Authors: Marie Ferrarella
Or at the very least, awhile longer.
She didn’t know what had come over her.
Maybe it was the abject loneliness. Maybe she just wanted to feel desirable again, to feel
other than pain, anger and weariness again. Peter had had her doubting herself, doubting her womanhood and even, these past few days, doubting her sanity and her ability to think clearly and make solid judgments. By his very actions—staying out late, hardly saying a word to her when he was home—he’d made her feel like a victim, unworthy of attention or affection or even the smallest kindness.
He’d begun to make her withdraw from life, which was when she’d decided she needed to save herself and divorce Peter.
But now, seeing herself in Nick’s eyes, she saw a different image, a different person. Moreover, in Nick, she both saw and sensed a kindred spirit. He spoke to her soul, made her transcend the rubble she’d found all around her.
She’d never thrown herself at anyone before, never wanted anyone before the way she’d wanted Nick the moment they’d closed the door and sealed off the world.
Suddenly there had been nothing and no one, just him, just her. And the hurt that thrived within both of them grew smaller with each step she’d taken toward Nick, each kiss they’d shared so wildly.
It was almost an out-of-body experience for her. She was in awe of her own actions, of the liberties that she was taking. She’d always been faithful to the man she was with, and as Peter’s wife, she’d been faithful to her vows. But Peter was dead and for the first time in a long time, she was not.
Nick brought out a wildness in her, and yet, there was this overpowering need for a connection.
was her connection.
To life, to love, to herself.
Every kiss seemed to flower into another one, creating equal partners of them even as she and Nick both tottered back and forth between being master and slave, captor and captive, each taking a turn at assuming all four roles.
When she felt she couldn’t hold back anymore, couldn’t wait a fraction of a second longer, Nick gathered her to him and, sealing his mouth to hers, he entered her, forming their union, making them one, a heartbeat before the rhythm of the act throbbed through both their bodies.
The tempo quickened with each passing second, each increasingly more zealous thrust.
Gasping and holding on to each other tightly, they leaped off the edge of the world and were suspended in space for an eternal moment. The euphoria surrounded them even as it pulled them back down to the earth.
And as they fell, she could feel his heart racing against hers.
She clung to that sensation, aware that all too soon, she would be at the mercy of her fears again, fears for her family’s safety. But for this singular moment, she took comfort in the thought that she was with someone who cared about her as much as she cared about him.
lowly Nick’s heart rate returned to normal, as did his ability to think.
And to own his actions.
Nick turned his head to look at the woman he was supposed to be protecting, not compromising. “You know, this
what I had in mind when I agreed to spend the night in your house.”
Her eyes met his. The euphoria had settled down to a comfortable glow within her. She knew she should be feeling guilty about this, but she couldn’t. Peter had been dead only a few days, but he hadn’t been her husband in close to a year. There were no ties there, no promises that she’d broken by making love with Nick.
She smiled at him now. “I know.”
As far as Suzy was concerned, she knew that she had made the first move. It truly
a first move on her part because she’d never done anything like that before, never literally thrown herself at a man before. But there had been something, a bond, a kindred spirit she’d sensed between the detective and herself that had removed the barriers.
But while there was no guilt for making love with Nick so soon after Peter’s death, something else hit her hard, broadsiding her when she least expected it.
He saw the tears in her eyes. “What’s wrong?” he asked, concerned. “Did I hurt you?”
She shook her head, afraid to speak, afraid that she would sob if she did.
“Tell me,” he coaxed softly.
It took her a moment more to gain control over herself. “What kind of monster
I?” she cried. “My son and my sister were kidnapped. Right now they’re at the mercy of some deranged lunatic—or worse,” she sobbed angrily. “And what am I doing? I’m throwing myself at the police detective who’s investigating my husband’s murder.”
Nick drew her into his arms, holding her as she struggled against him. Suzy finally just crumbled, her tears flowing freely.
“You’re not a monster,” he told her. “You’re a human being. And human beings need comforting when they’re in the middle of a stressful situation, the way you are. Suzy, you did nothing wrong,” he assured her, his voice low, reasonable. Comforting. He wiped away her tears with his thumb. “It’s going to be all right, Suzy. I promise. We’ll find them and get them back.”
She knew he couldn’t really guarantee that, but just as before, she clung to his words, to the idea that somehow, some way, they were going to find Lori and her baby.
She’d made love with him in order to stop thinking, but there was more to it than that. She’d made love with Nick because he made her feel that she wasn’t alone.
And she was grateful to him for that. But she didn’t want him to think she was some sort of a clinging vine.
Taking a breath to steady her nerves, she told him quietly, “This isn’t going to develop into a pattern.”
The remark seemed to come out of the blue, catching Nick off guard. Was she warning him off, or saying that for his benefit? How did he tell her that he wouldn’t mind if it did become a pattern? That making love with her had opened doors and windows inside him and had allowed the sun to come in for the first time in years?
He didn’t want Suzy to feel he was crowding her, as if he expected anything more from her, even though he would have welcomed it.
He didn’t want to scare her.
Going on instinct, he just continued holding her.
“You talk too much,” he told her quietly.
Maybe she did, Suzy thought. “Makes up for you hardly talking at all.”
Amused, Nick laughed quietly and brushed what was intended to be nothing more than a fleeting, chaste kiss against her lips. But he discovered the second that contact was reestablished, when it came to this woman, there was no such thing as fleeting, no such thing as chaste. He’d opened up the floodgates again and gotten himself swept away.
He had no choice but to swim for his life.
He did it with pleasure.
* * *
She woke up alone.
The moment Suzy opened her eyes, the languid feeling had vanished.
Startled by the silence that all but smothered her, she bolted upright.
She was still in bed.
Last night came back to her in fits and starts, accompanied by a wave of heat. They’d made their way to her bedroom where they must have fallen asleep after making love again. Twice.
But where was Nick?
She listened intently—and heard nothing but more silence.
Tumbling out of bed, Suzy grabbed the robe that must have fallen to the floor sometime during last night’s very passionate activities. As she shrugged into the robe, slipping it over her nude body, she saw the folded paper on the bureau.
Knotting the sash at her waist, she crossed to the bureau and quickly skimmed the note.
“Went to follow up a lead. There are two detectives posted in a utility van across the street. They’ll keep you safe. I’ll call you soon. Nick.”
How could he have left without her?
“What lead?” she asked the note, exceedingly frustrated as she slipped the paper into her robe’s pocket. “And when’s ‘soon’?”
He hadn’t marked down a time on the note, hadn’t indicated when he’d written it, so she had no way of gauging just what he meant by “soon.”
hadn’t he woken her up? She would have gone with him instead of staying behind, to spend the next excruciatingly endless hours perched on the sharp ends of pins and needles, waiting to hear something,
From the kidnapper.
Waiting to learn if her baby and her sister were safe, or if something had happened to them because she had made an unforgivably horrible mistake and gotten involved with the wrong man.
And, by everything she’d come to discover, Peter Burris was definitely the wrong man.
Forcing herself to go through the motions of living, of actually being able to function, Suzy took the fastest shower of her life. As a precaution, she’d brought both her cell phone and a portable phone connected to her landline into the bathroom so she’d be able to hear either one if they rang.
Feeling increasingly more helpless and frustrated, Suzy got dressed and went downstairs. Her intent was to get some coffee and hope that it would somehow jump-start her energy and push the anxiety she was experiencing into the background.
When she came to the bottom of the stairs, she saw what looked like another note in the foyer on the floor. It had obviously been slipped under the front door.
Had Nick written her a second note before leaving?
The moment she picked up the note and looked at it, she knew this wasn’t from Nick. Moreover, it had to have been slipped under her door after he’d already left, otherwise, she was certain that at the very least, he would have put it with the other note.
There were only four words on this one written in a flowing, flowery script:
He loved me more.
The person—most likely a woman—who had written this note had to be talking about Peter.
Suzy clenched her hand into a fist. Angry, feeling as if she was about to lose her mind, Suzy started to crumple up the note, then stopped herself. Nick would want to see this and have it analyzed for possible prints. Any satisfaction she might have gotten from tearing the note into tiny bits would have to be put on hold. Evidence took precedence over everything else.
“Damn you, Peter. And damn me for not seeing any of this,” she cried, suddenly feeling very close to tears.
He’s not worth it.
No, he wasn’t. But Andy and Lori were.
Suzy let out a shaky breath. Without knowing where Nick had gone, she had no choice. She was forced to remain exactly where she was and hope that the kidnapper would get in contact with her. She needed him to call with instructions, telling her what she had to do in order to get Andy and Lori back.
Suzy went into the kitchen to make coffee. She definitely needed the distraction—and the caffeine.
She was surprised to discover that the coffee was already made. Nick had obviously left it brewing for her. She found this fact immensely comforting even though she wouldn’t have been able to explain to anyone exactly why.
* * *
“Think he killed them?” Juarez asked Nick.
It was his first day back. He’d brought cigars with him to hand out to everyone, following an age-old tradition passed on to him by his forebearers. In addition, Juarez had brought a stack of photographs of his newborn son with him and was proudly showing them to anyone and everyone who came within fifteen feet of his desk.
He’d arrived just as Frank Kellerman, the late senator’s chief aide, was brought in and placed in the interrogation room.
Nick had done the interview, and then had come out, leaving Kellerman sitting in the room by himself.
For the time being, Nick just wanted to study the man through the one-way glass, wanted Kellerman to wait and wonder if there was more coming.
In a lot of the cases he’d dealt with in Houston, the suspects did a far more effective job on themselves, anticipating the worse and working themselves up.
“I don’t think he actually killed any of them,” Nick answered. “But I’d bet a month’s pay that he’s guilty of
. Innocent men just don’t fidget like that. He could hardly sit still throughout the whole interview.”
As he and Juarez looked on, the aide on the other side of the glass was all but tap-dancing at the table. His feet and legs seemed to be moving almost independently of his upper torso. The rest of him shifted nervously in his seat, first over to one side, then to the other—and back again.
Juarez readily agreed, pointing out, “Look at the way he’s fidgeting.”
“That’s way more than fidgeting,” Nick agreed. “If he were a rocket, he’d be set to launch any second now.”
Too bad there was no concrete evidence right now enabling them to hold the aide. They would have to let him go soon, he thought grimly, searching for a way he could use that to his advantage.
“Guilty conscience?” Juarez guessed.
“He sure as hell is guilty of something,” Nick responded. The trouble was, guilty of what? “And scared.”
“Of us?” Juarez smirked.
Nick shook his head. “Not us. He’s afraid of whoever he’s working for,” was his guess. Glancing at his watch, Nick knew they’d run out of time and they had nothing on the man to hold him any longer. “I’m going to go get a coffee out of the vending machine. You let Kellerman go.”
That wasn’t what the younger detective had expected to hear. “Just like that?” Juarez asked, stunned.
“No, not just like that,” Nick amended. “I plan to tail the S.O.B. and see if he winds up incriminating himself somehow.” He glanced back into the interrogation room. “He knows more than he’s telling, and I intend to find out just what, even if I have to follow him to hell and back,” he told Juarez as he walked away to the vending machine.
* * *
Suzy nearly jumped out of her skin when her landline finally rang.
Her heart hammering wildly, she picked up the receiver with both hands to keep from dropping it, then placed it to her ear. “Hello?”
“One ring.” The sound of harsh laughter met her ear. “You must be anxious.”
It was him.
The man with the metallic-sounding voice.
Suzy ordered herself to hold it together. She knew she needed to sound as if she were calm and in control, if not of the situation, of at least herself. Otherwise the man on the other end of the call would know he was holding all the cards and that could prove fatal for Andy and Lori.
But her voice almost broke as she demanded, “Let my sister and my baby go. They’re not part of it.”
“Oh, but they are, Mrs. Burris, they are. They’re my leverage. Otherwise, you won’t do as I say and you’ll think that boyfriend of yours can keep you safe. By the way, did you have a nice night together?” he asked her knowingly. “I see it’s true what they say about still waters.” The laughter unnerved her, getting under her skin. “My, my, but you really are a wildcat.”
Her heart all but stopped as embarrassment flooded her cheeks. This monster who was talking as if he’d witnessed everything that had happened here last night. But how could he?
“How did you—”
“I have eyes everywhere, Mrs. Burris, which is why I’ll know if you try to get in contact with your detective boyfriend after we hang up.” His voice turned malevolent as he went on to warn her, “Things will go very badly for your little family if you do. You won’t want them to wind up like your husband now, do you?”
Fear ripped right through her heart. “No, no, I don’t. I’ll do anything you want,” she cried, “just please, please don’t hurt them.”
“All right, I’m not a monster, Mrs. Burris. I can be reasoned with.” The man on the other end paused, shifting gears. “ Now listen very carefully. I want you to slip out of the house without alerting those detectives in the van. Once you’re clear of them, I want you to go get that envelope you found in the bank’s safety deposit box—don’t stop to make any copies. I’ll know if you do,” he said ominously.
“I won’t make any copies,” she promised. “Just tell me where you want me to bring the envelope.”
But rather than tell her, he laughed again, no doubt enjoying himself and this torturous game he was playing.
“One step at a time, Mrs. Burris. One step at a time. And remember,” he underscored darkly, “if you tell your boyfriend—or anyone else about this—they die. You make copies of a single photograph—they die. You don’t follow all my instructions to the letter, they—well, I think you get the picture by now.” He laughed at his own little joke. “Get it? The picture.”
She let out a long, shaky breath, loathing the person on the other end with every fiber of her being. But for Lori’s and Andy’s sakes, she was forced to play along, to feign admiration.
“I get it,” she said between clenched teeth. “Very clever.”
“Yes, I am,” he agreed. “Glad you realize that.” And then he seemed to shift gears, for the moment tiring of the cat-and-mouse routine. “All right. You have an hour before the bank opens. Have yourself a nice breakfast,
then go get the envelope,
” he ordered gruffly. “And wait for my call.”