Read Her 24-Hour Protector Online

Authors: Loreth Anne White

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Contemporary

Her 24-Hour Protector (9 page)

BOOK: Her 24-Hour Protector
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“I already knew about your mother, Lex,” Jenna said softly as she opened the glove compartment. “I saw these.”

“Oh, you went snooping around my—”

“I didn’t want to get mugged wearing my emerald bracelet and diamond pendant, okay? So I took them off to stash in here.” She removed her bracelet from the glove compartment, clasping it back on while she spoke. “And I couldn’t help seeing these newspaper cuttings.”

“So you just read them.”

“Wouldn’t you?” she snapped.

He shot her a hard look. “Put them back.”

She stared at him in silence for a moment, then shoved the
articles back into the glove compartment, slapped it closed. Lex noticed her hands were trembling.

They drove in tense silence, entering thickening traffic, water writhing little snakes over the windshield, refracting the brake lights ahead.

Then suddenly, in the dark, he felt her hand move onto his knee. Just a gentle touch. No pressure. Reassuring. Compassionate. As if to let him know she was there for him, that she understood.

Moisture burned suddenly into his eyes. His jaw tightened. He clenched his fists around the wheel. He needed to get her home, dump her outside her fancy mansion and get her the hell out of his life.

Because he was scared. He was starting to feel like leaning on her, sharing.

His deep down private stuff.

He didn’t want another relationship, marriage. He didn’t want to start falling for a woman—not in that way.
Especially
not Jenna Rothchild.

He remained silent as he drove sharply into her driveway. Waved on by the security guard, he drove right up to the portico, stopped, but did not kill the engine.

“I can let myself out.”

He nodded.

She reached for the door handle, hesitated. “That’s why you really came back to Vegas, isn’t it, Lex?” she said. “That’s why you put in for the transfer. You came to find your father. To learn who killed your mother.” Her voice was thick, full of emotion and compassion. Lex just wanted to stay on safe, uncommitted territory. He wanted to cruise in his emotionally neutral zone. He wanted her to get out. Leave him alone.

“Yeah,” he said, not looking at her. “That’s why I put in for the transfer.”

“Do you think that Mercedes Epstein bidding on you at the
auction had anything to do with…with the past, with your mother’s job at the Frontline?”

“Why the hell should it?” Truth was, that question really unsettled him. “Mercedes showing up at your auction probably has more to do with the old business your father had with Frank Epstein, Jenna, than anything to do with me.”

She stared at him in silence, opened the door. The interior light flared on and droplets of rain blew inside. But she wavered again.

“Lex?”

“What?”

“Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For showing me something about myself that I’d forgotten today. It meant a lot to me, being with you. And those kids.”

Lex didn’t trust himself to speak right now, so he said nothing.

She leaned forward suddenly, kissed him fast and light on the mouth, and was gone, door slamming shut as she ducked through the rain and ran up the stairs. Clive swung open the door for her, and she was swallowed by her mansion as it closed.

Lex shut his eyes for a nanosecond, still tasting her on this mouth. He inhaled deep.

He was a cop.

He’d acted like an idiot.

Enough games.

He’d crossed too many lines, and now he had to pull back. But as he drove out of the Rothchild driveway in the pelting storm, he knew that he’d already gone too far.

Because deep, deep down, a part of him knew that he was falling for Jenna.

In spite of himself.

 

Jenna crouched down in the hallway to ruffle Napoleon’s fur as he squiggled about her feet, happy to have her home. But as
she petted her dog, she sensed a presence, someone watching from within the darkened interior of the adjacent living room.

She stilled, got slowly to her feet, walked into the dark room. “Hello?” she said, reaching for the switch of a lamp.

“Jenna.” Rebecca Lynn’s voice came from near the bar.

Jenna flicked on the lamp, saw her so-called stepmother sitting in a chair in front of the floor-to-ceiling window. From that window she’d have seen Lex’s SUV, possibly even Jenna kissing the agent, illuminated by the vehicle’s interior light because the door had been partially open at that point.

“Rebecca Lynn,” Jenna said coolly. “Why are you sitting in the dark? Is Ricky in bed already?”

Ricky was Harold’s newest child, his first with Rebecca Lynn, and his only son. Little Ricky was a spoiled kid, constantly being used as a bargaining chip in the relationship between Harold and his latest wife. A relationship that was going sour. Already.

“I was watching…the storm,” Rebecca Lynn said.

Jenna realized from the studied delivery of Rebecca Lynn’s words that her stepmother had already been drinking. Quite a bit.

“Was that the federal agent who dropped you off?” she asked. “The one on Candace’s case?”

“Why do ask?” Jenna said, recalling the movement in the drapes upstairs after she’d dashed out to Lex’s SUV yesterday.

She sighed dramatically. “Your father is hiding things from you, Jenna. Do you know that?”

Here we go again, trying to drive a wedge between me and my dad. “Look, I don’t have time for this, Rebecca—”

“Oh, I think you do.” She pushed herself up out of the chair, wobbled, smiled, then teetered over to the bar. She poured a heavy shot of gin, topped it with tonic and plopped a slice of lemon in, stirring it with her pinky. “I’d be surprised if that FBI agent doesn’t think
you
could have done it.”

“Done what?”

“Murdered Candace.”

“Oh, for God’s sake, are you insane? Or is that the gin talking again?”

“Hmm.” She sucked the moisture off her pinky. “I did happen to tell the FBI there was no love lost between you and Candace, you know? I told them that when they questioned me the first time around. And then—” she took a sip from her glass “—Agent Duncan came to see me at work this morning. He asked me again about your relationship with Candace. Did he tell you
that,
Jenna?”

A cold chill seeped through her. Lex hadn’t mentioned it.

“He didn’t, did he?”

The feeling deepened. “Why should he? It’s his case, he can’t talk about the details with me.”

“He’s using you, Jenna Jayne, to get inside the Rothchild cloak of secrecy.” She made a woo woo motion with her hands.

“Nonsense—I was the one who set him up at the auction remember?”

“At whose request, I wonder?”

“Well, that should prove a point, shouldn’t it? The Rothchilds are the ones using him, not vice versa.” Hell, why had she even said that? Rebecca Lynn was baiting her and fool that Jenna was, she’d taken the lure. Hook, line and sinker.

“I forgot to mention
that
fact to Agent Duncan this morning. Maybe,” Rebecca Lynn said slowly, her words slurring, “I’ll give him a call later and tell him that Harold requested you to go all out to seduce him for information on The Tears of the Quetzal.”

Anger began to mushroom inside Jenna. “Do what the hell you like, Rebecca! You’re drunk, and I’m going to change. I’m soaked.” She turned to leave.

“I also know that you went to visit Candace on the night she was killed,” she called out.

Jenna froze.

“Maybe, Jenna Jayne, if I was truly malicious, I might suggest the FBI try and match your DNA to the scene. Who knows what the feds could come up with.”

Her heart jackhammering, Jenna turned slowly to face her wicked little stepmother. “You don’t know what you’re saying—”

“Jenna, I
know
you were there.”

Jenna stared at Rebecca Lynn for several beats, feeling increasingly ill. Slowly, she sunk down into a chair, Napoleon at her feet. “How?” she whispered, scared now, wondering what Lex really knew about the night of the murder, wondering if this reviled stepmother of hers had already told Lex that she’d been at Candace’s apartment mere hours before her sister was killed.


How
do you know?”

Rebecca Lynn started sashaying theatrically out of the room.

“Rebecca Lynn!”

She stopped in the doorway, smiling crookedly.

“Did you have me followed that night?”

“No, I went to visit Candace myself that night, Jenna. When I got there, I saw your car was already parked outside. So I just sat in my vehicle for a while, waiting for you to come out. Watching.”

“What on earth were you doing there?”

“I needed to talk to Candace, alone. About…an issue between us. But then I saw you two up in front of the big lighted window, arguing. I saw Candace throw the vase at you, and you ducked. You began to pick up the broken pieces. It looked, Jenna, like you might have cut your finger, because you sucked it quickly. Do you think you might have left blood on one of those vase pieces? Your DNA, perhaps?”

Jenna swallowed against the thickness ballooning in her throat. She should have told the cops right away that she’d gone to try and talk Candace into a rehab program. But there
was such a media circus around the murder she didn’t want to smear her dead sister’s name further into the mire. As much as she and Candace had squabbled, Candace was still her blood. Her
sister.
And there were her boys to think about. Jenna had been raised to close ranks at times of family trouble.

Besides, she knew she hadn’t killed her sister, so what difference did it make, truly, that she’d been there a few hours earlier? Except now Lex would see it as a lie by omission. Another reason not to trust her.

God, he might even think she’d done it.

“Are you going to tell Agent Duncan?” she whispered.

“Don’t think I need to. Your sexy bachelor agent probably already knows that you’re a lying little bitch. It’s probably why he’s escorting you around town, plying you for information so he can nail you.” She snorted derisively at Jenna’s expression. “What? You thought he actually fancied you?”

Nausea slicked through Jenna’s stomach.

If what Rebecca Lynn said was true—and Lex
had
been playing her—it meant the fragile bond she’d felt dawning between her and Lex today had been a complete farce. And that hurt more than anything.

Rebecca Lynn had just stomped her stiletto into Jenna’s fragile burgeoning emotions, grinding them right into the dirt. And Jenna hated her more than ever. “You know I didn’t hurt Candace,” she said quietly. “If you were watching, you’d have seen me leave, while she was still alive. You’re a witness to my innocence.”

“Hmm,” Rebecca Lynn said, putting the glass to her mouth, wetting her lips with gin. “Not sure I can recall those little details.”

Jenna launched to her feet. “For all I know
you
did it! You’ve just told me you were there.
After
I was.”

“I never went into her apartment. It would’ve been pointless to try and talk to Candace when she was in a drunken rage, so I drove home.”

Jenna glowered at Rebecca Lynn, all sorts of dark suspicions suddenly growing in her mind.

Rebecca Lynn sighed theatrically, as if suddenly bored out of her skull. “I didn’t hurt Candace, my dear, as much as I would’ve liked to,” she said. “And I certainly didn’t send all those threatening notes.”

“There was only one note. A typed one, left in Dad’s mailbox.”

“Oh, really?” Rebecca Lynn glanced pointedly at Harold’s study door. Jenna followed her gaze and noticed that the door was ajar. It was never open. Harold always kept that door shut. And through the open door Jenna could see the top drawer of his desk was partially open. Harold was meticulous about such things. He’d never have left it like that.

Had Rebecca Lynn been in there? Jenna shot a hard look at her inebriated stepmother. Rebecca grinned lopsidedly, held up her glass in cheers and sauntered out into the hallway, listing like a drunken sailor.

Whatever had possessed her father to marry that 34-year-old witch was beyond Jenna. She waited until she heard Rebecca Lynn’s heels on the marble stairs, then Jenna went to her dad’s office.

She clicked on the tiny desk light, worried that if her father returned, he’d see a brighter light from the bottom of the driveway.

She pulled the top drawer open wider. Wind lashed outside suddenly, drumming rain against the window in waves. The palm trees swished eerily against glass panes and the curtain billowed. Jenna tensed, her heart racing.

She was feeling spooked, guilty for being in here at all.

Quickly, she removed an unmarked yellow file folder from the drawer, opened it and stared in shock.

The folder contained five more notes—death threats—against the entire Rothchild family.

Notes her father had
not
given to the police.

These were not typed, either, like the first threat. They’d been created from letters cut from magazines and newspapers. Jenna was careful not to touch them as she read the words, horrified.

Whoever had crafted and sent these was threatening to systematically kill off Rothchild “trash,” eliminating family members one by one after Candace. Each of the notes was dated, and every one alluded to the infamous Tears of the Quetzal, in increasing detail. And all five spoke of an old deed that needed to be avenged.

The last one was even signed, The Avenger.

A shudder washed over her as the rain lashed against the windows again, and fronds swished against the panes.

Why was her dad hiding these?

Had he kept these notes even from Natalie, her LVMPD sister and Candace’s twin? Just as Jenna herself hadn’t told anyone, including Nat, that she’d been to visit her sister the night of the murder?

Jenna was really afraid now. She needed to come clean, tell Lex everything that had happened the night of Candace’s death.

And she needed to inform him about the existence of these notes.

But that would mean betraying her father. Maybe Harold had good reason to have withheld these from the cops. Maybe these notes weren’t even from the killer—they were a completely different style to the first one.

BOOK: Her 24-Hour Protector
6.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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