Completely caught up, she held on tight, working to get closer still. Hell, she’d have crawled inside him if she could. He cupped her ass, and her hips arched to try to meet his in a movement as old as time, but she couldn’t get to him. She heard her own soft mewl of frustration, and then he was slowing them down, pausing to rest his forehead against hers. “Damn,” he said, stroking the pad of his finger over her wet lower lip. “Did not see that coming.”
“Didn’t see what coming?”
Ali had no idea how it’d happened that she’d ended up trying to climb Luke’s body, but she blamed his mouth. One hundred percent. “I’m over men,” she said out loud so that she might hear it and have it sink in.
Luke didn’t say anything to this. He just looked at her with the same intense expression on his face that he’d worn when he’d kissed her, which made her want to beg for another kiss. Instead, she bit her lips to keep them to herself. But as it turned out, she wasn’t good at holding her tongue. “It’s nothing personal,” she said, “but as a whole, men haven’t proven themselves all that reliable.” She paused. “No offense.”
“It wasn’t going to be a hardship,” she said, “to be over men.”
He gave her an almost smile. “Hence the vibrator?”
She felt her face heat. “Okay, that really was a gag gift. And it’s not like sex isn’t…enjoyable or anything. It just tends to lead to bad decisions on my part.”
“I can respect that,” he said. “But for the record, sex, when it’s done right, is a hell of a lot more than enjoyable.”
Her body was still tingling from his kisses, so it wasn’t much of a stretch to believe that he could make sex far more than enjoyable.
“One more thing,” he said.
She looked into his deep blue eyes.
“Not all men will disappoint you,” he said. “I don’t mean me. Because I will absolutely disappoint you. But we’re not all assholes, Ali. I can promise you that.”
She held his gaze, the man who’d let her stay in his house, the man who’d come for her no questions asked, not even “are you guilty?” Which meant that already he’d done more for her than most of the men in her life. She was still staring at him when her phone rang.
“Ohmigod, Ali,” Aubrey said. “They brought you in for questioning? Why? How? What the hell happened?”
“Well,” Ali said, “apparently after you let me into Teddy’s office, I stole the fifty big ones.”
Luke reached over and hit END, disconnecting her call.
Ali stared at him. “Why did you do that?”
“You shouldn’t discuss the case with anyone,” he said. “And especially don’t joke about stealing the money.”
“But that was Aubrey, Teddy’s assistant.”
“I don’t care if it was the Easter Bunny.”
“She’s nice. She’s the one who let me into his office the second time. She…” Ali broke off, her mind suddenly racing.
Ali met his gaze. “She asked me to make sure to never tell anyone that she’d let me in.”
Luke’s eyes were sharp. “You’re friends?”
“Not the go out and share sushi kind, but yeah. It’s more the ‘your dress is pretty, where did you get it’ sort.”
Luke shook his head. “Was that in English?”
“We’re friends,” she clarified.
“You know they found a toe ring in Marshall’s couch?”
“Yes,” she said. “The cops asked me about it, but it wasn’t mine.”
“And it’s not Melissa’s either. So whose is it? And is the owner fifty thousand dollars richer this week?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know.” She’d been going over and over this in her head until it spun. “I saw the money at the auction like everyone else. The next day, I cleaned up the hall and carried out all the floral arrangements. Then I remembered the pencil pot I’d made Teddy, the one sitting on his desk. For some reason, I couldn’t leave it there, so I went in to take it back. But it wasn’t on his desk.”
“Where was it?”
She paused, remembering how embarrassed she’d been to find it buried. “In his credenza.”
Luke blew out a breath. “You went through his things?”
“Yes, but I never saw the money. I grabbed the pot and left. I didn’t know the bill wrapper was there until the police found it, and I sure as hell don’t know where the money is. I’m thinking Teddy framed me.”
“Is there any reason that he’d want to stop the building of that new rec center?”
“I can’t imagine why. It’s his baby, a feather in his cap. And he likes feathers in his cap.” She shook her head. “I’ve never seen him lose it like he did this morning. He was…”
“Scared,” Luke said.
She nodded. “Yeah. I think he really believes I stole the money.”
“It does have a woman scorned feel to it.”
She didn’t say anything to that, not wanting to know if he thought her capable of being that scorned woman. “I’m meeting my lawyer tomorrow.”
“Who?” Luke asked.
“Zach Mullen.” She watched as he pulled out his cell phone. “He’s an old high school friend,” she told him. “What are you doing?”
“How old is he? He looks twelve.” Luke showed her the screen. He’d brought up Zach’s Facebook profile, where indeed his pic revealed a young-faced Zach, clearly fresh from a haircut, since he had a ring of pale skin across his forehead and the tips of his ears. His latest status update—from an hour ago—indicated he was at a sports bar in L.A.
“He’s there for business,” she murmured. “You’re pretty quick with the research. I know you went back to your laptop. What else did you find out about me?”
He just looked at her.
“Come on,” she said. “You’re an off-duty detective, and I got taken from your house for questioning on the missing fifty thousand. What else did you dig up about me?”
Luke shrugged. “A few things.”
“Like what? That I hated elementary school so much I used to hide at the park and my mom had to take off work and come find me?”
“You were a decent student though,” he said. “And you took dance.”
“I loved dance,” she murmured. “But I quit early; I had no coordination.”
He slid her a look. “Or you were worried about the cost.”
“You moved around a lot,” he said. “There’s a few gaps in the known addresses.”
She slid down a little farther in the seat. Yeah, there’d been gaps, which matched her mom’s gaps in income, when they’d bunked on friends’ couches here and there. “Sometimes my mom would lose jobs if she couldn’t keep certain hours. Or…whatever.”
He nodded, no judgment on his face. And, thankfully, no pity. She hated going back there in her mind, but she hated even more that he knew so much about her. “What else?” she wanted to know.
“You applied to transfer to several different state schools, even getting into a few of them,” he said, “but you didn’t go. No word why, though I can guess.”
She felt a horrifying burning behind her lids. “You’re thorough,” she managed.
Ali wasn’t sure what that meant, but decided she didn’t want to know.
“Tell me about Zach,” he said.
“We went to high school together. He’s a good lawyer.”
“Yeah?” He slid her a look. “How long has he been practicing?”
“How long, Ali?”
“He just passed the bar.”
His mouth tightened. “You need someone who knows what they’re doing.”
“Zach does,” she said. She hoped. “And it’s not like I’ve been arrested.”
But you could be… She knew he was thinking this but thankfully it went unsaid.
“Where to, Ali?”
She knew she should come up with a plan, but suddenly she couldn’t speak.
Reaching out, Luke pulled something from her hair.
He let his fingers linger, then tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “I’ve already asked,” he said very quietly, very seriously. “But I’m going to ask again. Are you okay?”
She had no idea, but she suspected no. No, she wasn’t okay, not even a little bit. She’d been unceremoniously dumped, made homeless, and could be arrested at any moment. It’d been a craptastic week.
But hell if she’d say it. Couldn’t say it, really, since the lump in her throat had grown to the size of a regulation football. So she nodded instead, acting perfectly okay…But she could feel the heat and strength of him, and for one shocking moment, she wanted to crawl into his lap and lay her head down on his shoulder. She wanted to burrow in and feel his arms close around her again. She wanted to feel the brush of his rough jaw as he pressed it to hers and whispered silly little nothings in her ear, like “you’re going to be all right.”
But he didn’t do any of that.
Because he didn’t want to be involved. She suspected it was his greatest wish to just be left alone, which, of course, was pretty much the opposite of her wish. “You can drop me at the B and B,” she said.
“Stay with me,” he said softly. “But you should understand that there are things you don’t know about me.”
“Are you an ax murderer?”