It seemed to her as if they sat there for a long time. She had the odd feeling that he was seeing today’s dead woman. He was seeing the years gone by. Seeing his wife, so young to be so ravaged by disease. So much loss.
And he’d been as helpless to save her then as he had been to save the dead woman today.
She wished that she knew the right thing to say to him.
Life isn’t fair.
It sounded so trite, but at the same time, it was so true.
She never did speak, because at last, he touched her face. Lifted her chin. Found her lips. It seemed as if a storm, a tidal wave of heat, washed over her, as if the hot spray of the shower was once again beating tumultuously against her.
His lips were crushing, almost violent. His hands were steel-strong, his passion volatile.
Suddenly the tempest ebbed, and his movements turned sweet, then wicked and wild. Before…there had been hunger and the thrill of exploration. Tonight it was as if the floodgates had opened. She couldn’t taste enough of his flesh, his sex, couldn’t ride hard enough against him. He was equally forceful. She had never felt so completely part of another human being, entwined as if they were one.
She soared to a sudden climax, drifted in the still-volatile aftermath of what they had shared. She had barely calmed before she felt him moving above her once more. His eyes were darker than any abyss, his features tense with concentration. But this time his mouth was gentle, questing, as his tongue teased her collarbone and breasts.
He slid into her once again, then withdrew. His mouth began to ravage the length of her, but slowly. Slow torture. Prolonged seduction. She wrapped her fingers around his sex. Played him. Her teeth and tongue danced over his shoulders, down his chest, tasting the salt on his skin No words were exchanged in the darkness of the night. In the end, he simply wrapped his arms around her, and she curled against him tightly. If she spoke, she would break the spell, she thought, so she just closed her eyes and allowed sleep to come, knowing he was with her.
Knowing that as much as she wanted him, as sweet as it was to be with Jed, it was equally true that she did not want to be alone.
She slept like an angel.
Awakening, Jed rose up on one elbow and watched Christina sleep. Her hair was a true auburn, and as it splayed across her pillow, the touch of the sun turned it into a cascading torch. Her lashes, however, were darker, and they swept over her cheeks to add a touch of mystery. He felt a catch in his throat. And in his loins. But he didn’t intend to wake her, so he only continued to watch her, feeling a flush of warmth, thinking how lucky he was, and yet afraid to think of what that meant.
At last he rose, impatient with himself.
He’d known her forever, and he’d cared about her. How could he not? She was Ana’s little friend. Ana’s little friend who had grown up tall and stunning, elegantly built, with huge blue eyes. When he thought about it, he realized that he’d been involved with her forever.
But he’d been in love with Margaritte.
If he was in love again…
Did that make him disloyal?
He didn’t want to think about that, so he strode into the shower. He had loved his wife; there was no question about that. And it had been torture to watch her die, little by little, day by day. He’d never been disloyal then. Never been anywhere but at her side. Fighting. Hoping.
But in the end, fighting and hoping hadn’t changed a damn thing.
There had been other women since then, of course. He hadn’t lived like a monk. But Christie was different. This could hurt him. She could hurt him. Hurt him badly.
He couldn’t stay away. He wanted her far too much. Needed her, craved her…
Damn it, he didn’t want to think about it.
He finished his shower and got dressed, and then the dog followed him downstairs, where he turned on the television, checked his watch. He called Jerry, who invited him to come sit in on a meeting with the FBI, then found the dog food and fed Killer. Damn, but he was a cute little mutt.
He left, carefully making sure that the lock caught once he was outside. It was better when the door was double-bolted, but it was broad daylight. And the dog did bark like blue blazes when anyone came near the house.
There was dead silence when Jed opened the door to the bare-bones conference room at the police station. He knew some of the officers, didn’t know others. Undoubtedly a lot of the men didn’t think he belonged, but Tiggs handled the situation for him.
“Anyone who doesn’t know him, this here is our celebrity ex-cop, Jed Braden. He’s a licensed P.I. now, and he’s working for Beau Kidd’s family,” Tiggs announced.
A murmur went around the room.
“Damn it, you’re kidding,” someone whispered. “After that book?”
“Yeah, ironic, huh?” Jed said, moving in to take a seat at the back and looking around the room. Mal O’Donnell and Jerry were seated up front. Doc Martin was there, too, along with another twenty-plus cops, some local, but at least six of them from the state police.
One of the younger detectives leaned over to bring Jed up to speed. “That’s Gil Barron talking. He’s FBI, but he seems to have a handle on real life.”
Exactly what that meant, Jed wasn’t sure, but he nodded his thanks, then listened.
“It’s pretty obvious that our perp is targeting a certain type of woman. Whether we’re looking at the same guy as twelve years ago or a second killer, the victim is young, right around twenty-five. She’s not a prostitute. She either is an entertainer or works with entertainers.”
“That narrows it down. Doesn’t he know this is theme park heaven?” one of the cops muttered.
Gil Barron obviously overheard, but he didn’t seem disturbed. He only smiled. “It’s a bitch, huh? I wish I could tell you something new. I can only reiterate what we do know. We’ve profiled this guy, and we think the murderer is employed, and that he makes a decent income. He’s not old. Personally, I see the same ID in the killings, which would suggest that Beau Kidd was innocent. The murderer is snatching women and hanging on to them, so either he has a place to stash them where their screams aren’t heard or he’s keeping them drugged, or perhaps it’s a combination of both. It appears that, for the most part, they’ve been snatched from public places. This would suggest that they’re going with the killer with smiles on their faces. I hate to say it, but we’re looking for the boy next door.”
“I hear that Beau Kidd was the typical boy next door,” one of the younger officers interjected.
“Profiling isn’t an exact science,” Gil Barron said. He was tall, lean and had an unlined face. He didn’t look like the kind of man who dealt with sick minds on a daily basis, Jed thought. “The killer may be married, may even have a family. And I’ll repeat. My personal opinion is we’re looking at the same guy from twelve years ago.”
Forgetting that he was no longer a cop, that he didn’t really have a right to be there, Jed voiced his question. “What the hell has he been doing for the past twelve years, then?”
Gil Barron nodded in approval of the question. “I was just getting to that. We’ve pulled records from the national database. Three women disappeared and were found in similar circumstances in Georgia, near the Florida border, eight years ago. God knows why they were never associated with the earlier vics. I suppose most people thought the Interstate Killer was dead and just never thought about him. A recent international search pulled up a similar scenario just two years ago in Jamaica. The women—there were three of them—were black, but they all had their hair highlighted red. And though none of those killings were ever solved, the victims in each location did have a connection. In Georgia, the victims took piano lessons from the same teacher. In Jamaica, all three women worked in the same restaurant. We’re looking diligently for something specific that connects our recent victims to the earlier women—if, indeed, we are looking for the same killer.”
Gil talked for a while longer, then Doc Martin got up to talk about the autopsies and the change in MO with the last victim. The meeting broke up then, and Gil Barron found Jed. “Good book,” he told him.
“I’m not so sure,” Jed said.
Barron shrugged. “Don’t beat yourself up. It was fiction.”
Barron smiled. “You’re hungry to end this. That’s a good thing. Tiggs seems to think so, too. Well, good luck to all of us, huh?”
In the morning, she woke alone.
Or almost alone.
When her eyes opened, she started violently, grabbing her covers, and stared at Beau Kidd, who was in the massive upholstered chair where she had sat the night before.
“This is very interesting,” he said without preamble. “First a woman who worked where your cousin works is killed, then a woman who was working with you.”
“What the hell are you doing in my bedroom?” Christina demanded angrily.
Beau waved a hand dismissively. “What are you worried about? He’s gone.”
She shook her head, closing her eyes. “Get out of my room. I’d like to take a shower and get dressed.”
“You’re forgetting how important this is,” he told her.
“Never,” she said softly. “Like you said, I knew Allison Chesney. There’s no way I can forget.”
“You are going to the wake, right?”
She arched a brow. “You know when it is?”
“Not for a few days.”
“And you know this how?”
“Braden had the television on before he left. Oh, and he fed the dog.”
“Did he put the coffee on for me?”
Beau smiled. “Well, he did make coffee, but I chucked it and started over. I know just how you like it.”
“Great. Now, get out of here. Please.”
She could only suppose that he had done so, since he disappeared. She rolled out of bed, showered, dressed and headed downstairs. In the kitchen, she poured coffee, and it was just the way she liked it, damn it. A minute later, the phone rang.