Authors: Ann Bruce
“What is this aversion you have to the police? Is it cops in general or just the NYPD?”
“No,” he repeated more firmly.
“Why not? Your tax dollars pay for their services.” A thought occurred to her. “Uh, you do pay taxes, right?”
He slanted a narrow glance at her. “Yes.”
“You don’t remember what happened?”
Confusion swamped her features. “What happened when?”
Jake lifted a brow, his expression sardonic. “When you were attempting to enter this cabin,” he reminded her dryly. Then, with emphasis, he added, “Illegally.”
The confusion didn’t disappear.
“As in, without the owner’s consent.”
“But…” Her voice trailed off as realization dawned. “Oh God.” She squeezed her eyes shut and sucked in a breath. “That can’t be right.”
He mentally crossed out amnesia and drawled very sarcastically, “Oh, it’s very right. I assure you, Katarzyna Delaney.”
Her eyes flew open at his harsh, humorless tone, or maybe it was his pronunciation of her name. KAHT-ah-ZHEE-nah. Perhaps she wasn’t used to people who didn’t butcher her name on the first attempt. Luckily, he’d had plenty of practice with non-Anglicized names. All part and parcel of his previous job.
“My cabin has the bullet hole and the bullet from your weapon to prove it.” Even with the faint Southern accent softening his words, they still had bite.
His captive looked as if she hoped the bed would open up and put her out of her misery. “
cabin?” Her lashes lowered as she bit down on the corner of her lip. “That can’t be right,” she murmured, more to herself than to him.
“Technically, it’s my cousin’s.”
Her eyes flew to his. “Your cousin’s? Who’s your cousin?”
He eyed her warily. “I’m the one who should be asking the questions.”
Frustration crossed her features. “Just tell me if your cousin is Ella Willis.”
“Ella Willis,” Jake echoed, neither confirming nor denying her statement.
“A close friend,” Katarzyna explained hurriedly. “She offered me the use of her cabin for the next two weeks. Her husband is my lieutenant.”
Jake stared at her. She looked earnest enough, but the people in his world lied for a living. He dismissed the police ID—those could be forged. And Ella knew he was here. She wouldn’t have offered the cabin to someone else without warning him first.
“Listen, you have to believe me. Please.”
There was only one way to settle this. He crossed the room, snatched the cell phone lying on top of the highboy, flipped it open and powered it on. The reception wasn’t great and he had to move to the window before a single bar appeared in the upper left-hand corner of the screen. He punched in ten digits and waited. The third ring was cut short.
“Hello?” a voice mumbled sleepily.
“Ella, it’s Jake.”
He heard sheets rustling and imagined Ella was pushing herself into a sitting position.
“What’s wrong?” his cousin demanded, all traces of sleepiness gone from her voice.
“I’m at the cabin and I have an unexpected guest. She claims you sent her.”
Ella took the telephone away from her ear and murmured something he couldn’t make out. He assumed she was telling her husband to go back to sleep. Then she sighed into the telephone, confirming his worst suspicion. “Is she a tall, good-looking redhead?”
It was his turn to sigh. “Yes.”
“Answers to Katarzyna Delaney?”
“Yes, I sent her.”
He muttered an expletive, cast a hard look at the woman handcuffed to his bed—who was unashamedly listening to his conversation—and would’ve stalked from the room had he not been worried about the cellular reception. He settled for turning his back on the bed and the woman bound to it.
“You could’ve warned me.”
“Yes, I could have,” Ella agreed in a disconcertingly reasonable tone, “if you hadn’t shut off your cell phone. Sometimes you take that whole loner thing too far. It’s not healthy. Ted Kaczynski was a loner.”
A low growl rumbled from his chest.
Ella blew out a breath. “You can get mad at me and yell at me all you want, but don’t take your temper out on Katarzyna. She’s been through enough.” When the growl didn’t cease, she added, “She needed to get away for a bit, so I offered her the cabin.”
“While I’m still here,” he pointed out between gritted teeth.
“So?” she drawled, using that careless tone of voice that always set off warning bells in his head. After a beat, she said, “She’s attractive. You’re available.”
He was glad his interfering cousin wasn’t in the same room because he might’ve strangled her. Then her husband would’ve arrested him. It wasn’t worth the hassle.
Still, his voice lowered dangerously, as much to keep his captive from listening in as from temper. “Are you setting me up?”
“Dear God in heaven, no! She’s sworn off relationships with men, so you’re safe. Besides, I don’t think anything permanent would work with you.” She paused. “I was thinking more along the lines of a fling.”
“Jesus Christ,” Jake muttered, running a hand down his face. “You’re pimping me out.”
“I’m sorry, but guests are not allowed in this area.”
He moved deeper into the office. “You sound a little hoarse,” he said, ignoring her statement, and held out a flute filled halfway with champagne. “Take this.”
Mercy automatically accepted the offering. “Thank you, Mr.—?”
“Edmond,” he said, a hint of an accent flavoring the name. It sounded French, which suited the name and his Gallic coloring.
“Thank you, Mr. Edmond.”
He shook his head but his hair barely moved. “Just Edmond.”
He lifted his own flute, tipping it toward her. Feeling a little awkward, she touched her flute to his, very aware of his eyes following her every movement. Not wanting to insult a man who’d forked over two hundred and fifty dollars for a ticket to the fundraiser and a potential donor, Mercy took a sip, just enough to coat her mouth and her esophagus.
And squeezed her eyes shut as her head swam and her hand faltered, tilting the flute dangerously. She really should’ve eaten something beyond the banana and carton of cherry yogurt at lunch.
A hand caught hers. She had the impression of icy coldness a heartbeat before warmth washed over her like rain. The champagne flute was rescued from her unsteady fingers. Despite the voluntary darkness, her head continued to bob like a bottle tossed in the sea. Her hand reached back and found the solid surface of her desk.
That compelling voice filled her head, dampening the waves. She exhaled, unaware she’d been holding her breath ’til that moment. A heavy, artificial scent filled her nostrils and she instinctively turned her head away. Satin brushed the naked skin of her legs, cool and slick. His cape. Fingertips skimmed the curve of her cheek, the line of her throat, the slope of her exposed shoulder. And she couldn’t protest, couldn’t stir herself from the lassitude that trapped her in its silken grip. Not even long enough to lift her lashes, let alone break away.
The exploration continued, soft and gentle and warm…and somehow familiar.
There was nothing to fear from him. That thought whispered through her mind like a tendril of smoke.
Mercy let herself drift, let the sensual pleasure of his touch lull her.
The hand holding hers drew it upward until her palm met a chest that felt like marble under the layer of cloth. Soft lips grazed her jaw line. He whispered her name again. From the jumbled, hazy mess of her thoughts, one question emerged.
“What are you?” she breathed.
Lips brushed her earlobe. “The man of your dreams.”