Death Angel (Chapter Twenty-six)

THICK GRAY FOG CLOUDED HER MIND, PUSHING OUT ALL rational thought. She reacted like a wild animal, hurling herself backward with all her strength, trying to knock him off balance, dislodge the hand that was over her mouth so she could scream, anything to escape. Sobbing wildly, she arched and kicked, clawed, slung her elbows, jerked her head back trying to catch him on the mouth or jaw, none of her efforts coordinated or planned; every move was made by sheer instinct, a rabbit trying to escape the jaws of the wolf. She could hear him saying something, but nothing after that first utterance of her name made any sense at all, or was even recognizable as words.

The darkness was overwhelming, both in the kitchen and in her mind. She knew she'd left the lamp on in the living room but no light seemed to penetrate this far; her terror blinded her to everything except the need to fight, to get away. Somehow, somehow, her desperation lending her strength, she managed to tear herself partly from his grasp. She was off balance, disoriented; when all of her weight abruptly shifted to one side she couldn't get her feet under her and she fell, somehow getting tangled in one of the kitchen chairs before crashing to the floor. The chair overturned and went sliding; she rolled, trying to scramble to her feet, trying to scream, but she didn't have enough air in her constricted lungs, and all she could do was make a small bleating noise.

He was on her like a panther, his weight bearing down on her, flattening her to the floor again. Once more his hand clamped over her mouth. She jerked her head, trying to open her mouth and bite him, anything to get free of his iron grip. At the first scrape of her teeth he tightened his fingers on her jaw, applying pressure to a sensitive point that made pain explode through her head.

Even though the pain was almost paralyzing she tried to fight. When she tried to punch him in the head he shifted so his elbows pressed down on her arms, pinning them down. Desperately she wiggled, trying to pull her legs up between them so she could use the power of her thigh muscles to shove him up and away. With a quick swivel of his hips he wedged one of his knees between hers and shoved it to the side; another swivel and he had both legs between hers, shifting his weight from first one side to the other as he slid his knees upward, lifting and spreading her legs until her thighs were helplessly draped across his while his heavy torso held her down.

Horrified, she realized he was aroused; his erection, trapped by his pants, rode painfully against her pubic bone. He shifted, just a little, easing himself downward so he was no longer hurting her there, but she preferred the pain to the feel of that thick bulge riding her as if he were trying to enter her through the fabric of her pants. Dear God, was he going to rape her, too?

She couldn't bear it, couldn't bear that he should hurt her that way. Of all the men she'd ever met, only he had actually touched her, had moved so effortlessly past all her protective barriers that he'd broken a heart she would have sworn was untouchable. He'd taught her differently, taught her the hard way that she wasn't as impervious as she'd deluded herself into thinking. Knowing he'd been hired to kill her was tough enough, so tough she had broken down to the point that she lost control, but somehow rape was worse, showing not just a lack of feeling but a total sense of contempt. She would rather he kill her outright.

Her futile struggling slowly diminished, and her useless attempts to scream turned into choked sobs. Tears leaked from the corners of her eyes, ran down her temples into her hair. She couldn't bear to look at him, couldn't bear to see his face even if drenching tears had allowed it, so she squeezed her eyes as tightly shut as she could.

And, in that first moment of stillness, heard the deep murmur of his voice. "I won't hurt you," he said, his lips moving against her ear. "Drea, be still. I won't hurt you. I'll never hurt you."

At first the words were as incomprehensible as they had been originally, and even when she finally understood the words she couldn't grasp their meaning. He wouldn't hurt her? Did that mean he was going to painlessly kill her? That she wouldn't suffer?

Big of him.

Anger, life-saving anger, surged through the pain and terror and she somehow lunged one more time, wrenching her head to the side and sinking her teeth into any part of him she could reach, which happened to be the side of his forearm, just past his thick wrist. The hot, metallic taste of blood exploded in her mouth, as if she'd bitten into a penny. He said "Fuck!" in a strained tone, forcing the word between his clenched teeth, and with his other hand he applied pressure to those points in her jaw again. Despite herself her jaw loosened, and he pulled his arm from between her teeth.

"Do me a favor," he muttered. "If you feel you just have to hurt me somehow, punch me in the eye instead of biting me. At least then I won't need a tetanus shot."

Her eyes popped open and she glared at him in outrage. He glared back at her from a distance of about ten inches, just far enough that she couldn't head butt him, at least not with her limited range of motion. Despite her earlier impression of utter darkness, the kitchen wasn't completely dark; the light from the living room made a dim, mellow swath across the linoleum floor, let her see the strong shadowed planes of his face and the glitter of his darkly brilliant eyes.

Silence stretched between them, taut and heated. After a moment he drew a slow, controlled breath and let it out the same way. "Can you listen to me now?" he finally asked. "Or do I have tie you down and gag you?"

Surprise sparked through her, and she stared at him in confusion. If he was going to kill her, he could just do it, he didn't have to tie her down and gag her. He'd won; she was at his mercy-if he had any, that is.

Could he have meant…had he possibly meant that he wasn't going to kill her, period?

He hadn't had to jump her, she realized. He could have shot her at any time, if killing her had been his purpose. She had operated for so long under the assumption that he intended to do exactly that, that she felt as if the ground had evaporated beneath her. If what she'd thought was reality wasn't real at all, then what the hell was?

If his hand hadn't been over her mouth, her jaw would have fallen open. Slowly, carefully, her movements hampered by his grip, she first nodded her head, once, up and down, then just as slowly shook it.

Taking the movements exactly for what they were, her answers to his questions, in order, he said, "Then pay attention. I'm not going to hurt you in any way. Is that clear? Do you understand?"

She nodded again, the motion just as restricted as it had been the first time. He hadn't relaxed his grip one iota.

"All right. I'm going to let you up now. Do you need help?"

She shook her head, though she honestly didn't know. Slowly he released her, massaging the pressure points in her jaws as he did so, easing her through what could have been a spike of agony. He rolled lithely to a crouching motion and slid an arm behind her shoulders, lifting her to a sitting position.

Completely stunned, Andie sat silently on the floor. After supporting her for a moment he asked, "All right?" When she nodded, he stood in that graceful, controlled way of his and went to the sink, turning on the water and holding his arm under the flow. "Turn on the light," he said, not looking at her.

Still in shocked silence, she scrambled up and went to the doorway, where she flipped the wall switch. After the relative darkness, the sudden flood of light was so bright she stood blinking, trying to take in the unbelievable fact that the man who had so terrified her for months was standing calmly at her kitchen sink, soaping the blood from his arm and hand.

Hesitantly she approached, stopping several feet away because she couldn't quite bring herself to get within reaching distance. She stared at the wound on his arm, the dark, purpling edges where her teeth had punctured his skin. Her head swam and she reached out, gripping the edge of the counter for support. She had done that, she who had never before been violent in any way.

She began trembling as the adrenaline that had flooded her body began to dissipate. The shaking started at her ankles and climbed to her knees, then rapidly filled her so that even her internal organs felt as if they were quaking and shivering. Her teeth clattered like marbles bouncing down a brick path. He continued running water over his arm, not looking at her even though he had to hear the rapid clicking of her teeth. Icy with reaction, she hugged herself and clenched her jaw in an effort to still the motion and quiet the noise. "Do-do you really need a tetanus shot?" she finally asked, her voice small. Of all the asinine things she could have said, why she picked that one was beyond her understanding.

"No," he said briefly. "My vaccinations are up to date."

She stared at him, going under for the third time in the sea of confusion. He couldn't mean childhood vaccinations, like for measles and chicken pox, and the only other kind of vaccinations that came to mind were like rabies shots for animals. Nothing was making sense; either she was in shock, or she was in an alternate universe. The alternate universe had her vote, because it was impossible that he was standing there in her kitchen. The edges of reality blurred when he was anywhere around; his presence was so intense that he seemed to draw all of her attention the way a magnet drew steel shavings, leaving everything else faded and out of focus.

"V-vaccinations?" She sounded like a stammering idiot, but she was still shivering, and it was all she could do to control her chattering teeth.

"For going out of the country."

She felt like an idiot, because of course she knew that he did a lot of his "work" outside the country, and smart people going into third-world countries made certain they had all the appropriate vaccinations. Then she felt like an idiot all over again, for focusing on mundane stuff like whether or not his shots were up to date, but the shift in her reality was so abrupt and so drastic that she couldn't absorb it all at once, and she felt capable only of taking in the small stuff.

Her gaze drifted over him, outlining his height, the broad set of his muscled shoulders. The short sleeves of his dark green polo shirt revealed the corded strength of his arms, but she didn't have to see his muscles to know how strong he was. He was a neat, well-dressed man, his shirttail tucked in, a thin black belt buckled around his trim waist. His black pants had a sharp crease in them, and his black soft-soled shoes were clean, despite the fact that earlier he'd been standing in the rain. Almost hungrily she stared at his thick dark hair, still cut short, and the darkening of beard stubble on his jaw; she drank in the details of his appearance, and this freshening of her memories was both painful and a relief.

She knew the scent of his skin, as if she smelled it every day, as if she woke up to see his dark head on the pillow beside her. She knew the timbre of his voice, low and ever-so-faintly raspy. She knew his taste, how he kissed, the softness of his lips, the shape and length and thickness of his penis. She knew he still scared her more than anyone she'd ever met-but she didn't know his name, he didn't want her to know even that much about him, and she was damned if she'd ask again even though the pain of not knowing almost choked her. That was where at least half of her fear came from, not just because he was cold and lethal but because somehow, for some insane reason, he could break her heart and she'd always sensed that.

She had to ask. Even knowing she was setting herself up for more pain, she had to try one more time, and if he wouldn't tell her anything this time then she'd know that she had to stop this stupid yearning after the impossible. She might not be able to stop the feelings but she could stop the hopeful expectations that led her to stare at him like a teenager staring at a rock star.

"I don't know who you are," she whispered, the sound thready and broken.

He glanced briefly at her, then tore a paper towel from the roll beside the sink and began drying his arm and hands. "Simon Goodnight."

She was so startled that she said, "That's not your name!" and almost laughed, then she almost cried, because at least he'd said something. She swiped at her eyes, wiping away the tear that trickled down.

He shrugged. "It is for now, just the way you're Andie Pearson, for now."

"Andie is my real name. Well, Andrea is. I was always called Andie, when I was a kid."

"Simon's my real name," he replied, blotting the blood that welled in the puncture wounds.

Which meant the Goodnight wasn't, and she was glad, because that was a helluva name to carry around. Why had he chosen it? Out of some sly sense of humor, or because it was so unlike him that it was, in a way, another layer of camouflage? She almost laughed again. Forget about Smith and Jones; they were Butts and Goodnight, and if that didn't sound like a vaudeville team she didn't know what did.

Then she stared at the blood on the paper towel, and the urge to laugh immediately shriveled to dust. "You need stitches. I'll take you to the ER."

"I can do it myself, when I leave here," he said in dismissal.

"Sure, why not do a Rambo?" she snapped, turning to the battered refrigerator and jerking open the freezer door. Taking out a pack of frozen peas, she tossed it to him. He'd turned to watch her, probably to make sure she didn't do anything other than what he was willing to allow, so he wasn't surprised by the toss and easily fielded the peas. "Then put that on the punctures so the edges won't swell, or you won't be able to show how tough you are."

He looked amused, not because he actually smiled, but just for a second the corners of his eyes creased a little. "Not that tough; I use an analgesic spray to deaden the area first."

Meaning he'd sutured himself before. Before she could quite get her head around that, he tilted his head toward the table.

"Sit down. We need to talk."

Automatically she started to take the nearest chair, but he took her arm with his left hand, picked up the overturned chair with his right, and positioned it on the far side of the table, closest to the wall, before urging her into it and taking the other chair himself. That placed him between her and the door, a habit that might have been ingrained but a move that was definitely deliberate. If she'd had any intention of running she'd have been pissed, or upset, but she was neither, because short of the house catching on fire she didn't think she could summon the energy to run.

Twisting around, he leaned back in the chair just enough to grab the dish towel she had hanging on one of the cabinet pulls. Wrapping the pack of frozen peas in it, he put the makeshift cold pack on the table and rested his arm across it. "Did you quit your job?" he asked.

"Yes," she said, because there was no reason not to tell him. She was both alarmed and angry that he was so damned hyper-intuitive, figuring out what moves she would make before she made them. This wasn't a game of checkers, laid out on a board with a limited number of pieces and a limited number of spaces. She could have done anything. She could have gone straight to the airport, or just started driving, and not come back here at all. But of all the things she could have done, somehow he'd known exactly what she would do, and he'd been here waiting for her.

"Maybe you can get it back." He flicked his glance at her, a quick touch of the dark opal gaze that in an instant cataloged everything about her. "You don't have to run. Salinas thinks you're dead."

Andie hugged herself again, covering her elbows with her hands and trying to retain what warmth she could. She was still icy cold, though at least her teeth had stopped chattering. "Then why did you hunt me down? Why have you been watching me?"

"I didn't have to hunt you," he replied coolly. "I've always known where you were."

"Always?" she echoed. "But how?"

"I followed you when you were released from the hospital."

He'd been there? All that time, he'd been there? She blinked at him, the light from the overhead fixture suddenly too bright and revealing, and made her own intuitive leap. "You're the one who paid my hospital bill!" she charged, her tone as hostile as if she were accusing him of cutting in line at the local Wal-Mart at Christmastime.

He gave a little flip of his hand, dismissing the charge as unimportant.

"Why?" she demanded. "I could have paid it. You know I have the money."

"I didn't want his money paying for your care." For all the expression or emphasis he put in the words he might have been ordering a hamburger, but that dark gaze was on her again and she felt the burning intensity of it. She couldn't tell what he was thinking, she knew only that suddenly she felt like squirming in her seat and a slow roll of heat began dispelling the chill that shook her.

"But…why? He hired you to kill me. If it hadn't been for the wreck, you would have-I know you would have, and you know it, too!" Her voice rose on the last few words and she broke off anything else she might have said, resisting the urge to yell at him.

"Maybe. I don't know." His mouth set in a grim line. "I could say I never took the job, and officially I wouldn't be lying, but I can't say for sure what would have happened if you hadn't had the wreck. As much as I'd like to think I wouldn't have done it, I have to say I don't know for certain."

"Why didn't you take the job?" She knew she was pushing, but she didn't care. She was angry at him for a bunch of reasons, not the least of which was that he seemed so cool and in control when she was a mess of raw nerve endings, and she felt as if at any time she might break and run screaming down the street. "I was nothing to you. I'm still nothing to you."

He simply watched her, his expression as unreadable as always, which made her even angrier. "How much did he offer you? Wasn't it enough? Was that the problem?"

"Two million," he said calmly. "The money wasn't the issue."

Two million! She felt the air wheeze out of her lungs. Rafael had offered the same amount she'd stolen, and he had to know he wouldn't be able to get the money back because of the tangle of banking and tax laws and regulations, bringing his total liability to four million. She stared at the man sitting across from her and wondered how he could have not immediately accepted the job.

"Exactly what was the issue, then?" she demanded.

He stood, sighing as he pushed his chair back. Planting one hand on the table and sliding the other under her hair to cradle the back of her head, he bent and covered her mouth with his. Her mind went blank and she froze, still hugging her own arms, her head tilted back by his grip on her hair and her mouth taken, opened, and molded by the pressure of his. His tongue probed, and numbly she accepted it, welcomed it with hesitant touches of her own tongue.

He released her and sat back down. Unmoving, Andie stared fixedly at the table. In the silence she could hear the clock ticking, hear the hum of the refrigerator, the muted crash as the automatic ice maker dumped fresh cubes into the ice bin. It was ironic, but she, who had seldom been at a loss as to how to handle a man or what to say to turn any situation to her advantage, was at a total loss. She had no idea what to say, and she doubted this man had ever been handled in his entire life. She sat in helpless silence and refused to look at him.

"I guess you were wrong about the 'nothing' part," he said, his tone suddenly grim.