Night shadow, p.4
Night Shadow, p.4Part #2 of Night Tales series by Nora Roberts
“You’ve been watching me.”
“There are some women it’s difficult to look away from.” He pulled her closer, just a tug on her wrist, and stunned both of them. His voice was low and rough. She could see anger in the gleam of his eyes. She found the combination oddly compelling. “What are you doing here?”
Her mouth was so dry it ached. He had pulled her so close that their thighs met. She could feel the warm flutter of his breath on her lips. To ensure some distance and some control, she put a hand to his chest.
Her hand didn’t pass through, but met a warm, solid wall, felt the quick, steady beat of a heart.
“That’s my business.”
“Your business is to prepare cases and try them in court, not to play detective.”
“I’m not playing—” She broke off, eyes narrowing. “How do you know I’m a lawyer?”
“I know a great deal about you, Miss O’Roarke.” His smile was thin and humorless. “That’s my business. I don’t think your sister worked to put you through law school, and saw you graduate at the top of your class, to have you sneaking around back entrances of locked buildings. Especially when that building is a front for some particularly ugly commerce.”
“You know about this place?”
“As I said, I know a great deal.”
She would handle his intrusion into her life later. Now she had a job to do. “If you have any information, any proof about this suspected drug operation, it’s your duty to give that information to the D.A.’s office.”
“I’m very aware of my duty. It doesn’t include making deals with scum.”
Heat rushed to her cheeks. She didn’t even question how he knew about her interview with Parino. It was enough, more than enough, that he was holding her integrity up to inspection. “I worked within the law,” she snapped at him. “Which is more than you can say. You put on a mask and play Captain America, making up your own rules. That makes you part of the problem, not part of the solution.”
In the slits of his mask, his eyes narrowed. “You seemed grateful enough for my solution a few nights ago.”
Her chin came up. She wished she could face him on her own ground, in the light. “I’ve already thanked you for your help, unnecessary though it was.”
“Are you always so cocky, Miss O’Roarke?”
“Confident,” she corrected.
“And do you always win in court?”
“I have an excellent record.”
“Do you always win?” he repeated.
“No, but that’s not the point.”
“That’s exactly the point. There’s a war in this city, Miss O’Roarke.”
“And you’ve appointed yourself general of the good guys.”
He didn’t smile. “No, I fight alone.”
But he cut her off swiftly, putting a gloved hand over her mouth. He listened, but not with his ears. It wasn’t something he heard, but something he felt, as some men felt hunger or thirst, love or hate. Or, from centuries ago when their senses were not dulled by civilization, danger.
Before she had even begun to struggle against him, he pulled her aside and shoved her down beneath him behind the wall of the next building.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
The explosion that came on the tail of her words made her ears ring. The flash of light made her pupils contract. Before she could close her eyes against the glare, she saw the jagged shards of flying glass, the missiles of charred brick. Beneath her, the ground trembled as the antique store exploded.
She saw, with horror and fascination, a lethal chunk of concrete crash only three feet from her face.
“Are you all right?” When she didn’t answer, only trembled, he took her face in his hand and turned it to his. “Deborah, are you all right?”
He repeated her name twice before the glassy look left her eyes. “Yes,” she managed. “Are you?”
“Don’t you read the papers?” There was the faintest of smiles around his mouth. “I’m invulnerable.”
“Right.” With a little sigh, she tried to sit up. For a moment he didn’t move, but left his body where it was, where it wanted to be. Fitted against hers. His face was only inches away. He wondered what would happen—to both of them—if he closed that distance and let his mouth meet hers.
He was going to kiss her, Deborah realized, and she went perfectly still. Emotion swarmed through her. Not anger, as she’d expected. But excitement, raw and wild. It pumped through her so quickly, so hugely, it blocked out everything else. With a little murmur of agreement, she lifted her hand to his cheek.
Her fingers brushed his mask. He pulled back from her touch as if he’d been slapped. Shifting, he rose, then helped her to her feet. Fighting a potent combination of humiliation and fury, she stepped around the wall toward the rear of the antique shop.
There was little left of it. Brick, glass and concrete were scattered. Inside the crippled building, fire raged. The roof collapsed with a long, loud groan.
“They’ve beaten you this time,” he murmured. “There won’t be anything left for you to find—no papers, no drugs, no records.”
“They’ve destroyed a building,” she said between her teeth. She hadn’t wanted to be kissed, she told herself. She’d been shaken up, dazed, a victim of temporary insanity. “But someone owns it, and I’ll find out who that is.”
“This was meant as a warning, Miss O’Roarke. One you might want to consider.”
“I won’t be frightened off. Not by exploding buildings or by you.” She turned to face him, but wasn’t surprised that he was gone.
It was after one in the morning when Deborah dragged herself down the hallway toward her apartment. She’d spent the best part of two hours answering questions, giving her statement to the police and avoiding reporters. Even through the fatigue was a nagging annoyance toward the man called Nemesis.
Technically he’d saved her life again. If she’d been standing within ten feet of the antique shop when the bomb had gone off, she would certainly have met a nasty death. But then he’d left her holding the bag, a very large, complicated bag she’d been forced to sort through, assistant D.A. or not, for the police.
Added to that was the fact he had shown in the short, pithy conversation they’d had that he held no respect for her profession or her judgment. She had studied and worked toward the goal of prosecutor since she’d been eighteen. Now, with a shrug, he was dismissing those years of her life as wasted.
No, she thought as she dug in her purse for her keys, he preferred to skulk around the streets, meting out his own personal sense of justice. Well, it didn’t wash. And before it was over, she was going to prove to him that the system worked.
And she would prove to herself that she hadn’t been the least bit attracted to him.
“You look like you had a rough night.”
Keys in hand, Deborah turned. Her across-the-hall neighbor, Mrs. Greenbaum, was standing in her open doorway, peering out through a pair of cherry red framed glasses.
“Mrs. Greenbaum, what are you doing up?”
“Just finished watching David Letterman. That boy cracks me up.” At seventy, with a comfortable pension to buffer her against life’s storms, Lil Greenbaum kept her own hours and did as she pleased. At the moment she was wearing a tatty terry-cloth robe, Charles and Di bedroom slippers and a bright pink bow in the middle of her hennaed hair. “You look like you could use a drink. How about a nice hot toddy?”
Deborah was about to refuse when she realized a hot toddy was exactly what she wanted. She smiled, dropped the keys into her jacket pocket and crossed the hall. “Make it a double.”
“Already got the hot water on. You just sit down and kick off your shoes.” Mrs. Greenbaum patted her hand, then scurried off to the kitchen.
Grateful, Deborah sank into the deep cushions of the couch. The television was still on, with an old black-and-white movie flicker
The two-bedroom apartment—Mrs. Greenbaum kept a second bedroom ready for any of her numerous grandchildren—was both cluttered and tidy. Tables were packed with photographs and trinkets. There was a lava lamp atop the television, with a huge brass peace symbol attached to its base. Lil was proud of the fact that she’d marched against the establishment in the sixties. Just as she had protested nuclear reactors, Star Wars, the burning of rain forests and the increased cost of Medicare.
She liked to protest, she’d often told Deborah. When you could argue against the system, it meant you were still alive and kicking.
“Here we are.” She brought out two slightly warped ceramic mugs—the product of one of her younger children’s creativity. She flicked a glance at the television. “Penny Serenade, 1941, and oh, wasn’t that Cary Grant something?” After setting down the mugs, she picked up her remote and shut the TV off. “Now, what trouble have you been getting yourself into?”
Mrs. Greenbaum took a comfortable sip of whiskey-laced tea. “Your suit’s a mess.” She leaned closer and took a sniff. “Smells like smoke. Got a smudge on your cheek, a run in your stocking and fire in your eyes. From the look in them, there’s got to be a man involved.”
“The UPD could use you, Mrs. Greenbaum.” Deborah sipped at the tea and absorbed the hot jolt. “I was doing a little legwork. The building I was checking out blew up.”
The lively interest in Mrs. Greenbaum’s eyes turned instantly to concern. “You’re not hurt?”
“No. A few bruises.” They would match the ones she’d gotten the week before. “I guess my ego suffered a little. I ran into Nemesis.” Deborah hadn’t mentioned her first encounter, because she was painfully aware of her neighbor’s passionate admiration for the man in black.
Behind the thick frames, Mrs. Greenbaum’s eyes bulged. “You actually saw him?”
“I saw him, spoke to him and ended up being tossed to the concrete by him just before the building blew up.”
“God.” Lil pressed a hand to her heart. “That’s even more romantic than when I met Mr. Greenbaum at the Pentagon rally.”
“It had nothing to do with romance. The man is impossible, very likely a maniac and certainly dangerous.”
“He’s a hero.” Mrs. Greenbaum shook a scarlet-tipped finger at Deborah. “You haven’t learned to recognize heroes yet. That’s because we don’t have enough of them today.” She crossed her feet so that Princess Di grinned up at Deborah. “So, what does he look like? The reports have all been mixed. One day he’s an eight-foot black man, another he’s a pale-faced vampire complete with fangs. Just the other day I read he was a small green woman with red eyes.”
“He’s not a woman,” Deborah muttered. She could remember, a bit too clearly, the feel of his body over hers. “And I can’t really say what he looks like. It was dark and most of his face was masked.”
“Like Zorro?” Mrs. Greenbaum said hopefully.
“No. Well, I don’t know. Maybe.” She gave a little sigh and decided to indulge her neighbor. “He’s six-one or six-two, I suppose, lean but well built.”
“What color is his hair?”
“It was covered. I could see his jawline.” Strong, tensed. “And his mouth.” It had hovered for one long, exciting moment over hers. “Nothing special,” she said quickly, and gulped more tea.
“Hmm.” Mrs. Greenbaum had her own ideas. She’d been married and widowed twice, and in between had enjoyed what she considered her fair share of affairs and romantic entanglements. She recognized the signs. “His eyes? You can always tell the make of a man by his eyes. Though I’d rather look at his tush.”
Deborah chuckled. “Dark.”
“Just dark. He keeps to the shadows.”
“Slipping through the shadows to root out evil and protect the innocent. What’s more romantic than that?”
“He’s bucking the system.”
“My point exactly. It doesn’t get bucked enough.”
“I’m not saying he hasn’t helped a few people, but we have trained law enforcement officers to do that.” She frowned into her mug. There hadn’t been any cops around either time she had needed help. They couldn’t be everywhere. And she probably could have handled both situations herself. Probably. She used her last and ultimate argument. “He doesn’t have any respect for the law.”
“I think you’re wrong. I think he has great respect for it. He just interprets it differently than you do.” Again she patted Deborah’s hand. “You’re a good girl, Deborah, a smart girl, but you’ve trained yourself to walk down a very narrow path. You should remember that this country was founded on rebellion. We often forget, then we become fat and lazy until someone comes along and questions the status quo. We need rebels, just as we need heroes. It would be a dull, sad world without them.”
“Maybe.” Though she was far from convinced. “But we also need rules.”
“Oh, yes.” Mrs. Greenbaum grinned. “We need rules. How else could we break them?”
Gage kept his eyes closed as his driver guided the limo across town. Through the night after the explosion and the day that followed, he had thought of a dozen reasons why he should cancel his date with Deborah O’Roarke.
They were all very practical, very logical, very sane reasons. To offset them had been only one impractical, illogical and potentially insane reason.
He needed her.
She was interfering with his work, both day and night. Since the moment he’d seen her, he hadn’t been able to think of anyone else. He’d used his vast network of computers to dig out every scrap of available information on her. He knew she’d been born in Atlanta twenty-five years before. He knew she had lost her parents, tragically and brutally, at the age of twelve. Her sister had raised her, and together they had hopscotched across the country. The sister worked in radio and was now station manager at KHIP in Denver, where Deborah had gone to college.
Deborah had passed the bar the first time and had applied for a position in the D.A.’s office in Urbana, where she had earned a reputation for being thorough, meticulous and ambitious.
He knew she had had one serious love affair in college, but he didn’t know what had ended it. She dated a variety of men, none seriously.
He hated the fact that that one last piece of information had given him tremendous relief.
She was a danger to him. He knew it, understood it and seemed unable to avoid it. Even after their encounter the night before when she had come within a hairbreadth of making him lose control—of his temper and his desire—he wasn’t able to shove her out of his mind.
To go on seeing her was to go on deceiving her. And himself.
But when the car pulled to the curb in front of her building, he got out, walked into the lobby and took the elevator up to her floor.
When Deborah heard the knock, she stopped pacing the living room. For the past twenty minutes she’d been asking herself why she had agreed to go out with a man she barely knew. And one with a reputation of being a connoisseur of women but married to his business.
She’d fallen for the charm, she admitted, that smooth, careless charm with the hint of underlying danger. Maybe she’d even been intrigued, and challenged, by his tendency to dominate. She stood for a moment, hand on the knob. It didn’t matter, she assured herself. It was only one evening, a simple dinner date. She wasn’t naive and wide-eyed, and expected no more than good food and intelligent conversation.
She wore blue. Somehow he’d known she would. The deep midnight blue silk of her dinner suit matched her eyes. The skirt was snug and short, celebrating the length of long, smooth legs. The tailored, almost mannish jacket made him wonder if she wore more silk, or simply her skin, beneath it. The lamp she had left on beside the door caught the gleam of the waterfall of blue a
The easy flattery he was so used to dispensing lodged in his throat. “You’re prompt,” he managed.
“Always.” She smiled at him. “It’s like a vice.” She closed the door behind her without inviting him in. It seemed safer that way.
A few moments later, she settled back in the limo and vowed to enjoy herself. “Do you always travel this way?”
“No. Just when it seems more convenient.”
Unable to resist, she slipped off her shoes and let her feet sink into the deep pewter carpet. “I would. No hassling for cabs or scurrying to the subway.”
“But you miss a lot of life on, and under, the streets.”
She turned to him. In his dark suit and subtly striped tie he looked elegant and successful. There were burnished gold links at the cuffs of his white shirt. “You’re not going to tell me you ride the subway.”
He only smiled. “When it seems most convenient. You don’t believe that money should be used as an insulator against reality?”
“No. No, I don’t.” But she was surprised he didn’t. “Actually, I’ve never had enough to be tempted to try it.”
“You wouldn’t be.” He contented himself, or tried, by toying with the ends of her hair. “You could have gone into private practice with a dozen top firms at a salary that would have made your paycheck at the D.A.’s office look like pin money. You didn’t.”
She shrugged it off. “Don’t think there aren’t moments when I question my own sanity.” Thinking it would be safer to move to more impersonal ground, she glanced out the window. “Where are we going?”
“I’m relieved to hear that since I missed lunch. I meant where.”
“Here.” He took her hand as the limo stopped. They had driven to the very edge of the city, to the world of old money and prestige. Here the sound of traffic was only a distant echo, and there was the light, delicate scent of roses in bloom.
Deborah stifled a gasp as she stepped onto the curb. She had seen pictures of his home. But it was entirely different to be faced with it. It loomed over the street, spreading for half a block.
It was Gothic in style, having been built by a philanthropist at the turn of the century. She’d read somewhere that Gage had purchased it before he’d been released from the hospital.
Towers and turrets rose up into the sky. High mullioned windows gleamed with the sun, which was lowering slowly in the west. Terraces jutted out, then danced around corners. The top story was dominated by a huge curving glass where one could stand and look out over the entire city.
“I see you take the notion that a man’s home is his castle literally.”
“I like space, and privacy. But I decided to postpone the moat.”
With a laugh, she walked up to the carved doors at the entrance.
“Would you like a tour before we eat?”
“Are you kidding?” She hooked her arm through his. “Where do we start?”
He led her through winding corridors, under lofty ceilings, into rooms both enormous and cramped. And he couldn’t remember enjoying his home more than now, seeing it through her eyes.
There was a two-level library packed with books—from first editions to dog-eared paperbacks. Parlors with curvy old couches and delicate porcelain. Ming vases, Tang horses, Lalique crystal and Mayan pottery. Walls were done in rich, deep colors, offset by gleaming wood and Impressionist paintings.
The east wing held a tropical greenery, an indoor pool and a fully equipped gymnasium with a separate whirlpool and sauna. Through another corridor, up a curving staircase, there were bedrooms furnished with four-posters or heavy carved headboards.
She stopped counting rooms.
More stairs, then a huge office with a black marble desk and a wide sheer window that was growing rosy with sundown. Computers silent and waiting.
A music room, complete with a white grand piano and an old Wurlitzer jukebox. Almost dizzy, she stepped into a mirrored ballroom and stared at her own multiplied reflection. Above, a trio of magnificent chandeliers blazed with sumptuous light.
“It’s like something out of a movie,” she murmured. “I feel as though I should be wearing a hooped skirt and a powdered wig.”
“No.” He touched her hair again. “I think it suits you just fine as it is.”
With a shake of her head, she stepped farther inside, then went with impulse and turned three quick circles. “It’s incredible, really. Don’t you ever get the urge to just come into this room and dance?”
“Not until now.” Surprising himself as much as her, he caught her around the waist and swung her into a waltz.
Night Shadow by Nora Roberts / Romance & Love have rating 5.1 out of 5 / Based on41 votes