Death Angel (Chapter Four)


Drea forced herself out of bed; her legs were heavy and uncooperative, and her insides felt tender. She swayed, holding to the bed for support, her teeth chattering from a bone-deep cold. Ice had congealed in her veins, a coldness that permeated all the cells in her body and froze her from the inside out.

She had never before been so cold, but she couldn't allow herself the luxury of huddling under the covers. She had to do something to ward off disaster, and the only idea that came to mind was a long shot. Laboriously she smoothed the sheets and pillows, then hobbled to the kitchen and grabbed a can of Febreze. Returning to her bedroom, she sprayed the bed linens before tucking everything in tight and drawing the silk duvet in place. She stacked her decorative pillows on the bed in their usual order, then sprayed the air deodorizer around the bedroom and in the bathroom. Maybe she was just imagining it, but she would have sworn she could smell him.

Why was she so cold? The air felt freezing, but she couldn't take the time to stop and adjust the thermostat. After replacing the Febreze in the kitchen, she gathered her scattered clothing and took the garments into the bathroom with her, where she carelessly dropped them on the floor the way she normally did. Then she turned on the water in the shower, made it as hot as she could stand it, got in and swiftly soaped herself, cleaning away the stink and stickiness. At least the water lent her some of its warmth.

Think! She had to think.

She couldn't. Rage bubbled in her like a thick tar, coating her brain in icy blackness. How could she have been so damned stupid? Stupid, stupid, stupid! She was disgusted with herself. She knew better than to believe in that happily-ever-after fairy-tale bullshit, but let her spend a few hours with some guy who knew how to use his dick and she was all but begging him to take her with him. No, not just "some guy," but a man who killed as easily as most people brushed their teeth.

Self-ridicule clogged her chest until she felt as if she were suffocating. What had she thought? That because he'd been slow and easy and made sure she came he'd fallen in love with her? Yeah, right. His technique was different, that was all. Like every other man she'd been with, once he got his rocks off, he lost interest.

Humiliation gnawed at her like a hungry animal. Why couldn't she just have enjoyed the sex stuff and not let her emotions get involved? Instead she'd acted like the naive, idiotic girl she'd been at fifteen, thinking a man would make everything in her world right, instead of screwing things up even more.

At least she'd been young, the first time she'd made a fool of herself for a man and ended up alone and pregnant-and then just alone-so that was some excuse for being stupid. Not now. Not this time.

She rinsed off and got out of the shower, and despite an almost nauseating distaste made herself use the towel the assassin had used. Rafael noticed details, and too many towels would be a dead giveaway.

The blast of air-conditioning was frigid on her damp skin and she began shivering again as she blotted her wet hair with the same towel, which was now too wet to do much good. Tossing the towel aside, she grabbed the thick terry robe hanging on a hook and pulled it around her, then went to the marble vanity to get her comb and drag it through her hair.

As she stared into the mirror, she realized her face was wet, and with distant surprise she realized she was crying. Again. Twice in one day had to be a record for her.

She would not cry over this. Crying didn't help a damn thing. She all but slapped the tears off her cheeks.

They came back. She stood there, watching the woman in the mirror and the slow trickle of tears down her face, and had the disorienting feeling she was watching someone else, someone who had disappeared a long time ago. Her face was white, the expression in her eyes stark. Without her makeup, and with her long hair slicked back from her face, she was the girl whose baby had died and taken all her dreams with it.

Drea fled the bathroom, choking on bitterness. She should dry her hair and put on makeup, make herself look as pretty and sexy as possible, but she couldn't do it. Staring at herself in the mirror long enough to do that-no.

Her momentum carried her into the living room, where she faltered to a stop, her head down, like a wind-up toy with a broken spring. What now? What should she do? What could she do?

She was so cold. The death chill seemed to swirl through her and around her, turning her shivering into teeth-rattling shudders. Even though the floor was carpeted her bare feet were icy and bloodless, the magenta polish garish against her colorless skin. She hated the color of that polish, hated the way it had looked as he lifted her feet over his shoulders-

A raw, guttural sound burst from her chest as she shoved the memory away and lurched toward the sliding doors and out onto the balcony, into the warmth it offered.

She barely registered the soothing heat from the stone tiles under her feet. Besides warmth, the balcony also offered memories she didn't want, couldn't bear. She avoided looking at the railing where she'd stood earlier, and instead sank down on the tiled floor and leaned her back against the wall. The bright sun had warmed the brick, too, and welcome heat began to leach through to her skin. Whimpering with relief, she drew her legs up to her chest and pulled the robe around her so she was completely covered, and curled forward to rest her forehead on her knees.

Choked sobs tore free, born from a despair so deep she couldn't understand it, or her own reaction. What was wrong with her? She never just gave up like this; she was always maneuvering, managing, looking for an advantage. She needed to pull herself together, make an effort to seduce Rafael-

No! The word erupted from her subconscious, reverberating through her entire body. The savagery of the instinctive reaction shook her; she never allowed herself to feel that deeply about anything. Then something inside her settled and she felt the utter rightness of it. She and Rafael were over, finished. He'd given her away as if she were nothing to him-as if she were nothing, period.

She hated him, hated him even more than she hated herself. She'd completely subjugated herself to him, bitten her tongue and smiled and gone along with him no matter what he wanted, and for what? For him to treat her as if she were a common whore? She trembled with a primitive need to hurt him, to see his blood, to physically beat him and bite him and tear at him with her nails.

She couldn't; she knew that. His goons would either shoot her on the spot or drag her off to be disposed of at their leisure. Admitting her own helplessness against him was even more galling.

The ruthlessly logical part of her brain ordered her to pull herself together and just deal with this, but she couldn't seem to shove all these turbulent emotions away. They were like giant waves that kept crashing over her protective walls, and she was going under for the third time.

Rafael had to pay. She didn't know how, but she had to make him pay. She couldn't live if she let him get away with grinding her into the dirt the way he had. No matter how low life had pushed her, she'd always managed to reassure herself that at least she hadn't been reduced to prostitution. She'd seen herself as Rafael's mistress, not his whore, which maybe was splitting hairs but to her way of thinking it was a damned important hair.

She no longer had the comfort of that illusion. To him, she was nothing more than goods to be traded for a service, and the mirror she held up to herself reflected back only what he saw. Her entire body shuddered from the force of her sobs, her throat under such strain that she began gagging, but her stomach was empty and the spasm produced only dry heaves.

Finally she heard him enter, closing the door more loudly than he usually did, as if to emphasize his lack of remorse. He'd wanted to retain the assassin's services more than he'd wanted to keep her, and-

The bitter thought stuttered to a halt, and for a moment she felt her brain almost freeze in a sudden burst of comprehension. He'd wanted to retain the assassin's services… There was someone else he wanted dead, wanted it desperately enough that he'd swallowed his pride and given-loaned-his mistress to another man. Maybe that meant he valued her more than his actions said; maybe this gave her an advantage.

Her brain felt as if it were gummed with molasses; before she had time to work through her thoughts, Rafael stepped through the open sliding doors onto the balcony, halting when he saw her. "Why are you out here?"

His tone was so casual that the thick, sulfurous rage surged again inside her, and she had to clench her fists on the folds of her robe to keep from launching herself at him and tearing at his eyes with her nails. She gulped in huge breaths of air, fighting for control, fighting to think. She had to do something, say something.

She lifted her head and he flinched, his eyes widening with shock. Drea was acutely aware of how she looked, with her swollen eyes and ravaged face. She'd never before let Rafael see her looking anything less than perfect, but this time she didn't care how she looked.

In another sudden burst of clarity, this one even more stunning than the first, she suddenly knew exactly what she was going to do, what she had to say. The enormity of the plan was so stunning that if she let herself hesitate she might chicken out. Rafael had to pay, and she knew exactly how she would make him do it.

She sucked in a deep, shuddering breath, bracing herself. "I'm sorry," she choked out, tears streaming down her face again from the effort it took to apologize to the bastard. "I didn't know…I didn't know you were t-tired of me-" Her voice broke and she covered her face with her hands, her shoulders heaving from the force of her sobs.

She heard the scrape of his shoes on the tiles as he moved closer. Then there was a hesitation, as if he either didn't know what to do, or knew but didn't want to do it. Finally his hand settled on her shoulder. "Drea…" he began.

Drea jerked away from him, unable to stand even a casual touch from him. "No, don't," she said raggedly. She wiped her face with the sleeve of her robe. "I don't want your pity." More tears slid down to take the place of the ones she'd removed. "I knew you didn't love me," she whispered, "but I-I thought I had a chance, I thought one day you might. I guess now I know better, huh?" Her lips and chin quivered as she stared out into the distance, though most of the view was blocked by the wall. She didn't dare look directly at him, afraid he would see in her eyes the utter loathing she felt for him. Thank God for these damn stupid tears that wouldn't stop, even if she had to make Rafael believe she was crying because of him, instead of-

No. She was not crying because of that damned killer. She didn't know why she was crying, but it definitely wasn't because of him. Maybe she'd gone crazy, or something. But crazy or not, she'd play it for all she was worth. She was banking on Rafael's ego, banking that he'd be so flattered that she'd actually fallen in love with him that he'd be willing to buy the line of bullshit she was handing him.

He crouched beside her, his dark eyes searching her face. Drea kept staring straight ahead and once more wiped her face. Maybe she couldn't handle anything else that had happened today, but she would damn sure handle Rafael Salinas, or die trying.

"Did he hurt you?" Rafael finally asked, his voice quiet, the tone deadly and underlaid with something unlike anything she'd ever heard from him before.

She didn't take the time to analyze it, just went with her instincts. "He didn't touch me. I was upset and he got-He said I wasn't worth the trouble, and left." She gave a short, bitter laugh. "I guess you still owe him the hundred thou. Sorry 'bout that." Rafael was Latino; knowing the assassin had had sex with her would lessen her value in his eyes, maybe even so much he wouldn't try to keep her. She wasn't ready to go, not yet, so she had to make him think nothing had happened.

"He didn't touch you?" Rafael's tone now held pure shock.

"That makes the two of you, huh? He didn't want me, either." She hadn't meant to say that, the bitterness was too sharp and violent, but the words burst out of her. She regretted giving him even that much of a window onto her true feelings, though the emotion was genuine and that would carry some weight.

Once was enough.

Well, damn him to hell and back, once was more than enough for her. She knew now what he'd been doing: playing some kind of game with Rafael, one so subtle Rafael didn't have a fucking clue he was even supposed to have been on the field. It was a game of sexual one-upmanship, and the assassin had won, giving her such an overdose of pleasure that she'd lost her mind and actually begged him to take her with him. She'd been fucked straight into stupidity, and she still didn't have her brains back or she'd be able to stop this stupid crying.

Anguish washed over her again, still fresh and powerful, and she buried her face against her drawn-up knees as she wept.

Rafael hovered beside her, as if he couldn't decide what to do. Nothing in their relationship had prepared him for this; Drea had always been accommodating, smiling, shallow and ornamental. He'd never seen her upset, or even annoyed. She would be willing to take bets that he thought she was interested in nothing except shopping and getting her hair and nails done, but then, she'd gone to extraordinary lengths to make him think that.

Finally he said, "I'll get you some water," and disappeared inside.

Water! As if a drink of water was going to comfort her. She was upset, not thirsty. Still, the gesture said something, because Rafael didn't fetch anything for anyone; it was always the other way around, with others catering to him.

He was gone far longer than simply getting a glass of water would take, and she knew he was looking through the penthouse, searching for signs that she'd lied to him. Mentally she ran through everything she'd done, wondering if she'd overlooked anything.

He stepped back out onto the balcony and crouched beside her once more. "Here," he said. "Drink some water."

The tears had subsided enough that she thought she could talk, so Drea lifted her head and wiped her face before reaching for the glass and taking an obligatory sip. "I was going to pack," she said wretchedly, her throat so clogged she was barely intelligible. "But I don't have a-anywhere to go. I'll start looking for a place, if you'll let me s-stay here for a couple of days."

"You don't have to go," he said, putting his hand on her shoulder again. "I don't want you to go."

"You don't want me," she said, shaking her head and finally daring to look at him, or at least look in his direction; her vision was so blurred with tears he was just an undefined shape. Her voice wobbled, but she swallowed hard and managed to keep going. "You g-gave me to him. You could have just told me to go, you didn't have to do that. Maybe I should have seen you were getting tired of me but I guess I hoped so much you might love me that I-" She interrupted herself, shaking her head. "Never mind."

"I don't want you to go," Rafael insisted. "I would never have-Look, he had me over a barrel and he knew it." He looked around, as if assessing their vulnerability to electronic eavesdropping, and said impatiently, "Let's go inside, we can't talk out here."

Drea let him pull her to her feet and usher her inside, his hand resting possessively on her waist. Triumph roared through her, pushing the tears away, at least for now. Yes! She'd bought herself the time she needed to put her plan into action. She just had to hide her true feelings from him a little while longer, but she had so much practice at that it wouldn't be a strain.

Rafael would pay, and pay big.

"WHAT DO YOU make of that?" Xavier Jackson asked in astonishment, blinking at what the parabolic microphone had just picked up. The sound quality wasn't great, because of the wind, the distance, and other factors, but the computer program could filter out a lot of the interference.

"I think we need to find out who the mystery man is," replied Cotton, "if he's important enough to make Salinas share his girlfriend. He hasn't left the building yet?"

"If he has, we missed him. But then, we haven't seen him entering the building, either. Ever."

"Then he either has a tunnel, or he's in disguise."

"I don't rule out the tunnel," Jackson said wryly. There were all sorts of abandoned tunnels under the city. None of their city blueprints showed a tunnel there, but that didn't mean there wasn't one. It was something to check out, even though he'd go with the assumption the man had disguised himself somehow. He'd go back over all the surveillance video and compare every person who'd left with the video he had of the man on the balcony. "I wonder why the girlfriend's trying to convince Salinas nothing happened between her and the guy, when Salinas evidently gave her to him?"

"Who knows?" Cotton sighed, rubbing his hand over his head in frustration. "That shot the hell out of using this to get to her, though, because even if Salinas found out they did do the nasty, he issued the invitation. Damn it all to hell."

They both stared at the computer screen in frustration, even though right now it was showing them exactly what they had: nothing.