Wendy Cramer did not own a car.
She didn’t like driving in the city and lived within a few blocks of the answering service office where she worked, so there had never been a need for her own vehicle. But tonight, as she rode toward the man of her dreams, she couldn’t help thinking it wasn’t much of a way to enter her new life. Stepping off a smelly city bus coated with dirt and road salt would almost ruin all the efforts she’d gone through to prepare for this eventual night.
“Not eventual anymore,” she whispered, still shocked her love had begged her to meet him tonight. “It’s finally here.”
He had to go away, he’d said, and wanted to make sure she’d be waiting for him. He must know there was no chance she wouldn’t; she had made her devotion clear. As had he.
She’d had to wonder if the impassioned invitation had been about something else. Perhaps a way to get her to come to him so he could make love to her before he went away?
She quivered at the thought. Her body, untouched by any man for so many years, ached, and she allowed images of the passionate kisses he would offer her to fill her mind. She felt like one of the heroines of the romance books she received in the mail every month.
Lost in the fantasy, Wendy almost missed her stop. She noticed the sign as the driver was about to pull away from her final destination. Leaping to her feet, she cried, “Wait!”
The others on the uncrowded bus watched her progress down the center aisle. With her newly colored and freshly cut hair, more makeup than she ever wore, and a new dress, she didn’t mind the stares. She needed to get used to them, didn’t she? If-when-Rafe was restored to his position, whatever that was, she would probably be in the public eye. Doing charitable works and whatnot, like Princess Di, who had been her favorite royal.
Getting off at the stop, she watched the bus chug away with a belch of inky black smoke that snaked into the cold air before dissipating. When alone, she quickly looked around. She had never come to this part of the city at night. On the south side of the harbor, this was an industrial zone, crowded with shipping companies and docks servicing the big freighters. Nothing at all like the trendy Harbor Place side, which she could see across the water. Lights from the stores and restaurants brightened the sky. A whole world of people likely bustled about inside.
Unlike here, where she was completely alone, not another soul in sight.
Trepidation crawled through her. Where was Rafe? Surely he wouldn’t leave her alone in such a deserted place, at the mercy of anyone who happened by? He was too gentlemanly.
She glanced at her watch. Eight fifty-five. You’re a few minutes early. Don’t panic. But something made her pull her cell phone out of her purse and keep it in her hand.
As the minutes ticked by, her nervousness rose. She noted the hiding places around each corner and the way the long shadows of the monstrously tall buildings darkened the moon-brightened landscape. The ships docked nearby appeared almost ghostly. The current slapped wetly against them, sounding like the thwack of an angry hand against flesh.
“Where are you?” she whispered.
Suddenly, the phone rang, the name Smith appearing on the caller ID. Hoping he was using a false identity, she answered, “Rafe?”
“Darling, I’m so sorry I’ve kept you waiting.”
His voice. At last. So warm and deep and masculine. She wanted to cry from relief, not only because he hadn’t stood her up, but also because he was real. Though she had never permitted herself to dwell on it, the awful possibility that someone had been playing a cruel joke on her had flashed through her mind once or twice.
It wasn’t true. Her faith hadn’t been misplaced.
“Where are you? I’m afraid. I’ve been out here all alone.”
“I know, I know.”
She sniffed, then frowned. “What do you mean? How could you know?”
“I’m so sorry. I saw you arrive. I wanted everything to be perfect, so I didn’t come down right away.”
“I kept you waiting; how rude of me, not thinking of your discomfort.”
Not understanding, she asked, “Where are you?”
“Step out of the shelter and look up.”
Still confused, she did as he asked, not sure what she was looking for. The high-rises around her were closed and deserted. But a few random lights piercing the darkness hinted at late-working employees. Was he among them?
“Turn and walk to the north side of the awning. See the building directly in front of you?”
The building directly in front of her wasn’t a building at all. It was a construction site. A midrise only half completed, it stood skeletal against the night sky-bare, raw, and imposing, a shell made of metal beams, wood planking, and rough cement.
Then she saw it: a glimmer of illumination on the highest level. She tilted her head all the way back, narrowing her eyes, craning for a better look. As the light moved, she tried to make out the shape of the person holding it. It was, however, far too high, and too dark. “Oh, Rafe, is that you all the way up there?”
“It is, Wendy. I’m watching you with a pair of binoculars.”
She bit her lip in sheer nervousness. He had gotten a good look at her before she’d even known he was there.
“This is my surprise.”
“But you’re trespassing!”
“No, this is my building, condominiums and office suites, an investment to keep me in comfort for many years. And here on the top floor will be my penthouse, my home.”
Oh, goodness. She had known he had wealth, but she had thought most of it was hidden for his protection. “Has something happened? Can you come out of hiding?”
“Yes, how quick you are. All is well and the world is perfect, especially from up here. Will you forgive my deception for saying I was going away? I wanted you to come, right away, to share this night with me. But I didn’t want to spoil the surprise.”
Surprise. She almost gasped, understanding washing over her. Was he saying he wanted to show her his under-construction home because he wanted her to share it? Good Lord, had she come here tonight for a marriage proposal?
“Be careful, but do hurry. Cross the street; go through the gate, which is open. Proceed to the elevator on the east side of the building. You won’t miss it-I’ve left a light on for you.”
She hesitated, the hint of nervousness returning. She had no fear of Rafe; the man loved her. But she had to admit the prospect of going up into the dizzying heights of that frail-looking, half-built structure frightened her. “Is it safe?”
“Oh, sweet, of course it is safe. I wouldn’t put you in danger. I would come down to meet you but I am not quite ready; I want everything just right. But I’ll be there to carry you over the threshold when you arrive at the top.”
Carry her over the threshold. She felt like swooning.
Despite the cold night breeze blowing across her body and chilling her hose-covered legs, she felt his warmth as he added, “I have something very special for you.”
A ring? Her whole body tingled with excitement. “All right. I’m on my way.”
“I-and your future-await.”
The connection ended, and she hugged the phone to her chest, so grateful, so filled with anticipation she could hardly stand it. Tonight would bring everything she’d ever dreamed of. Her perfect future with her perfect man.
Tugging her coat tightly around her as protection from the wind, which had picked up and whipped over the choppy water, she hurried across the street. The light of the bus shelter didn’t extend far, and his from above certainly didn’t either, but she easily found the gate. As he’d promised, it was unlocked. Beyond it, safety reflectors shone a path through the construction zone.
Entering, she got only a few steps before a shrill noise assaulted her ears, the screech making her jerk to a halt. She remained still for a moment, her heart thudding against her ribs. But she quickly realized it was the winter wind, gustily whistling into the openings of the structure, rushing through to burst forth from the other side. Stop jumping at shadows.
She laughed at herself. The noise had been startling, even eerie. But certainly not supernatural, and nothing to be frightened of. Though she did wish the air had remained calm. As strong as the gusts were down here, they had to be much worse high above.
“He wouldn’t bring you up there if they were,” she whispered.
She proceeded carefully, alone and nearly blind in a world of bare steel and hard concrete. Nails strewn on the ground, sharp scraps of metal with jagged edges, piles of debris and broken drywall, heavy equipment to maneuver past. She walked a gauntlet of construction material, constantly reminding herself the price was worth it for the payoff coming after it.
When she saw the cagelike elevator, she picked up her pace, the glow from within beckoning like a lighthouse from a rocky shore. She breathed a deep sigh of relief the moment she stepped inside, even though it was one of those open-construction types, like none she’d ever ridden in before, not exactly the picture of safety.
And then she laughed. “You charmer.” Because the light he’d mentioned was provided by two tall candles in glass holders. Despite the wind drifting through the grating and making the flames dance, they remained lit, casting soft illumination and banishing the shadows. What a romantic gesture.
It wasn’t the only one. Wendy stared down at the floor, watching thin streams of red wax drip down the candles to land on the bouquet of red roses lying at their base. No one had ever given her roses.
“You’re wonderful,” she whispered. And when she saw the fluffy stuffed teddy bear beside the flowers, tears of joy spilled onto her cheeks.
She wanted to hurry, but wasn’t entirely sure how to operate the elevator. Fortunately, he seemed to have anticipated that. Taped to the handle was a handwritten note with instructions. At the bottom of it, in a postscript, he had written, Please enjoy a glass of champagne before you begin this journey up to my world. I already have one and will be drinking to you the moment I hear the elevator start to ascend. We will toast to our lives together on your arrival.
Had there ever been a more romantic man?
Wendy quickly looked around. She hadn’t even noticed the open champagne bottle, wrapped in a towel, standing in an ice bucket. It had been nearly hidden by the flowers, which had taken up all her attention. Behind it was a tapered glass.
Though not much of a drinker, she wouldn’t refuse the offer. Not only so she could toast to him, but also because she needed to calm her nerves. So she poured. And she sipped. She had never liked champagne, and she liked this dry, bitter stuff even less. Still, she drank again, swallowing until she’d downed the glass, feeling the bubbles tickle her nose and the effervescent alcohol hit her stomach.
Feeling fortified, she closed the grated door with a clang of metal, screwed her courage tight, and followed Rafe’s operating instructions. Nothing happened at first; then the steel enclosure finally creaked to life. With a grinding of gears, the elevator began to move.
Funny, the world already seemed to be lighter, somehow. As she slowly began to rise, she began to feel light, weightless. As if she were floating. Which was as it should be. She was being released from the darkness of her dreary, average life. Unencumbered, free.
Up she went. Higher. Toward the heavens. And toward her destiny.
Almost as if she were flying.
His little bird was unconscious before she reached the fifteenth floor.
Wanting to ensure Wendy Cramer’s arrival would go exactly the way he’d planned it, Darwin had watched her every move from the nanny-cam teddy bear he’d left for her. So he witnessed the precise moment of the woman’s collapse. Perfect timing.
So far, she had not disappointed him, reacting exactly as he’d expected her to. From her accepting his urgent invitation, to her nervousness building as he kept her waiting, to her downing a glass of champagne to combat her fear, everything had gone as planned.
“You are so shockingly predictable,” he said when the elevator finally came to a stop on his level. She might have thought she’d started its ascent, using his directions, but she hadn’t. Wanting to delay her after she’d consumed the champagne, to give the ketamine a few extra moments to do its job, he had lied in the note, and used the landing call station on this level to get the elevator moving. “You had so many chances to avoid this fate and squandered them all.”
She could have refused to come, of course. Only an utter fool would believe the nonsense he’d been spoon-feeding her for weeks. A member of an anonymous royal family in hiding? A prince falling passionately in love with a timid operator he’d never even seen? God, it was a wonder the idiotic woman had survived to adulthood.
“How foolish you were to not even question the name on the phone.” He’d intentionally called her with that telephone, for a number of reasons. Not least of which was to give her another chance to defy his opinion of her, develop some modicum of good sense, and back away.
She’d blazed forward instead. Despite the name. Despite the sound of his voice-not an accented word. Right past a sign identifying the under-construction building as the new headquarters for a major local shipping company.
No penthouse. No condos. No royal investment.
“And any teenage girl knows better than to drink from an unattended bottle someone else opened. You stupid, awful woman. Didn’t you notice the taste?”
She moaned. Though he had allowed adequate time, he moved quickly. The drug was very fast-acting, but he hadn’t wanted her out for long. And despite the bitter taste, he hadn’t been sure the twit would drink only one glass, so he couldn’t lace the champagne too heavily.
Good thing he had expected her to fib about her weight. He’d dosed her for a woman twenty pounds heavier than she portrayed herself to be. By his calculations, one glass would keep her down for about an hour.
One hour should suffice for what he had to do. Ten or fifteen minutes at most here, leaving plenty of time to get out of the area. He would take up his position at the vantage point he’d selected earlier, a perfect spot to watch what happened.
“I kept my promise, didn’t I?” he told her as he dragged her outside. “No walls, no doors. You can be seen by anyone looking in the right direction, as long as they’re at the appropriate height.”
He was counting on it.
As he had told her on the phone, he had been busy preparing for her arrival. He had severed the security netting and covered the safety lights. The tape was brand-new, the knife sharpened. He had only to get her ready and depart.
The steely blade of the knife glittered in the darkness. Cutting off her clothes, he took care not to let it nick her plump flesh, not wanting to hurt her.
He didn’t want to do anything to her. He just wanted her to stop polluting his world with her presence. Having no godlike delusions, he couldn’t make the choice between life or death. He could only put her in the position of having to do it herself. She could adapt, or she could die.
So far, she was on a direct course for death. But she might surprise him yet.
Once he’d stripped her bare, he rolled her onto her stomach. Grabbing the duct tape with one gloved hand, he wrapped it around her wrists, securing them together behind her back. More tape for her eyes-he wound it around her head several times, so it stuck to itself, to her hair, to her skin.
She moaned again. “Shh, my dear,” he murmured, not worried. She might be fighting to regain consciousness, but there was only so much a body could do against an unfamiliar narcotic.
The wind howled wildly through the top floor of the building, which swayed a little under its power. He couldn’t have chosen more perfect weather. The shriek the air made as it rushed past the metal frame was reminiscent of a woman’s scream. It would disconcert her-terrify her even more.
“I do wish I could stay and say hello to you in person, after all this time. But it wouldn’t be prudent to wait until things are over to take my leave.” He stared down at her naked body, pale and helpless in the moonlight, wondering why he felt no pity. Why he never felt pity, never experienced remorse or concern for a single one of them. His victims. His sheep.
He’d been born without the gene, he supposed.
“I’m not merciless,” he told her. “You have a chance. Don’t lose your head; use your brain for once and you might survive this. Embarrassed in the light of day when you’re found by the construction crew, but otherwise safe and sound.”
As long as she didn’t lose her head.
With a smile and a softly blown kiss, he took his leave of her. He tucked the tape and the knife into his knapsack, along with the minilaptop into which he had plugged the nanny-cam receiver, and entered the elevator. During its long descent, he removed everything-the note, the bear, the roses, and the candles. He even looked for clumps of wax or a random flower petal. Though he had no confidence in the FBI agents who pursued him, there was no point in making things easy for them. The phone had been clue enough.
Reaching the ground floor, he watched for any sign of life, then quickly strode across the deserted street. He glanced at his watch-another forty minutes, at least, before she awoke.
He had parked down a side alley, a few blocks away, and, once inside his vehicle, made his way out of the area. Careful to stay away from intersections with cameras that might record his passing, he took backstreets, avoiding streetlights in favor of stop signs.
Everything went perfectly. At ten twenty, he entered the upscale hotel on the opposite side of the harbor. He’d checked in earlier, booking a room on the twenty-fifth floor, facing the water, due south. Once in his room, he didn’t turn on the light, moving across the darkness to the window. He had already set up the telescope, training it on his point of interest. Within seconds, he was looking into the top floor of the site he’d left a short time ago.
From here, he had an excellent vantage point of the perimeter along the north- and east-facing sides. The west portion of the building, which fronted the street and was out of his line of sight, was blocked by a temporary wall, nowhere for her to go.
No temporary wall guarded the remaining three sides of the structure, though, not since he’d cut away the safety netting. His only real worry was that she would move toward the southern edge. He couldn’t see it at all. What a disappointment that would be, to have set up something so entertaining and then miss the show.
And there would be a show. He had told her she could avoid it. He knew she wouldn’t.
A glance at his watch confirmed that it had been more than an hour since she’d drunk the champagne. “Come on, wake up now; I have other things to do.” Namely, drive to an area not far from here, where the woman he was truly interested in awaited his response. The moment this was over, he intended to pack up his things, slip quietly from the hotel, and head to Samantha’s.
How delicious to write to her while parked outside of her building.
He could make it even more delicious by using some of the knowledge he had gained while visiting her apartment. But that might be too much for now. He didn’t want to frighten her; he merely wanted to intrigue her. As she intrigued him.
Unlike Miss Wendy Cramer.
Suddenly a movement. A shape in the darkness. Awake at last.
“Yes, yes, you’re confused, aren’t you? Not sure if you’re even conscious, or you’re having a nightmare. Lost in blackness.”
A long minute passed. She was trying to get her head to stop spinning, still under the effects of the drug. Shocked, terrified.
Not a dream. Cold. What’s happened? Rafe, where are you?
He practically heard her every thought.
Where am I? So dark! Why can’t I see?
Realization sinking in.
My hands! Oh, God, what have you done? Why are you doing this?
A flash of white. Her naked body, struggling to her knees, then managing to stand. Her balance uncertain, she staggered forward.
She stood no more than five feet from the edge of the building.
“Careful, now. Don’t panic.”
But she did. Of course she did. Fool.
She could have sat back down, remained in place. Felt her way an inch at a time, making sure there was floor beneath her before moving at all. Waited for rescue. Used her fucking brain.
Instead, the stupid bitch let her terror overwhelm her.
Blind and bound, only her feet moving, she spun in a frenzied circle. She staggered drunkenly, somehow oblivious to the clues to where she was. The cold cement floor. The wind blowing wildly across her body. Perhaps even the softly audible lap of the water far below. Christ, it was as if she’d forgotten where she had been headed before she’d blacked out.
Then, of course, a step too far. She reached the eastern edge, so close to falling he would swear her toes had actually hit empty air.
And she knew it.
Surprisingly, she had some fight in her. Wendy Cramer pulled back just in time, spinning away from the drop-off. Sheer terror and the fight-or-flight instinct sent her running in the opposite direction, away from the danger. Unfortunately for her, she couldn’t really determine the opposite direction, being blind, bound, and drugged like that.
She ran right off the north side of the building.
Interesting. She obviously hadn’t anticipated it. There had been no jerk back, no attempt to avoid the fall. The panicked woman had truly thought she was running on solid surface up until the very second that surface disappeared beneath her feet.
Darwin tsked, having been proved right yet again. Had there ever been any doubt?
Watching her descent, he wondered what she was thinking. That she would fall forever? No, several long seconds at most. But what lovely seconds, and how he enjoyed them.
His Wendy had done exactly what he’d thought she would do. His little bird had flown. Oh, how she’d flown.
True to his word, Alec was on track to get her home before tomorrow. Barely. They turned onto Sam’s street with about five minutes to spare.
The ride from D.C. had been a mostly silent one. Alec appeared frustrated by the wasted day and their failure to engage his suspect, his pose reflecting his irritation. The sexy, smiling, maybe-verging-on-flirtatious man had been replaced by this scowling, hard-edged agent, who looked ready to pick a fight with anyone who crossed his path. Including her.
It wasn’t merely frustration over the case; something else had happened. His mood had gone dark back there in the conference room, right around the time he told her he’d been shot.
Maybe he had cued in to her reaction. Because while Sam’s first thought had been genuine concern for his well-being, she had also been taken aback to learn he was shot by a woman. Given the way he refused to discuss it, and had averted his eyes during that refusal, her curiosity had grown. Sam had some experience with men who averted their eyes when they were trying to hide something involving a woman, or when they were ashamed. Her ex had often done the former, though he’d rarely felt the latter.
She just hadn’t expected it of Alec.
She shouldn’t think of him in those terms, or in any personal terms. Simply because they worked well together and she enjoyed talking to him-both the serious issues and the unexpected lighter moments-didn’t mean she had the right to be disappointed in him. Disappointment indicated far too much emotional involvement. She had no stake in what Alec did.
But she couldn’t deny she’d felt let down, wondering if he was the type to get himself into trouble with women. Considering one had shot him, she had to think that’d be a big ten-four.
“Almost there,” he said, breaking the heavy, thought-filled silence. “I’m sure you’re ready to be home.”
She had the feeling he intended to escort her to her door, say good-bye, and never see her again, unless the psychopath he sought reached out to her once more. Which should have been a relief, given how annoyed she’d been by his intrusion into her life a few short days ago.
What was she supposed to do, forget about this Darwin, this Professor? Act like his world had never brushed against her own and the FBI had never whisked her away to help them? Go back to her regularly scheduled life?
She was in this. Moreover, she wanted to be in this. She had reached out to the FBI once before, when she realized how deeply in trouble her grandmother had gotten, only to be left feeling abandoned and helpless. Now she was no longer helpless. She had played a part today.
How could she give up just because their first efforts to engage the killer had failed?
There was more to it, however.
Sam wasn’t ready to go into her apartment and watch Alec Lambert drive away, never to see him again. Something inside her had awakened during their long, quiet hours together in the conference room. A bit of her spirit, perhaps.
Even more surprising, so had her long-dormant libido. One intense, steady look at him, with all the caution lights in her brain turned off, all the hurt pride and rejected-woman anger shoved aside, had forced her to acknowledge the truth.
The man was sex on a stick, to put it in Tricia terms. A pure confection of masculine heat, all hard-bodied and hot enough to burn anyone who got too close.
In that moment, she’d wanted him. Not only mentally acknowledging how good-looking he was, or how much she liked the feel of his hand on her shoulder. She had wanted him sexually, with the kind of intensity she didn’t know she was even capable of experiencing anymore. The desire had dimmed somewhat with his admission about being shot by a woman, and her suspicions of why, but it hadn’t gone away completely.
Throughout the car ride home, despite the tension, the awareness had slowly rebuilt. She’d felt the warmth of his body, heard his slow exhalations. She had watched the way his eyes narrowed and his jaw clenched when he was deep in thought. Noted the muscular build of his shoulders and arms beneath his shirt, and the solid-ness of his chest. Inhaled the spicy, masculine scent of his skin.
Yes, her libido had definitely woken back up, with a vengeance. Shooting or no shooting, it was screaming at her to do something before he walked back out of her life.
But could she, really? Could she do what her friends and her mother had been telling her to do for months? Take a chance, let a man make her laugh again? Let a man into her bed again? Into her life?
Uh-uh. No way. Women shoot this guy. He’s trouble.
She knew she should listen to the little voice in her head. She also knew she probably wouldn’t. Because she wasn’t talking about falling in love with him, or letting her emotions get tangled up in it. Would some physical connection-before her girl parts dried up and fell off, as Tricia so eloquently put it-really be so bad?
Not as long as she remembered it was purely physical.
Unfortunately, she had no idea about how to make something happen. She had been out of the romance game so long she didn’t even know if he was at all interested in her; though she’d seen a few long glances that made her suspect he had at least noticed she was female.
They were within a block of her place now. Alec was probably already picturing waving good-bye and going home to his glass of scotch and a boxing match with a cyber character. He would put her out of this investigation as quickly as he’d brought her into it.
“You know, you ought to talk to Jimmy,” she suddenly said.
She shifted in the seat, staring at him, watching the way the dashboard lights sent soft beams of illumination over him. That handsome face was even more attractive with the addition of a slight five-o’clock shadow. “Jimmy Flynt. The con man I told you about.”
He glanced over, appearing puzzled, not noticing the light change from red to green.
“Why should I talk to him?”
“If this unsub of yours is using e-mail scams to lure his victims, Jimmy’s the man you should see. I know a few, but he could write an encyclopedia.” There was more to it, though. “Besides, you said you wanted to try to get into this killer’s head. I suspect Jimmy and this Darwin have a lot of the same views. Flynt really looked down on the people he stole from, almost like they had been asking for it. Which sounds like your guy, doesn’t it?”
“So maybe if you need to try to get inside this killer’s head, to profile him, talking to someone who thinks the same way and did the same sort of thing-though not so violently, of course-wouldn’t be a bad idea. It beats just waiting around for another body to turn up.”
As soon as the words had left her mouth, she realized she’d put that badly, as if she’d been criticizing the job he and his colleagues had done so far. She hadn’t been; nor would she. Today, sitting with them all, watching them come together as a team to work on this case, Sam had gained a whole new respect for the FBI.
“You might be right,” he said with a hint of reluctance.
She let out the breath she didn’t know she’d been holding, glad she hadn’t offended him. Even gladder that he seemed to be considering her suggestion. Because he hadn’t yet realized he wouldn’t be able to pull it off without her help.
He nodded slowly, still thinking about it. Finally noticing the light, he touched the gas pedal, and within seconds they arrived at her building. Alec pulled into a parking space outside, lucky to get one-the street was crowded, cars lined down each side. As he cut the engine, he muttered, “That’s actually a good idea.”
“Good. Let me know when you want to set it up.”
Startled, he raised a brow.
“He hates the FBI for bringing him down.” She wasn’t exaggerating. “But he likes me. A lot.” Also not an exaggeration. “I told you about his letters.”
Alec dropped his gaze, as if not wanting to reveal the anger she suspected he felt. “Does he e-mail you?”
“Of course not. He’ll never be allowed to go near the Internet again. They were handwritten letters.”
Though she wouldn’t see any ever again. She’d made sure of that. Thank goodness the warden had had the foresight to decide not to tell Jimmy she didn’t want to receive them anymore. He might not feel as friendly toward her.
It wasn’t that she didn’t appreciate the inmate talking to her, helping her with the book. But that in no way meant she had any liking for him. Though Flynt had been incarcerated by the time her grandmother had even learned how to use the computer Sam had given her, he was just like the men who’d stolen everything the elderly woman had. She detested him, as she detested all who preyed on the weak and vulnerable.
That didn’t mean she wouldn’t use him, or help the FBI use him, if it meant stopping a monster. “I can call his attorney or the prison directly. The sooner, the better, I’d imagine.”
“Forget it. You’ve been dragged far enough into this.”
“It’s not happening, Sam.”
“I am telling you, Flynt will not give you the time of day,” she insisted. “He might not even talk to me if you’re in the room, but I’m about the only shot you’ve got with him.”
His lips compressed tightly, as if he’d said all he was going to say. But he didn’t open the door and usher her out to silently announce his decision was final. Instead, he stayed in his seat, rubbing at his eyes with his thumb and index finger. Obviously thinking.
Reconsidering? Sam remained quiet, waiting for him to realize her idea was a good one. He was a smart man; he’d see the sense in it.
She couldn’t stay entirely still for long, however. The bitterly cold night had been held at bay, though not defeated, by the weak heater. Now, with the engine turned off, the frigid air began to sift through the closed windows. She could already see her breath in front of her face, and the tip of her nose felt like an ice cube. Shivering, she wrapped her coat more tightly around herself, crossing her arms and tucking her hands beneath them for warmth.
He noticed. Without a word, Alec restarted the car, another sign he wasn’t going to just shove her out and ignore her offer.
To her surprise, though, he went a step further. Reaching into the backseat, he grabbed his overcoat. He had thrown it there when they had gotten in, obviously having a little lava in his blood. Without a word, he tugged it up front, reached into the pockets, and pulled out a pair of leather gloves. Not even looking over, he tossed them onto her lap, still silent, still considering.
Sam couldn’t have spoken either, even if she wanted to. Her breath had lodged in her throat. She was so taken aback, she didn’t know how to react. Staring at the gloves, she studied them mutely, not even aware moisture had risen in her eyes until she felt a tear on her cheek.
In the entire four years she had been married, her ex had never done something as thoughtful as worrying about whether her hands were cold. One of their first fights, in fact, had started because she’d pulled a pair of his cashmere socks on her cold feet one morning when she couldn’t find her slippers.
Simple courtesy had been beyond Samuel Dalton Jr., who’d been raised with such a big silver spoon in his mouth he hadn’t even needed the bowl.
To Alec Lambert, the thoughtful gesture had been second nature. And it touched her the way Samuel’s diamonds and huge bouquets of roses never had. She’d known this man for only a couple of days, but already she had begun to wonder if his entry into her life was going to leave her changed forever.
Maybe. If only by making her hold out for a man who gave a damn if her hands were cold. Or her feet.
He finally broke the silence. “It’s a bad idea.”
Still touched by the simple kindness, she didn’t respond.
“You should forget all about this day.”
“How am I supposed to do that?” She slid her hands into the gloves, her gaze locked on them, fearful her eyes might still be glassy. “For all we know, your suspect posted a response to me in the hour we’ve been on the road.”
“Hell,” he muttered, as if he had been hoping she could go back inside her apartment and be free of the whole situation. She suspected part of him wouldn’t mind that, even though the other part, the professional FBI agent, had to be anxious for Darwin to crawl out of the woodwork.
He rubbed at his eyes, then asked, “You have an iPhone, don’t you?”
“Faster than waiting to hook your system back up.”
That was true. It was also true, however, that Alec seemed to want to avoid going inside.
Retrieving the phone, she got online and checked her own blog. Tension rolled off him, mingling with her own, and it seemed to take an eternity to scroll down through the pages of comments before finally reaching the end.
“Nothing,” she said with a relieved sigh.
“And there might never be.”
“Maybe not. But maybe there will. Frankly, if I’ve got a serial killer interested in me, I’d rather stick with you and your people.”
A low growl of frustration was his only response.
“I know I’m only a civilian…”
A piercing stare burned the rest of her words out of her mouth. His eyes gleamed in the dim light as he visually devoured her hair, her eyes, her face, her mouth. His voice shaking with emotion, he snapped, “Damn it, Sam, don’t you get it? I don’t want to think about this bastard even knowing you exist.”
He might have intended to sound like an FBI agent. But the look in his eyes and the barely restrained anger said he was talking as a man.
The look made it clear her interest was fully reciprocated.
The anger told her the rest: He was afraid for her.
Sam said nothing, letting the reality of the situation wash over her, filling in the answers to the questions she’d been asking herself since they’d left D.C.
Yes, he’d noticed more about her than just that she was female. Yes, he’d realized something was happening between them. Yes, the attraction was mutual.
No, he wasn’t thrilled about it. No, he didn’t know what to do about it.
No, neither did she.
She lifted a gloved hand, not even knowing why. To reach for the door handle? Or to cup his cheek and lean close enough to kiss the mouth she’d been wondering about since the minute he’d shown up at her door? One hint, one movement from him would tell her which.
He stared at her, not leaning closer, but not pulling away, either. Equally as drawn. Equally as unsure.
Tension flooded the car. Shake his hand? Or dive onto his lap?
Suddenly a horn blew. They both flinched. Sam’s hand dropped instinctively, and Alec jerked back, clearing his throat and shaking his head as if he wanted to clear it of crazy thoughts.
She should be grateful. She had been about to do something that could have left her feeling very foolish had he rejected her. Still, she couldn’t muster up much gratitude. Only a sad sort of what-if.
A minute went by. Then another. Until Alec finally broke the silence, his voice throaty and low. “It’s been less than three days.”
She didn’t feign misunderstanding. He was talking about how long they had known each other. “I know.”
“You should stay as far away from me-from this ugliness-as possible.”
“That’s not going to happen,” she replied matter-of factly. “Like I said, I’m in this.”
“Not if I can help it.”
“Are we still talking about the case?”
“Yes. No.” He thrust a frustrated hand through his hair, already tousled from their long day, looking as completely unsure as she felt. “Hell.”
Seeing his frustration, Sam regretted pushing him. Heaven knew he had a lot more on his plate than worrying about the feelings of a wound-licking divorc'ee he’d just met.
The timing was bad and she knew it, but she still wanted Alec Lambert. Wanted him to be the one to awaken her from her year of icy exile. Nothing serious, nothing permanent, just one incredibly sexy man around for a little while. And frankly, he was worth waiting for. Holding off until the ugliness surrounding them was taken care of didn’t seem like too much of a sacrifice if she got what she wanted.
She had decided the destination-she had to give him some room, let him set the pace.
“You should go,” she said. “It’s a long drive back.”
Not entirely sure whether or not she wanted him to refuse, she held her breath. The ball was in his court. Not about the case-no way was he going to shake her off that, if there was any chance she could help. But as far as what happened between them personally, his had to be the next move.
He made it. With a sigh that said he had no idea whether he was doing the right thing, he finally ended the suspense.
“You’re right. I need to go. Good night, Sam.”