time as he watched her sleep. The candles had guttered out in their own hot, fragrant wax so that their scent drifted, quiet as a memory. She had a hand in his, holding lightly even in sleep.

  The shadows lifted, fading in the pearl gray of dawn. He watched the growing light fall over her hair, her face, her shoulders. Just as softly, he followed its path with his lips. But he didn’t want to wake her.

 
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