Night shadow, p.19
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       Night Shadow, p.19

         Part #2 of Night Tales series by Nora Roberts
 
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  come after you like a Fury. You think you know him, but you don’t. You don’t have him, and you never will.”

  “If it gives you comfort.” He stepped away from her. “We don’t have him—at the moment.”

  “You’re wrong.”

  Every head in the room turned at the voice. There was nothing but blank walls and piles of lumber. Deborah’s knees went so weak she almost folded to the ground.

  Then everything seemed to happen at once.

  A guard standing beside the wall jerked back, his eyes bright with surprise. While his body struggled and strained, the rifle he was holding began to spray bullets. Men shouted, diving for cover. The guard screamed, stumbled away from the wall. His own men cut him down.

  Dashing behind a line of shelves, Deborah searched frantically for a weapon. Laying her hands on a crowbar, she stepped back, ready to defend herself. Before her astonished eyes, a weapon was grappled away from a goggle-eyed guard. Mad with fear, he raced away, screaming.

  “Stay back.” The voice floated out toward her.

  “Thank God, I thought that—”

  “Just stay back. I’ll deal with you later.”

  She stood, gripping the crowbar. Nemesis was back, she thought, and gritted her teeth. And as arrogant as ever. Sliding a box aside, she peeked through the opening to the melee beyond. There were five men left—the guards, Montega and Jerry. They were firing wildly, as terrified as they were confused. When one of the bullets plowed into the wall a scant foot from her head, she crouched lower.

  Someone screamed. The sound made her squeeze her eyes shut. A hand grabbed her hair, dragging her up.

  “What is he?” Jerry hissed in her ear. Though his hand was shaking, it maintained a firm grip. “What the hell is he?”

  “He’s a hero,” she said, looking defiantly into his wild eyes. “Something you’ll never understand.”

  “He’ll be a dead one before this is over. You’re coming with me.” He jerked her in front of him. “If you try anything, I’ll shoot you in the back and take my chances.”

  Deborah took a deep breath and slammed the crowbar into his stomach. When he keeled over, retching, she raced out, weaving and dodging around workbenches and shelving. He recovered quickly, half running, half crawling until his hand reached out and slipped over her ankle. Cursing, she kicked him off, knowing any minute she could feel a bullet slam into her back. She scrambled up a graduated hack of lumber, thinking if she could climb to safety, he couldn’t use her as a shield.

  She could hear him clambering behind her, gaining ground as he got back his wind. Desperate, she imagined herself like a lizard, quick and sure, clinging to the wood. She couldn’t fall. All she knew was that she couldn’t fall. Splinters dug into her fingers, unfelt.

  With all her strength, she heaved the crowbar at him. It struck him on the shoulder, making him curse and falter. Knowing better than to look back, she set her teeth and jumped from the stack of lumber to a narrow metal ladder. Sweaty, her hands slipped, but she clung, climbing up to the next level. Her breath was coming fast as she raced across the steel landing crowded with rolls of insulation and building material.

  But there as no place to go. As she reached the far side, she saw that she was trapped. He had nearly reached the top. She couldn’t go down, had no hope of making the five-foot leap to the overhang of metal shelving that held more supplies.

  He was breathing hard, and there was blood on his mouth. And a gun in his hand. Deborah took an unsteady step back, looking down twenty-five feet to where Nemesis battled three to one. She couldn’t call to him, she realized. To distract him even for an instant could mean his death.

  Instead, she turned and faced her onetime friend. “You won’t use me to get him.”

  With the back of his hand he wiped blood and spittle from his lip. “One way or another.”

  “No.” She stepped back again and bumped into a hoist chain. It was thick and hooked and heavy, used, she realized quickly, to lift the huge stacks of material to the next level for storage. “No,” she said again and, using all her strength, swung the chain at his face.

  She heard the sound of bones breaking. And then his scream, one horrible scream before she covered her own face.

  He had whittled things down to Montega when Nemesis looked up and saw her, white as a ghost and swaying on the brink of a narrow metal ledge. He didn’t spare a glance for the man who had fallen screaming to the concrete below. As he sprinted toward her, he heard a bullet whistle past his head.

  “No!” she shouted at him, pushing aside the faintness. “He’s behind you.” She saw with relief, and Montega with disbelief, that he veered left and disappeared.

  Cautious, wanting to draw Montega’s attention from Deborah, Nemesis moved along the wall. He would call tauntingly, then move right or left before Montega could aim his trembling gun and fire.

  “I will kill you!” Shaking with fear, Montega fired again and again into the walls. “I’ve seen you bleed. I will kill you.”

  It wasn’t until he was certain Deborah was down and safely huddled in the shadows that he reappeared, six feet from Montega. “You’ve already killed me once.” Nemesis held his gun steady at Montega’s heart. He had only to pull the trigger, he thought. And it would be over. Four years of hell would be over.

  But he saw Deborah, her face white and sheened with sweat. Slowly his finger relaxed on the trigger.

  “I came back for you, Montega. You’ll have a long time to wonder why. Drop your weapon.”

  Speechless, he did so, sending it clattering onto the concrete. Pale but steady, Deborah stepped forward to pick it up.

  “Who are you?” Montega demanded. “What are you?” A scream of warning burst from Deborah’s lips as Montega slipped a hand into his pocket.

  Two more gunshots ripped the air. Even as they echoed, Montega sprawled lifelessly on the floor. Staring at him, Nemesis stepped closer. “I’m your destiny,” he whispered, then turned and caught Deborah in his arms.

  “They said they had you. They were going to kill you.”

  “You should have trusted me.” He turned her away, determined to shield her from the death surrounding them.

  “But you were here,” she said, then stopped. “Why were you here? How did you know?”

  “The pattern. Sit down, Deborah. You’re shaking.”

  “I have a feeling it’s going to be from anger in a minute. You knew they would be here tonight.”

  “Yes, I knew. Sit. Let me get you some water.”

  “Stop it, just stop it.” She snatched at his shirtfront with both hands. “You knew, and you didn’t tell me. You knew about Stuart, about Jerry.”

  “Not about Jerry.” And he would always regret it. “Until he walked in here tonight and I heard what he told you, I was focused on Fields.”

  “Then why were you here?”

  “I broke the pattern a few days ago. Every drop had been made in a building Stuart owned. And each drop was at least two weeks apart in a different section of the city. I spent a couple of nights casing a few other spots, but homed in here. And I didn’t tell you,” he continued when her eyes scraped at him, “because I wanted to avoid exactly what happened here tonight. Damn it, when I’m worried about you I can’t concentrate. I can’t do my job.”

  Her body was braced as she held out her hand. “Do you see this ring? You gave this to me only hours ago. I’m wearing it because I love you, and because I’m teaching myself how to accept you, your feelings and your needs. If you can’t do the same for me, you’ll have to take it back.”

  Behind his mask his eyes were dark and flat. “It’s not a matter of doing the same—”

  “It’s exactly that. I killed a man tonight.” Her voice shook, but she pushed him away when he would have held her again. “I killed a man I knew. I came here tonight ready, willing to exchange not only my ethics but my life for yours. Don’t you ever protect me, pamper me or think for me again.”

  “Are you
through?”

  “No.” But she did lean against the chair. “I know you won’t stop what you do. That you can’t. I’ll worry about you, but I won’t stand in your way. You won’t stand in mine, either.”

  He nodded. “Is that all?”

  “For now.”

  “You’re right.”

  She opened her mouth, shut it, then blew out a long breath. “Would you say that again?”

  “You’re right. I kept things from you and instead of protecting you, I put you in more danger. For that, I’m sorry. And besides admitting that, I think you should know I wasn’t going to kill him.” He looked down at Montega, but cupped Deborah’s chin in his hand before she could follow his direction. “I wanted to. For an instant, I tasted it. But if he had surrendered, I would have turned him over to the police.”

  She saw the truth of it in his eyes. “Why?”

  “Because I looked at you and I knew I could trust you to see there was justice.” He held out a hand. “Deborah, I need a partner.”

  She was smiling even as her eyes overflowed. “So do I.” Instead of taking his hand, she launched herself into his arms. “Nothing’s going to stop us,” she murmured. In the distance, she heard the first sirens. “I think Frank’s bringing the cavalry.” She kissed him. “I’ll explain later. At home. You’d better go.” With a sigh, she stepped back. “It’s going to take a good lawyer to explain all of this.”

  At the sound of rushing feet, he moved back, then into the wall behind her. “I’ll be here.”

  She smiled, spreading her palm on the wall, knowing he was doing the same on the shadowy other side. “I’m counting on it.”

  If you liked Night Shadow, look for the other novels in the Night Tales series: Night Shift, Nightshade, Night Smoke, and Night Shield, available as eBooks from InterMix.

  Keep reading for a special excerpt from the newest novel by Nora Roberts

  THE WITNESS

  Available April 2012 in hardcover from G.P. Putnam’s Sons

  June 2000

  Elizabeth Fitch’s short-lived teenage rebellion began with L’Oreal Pure Black, a pair of scissors and a fake ID. It ended in blood.

  For nearly the whole of her sixteen years, eight months and twenty-one days she’d dutifully followed her mother’s directives. Dr. Susan L. Fitch issued directives, not orders. Elizabeth had adhered to the schedules her mother created, ate the meals designed by her mother’s nutritionist and prepared by her mother’s cook, wore the clothes selected by her mother’s personal shopper.

  Dr. Susan L. Fitch dressed conservatively, as suited—in her opinion—her position as Chief of Surgery at Chicago’s Silva Memorial Hospital. She expected, and directed, her daughter to do the same.

  Elizabeth studied diligently, accepting and excelling in the academic programs her mother outlined. In the fall, she’d return to Harvard in pursuit of her medical degree. So she could become a doctor, like her mother; a surgeon, like her mother.

  Elizabeth—never Liz or Lizzie or Beth—spoke fluent Spanish, French, Italian, passable Russian and rudimentary Japanese. She played both piano and violin. She’d traveled to Europe, to Africa. She could name all the bones, nerves and muscles in the human body and play Chopin’s Piano Concerto—both One and Two—by rote.

  She’d never been on a date or kissed a boy. She’d never roamed the mall with a pack of girls, attended a slumber party or giggled with friends over pizza or hot fudge sundaes.

  She was, at sixteen years, eight months and twenty-one days, a product of her mother’s meticulous and detailed agenda.

  That was about to change.

  She watched her mother pack. Susan, her rich brown hair already coiled in her signature French twist, neatly hung another suit in the organized garment bag, then checked off the printout with each day of the week’s medical conference broken into subgroups. The printout included a spreadsheet listing every event, appointment, meeting and meal scheduled with the selected outfit, shoes, bag and accessories.

  Designer suits and Italian shoes, of course, Elizabeth thought. One must wear good cut, good cloth. But not one rich or bright color among the blacks, grays, taupes. She wondered how her mother could be so beautiful and deliberately wear the dull.

  After two accelerated semesters of college, Elizabeth thought she’d begun—maybe—to develop her own fashion sense. She had, in fact, bought jeans and a hoodie and some chunky heeled boots in Cambridge.

  She’d paid in cash, so the purchase wouldn’t show up on her credit card bill in case her mother or their accountant checked and questioned the items, which were currently hidden in her room.

  She’d felt like a different person wearing them, so different that she’d walked straight into a McDonald’s and ordered her first Big Mac with large fries and a chocolate shake.

  The pleasure had been so huge she’d had to go into the bathroom, close herself in a stall and cry a little.

  The seeds of the rebellion had been planted that day, she supposed, or maybe they’d always been there, dormant, and the fat and salt had awakened them.

  But she could feel them, actually feel them sprouting in her belly now.

  “Your plans changed, Mother. It doesn’t follow that mine have to change with them.”

  Susan took a moment to precisely place a shoe bag in the pullman, tucking it just so with her beautiful and clever surgeon’s hands, the nails perfectly manicured. A French manicure, as always—no color there either.

  “Elizabeth.” Her voice was as polished and calm as her wardrobe. “It took considerable effort to reschedule and have you admitted to the summer program this term. You’ll complete the requirements for your admission into Harvard Medical School a full semester ahead of schedule.”

  Even the thought made Elizabeth’s stomach hurt. “I was promised a three-week break, including this next week in New York.”

  “And sometimes promises must be broken. If I hadn’t had this coming week off, I couldn’t fill in for Dr. Dusecki at the conference.”

  “You could have said no.”

  “That would have been selfish and shortsighted.” Susan brushed at the jacket she’d hung, stepped back to check her list. “You’re certainly mature enough to understand the demands of work overtake pleasure and leisure.”

  “If I’m mature enough to understand that, why aren’t I mature enough to make my own decisions? I want this break. I need it.”

  Susan barely spared her daughter a glance. “A girl of your age, physical condition and mental acumen hardly needs a break from her studies and activities. In addition, Mrs. Laine has already left for her two-week cruise, and I could hardly ask her to postpone her vacation. There’s no one to fix your meals or tend to the house.”

  “I can fix my own meals and tend to the house.”

  “Elizabeth.” The tone managed to merge clipped with long-suffering. “It’s settled.”

  “And I have no say in it? What about developing my independence, being responsible?”

  “Independence comes in degrees, as does responsibility and freedom of choice. You still require guidance and direction. Now, I’ve e-mailed you an updated schedule for the coming week, and your packet with all the information on the program is on your desk. Be sure to thank Dr. Frisco personally for making room for you in the summer term.”

  As she spoke, Susan closed the garment bag, then her small pullman. She stepped to her bureau to check her hair, her lipstick.

  “You don’t listen to anything I say.”

  In the mirror, Susan’s gaze shifted to her daughter. The first time, Elizabeth thought, her mother had bothered to actually look at her since she’d come into the bedroom. “Of course I do. I heard everything you said, very clearly.”

  “Listening’s different than hearing.”

  “That may be true, Elizabeth, but we’ve already had this discussion.”

  “It’s not a discussion, it’s a decree.”

  Susan’s mouth tightened briefly, the only sign of annoyance. W
hen she turned, her eyes were a cool, calm blue. “I’m sorry you feel that way. As your mother, I must do what I believe is best for you.”

  “What’s best for me, in your opinion, is for me to do, be, say, think, act, want, become exactly what you decided for me before you inseminated yourself with precisely selected sperm.”

  She heard the rise of her own voice but couldn’t control it, felt the hot sting of tears in her eyes but couldn’t stop them. “I’m tired of being your experiment. I’m tired of having every minute of every day organized, orchestrated and choreographed to meet your expectations. I want to make my own choices, buy my own clothes, read books I want to read. I want to live my own life instead of yours.”

  Susan’s eyebrows lifted in an expression of mild interest. “Well. Your attitude isn’t surprising given your age, but you’ve picked a very inconvenient time to be defiant and argumentative.”

  “Sorry. It wasn’t on the schedule.”

  “Sarcasm’s also typical, but it’s unbecoming.” Susan opened her briefcase, checked the contents. “We’ll talk about all this when I get back. I’ll make an appointment with Dr. Bristoe.”

  “I don’t need therapy! I need a mother who listens, who gives a shit about how I feel.”

  “That kind of language only shows a lack of maturity and intellect.”

  Enraged, Elizabeth threw up her hands, spun in circles. If she couldn’t be calm and rational like her mother, she’d be wild. “Shit! Shit! Shit!”

  “And repetition hardly enhances. You have the rest of the weekend to consider your behavior. Your meals are in the refrigerator or freezer, labeled. Your pack list is on your desk. Report to Ms. Vee at the university at eight on Monday morning. Your participation in this program will ensure your place in HMS next fall. Now, take my garment bag downstairs, please. My car will be here any minute.”

  Oh, those seeds were sprouting, cracking that fallow ground and pushing painfully through. For the first time in her life, Elizabeth looked straight into her mother’s eyes and said, “No.”

  She spun around, stomped away, and slammed the door of her bedroom. She threw herself down on the bed, stared at the ceiling with tear-blurred eyes. And waited.

  Any second, any second, she told herself. Her mother would come in, demand an apology, demand obedience. And she wouldn’t give either.

  They’d have a fight, an actual fight, with threats of punishment and consequences. Maybe they’d yell at each other. Maybe if they yelled, her mother would finally hear her.

  And maybe, if they yelled, she could say all the things that had crept up inside her this past year. Things she thought now had been inside her forever.

  She didn’t want to be a doctor. She didn’t want to spend every waking hour on a schedule or have to hide a stupid pair of jeans because they didn’t fit her mother’s dress code.

  She wanted to have friends, not approved socialization appointments. She wanted to listen to the music girls her age listened to. She wanted to know what they whispered about and laughed about and talked about while she was shut out.

  She didn’t want to be a genius or a prodigy.

  She wanted to be normal. She just wanted to be like everyone else.

  She swiped at the tears, curled up, stared at the door.

  Any second, she thought again. Any second now. Her mother had to be angry. She had to come in and assert authority. Had to.

  “Please,” Elizabeth murmured as seconds ticked into minutes. “Don’t make me give in again. Please, please, don’t make me give up.”

  Love me enough. Just this once.

  But as the minutes dragged on, Elizabeth pushed herself off the bed. Patience, she knew, was her mother’s greatest weapon. That, and the unyielding sense of being right crushed all foes. And certainly her daughter was no match for it.

  Defeated, she walked out of her room, toward her mother’s.

  The garment bag, the briefcase, the small, wheeled pullman were gone. Even as she walked downstairs, she knew her mother had gone, too.

 
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