Cover Of Night (Chapter 22)

Cate sleepily opened her eyes and found herself staring at the back of Cal's head. There was no moment of incomprehension; she knew immediately where she was and who was lying beside her. A confusing rush of emotions swamped her, impressions and feelings and thoughts, all coming so fast she couldn't sort them out. Events were sweeping her along, not giving her time to analyze or think about her decisions; the resulting sense of losing control was both terrifying and exciting. Something was happening between her and Cal when she wasn't ready for anything to happen, with anyone, but now that the change had started, it was like a snowball gaining momentum as it plunged down a mountain.

She didn't think he'd moved at all since going to sleep, and this evidence of his exhaustion filled her with both tenderness and a fierce sense of protectiveness. She wanted to lay her head against his back, but she remembered the cuts he'd suffered and didn't want to hurt his wounds. She stared at his shaggy hair and wanted to run her fingers through it, but he needed all the sleep he could get and she didn't want to wake him. She wanted to slide her hand inside the too-big waistband of his borrowed jeans and explore the bulge she'd seen in his underwear when he changed clothes, and the abrupt sharpness of her own sexual need was devastating.

She hadn't wanted to have sex with anyone since Derek's death. She had wanted sexual release, yes, but not with anyone – and for a long time she hadn't even wanted that. Shock and grief had killed her sexuality, and she'd been so numb, so focused on the herculean task of getting through each daw that she hadn't even mourned the loss of that part of herself. After a year or so, though. her physical needs had slowly resurfaced – muted, disconnected, but at least they existed. As far as having sex went, though, she hadn't wanted that, hadn't wanted the physical reality of touching and being touched. To so suddenly want – need�Cthe rawness of penetration made her feel as if she were being unfaithful to Derek, as if she had completely let him go.

Perhaps she had. Perhaps time had so gradually moved her beyond him that she hadn't noticed the moment when he faded from view. Not from her heart – she would always love him, but that love was static now, the details forever frozen and unchanging. Life wasn't static; it moved on, it changed, and what had once been so immediate instead became a dearly beloved memory that was part of the fabric of her being. Because she had loved Derek, she had become the person she was now. And that new woman was poised on the edge of something frightening and exciting and possibly life-changing. She didn't know what would happen, but at least she was willing to find out.

Assuming she and Cal both lived, that is. For a few sleepy moments, pondering the resurrection of emotion and need, and the delicious unknown of a possible new relationship, she had forgotten their bizarre, frightening situation. Reality came crashing back; yet at the same time, the whole night seemed surreal. Things like this just didn't happen. This was so far outside her experience that she had no reference point, no clue as to what she should be doing or what would happen next.

She listened intently: if dawn had arrived vet, she couldn't tell. Everyone around them was asleep, or at least trying to be. Several different snores punctuated the silence, and every so often she would hear someone shifting position. Once there was a quiet murmur that she thought might belong to Neenah, who was taking care of Joshua Creed.

Cal reached back under the blanket and put his hand on her hip, silently pulling her even closer to him.

Tears stung her eyes as she nestled close, as close as she could get. This�Cthis was what she'd missed most, the quiet companionship in the night, the knowledge that she wasn't alone. They hadn't so much as kissed, yet somehow, on some level, they were already linked. She felt it as surely as she knew when the twins were all right, or when they were getting into trouble. She didn't have to see them; she didn't have to hear them; she just knew.

"Go back to sleep," he whispered softly. "You'll need all the rest you can get."

She wanted him to hold her, wanted to feel his arms around her. When he'd held her and Neenah after the frightening episode with Mellor, for the first time in a long while Cate had felt… sate. Not just because Cal had protected them, though she w?as bemused to realize that was indeed part of her response; some primitive reactions evidently didn't go away. The biggest part of it, though, was that suddenly she hadn't felt so alone.

The words asking him to hold her trembled on the verge of being spoken, but she held them back. If he held her, if he put his hands on her body, she suspected more than just holding would occur. He was a man, and he wanted her. A thrill of delight went through her as she fully acknowledged that startling fact. He might be shy – no, she wasn't even certain of that anymore, because a shy man wouldn't have dressed in front of everyone the way he'd done. He was definitely considerate, in the way he was keeping his back to her. They were surrounded by people, and while the arrangement of boxes and the curtain might give them a little privacy, it certainly wasn't enough to have any sexual intimacy. Their feet protruded beyond the boxes, and if Cal suddenly moved behind her, she knew the speculation that would go on. Others in this basement were awake, too, listening to rustlings and murmurs.

Public sex – or even semipublic sex – wasn't her thing, so she was grateful for his circumspection. She wanted to feel him behind her, to feel his arms around her. but she knew that if he held her, his hand would soon be sliding down the front of her pajama bottoms.

The thought sent her nerve endings into a spasm of delight, making her jerk against him. Oh. God. she wanted him to touch her, wanted to feel his long fingers sliding into her, wanted it so intensely she had to bite back a whimper.

He reached back once again, gently patting her butt.

The agony of desire instantly morphed into a choked-back laugh. He couldn't know what she'd been thinking, what she'd been feeling, but that gentle pat had almost seemed to say, "Hold on. We'll get to it."

Then she remembered that telltale jerk, and her cheeks heated. Maybe he knew after all. A little bloom of contentment unfolded inside her, and she was smiling as she drifted back to sleep.

Goss watched the sky to the east slowly begin to lighten. He was tired but not yet sleepy; he figured the sleepiness would hit at some point.

Last night had been pretty damn impressive, and intense. These boys were deadly. To a man, none of them gave a rat's ass whether someone lived or died. He could see it in their eyes, and he recognized the expression because it was the same one he saw whenever he looked in a mirror.

Teague had looked pretty bad last night, but he'd been on his feet, so it must have looked worse than it was. What interested Goss was the shotgun; that had taken Toxtel's interest, too. Teague had been certain this guy Creed was the shooter, but he hadn't seen him, so what it came down to was that Teague was guessing – and Goss's gut said that Teague was guessing wrong.

This Creed was supposedly pretty good, but Teague admittedly knew nothing about the handyman or how good he was. Goss and Toxtel both had had firsthand experience with the bastard, though. Goss knew his limits, knew he was no outdoorsman, but at the same time, he was damn good at what he did and he had excellent hearing. No one – no one�Chad ever successfully sneaked up behind him before, especially when he was already alert and on watch. Yet that damn handyman had done it. Goss couldn't remember anything, not the slightest sound or warning, no sense of the air moving; it was as if he'd been attacked by a ghost.

Toxtel was just as spooked. Granted, he'd been occupied with the two women, but his instincts were as well developed as Goss's. He hadn't heard the handyman moving up a flight of old creaky stairs, just turned around and found himself looking down the barrel of a shotgun. In a very un-Toxtel-like admission, he'd said, "You're a cold bastard, Goss, but this guy… this guy makes you look like the Easter Bunny."

Shotgun… the shooter being where he wasn't supposed to be… What were the odds that Creed and the handyman would have those things in common? He'd been out there last night, closer than Goss liked to think. He wanted the guy close, because he owed him for that knock on the head, but he wanted to know he was close. Thinking of him sitting out there, somehow invisible to Teague's precious thermal scopes, gave Goss an uneasy feeling. Teague had been fixated on Creed, like Creed was some sort of bogeymen, but this other guy was the wild card in the deck, someone Teague hadn't factored into the equation.

All in all, though, Goss was pleased with the way things had kicked off. Some people over there were dead, enough that a huge furor was going to be raised over this. Sooner or later someone or several someones from the surrounding ranches would need something from the hardware store, and while they might buy the "bridge out" excuse for a little while, eventually they would say something to someone, and word would get. out, and next thing they knew the real state highway department would be stopping by. Then everything would go to hell. The only way that wouldn't happen would be if the Nightingale woman gave up right away and gave them the flash drive.

Regardless of what happened, Yuell Faulkner was going down. The killings last night had guaranteed that. By losing his perspective and letting things go so far, Toxtel had set in motion a chain of events that couldn't be halted or deflected. To give him credit, even though Toxtel's plan was overkill, he had every expectation of winning and getting away clean, since their real names weren't known and they would be long gone before the locals could go on foot to get help. The credit card Faulkner had used for the B and B was a dead end; Goss knew that much. Me also knew that he himself was the reason this would blow up in Faulkner's face; a crucial piece of evidence "accidentally" left behind, an anonymous phone call to the authorities, would guarantee that. He didn't see any way Toxtel wouldn't go down, too, and while he had nothing against Hugh, he wasn't sentimental about him, cither. Toxtel could be sacrificed. And Kennon Goss would disappear forever; it was time for another name, another identity.

The first thing Cal did when he woke was lace on his boots. "It's almost daylight," he said to Cate, who had sat up when he left their makeshift bed. Several other people in the basement were stirring, too.

Maureen moved to turn up the oil lamp so they could have more light.

"I'm going out to look around, see if I can find anyone else," Cal said

Greed was awake, propping himself up on his elbows. Fie had dark circles under his eyes, but they were clear. "I've been thinking," he said to Cal. "We'll work on the plan when you get back."

Cal nodded and slipped out the basement door. Outside he nodded to Perry Richardson, who was sitting in a corner of the retaining wall, a deer rifle cradled in his arms. "Seen anything?" he asked, though he knew damn well there hadn't been any trouble.

Perry shook his head. "I was hoping some of the others would make their way here, but so far it's been quiet." His worried expression said that he was afraid no one had shown up because the rest of the inhabitants were dead.

"It's bad enough," Cal said grimly, "but it isn't that bad. People will have gone to ground wherever they could rather than take the risk of getting out in the open." His task this morning was to find those people, and safely get them here.

"How many – ? Perry couldn't complete the question, but Cal knew what he was asking.

"I saw five last night. I hope that's all." Five friends, lying where they'd fallen. He hadn't been able to get to them last night, didn't know who they were, but regardless of their identities, they had been friends. He'd be able to tell more in the daylight, though he might not be able to get to them until tonight.

"Five," Perry murmured, shaking his head as grief entered his eyes. "What in God's name is going on?"

"I don't know, but my guess is it has something to do with those two sons of bitches who roughed up Cate and Neenah." If it was them, they'd brought in help. Cal had counted four different firing positions, including the one beside Neenah's house.

"But what do they want?"

Cal shook his head. Cate had given them Lay ton's belongings, so the only thing left was revenge, which, as far as he was concerned, was a piss-poor reason for attacking an entire community. Come after him if they felt they had to prove their balls were bigger than his; he was the one who'd gotten the better of them, not those poor people lying on the ground. This whole thing was so over the top it didn't make sense.

And if those two guys had nothing to do with this, then it really didn't make sense and he was completely in the dark.