Night shadow, p.5
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       Night Shadow, p.5

         Part #2 of Night Tales series by Nora Roberts
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  She should have laughed—have shot him an amused and flirtatious look and have taken the impulsive gesture for what it was. But she couldn’t. All she could do was stare up at him, stare into his eyes as he spun her around and around the mirrored room.

  Her hand lay on his shoulder, her other caught firmly in his. Their steps matched, though she gave no thought to them. She wondered, foolishly, if he heard the same music in his head that she did.

  He heard nothing but the steady give and take of her breathing. Never in his life could he remember being so totally, so exclusively aware of one person. The way her long, dark lashes framed her eyes. The subtle trace of bronze she had smudged on the lids. The pale, moist gloss of rose on her lips.

  Where his hand gripped her waist, the silk was warm from her body. And that body seemed to flow with his, anticipating each step, each turn. Her hair fanned out, making him ache to let his hands dive into it. Her scent floated around him, not quite sweet, and utterly tempting. He wondered if he would taste it if he pressed his lips to the long, white column of her throat.

  She saw the change in his eyes, the deepening, the darkening of them as desire grew. As her steps matched his, so did her need. She felt it build and spread, like a living thing, until her body thrummed with it. She leaned toward him, wondering.

  He stopped. For a moment they stood, reflected dozens and dozens of times. A man and a woman caught in a tentative embrace, on the brink of something neither of them understood.

  She moved first, a cautious half step in retreat. It was her nature to think carefully before making any decision. His hand tightened on hers. For some reason she thought it was a warning.

  “I … My head’s spinning.”

  Very slowly his hand slipped away from her waist and the embrace was broken. “Then I’d better feed you.”

  “Yes.” She nearly managed to smile. “You’d better.”

  They dined on sautéed shrimp flavored with orange and rosemary. Though he’d shown her the enormous dining room with its heavy mahogany servers and sideboards, they took their meal in a small salon at a table by a curved window. Between sips of champagne, they could watch the sunset over the city. On the table, between them, were two slender white candles and a single red rose.

  “It’s beautiful here,” she commented. “The city. You can see all its possibilities, and none of its problems.”

  “Sometimes it helps to take a step back.” He stared out at the city himself, then turned away as if dismissing it. “Or else those problems can eat you alive.”

  “But you’re still aware of them. I know you donate a lot of money to the homeless and rehabilitation centers, and other charities.”

  “It’s easy to give money away when you have more than you need.”

  “That sounds cynical.”

  “Realistic.” His smile was cool and easy. “I’m a businessman, Deborah. Donations are tax deductible.”

  She frowned, studying him. “It would be a great pity, I think, if people were only generous when it benefited them.”

  “Now you sound like an idealist.”

  Riled, she tapped a finger against the champagne goblet. “That’s the second time in a matter of days you’ve accused me of that. I don’t think I like it.”

  “It wasn’t meant as an insult, just an observation.” He glanced up when Frank came in with individual chocolate soufflés. “We won’t need anything else tonight.”

  The big man shrugged. “Okay.”

  Deborah noted that Frank moved with a dancer’s grace, an odd talent in a man who was big and bulky. Thoughtful, she dipped a spoon into the dessert. “Is he your driver or your butler?” she asked.

  “Both. And neither.” He topped off her wine. “You might say he’s an associate from a former life.”

  Intrigued, she lifted a brow. “Which means?”

  “He was a pickpocket I collared a time or two when I was a cop. Then he was my snitch. Now … he drives my car and answers my door, among other things.”

  She noted that Gage’s fingers fit easily around the slender stem of the crystal glass. “It’s hard to imagine you working the streets.”

  He grinned at her. “Yes, I suppose it is.” He watched the way the candlelight flickered in her eyes. Last night, he had seen the reflection of fire there, from the burning building and her own smothered desires.

  “How long were you a cop?”

  “One night too long,” he said flatly, then reached for her hand. “Would you like to see the view from the roof?”

  “Yes, I would.” She pushed back from the table, understanding that the subject of his past was a closed book.

  Rather than the stairs, he took her up in a small smoked-glass elevator. “All the comforts,” she said as they started their ascent. “I’m surprised the place doesn’t come equipped with a dungeon and secret passageways.”

  “Oh, but it does. Perhaps I’ll show you … another time.”

  Another time, she thought. Did she want there to be another time? It had certainly been a fascinating evening, and with the exception of that moment of tension in the ballroom, a cordial one. Yet despite his polished manners, she sensed something restless and dangerous beneath the tailored suit.

  That was what attracted her, she admitted. Just as that was what made her uneasy.

  “What are you thinking?”

  She decided it was best to be perfectly honest. “I was wondering who you were, and if I wanted to stick around long enough to find out.”

  The doors to the elevator whispered open, but he stayed where he was. “And do you?”

  “I’m not sure.” She stepped out and into the topmost turret of the building. With a sound of surprise and pleasure, she moved toward the wide curve of glass. Beyond it, the sun had set and the city was all shadow and light. “It’s spectacular.” She turned to him, smiling. “Just spectacular.”

  “It gets better.” He pushed a button on the wall. Silently, magically, the curved glass parted. Taking her hand, he led her onto the stone terrace beyond.

  Setting her palms on the stone railing, she leaned out into the hot wind that stirred the air. “You can see the trees in City Park, and the river.” Impatiently she brushed her blowing hair out of her eyes. “The buildings look so pretty with their lights on.” In the distance, she could see the twinkling lights of the Dover Heights suspension bridge. They draped like a necklace of diamonds against the dark.

  “At dawn, when it’s clear, the buildings are pearly gray and rose. And the sun turns all the glass into fire.”

  She looked at him and the city he faced. “Is that why you bought the house, for the view?”

  “I grew up a few blocks from here. Whenever we walked in the park, my aunt would always point it out to me. She loved this house. She’d been to parties here as a child—she and my mother. They had been friends since childhood. I was the only child, for my parents, and then for my aunt and uncle. When I came back and learned they were gone … well, I couldn’t think of much of anything at first. Then I began to think about this house. It seemed right that I take it, live in it.”

  She laid a hand over his on the rail. “There’s nothing more difficult, is there, than to lose people you love and need?”

  “No.” When he looked at her, he saw that her eyes were dark and glowing with her own memories and with empathy for his. He brought a hand to her face, skimming back her hair with his fingers, molding her jawline with his palm. Her hand fluttered up to light on his wrist and trembled. Her voice was just as unsteady.

  “I should go.”

  “Yes, you should.” But he kept his hand on her face, his eyes on hers as he shifted to trap her body between his and the stone parapet. His free hand slid gently up her throat until her face was framed. “Have you ever been compelled to take a step that you knew was a mistake? You knew, but you couldn’t stop.”

  A haze was drifting over her mind, and she shook her head to clear it. “I—no. No, I don’t like to make mistakes.
But she already knew she was about to make one. His palms were rough and warm against her skin. His eyes were so dark, so intense. For a moment she blinked, assaulted by a powerful sense of déjà vu.

  But she’d never been here before, she assured herself as he skimmed his thumbs over the sensitive skin under her jawline.

  “Neither do I.”

  She moaned and shut her eyes, but he only brushed his lips over her brow. The light whisper of contact shot a spear of reaction through her. In the hot night she shuddered while his mouth moved gently over her temple.

  “I want you.” His voice was rough and tense as his fingers tightened in her hair. Her eyes were open again, wide and aware. In his she could see edgy desire. “I can barely breathe from wanting you. You’re my mistake, Deborah. The one I never thought I would make.”

  His mouth came down on hers, hard and hungry, with none of the teasing seduction she had expected and told herself she would have resisted. There was nothing of the smooth and sophisticated man she had dined with here. This was the reckless and dangerous man she had caught only glimpses of.

  He frightened her. He fascinated her. He seduced her.

  With no hesitation, no caution, no thought, she responded, meeting power for power and need for need.

  She didn’t feel the rough stone against her back, only the hard long length of him as his body pressed to hers. She could taste the zing of wine on his tongue and something darker, the potent flavor of passion barely in check. With a groan of pleasure, she pulled him closer until she could feel his heart thudding against hers. Beat for beat.

  She was more than he had dreamed. All silk and scent and long limbs. Her mouth was heated, yielding against his, then demanding. Her hands slid under his jacket, fingers flexing even as her head fell back in a taunting surrender that drove him mad.

  A pulse hammered in her throat, enticing him to press his lips there and explore the new texture, the new flavor, before he brought his mouth back to hers. With teeth he nipped, with tongue he soothed, pushing them closer and closer to the edge of reason. He swallowed her gasp as he stroked his hands down her, seeking, cupping, molding.

  He felt her shudder, then his own before he forced himself to grip tight to a last thin line of control. Very cautiously, like a man backing away from a sheer drop, he stepped away from her.

  Dazed, Deborah brought a hand to her head. Fighting to catch her breath, she stared at him. What kind of power did he have, she wondered, that he could turn her from a sensible woman into a trembling puddle of need?

  She turned, leaning over the rail and gulping air as though it were water and she dying of thirst. “I don’t think I’m ready for you,” she managed at length.

  “No. I don’t think I’m ready for you, either. But there won’t be any going back.”

  She shook her head. Her palms were pressed so hard into the rail that the stone was biting her skin. “I’ll have to think about that.”

  “Once you’ve turned certain corners, there’s no place to go but forward.”

  Calmer, she turned back to him. It was time, past time, to set the ground rules. For both of them. “Gage, however it might appear after what just happened, I don’t have affairs with men I hardly know.”

  “Good.” He, too, was calmer. His decision was made. “When we have ours, I want it to be exclusive.”

  Her voice chilled. “Obviously I’m not making myself clear. I haven’t decided if I want to be involved with you, and I’m a long way from sure if I’d want that involvement to end up in bed.”

  “You are involved with me.” Reaching out, he cupped the back of her neck before she could evade. “And we both want that involvement to end up in bed.”

  Very deliberately, she reached up and removed his hand. “I realize you’re used to women falling obligingly at your feet. I have no intention of joining the horde. And I make up my own mind.”

  “Should I kiss you again?”

  “No.” She threw a hand up and planted it solidly against his chest. In an instant she was reminded of how she had stood, just like this, with the man called Nemesis. The comparison left her shaken. “No. It was a lovely evening, Gage.” She took a long steadying breath. “I mean that. I enjoyed the company, the dinner and … and the view. I’d hate to see you spoil it completely by being arrogant and argumentative.”

  “It’s not being either to accept the inevitable. I don’t have to like it to accept it.” Something flickered in his eyes. “There is such a thing as destiny, Deborah. I had a long time to consider, and to come to terms with that.” His brows drew together in a frown as he looked at her. “God help both of us, but you’re part of mine.” He looked back, then offered a hand. “I’ll take you home.”

  Chapter 4

  Groaning, her eyes firmly shut, Deborah groped for the shrilling phone on her nightstand. She knocked over a book, a brass candlestick and a notepad before she managed to snag the receiver and drag it under the pillow.

  “Hello?”

  “O’Roarke?”

  She cleared her throat. “Yes.”

  “Mitchell here. We’ve got a problem.”

  “Problem?” She shoved the pillow off her head and squinted at her alarm clock. The only problem she could see was that her boss was calling her at 6:15 a.m. “Has the Slagerman trial been postponed? I’m scheduled for court at 9.”

  “No. It’s Parino.”

  “Parino?” Scrubbing a hand over her face, she struggled to sit up. “What about him?”

  “He’s dead.”

  “Dead.” She shook her head to clear her groggy brain. “What do you mean he’s dead?”

  “As in doornail,” Mitchell said tersely. “Guard found him about half an hour ago.”

  She wasn’t groggy now, but was sitting ramrod straight, brain racing. “But—but how?”

  “Knifed. Looks like he went up to the bars to talk to someone, and they shoved a stiletto through his heart.”

  “Oh, God.”

  “Nobody heard anything. Nobody saw anything,” Mitchell said in disgust. “There was a note taped to the bars. It said, ‘Dead birds don’t sing.’”

  “Somebody leaked that he was feeding us information.”

  “And you can bet that I’m going to find out who. Listen, O’Roarke, we’re not going to be able to muzzle the press on this one. I figured you’d want to hear it from me instead of on the news during your morning coffee.”

  “Yeah.” She pressed a hand to her queasy stomach. “Yeah, thanks. What about Santiago?”

  “No show yet. We’ve got feelers out, but if he’s gone to ground, it might be a while before we dig him up.”

  “They’ll be after him, too,” she said quietly. “Whoever arranged for Parino to be murdered will be after Ray Santiago.”

  “Then we’ll just have to find him first. You’re going to have to shake this off,” he told her. “I know it’s a tough break all around, but the Slagerman case is your priority now. The guy’s got himself a real slick lawyer.”

  “I can handle it.”

  “Never figured otherwise. Give him hell, kid.”

  “Yeah. Yeah, I will.” Deborah hung up and stared blankly into space until her alarm went off at 6:30.

  ***

  “Hey! Hey, beautiful.” Jerry Bower charged up the courthouse steps after Deborah. “Boy, that’s concentration,” he panted when he finally snagged her arm and stopped her. “I’ve been calling you for half a block.”

  “Sorry. I’m due in court in fifteen minutes.”

  He gave her a quick, smiling going-over. She’d pinned her hair back into a simple twist and wore pearl buttons at her ears. Her red linen suit was severely tailored and still managed to show off each subtle curve. The result was competent, professional and completely feminine.

  “If I was on the jury, I’d give you a guilty verdict before you finished your opening statement. You look incredible.”

  “I’m a lawyer,” she said tightly. “Not Miss November.”


  “Hey.” He had to race up three more steps to catch her. “Hey, look, I’m sorry. That was a poorly phrased compliment.”

  She found a slippery hold on her temper. “No, I’m sorry. I’m a little touchy this morning.”

  “I heard about Parino.”

  With a grim nod, Deborah continued up the steps to the high carved doors of the city courthouse. “News travels fast.”

  “He was a walking statistic, Deb. You can’t let it get to you.”

  “He deserved his day in court,” she said as she crossed the marble floor of the lobby and started toward a bank of elevators. “Even he deserved that. I knew he was afraid, but I didn’t take it seriously enough.”

  “Do you think it would have mattered?”

  “I don’t know.” It was that single question she would have to live with. “I just don’t know.”

  “Look, the mayor’s got a tough schedule today. There’s this dinner tonight, but I can probably slip out before the brandy and cigar stage. How about a late movie?”

  “I’m lousy company, Jerry.”

  “You know that doesn’t matter.”

  “It matters to me.” A ghost of a smile touched her lips. “I’d bite your head off again and hate myself.” She stepped into the elevator.

  “Counselor.” Jerry grinned and gave her a thumbs-up before the doors slid shut.

  The press was waiting for her on the fourth floor. Deborah had expected no less. Moving quickly, she waded through them, dispensing curt answers and no comments.

  “Do you really expect to get a jury to convict a pimp for knocking around a couple of his girls?”

  “I always expect to win when I go into court.”

  “Are you going to put the prostitutes on the stand?”

  “Former prostitutes,” she corrected, and let the question go unanswered.

  “Is it true Mitchell assigned you to this case because you’re a woman?”

  “The D.A. doesn’t choose his prosecutors by their sex.”

  “Do you feel responsible for the death of Carl Parino?”

  That stopped her on the threshold of the courtroom. She looked around and saw the reporter with curly brown hair, hungry brown eyes and a sarcastic smirk. Chuck Wisner. She’d run foul of him before and would again. In his daily column in the World, he preferred the sensational to the factual.

  “The D.A.’s office regrets that Carl Parino was murdered and not allowed his day in court.”

  In a quick, practiced move, he blocked her way. “But do you feel responsible? After all, you’re the one who turned the deal.”

  She choked back the urge to defend herself and met his eyes levelly. “We’re all responsible, Mr. Wisner. Excuse me.”

  He simply shifted, crowding her back from the door. “Any more encounters with Nemesis? What can you tell us about your personal experiences with the city’s newest hero?”

  She could feel her temper begin to fray, strand by strand. Worse, she knew that was exactly what he was hoping for. “Nothing that could compete with your fabrications. Now, if you’ll move aside, I’m busy.”

  “Not too busy to socialize with Gage Guthrie. Are you and he romantically involved? It makes a wild kind of triangle, doesn’t it? Nemesis, you, Guthrie.”

  “Get a life, Chuck,” she suggested, then elbowed him aside.

  She barely had enough time to settle behind the prosecutor’s table and open her briefcase when the jury filed in. She and the defense counsel had taken two days to select them, and she was satisfied with the mix of genders and races and walks of life. Still, she would have to convince those twelve men and women that a couple of prostitutes deserved justice.

  Turning slightly, she studied the two women in the first row. They had both followed her instructions and dressed simply, with a minimum of makeup and hair spray. She knew they were on trial today, as much as the man charged with assault and battery. They huddled together, two young, pretty women who might have been mistaken for college students. Deborah sent them a reassuring smile before she
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