Authors: Maureen A. Miller
She had managed a sound that was a mixture of confusion and terror as she took an awkward step of retreat, but her heel caught in a fissure of bedrock, and the salty mist was making it hard for her to focus on the gun. The ocean cried out in baritone like the chant of a thousand monks in prayer, but Gordon’s voice was louder.
“Margaret,” he repeated more forcefully. “Don’t get carried away. Stay put and let me explain this to you.”
Maybe there was a logical explanation for the dead man on the floor. Maybe Gordon had every right to shoot him. After all, the partner in one of Boston’s most distinguished law firms certainly had enemies. Yes, maybe she should stay and listen to his take on the event.
But if it was all so innocent, why was the gun aimed at her chest?
With one last look into the icy black eyes of her boss, Margaret turned and ran. The precipitous cliff gave way to her familiar office corridor and she charged toward the elevator, heartened that it answered her call and opened quickly. As she slammed her palm on the button she suffered a thousand coronaries waiting for the doors to close.
Margaret stared in horrified fascination at the smoke whirling out of a hole in the elevator wall.
My God, he shot at her!
The elevator doors slammed shut. She slid down into the corner and prayed that no one would be there when they opened again.
Megan wrenched out of her dream with a scream. Her chest heaved. Without opening her eyes, she twisted in bed and reached under the mattress to pull out the spare GLOCK. Once her fingers wrapped around the cool metal, assurance returned.
Tonight, sleep brought her to the cliff’s edge. Other nights it would place her inside an elevator, praying that the doors would close. All these nightmares manifested from that event one year ago. Being awake did nothing to deter the horror from returning. The memories of that night besieged her, as relentless as the breakers hit the shore outside.
Her first conscious thought had been to make it out of the elevator alive. That feat accomplished, she began an eight-block hike to the closest precinct, but once she got there, the congregation on the front stairwell drew her up. In the middle of the action, Gordon’s tall frame monopolized the crowd. His polished brown hair gleamed under a round white bulb with the word
stenciled on it. Over the crowd his black eyes spotted her. For the intensity of that stare, he might as well have lifted the long arm of his Italian suit to point at and condemn her.
She knew there was no chance against Gordon Fortran. His power was renowned. How many times had he won cases in the last hour with evidence that was procured by less than conventional means? He owned people. He represented government officials. He lubricated the wheels of Boston. Margaret recognized that her boss was corrupt, but in some remote capacity, she still admired Gordon Fortran. She envied his power, his charisma. The extra hours she put in that night were in an effort to emulate him. Even as he stood above the dead man in his office, her mind desperately sought excuses, thinking him incapable of committing murder.
But her beliefs were shattered when he fired the gun at her.
Rooted in the shadows outside that police station, Margaret made a split-second decision. In retrospect, who knew if it was the right one? Later in the newspaper she would read that the murder had been tidily resolved as an irate client whom Gordon was cunning enough to protect himself from. Also, in a bizarre turn of events, Andre Kohut, the defendant in the case she was working on, was found two days afterward in the middle of the Boston Commons, a victim of an apparent drug overdose.
But in that brief whisper of time, as Margaret stood across the street and met Gordon’s cold eyes and recognized that she was a loose end for him, she calculated her chances with the police. For one—two—three pounding heartbeats, she reasoned that no matter the power of truth, Gordon would find a way to hurt her if she exposed him.
Outside the law, at that late hour there was no one to go to for help. Her only living relative was her mother, who was remarried and living in Michigan. Her father suffered a heart attack only four months after that divorce many years ago. She had no siblings and no friends whom she’d made the time for. No one remained to talk her out of an irrational decision and no one existed to offer refuge.
Confident that there would be no justice that night, Margaret made her decision.
A quick glimpse at the nightstand revealed that it was half past three. Damn Gordon Fortran and his sadism. He was succeeding. Worming his way into her sleep, and into her thoughts. She knew his call was only the beginning of a chess game in which he controlled all the moves. But she had been expecting this game and she would not be a pawn eaten up by the mighty king piece.
Megan swung her legs off the bed and reached for the blue terry robe, one of the few pieces of clothing that belonged to her former self. Yanking it over her sweats and tank top, she
pried open the door and moved on instinct through the darkened hall.
When she first arrived at Wakefield House, she had taught herself how to travel about in the dead of night without the aid of light. She passed through these sinister corridors with a vampire’s accuracy. Proficiency in the dark could prove to be an advantage, but would it and the gun be enough to protect her?
At the top of the stairs she paused, knowing that there was a doorway only two feet to her left. There was a man in that room. A stranger, just a few steps away.
How in God’s name had she allowed that to happen?
Not till she was in the kitchen, did Megan chance turning on a light. She dropped down into the arrowback chair and stared at her laptop, jabbing the power button.
Nothing deceived her in Wakefield House. She heard the tread down the stairs—solid, intent, growing more confident as it approached the light.
Jake appeared in the doorway with mussed dark hair, sleepy eyes that grew sharp as his pupils acclimated.
“Are you okay?” he whispered.
“I’m fine. Please go back to bed. I’m sorry if I woke you.”
“I thought—” Jake rubbed at the stubble on his jaw, “—I thought I heard you scream. Of course it could just be this house.” His head tipped back to search the corners of the ceiling as if he expected to find bats hanging upside down.
“This house can play a number on you if you let it.”
“Do you?” He stepped into the ring of light.
“What?” Megan shrank in her seat.
All of that drivel about moving through this house like a vampire, about having the upper hand in the dark, seemed futile before this man whose shoulders and back spanned the width of the doorway
He could break her with just the grip of his hand. Glancing down at her own hand, so small in comparison, she saw the indentation of the GLOCK handle in her palm.
“Do you let it get to you?”
“Sometimes. Look, please go back to bed.” Megan didn’t want to sound like she was begging, but she was.
Pensive eyes studied her for a moment and then Jake stalked past her to squint out the window. If the moon were out, his silhouette would have eclipsed it.
“Not letting up any, huh?”
“No,” Megan said, annoyed.
Jake must have heard the irritation in her tone. When he turned around, she swore she detected a faint grin.
Stubborn, she stared him down, but to her dismay he pulled a chair out from the table and sat down opposite her.
“Got any cards?”
Megan’s face flushed in frustration. “
I don’t have any cards. I’m working, in case you didn’t notice.”
He infuriated her all the more by openly smiling now. The smile didn’t take away from the fact that he looked intimidating.
Black hair, bronze skin, eyes of a cougar and legs so long they tucked gracelessly under the table. Outwardly, Jake appeared relaxed, but Megan didn’t underestimate his power. She would never underestimate power again.
“Sorry, hadn’t noticed that,” he drawled. “Seemed to me like you were staring off into space.”
“Thinking,” she quipped.
A dark eyebrow cocked. Jake craned in his seat to see the monitor.
“Look.” Megan snapped the lid shut on her laptop. “I can make you some coffee and you can take it upstairs with you.”
“Or,” he supplied, “I can make
some coffee, and
can talk more about Estelle Wakefield, since we’re not doing anything.”
send this man, but not to kill her, rather to drive her insane.
Megan brushed a hand through her hair and took a deep breath. “I don’t think you’ll argue that it was hospitable of me to put you up for the night, considering the circumstances.”
Jake watched her.
“But I am not going to sit here at four in the morning and engage in idle chitchat with someone I don’t even know.”
“Idle chitchat?” He rubbed his jaw and looked pensive. “I understand it means nothing to you, but I don’t think trying to find out more about my heritage is idle chitchat.” He stood up.
It seemed like it took forever for Jake to unfold to his full height.
“I don’t mean to place you in an awkward position, Ms. Summers, but Mother Nature is accountable for the rain—not me. I really don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be stuck in this house with a stranger. I’d much rather be at home in my own bed listening to the bar next door instead of the ocean and the goddamn wind. But right now, you’re the only source I have for finding out anything about Estelle and Gabrielle Wakefield.”
“You were doing just fine with Harriet Morgan,” Megan reminded him, not about to succumb to guilt with a stranger. “
is the resident authority of information in Victory Cove.
just got here last year.”
Jake took a step forward and Megan flinched. He stopped, shook his head in bemusement and then stalked past her to the coffeemaker.
“Harriet is not here right now. Can I ask you this—I’m thirty-five. How old was Gabrielle?”
Thrown off by the question, Megan’s brows knit with recollection of the quiet woman she had seen the few times Gabrielle returned to pick up belongings. “I can only guess, but I’d say in her fifties.”
Jake had on jeans and must have slept in the white long-sleeved shirt he had arrived in, only now the sleeves were rolled up to reveal strong forearms as he moved through the shelves to retrieve the two remaining mugs. The back of his shirt was yanked from his jeans, and as he moved about the counter, it was hypnotizing to watch the sinuous flow of muscles in his back, a composition of strength humbled by the simple task of making coffee.
He turned around and Megan clamped her mouth shut.
“Do you know what type of illness she had?”
“I—I—” They were talking about someone who was potentially his mother, and in case that was truly what brought Jake here, Megan’s sensitivity kicked in. “I believe it was cancer,” she said. “Ovarian.”
The sinuous dance of muscles fell still, and Jake’s shoulders slumped as he shut the lid on the coffeemaker with a quiet snap. For a moment he said nothing and Megan was tempted to go to him and rest a consoling hand on his back.
“Look.” He turned around, propping his backside against the counter and splaying his
palms along its edge. “Regardless of the weather, I’ll find a way out of here in the morning. I’ve had enough of this.”
With her spine so rigid, the chair felt as comfortable as a slab of concrete. Megan should have been elated by this declaration—that once again she would be alone in her fortress, her stronghold.
But she wasn’t.
At this point Jake had pretty much decided he would wade through the Atlantic to get away from the macabre halls of Wakefield House and its peculiar hostess who he suspected once clerked at the Bates Motel. Sunrise barely made an impact on the pervasive darkness, and there wasn’t a cursed light to be found in the foyer as Jake clumsily progressed toward the front door. Throwing on his jacket, he caught a glow emanating from the kitchen. Drawn toward the small oasis of sunflowers and the grape-and-apple-decorated Tiffany lamp, Jake smelled fresh coffee, but there was no sign of Megan.
It didn’t feel right just walking out without saying goodbye. Hell, he wanted to say thanks. The invitation she’d extended last night had not come easily—that much was obvious. She gave off signals, verbal bullets meant to alienate, and they had hit their target. This avenue of his quest was a dead end. Megan Summers was not going to assist him. She was a flake with issues that were of no concern to him. It was time to get out of here.
Jake found her in the living room, standing by the window. A solitary figure with one arm wrapped across her stomach, the other holding aside the drape as she stared outside. She wore a twill sweater with nearly as many shades of brown as in her hair. Her jeans molded well-toned muscles that seemed ready for flight as she leaned forward, her nose nearly touching the glass.
“It’s not looking too good out there,” Megan observed.
Jake wasn’t surprised that she knew he was standing there. The house must have exposed him. The peal of a floorboard in the foyer had alerted the sentinel of Wakefield House.
“Well, I never doubted my trip here would be an adventure.”
Megan turned toward him and Jake sucked in a breath. Insight and angst vied for dominance in her gaze, while the tiny bruises of fatigue that circled her eyes only made her look more forlorn.
“You don’t have to go.” Her voice was hoarse. “I’m sorry if I was rude this morning, but—”
He waved the apology off, troubled by her expression. “You’ve been very kind. But the weather is letting up, and I’m going to give that bridge a try. With any luck, you won’t see me again.” Frowning, he added, “You know, you shouldn’t put up strangers for the night.”
The deluge outside seemed to abate, a brief command by nature for Jake to make his move.
“No, I shouldn’t.” She nodded. “It’s not safe.”
Jake chanced a step forward. A tremor ran the length of Megan’s body, but she held her ground. Boldly, he took another step and could nearly feel the thick cloud of fear that enveloped her, a shroud as thick as the mist trapped at the foot of the cliffs.
This is why I have to leave.
“Maybe you’re right,” he answered thickly.
Before he could say any more, Jake pivoted and stalked away from her, wrenching open the door and cursing the waterfall that cascaded off the roof.
Jake ducked into the downpour and aimed for the Jeep. His boots sank deeper in the mud
with each step. He didn’t look over his shoulder to see if she was standing there, but it was easy to imagine the parted drapes, her pale hand trembling as it clutched the brocade.
He took the keys from his pocket and stabbed the lock, wondering why the hell he’d locked the car in the first place.
Who was going to steal it here?
When the engine rolled over with a purr Jake felt some sense of control return. His wet fingers wrapped around the shift knob as he wrenched the vehicle into First Gear and lightly tapped the gas.
With a curse, he inserted the clutch and yanked the stick into Reverse.
Sturdy tires that kept him safe on the icy Boston roads spun uselessly in the muddy trench. With quick prompts of his hand, Jake rocked the Jeep back and forth, but each tap on the gas resulted in the same effect.