Death Angel (Chapter Twenty-five)

AT FIRST HE THOUGHT SHE HADN'T SEEN HIM. RATHER, he knew she'd seen him, but he thought she hadn't recognized him. He'd gone to his car immediately, swearing at himself for being so damned stupid as to stand outside knowing a lightning flash could expose him at any minute. He'd felt compelled to watch her, though, and in the end the temptation had been too strong; she'd been laughing, and he'd realized how much he wanted to hear her melodious laugh again. So he'd stood there for a minute, and the next thing he knew a sheet of lightning lit up the night and she turned to look out the window.

The parking lot was lit, but the rain had seemed to absorb a lot of the light and he'd parked in a deep well of shadows between two rigs, in the area normally used only by the truckers. He could still see in the windows, though; that and the area of shadow were why he'd chosen that spot. He lowered a couple of windows just enough to let in some fresh air and keep the windshield from fogging, then sat in the dark and watched, waiting to see if she ran, but she had gone back to work and for a little while he'd let himself think she hadn't recognized him. Then his instinct kicked in; did he want to take that chance? The answer was a definite no.

He hadn't wanted her to ever know he was watching her, watching over her. She was terrified of him, with good reason. The one thing he didn't want to do was frighten her again, or cause her more pain. Now he thought he probably didn't have a choice. He had to see her, let her know she had nothing to fear from him, before she ran again.

She couldn't get away from him, unless she jettisoned the phone and the SUV at the same time and he wasn't able to pick up her trail, which was unlikely. But she'd wear herself out running, and she wouldn't let herself settle anywhere. Drea was a woman who needed to settle; she needed a home, and friends, a life where she felt safe and normal. He didn't want her to live in fear; he didn't want her thinking she had to run for her life.

What would she do, when she left work? Would she immediately rabbit, or would she continue to act as if she hadn't seen him, hoping to fake him into relaxing his guard? The second choice would take iron nerves, but she'd panicked before, and had the accident. He couldn't let himself forget, ever, how sharp she was. She'd learn from her mistake, and she wouldn't do the same thing twice.

He bet she'd go home. She'd probably sacrifice the Explorer, leaving it sitting in the driveway while she packed a few clothes and walked away in the wee hours of the morning. She would keep a supply of cash handy, just in case she had to leave everything on short notice, because she planned ahead.

He checked the time. It would be a couple of hours yet before her shift ended, and he didn't want to leave the rental car parked on her street for that length of time, or this early in the night. People were still up, still watching television. Lights would begin winking out as soon as the ten o'clock news went off, because these people, by and large, weren't part of the Leno and Letterman crowd. That was when he would move in. For now, he was in a good spot to watch and wait. If patience was a virtue, then he had at least one to his name.

At ten-thirty, he chose a moment when she had her back turned before starting the car and pulling out of his shadowed parking space. When he got to her house, he parked down the street and walked back. The rain had slackened to a drizzle, which allowed him to wear the concealing slicker but meant he had to be careful about dripping water anywhere she might see it.

She normally used the front door; she left the porch light on there, and she was protected from the weather. The kitchen stoop was uncovered, a bare and exposed two steps of crumbling concrete. The steps were already wet, so dripping on them wouldn't matter. A storm door protected the inner wooden door from the elements, and it was locked. He had it open in five seconds. The inner door had a simple doorknob lock, the kind that wouldn't keep out a ten-year-old, and opening it didn't take as long as opening the storm door. He let himself in, removed his wet slicker and put it in the tiny laundry area just off the kitchen, then he mopped up the water he'd tracked in.

The little duplex didn't afford many places where he could conceal himself. He didn't want her to see him when she first let herself in the door, or she would bolt off the porch and run. He wanted her inside, the doors locked, which would slow her down and give him time to grab her, talk to her.

Logistically, the duplex apartment was a nightmare. The front door opened straight into the small living room, where what furniture she had was shoved against a wall because floor space was so limited. The single lamp she left burning was enough to light the entire room. Next was a tiny hallway, if it could be called that; it was just long enough to accommodate a closet on the inside wall, and he suspected the space had once belonged to the living room but some remodeling had been done when the house was turned into a duplex. There were no doors closing off the hallway; it flowed into the eat-in kitchen, where space was even more cramped because some of its area had been taken for the laundry. Next was the bedroom and bathroom, both of which were barely adequate for squeezing in the necessities.

He wanted to be between her and any door before she saw him. He also had to be close enough to get his hand over her mouth before she screamed the house down and the neighbors called the cops.

She would be terrified, at least at first; he hated that, but he couldn't help it. She had to listen to him.

The best place to position himself was in the kitchen, against the wall. She would walk right past him, but there was no door to get behind, no china cabinet. In his favor was the fact that she didn't normally turn on a light in the kitchen; she went into the bedroom and turned on the light there, then backtracked to turn off the lamp in the living room. If she followed her routine, he would wait until she was almost to the bedroom, so he could get between her and the kitchen door.

There were a lot of things that could go wrong. If she was spooked, she might turn on the light in the kitchen. He had to be on his toes, ready to react to whatever she did. She would fight. No matter what, Drea was a survivor. She didn't give up. She'd fight until she couldn't fight anymore. He'd have to control her, without hurting her, until she either reached that point or he could get her to listen to him. He'd never held back in his life; the very concept was alien to him. If he fought, he fought to win. But with Drea, he wouldn't be throwing any punches. She, however, wouldn't be suffering under the same restriction, so he was prepared to absorb some damage before he got her under control. Part of him hated that she'd be so frightened, but beneath that was something he had to acknowledge: anticipation.

He'd have left her alone forever if life had shaken out that way. But it hadn't, and finally-finally-he'd be touching her again, holding her close, even if only for a brief moment. He closed his eyes against the piercing heat of memory, of feeling her soft inner muscles clenching around him when she came. For four hours she'd been his, her slender arms locked around his neck, her legs around his hips.

Just for a little while, he'd be able to touch her again. He had no delusions about what would happen after he calmed her down and set her straight about any harm she thought he meant to do to her. Whether or not they ever had any more contact would be entirely up to her-and he knew how that would go.

He checked his watch. He had another twenty minutes, maybe half an hour. If he wanted to know for certain where she was, he could get his laptop from the car and track the locators he'd planted in her phone and vehicle, but he'd bother with that only if she didn't show up on time.

He settled in a kitchen chair to wait.

ANDIE DROVE PAST her house twice before she pulled into the driveway. She hadn't seen anything out of the ordinary, but then she didn't know what he was driving, so she had no way of spotting his car. The cars parked along the side of the street were all dark and silent and, as far as she could tell, empty.

She was taking a chance going into the house. She knew that. He could have followed her home at any time during the past month, assuming that when Cassie had seen him was when he'd first found her. For all she knew, he could have found her months ago. But she had to retrieve her jewelry and small store of cash, because that was what she'd have to live on. She'd have to buy another fake ID, she realized with a sinking heart, and that cost a big chunk of change.

Nothing moved in the dark, silent neighborhood; no dogs barked, warning of a stranger slipping quietly down the street. She could drive away, she thought, or she could go inside. She needed to go inside. He was either there, or he wasn't. He was either behind that big oak at the edge of the yard, or he wasn't.

Mustering her courage, she took a deep breath, grabbed her bag, and got out of the Explorer. Normally she locked the vehicle, but this time she didn't in case she had to run for it and every second counted. The yellow porch light, instead of comforting her, made her feel exposed as she fumbled with the door key, finally managing to get the lock open.

The shabby little living room looked normal. The apartment was as quiet as usual. She stood listening for a moment, but didn't hear any telltale scraping or breathing. Not that she would, she realized. He was too good for that. Her heart was pounding so hard she wasn't certain she'd have been able to hear anything over the thunder of her blood, anyway. Her chest felt tight, as if she needed to gasp for air. Just thinking about him did that to her, every time. He didn't even have to be there to scare her half to death.

The jewelry was in a bag in her dresser drawer. She'd just go into the bedroom, grab the jewelry and throw some clothes in her suitcase, and leave. She'd be out of there in two minutes, tops, and every second she stood there was a second she might not be able to afford. She took another deep breath and strode quickly toward her bedroom.

A hard hand clamped over her mouth while an arm passed around her waist and jerked her back against a body so hard the impact actually hurt her. She hadn't heard a whisper of sound, felt a rush of air, literally nothing to warn her. He was just suddenly there, behind her, and the blood rushed from her head as he whispered, "Drea."