Dev looked at the soft-spoken woman as she settled on the rich leather of the Escalade. It was black, expensive and smelled faintly of pipe smoke.
“Four times a charm,” he said, his voice flat. He figured he might as well make use of it since the men who’d come after them no longer needed it. Only one of them was still alive, and he was cuffed. He had one hand free and could get to the food Dev had left out. He wouldn’t starve.
Dev would let somebody know where he was, sooner or later.
But he had other problems.
Namely, the woman sitting next to him.
When she told you she saw it, she meant…she saw it. The bitch is psychic, man! Those words had all but been screeched out after the man Dev had found in the woods realized his options—talk or hurt. He’d talked. A lot.
His gut churned.
All Nyrene did was sink deeper into the seat, clutching her purse awkwardly. He’d returned her laptop. Despite what rational thought was telling him, Dev knew the son of a bitch back at the cabin hadn’t been lying. Somehow, Nyrene had people tracking her.
They didn’t have to see her, tag her with a tracking device or anything.
They were tracking her because she was psychic.
That meant when she’d kept him out of the garage it was because she was trying to help.
That meant when she’d told him not to go home, she’d saved his life.
And…fuck, it wasn’t the first time. She’d told him she’d gone to the hospital after she’d seen him on the news, or rather, seen the news of his death.
Every single time he’d put fear in her eyes, it had filled him with disgust and the weight of it now was magnified tenfold. He could feel the guilt like chains around him, dragging him down.
“Don’t.” She pulled her knees to her chest and hid her face against them. “Just…don’t, okay? What does it matter anyway? I was pretty much fucked the minute I saw you in the ER.”
“I’m…” He swore. Throwing the Escalade into drive, he did a rough, three-point turn on the narrow road. “You should have just stayed away.”
“I couldn’t.” Her voice was muffled. “And it’s done. So just don’t.”
“I’ll get you out of this.”
“Yeah.” She laughed tiredly. “Sure you will.”
He wanted to tell her to trust him. Which was a joke. According to everything he’d heard in the past hour, and everything he’d seen her do over the past two days, he was the only reason she was in trouble to begin with.
“Get some sleep,” he said as he pulled out onto the road. The sun was finally coming up over the horizon, burning away the fog.
“How am I supposed to sleep now?”
The question was softly spoken and he doubted she expected an answer. He gave her one, though.
“You’re safe right now.”
I’ll do my damnedest to make sure you stay that way, too.
* * * * *
“She hasn’t disappeared off the face of the earth.” Taige listened to Joss on the other end of the line for another minute and then she interrupted, “Look, big guy. I know what I saw. I’ve been living with this shit in my head a long time—”
She hissed out a breath and held the phone a few inches away from her ear. “Fine. Fine. Fine. You gave her the card, right? Okay then. You did what you could. Now we wait.”
She hung up the phone in the middle of his rant.
He wasn’t mad at her.
Taige hadn’t worked with Joss Crawford in a good long while, but she had worked with him before. His mood was foul, but it was more about the situation than anything else.
She could understand.
Dirty cops were a bitch to deal with. Joss wasn’t only trying to make sure the girl stayed alive, he had to keep her away from a mess of dirty cops.
She had her own mess to deal with, though.
“I’ll tell you what,” she muttered, rubbing her brow as she tried to make sense of the report her assistant had given her. “I’ll trade you places. You come play boss man out here and I’ll go hunt down your new psychic.”
“Talking to yourself already?”
The voice was enough to make her smile. She glanced up as her husband came through the door. Cullen Morgan was, and always had been, enough to make her heart stutter. “Trying to make sense out of all of this—make my way through this and figure out the cases we need to take, which ones we should take, which ones I should pass along to Jones.” She sighed and pushed back from the desk.
A few months earlier, Elise Oswald, the woman who’d headed up the Oswald Group, had died. It had been sudden and brutal and had caught everybody by surprise.
Everybody but Oz, it seemed.
She’d left her company, lock, stock and barrel, to Taige.
Taige barely knew Oz, but the letter she’d been given during the reading of the will had spelled out some things very clearly. Though she hadn’t known Oz well, Oz had known her. Or known about her. And she’d decided Taige was the only person she could trust to head up her security company.
“I’m not equipped for this,” she said softly as Cullen came around to kiss her temple. “I don’t do reports. I don’t handle finances. I don’t do payroll, for fuck’s sake.”
“To be fair, that’s hired out.” As he straightened, he rested a hand on the back of her neck and dug his fingers into muscles gone tight. “And you’re handling things. It’s just the administrative work that’s driving you crazy.”
“Crazy?” She laughed weakly. “It’s giving me a migraine and making me want to rip out my hair. Cullen…I’m out of my league here. Yeah, I can handle delegating, and I can handle figuring out which of Oz’s people are ideal for a certain job, but the rest of it? I am lost, but it’s not like I can just throw an ad in the paper—Needed: office manager for psychic security group.”
She rested her head against the back of the chair and looked up at him.
His eyes were calm. “You’ll figure it out, baby.”
“Yeah. I hope so. But first I’ve got to get a handle on what’s going on with this woman I had to tell Jones about. My brain isn’t letting it go.” She rested her hand on his chest as he bent to kiss her.
“You need to clear your head for a bit.”
“Yeah.” Swiveling the chair around, she stared up at her husband. “You maybe wanna take me out to lunch? Help me clear your head?”
“I can help you with that.” He lowered his mouth to her neck and scraped the arch of it with his teeth. “How hungry are you?”
As he came around to stand in front of her, Taige slid him a smile. “Actually, not that hungry at all. Got something else in mind?”
Oman stared at the bloody body of his ex-partner.
While Morehead hadn’t realized it until it was too late, he’d just been fired—in the most extreme way possible.
Oman hadn’t done the deed, although he wished he could have.
Too easy to track back to him. He wasn’t a cop for nothing. There was no perfect crime.
No, he’d just arranged for Morehead to cross paths with some men who had serious issues with the young, arrogant shithead. The boss hadn’t been pleased. It would have been better if Morehead had just fallen in line, the way he was supposed to, but Oman had seen this coming.
He’d been preparing for this very eventuality.
“We’re going to find the son of a bitch who did this, Oman.”
Oman looked up as the investigating officer came around to stop at his side.
“Yeah.” He nodded and kept the mask of fury in place as he looked away from the dead man.
“This place is going to shit.” Dugan pulled a pack of cigarettes from his jacket and shook one out. He offered one to Oman, but tucked the pack away after the other cop shook his head. “First all, this bullshit with Deverall. I’m not buying it. I’m just not. And now…”
The hands Oman had shoved into his pockets curled into fists. Deverall. What he’d wanted to do was find some way to implicate him. If he could paint the bastard as a cop killer, then he’d have less to worry about, but nobody who knew the man was going to buy him going crazy like that. He was about as straight as they came, and too fucking smart.
“Yeah,” Oman said as Dugan went quiet. Then he looked around. “Is there anything I can do around here? Help in any way?”
“No.” Dugan shook his head. “Nah, you just go home. Have a drink. When you can, I need the names of people you think could have done this. We’ll have to go through your case files, but maybe you can help narrow the field. But for now, turn your head off.”
With a strained smile, Oman nodded and walked away, careful to keep his body language on point. Shoulders slumped, head bowed. From under his lashes, he looked around, watching the scurry of the techs gathering evidence, watching the faces of the officers who’d responded to the call.
It hadn’t taken them long to find the dead cop, but the body hadn’t been hidden, either.
That was for the best. If another cop went missing, people would be looking hard at the department, probably already were, but they’d tag this as a vengeance killing, which it was. Missing made for a lot more questions, sometimes, than dead.
The voice came out of the shadows near Oman’s car.
Oman drew his weapon. The gun fit easily, comfortably, into his big hands. Eyes scanning the darkness, he took a few steps to the right. The big van parked there blocked the light spilling out onto the street and highlighting his ass, making him a big, easy target.
Before he could say anything, a woman moved out the shadows. She lifted a brow at him. “Don’t worry. I’m not here to cause you any problems. I’m actually here to help.”
“I’m good, thanks.”
Her gaze bored into his. Oman didn’t like this—her, the look on her face or the way her mouth slowly curved into a smile.
“You’re good,” she agreed after a moment. “But you’re not going to get to him before he gets the word out about you. Not unless you have some help.”
Oman didn’t blink. He’d always been told his poker face was excellent. But he couldn’t do a damn thing about the cold line of sweat that began to drip down his back. Couldn’t silence the sudden rush of fear that gripped him and twisted savagely. Still, he managed to smile pleasantly. “I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Her heels clicked on the pavement as she moved closer. “You sure that’s the line you want to go with, Lieutenant Oman? Or would you rather the two of us sit down and talk about just how I can help you get your hands on Bennett Deverall?”
The sunlight was hard, hot, and bright, bouncing off the river to blind him as he waited for her to speak.
They’d moved someplace a little more private.
Oman still didn’t know her name.
He very much wanted to know her name, and who’d hired her, but he wasn’t stupid. This wasn’t the time or the place.
“So.” She smiled at him as she sipped from a bottle of water. “You know what I need now. I know what you need, and I can help you get it. It’s an arrangement that will benefit you, me…and your boss. I imagine he’s getting rather tired of being disappointed.”
“If you have information on Officer Deverall, you could have just called the tip line.” He gave her a charming smile.
“Hmmm. But then I don’t get what I need. And you don’t want him going in to give a statement, answer questions about his house. It was clever, though, how you set it up. Fuck up the gas, let it fill his house. Not to mention how your men handled it all. Did you know he had some issues with the wiring in the house or did they figure it out while they were there?”
With every word, his heart beat faster. With every word, he could feel the tremor in his hands worsen.
“No answer?” She shrugged. “That’s okay. It doesn’t matter. I was just admiring your clever handling of the matter. It would have worked, too. Too bad he had a warning.”
He smiled and leaned in. The water she still held splashed the front of his shirt as he all but crushed it between them. Her eyes were wide, studying his face.
He took his gun and pressed it into her abdomen, just off to the side.
And she still smiled.
“That’s a gun, cupcake,” he said. “It’s not anything I’d be smiling about if I were you.”
“Oh, come on now.” She cocked her head, the sweep of her short red hair brushing the collar of her shirt. “You don’t want to shoot me. Well, okay, you do. But you won’t—not here—and if you’d just listen, I’ll tell you things that will make you very glad you didn’t shoot me.”
“Like what?” he growled, pressing the muzzle deeper.
Pain flickered in her eyes and her mouth tightened. But that easy calm didn’t leave her face. “Like where you can find Deverall…tonight. I can tell you that. Do whatever you want with him once you find him. Just make sure I get the woman he has with him.”
* * * * *
The motel room was bland and boring.
It was also clean, which was more than Nyrene could say about herself.
A bag of clothes was on the bed and as soon as she had the okay, she was disappearing into the bathroom and parking her dirty, tired self in there for a month or more.
Her cop-turned-kidnapper-turned-wannabe-protector was outside. She wasn’t going to make a break for it. Even if he hadn’t just gone to grab some drinks from vending, even if he’d decided to hit the strip club two lots down, she still wouldn’t have left. She would probably be sitting next to him as he tucked bills into some lithe, pretty thing’s G-string.
They’d been looking for her.
Those guys who’d been at the truck stop and shot at them hadn’t been looking for him. They were looking for her.
The door opened and she jolted, coming off the bed with her heart racing and her hands clenched.
The adrenaline drained away as she met Bennett’s eyes.
“I thought you’d be in the shower.” He glanced at the bag from the discount department store. “Is something wrong?”
“No.” She licked her lips and reached for the bag. Nerves made her awkward and she picked it up without moving her purse. The bright pink bag upended and the contents went everywhere. Swearing, she tossed the bag down and started picking up all the junk she hauled around.
Keys, two—no, three—packs of gum, all half-gone, tampons and pens and loose change. Enough loose change to keep them in vending machine soft drinks for a week, it seemed.
She looked up as Bennett held out her wallet.
“Thanks.” She gingerly accepted it, careful not to let her fingers touch him.
The stilted silence settled around them, heavy and thick.
She hated it, right up until he asked, “That’s what causes it, isn’t it? Touching somebody?”
The strength drained out of her and she sat down hard on her ass, her tablet in one hand, a tampon in the other. Looking down at her hands, she blushed and shoved both items into her purse. “I don’t know,” she said quietly. “When people were touching me in the ER, trying to get me to calm down, that made it worse but it was like I could hear them, screaming inside my head. Nothing’s connected to them, though. Right now, it’s all…”
She stopped speaking, uncertain how to even finish.
“Me.” He looked as tired as she felt, and she watched as he sat down as well, his back against the bed.
He still wore the hoodie but it was unzipped and she could see the butt of his gun. She’d seen him use it, or close enough. She’d caught a glimpse of his body, hidden by the darkness, as he’d used that weapon on the men who’d come looking for her.
Unaware of her thoughts, he said tiredly, “This is all about me. You wouldn’t be in this mess if it wasn’t for me.”
“No.” She squirmed as he looked at her from the corner of his eye. “I could very well be in the psych ward for a twenty-three-hour hold.”
“Twenty-three hours came and went, Nyrene.”
Yeah. It was all a blur, too. As the man next to her sighed, she went back to collecting the rest of the change. “Bennett?”
He looked at her through his lashes.
“I know you didn’t…well, I know this wasn’t anything you intended to happen.”
His lids flickered. Shaking his head, he said, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions—isn’t that the saying? It’s just…everything you said sounded…”
“Impossible,” she offered when he lapsed into silence.
“Yeah.” He snorted. “Turns out it was just highly improbable.”
Nyrene didn’t entirely understand the look in his eyes, but she had a good idea what was behind it. He felt guilty—yeah, he should—and he was sorry, which he’d already admitted. She had to be honest, though. Had somebody told her this, or anything like it, would happen to her, she would have laughed her butt off.
Crazy things just didn’t happen to Nyrene Goldman. She had a nice, normal life, and she liked it that way.
She rose and settled her purse on the bed—in the middle.
She glanced at him and saw the card he was holding out.
As she reached for it, he said, “You’ve got more stuff in that purse than I would have thought was possible.”
“Yeah.” She glanced at the card and went to tuck it into her bag, but then, before she did, she stopped.
Slowly, she held it up.
She dropped down on the edge of the bed, staring dumbly at the card. Where had this…?
No. Wait. She remembered.
That guy—the one in the doctor’s office. Big and rough and built. He’d handed her a card, as though she’d dropped it. But she hadn’t.
He must have given it to her.
She couldn’t think of any other way she’d be holding a card with FBI printed on it. There was also a name. She closed her eyes while the name echoed in her mind.
She sucked in a breath.
She didn’t hear him, barely noticed as he gently tugged the card away.
Taige Morgan—if there was anybody in the southern states who hadn’t heard of her, Nyrene would be shocked.
But how did she know about Nyrene?
Bennett stared at the words scrawled below the name—and that name was a sucker punch. Taige Morgan.
“This shit is just getting crazier,” he muttered.
The bed squeaked and he looked up, watched as Nyrene collected the bag.
“What are you doing?”
“Taking a shower,” she replied and her voice wobbled.
It all but broke him as she cleared her throat and then continued, although he could see how shaken she was. “I need a shower. That’s a nice, normal thing, right? I need nice and normal.”
“Okay.” He nodded and closed his fingers around the card. “Okay.”
He watched as she disappeared into the bathroom and then he blew out a harsh breath. This was…
Hell. He didn’t know what to even call the situation they’d wound up in. FUBAR just might cover it, but he wasn’t sure. And he’d dragged an innocent woman into it. He’d scared her half to death, and more than once, he’d put her life at risk.
As the water in the bathroom came on, he closed his eyes.
Immediately, he opened them. Tossing the card down, he shoved upright and started to pace. His imagination served up a detailed image of just what was happening in the small bathroom. The water raining down on her, sluicing over all that lovely, golden skin, to her breasts and then her belly…
He stopped at the door and leaned forward, hands braced on it while his body raged and burned. Stop it, man. You gotta stop it.
He drew in a slow breath, held it a moment then blew it out. Then he repeated the process a few more times, lying to himself all the while that he had it under control.
He didn’t believe the lie, but he believed he could fake it.
A short, sharp scream sliced through the air.
He drew his Glock and shouted, “Nyrene!”
There wasn’t an answer.
The door was locked.
He reared back and busted through.
And then he had to jerk back to keep from stumbling over her. She was sitting on the tile, a towel wrapped around her. And everything that had been on the counter—ice bucket, the toothbrushes he’d grabbed, a couple bottles of water—was scattered all over the floor.
A soft, shaky gasp fell from her lips and he crouched down in front of her, almost afraid to touch her.
“Nyrene, are you hurt?” He holstered his weapon.
She lifted her head and looked at him. Her black hair hung in thick, wet ropes, clinging to her neck and shoulders. Water still beaded on her forehead, and as he watched, one drop slid down her temple and followed the elegant line of her cheek.
“What’s wrong, baby?” The endearment slipped free before he realized it.
He didn’t think she even noticed. Her eyes came to his, dark and haunted. She looked at him for just a blink and then averted her gaze. “I’m just…it’s stupid. I’m okay.”
Now he did touch her, pushing her wet hair back from her face before he caught her chin and guided her gaze back to his. “Tell me.”
“It’s stupid,” she said. Her voice cracked and tears rolled out of her eyes. “I don’t have any lotion and I don’t have the conditioner for my hair and I don’t have—”
A hard shudder racked her body and she clamped her lips tightly. After a few seconds, she said again, “It’s stupid.”
Dev wasn’t so sure he agreed. He’d found her in the parking lot while a couple of assholes were trying to kidnap her. He had a good idea of what they would have done to her, too. He’d dragged her halfway across the state, interrogating her, and when she’d told him the truth, he hadn’t believed her.
Now she was in a small, tired old motel with him and she didn’t have anything but the clothes he’d grabbed for her from a local Walmart.
He held out a hand and waited until she placed hers in his. With her other, she clutched the towel between her breasts, holding it in place. He let go of her hand once she stood in front of the mirror.
He took another towel from the rod and started to dry her hair.
She didn’t move or speak.
Taking the comb, he went to work on the tangles in her heavy hair, focusing on that task, and that alone. His entire body ached and he wanted to crowd up against her, press his mouth to her neck as he tugged the towel away she held so tightly.
But he just combed her hair.
Once it lay smooth against her back, he put the comb down. There were things he needed to say, things he should say, but when she turned around to look at him, his mind went blank.
He was still struggling to think past the hazy heat when she slid past him and into the bedroom.
He followed her.
“Am I ever going to be able to go back home?” she asked quietly.
Dev didn’t know how to answer that—lying to her wouldn’t help and neither would the truth. I don’t know.
Her breath hitched in her throat and she averted her face, staring at the far wall as she struggled not to cry.
One tear slid free.
“Hey…” He brushed it away and a harsh sob tore out of her.
Because he didn’t know what else to do, Dev wrapped his arms around her as she started to cry.