He was so serious, so caring.
"I feel so sorry for her."
"It's over now. No one can hurt her again. She's gone and in God's hands."
"Do you believe that? Really believe that?"
"Do I believe in God? Yes. And that after death, we can't be hurt anymore? Yes." She couldn't see his face clearly, but the rich tone of his voice was reassuring. He sighed softly, smoothing back her hair. "Patricia, you should think of Andy now as being in heaven, looking after us."
He pulled her close then, spooning himself around her. For a second, a fleeting second, she longed to break free.
"It's going to take all of us time to get over it," he murmured. Then he yawned. "Especially Nikki. She still doesn't look… "
"Good?" Patricia suggested.
He was quiet for a minute. "Sane," he said. He pulled her closer against his body. "We've all gotta keep an eye on her."
"Uh-huh," Patricia murmured.
"If she acts too strange around you, tell me, huh?"
Patricia inched away a bit. "What do you mean, too strange?"
"You know. Strange."
"Well, of course, I—"
His hand crept from its gentle hold around her midriff so that his finger rested against her lips. "No more for now. We've got to move on now."
"I can't help but think—"
"I'll stop you thinking," he murmured.
He rolled her around so that she faced him. He didn't bring his lips against her mouth, but straight against her throat. He allowed his tongue a slow easy slide down to her rib cage.
"Nathan, I… "
"We're alive," he said, his voice muffled against her flesh. "And we're going to keep on living."
No slow teasing. Nathan slid his length down against her, lips going straight between her thighs, startling, forceful, sensuous.
She swallowed, felt instant arousal shooting through her. Her fingers tore into his hair; his hands lifted her higher still.
"Nathan… just do… "
"Just do what?"
Owen Massey lay in bed, staring at the dust motes that played in the air. He'd left the drapes an inch open; the morning light showed the shabbiness of his little house out on I—10.
He might work the Quarter, but he couldn't afford to live in it.
"Yeah, another day," he muttered.
After a moment, he rolled over, crawled out of bed. He could hear the wheeze and whine of his old air-conditioning system. It could wheeze and whine as much as it wanted, just so long as it didn't break down. The summer heat was coining on. Killer heat. That was what they called it.
People snapped when it was too hot. But when someone just snapped, there were usually witnesses.
He walked into the kitchen, glad he'd invested in a good coffeemaker. Every day, at six forty-five, it automatically started brewing his coffee. Every day, when he came out at seven o'clock, it was ready for him.
He poured a cup, found his cigarettes—a no-no in the department, even in New Orleans, these days. But this was his house. Shabby it might be, but he owned it. He lit his cigarette. "So there," he said to no one and everyone.
Another day. Another stinking hot day.
No matter how someone had wanted it to appear, the death of Andrea Ciello had not been an accident. His gut agreed with Blackhawk. The man had made him feel like an idiot. Two people dead, the same way. Joulette would realize the truth of it soon enough.
Massey rubbed his eyes. Another day of staring at what they had. Of trying desperately to find another angle. Not that the FBI were doing any better with the death of one of their own. Something had to break soon. A straight-as-an-arrow guy, suddenly dead of an overdose. No fingerprints found but his own. A girl—albeit a onetime junkie—dead the same way. Not a hair, not a fiber… no psychotic was that organized.
Everyone going in circles.
Except for the ghost guy.
The one person who'd seen clearly from the get-go that the two crimes were related.
Massey crushed out his cigarette and rose, standing in front of the wheezing air conditioner and letting the cooling draft wash over him.
Just how much could the ghost guy see?
It seemed like a good morning.
Nikki didn't remember when she had slept so well, though when she awoke she had to wonder if she was really in her right mind, having asked a stranger to spend the night.
But sleeping so well had been wonderful. Now, aware of her physical attraction to the man, she showered, dressed and did her makeup before leaving her room, even to put the coffee on.
But she needn't have worried about the coffee. Her guest had started the pot.
She poured a cup and found him out in the courtyard.
"Good morning," she said.
"Good morning." Those eyes of his were instantly on her. She decided to get a firm grip on the physical-attraction thing, she thought. He studied her gravely, as if he were a zoologist and she were a rare species—but nothing else. And yet…
There was something going on. She liked the feeling of being with him, of having him near her.
"Sleep well?" he asked.
"Perfectly. You? Julian complains about the bed in there all the time."
He arched a brow. "It's not so bad." He sipped the coffee he had fixed himself. Then she wondered if there wasn't just the slightest change in his eyes as he frowned. "So Julian… is he gay?"
She shook her head, smiling. It was strange that people either made the assumption that there was something between them or else Julian had to be gay.
She laughed aloud then and realized that the sound was good. "Sleeping with Julian would be like sleeping with my brother. It's as simple as that. I've heard that it's impossible for a man and woman to be friends without one of them wanting more, but we really are just friends, and always have been."
She wondered exactly how much he saw.
"Tell me about the people who work with you," he said. "And who the hell is Max, and where is he in all this?"
"Max has money and bankrolled the business. He's also a genius when it comes to delegating work. He has me, so he can travel. I don't know where he is right now. Colorado or someplace. And the others… tell you what about them?"
"You know. Who they are, how you met them, what their relationships are with one another, how long you've known them… all that."
She wasn't sure why, but she was instantly on the defensive. "You're asking because of Andy?" she said.
"I'm asking because I'm trying to get a better picture of the situation."
"They're nice people, all of them," she said angrily.
"I'm not saying they're not," he told her, green eyes on her. "I'm just trying to get a sense of things."
"I thought you were supposed to be helping with the murder of the FBI agent," she said sharply.
"I am. But I'm convinced that Andrea Ciello was a murder victim, and that the murders are related. Otherwise, I can't begin to imagine why you keep seeing the both of them. Not to mention the obvious. Two overdoses. Heroin. Needle marks in the same place in the arm."
"But Andy used to be a junkie."
"Doesn't matter. You know she didn't do it to herself."
"Maybe I'm insane. Dealing with delusions because of misplaced guilt. And maybe you're in an even worse delusional state. Totally out of your mind," she informed him. He didn't rise to anger; he just kept looking at her with those eyes that seemed far too wise and compelling.
She looked away. He'd made her angry, but that only increased her urge to touch him, which made her angrier still.
"You want to know my tour guides? Let's head over to Madame's."
"Madame D'Orso's? That's where you first saw Garfield."
"I thought he was a bum."
He made a face. "I need to, uh, shower and change. I'll have to head back to my bed-and-breakfast first."
"Why don't you just shower and change here? Julian has some clothes in the closet, and you're about the same size."
"I hate to take his things."
"He won't mind. It's fine."
He hesitated. She was still feeling the tension of anger, but she didn't want him leaving, no matter how much he got to her.
"Really. He's a nice guy, and he dresses well. I'm sure you'll find something."
He lifted his hands, then let them fall to his sides. "All right."
Nikki decided not to go in with him; he could fend for himself. She had to keep some distance. She barely knew him, despite the fact she'd invited him to sleep at her house. She was sure that this pathetic urge to throw herself at the man had to be some strange psychosis seizing her because of what had happened.
And it wasn't as if he had attempted to knock down her door last night. As far as she knew, she thought dryly, he hadn't come near it.
"Go ahead, shower, take what you need. I'll be out here."
"All right," he said, still looking at her strangely.
"Nothing, sorry. I'll get ready."
A few minutes later he came back down, smelling of soap and shampoo and faintly of aftershave, and appearing even more attractive in his slightly damp state.
"Lock up," he told her gravely.
The café was busy, but Madame greeted Nikki with her customary friendliness, despite the line that stretched along the counter.
"Nikki, good morning, you're the first to arrive. Just take your usual table." She smiled at Brent. "Hi, I don't think we've been properly introduced. I'm Madame D'Orso. Everyone just calls me Madame," she said, a slight smile curving her lips.