Her Dangerous Promise - Part 2: (Romantic Suspense Serial) (2 page)

BOOK: Her Dangerous Promise - Part 2: (Romantic Suspense Serial)
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Chapter Three

Mary awoke choking on a scream. The blankets tangled around her and she tore them away. He’d been there. Her abductor had sneaked into her home, tied her to her own bed and choked her, determined to crush the life out of her.

Only she wasn’t bound now.

With trembling hands, she rubbed her throat. Had it been a dream? The pressure of hands twisting around her throat lingered, even though the faint light in her bedroom revealed no one present. Building fear swirled in her like a whirlpool, threatening to suck her down to the depths. With compounding certainty, she knew he stalked her from the shadows inside her own home.

Beyond the foot of her bed, the open bedroom door yawned like an open portal to her deepest fears. The shadowed hallway beyond telescoped like a funhouse tunnel. Past the bathroom and linen closet doors in the small hallway, the flickering light of the TV illuminated the living room in a strobing of twisted colors.

She hadn’t left that TV on, had she?

Dread trickled through her. She wouldn’t let him take her again. She wouldn’t!

Mary slipped out of bed, wearing nothing more protective than an oversized tee shirt and Tweety Bird boxers. She felt for the softball bat beside her bed. Her hand closed around it with relief. She hefted it like she expected to swing at a fastball.

The hardwood floor chilled her bare feet as she tiptoed into the hall. No one could fit into the linen closet because of the shelves but she peeked inside just in case. No crazed killers peered out from behind the stacks of towels, so she pushed the door closed again.

Darkness inside the bathroom, as impenetrable and concealing as a bat-infested cave, filled the void. Mary stretched one hand into the black, expecting something to grab her at any moment. With trembling fingers, she slid up the fabric pattern of the wallpaper until she brushed against the cold switch and filled the black hole with blazing light. The electric flame reflected off the tub and tiles but found no person to illuminate. No one hid in the bathroom but the flicker of the light may have telegraphed a warning to someone waiting in the living room. Mary tugged the bathroom door closed, returning the hallway to darkness in the hopes of convincing her attacker that she’d gone in there.

Mary choked up on the bat and focused on the light from the living room.

Suddenly a man, silhouetted by the backlight, blocked the hallway. He was big, taller than Mary and almost too broad in the shoulders for the narrow passage. She could tell, even in the gloom of the hallway, that he possessed muscles enough to make short work of her.

Mary swung the bat toward his head with such force she couldn’t adjust the angle when he ducked beneath the blow. The bat embedded itself in the drywall and stuck.

Mary struggled to dislodge her only weapon when he tackled her. At the angle she’d turned, she landed hard on her left hip and shoulder.

Her screams amounted to nothing as he flipped her to her back. He yelled something but she couldn’t hear him over her own shouts. With a fluid move, he straddled her stomach and forced her wrists to the ground on either side of her head.

Mary bucked uselessly under his weight.

“Mary!” he shouted. “It’s me, Thom!”

She twisted her head and tried to bite the hand covering her wrist.

“I’m Inspector Brady of the Stony Bend Police! Calm down! I won’t hurt you.”

The police?

“Remember, Mary? You asked me to sleep on your couch tonight.”

Her terror melted into relief. “Thom!”

Chapter Four

“Yes, Mary, it’s me.” Thom eased his grip on the bandages covering Mary’s wrists, regretting any pain he caused her. The blaze of terror he’d seen in her eyes when she hadn’t recognized him tore a hole in his gut, even while the raised bat had kicked in his survival instinct. After another second to be sure she wouldn’t hurt herself he released her wrists.

“Oh, Thom!” She wrapped her arms around his neck. Her warm cherry blossom scent tangled his senses. Thom crushed her to him too relieved for words. She said, “I didn’t hurt you, did I?”

“No, I’m fine. Are you okay?” He climbed off her and assisted her to her feet. Thom collected her into his embrace. Rubbing her back, he eased away her trembling. Burning traced his flesh where their bodies pressed together, filling him with… What? It couldn’t be attraction, not between himself and a victim.

“I thought you were him. I must have been dreaming and when I woke up I was so sure he was here.”

“It’s understandable.” Thom draped an arm around her waist to keep her from slumping to the floor, exhausted by spent emotion. The flame between them persisted and Thom suppressed the urge to explore where it led. He guided her to the couch. The blanket and pillow she’d given him drooped onto the floor where he’d knocked them when her strangled scream jerked him awake. Nearly in a panic, he’d stopped just long enough to grab his gun before investigating.

The light from the TV had cast enough of a glow for him to see Mary’s fearful expression clearly as her bat raised to strike. For a split second he’d thought she’d gone mad. He’d dodged the swing and then dropped the gun as he tackled her. Not until she’d recognized him did he begin to breathe easily. After he settled her on the couch, he retrieved his weapon and holstered it at his hip.

He eased down on the couch beside Mary, knowing he should have slid down on to the far side but choosing instead the space right beside her. Mary sat cross-legged on the couch, one hand in her lap and she wiped her tears away with the back of the other. Her hair spilled down her back and half covered her face in tantalizingly disorganized locks that he couldn’t restrain himself from sweeping back away from her fine cheeks. Her silken skin beneath his fingertips flared his awareness of her deep in his blood, striking a very male response in him. Crap. He was attracted to her. Not a smart move.

She smiled meekly. “You must think I’m a real nut.”

“Not at all.” Thom found he still fondled her hair and snatched his hand back. “Well, maybe just for a second there.” He laced his fingers together to prevent them from wandering to her again. “Good swing you have there. I should recruit you for the department’s baseball team.”

“I’m already playing for the Board of Education’s softball team.”

“When are your games?”

“Saturday mornings during the summer break.”

“Ours are Sunday afternoons. You can do both.”

She smiled, a more genuine one than her earlier attempt, and it stirred more in him than just his professional instinct to protect. Forcing himself to demonstrate at least some restraint, he tore his eyes off her.

Before crashing out last night, he’d left the TV on as a security light and just muted the sound. The silent rerun of the Honeymooners cast a flickering romantic glow that only candles could top. Unfortunately, it also illuminated the mess he’d made of Mary’s living room. After dinner, he’d brought in his files and laptop from the SUV and set up shop on Mary’s coffee table. Somehow, the collection spread like ivy in the summertime, papering the tabletop and spilling onto the floor. Scooping the disaster into piles, Thom apologized “Sorry about the mess.”

“Looks like me at the end of a grading period,” Mary yawned. “Just leave it.”

Thom leaned back and stretched his arms out on the back of the sofa. Only when he tried to relax did he realize how tense he’d been.

Apparently, Mary mistook his position as an invitation. She cuddled into his chest, sending sparks through his body. Thom slipped his arm from the back of the sofa and draped it over her shoulder. While simply enjoying that closeness, his thumb caressed lazy circles on her arm.

Mary settled heavily against his side and Thom glanced over at her. She’d fallen asleep and slumped against him. He smiled as he unfolded the extra blanket she’d left on the back of the couch for him and covered her.

Thom propped the pillow against the arm of the couch and eased back onto it. Hugging Mary to him, he positioned her so her head rested above his heart. Her stomach warmed his thighs. As he surrendered to sleep, Thom considered how much he enjoyed holding Mary, having forgotten in his drowsy state why he shouldn’t.

That was the way they were positioned when he’d dozed off.

When he woke up somehow he’d managed to stretch out against the back of the couch and Mary spooned in front of him. Her head pillowed on the arm he used to prop up his head. His other hand had managed to slip under her shirt and he rested the flat of his palm on her bare stomach. At least he hadn’t ventured higher, he thought. Even worse, he’d arched forward in his sleep so her back pressed completely against his chest and his knees tucked in behind hers. Her bottom curved into his crotch and his body throbbed a firm response.

From her light breathing, he knew she was asleep. For both of their sakes, he didn’t want her to wake and think he’d been trying to take advantage. After weighing the options, Thom settled on moving quickly rather than carefully. He dislodged his arm from under Mary’s head and climbed over her off the couch.

She stretched and sleepily glanced up at him. “You’re awake? God, you are not a morning person, are you?”

She hadn’t appeared to realize their compromising positions, much to his relief. “Not usually.” He rummaged through the gym bag with his emergency change of clothes and bathroom supplies he usually kept in his SUV. His Cub Scout leader would be proud, knowing Thom heeded the motto “always be prepared”, a valuable maxim in his line of work.

“Good,” she mumbled, closing her eyes. “I can’t imagine myself sleeping with a morning person.”

Thom fumbled with the toothbrush he’d just found, dropping it back into the gym bag. Had she just said something about sleeping with him? He shot a glance back at her, his pulse spiking. A vision of Mary, spread naked beneath him, with her butter colored hair spilling across a satin pillowcase, passion sparkling in her lover’s eyes and kissable lips curving upward enticingly, suddenly appeared in his mind’s eye.

She’d drifted back to sleep. Certainly, she hadn’t meant that comment the way he’d taken it. When Mary said sleep, she meant sleep, not the tumble of erotic images that suddenly befuddled his early morning brain. Way to go, Thom, he thought. Now you’re definitely crossing the line.

Instead of trying to reboot his brain from the jolt he’d just taken, Thom carried the gym bag into the bathroom. The long cold shower he subjected himself to woke him up and at least partially settled his hormones. Dressed in lightweight jeans and a black tee shirt with Police stenciled across his chest, he felt serious and completely professional. That was until he emerged from the bathroom.

Mary met him in the hallway with a mug of coffee, which she passed off to him as she breezed by. The thin, oversized shirt she wore didn’t disguise the shape and bounce of her breasts and the ridiculously cute boxer shorts swayed with each flick of her hips. Her hair draped peek-a-boo style into her face. She smiled radiantly at him as she rose to her tiptoes to plant a kiss on his cheek. Although it lasted just a second, the warm moisture of her lips on his skin melted away all the illusion of self control he’d mustered. “Thanks for staying with me last night,” she said. Before he could respond, she ducked into the bathroom and closed the door behind her.

Thom touched his cheek where she’d kissed him, not sure what to make of it but not able to stop himself from grinning foolishly either. He sipped the coffee she’d given him. Not bad. Thom felt pretty good about the world as he walked toward the living room, then he noticed the hole in the wall where the bat had struck the night before.

It might be a bright new day but they still faced the problems that gave Mary nightmares last night. What’s more, he couldn’t stick around today and drive off attackers, real or dreamed. The forensic report probably waited for him on his desk already. New leads could have come in over the night, especially considering the news coverage. Normally, in a major case like this, he’d pull an all-nighter, unable to stand the thought of a lead growing cold while he rested. Only last night Mary had needed him. Despite his determination to glean important information from Mary, she’d refused to even make a rudimentary witness statement. Just like Tammy Jo. Thom frowned at her memory. Sweet sixteen and cold in her grave for all these long years. Mary might want to live in denial but for her sake he was going to get to the bottom of this case, with or without her help.

Chapter Five

Mary coasted past the school parking lot, searching for anyone, more specifically any man, who looked suspicious. As she approached the entrance to the lot, she stepped on the gas instead of the brake. Only through a great deal of effort, did she manage to keep her speed a mere five miles over the school zone speed limit.

Once around the block and Mary settled for the small but empty, church parking lot across the street from Stony Bend Elementary School. She coasted into a slot that faced the school’s faculty parking area.

Mary gripped the steering wheel like a life preserver and leaned forward to scrutinize the scene across the street. Nearly a dozen vehicles were already scattered throughout the small lot. Sam Malcovi, one of the sixth grade teachers, toted his briefcase and an armful of books toward the side door. While she watched, three more cars arrived. The librarian, Nancy Miller and two of the lunch ladies strolled confidently into the building, ready to begin a new week of class. Each and every one of them safely traversed the lot and entered the building. Not one of them seemed the least bit nervous and perhaps they were right. As far as Mary could see, no psycho lurked behind a bush or spied on the lot from a nearby van.

Except for her.

She couldn’t even bring herself to smile at that thought. Her coffee and usual breakfast croissant cooled in the paper sack on the seat beside her, momentarily forgotten even with the warm and familiar scent of them filling her car. She’d bought them out of habit, practically on autopilot, while her rational mind berated her emotional mind for wanting to bailout on her first day back at school and instead hide under the bed with her cordless phone and softball bat.

After Thom left her Sunday morning, Mary had found excuses not to emerge from her relatively safe home. She’d decided that she really needed to finish the leftovers from her refrigerator rather than going out to the store. And even though she ran out of juice, milk and diet soda she truly needed to drink more water anyway.

Even though the silence bothered her, Mary worried she’d miss hearing the sound of a window sliding open or someone jimmying her locks if she risked listening to the TV or radio. Each time the phone shattered that perfect silence Mary nearly screamed but she disregarded that as just a stress reaction and not an admission of fear—at least that is what she told herself.

And the phone rang a lot. Her principal called twice to check on her and ask if she should schedule a substitute for Monday. Mary assured her, with all the confidence she could muster, that it was not necessary. Thom had called nearly every hour, checking in on her and casually probing for information. She’d stuck to her word and not told him anything. More than once, she’d considered placing an international call to Europe, just to hear the comforting melody of her mother’s voice but Mary knew she’d break down crying and she didn’t want to frighten her mother or exacerbate her father’s blood pressure.

And now here she was. Back at the scene of the attack. Almost. All she had to do was drive across the street, get out of her car, walk with as much speed as dignity could allow across the parking lot. And then restrain herself from diving head first into the school building, as if the building was ‘base’ in one of the children’s’ games where you were instantly protected simply by touching it. Yep, that was all she had to do. Just like she’d managed to do every day for years. Easy as pie.

Mary continued to sit and stare.

A black SUV cruised into the parking lot. Mary immediately recognized it as Thom’s. Darn. He’d probably dropped by to check up on her and she was hiding across the street like a frightened child.

Thom climbed out of the SUV, looking as sleek as a GQ model in his black slacks, jacket and tie. Mary’s heart stutter-stepped a few beats. Talk about sexy, she thought. And he’d spent the night on her couch, holding her after her nightmare. At the time, she’d just soaked up the comfort of his strong presence and felt safe in his arms. Recalling Thom’s touch, a flush of desire coursed through her. If only he wasn’t a cop. If only he wasn’t a risk to her. Mary imagined wrapping her arms around his narrow waist, pulling him close to her, turning her mouth invitingly up toward him. For the purposes of her daydream, that jacket had to go. So did the shirt and tie. Mary cracked the window because the windshield began to fog over. As she watched, Thom scanned the parking lot and then glanced across the street.

Darn! He’d spotted her. Mary moaned with embarrassment.

He waved for her to join him and then waited for her to obey.

In the war between fear and embarrassment, embarrassment won. She couldn’t justify her fear with Thom there to watch out for her, so she swallowed it and tried her best to force down the heat of the blush she felt rising in her cheeks. Mary drove slowly across the street, giving herself time to compose her features into what she hoped could pass for a relaxed expression. Despite the impression she hope to impart to Thom, Mary parked as close to the school as possible, dreading the agonizing trek back to the car at the end of the day.

Thom strolled up to her car door. After she unlocked it, he opened it for her. He said, “When you didn’t answer the phone at home, I was hoping I’d find you here.” The rich timbre of his voice stroked Mary’s inside like guitar strings, making her skin hum in sympathy.

“It is a school day, after all,” Mary chimed brightly, wondering if he believed her false cheer. With the coffee and croissant completely forgotten, Mary accepted the hand Thom offered. The humming in her skin rose an octave in response to the firm warmth of his fingers around hers. “Where else would I be?”

Thom let that go without comment. Once he’d helped her from the car, he didn’t release her hand. Instead, he cupped her fingers possessively. A wild tingle shot like electricity up her arm until the hairs at the back of her neck seemed to stick out. Mary forced herself to breathe and caught a whiff of his minty cologne, reminiscent of Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies but when Mary’s mouth watered in response, it hadn’t been cookies she’d been longing to taste. He walked her, hand in hand, to the building’s side entrance and held that door open for her as well. The whole scenario felt so much like a date, a tremble of excitement trickled through her.

Mary hesitated and then said, “Thom, I appreciate the escort but I’m fine.”

“I’m glad to hear that but I am not here to see you.”

“Oh.” The flush of embarrassment returned.

“Well, I’m not only here to see you.” Thom smiled, dashingly. He placed his hand in the small of her back and guided her inside. The heat of the touch spread far beyond the boundaries of his hands. “I’ve been asked to give a presentation at a school-wide assembly. You know, remind the kids not to talk to strangers and that sort of thing.”

“Yes, of course. That makes sense.”

“Especially with a kidnapper on the loose in the area.”

Mary glanced away, no longer able to endure the eye contact. The first school bus would arrive any minute but for now the hallways echoed with an intimate quiet. Mary stepped back, hoping distance could ease her discomfort. “I’m sure that is wise.”

“It really is too bad we can’t get a break in this case. You know, catch this creep before he can hurt anyone else.” Thom closed the distance between them.

“Yes, it is.” Mary backed into the teal colored tile wall. The subdued shade didn’t bring her any relief, nor did the familiar mixture of cleanser and paper smell of the school.

Thom propped his hand on the wall beside her and bent closer. The startling emerald of his eyes trapped her. “Especially with the safety of these kids at stake.”

She wanted to confess that their safety hinged on her silence but bit back her words. She couldn’t explain. She wouldn’t even know how to begin, or worse yet, how to stop before she told him too much. Instead, she opted to avoid the subject and him. “Speaking of kids, I need to get to class and set up.”

Mary twisted to slip away but Thom cupped her cheek and turned her face toward him. Thom’s gaze drifted to where he touched her and Mary could almost feel the heat of it smolder on her skin. His fingertips hooked behind the curve of her jaw just below her ear. The pad of his thumb caressed down her cheek and lingered by her mouth for an aching moment before easing slowly across the fullness of her lips and sending a shower of sparks swirling into her stomach. He opened his mouth as if to say something more but then closed it and smiled. “We’ll talk again later.”

He watched her mouth part, ready for him. An earthquake of anticipation rippled through Mary. Thom would kiss her. She knew it. She wanted it. With his palm still cradling her face, he moved toward her. She rose to him, breathlessly longing to feel his mouth close over hers.

But it didn’t. He moved past her mouth. His smoothly shaven cheek feathered over hers as his lips brushed like butterfly wings over her ear. Thom’s warm, clean scent surrounded her, filling her lungs and her mind with his essence. The rich coffee colored hair curved over his ear and down the back of his neck and before Mary realized it, her fingers slipped through its silky thickness. When he spoke softly into her ear, his breath ran like melted butter down her neck and sent a prickling of goose bumps over every inch of her flesh.

“You will meet me later, won’t you?”

“Okay.”

Thom slid back, his gaze dreamy and fluid as he drank her in. Gently, he raised her hand to his lips and kissed it.

Mary’s breath hitched. Her hand buzzed where Thom’s mouth, warm and moist and slightly yielding, pressed against her knuckles. His eyes caught hers and snared them with his intensity.

“And we’ll talk.”

“We’ll talk,” she repeated, trying to remember what it was they should talk about but couldn’t. Every brain cell was too preoccupied with the millions of nerves flooding her with sensation.

“But not now.” Thom retreated, allowing air to come between them.

Gradually, Mary realized a current of children flowed in through the double doors as the first of the fleet of school buses offloaded. They spilled in and around them, racing with the impatience of youth. “Not now,” she agreed.

Thom released her reluctantly, his hands trailing down her arms as they parted. With a wink, he turned toward the office and disappeared inside.

As the bustling flow of students jostled her, Mary fully regained her senses. What had she been thinking, letting him nuzzle her in the hallway? How unprofessional was that? Even so, she couldn’t hide her smile as she headed toward her classroom.

BOOK: Her Dangerous Promise - Part 2: (Romantic Suspense Serial)
5.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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