Night shadow, p.7
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       Night Shadow, p.7

         Part #2 of Night Tales series by Nora Roberts
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  Touching her. She snatched her hand away, reminding herself that was precisely the problem. “I don’t want this—situation to go any further, for several good reasons.”

  “Mmm-hmm.”

  She knocked his hand away when he began to toy with the pearl at her ear. “I mean it. I realize you’re used to picking and discarding women like poker chips, but I’m not interested. So ante up with someone else.”

  Yes, she was heating up nicely. “That’s a very interesting metaphor. I could say that there are some winnings I prefer to hold on to rather than gamble with.”

  Firing up, she turned to him. “Let’s get this straight. I’m not this week’s prize. I have no intention of being Wednesday’s brunette following Tuesday’s blonde.”

  “So, we’re back to those feet again.”

  “You might consider it a joke, but I take my life, personally and professionally, very seriously.”

  “Maybe too seriously.”

  She stiffened. “That’s my business. The bottom line here is that I’m not interested in becoming one of your conquests. I’m not interested in becoming tangled up with you in any way, shape or form.” She glanced over when the limo glided to the curb. “And this is my stop.”

  He moved quickly, surprising them both, dragging her across the seat so that she lay across his lap. “I’m going to see to it that you’re so tangled up you’ll never pull free.” Hard and sure, his mouth met hers.

  She didn’t struggle. She didn’t hesitate. Every emotion she had felt along the drive had been honed down to one: desire. Irrevocable. Instantaneous. Irresistible. Her fingers dived into his hair as her mouth moved restless and hungry under his.

  She wanted, as she had never wanted before. Never dreamed of wanting. The ache of it was so huge it left no room for reason. The rightness of it was so clear it left no room for doubt. There was only the moment—and the taking.

  He wasn’t patient as he once had been. Instead, his mouth was fevered as it raced over her face, streaked down her throat. With an urgent murmur, she pulled his lips back to hers.

  Never before had he known anyone who had matched his needs so exactly. There was a fire burning in her, and he had only to touch to make it leap and spark. He’d known desire before, but not this gnawing, tearing desperation.

  He wanted to drag her down on the seat, pull and tug at that slim, tidy suit until she was naked and burning beneath him.

  But he also wanted to give her comfort and compassion and love. He would have to wait until she was ready to accept it.

  With real regret, he gentled his hands and drew her away. “You’re everything I want,” he told her. “And I’ve learned to take what I want.”

  Her eyes were wide. As the passion faded from them, it was replaced by a dazed fear that disturbed him. “It’s not right,” she whispered. “It’s not right that you should be able to do this to me.”

  “No, it’s not right for either of us. But it’s real.”

  “I won’t be controlled by my emotions.”

  “We all are.”

  “Not me.” Shaky, she reached down for her shoes. “I’ve got to go.”

  He reached across her to unlatch the door. “You will belong to me.”

  She shook her head. “I have to belong to myself first.” Climbing out, she bolted.

  Gage watched her retreat before he opened his fisted hand. He counted six hairpins and smiled.

  ***

  Deborah spent the evening with Suzanne and Marjorie in their tiny apartment. Over the Chinese takeout she’d supplied, she discussed the case with them. It helped, pouring herself into her work helped. It left little time to brood about Gage and her response to him. A response that worried her all the more since she had felt much the same stunning sexual pull toward another man.

  Because she wanted to turn to both, she couldn’t turn to either. It was a matter of ethics. To Deborah, when a woman began to doubt her ethics, she had to doubt everything.

  It helped to remind herself that there were things she could control. Her work, her lifestyle, her ambitions. Tonight she hoped to do something to control the outcome of the case she was trying.

  Each time the phone rang, she answered it herself while Marjorie and Suzanne sat on the sofa, hands clutched. On the fifth call, she hit pay dirt.

  “Marjorie?”

  She took a chance. “No.”

  “Suzanne, you bitch.”

  Though a grim smile touched her lips, she made her voice shake. “Who is this?”

  “You know damn well who it is. It’s Jimmy.”

  “I’m not supposed to talk to you.”

  “Fine. Just listen. If you think I messed you up before, it’s nothing to what I’m going to do to you if you testify tomorrow. You little slut, I picked you up off the street where you were earning twenty a trick and set you up with high-rolling johns. I own you, and don’t you forget it. Do yourself a favor, Suze, tell that tight-assed D.A. that you’ve changed your mind, that you and Marjorie lied about everything. Otherwise, I’ll hurt you, real bad. Understand?”

  “Yes.” She hung up and stared at the phone. “Oh, yeah. I understand.” Deborah turned to Marjorie and Suzanne. “Keep your door locked tonight and don’t go out. He doesn’t know it yet, but he just hanged himself.”

  Pleased with herself, she left them. It had taken a great deal of fast talking to get a tap on Marjorie and Suzanne’s line. And it would take more to subpoena Slagerman’s phone records. But she would do it. When Slagerman took the stand in a few days, both he and his defense counsel were in for a surprise.

  She decided to walk a few blocks before trying to hunt up a cab. The night was steamy. Even the buildings were sweating. Across town there was a cool room, a cool shower, a cool drink waiting. But she didn’t want to go home, alone, yet. Alone it would be too easy to think about her life. About Gage.

  She had lost control in his arms in the afternoon. That was becoming a habit she didn’t care for. It wasn’t possible to deny that she was attracted to him. More, pulled toward him in a basic, almost primitive way that was all but impossible to resist.

  Yet, she also felt something, a very strong something, for a man who wore a mask.

  How could she, who had always prized loyalty, fidelity, above all else, have such deep and dramatic feelings for two different men?

  She hoped she could blame her own physicality. To want a man wasn’t the same as to need one. She wasn’t ready to need one, much less two.

  What she needed was control, over her emotions, her life, her career. For too much of her life she had been a victim of circumstance. Her parents’ tragic deaths, and the depthless well of fear and grief that had followed it. The demands of her sister’s job that had taken them both from city to city to city.

  Now she was making her own mark, in her own way, in her own time. For the past eighteen months she had worked hard, with a single-minded determination to earn and deserve the reputation as a strong and honest representative of the justice system. All she had to do was keep moving forward on the same straight path.

  As she stepped into the shadows of the World Building, she heard someone whisper her name. She knew that voice, had heard it in her dreams—dreams she’d refused to acknowledge.

  He seemed to flow out of the dark, a shadow, a silhouette, then a man. She could see his eyes, the gleam of them behind the mask. The longing came so quickly, so strongly, she nearly moaned aloud.

  And when he took her hand to draw her into the shadows, she didn’t resist.

  “You seem to be making it a habit to walk the streets at night alone.”

  “I had work.” Automatically she pitched her voice low to match his. “Are you following me?”

  He didn’t answer, but his fingers curled around hers in a way that spoke of possession.

  “What do you want?”

  “It’s dangerous for you.” She’d left her hair down, he saw, so that it flowed around her shoulders. “Those who murdered Parino wi
ll be watching you.” He felt her pulse jump, but not with fear. He recognized the difference between fear and excitement.

  “What do you know about Parino?”

  “They won’t be bothered by the fact you’re a woman, not if you’re in their way. I don’t want to see you hurt.”

  Unable to help herself, she leaned toward him. “Why?”

  As helpless as she, he lifted both of her hands to his lips. He clutched them there, his grip painfully tight. His eyes met hers over them. “You know why.”

  “It isn’t possible.” But she didn’t, couldn’t step away when he brushed a hand over her hair. “I don’t know who you are. I don’t understand what you do.”

  “Sometimes neither do I.”

  She wanted badly to step into his arms, to learn what it was like to be held by him, to have his mouth hot on hers. But there were reasons, she told herself as she held back. Too many reasons. She had to be strong, strong enough not only to resist him, but to use him.

  “Tell me what you know. About Parino, about his murder. Let me do my job.”

  “Leave it alone. That’s all I have to tell you.”

  “You know something. I can see it.” With a disgusted breath, she stepped back. She needed the distance, enough of it so that she could hear her brain and remember that she was an officer of the court and he a wrench in the system in which she believed fervently. “It’s your duty to tell me.”

  “I know my duty.”

  She tossed back her hair. Attracted to him? Hell, no, she was infuriated by him. “Sure, skulking around shadows, dispensing your own personal sense of justice when and where the whim strikes. That’s not duty, Captain Bonehead, it’s ego.” When he didn’t respond, she let out a hiss of breath and stepped toward him again. “I could bring you up on charges for withholding information. This is police business, D.A.’s business, not a game.”

  “No, it isn’t a game.” His voice remained low, but she thought she caught hints of both amusement and annoyance. “But it has pawns. I wouldn’t like to see you used as one.”

  “I can take care of myself.”

  “So you continue to say. You’re out of your league this time, Counselor. Leave it alone.” He stepped back.

  “Just hold on.” She rushed forward, but he was gone. “Damn it, I wasn’t finished arguing with you.” Frustrated, she kicked the side of the building, missing his shin by inches. “Leave it alone,” she muttered. “Not on your life.”

  Chapter 5

  Dripping, swearing, Deborah rushed toward the door. Knocks at 6:45 a.m. were the same as phone calls at three in the morning. They spelled trouble. When she opened the door and found Gage, she knew her instincts had been on-target.

  “Get you out of the shower?” he asked her.

  She pushed an impatient hand through her wet hair. “Yes. What do you want?”

  “Breakfast.” Without waiting for an invitation, he strolled inside. “Very nice,” he decided.

  She’d used the soft cream of ivory with slashes of color—emerald, crimson, sapphire—in the upholstery of the low sofa, in the scatter of rugs on the buffed wood floor. He noted, too, that she had left a damp trail on that same floor.

  “Looks like I’m about five minutes early.”

  Realizing the belt of her robe was loose, she snapped it tight. “No, you’re not, because you shouldn’t be here at all. Now—”

  But he cut her off with a long, hard kiss. “Mmm, you’re still wet.”

  She was surprised the water wasn’t steaming off her. Surprised with the sudden urge that poured through her just to lay her head against his shoulder. “Look, I don’t have time for this. I have to be in court—”

  “In two hours,” he said with a nod. “Plenty of time for breakfast.”

  “If you think I’m going to fix you breakfast, you’re doomed to disappointment.”

  “I wouldn’t dream of it.” He skimmed a glance down her short silky robe. The single embrace had made him achingly aware that she wore nothing else. “I like you in blue. You should always wear blue.”

  “I appreciate the fashion advice, but—” She broke off when another knock sounded.

  “I’ll get it,” he offered.

  “I can answer my own door.” She stomped over to it, her temper fraying. She was never at her best in the morning, even when she only had herself to deal with. “I’d like to know who hung out the sign that said I was having an open house this morning.” Wrenching the door open, she was confronted by a white-jacketed waiter pushing an enormous tray.

  “Ah, that would be breakfast. Over by the window, I think,” Gage said, gesturing the waiter in. “The lady likes a view.”

  “Yes, sir, Mr. Guthrie.”

  Deborah set her hands on her hips. It was difficult to take a stand before 7 in the morning, but it had to be done. “Gage, I don’t know what you’re up to, but it isn’t going to work. I’ve tried to make my position clear, and at the moment, I don’t have the time or the inclination … Is that coffee?”

  “Yes.” Smiling, Gage lifted the big silver pot and poured a cup. The scent of it seduced her. “Would you like some?”

  Her mouth moved into a pout. “Maybe.”

  “You should like this blend.” Crossing to her, he held the cup under her nose. “It’s one of my personal favorites.”

  She sipped, shut her eyes. “You don’t play fair.”

  “No.”

  She opened her eyes to study the waiter, who moved briskly about his business. “What else is there?”

  “Shirred eggs, grilled ham, croissants, orange juice—fresh, of course.”

  “Of course.” She hoped she wasn’t drooling.

  “Raspberries and cream.”

  “Oh.” She folded her tongue inside her mouth to keep it from hanging out.

  “Would you like to sit?”

  She wasn’t a weak woman, Deborah assured herself of that. But there were rich and wonderful smells filling her living room. “I guess.” Giving up, she took one of the ladder-back chairs the waiter had pulled up to the table.

  Gage passed the waiter a bill and gave him instructions to pick up the dishes in an hour. She couldn’t bring herself to complain when Gage topped off her cup.

  “I suppose I should ask what brought all this on.”

  “I wanted to see what you looked like in the morning.” He poured juice out of a crystal pitcher. “This seemed like the best way. For now.” He toasted her with his cup, his eyes lingering on her face, free of makeup and unframed by her slicked-back hair. “You’re beautiful.”

  “And you’re charming.” She touched the petals of the red rose beside her plate. “But that doesn’t change anything.” Thoughtful, she tapped a finger on the peach-colored cloth. “Still, I don’t see any reason to let all this food go to waste.”

  “You’re a practical woman.” He’d counted on it. “It’s one of the things I find most attractive about you.”

  “I don’t see what’s attractive about being practical.” She cut a small slice of ham and slipped it between her lips. His stomach muscles tightened.

  “It can be … very attractive.”

  She did her best to ignore the tingles sprinting through her system and concentrate on a safer kind of hunger. “Tell me, do you always breakfast this extravagantly?”

  “When it seems appropriate.” He laid a hand over hers. “Your eyes are shadowed. Didn’t you sleep well?”

  She thought of the long and restless night behind her. “No, I didn’t.”

  “The case?”

  She only shrugged. Her insomnia had had nothing to do with the case and everything to do with the man she had met in the shadows. Yet now she was here, just as fascinated with, just as frustrated by, the man she sat with in the sunlight.

  “Would you like to talk about it?”

  She glanced up. In his eyes she saw patience, understanding and something beneath it all she knew would burn to the touch. “No.” Cautious, she drew her hand away again.
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  He found himself enjoying the not-so-subtle pursuit and retreat. “You work too hard.”

  “I do what I have to do. What about you? I don’t even know what you do, not really.”

  “Buy and sell, attend meetings, read reports.”

  “I’m sure it’s more complicated than that.”

  “And often more boring.”

  “That’s hard to believe.”

  Steam and fragrance erupted when he broke open a flaky croissant. “I build things, buy things.”

  She wouldn’t be put off that easily. “Such as?”

  He smiled at her. “I own this building.”

  “Trojan Enterprises owns this building.”

  “Right. I own Trojan.”

  “Oh.”

  Her reaction delighted him. “Most of the Guthrie money came from real estate, and that’s still the basis. We’ve diversified quite a bit over the past ten years. So one branch handles the shipping, another the mining, another the manufacturing.”

  “I see.” He wasn’t an ordinary man, she thought. Then again she didn’t seem to be attracted to ordinary men lately. “You’re a long way from the twenty-fifth.”

  “Yeah.” A shadow flickered into his eyes. “Looks that way.” He lifted a spoonful of berries and cream and offered it.

  Deborah let the fruit lie on her tongue a moment. “Do you miss it?”

  He knew if he kissed her now she would taste sharp, fresh, alive. “I don’t let myself miss it. There’s a difference.”

  “Yes.” She understood. It was the same way she didn’t let herself miss her family, those who were gone and those who were so many miles away.

  “You’re very appealing when you’re sad, Deborah.” He trailed a finger over the back of her hand. “In fact, irresistible.”

  “I’m not sad.”

  “You are irresistible.”

  “Don’t start.” She made a production out of pouring more coffee. “Can I ask you a business question?”

  “Sure.”

  “If the owner, or owners, of a particular piece of property didn’t want that ownership publicized, could they hide it?”

  “Easily. Bury it in paper corporations, in different tax numbers. One corporation owns another, another owns that, and so on. Why?”

  But she leaned forward, waving his question aside. “How difficult would it be to track down the actual owners?”

  “That would depend on how much trouble they’d gone to, and how much reason they had to keep their names off the books.”

  “If someone was determined enough, and patient enough, those names could be found?”

  “Eventually. If you found the common thread.”

  “Common thread?”

  “A name, a number, a place. Something that would pop up over and over.” He would have been concerned by her line of questioning if he hadn’t been one step ahead of her. Still, it was best to be cautious. “What are you up to, Deborah?”

  “My job.”

 
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