His eyelids felt like they weighed a ton and a bead of sweat rolled down his temple. Alastair let his head drop forward and pulled in another long, shuddering breath.
That’s when he heard doors slam open and the sound of running footsteps. Cavalry was here.
People swarmed around his plastic prison and Thom’s face appeared beside him.
“Hang on, Alastair.”
Then he saw Darcy.
She shouldered through the crowd, still wearing her ice-pick heels, although her usually neat swing of hair was mussed. They’d had a hell of a day, but she still looked beautiful.
Thom was issuing orders. “Get that saw in here and cut this open. Move it.”
Darcy’s eyes were filled with worry. She pressed a hand to the plastic. Alastair lifted his own and pressed it to meet hers.
The electric saw started, the loud noise echoing around them.
Then fresh air hit him and he breathed deep. Thom and Dec reached through the broken plastic and helped him out. He felt lightheaded but wasn’t planning to admit that to anyone.
“Shit, man.” Thom slapped his hand against Alastair’s back.
“I’m fine, now,” he assured them all.
Now that his head was clearing, all he could think about was the fact that the bastard could have taken Darcy instead of him. He guessed today’s attacks were to issue warnings and scare the fuck out of both of them.
Darcy grabbed his hand, her fingers brushing his pulse. He saw a glimmer in her eyes.
“Don’t you dare cry,” he said.
“I’m an only child. A woman’s tears…” Left him feeling helpless and unmanned.
“He hands any crying witnesses over to me,” Thom said, clearly trying to lighten the mood. “Completely useless.”
“You’re screwed now,” Dec said. “She knows Cal and I can’t handle tears, either. Woman can wield them like a weapon.”
Her eyes narrowed. “I do not.” Then she looked back at Alastair. “He needs to get checked out—”
“No. I’m fine.”
“You made me get checked out.”
“Chlorine gas exposure is a bit different to not having fresh air. I didn’t even lose consciousness.”
“You did from the stun gun.”
“So did you.”
“How about you both take the afternoon off and get some rest,” Thom said.
Alastair scowled at his partner. “No, I—”
Thom held up a hand. “You—” he pointed at Alastair, then at Darcy “—and you. Go. Now. No arguments.”
* * *
Darcy stepped out of the shower and wrapped herself in the dark-blue towel.
God, she’d just showered in Alastair Burke’s glossy bathroom.
He lived in a one-bedroom condo in a converted warehouse just north of the city. He’d told her the place had once been a helicopter factory. She loved it. It reminded her of the old flour mill in Denver that she and her brothers had converted into the Treasure Hunter Security offices.
Alastair’s place had loads of exposed brick, touches of black iron, and a bathroom done in masculine gray tiles.
She looked at her reflection in the foggy mirror. Her hair was wet, her face was makeup-free and pale. She had god-awful shadows under her eyes.
Dammit, Burke was right. It might only be the afternoon, but she needed some rest. She felt drained and still a little shaky from the chlorine attack. Not to mention the panic at seeing Alastair trapped in that box. She swallowed, feeling the raw sensation in her throat.
She pressed her hands to the sink and pulled in a breath. Memories crowded into her head. The horrible coughing, the choking, combined with knowing Silk Road had Alastair, and that damn ticking timer.
She looked back into the mirror. Nothing like black-market thieves repeatedly trying to kill you to put your life in perspective.
She was no longer the awkward, nerdy teen with the big, tough, overachieving brothers, or the completely-in-love, larger-than-life parents.
Darcy knew her own worth. She was damn good at her job, had skills that very few people possessed, and even without her makeup and her hair blow dried, she looked pretty good. And she wanted love and a family of her own.
She stepped into Alastair’s bedroom. It was neat—no surprise there—and decorated in masculine colors with warm wood accents. Unrepentant about snooping, she opened a few drawers and looked in the closet.
One framed picture sat on the dresser. It showed a smiling woman in a simple dress and cheap shoes, hugging a serious-looking, dark-haired boy. The boy looked like he was about ten.
It was then she noted the intense green eyes.
God. The boy was a young Alastair. She peered closer. His face had the same impassive stare she looked at every day. A part of her had always wondered if he’d sprung into existence as a fully-formed adult with a gun on his hip.
This woman had to be his mother. Darcy ran a finger over the frame and wondered where the woman lived, and if she was close to her son.
Turning away, Darcy decided to find something to wear. Since she had no clean clothes, she had to borrow something. In the closet, she pulled a crisp, white business shirt off a hanger and slipped it on. It almost reached her knees.
She left her hair wet. There wasn’t much she could do with it, anyway. And while she might sell her soul for her MAC collection, makeup-free was going to have to do until she got her things.
When she walked into the living area, a wonderful smell hit her. She halted. Burke was cooking. He’d taken his jacket off and had his shirt sleeves rolled up.
Darcy let out a shuddering breath. If men only knew how insanely attractive it was to a woman to watch a man cooking something up in the kitchen… And Alastair looked beyond fine, stirring a pot of something mouthwatering. Whatever. He’s still arrogant, bossy, and annoying, remember?
He looked up and stared at her.
“Ah, I borrowed a shirt.” She fought not to tug on the hem.
His eyes darkened. “So I see.” He nodded at the stools on her side of the granite island. “Take a seat.”
She pulled herself up, studying his face. He looked none the worse for wear for his ordeal.
“I hope you like fettuccine carbonara,” he said. “I’m making a late lunch, or an early dinner.”
She looked at him aghast. “You cook? Like, with ingredients?”
He turned to face her, and he looked outrageously scrumptious holding a wooden spoon.
“My mom taught me.”
Darcy felt something change in the air between them. “I saw the picture in your room. That’s her, right?”
“Sorry,” she said. “I wasn’t snooping.” Big fat liar, Darcy Ward.
“Yeah. That’s her.”
His tone made goose bumps break out on Darcy’s skin. Burke reached over, pulling open the stainless-steel refrigerator and pulling out a bottle of sparkling water. Next, he grabbed some tall glasses.
“Hope water’s okay. I did some research, and you need to avoid alcohol for a little while.”
Darcy took the glass. She should never have brought up the photo.
He leaned against the counter. “My mother was murdered when I was ten.”
Oh. God. “I’m so sorry, Alastair.” Without thinking, Darcy reached out, pressing her hand over his.
He nodded, then pulled away and turned back to the stove. “It was a long time ago.”
He flicked off the burner, set out plates, and started serving up the food. He slid a plate of the creamy pasta in front of her, then leaned against the counter as he ate his.
Darcy tasted the pasta and swallowed a moan. “Oh, God, this is so good.”
She got a flicker of a smile.
Then her belly cramped, and she set her fork down. She was hungry, but the stress of the day was still riding her. “Our plan to take down Silk Road is going to work.”
“That a question or a statement?”
“A statement.” She straightened. “Today was the last straw. We’re going to get the Collector, and by this time next week, there will be no more Silk Road.”
He nodded. “Yes.”
Such confidence. Just that single word said with so much conviction. If she’d learned anything about Alastair Burke, it was that he was a man of his word.
“It’s time,” he said. “Silk Road has been destroying lives for decades. With the Collector assuming sole control, things will only get worse.”
Darcy swallowed down another bite of pasta. “I agree, one hundred percent. They’ve been targeting my family and friends for a while. And now me and you.”
She looked up and saw a muscle tick in his jaw.
She reached out and grabbed his hand again. “We’ll stop them.”
His thumb stroked her skin. “We will.”
They finished eating, and Darcy insisted on helping him clean up. When she flopped onto the gray suede couch, she suppressed a grateful sigh. When she pulled out her tablet, it was whisked out of her hands.
“No work. Rest.”
She rolled her eyes and watched him tuck the device away. She wasn’t sure what to do with herself. There was no way she was admitting how tired she felt.
Alastair clicked on the television, and she leaned into the couch.
“I have some work to do,” he said. “I’ll be in my office, if you need me.”
She watched him disappear through a set of double doors and fought a pout. Of course, he was allowed to work. She focused on the TV and a few minutes later she fell asleep.
Darcy blinked awake, a scream caught in her throat. She’d been having a nightmare about the attack. She’d been trapped in a plastic box filling with gas, Alastair trapped on the other side of the plastic.
She looked around and saw unfamiliar brick walls. She exhaled sharply and her brain finally caught up. Alastair’s place.
She had no idea what time it was. It was dark outside the windows, the lights were on low, and the television was off. She pushed her hair off her face and spotted her suitcase sitting by the front door. She barely suppressed her cry of glee.
She got up and went looking for Alastair.
His office was dark and he wasn’t at his desk.
She almost moved away, when she spotted a shadow sitting in an armchair in the corner of the room.
She stepped into the office. In the ambient glow from the living room, she saw he was sitting in the shadows, cradling a glass of whisky. His head was down.
He didn’t move, but the brooding vibe hit her hard.
“You almost died today.”
Darcy felt rooted to the spot, a knot in her chest. His deep, rasping tone made her throat tight. “You did too. And I’m fine. You came for me.”
He looked up. “A few more minutes—”
She moved to him now. Right in this moment, there was no way she could resist the pull between them. She rested her hands on his shoulders. “I’m okay, Alastair. We’re both okay.”
He pulled in a deep breath and tipped his head back. Darcy didn’t let herself think. She’d almost died and so had he. She reached down and cupped one stubbled cheek. She stepped between his legs, then she leaned down and kissed him.
He tasted so good, with an edge of whisky. He smelled as good as always—that crisp cologne that now always made her think of Alastair Burke. He didn’t touch her, but he took over the kiss, his tongue sliding against hers.
She heard his glass hit the rug with a muffled thump. His hand came out and gripped her waist, tugging her roughly onto his lap. She made a hungry sound, sliding her hands into his hair.
“Darcy…damn…” One hand cupped her ass and kneaded. He kissed her again.
A phone started ringing.
No. She tightened her hands in his hair.
Alastair broke the kiss and cursed. “That’s Thom’s tone.”
Struggling to find some control, Darcy pulled in a few breaths and slid off his lap. She stood on shaky legs.
“Thom?” A pause. “You ran the prints on the chlorine device and the box.” Alastair’s jaw tightened. “Nothing came up. Not a surprise.” Another pause. “Okay, yeah, keep me informed.”
Alastair slid the phone away, his gaze meeting hers.
“No evidence off the chlorine device or the plastic box,” she said.
Alastair shook his head. “You need a good night’s sleep.”
“I’m not sure I can sleep…I keep remembering the attack.” Her chest tightened. God, she did not need to have a panic attack.
A hand gripped hers, squeezed. Instantly, her chest loosened a fraction.
“You take the bed,” he said. “I’ll sleep on the couch.”
“I’ll be right here, Darcy.” His green eyes glowed with his promise. “I’ll make sure no one gets in here and no one disrupts your sleep.”
The last of the tension in her eased. If there was one thing she was starting to learn, it was that she could trust this man.