Angela and Jackson looked at her and smiled like a pair of tolerant parents. Jake emitted a cough and lowered his head, grinning.
“I, uh, guess I should invite you all,” Jude said.
Jake stood up, laughing openly. “Right. That’s what you want. Go on, get out of here—and just give us a call if it gets too late. Shoo, children!”
She looked at Jude. He had no answer for the others; he was looking back at her with humor in his gray eyes, and more—the whatever that was between them that had made Jake laugh.
She met his gaze and smiled her acknowledgment. “I’ll just get my purse.”
She did so. Out in his car, he looked at her again. “Steak, sushi, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Mexican…what would you like?”
“Privacy,” she said.
He didn’t reply. He put the car into gear and headed straight for Hell’s Kitchen. He’d barely closed the door to his apartment before she turned into his arms.
And he enveloped her in his.
His mouth was wonderful on hers, everything that she had expected and imagined. He could kiss with force and coercion, his mouth so firm but never hurtful. Just standing there, still fully clothed, she felt as if she shared a greater intimacy with a single kiss than she had known before in her life.
She felt his hands on her body, his fingers at the small buttons of her blouse. Their mouths were still locked when she touched his holstered gun and he touched hers, and they both laughed, and breathlessly removed the guns and their holsters.
They were still in the hallway, lips meeting and parting, some kisses long and deep, deliciously sloppy, hot and wet, and some brief as they parted to get a better hold on a button or a zipper. Whitney was half undressed when they heard a sound coming from the computer room.
“Oh, hell!” Jude murmured.
“Oh, hell!” Whitney agreed, trying to rearrange her blouse.
“No!” Jude protested. “The bedroom, go—I’ll send my father away!”
She grabbed their guns and holsters and scurried through the apartment, listening to his voice, and hearing the sound of the door shutting between the two apartments. She hesitated in the hall, and plunged into a room. There had only been a choice of two; she’d chosen correctly.
His room was lined with books, hardwood, art deco furnishings and a large bed that was covered with a black-and-crimson comforter. She set the holsters on the bedside table and turned, and as she did so, she found herself swept up and back in his arms, breathless, and heedless, her heart pounding and her body thrumming with expectation.
They plummeted to the bed together. Again he kissed her, trying to do away with the last of her buttons. “I’ve wanted this,” he said hoarsely, “since I first saw you.”
“And then, of course, we bonded—over the autopsy table,” she said, grimacing.
“Since I first saw you,” he repeated, pressing his lips to her throat.
“You’re such a liar. You thought I was an annoying college kid sent to darken your day.”
He paused, shrugged and grinned. “All right, well, an annoying college kid, but…” He paused, staring down into her eyes. “A golden one. I wanted to touch you. To reach out and touch you.”
“You were really beautiful, too,” she said softly, running her fingers softly over the hair on his forehead.
“Liar, you thought I was an annoying macho cop,” he said.
“Yes,” she said huskily. “But a damn good-looking one.”
He laughed. His fingers entwined with hers as he leaned against her again, and their kiss then was long and passionate, filled with sweet liquid hunger. When they broke apart, they struggled with one another’s clothing, as if neither could be freed from it quickly enough, as if the clothing burned, and only their naked flesh touching could ease the fire.
Not the case at all, Whitney thought, enlivened, awakened by the contact. She felt his heart, his breathing, the thrumming that seemed to pulse through his body as it did hers. He was everything she had imagined, long and hard and rock-muscled, so vibrant in his every move. Macho man, indeed. He seemed the leader in their urgent desire to be together, but she realized that it was only the hunger searing through him, and something of a desperate desire to please her, and make her want him as he wanted her. He need not try…
His mouth roamed her body and returned to her lips. She explored the length of his back, pressed her lips to his shoulders, delicately teased along his torso and slipped her fingers between them, cradling the rise of his erection. His body jerked and trembled, his lips found her flesh, her breasts, and he eased from her, moving down the length of her body. She trembled and undulated, and then writhed, feeling the pressure of his body on hers, and the seduction of his mouth and tongue. In seconds, a jolt ripped through her; she cried out, twisting, tugging him back into her arms, finding his mouth, and then his shoulders, feeling the jerk and ripple of his biceps and his abs, and the sheer sleek pleasure of his flesh.
In seconds they were entangled again, exploring and seeking one another’s bodies, and then they rolled, and suddenly he was within her, and it was as if her mind and heart and soul stopped as one, and then began to tremble in the damp heat that arose between them, so slick and hungry and urgent. He knew how to tease and seduce, and how to give, and then give way when they reached that point where satiation was a thirst that had to be quenched. She climaxed at a point of delirium, and clung to him, feeling the volatile shudder of his body in the violence of his own, and she felt his arms around her, the coolness of the sheets and the sheen of perspiration that covered them both. And they lay entwined, he within her still, she wishing that they could remain so forever. It was long moments before he lifted her chin, met her eyes and brushed her lips with the whisper of a kiss.
“Gold,” he told her. “Spun gold.”
She laughed. “Sheer macho power!”
“In a good way. Champagne?” she asked.
“Beer?” he countered.
“That will do, but not yet,” she told him, finding his lips again and rolling onto his chest. Her turn. She kissed his chest, lowered her liquid caresses and made love to him, teasing him, telling him not to move, until he had to move, cradling her to him, rolling again and again, and making love side to side, kissing and not, moving languidly and then again with the speed of light. When they lay at last, spent again, she found herself suddenly wondering at her abandon and passion, and whispering, “Honestly, I don’t do this…often.”
He laughed. “Neither do I.”
She grinned, and they lay there a moment. And then her grin faded. “That was so strange…”
“No, you’re supposed to say something like, wow, that was great, the best I ever had,” Jude told her.
She smiled, touched his cheek. “I didn’t mean that. I mean, I have wanted…well, you, many a time in the last few days. But this has to be the best I’ve ever had because it’s the first time since I came to New York that I actually didn’t think about the case!”
He was silent for a moment. “Beer. We do get to celebrate, I believe. Case over. Done.” He stood, untangling himself regretfully from her to do so. “I actually am hungry. We can go to dinner at some point. Or call out for delivery.”
“I rather like that idea,” Whitney said.
Jude grinned and left the room, easy and natural in his nakedness. She watched him go, and she thought again that he was a beautiful man, and she wondered, now that she knew him, if anyone could ever be the same. She didn’t want to think about that; she didn’t want to think about leaving New York. She didn’t want to think about not seeing Jude.
She started, feeling something leap up on the bed.
Sitting up, she stared down the length of the sheets.
There was a cat there.
She blinked. It remained.
“Are you real?” she whispered.
The cat let out a meow and padded its way toward her. She reached out. The cat came to her, happy to have its ears scratched. “You’re real, right?” she asked. “I can’t be the person always haunted by animal ghosts, right? I can feel you, but I can feel the dog that comes to me at Blair House, the dog that led me to the bodies.”
The cat allowed herself to be stroked, and then leaped off the bed and disappeared. Jude came back a moment later, carrying a wooden tray with two beer bottles and a plate of cheese and crackers.
“Sorry, I’m afraid I don’t have much. If you’re hungry, maybe I should call now. There’s a great Chinese place just down on the corner that delivers.”
Whitney reached for one of the beers and took a long swallow. She tried to speak naturally. “Do you have a cat?”
He frowned. “Allison. Was she in here? The bedroom is supposed to be off-limits. I’m sorry—hope you’re not allergic.”
“I’m not. I love animals.” She took another long swallow of her beer and sat up. She smiled for a moment. She wasn’t sure that she’d carried through on any of her intimate dreams and fantasies regarding Jude; she had certainly never imagined how easy it would be to sit cross-legged and naked with him on his bed, drinking beer and eating cheese and crackers.
But she noted that he was distracted again, and she didn’t question him.
“We’re just not as celebratory as we should be,” she said softly.
He looked at her, startled.
“You’re right. Neither of us feels like the case is completed. What does Jackson have to say?”
“Jackson tends to be quiet and think things through,” Whitney told him. “He said that he could see several scenarios. Men with wealth and power—”
“Yeah, they can feel entitled. Or maybe Avery didn’t feel so entitled. Maybe his finances weren’t that hot, and everything was riding on this movie. The killer was organized, so maybe Angus Avery really did plan it all out, and those girls died the way they did with him having a very special agenda.”