Night shadow, p.18
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       Night Shadow, p.18

         Part #2 of Night Tales series by Nora Roberts
 
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  “You worked late.” There were shadows under her eyes. He hated seeing them. Knowing he’d caused them.

  “Yes.” Still breathless, she took her seat. “I had another case dumped on my desk just before five.”

  “Anything interesting?”

  Her gaze came to his and held. “The East End Ripper.”

  He watched her unwaveringly. “I see.”

  “Do you, Gage? I wonder if you do.” She drew her hand from his and laid it in her lap. “I felt I should disqualify myself, but what reason could I give?”

  “There is no reason, Deborah. I stopped him, but it’s your job to see that he pays for the crimes. One does not have to interfere with the other.”

  “I wish I could be sure.” She took up her napkin, pleating it between her fingers. “Part of me sees you as a vigilante, another part a hero.”

  “And the truth lies somewhere in between.” He reached for her hand again. “Whatever I am, I love you.”

  “I know.” Her fingers tightened on his. “I know, but, Gage—” She broke off when the waiter brought over the champagne Gage had ordered while waiting for her.

  “The drink of the gods,” the waiter said in a rich French accent. “For a celebration, n’est-ce pas? A beautiful woman. A beautiful wine.” At Gage’s nod of approval, he popped the cork with a flourish that had the bubbling froth lapping at the lip of the bottle before teasingly retreating. “Monsieur will taste?” He poured a small amount into Gage’s glass.

  “Excellent,” Gage murmured, but his eyes were on Deborah.

  “Mais, oui.” The waiter’s gaze slid approvingly over Deborah before he filled her glass, then Gage’s. “Monsieur has the most exquisite taste.” When the waiter bowed away, Deborah chuckled and touched her glass to Gage’s.

  “You’re not going to tell me you own this place, too?”

  “No. Would you like to?”

  Though she shook her head, she had to laugh. “Are we celebrating?”

  “Yes. To tonight. And to tomorrow.” He took a small velvet box from his pocket and offered it to her. When she only stared at it, his fingers tensed. Panic rushed through him, but he kept his voice light. “You asked me to marry you, but I felt this privilege was mine.”

  She opened the box. In the candlelight, the center sapphire glittered a deep and dark blue. Surrounding that bold square was a symphony of ice-white diamonds. They flashed triumphantly in the setting of pale gold.

  “It’s exquisite.”

  He’d chosen the stones himself. But he had hoped to see pleasure in her eyes, not fear. Nor had he thought to feel fear himself.

  “Are you having doubts?”

  She looked up at him and let her heart speak. “Not about the way I feel about you. I never will. I’m afraid, Gage. I’ve tried to pretend I’m not, but I’m afraid. Not only of what you do, but that it might take you away from me.”

  He wouldn’t make her promises that could be impossible to keep. “I was brought out of that coma the way I was brought out for a reason. I can’t give you logic and facts on this one, Deborah. Only feelings and instinct. If I turned my back on what I’m meant to do, I’d die again.”

  Her automatic protest clogged in her throat. “You believe that?”

  “I know that.”

  How could she look at him and not see it, too? How many times had she looked in his eyes and seen—something? Different, special, frightening. She knew he was flesh and blood, yet he was more. It wouldn’t be possible to change that. And for the first time, she realized she didn’t want to.

  “I fell in love with you twice. With both sides of you.” She looked down at the ring, took it out of its box, where it flashed like lightning in her hand. “Until then, I was sure of my direction, of what I wanted, needed, and was working for. I was certain, so certain that when I fell in love it would be with a very calm, very ordinary man.” She held the ring out to him. “I was wrong. You didn’t come back just to fight for your justice, Gage. You came back for me.” Then she smiled and held her hand out to him. “Thank God.”

  He slipped the ring on her finger. “I want to take you home.” Even as he brought her hand to his lips, the waiter bounced back to their table.

  “I knew it. Henri is never wrong.” Deborah chuckled as he made a business out of topping off their glasses. “You have chosen my table. So, you have chosen well. You must leave the menu to me. You must! I will make a night such as you will never forget. It is my pleasure. Ah, monsieur, you are the most fortunate of men.” He grabbed Deborah’s hand and kissed it noisily.

  Deborah was still laughing as he hurried away, but when she looked at Gage, she saw his attention was elsewhere. “What is it?”

  “Fields.” Gage lifted his glass, but his eyes followed the mayor’s progress across the room. “He just came in with Arlo Stuart and a couple of other big guns with your friend Bower bringing up the rear.”

  Tensed, Deborah turned her head. They were heading for a table for eight. She recognized a prominent actress and the president of a major auto manufacturer. “Power meeting,” she muttered.

  “He’s got the theater, industry, finance and art worlds all represented neatly at one table. Before the evening’s over, someone will come along and take a few ‘candid’ shots.”

  “It won’t matter.” She covered Gage’s hand with hers. “In another week, it won’t matter.”

  In less than that, he thought, but nodded. “Stuart’s coming over.”

  “Well, now.” Stuart clamped a hand on Gage’s shoulder. “This is a nice coincidence. You look stunning as always, Miss O’Roarke.”

  “Thank you.”

  “Great restaurant, this. Nobody does snails better.” He beamed at both of them. “Hate to waste them talking business and politics. Now, you’ve got the right idea here. Champagne, candlelight.” His sharp gaze fell on Deborah’s ring hand. “Well, that’s a pretty little thing.” He grinned at Gage. “Got an announcement to make?”

  “You caught us in the act, Arlo.”

  “Glad to hear it. You take your honeymoon in any of my hotels.” He winked at Deborah. “On the house.” Still grinning, he signaled to the mayor. It wouldn’t hurt Fields’s image, he thought, to be in on the first congratulations to one of the city’s top businessmen and the most recognizable D.A.

  “Gage, Deborah.” Though Fields’s smile was broad, his nod of greeting was stiff. “Nice to see you. If you haven’t ordered, perhaps you’d like to join us.”

  “Not tonight.” Stuart answered before Gage could. “We’ve got ourselves a newly engaged couple here, Tuck. They don’t want to waste the evening talking campaign strategy.”

  Fields glanced down at Deborah’s ring, the smile still in place. But he wasn’t pleased. “Congratulations.”

  “I like to think we brought them together.” Always exuberant, Stuart tossed an arm around Fields’s shoulders. “After all, they met at my hotel during your fund-raiser.”

  “I guess that makes us one big, happy family.” Fields looked at Gage. He needed Guthrie’s support. “You’re marrying a fine woman, a tough lawyer. She’s given me a few headaches, but I admire her integrity.”

  Gage’s voice was cool, but perfectly polite. “So do I.”

  Stuart gave another booming laugh. “I’ve admired more than her integrity.” He winked at Deborah again. “No offense. Now we’ll get back to politics and leave you two alone.”

  “Bastard,” Deborah mumbled when they were out of earshot. She snatched up her wine. “He was sucking up to you.”

  “No.” Gage tapped his glass to hers. “To both of us.” Over her shoulder, he saw the minute Jerry Bower heard the news. The man jolted, glanced up and over. Gage could almost hear him sigh as he stared at Deborah’s back.

  “I can’t wait until we nail him.”

  There was such venom in her voice that Gage covered her hand with his and squeezed. “Just hold on. It won’t take much longer.”

  ***

  She was
so lovely. Gage lingered in bed, just looking at her. He knew she was sleeping deeply, sated by love, exhausted from passion. He wanted to know that she would dream content until morning.

  He hated knowing there were times she woke in the middle of the night to find him gone. But tonight, when he could all but feel the danger tripping through his blood, he needed to be sure she would sleep, safe.

  Silently he rose to dress. He could hear her breathing, slow and steady, and it soothed him. In the sprinkle of moonlight, he saw his reflection in the mirror. No, not a reflection, he thought. A shadow.

  After flexing his hands in the snug black gloves, he opened a drawer. Inside was a .38, a regulation police-issue revolver whose grip was as familiar to him as a brother’s handshake. Yet he had not carried it since the night on the docks four years before.

  He had never needed to.

  But tonight, he felt that need. He no longer questioned instinct, but tucked the gun into a holster and belted it on so that the weapon fit at the small of his back.

  He opened the panel, then paused. He wanted to see her again, sleeping. He could taste the danger now—bitter on his tongue, in his throat. His only respite from it was knowing she wouldn’t be affected. He would come back. He promised himself, and her. Fate could not deal such a killing blow twice in one lifetime.

  He slipped away in the dark.

  More than an hour later, the phone rang, pulling Deborah from sleep. Out of habit, she groped for it, murmuring to Gage as she rattled the receiver from the hook.

  “Hello.”

  “Señorita.”

  The sound of Montega’s voice had her icy and awake. “What do you want?”

  “We have him. The trap was so easily sprung.”

  “What?” Panicked, she reached out for Gage. But even before her hands slid over empty sheets, she knew. Terror made her voice shake. “What do you mean?”

  “He’s alive. We want to keep him alive, for now. If you wish the same you’ll come, quickly and alone. We’ll trade him for all your papers, all your files. Everything you have.”

  She pressed a hand to her mouth, trying to stall until she could think. “You’ll kill us both.”

  “Possibly. But I will surely kill him if you don’t come. There is a warehouse on East River Drive. Three twenty-five East River Drive. It will take you thirty minutes. Any longer and I remove his right hand.”

  A rancid sickness heaved her stomach. “I’ll come. Don’t hurt him. Please, let me talk to him

  first—”

  But the phone went dead.

  Deborah sprang out of bed. Dragging on a robe, she rushed out to Frank’s room. When one glance told her it was empty, she bounded down the hall to find Mrs. Greenbaum sitting up in bed with an old movie and a can of peanuts.

  “Frank. Where is he?”

  “He went out to the all-night video store, and for pizza. We decided to have a Marx Brothers festival. What’s wrong?”

  But Deborah only covered her face with her hands and rocked. She had to think.

  “He’ll be back in twenty minutes.”

  “That’s too late.” She dropped her hands. She couldn’t waste another moment. “You tell him I got a call, I had to go. Tell him it involves Gage.”

  “You’re in trouble, tell me.”

  “Just tell him, please. The moment he comes in. I’ve gone to 325 East River Drive.”

  “You can’t.” Lil was climbing out of bed. “You can’t go there at this time of night by yourself.”

  “I have to. Tell Frank I had to.” She gripped Lil’s hands. “It’s life or death.”

  “We’ll call the police—”

  “No. No, just Frank. Tell him everything I said, and tell him what time I left. Promise me.”

  “Of course, but—”

  But Deborah was already racing out.

  It took several precious minutes to throw on clothes and to push stacks of printouts in her briefcase. Her hands were slick with sweat when she reached her car. In her mind, like a chant, she said Gage’s name over and over as she streaked down the streets. Sickness stayed lodged in her throat as she watched the clock on the dash tick away the minutes.

  ***

  Like a ghost, Nemesis watched the exchange of drugs for money. Thousands of bills for thousands of pounds of pain. The buyer slit one sample bag open, scooped out a touch of white powder and tapped it into a vial to test the purity. The seller flipped through stacks of bills.

  When both were satisfied, the deal was made. There were few words exchanged. It was not a friendly business.

  He watched the buyer take his miserable product and walk away. Even though Nemesis understood he would find the man again, and quickly, there was regret. If he had not been stalking larger game, it would have given him great pleasure to have thrown both merchants and their product into the river.

  Footsteps echoed. The acoustics were good in the high, spreading cinder-block building. Boxes and crates were piled beside walls and on long metal shelves. Tools and two-by-fours crowded workbenches. A large forklift was parked by the aluminum garage doors, there to lift the stacks of lumber stored within. Though the scent of sawdust remained, the enormous saws were silent.

  He saw, with blood-boiling fury, Montega walk into the room.

  “Our first prize tonight.” He strode to the suitcase of cash, waving the underlings aside. “But we have richer coming.” He closed the suitcase, locked it. “When he comes, show him here.”

  As he stood, as insubstantial as the air he breathed, Nemesis fisted his hands. It was now, he thought. It was tonight. A part of him that thirsted only for revenge burned to take the gun he carried and fire it. Cold-blooded.

  But his blood was too hot for such a quick and anonymous solution. His lips curved humorlessly. There were better ways. More judicious ways.

  Even as he opened his mouth to speak, he heard voices, the sound of shoes rushing over the concrete floor. His heart froze to a ball of ice in his chest.

  He had left her sleeping.

  While his blood ran cold, the sweat of terror pearled on his brow. The danger he had tasted. Not for himself. Dear God, not for himself, but for her. He watched Deborah rush into the room, followed by two armed guards. For an instant, he slipped, wavering between Nemesis’s world of shadows and hers.

  “Where? Where is he?” She faced Montega like a tigress, head back, eyes blazing. “If you’ve hurt him, I’ll see you dead. I swear it.”

  With an inclination of his head, Montega tapped his hands together in applause. “Magnificent. A woman in love.”

  There was no room for fear of him, not when all her fear was for Gage. “I want to see him.”

  “You are prompt, señorita, but have you come with what I asked for?”

  She heaved the briefcase at him. “Take it to hell with you.”

  Montega passed the briefcase to a guard and, with a jerk of his head, had the man take it into an adjoining room.

  “Patience,” Montega said, holding up a hand. “Would you like to sit?”

  “No. You have what you want, now give me what I came for.”

  The door opened again. Eyes wide, she stared. “Jerry?” Over surprise came the first wave of relief. Not Gage, she thought. They had never had Gage. It had been Jerry. Moving quickly, she went over to take his hands. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry this happened. I had no idea.”

  “I know.” He squeezed her hands. “I knew you’d come. I was counting on it.”

  “I wish I thought it was going to help either of us.”

  “It already has.” He put an arm around her shoulders as he faced Montega. “The deal went smoothly, I take it.”

  “As expected, Mr. Bower.”

  “Excellent.” Jerry gave Deborah’s shoulder a friendly pat. “We have to talk.”

  She knew the color had drained from her face. She had felt it. “You—you’re not a hostage here at all, are you?”

  He allowed her to step away, even holding up a hand to sig
nal the guards back. There was nowhere for her to go, and he was feeling generous. “No, and unfortunately, neither are you. I regret that.”

  “I don’t believe it.” Shaken, she lifted both hands to her temples. “I knew, I knew how blindly you stood behind Fields, but this—in the name of God, Jerry, you can’t possibly let yourself be a part of this. You know what he’s doing? The drugs, the murders? This isn’t politics, it’s madness.”

  “It’s all politics, Deb.” He smiled. “Mine. You don’t honestly believe that a spineless puppet like Fields is behind this organization?” This time he laughed and signaled for a chair. “But you did. You did, because I laid a nice, neat trail of bread crumbs for you and anyone else who decided to look.” Putting a hand on her shoulder, he pushed her into the chair.

  “You?” She stared at him, head reeling. “You’re telling me you’re in charge? That Fields—”

  “Is no more than a pawn. For more than six years I’ve stood two paces behind him, picking up all the flack—and pushing all the buttons. Fields couldn’t run a dime store much less a city. Or the state …” He took a seat himself. “As I will in five years.”

  She wasn’t afraid. Fear couldn’t penetrate the numbness. This was a man she had known for nearly two years, one she had considered a friend and who she had judged as honest, if a bit weak. “How?”

  “Money, power, brains.” He ticked the three points off on his fingers. “I had the brains. Fields supplied the power. Believe me, he’s been more than willing to leave the details, administrative and otherwise, to me. He makes a hell of a speech, knows whose butt to kick and whose to kiss. The rest of it, I do, and have since I was put in his office six years ago.”

  “By whom?”

  “You are sharp.” Still smiling, he gave her an admiring nod. “Arlo Stuart—he’s the money. The problem has been that his businesses—the legitimate ones—dug a bit deeper into his profits than he cared for. Being a businessman, he saw another way to make that profit margin sing.”

  “The drugs.”

  “Right again.” Casually he crossed his legs and gave an almost disinterested glance at his watch. There was time yet to indulge her, he thought. Since this was the last time. “He’s been the head man on the East Coast for over twelve years. And it pays. I worked my way up in the organization. He likes initiative. I had the knowledge—law, political science—and he had Fields.”

  Questions, she ordered herself. She had to think of questions and keep him answering. Until … Would Gage come? she wondered. Was there a way for Frank to contact him?

  “So the three of you worked together,” she said.

  “Not Fields—I’d hate to give him credit in your mind, because I do respect your mind. He’s nothing but a handy pawn and he hasn’t a clue about our enterprise. Or if he does, he’s wise enough to overlook it.” He moved his shoulders. It didn’t matter either way. “When the time is right, we’ll expose the tax information and so forth that you’ve already discovered. No one will be more surprised than Fields. Since I’ll be the one who righteously and regretfully exposes him, it should be very simple to step into his place. Then beyond.”

  “It won’t work. I’m not the only one who knows.”

  “Guthrie.” Jerry linked his fingers over his knee. “Oh, I intend to see to Guthrie. I ordered Montega to remove him four years ago, and the job was incomplete.”

  “You?” she whispered. “You ordered?”

  “Arlo leaves that kind of detail to me.” He leaned forward so only she could hear him. “I like details—such as what your new fiancé does in his spare time.” His lips curved when her color drained. “You led me to him this time, Deborah.”

  “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

  “I’m a good judge of people. I have to be. And you are a very predictable person. You, a woman of integrity, intelligence and fierce loyalties, involved with two men? It didn’t seem likely. Tonight, I became sure of what I’ve suspected for several weeks. There’s only one man, one man who would have recognized Montega, one man who would have won your heart, one man with enough reason to fanatically pursue me.” He patted her hand when she remained silent. “That’s our little secret. I enjoy secrets.”

  His eyes chilled again as he rose. “And though I regret it, sincerely, only one of us can walk out of here tonight with that secret. I’ve asked Montega to be quick. For old times’ sake.”

  Though her body was shaking, she made herself stand. “I’ve learned to believe in destiny, Jerry. You won’t win. He’ll see to that. You’ll kill me, and he’ll
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