Night shadow, p.15
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       Night Shadow, p.15

         Part #2 of Night Tales series by Nora Roberts
 
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  There was too much to be done, too much he still refused to make her a part of. He knew that over a matter of weeks, the goals he carried inside him for more than four years had become mixed. It was not enough now to avenge his partner’s death. It was not enough now to seek and find payment for the time and the life that had been stolen from him. Even justice, that driving force, was not enough.

  He would have to move quickly now, for each day that passed without answers was another day Deborah was in jeopardy. There was nothing more important than keeping her safe.

  He slid away from her, moving soundlessly from the bed to dress. There was time to make up, all the hours he had spent with her rather than on the streets or at his work. He glanced back when she shifted and snuggled deeper into the pillow. She would sleep through the morning. And he would work.

  He pushed a button beneath the carved wood on the wall farthest from the bed. A panel slid open. Gage stepped into the dark and let it close again at his back.

  With the husky morning greeting still on her tongue, Deborah blinked sleepily. Had she been dreaming? she wondered. She would have sworn Gage had stepped into some kind of secret passageway. Baffled, she pushed up on her elbows. In sleep she had reached for him and, finding him gone, had awakened just at the moment when the wall had opened.

  Not a dream, she assured herself. For he wasn’t beside her, and the sheets where he had lain were already cooling.

  More secrets, she thought and felt the sorrow of his distrust envelop her. After the nights they had spent together, the love he had shown her, he still wouldn’t give her his trust.

  So she would take it, Deborah told herself as she pushed herself out of bed. She would not sit and sulk or wish and whine, but demand. Fumbling in his closet, she located a robe. Soft cotton in steel gray, it hit her midcalf. Impatient, she bundled the sleeves up out of her way and began to search for the mechanism that opened the panel.

  Even knowing the approximate location, it took her ten frustrating minutes to find it and another two to figure out how it worked. Her breath hissed out in satisfaction as the panel slid open. Without hesitation, she stepped into the dark, narrow corridor.

  Keeping one hand on the wall for guidance, she started forward. There was no dank, disused smell as she might have expected. The air was clean, the wall smooth and dry. Even when the panel behind her closed her completely into the dark, she wasn’t uneasy. There would be no scratching or skittering sounds here. It was obvious Gage used the passage, and whatever it led to, often.

  She picked her way along, straining her eyes and ears. Corridors veered off, twisting like snakes from the main passage, but she followed instinct and kept to the same straight path. After a moment, she saw a dim glow up ahead and moved a bit more quickly. A set of stone stairs with pie-shaped treads curved into a tight semicircle as it plunged downward. With one hand tight on the thin iron rail, she wove her way to the bottom, where she was faced with three tunnels leading in different directions.

  The lady or the tiger, she thought, then shook her head at her own fancy. “Damn you, Gage. Where did you go?” Her whisper echoed faint and hollow, then died.

  Bracing her shoulders, she started through one archway, changed her mind and backtracked to the middle. Again she hesitated. Then she heard it, dim and dreamy down the last tunnel. Music.

  She plunged into the dark again, following the sound, moving cautiously down the sloping stone floor. She had no idea how deep she was traveling underground, but the air was cooling rapidly. The music grew in volume as degree by faint degree the tunnel’s light increased. She heard a mechanical hum, and a clatter—like typewriter keys hitting a platen.

  When she stepped into the mouth of the tunnel, she could only stand and stare.

  It was an enormous room with curving stone walls. Cavernlike with its arching ceiling and echoes, it spread more than fifty feet in every direction. But it wasn’t primitive, she thought as she gathered Gage’s robe close around her throat. Rather than appearing gloomy, it was brilliantly lit, equipped with a vast computer system, printers and monitors blinking away. Television screens were bolted to one wall. An enormous topographic map of Urbana spread over another. Music, eerily romantic, poured out of speakers she couldn’t see. Granite gray counters held workstations, telephones, stacks of photographs and papers.

  There was a control panel, studded with switches and buttons and levers. Gage sat in front of it, his fingers moving. Over the map, lights blinked on. He shifted, working the controls. On a computer screen, the map was reproduced.

  He looked like a stranger, his face grimly set and intense. She wondered if his choice of a black sweater and jeans had been deliberate.

  She stepped forward, down a trio of stone steps. “Well,” she began as he turned quickly, “you didn’t include this on my tour.”

  “Deborah.” He stood, automatically turning off the monitor. “I’d hoped you’d sleep longer.”

  “I’m sure you did.” She stuck her tensed hands into the deep pockets of his robe. “Apparently I’ve interrupted your work. An interesting … getaway,” she decided. “Nemesis’s style, I’d say. Dramatic, secretive.” She moved past a bank of computers toward the map. “And thorough,” she murmured. “Very thorough.” She whirled around. “One question. Just the one that seems to matter the most at the moment. Who am I sleeping with?”

  “I’m the same man you were with last night.”

  “Are you? Are you the same man who told me he loved me, who showed me he did in dozens of beautiful ways? Is that the same man who left me in bed to come down here? How long are you going to lie to me?”

  “It isn’t a matter of lying to you. This is something I have to do. I thought you understood that.”

  “Then you were wrong. I didn’t understand that you would keep this from me. That you would work without me, holding information from me.”

  He seemed to change before her eyes, growing distant and cool and aloof. “You gave me two weeks.”

  “Damn you, I gave you more than that. I gave you everything.” Her eyes were brilliant with emotion as hurt and anger battled for priority. But she flung up a hand before he could cross to her. “No, don’t. You won’t use my feelings this time.”

  “All right.” Though his own were straining for release. “It isn’t a matter of feelings, but logic. You should appreciate that, Deborah. This is my work. Your presence here is as unnecessary as mine would be in the courtroom with you.”

  “Logic?” She spat out the word. “It’s only logical if it suits your purposes. Do you think I’m a fool? Do you think I can’t see what’s happening here?” She gestured sharply toward one of the monitors. “And we’ll keep it strictly professional. You have all the information I’ve been painfully digging up. All the names, all the numbers, and more, much more than I’ve been able to uncover. Yet you haven’t told me. And wouldn’t have.”

  The cloak came around him again, impenetrable. “I work alone.”

  “Yes, I’m aware of that.” The bitterness seeped into her voice as she walked toward him. “No partners. Except in bed. I’m good enough to be your partner there.”

  “One has nothing to do with the other.”

  “Everything,” she all but shouted. “One has everything to do with the other. If you can’t trust me, in every way, respect me, in every way, and be honest with me, in every way, then there’s nothing between us.”

  “Damn it, Deborah, you don’t know everything.” He gripped her arms. “You don’t understand everything.”

  “No, I don’t. Because you won’t let me.”

  “Can’t let you,” he corrected, holding her still when she would have pulled away. “There’s a difference between lying to you and holding back information. This isn’t black-and-white.”

  “Yes, it is.”

  “These are vicious men. Without conscience, without morals. They’ve already tried to kill you, and you’d hardly broken the surface. I won’t risk you. If you want bla
ck-and-white, there it is.” He shook her, punctuating each word. “I will not risk you.”

  “You can’t prevent me from doing my job, or what I feel is right.”

  “By God, if I have to lock you upstairs until I’m done with this to keep you safe, I will.”

  “And then what? Will the same thing happen the next time, and the next?”

  “I’ll do whatever it takes to protect you. That won’t change.”

  “Maybe you’ve got a nice little plastic bubble you could stick me in.” She put her hands on his forearms, willing him to understand. “If you love me, then you have to love the whole person I am. I demand that, just as I demand to know and love the whole person you are.” She saw something flicker in his eyes and pushed her point. “I can’t become something different for you, someone who sits and waits to be taken care of.”

  “I’m not asking you to.”

  “Aren’t you? If you can’t accept me now, you never will. Gage, I want a life with you. Not just a few nights in bed, but a life. Children, a home, a history. But if you can’t share with me what you know, and who you are, there can’t be a future for us.” She broke away from him. “And if that’s the case, it would be better for both of us if I left now.”

  “Don’t.” He reached out for her before she could turn away. However deep his own need for survival ran, it was nothing compared to the possibility of life without her. “I need your word.” His fingers tightened on hers. “That you won’t take any chances, and that you’ll move in here with me at least until it’s over. Whatever we find here has to stay here. You can’t risk taking it to the D.A. Not yet.”

  “Gage, I’m obligated to—”

  “No.” He cut her off. “Whatever we do, whatever we find stays here until we’re ready to move. I can’t give you more than that, Deborah. I’m only asking for a compromise.”

  And it was costing him. She could see that. “All right. I won’t take anything to Mitchell until we’re both sure. But I want it all, Gage. Everything.” Her voice calmed, her hands gentled. “Don’t you see I know you’re holding something back from me, something basic that has nothing to do with secret rooms or data? I know, and it hurts me.”

  He turned away. If he was to give her everything, he had no choice but to begin with himself. The silence stretched between them before he broke it. “There are things you don’t know about me, Deborah. Things you may not like or be able to accept.”

  The tone of his voice had her mouth growing dry and her pulse beating irregularly. “Do you have such little faith in me?”

  He was putting all his faith in her, he thought. “I’ve had no right to let things go as far as they have between us without letting you know what I am.” He reached out to touch her cheek, hoping it wouldn’t be the last time. “I didn’t want to frighten you.”

  “You’re frightening me now. Whatever you have to tell me, just tell me. We’ll work it out.”

  Without speaking, he walked away from her, toward the stone wall. He turned and, with his eyes on her, vanished.

  Deborah’s mouth opened, but the only sound she could make was a strangled gasp. With her eyes riveted to where Gage should be—had to be, her confused brain insisted—she stumbled back. Her unsteady hand gripped the arm of a chair as she let her numbed body slide into it.

  Even while her mind rejected what her eyes had seen, he returned—materializing ten feet from where he had disappeared. For an instant she could see through him, as if he were no more than the ghost of the man who stood in front of her.

  Deborah started to rise, decided against it, then cleared her throat. “It’s an odd time for magic tricks.”

  “It isn’t a trick.” Her eyes were still huge with shock as he walked toward her, wondering if she would stiffen or jerk away. “At least not the way you mean.”

  “All these gadgets you’ve got down here,” she said, clinging desperately to the lifeline of logic in a sea of confusion. “Whatever you’re using, it produces quite an optical illusion.” She swallowed. “I imagine the Pentagon would be very interested.”

  “It’s not an illusion.” He touched her arm, and though she didn’t pull away as he’d feared she would, her skin was cold and clammy. “You’re afraid of me now.”

  “That’s absurd.” But her voice was shaking. She forced herself to stand. “It was just a trick, an effective one, but—”

  She broke off when he placed his hand, palm down, on the counter beside them. It vanished to the wrist. Dark and dazed, her eyes lifted to his.

  “Oh, God. It’s not possible.” Terrified, she pulled his arm and was almost faint with relief when she saw his hand, whole and warm.

  “It’s possible.” He brought the hand gently to her face. “It’s real.”

  She lifted her trembling fingers to his. “Give me a minute.” Moving carefully, she turned and walked a few steps away. Rejection sliced through him, a dull, angry blade.

  “I’m sorry.” With great effort he controlled his voice, kept it even. “I didn’t know of a better way, an easier way, to show you. If I had tried to explain, you wouldn’t have believed me.”

  “No, no, I wouldn’t have.” She had seen it. Yet her mind still wanted to argue that she could not have seen it. A game, a trick, nothing more. Though there was a comfort in the denial, she remembered how time and again, Nemesis had seemed to vanish before her eyes.

  She turned back and saw that he was watching her, his body tensed and ready. No game. When she accepted the truth her trembling only increased. Briskly, she rubbed her hands up and down her arms, hoping to warm and steady the muscles.

  “How do you do this?”

  “I’m not completely sure.” He opened his hands, stared at them, then fisted them to push them impotently into his pockets. “Something happened to me when I was in the coma. Something changed me. A few weeks after I came back I discovered it, almost by accident. I had to learn to accept it, to use it, because I know it was given to me for a reason.”

  “And so—Nemesis.”

  “Yes, and so Nemesis.” He seemed to steady himself. Deborah saw that his eyes were level and curiously blank when he looked at her. “I have no choice in this, Deborah. But you do.”

  “I don’t think I understand.” She lifted a hand to her head and gave a quick, shaky laugh. “I know I don’t understand.”

  “I wasn’t honest with you, about what I am. The man you fell in love with was normal.”

  Baffled, she let her hand fall to her side again. “I’m not following you. I fell in love with you.”

  “Damn it, I’m not normal.” His eyes were suddenly furious. “I’ll never be. I’ll carry this thing with me until I die. I can’t tell you how I know, I just do.”

  “Gage—” But when she reached out to him, he backed away.

  “I don’t want your pity.”

  “You don’t have it,” she snapped back. “Why should you? You’re not ill. You’re whole and you’re healthy. If anything, I’m angry because you held this back from me, too. And I know why.” She dragged both hands through her hair as she paced away from him. “You thought I’d walk, didn’t you? You thought I was too weak, too stupid or too fragile to handle it. You didn’t trust me to love you.” Her fury built so quickly, she was all but blind with it. “You didn’t trust me to love you,” she repeated. “Well, the hell with you. I do, and I always will.”

  She turned, sprinting for the stairs. He caught her at the base of them, turning her back to him and pulling her close while she cursed at him and struggled.

  “Call me anything you like.” He grabbed her shoulders and shook once. “Slap me again if you want. But don’t leave.”

  “You expected me to, didn’t you?” she demanded. She tossed her head back as she strained away from him. “You expected me to turn around and walk away.”

  “Yes.”

  She started to shout at him. Then she saw what was in his eyes, what he held back with such rigid control. It was fear. Accusations melted
away. “You were wrong,” she said quietly. With her eyes still on his, she lifted her hands to his face, rose on her toes and kissed him.

  A shudder. From him, from her. Twin waves of relief. He drew her closer, crushing, consuming. As huge as his fear had been, a need sprang up to replace it. It was not pity he tasted on her lips, but passion.

  Small, seductive sounds hummed in her throat as she struggled out of the robe. It was more than an offering of herself. It was a demand that he take her as she was, that he allow himself to be taken. With an oath that ended in a groan, he moved his hands over her. He was caught in the madness, a purifying madness.

  Impatient, she tugged at his shirt. “Make love with me.” Her head fell back and her eyes were as challenging as her voice. “Make love with me now.”

  She pulled at his clothes even as they lowered to the floor.

  Frenzied and frantic. Heated and hungry. They came together. Power leaped like wind-fed flames. It was always so between them, she thought as her body shuddered, shuddered, shuddered. Yet now there was more. Here was a unity. Here was compassion, trust, vulnerability to mix with hungers. She had never wanted him more.

  Her hands clenched in his dark hair as she rose above him. She needed to see his face, his eyes. “I love you.” The breath tore in her throat “Let me show you how I love you.”

  Agile, quick, greedy, she moved over him, taking her mouth down his throat, over his chest, down to where his taut stomach muscles quivered under her moist, seeking lips. The blood pounded in his head, his heart, his loins.

  She was a miracle, the second he’d been given in a lifetime. When he reached for her, he reached for love and for salvation.

  They rolled, a tangle of limbs and needs, unmindful of the hard, unyielding floor, the clatter and hum of machines blindly working. Breath came fast, heartbeats galloped. Each taste, each touch seemed more potent, more pungent than ever before.

  His fingers dug into her hips when he lifted her. She sheathed him, surrounded him. The pleasure speared them both. Their hands slid toward each other’s, palm against palm, then fingers locked tight.

  They held on, eyes open, bodies joined, until they took the final leap together.

  Boneless, she slid down to him. Her mouth brushed his once, then again, before she lay her head on his shoulder. Never had she felt more beautiful, more desirable, more complete, than in feeling his heart thunder wildly beneath hers.

  Her lips curved as she turned and pressed them to his throat. “That was my way of saying you’re stuck with me.”

  “I like the way you get your point across.” Gently he ran a hand up and down her spine. She was his. He’d been a fool to ever doubt it, or her. “Does this mean I’m forgiven?”

  “Not necessarily.” Bracing her hands on his shoulders, she pushed herself up. “I don’t understand who you are. Maybe I never will. But understand this. I want all, or I want nothing. I saw what evasions, denials, refusals did to my parents’ marriage. I won’t live with that.”

  He put a hand on hers, very lightly. “Is that a proposal?”

  She didn’t hesitate. “Yes.”

  “Do you want an answer now?”

  Her eyes narrowed. “Yes. And don’t think you can get out of it by disappearing. I’ll just wait until you come back.”

  He laughed, amazed that she could joke about something he’d been so sure would repel her. “Then I guess you’ll have to make an honest man out of me.”

  “I intend to.” She kissed him briefly, then shifted away to bundle into the robe. “No long engagement.”

  “Okay.”

  “As soon as we put a cap on this thing and Cilla and Boyd can arrange to bring the kids out, we get married.”

  “Agreed.” Humor danced in his eyes. “Anything else?”

  “I want children right away.”

  He hitched on his jeans. “Any particular number?”

  “One at a time.”

  “Sounds reasonable.”

  “And—”

  “Shut up a minute.” He took her hands. “Deborah, I want to be married to you, to spend the rest of my life knowing when I reach out, I’ll find you there. And I want a family, our family.” He pressed his lips to the fingers that curled over his. “I want forever with you.” He watched her blink back tears and kissed her gently. “Right now I want something else.”

  “What?”

  “Breakfast.”

  With a strangled laugh, she threw her arms around him. “Me, too.”

  They ate in the kitchen, laughing and cozy, as if they always shared the first meal of the day together. The sun was bright, the coffee strong. Deborah had dozens of questions to ask him, but she held them back. For this one hour, she wanted them to be two ordinary people in love.

  Ordinary, she thought. Strange, but she felt they were and could be ordinary, even with the very extraordinary aspects of their lives. All they needed were moments like this, where they could sit in the sunshine and talk of inconsequential things.

  When Frank walked in, he paused at the kitchen doorway and gave Deborah a polite nod. “Is there anything you need this morning, Mr. Guthrie?”

  “She knows, Frank.” Gage laid a hand over Deborah’s. “She knows everything.”

  A grin split Frank’s wide, sober face. “Well, it’s about time.” All pretense of formality dropped as he lumbered across the room to pluck up a piece of toast. He took a seat at the semicircular breakfast nook, bit into the toast and gestured with the half that was left. “I told him you wouldn’t head for the hills
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