Night shadow, p.17
Night Shadow, p.17Part #2 of Night Tales series by Nora Roberts
“So you had her brought here.”
“She shouldn’t be alone.”
She leaned over and kissed his cheek. “I love you very much.”
When they had finished and were back to work, Deborah couldn’t stop her mind from wandering in his direction. He was such a complicated man. Arrogant as the devil when it suited him, rude when it pleased him and as smooth and charming as an Irish poet when the mood struck him. He ran a multimillion-dollar business. And he walked the streets at night to ward off muggers, thieves, rapists. He was the lover every woman dreamed about. Romantic, erotic, yet solid and dependable as granite. Yet he carried something intangible inside him that allowed him to vanish like smoke into the wall, slip without a shadow through the night.
She shook her head. She was far from ready, far from able to dwell on that aspect of him.
How could he, a man she knew to be flesh and blood, become insubstantial at will? Yet she had seen it with her own eyes. She pressed her fingers against those eyes for a moment and sighed. Things weren’t always what they seemed.
Straightening her shoulders, she doubled her concentration. If numbers began to blur, she downed more coffee. Already she had a half dozen more names, names she was sure she would find attached to death certificates.
It seemed hopeless. But until this avenue was exhausted, she had no other. Mumbling to herself, she punched up screen after screen. Abruptly she stopped. Cautious, eyes sharpened, she backtracked—one screen, two. She held back a smile, afraid to believe she’d finally broken through. After another five minutes of careful work, she called Gage.
“I think I’ve found something.”
So had he, but he chose to keep his information to himself. “What?”
“This number.” When he bent over her shoulder, she ran a finger below it on the screen. “It’s all mixed with the corporation number, the tax number, and all the other identification numbers of this company.” When he lifted a hand to rub at the base of her neck, she leaned back into the massage gratefully. “A supposedly bankrupt corporation, by the way. Out of business for eighteen months. Now look at this.” She punched up a new screen. “Different company, different location, different names and numbers. Except … this one.” She tapped a finger on the screen. “It’s in a different place here, but the number’s the same. And here.” She showed him again, screen after screen. “It’s the corporation number on one, the company branch on another, tax ID here, a file code there.”
“Social security number,” Gage muttered.
“Nine digits. I’d say it’s a social security number. An important one.” He turned to walk quickly to the control board.
“What are you doing?”
“Finding out who it belongs to.”
She blew out a breath, a bit annoyed that he hadn’t seemed more enthusiastic about her find. Her eyes were all but falling out of her head, and she didn’t even get a pat on the back. “How?”
“It seems worth going to the main source.” The screen above him began to blink.
“The—” She was out of her chair like a shot. “You’re telling me you can tap into the IRS computers?”
“That’s right.” His concentration was focused on the panel. “Almost got it.”
“That’s illegal. A federal offense.”
“Mmm-hmm. Want to recommend a good lawyer?”
Torn, she gripped her hands together. “It’s not a joke.”
“No.” But his lips curved as he followed the information on the screen. “All right. We’re in.” He shot her a look. The internal war she was waging showed clearly on her face. “You could go upstairs until I’ve finished.”
“That hardly matters. I know what you’re doing. That makes me a part of it.” She closed her eyes and saw Lil Greenbaum lying pale and hurt on her broken couch. “Go ahead,” she said, and put a hand on his arm. “We’re in this together.”
He tapped in the numbers she had found, pushed a series of buttons and waited. A name flashed up on the screen.
“Oh, God.” Deborah’s fingers dug into Gage’s shoulder.
He seemed to be made of stone at that moment, unmoving, almost unbreathing, his muscles hard as rock.
“Tucker Fields,” he murmured. “Son of a bitch.”
Then he moved so quickly, Deborah nearly stumbled. With a strength born of desperation, she grabbed him. “Don’t. You can’t.” She saw his eyes burn, as she had seen them behind the mask. They were full of fury and deadly purpose. “I know what you want,” she said quickly, clinging. “You want to go find him right now. You want to tear him apart. But you can’t. That isn’t the way.”
“I’m going to kill him.” His voice was cold and flat. “Understand that. Nothing’s going to stop me.”
The breath was searing and clogging in her lungs. If he left now, she would lose him. “And accomplish what? It won’t bring Jack back. It won’t change what happened to you. It won’t even finish what you both started that night on the docks. If you kill Fields, someone will replace him, and it’ll go on. We need to break the back of the organization, Gage, to bring it all out to the public so that people will see. If Fields is responsible—”
She took a careful, steadying breath and kept her grip on him tight. “We don’t have enough, not yet. I can build a case if you give me time, and bring them down. Bring them all down.”
“My God, Deborah, do you really think you’ll get him in court? A man with that much power? He’ll slip through your fingers like sand. The minute you start an investigation, he’ll know, and he’ll cover himself.”
“Then you’ll do the investigating here, and I’ll throw dust in his eyes from my office.” She spoke quickly, desperate to convince him and, she was sure, to save them both. “I’ll make him think I’m on the wrong track. Gage, we have to be sure. You must see that. If you go after him now, like this, everything you’ve worked for, everything we’ve started to build together, will be destroyed.”
“He tried to have you killed.” Gage put his hands to her face, and though his touch was light, she could feel the tension in each finger. “Don’t you understand that nothing, not even Jack’s murder, signed his death warrant more indelibly?”
She brought her hands to his wrists. “I’m here, with you. That’s what’s important. We have more work to do, to prove that Fields is involved, to find out how far down the line the corruption runs. You’ll have justice, Gage. I promise.”
Slowly he relaxed. She was right—at least in some ways she was right. Killing Fields with his bare hands would have been satisfying, but it wouldn’t complete the job he had begun. So he could wait for that. There was another stone to uncover, and he had less than a week to wait until he did so.
“All right.” He watched the color seep slowly back into her face. “I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
“Well, I hope you never mean to, because you scared me to death.” She turned her head, pressing her lips to his palm, then managed a shaky smile. “Since we’ve already broken a federal law, why don’t we go a step forward and look at the mayor’s tax records for the last few years?”
Minutes later, she was seated beside Gage at the console.
“Five hundred and sixty-two thousand,” she murmured, when she read Fields’s declared income for the previous tax year. “A bit more than the annual salary for Urbana’s mayor.”
“It’s hard to believe he’s stupid enough to put that much on record.” Gage flipped back another year. “I imagine he’s got several times that much in Swiss accounts.”
“I never liked him, personally,” Deborah put in. “But I always respected him.” She rose to pace. “When I think about the kind of position he’s been in, a direct line to the police, to the D.A.’s office, to businesses, utilities. Nothing goes on in Urbana he doesn’t know about. And he can put his people everywhere. How many city officials are o
“He thinks he’s got it covered.” Gage pushed away from the console. “What about Bower?”
“Jerry?” Deborah sighed and rubbed her stiff neck. “Loyal to the bone, and with political aspirations of his own. He might overlook a few under-the-table machinations, but nothing so big as this. Fields was clever enough to pick someone young and eager, with a good background and unblemished reputation.” She shook her head. “I feel badly that I can’t pass this along to him.”
“No, I’d bet my life on Mitch. He’s been around a long time. He’s never been Fields’s biggest fan but he respects the office. He’s by the book because he believes in the book. He even pays his parking tickets. What are you doing?”
“It doesn’t hurt to check.”
To Deborah’s consternation, he pulled up Jerry’s, then Mitchell’s, tax returns. Finding nothing out of the ordinary, he moved toward another console.
“We can start pulling up bank accounts. We need a list of people who work at City Hall, the department, the D.A.’s office.” He glanced up at her. “You’ve got a headache.”
She realized she was rubbing at her temple. “Just a little one.”
Instead of turning on the machine, he shut the others down. “You’ve been working too hard.”
“I’m fine. We’ve got a lot to do.”
“We’ve already done a lot.” And he was cursing himself for pushing her so hard for so long. “A couple of hours off won’t change anything.” He slipped an arm around her waist. “How about a hot bath and a nap?”
“Mmm.” She leaned her head against his shoulder as they started down the tunnel. “That sounds incredible.”
“And a back rub.”
“Yes. Oh, yes.”
“And why don’t I give you that foot rub that’s long overdue.”
She smiled. Had she ever really been worried about something as foolish as other women? “Why don’t you?”
Deborah was already half asleep by the time they came through the panel into Gage’s bedroom. She stopped in midyawn and stared at the boxes covering the bed.
“What’s all this?”
“At the moment all you have is my shirt on your back. And though I like it”—he flicked a finger down the buttons—“a lot, I thought you might want some replacements.”
“Replacements?” She pushed at her tumbled hair. “How?”
“I gave Frank a list. He can be very enterprising.”
“Frank? But it’s Sunday. Half the stores are closed.” She pressed a hand to her stomach. “Oh, God, he didn’t steal them, did he?”
“I don’t think so.” Then he laughed and caught her in his arms. “How am I going to live with such a scrupulously honest woman? No, they’re paid for, I promise. It’s as easy as making a few calls. You’ll notice the boxes are from Athena’s.”
She nodded. It was one of the biggest and slickest department stores in the city. And the light dawned. “You own it.”
“Guilty.” He kissed her. “Anything you don’t like can go back. But I think I know your style and your size.”
“You didn’t have to do this.”
From the tone of her voice, he understood she wished he hadn’t done it. Patient, he tucked her tumbled hair behind her ear. “This wasn’t an attempt to usurp your independence, Counselor.”
“No.” And she was sounding very ungrateful. “But—”
“Be practical. How would it look for you to show up at the office tomorrow in my pants?” He tugged the belt loose and had the jeans sliding to her feet.
“Outrageous,” she agreed, and smiled when he lifted her up and set her down beside the heap of denim.
“And my shirt.” He began to undo the buttons.
“Ridiculous. You’re right, you were being very practical.” She took his hands to still them before he could distract her. “And I appreciate it. But it doesn’t feel right, you buying my clothes.”
“You can pay me back. Over the next sixty or seventy years.” He cupped her chin when she started to speak again. “Deborah, I’ve got more money than any one man needs. You’re willing to share my problems, then it should follow that you’ll share my fortunes.”
“I don’t want you to think that the money matters to me, that it makes any difference in the way I feel about you.”
He studied her thoughtfully. “You know, I didn’t realize you could come up with anything quite that stupid.”
She lifted her chin, but when he smiled at her she could only sigh. “It is stupid. I love you even though you do own hotels, and apartment buildings, and department stores. And if I don’t open one of these boxes, I’m going to go crazy.”
“Why don’t you keep your sanity then, and I’ll go run the bath?”
When he walked into the adjoining room, she grabbed one at random, shook it, then pulled off the lid. Under the tissue paper she found a long, sheer sleeping gown in pale blue silk.
“Well.” She held it up, noting the back was cut below the waist. “Frank certainly has an eye for lingerie. I wonder what the boys in the office will say if I wear this in tomorrow.”
Unable to resist, she stripped off the shirt and let the cool thin silk slide over her head and shoulders. A perfect fit, she mused, running her hands over her hips. Delighted, she turned to the mirror just as Gage came back into the room.
He couldn’t speak any more than he could take his eyes from her. The long, sleek shimmer of silk whispered against her skin as she turned to him. Her eyes were dark as midnight and glistening with a woman’s secret pleasure.
Her lips curved slowly. Was there a woman alive who didn’t dream about having the man she loved stare at her with such avid hunger? Deliberately she tilted her head and lifted one hand to run her fingertips lazily down the center of the gown—and just as lazily up again—watching his eyes follow the movement.
“What do you think?”
His gaze trailed up until it met hers again. “I think Frank deserves a very large raise.”
As she laughed, he came toward her.
Over the next three days and the next three evenings, they worked together. Piece by steady piece they built a case against Tucker Fields. At her office Deborah pursued avenues she knew would lead nowhere, carefully laying a false trail.
As she worked, she continued to fight the rugged tug-of-war inside her. Ethics versus instinct.
Each night, Gage would slip out of bed, clothe himself in black and roam the streets. They didn’t speak of it. If he knew how often Deborah lay awake, anxious and torn until he returned just before dawn, he offered no excuses or apologies. There were none he could give her.
The press continued to herald Nemesis’s exploits. Those secret nocturnal activities were never mentioned and stood between them like a thick, silent wall that couldn’t be breached on either side.
She understood, but couldn’t agree.
He understood, but couldn’t acquiesce.
Even as they worked toward a single goal, their individual beliefs forced them at cross-purposes.
She sat in her office, the evening paper beside a stack of law books.
Nemesis Bags East End Ripper
She hadn’t read the copy, couldn’t bring herself to read it. She already knew about the man who had killed four people in the past ten days, with his favored weapon, a hunting knife. The headline was enough to tell her why she had found traces of blood in the bathroom sink.
When was it going to end? she asked herself. When was he going to stop? A psychotic with a knife had nothing to do with Fields and the drug cartel. How much longer could they go on pretending that their relationship, their future, could be normal?
He wasn’t pretending, Deborah admitted with a sigh. She was.
“O’Roarke.” Mitchell slapped a file on her desk. “The city doesn’t pay you this princely salary to daydream.”
She looked at the file
“So’s the city’s crime rate.” Because she looked exhausted, he walked over to her coffee machine to pour her a cup of the bitter bottom-of-the-pot brew. “Maybe if Nemesis would take some time off, we wouldn’t be so overworked.”
Her frown turned into a grimace as she sipped the coffee. “That sounded almost like a compliment.”
“Just stating facts. I don’t have to approve of his methods to like the results.”
Surprised, she looked up into Mitchell’s round, sturdy face. “Do you mean that?”
“This Ripper character carved up four innocent people and was starting on a fifth when Nemesis got there. It’s hard to complain when anybody, even a misguided masked wonder, drops a creep like that in our laps and saves the life of an eighteen-year-old girl.”
“Yes.” Deborah murmured. “Yes, it is.”
“Not that I’m going out and buying a T-shirt and joining his fan club.” Mitchell pulled out a cigar and ran it through his stubby fingers. “So, making any progress on your favorite case?”
She shrugged evasively. “I’ve got another week.”
“You’re hardheaded, O’Roarke. I like that.”
Her brows rose. “Now, that was definitely a compliment.”
“Don’t let it swell your pinstripes. The mayor’s still unhappy with you—and the polls are happy with him. If he knocks Tarrington out in the debates tomorrow, you could have a hard road until the next election.”
“The mayor doesn’t worry me.”
“Suit yourself. Wisner’s still pumping your name into copy.” He held up a hand before she could snarl. “I’m holding Fields off, but if you could keep a lower profile—”
“Yeah, it was really stupid of me to have my apartment trashed.”
“Okay, okay.” He had the grace to flush. “We’re all sorry about that, but if you could try to keep out of trouble for a while, it would make it easy on everyone.”
“I’ll chain myself to my desk,” she said between her teeth. “And the minute I get the chance, I’m going to kick Wisner right in his press card.”
Mitchell grinned. “Get in line. Hey, ah, let me know if you need a few extra bucks before the insurance takes over.”
“Thanks, but I’m fine.” She looked at the files. “Besides, with all this, who needs an apartment?”
When he left her alone, Deborah opened the new case file. And dropped her head in her hands. Was it a twisted kind of irony or fate that she’d been assigned to prosecute the East End Ripper? Her chief witness, she thought, her lover, was the one man she couldn’t even discuss it with.
At 7 Gage waited for her at a quiet corner table in a French restaurant skirting City Park. He knew it was almost over and that when it was, he would have to explain to Deborah why he hadn’t trusted her with all the details.
She would be hurt and angry. Rightfully so. But he preferred her hurt and angry, and alive. He was well aware how difficult the past few days—and nights—had been for her. If there had been a choice, he would have given up everything, including his conscience, to keep her happy.
But he had no choice, hadn’t had a choice since the moment he’d come out of the coma.
He could do nothing but tell her and show her how completely he loved her. And to hope that between the very strong and opposing forces that drove each of them, there could be a compromise.
He saw her come in, slim and lovely in a sapphire-colored suit trimmed and lined with chartreuse. Flashy colors and sensible shoes. Was there lace or silk or satin beneath? He had an urge to sweep her up then and there, take her away and discover the answer for himself.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” she began, but before the maître d’ could seat her, Gage had risen to pull her to him. His kiss was not discreet, not brief. Before he released her, nearby diners were looking on with curiosity and envy.
The breath she hadn’t been aware of holding rushed out between her parted lips. Her eyes were heavy, her body vibrating.
“I—I’m awfully glad I wasn’t on time.”
Night Shadow by Nora Roberts / Romance & Love have rating 5.1 out of 5 / Based on41 votes