Death Angel (Chapter Twenty-eight)

WHEN HE GOT TO HIS HOTEL ROOM, SIMON BOOTED UP HIS laptop and checked her location, just to be certain he'd convinced her she was safe and she wasn't already on the road running for what she thought was her life. Good-both the Explorer and her cell phone were where they were supposed to be, and stationary, so the odds were she was in bed. He set the program to send a message to his cell phone if the locators began moving, just in case she tried to pull a fast one.

He'd like to be there with her, but when he kissed her he'd felt a reserve on her part that said she wasn't going down that road with him again, at least not yet. He didn't like waiting, but he would-for a while, anyway. He'd raised patience to an art, honing it into a form of weapon as he outwaited both man and nature in the hunt for each target, but now that the veil of secrecy between him and Andie was down, his instincts told him to move fast and hard. She had gotten by in life by making herself pleasing to men, by submerging her own needs, her likes and dislikes, and mirroring back only what the man wanted to see. She needed time, yes, but she also needed to be wanted for herself. She needed to be courted, pursued, the tables turned; she needed a man to curry her favor.

Patience was just another form of persistence. Maybe that meant he was a bastard for not getting out of her life and leaving her alone, after all he'd done and all the pain he'd caused her. So what? He'd rather be a bastard and have her, than be a gentleman and let her get away.

If she hadn't responded to him at all he'd have dealt with the loss and left her alone, but she'd been all but squirming in her chair, and he knew enough about women to know she'd been remembering how it had been between them. He knew enough about her, gleaned from the afternoon they'd spent together, to know how she looked when she was turned on. She wanted to be indifferent, but she wasn't, any more than he was indifferent to her. He'd wanted to be; he'd wanted to forget her as soon as he walked away from her. For the first time in his life, that hadn't happened. He dealt in reality, not in roses and wishes, and what was between them was real-unexplored, undeveloped, but real.

Reassured that she was staying put, at least for the time being, he got out his first-aid kit and carefully disinfected the bite wounds in his arm, then sprayed the area to numb it. The analgesic was only topical, but it took enough of the edge off the pain that putting in the stitches didn't bother him. He'd had splinters that hurt worse. After he dabbed an antibiotic on top of the stitches, he slapped a couple of adhesive bandages over them, then carefully repacked the small kit, taking note of which supplies needed to be replenished. The first-aid kit went everywhere with him, and had possibly saved his life a couple of times. In the tropics, an open wound, no matter how minor, could fast become life-threatening.

Then, yawning, he popped a couple of ibuprofen before stripping off his clothes. Turning out the light, he sprawled across the bed. His phone would signal the arrival of a message, and wake him, if she decided to make a run for it, but he was fairly certain she wasn't going anywhere tonight. If she had anything in mind, she'd probably try to fake him off by staying put for a few days. She was sneaky, but he was sneakier. He went to sleep knowing that, for now, things were under control.

ANDIE SLEPT LATE-big surprise there-and finally stumbled to the kitchen for coffee at half past eleven. She had a headache, maybe from the adrenaline crash, or maybe she just needed a dose of caffeine. She was usually out of bed around eight, giving her time to do her chores or errands before going to work, so she was about three hours past the time she usually had her first cup of coffee.

She took two aspirin, then took her coffee into the living room. Turning on the secondhand television she'd bought, she curled up in the corner of the sofa, at the moment not wanting to do anything more than sip her coffee and wait for the aspirin to start working on her headache. She watched a little of the noon news, enough to learn that more thunderstorms were expected that afternoon, then, despite the coffee, she nodded off again.

Two sharp raps on her front door woke her. Maybe it was the neighbors, she thought sourly, belatedly concerned enough by all the banging around last night to find out if she was all right. She could certainly hear them thumping around, so she knew they should have at least heard when she knocked the chair over. But had anyone checked to see if a burglar had broken in, or anything? If she'd heard the same noises from their side, she'd have at least beat on the wall and yelled to ask if everything was all right.

She paused before unlocking the door, raising a slat of the blinds and looking out. She found herself staring straight at Simon, because he stood square in front of the door. Her breath wooshed out of her lungs at the impact of his physical presence, sort of like looking out and finding a large wolf standing there. His gaze met hers through the glass, and he lifted his brows as if to say, Well?

Dismayed, she let the slat drop and stood there for a minute, trying to decide whether or not to open the door. She'd hoped he had already left town. What was he hanging around for? What else was there to say?

"You might as well open the door," he said through the wood. "I'm not leaving."

"So what else is new?" she grumbled, turning the lock and pulling the door open. He came in, a smile ghosting around his mouth. "What?" she demanded, pushing her sleep-mussed hair out of her face. She hadn't even dragged a brush through it yet, and she didn't care.

"I came to see if you wanted to go out for lunch. I guess not," he said with a faint undertone of amusement.

Andie yawned and turned back to the sofa, pulling her legs up and tucking her bare feet under the cushions. She was still wearing her pajama bottoms and T-shirt, so, no, she wasn't going out, for lunch or anything else. "I guess not," she echoed, frowning at him. "I haven't had breakfast yet. Thank you for asking. What do you want?"

He did a one-shoulder shrug. "To take you to lunch. Nothing more."

Like she believed that for a single minute. "Yeah, right. You probably don't breathe without an ulterior motive."

"Staying alive is all." He lifted his head, sniffing the air. "Is the coffee fresh?"

"Fairly." She checked the time. She'd napped longer than she'd thought. "It's about an hour old, so it should still be good." She could use more coffee herself, so she got up and went into the kitchen, taking her cup with her. "How do you take yours?" she called as she opened the cabinet door and reached for another cup, raising her voice so he could hear her in the living room.

"Black," he said right behind her, and she jumped, almost dropping the cup. He reached out to catch it, his hand closing around hers to steady her grip. Immediately, she pulled out of his grasp and lifted the coffeepot from the warmer, filling both their cups.

"Make some noise when you walk," she finally said flatly.

"I could whistle."

"Whatever. Just don't sneak up on me." She was more unnerved than she wanted him to see, because the moment had reminded her vividly of when he came up behind her on the penthouse balcony and had sex with her right there, not even turning her around to kiss her. At the time, he couldn't have made it plainer that she was nothing but a piece of ass to him, yet she'd let herself be seduced by sheer pleasure, and over the course of the afternoon built it up in her mind until she thought he would actually take her with him. She still felt scalded by the humiliation of his rejection.

She set down the cup and took a slow, steadying breath. "I think you should leave," she said baldly. "I need you to leave."

"Because I kissed you last night?" His gaze was shrewd as he studied her.

"Because you are who you are and I am who I am. I know what I was before, but since the wreck I've been alone-" Hell, he knew that; he'd been keeping tabs on her all this time. "And I think being alone is what's best for me. I don't make good decisions when it comes to men. Sad, but true."

"I'm not asking you to make any decision. You have to eat, don't you? Let's go to lunch. Or breakfast. We can always go to a pancake restaurant." His tone was mild and undemanding, and if she hadn't been on her guard she might have been lulled into a false sense of safety. How dangerous could a pancake restaurant be? The problem was, there was no such thing as being safe with this man, at least not from him, and the reason for that lay as much within herself as it did with him.

She shook her head. "I don't want to go anywhere with you."

"If you do, I'll answer any question you ask."

She froze, furious with herself because the offer was too tempting to resist, and he knew it. Intellectually she knew she should stay far, far away from him, but let him dangle the opportunity to find out anything she wanted about him and she was all over it like a hawk on a bunny rabbit. He watched her with amusement glittering in his eyes and quirking the corners of his mouth, and he was so damned attractive like that, his guard down and his normally blank expression banished, that she actually quivered from the strength of his pull. Still, she tried to hold the line. "I don't want to know anything about you."

"Sure you do, like how I got the tattoo on my ass."

"You don't have a tattoo on your ass!" she snapped, glaring at him. She'd seen his ass, and as fine as it was she hadn't been struck blind; she'd have noticed a tattoo.

He began unbuckling his belt.

"Don't do that!" she said, alarmed. "You don't have to-"

His lean fingers grasped the tab of his zipper, pulled it down.

Andie lost the thread of what she was saying.

He turned around, hooked his thumbs in the waistband of his jeans, and worked them down. His shirttail drooped over the round, muscled curves; he reached behind himself to pull up his shirt and there it was, high on the right cheek, some sort of abstract design that looked like a weird, curly maze. Her fingers twitched from a sudden, intense need to reach out and touch him, not because of the tattoo but because she wanted to feel the shape and coolness of his ass under her hands again.

She clenched her hands into fists and tried to sound unperturbed. "Strange design. What does it mean?"

He pulled up his pants and tucked his shirttail inside, turning back to face her as he zipped and buckled, his gaze amused. "I'll tell you over food."

"Damn it," she snarled, whirling on her heel, and she went to the bedroom to get ready.

She was out in ten minutes, having done nothing more than brush her teeth and hair and exchange her pajamas for jeans and a pullover shirt with only one button left open at her throat because she didn't do low-cut anything now, the scar on her chest a constant reminder that things were different. She didn't bother with even minimum makeup, because she wasn't trying to impress him or anyone else. Shoving her feet into a pair of flip-flops, she looked down at her unpainted toenails and gave a little snort. Her appearance was the polar opposite from the way she'd looked when Rafael gave her to him, but if he didn't like it, then he could kiss her ass and leave.

He smiled when he saw her, actually honest-to-God smiled. "You're so damn pretty," he said.

The compliment was so unexpected, so at odds with what she'd just been thinking, that she skidded to a stop, her mouth falling open in shock. "I, uh, thank you. But…are you blind?"

"No, I'm not," he answered as seriously as if the question hadn't been rhetorical. He reached out and touched her hair. "I kind of miss the curls, but I like the color. You're not as flashy now, not as brittle. That's good. Your mouth still…never mind."

"Never mind, what?" He was playing her like a hooked fish. She knew it, but that didn't make any difference. What about her mouth? She shouldn't ask because the answer had to be sexual and she didn't want to go there, but…what about her mouth?

"I'll tell you over food," he said.

It wasn't until they were sitting in a booth in one of the area IHOPs, menus in hand and coffee steaming in front of them, that she realized he'd said he would answer any question, but not that he'd answer honestly. Annoyed with herself for not thinking of that catch earlier, she slapped the menu down on the table and gave him a frustrated glare. "Answering any question is one thing, but will you tell the truth?"

"Of course," he said easily, so easily that she knew she'd been had.

"You're lying."

He put his own menu down. "Andie, think about it. What do I have to hide from you? Or you from me?"

"How would I know? If I knew everything about you, then I wouldn't need to ask any questions, now would I?"

"Good point."

He smiled at her. She wished he would stop doing that. When he smiled, she forgot he was a hired killer, forgot that ice water ran in his veins, and that by walking away from her he'd hurt her more than any man ever did. But thinking about him walking away also made her think about the tattoo on his ass, and how she could possibly have missed it.

"So, what does the design of your tattoo mean?"

"I don't know. It's a temporary kid's tattoo. I put it on this morning."

She was in the middle of taking a sip of coffee and she choked, clapping her hand over her mouth and nose and trying not to spray coffee all over the table. As soon as she managed to swallow, she began laughing at how adroitly he'd baited her into doing what he wanted. "That's cheating, and I fell for it. I knew you didn't have a tattoo."

The waitress sailed up, pad and pen ready. "You guys decide what you want?"

Andie ordered scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast, and Simon went for the same thing except with added hash browns. As soon as they were alone again, she set her cup down so she wouldn't embarrass herself by snorting coffee if he had any other surprises tucked up his sleeve, or in his pants.

There were a lot of questions she wanted to ask him, but some she didn't dare because she wasn't certain she wanted to hear the answers. Now that she thought about it, being given the power to ask any question she wanted, and get an answer, was a bit daunting. It would be daunting with anyone, but with this man she felt as if she were poking a tiger with a stick, which, even with the tiger's permission, could be a dangerous activity.

She started with the easy stuff, for her own sake. "How old are you?"

His brows lifted a little in surprise at her choice of question. "Thirty-five."

"Your birthday?"

"November first."

She fell silent. She wanted to know his real last name, but maybe that was something she was better off leaving alone. His secrets were darker than hers, the boundaries that defined him more violent and starkly drawn.

"That's it?" he asked, when no further questions came at him. "You wanted to know how old I am and when I was born?"

"No, that isn't it. This is harder than I expected."

"Do you want to know how old I was the first time I killed someone?"

"No." She hastily looked around to see if anyone had overheard him, but his voice was too low to carry and no one was giving them horrified looks.

"Seventeen," he continued relentlessly. "I discovered I have a natural talent for wet work. I gave it up last year, though, after sitting in a hospital chapel and crying because I had just stood outside your hospital room and listened to you talking to your nurse, and I knew you were not only alive but somehow whole. I haven't taken a job since."