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Authors: Debra Mullins

Tags: #Fiction, #Paranormal romance

Prodigal Son (17 page)

BOOK: Prodigal Son
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He nodded and left.

She turned back to her bag and pulled out clean underwear and clothes, then turned toward the bathroom. Something shimmered in the corner of her eye. She turned her head and saw that Rafe had left his pendant on the table. She hadn’t gotten a good look at it before, so she moved closer. It was a simple clear piece of crystal on a goldish-copper chain. Good luck charm, maybe? He hadn’t seemed to be the New Age type, but this was the west, and the culture was different out here.

She shrugged and turned away. She’d make sure to give it to him when she went out to the car.

*   *   *

There was no going back now.

Rafe loaded the bags into the back of the SUV, then headed over to the soda machine for another round of colas. His stomach growled, reminding him they’d never eaten the breakfast he’d bought. But other hungers were well and truly satisfied.

Had taking Cara to bed been the wisest move? Probably not, especially since the shadow of death still lingered in her eyes. He usually made it a practice not to mix business with pleasure. But something about this woman would not leave him alone, and he’d hoped that a little healthy sex would take the edge off and allow him to focus. But the memory of that cat-and-canary smile she’d been wearing right before he’d climbed out of bed told him he’d been dead wrong. If anything, he wanted her more now that he’d had a taste of her.

But what was done, was done. He’d accept the consequences of his decision. He’d laid it all out for her, and she’d made the choice of her own free will. They would ride this wave as long as it lasted.

And somehow he would figure out how to save her life.

As he got back to the SUV with the sodas, the hotel room door opened, and she exited the room, lugging her carry-on bag with her. He met her as she approached the front of the SUV. He handed her a soda, then took the handle of the carry-on from her. Their fingers brushed. Their eyes met. They exchanged a smile. Without a word he turned away and opened the back hatch to the vehicle, tossing the small bag on top of the other suitcases.

“Thanks for the soda.” She came up behind him as he closed the door.

“We forgot to eat.” He took her hand and walked her around to the passenger side. “We’ll stop and get some fast food somewhere.”

“Okay.”

He opened the door for her and she leaned in to set her soda in the cup holder, then slid back out again. “Oh, you left this inside.” She reached into her shorts pocket and held out her hand. The early morning sun gleamed off the clear crystal and orichalcum chain in the center of her palm.

His world lurched
. How could he have forgotten it?

“Thanks.” He tried to keep his tone casual as he reached for it.

“It’s very unusual.” She closed her fingers just before he snagged it and gave him an inquiring look. “You don’t seem like the New Age type.”

“It’s got sentimental value, and I’d like it back.” He stared her down, fighting the Hunter’s urge to rip it from her hand. “Please.”

Hurt rippled across her face, and she opened her fingers without a word. He reached for the crystal. The instant his fingers touched it where it rested in her palm, a wave of heat swept through him. Roaring sounded in his ears, and his vision darkened around the edges, leaving only Cara shining like a beacon at the center of it. She stumbled back a step with a cry of surprise. He grabbed the chain, yanking it away. The instant it no longer touched her, the world snapped back into focus.

It isn’t just me; she feels it, too
.

The realization slammed into him. He’d once heard stories of mates using focus stones to center their energies and enhance sex. The clear crystal served as a tool for channeling power, and passion was definitely power. He’d never heard of anyone in recent memory actually trying it, but apparently Cara was tuned into him, and tuned into his focus stone. But that was impossible. They weren’t mates. They
couldn’t
be mates. He was destined to live alone.

He bought himself a minute while he slipped the pendant over his head, tucking the crystal safely beneath his shirt with a hand that trembled only slightly.

His own hunger for her had made him forget that people close to him tended to get hurt—which is why he took pains to keep everyone at a distance. He’d already seen the vision of her death; he had no desire to be the cause.

She braced herself on the doorframe. “What the heck just happened?”

“You feeling light-headed? You didn’t eat this morning.” He babbled the first logical explanation that entered his head as he extended a hand to assist her into the car.

She narrowed her eyes and searched his face. “Right. That must be it.” Turning her back on his help, she clambered into the car under her own power, fastened her seat belt, then busied herself opening her soda, an unspoken
DO NOT DISTURB
sign flashing like neon between them.

She hadn’t bought it.
With a sigh, he closed her door and walked around to the driver’s side. She was stewing, and he wasn’t used to seeing the animated Cara so very quiet. He wasn’t sure he liked it. But maybe it was for the best, at least until that busy brain of hers rationalized the impossible.

He got in the truck, fastened his own seat belt, then started the SUV. The sooner they left this motel—and its memories—behind them, the better.

*   *   *

“Good morning, Nicki.” Adrian Gray paused at the secretary’s desk when she didn’t respond. The young woman kept sorting through a huge pile of mail, utterly silent. “Nicki?”

Still she did not respond. He crouched down, studied her face. Her waxen skin and the pale shadows beneath her eyes indicated a sleepless night. As she shifted, opening envelopes and moving them to different piles, he caught a glimpse of a bruise on her breast, peeking from beneath the edge of her low-cut blouse. Another on her neck, mostly hidden beneath her dark hair.

He raised his hand slowly and brushed her hair to the side to reveal not just a bruise on her neck, but a bite mark. She didn’t stop what she was doing, didn’t even seem to notice his presence, much less his touch. She might have been a robot.

Sloppy, greedy fools. Teeth clenched, he moved around her, checking the other side of her neck. Another mark. Still she kept sorting her mail. Clearly, she had no idea he was even there.

He got to his feet, fists clenched. He glanced down at her hands, saw red, burnlike welts around her wrists. She’d been tied up, used, and sent back to her desk, oblivious to what had happened to her and anything else happening around her.
Ahantzi.
It had to be.

Using the chant of
ahantzi
for the simple expediency of sexual pleasure left a bad taste in his mouth. The ritual should be revered, studied, perfected—used in battle to make one invisible to one’s enemies, not for the common purpose of turning a woman into a sex slave. He knew who must have done this. Their carelessness would cost them.

He stepped behind her and rested his hands on her shoulders. “Sleep,” he commanded. She slumped forward, scattering her piles of mail. Adrian leaned down near her ear. “When you wake you will remember going to a party last night, one that got a little too wild. You will decide you are hungover and go home immediately.” He straightened, then moved down the hall a few paces as if he was just arriving. “Awaken.”

She woke up, confusion on her pretty face as she looked around. Her gaze landed on him, and she sat up, sweeping her hair back over her shoulder. “Good morning, Mr. Gray.”

“Nicki.” He stopped by the desk, gave her a concerned look. “Are you all right? You don’t look well.”

“I don’t feel well.” She rubbed her forehead.

“You should go home.”

She thought for a moment. “That might be the best idea.”

“Go on. I’ll clear it with him.”

Nicki glanced at Bartow’s office door, hesitated, then finally nodded. “Thank you. I really feel horrible.”

“Go ahead.” He waited while she got her purse out of the bottom drawer of her desk, smiling in encouragement as she stood, slipped the strap over her shoulder, and started down the hallway. “Feel better!” he called.

She glanced back and waved before heading into the open elevator. Moments later, the doors shut.

Adrian let out a long breath and turned toward Bartow’s office. He had taken two steps into the room before he saw the body. A quick visual assessment and many years of experience confirmed that Bartow was dead.

“Careless,” he muttered, “
and
stupid.” He backed out of the room and took his radio from his belt. “Control, this is Gray. Call 9-1-1. Mr. Bartow has had an accident.”

Ignoring the flood of questions squawking from the radio, Adrian sat down in Nicki’s chair to wait for the cops.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Where do we go from here?

Cara glanced at the dashboard clock. They’d left the motel and run through a fast-food drive-through less than half an hour ago, silent except for placing their orders. Neither of them had said a word about what had happened when she’d touched his crystal. And something
had
happened—
both
times—and she wasn’t buying his lame explanation.

Blood sugar, my Aunt Tillie
.

She crushed the empty wrapper from her devoured breakfast sandwich into a ball and dropped it into the bag on her lap. He couldn’t blame blood sugar now, could he? But with the basics taken care of, she wasn’t certain how to broach the subject. Heck, she wasn’t even certain what to ask. She would have thought she’d imagined the whole thing, except for his reaction. He’d looked kind of stunned and at the same time, horrified. Therefore something
had
happened, but he just wasn’t talking.

She slid a glance at him. He stared straight ahead, finishing a breakfast burrito one-handed as he pushed the SUV to the speed limit. The badass bounty hunter was back, the lover of this morning gone as if he’d never existed.

The radio played in the silence between them, and an overly cheerful voice currently speculated on whether the heat index would top one hundred again today. They cut to the news. She struggled to find words to broach her subject.

“So—” she began.

Rafe put down his burrito, leaned forward, and turned up the volume. She narrowed her eyes. Was he trying to avoid the conversation?

The reporter’s sober tones filled the car, and as the story registered in her brain, she swallowed the smart aleck remark that hovered on her lips.

“… since a sniper targeted millionaire John Montana and his wife Maria as they left the William Walters Charity Ball two nights ago. Police are still investigating the incident.”

“It was a very close thing,” came another voice. “If Mrs. Montana had not turned to go back into the building right at that moment, she could have been seriously injured, if not killed.”

“The Montanas have retired to their Sedona estate,” the first voice continued. “A press conference is scheduled for later today. Now over to Patrick Manning for sports.”

Rafe turned the radio down again. Cara noted the stillness of his features, the way his hands clenched on the wheel. “John Montana. Relative of yours? Rich uncle, maybe?”

“No.”

“I thought you said you’re from Arizona.”

“I am.”

“So these people aren’t related to you?”

He didn’t reply.

She peered at his face. “Rafe?”

He glanced at her, his blue eyes flinty. “Drop it, Cara.”

She sank into her seat as he turned his attention back to the road. “I just want to help.”

“You can’t fix everything.”

“I don’t want to fix everything!” Frustration burned away any concern about overstepping her boundaries. “If you don’t want to talk to me about that news story, you can talk to me about that so-called good luck charm you wear around your neck and the weird thing that happened back at the motel. Don’t tell me you didn’t feel it, and don’t give me any BS about blood sugar. We’re sleeping together, buddy, and that should count for something.”

“Look, remember back at the motel when we said no expectations? Well, this is what I meant. I’m not a touchy-feely-sharey kind of guy.”


You
look. In my world, when a woman is intimate with a guy, that means she can know things about him.” She shrugged, trying to mask the hurt. “Sorry, I’m new to casual relationships.”

He made some kind of growl in the back of his throat, then bit out, “Okay.
One
question.”

She weighed the decision, then asked, “Who is John Montana to you?”

“My father.”

“Your
father
?” She drew back in surprise. “But this guy—this family—they’re like American royalty. I was only kidding about the rich-uncle thing.”

“Guess you weren’t far off.”

“But if you come from a place like that”—she indicated the radio—“then what are you doing running around Vegas catching bad guys? Falling out with the family?”

“Something like that. And that’s two questions.”

“I can’t figure you out, Montana.” She shook her head. “You throw it out there, this thing between us. And there I am trying to decide if I want to go for it. Finally I decide, yeah, go for it, and we go to bed together. But now you treat me like I’m some stranger.”

“Sorry. I’ve got a lot on my mind. Like the two guys tailing us. Finding Danny.”

She could hear the strain in his voice. “And your mom.”

He jerked a quick glance at her. “Yeah.”

“Don’t look so surprised. If someone took a shot at my mom, I’d be off my game, too.” She turned on her side as much as the seat belt would let her. “So are you going to tell me?”

“Tell you what?”

“Why you’re on the outs with your family. It’s got to be eating at you, especially now.”

“No.”

She arched her brows. “Why not?”

“Because it’s none of your business.”

She frowned. “I see.”

“Good, then you’ll stop asking.”

“Look, I was just curious. For God’s sake, I’m depending on you for survival in this crazy game. Maybe I want to know a little bit more about you.”

BOOK: Prodigal Son
4.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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