Chances were he and Anne would never know the end of the story. Maybe there would be something in the paper or on the police blotter, and they’d find out whether the boyfriend lived. But the rest of it, whether Candy got off the street and what happened to the pimp and if the boyfriend stayed around?
Those details were a book never to be read, a movie never to be watched.
And he cared about the ending, even though they were all strangers.
As Anne put her hands to her face, she shook her head. “I can’t get all that out of my mind.”
“Neither can I.” He touched his temple. “I just see . . . pictures, you know?”
That was a partial lie. Now it was all about her, a snapshot from a two-alarm scene back when she had first joined the service taking over. Her face had been sooty and sweaty, her hair a mess from having been under her hood and helmet, a red bruise on her jaw. They had been returning to the fire station in the engine, her in the jump seat behind Deshaun, Danny facing her. Their knees had bumped as the truck had gone over potholes in the road, and he had teased her until she had smiled.
Her teeth had glowed brilliant white.
That was when he’d first wanted to kiss her. The urge had been so strong, he had started to lean forward—until Duff had cracked a joke and reality had broken through the fantasy.
Danny stared at her lips again. And could not look away.
* * *
Anne felt her eyes flare as she looked up at Danny. Whenever they were at the firehouse, he was always joking with her, teasing her, being his charismatic self. That was not who he was right now.
The curtain had been pulled back on all that, and what was behind it was a sexual intensity that went through her in a blaze of heat.
And she wanted him, too.
Even though it was a bad idea on so many levels, she didn’t care about any of that reasonable stuff. Not right now. Not after she’d watched him fight with that man, that blade flashing, that threat so much closer than when they were at fires.
He took a step forward. “Anne.”
As he said her name, his voice was so guttural, it was nearly inaudible.
There was no going back, she told herself. If she opened this door and they went through it, they would forever be on the other side.
Could she handle that? Seeing him day to day, night to night at the firehouse?
Hearing those stories about him with other women . . . ?
Danny’s eyes burned, the blue glowing, the thick lashes unblinking. His face was drawn in tight lines, the shadow of his beard growing in over his grinding jaw, his brows down hard. He looked like a hunter, but she wasn’t frightened in the slightest.
She wanted to be caught.
Anne felt herself move forward before she was aware of making her decision, and Danny’s eyes flared as if she had shocked him.
Then he was reaching for her, drawing her against his body. In response, her hands, her treacherous, disloyal, full-of-bad-ideas hands, rose up to his heavy shoulders.
Danny tilted his head one way. She tilted hers the other.
And then it was happening, their faces getting closer . . . their mouths . . . meeting.
Soft. So much softer than she had expected.
She had prepared herself for grinding, taking, full-on demand. Instead, he was slow and careful, brushing his lips over hers, cajoling . . . asking, not demanding.
Anne was the one who made them get real. Latching a hand on the base of his neck, she pushed her breasts against his pecs and pulled him down with a jerk.
He did not require an engraved invitation to take things to the next level. Now he was holding her hard—and harder still—his strong arm locking her in as his tongue entered her mouth and he dug his free hand into her hair. She couldn’t get close enough to him, but that was not a problem with proximity.
Too many clothes was the issue—
The sound of a cell phone going off broke the moment, making them both jerk back. As Danny cursed, she looked down to his pocket.
“Ignore it,” he said harshly. “It doesn’t matter.”
But it was a timely reminder of the outside world, Anne decided as she dropped her arms and stepped away from him.
Shit. Shit, shit . . . shit.
The ringer silenced. And then started going off again.
“Goddamn it,” he muttered as he took the thing out. As he looked at the screen, he shook his head. “Deandra.”
Anne walked over to her throw blanket and folded it properly, hanging the thing off the arm of her little sofa. “You might as well answer it. Looks like she’s determined.”
“When is she not.” Danny answered and put the call on speaker. “Hey.”
Deandra’s voice was tinny, but the pissed-off came out loud and clear. “Where is he? Where the hell did you take him?”
“I’m at Anne’s house. I’m not with Moose—”
“The Local is empty. There’s no party here. I’m standing at the front door—”
“Did you call him?” Danny glanced across Anne’s little living room and rolled his eyes. “Because I think this is a conversation you need to be having with him.”
“He won’t answer his phone and he’s taken his location off.”
Somehow it was not a surprise that the woman traced him, Anne thought.
“Deandra, listen, I’d like to help you, but this is not any of my business.”
There was a long silence. “So like you, Danny. You’re a fucking ghost when things get real.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow at the rehearsal dinner,” he bit out. “Take care.”
The woman was still talking as he ended the call and turned off his ringer. Then he put the cell phone away and dragged a hand through his hair.
Anne cleared her throat. Twice. “I think you better go. It’s going to be a long weekend and I need to go to bed. Alone.”
His eyes closed briefly. And then he nodded. “Yeah. I get it. See you tomorrow night.”
Friday, October 30
T minus 24 hours ’til blastoff
St. Mary’s Cathedral, Old New Brunswick
The following evening, Anne showed up at St. Mary’s Cathedral and managed to get through the rehearsal without rolling her eyes, cursing in church, or walking out. The same couldn’t be said for all of the wedding party. Moose was looking like hell, the green undertones of his face suggesting that he’d had so much to drink at his bachelor’s party that his hangover was just starting to hit him.
Or maybe Deandra was what was making him ill.
The bride-to-be marched off halfway through the mock ceremony, locked herself in the bathroom with her bridesmaids, and stayed in there so long the priest said he had other commitments and only ten more minutes before he had to go.
No doubt it was fallout from the strip club visit from the night before. And when everyone had looked at Moose to solve the problem, he had shaken two more Motrin into his palm, swallowed them on a oner, and headed off for a cigarette.
As the Jeopardy! theme had threaded through her mind, Anne had become totally aware of Danny, who was standing one person over in the tux lineup at the altar.
He’d been staring at her through lowered lids.
And she’d known exactly what he was thinking about, remembering . . . wanting more of.
Because as much as she wished she could pretend otherwise, she felt the same way—and didn’t it seem a sin to be thinking lustful thoughts right at the foot of Jesus on the cross?
She wasn’t that lapsed.
After what seemed like longer than the ten minutes the priest had to spare, the bridesmaids had come out from the narthex, the flouncing, perfumed brigade of blondes like a remake of The Hills. Then Moose and Deandra had walked down the aisle side by side. At the altar, the bride had put her head up and kicked her shoulders back in her skin-tight dress.
Funny, it seemed as if, under all her forbearance, she was getting a kick out of the attention.
When things finished up, Anne hustled out of the cathedral and headed for her Subaru. The night had turned bitter, and as she wrapped her wool coat more closely around herself, she thought of all the trick-or-treaters who were going to be forced to put long johns on under their costumes.
Next stop on the wedding train was D’Angelo’s, an Italian restaurant on the north end of New Brunie. Deandra had insisted on them renting the whole place out, or at least that was the gossip, and you had to wonder how she and Moose were paying for all this. Deandra didn’t come from a family of means, and Moose had been in the foster-care system, so neither had parents who were cutting any checks.