Wiping sweaty palms on her jeans, she called out. “Where’s Robert?”
Seconds later, the door opened, but at least he was covered. Barely. A towel hung from his trim hips, but with his bare chest exposed, she found it increasingly harder to breathe.
“Sorry about that. They don’t have any more rooms available until tomorrow morning. I booked the last two rooms for you, but Robert said I could stay here until then.”
“Oh, of course. No, that’s great…I just wanted to let Robert know that I’d be late for dinner.”
Despite the even temperature in the room, she could actually feel the heat spreading up her neck and cheeks. Sometimes she hated being a redhead for that very reason.
“I’ll let him know.” The corners of his lips curled up.
Not exactly a smile, but she was under the impression he was laughing at her.
“Okay.” She stood there for another moment, blatantly staring at his half-naked body. When she realized what she was doing, she mumbled something unintelligible even to herself, and retreated to her room.
Lack of sleep. That was the only explanation for her bizarre reaction. She’d seen better looking bodies before, she was sure of it, although she was having a tough time remembering when.
After a quick shower, she changed into jeans and a green cashmere sweater. A soft knock on the adjoining door startled her. Before she could respond, Robert popped his head in. He never worried about whether she was dressed or not. They’d seen too much of each other to care.
“Your brother’s awake. There’s a car waiting downstairs for us. I figured dinner could wait.” He winked and quietly shut the door.
She grabbed a thick coat and mentally tried to brace herself. Twenty minutes later, she entered Connor’s room. She wasn’t sure how he would respond to her being there. Over the past two years, he’d made numerous attempts to contact her and she had ignored every single one of them. Right now she was having a hard time believing she had been so stubborn.
She hovered by the door, staring into the same emerald eyes as her own, uncertain if he’d even want her there. “Hi.”
“Hi.” A smile broke his tired looking face, and Calista knew at once that everything would work itself out.
The words tumbled from her lips. “I’ve missed you, Connor, more than I think I even realized until I saw you lying in this bed. I’ve been so stupid.”
“Cal, you had a right to be angry. If I could go back—”
She cut him off by raising her hand. “It’s in the past and I just want to move forward. We’ve lost so much time. I want to know what’s been going on in your life.”
The truth was she did want answers about Rachel, but there was no way she would bother him with anything when he was in this condition.
Connor exhaled and she knew she’d made the right decision. “I was hoping that’s what you would say.”
For the next few hours Connor and Calista talked about nothing and everything. He filled her in on the events that had confined him to his bed and they only stopped talking when she noticed his gray pallor. It took ten minutes to convince him he needed to sleep, but once she did, he was out in less than a minute.
When she opened the hospital door, she nearly jumped at the sight of Dane waiting for her. Before she could speak, he answered her unspoken question.
“I sent Robert back to the hotel. He was falling asleep on his feet. I still haven’t eaten and I figured you’d be starving by now.”
He was dressed in jeans and a formfitting black turtleneck sweater, making it hard to get the image of his lean, muscular thighs and chest out of her head. She doubted there was an inch of fat on him. Not that she even cared.
“Okay, I guess we can grab something in the cafeteria?” The thought made her stomach roll, but she hadn’t eaten in nearly thirteen hours.
“There’s an Italian restaurant not too far from here. Unless you really like the food here…”
A light chuckle escaped. “Italian works for me.”
Dinner was casual, and not surprisingly, Dane was tight-lipped the entire time. Throughout the meal, she tried to think of a way to bring up a few things, but she kept chickening out. It was something about his piercing eyes. Whenever their gazes met, coherent thought fled, and all she could think about was his naked body.
When he pulled the car under the circular entry of the hotel she pushed her fears aside. “Would you mind walking along the harbor with me?”
After handing the keys to the valet, he nodded. There was a predatory look in his eyes that put her on edge. It seemed as if he was sizing her up, and not in a professional way. She’d never really thought about him as a man, just someone to channel her anger at.
“There’s something I’d like to talk to you about.”
He nodded and handed her his thick gloves as they walked around the hotel towards the docks. “I had a feeling this was coming.”
Gratefully, she took them and slipped them on. The hotel was situated on the harbor, and an icy breeze had blown up from the Atlantic. “I can’t bother Connor with any of this, especially now. If I’m ever going to get closure, I need answers.”
“I’ll tell you whatever you want to know. I’ll be as truthful as I can short of telling you anything classified. Agreed?” His eyebrows shot up.
“Fine, I only have one question anyway. Why?” She didn’t need to be specific. She knew he’d understand. Why did her friend die? At first, she wasn’t sure he was going to answer. For several minutes they walked in silence along the wooden planks until he stopped and faced her.
“Because it was the easiest and fastest way to take out Sheikh Ahmed. He’d been supplying arms to Syria, Iran, and Iraq for too long. The opportunity was too much to pass up. When Connor told me you were staying at the same hotel, it was like a God-send.” He raked a hand through his dark hair, and the corded muscles in his neck tensed up.
“We had everything planned out perfectly. Or so we thought. I can’t go into the details, but it was supposed to appear as if he died from natural causes.” He sighed and guilt played across his sharp features.
Over the years she’d gotten pretty good at weeding out bullshitters and the regret she witnessed on his face was real. Not put on for her benefit. At least she hoped so.
“Should you be telling me any of this?”
He shook his head. “Probably not, but you deserve to know why your friend died. We’d managed to infiltrate the hotel staff, but we needed a base close enough to keep tabs on our man on the inside. The plan was to slip…something into his food. He would have died hours later in his sleep.”
“What were you putting in his food?”
He shook his head and shrugged. “Sorry, I can’t answer that. While you were out at a party we used your room as a base. Unfortunately, one of his security guards recognized one of my guys from a previous job. All hell broke loose. The guard wasn’t supposed to be there. We received bad intelligence, and I think you can fill in the rest. You and your friend came back early and got caught in the crossfire. I wish I had a better explanation than that.” Dane stuck his hands in his pockets, but at least he didn’t break her gaze.
Her throat constricted as visions from that night assaulted her, but she reined in her emotions.
“Thank you for not giving me some bull about the greater good.” Maybe he wasn’t the monster she’d made him out to be. “I think I’ll go back inside now.” Calista turned to leave but he stopped her by lightly touching her arm.
“I’m sorry. More sorry than you can imagine. If I could go back and change things I would. I don’t expect you to forgive me in this lifetime, but maybe…” his voice trailed off.
She placed what she hoped was a reassuring hand on his arm. “I don’t think we’ll ever be friends, but I do forgive you. What you did ruined lives, but it wasn’t intentional or malicious.” She stopped and they both turned as a flash of light came from a cluster of trees.
“What was that?” Dane expertly placed his body in front of hers and her heart warmed when she realized he was protecting her.
Calista pushed him aside and looked sideways at him. “I didn’t think anyone could have managed to track me down this quickly, but I guess I was wrong. That was probably a photographer.” She wished she could be more surprised or angry, but she couldn’t dredge anything up. She had gotten so used to the resourcefulness of the paparazzi nothing fazed her anymore.
Dane started back towards the tree line. “I’m going to catch that guy.”
“Please, it’s not worth it. If you do something stupid he’ll press charges and you’ll get slapped with assault.”
“Do you understand what I do for a living? I’m not having my photo splashed across the tabloids. Besides, when I’m through with him he won’t be pressing charges. Trust me.”
His quiet voice and the lethal look in his eyes sent chills down her spine. If the photographer was caught, he’d be sorry.
“Fine, go. I’m going to find Robert and let him know we’ve been tracked down.” Calista watched Dane’s retreating back with unease. It was strange that her location had been established so quickly. Dread engulfed her at the thought of telling Robert. This would just give him more cause to worry.
William ran through the woods at full speed, cursing at his own stupidity. He brought a camera with him at all times in case he needed to prove that he was a photographer. In his effort to get a better look at Calista he’d dropped it and the flash had exploded, alerting the entire forest to his presence.
His heart pounded in his ears as he sprinted down the path he’d memorized when the sun had still been shining. Once again he had located her, which just further convinced him she wanted to be found. When the price was right, a person could find out anything about anyone. Fortunately for him, he rarely had to pay. All he had to do was call his stepfather and the task of finding out her flight plan had been easy.