Shades of Midnight (Chapter Twelve)
"God, I hate winter," she murmured, leaning back in the creaky wooden chair and slanting a thoughtful look at the darkness that still pressed thick and deep against the windows at 8:00 AM. "Some days it feels like it's never going to end."
"It will," Alex said, as she sat across from her friend and watched the haunted look grow deeper in Jenna's eyes.
Of course, it wasn't really the darkness or the cold that was weighing her down. Alex didn't have to look at the calendar on the wall near the telephone to understand Jenna's mounting gloom.
"Hey," Alex said, forcing a brightness into her voice. "If the weather stays clear to the weekend, I was thinking about flying down to Anchorage. Maybe do some shopping, go to the movies. You game for a girls'
weekend in the city?"
Jenna glanced back at her and gave a weak shake of her head. "I don't think so."
"Oh, come on. It'll be fun. Besides, you owe me now. I just made the last of my Red Goat coffee for you. I need to hit Kiladi Brothers and stock up again."
Jenna smiled, a bit sadly. "The last of your beloved Red Goat? Wow, you must be worried about me. You think I'm in pretty bad shape, huh?"
"Are you?" Alex asked carefully, a direct question that required a direct answer. She reached across the table and placed her hand over Jenna's. She watched her friend closely, listening to the instinct inside her that always seemed to know whether she was being given the truth or a lie. "Are you going to be all right this time?"
Jenna held her gaze as if locked there. She sighed quietly. "I really don't know, Alex. I miss them. They gave me a reason to get up in the morning, you know? I felt needed, that my life had some higher purpose when Mitch and Libby were in it. I'm not sure I'm ever going to have that again." The truth, then, pained as it was. Alex acknowledged her friend's admission with a tender squeeze of her hand. She blinked, releasing Jenna from the invisible hold of her truth-seeking stare. "Your life has purpose, Jenna. It has meaning. And you're not alone. You have Zach and me for starters." Jenna shrugged. "My brother and I have been drifting apart for a while now, and my best friend has been talking a lot of nonsense lately about picking up and moving away."
"Just talking," Alex said, feeling a pang of guilt for both the cowardice that was making her think very hard about running again and for the half-truth she gave Jenna now, in the hope of making her feel better.
She got up and took their coffee mugs with her to the stove.
"So, what time did you end up leaving Pete's last night?" Jenna asked as Alex poured fresh coffee and brought it back to the table.
"I left a little while after you did. Zach came by and gave me a ride home." Jenna took a sip from her mug and set it down. "Did he now?"
"Just a ride," Alex said. "He offered to have a beer with me at Pete's, but I was already on my way home."
"Well, knowing my brother, he probably just wanted an excuse to get you in his truck. He's had a thing for you since we were teenagers, you know. Maybe for all his tough-guy, married-to-his-job talk, he's still secretly got his eye on you."
Alex didn't think so. Their one night together had been proof enough to both of them that whatever they had together would never go beyond friendship again. She'd known Zach for close to a decade, but he felt more like a stranger to her than Kade did after just a day.
Incredibly, despite the way Kade unsettled her emotionally, deep down, she felt more protected with him on a physical level than she did with Zach, a decorated officer of the law. Good lord. Just what that said about her judgment, Alex was sure she didn't want to know. As she pondered that thought over a long drink of her coffee, the kitchen phone started to ring. Alex got up and answered the business line on automatic pilot. "Maguire Charters and Deliveries."
That one word–that deep, now intimately familiar growl of a voice–went into her ears and down to the core of her like a current of raw electricity.
"Um, hello … Kade," she said, wishing she didn't sound so dumbstruck. And did she have to sound so breathless besides? "How did you get my number?"
Across the small kitchen from her, Jenna's brows raised in surprise. Alex pivoted around and leaned over the counter, hoping to hide some of the heat that was creeping into her cheeks.
"There aren't a lot of Maguires in Harmony," he said on the other end. "Not a lot of pilots, either. So I took an educated guess and called the only listing I could find that happened to cover both criteria–one Hank Maguire of Maguire Charters and Deliveries."
"Oh." Alex's mouth tugged into a smile. "And how do you know that's not my husband?" His low chuckle rasped like velvet. "You sure as hell don't kiss like a married woman." Alex's insides went all soft and warm at the reminder, and it was getting damn hard not to squirm when she thought about his lips on hers and the steamy mental revisit she had enjoyed by herself last night in the shower. "So, um, why did you call? Do you … ah, are you calling on business?" God help her, she almost tacked on "or pleasure" but had the good sense to bite back the words before she'd embarrassed herself by blurting them out. The last thing she needed was to be thinking about Kade and pleasure in the same sentence. She'd gotten a pretty good taste of that already. Enough to know that it spelled danger and complications, things she had plenty enough of as it was.
"I'm supposed to meet Big Dave and a few other guys in Harmony today," Kade said, casually tossing out the best reason she needed to not want anything to do with him.
"Oh, that's right," Alex replied. "The big wolf hunt." And here she was, letting her raging hormones blind her to the fact that she still wasn't sure what his game truly was. Anger spiked bitterly in her throat.
"Well, have fun. I gotta go–"
"Wait," he said, just as she was about to drop the receiver back in its cradle. "I'm supposed to go out with Big Dave today, but actually I was hoping to hire a guide to take me out to Henry Tulak's place instead."
"Henry Tulak," Alex said slowly. "What could you possibly want out at his cabin?"
"I just … I really need to know how that man died, Alex. Will you take me out there?" He sounded sincere, and oddly resigned. Because it seemed so important to him, Alex found herself hedging when she likely should be shutting him down flat. "What about Big Dave?"
"I'll give him my regrets next time I see him," he replied, sounding anything but concerned about standing up the town blowhard and his pals. "What do you say, Alex?"
"Yeah, okay." And dammit, she didn't have to feel so excited about the prospect of spending time with him. "It will be daybreak around noon, so why don't you meet me here in Harmony at eleven? We'll have light enough for travel, and a couple of hours to check out the site once we get there." Kade grunted, as though considering on the other end of the line. "I'd rather not wait for daylight to head out there, if that's all right with you."
"You'd rather travel in the dark?"
She could actually feel the slow smile spreading over his features as he answered, "I'm not afraid of a little darkness if you're not. I'm on the road already, heading your way. I can be at your place within the hour."
Well, he was bold, she had to give him that. The man set his mind on something and wasn't afraid to go after it.
"Will an hour from now work for you, Alex?"
She glanced at the clock and wondered how fast she could get out of her faded long johns, shower, and make some kind of sense out of her face and hair. "Um, sure. Okay, an hour it is. I'll see you then." As they hung up, Alex could feel Jenna's curious stare at her back. "That was Kade, huh?" She turned around, grinning sheepishly. "Ah, yup."
Jenna leaned back in the chair and crossed her arms over her chest, looking like a total cop, even in her sweat-shirt and faded jeans, her dark hair loose around her shoulders. "This is the same Kade from Pete's last night, the same Kade you saw out at the Toms place yesterday and said you wanted nothing to do with? That Kade?"
"That's the one," Alex replied. "And before you say anything else, I'm just taking him out to the Tulak place to have a look around."
"It's just business," Alex said, hastily clearing her breakfast dishes and dumping them in the sink. She pulled aside a piece of egg-soaked toast and tossed it into Luna's waiting mouth. "The way I see it, if it will keep one more gun from being aimed at the area wolf packs, then I'm more than happy to pert Kade with an in-country day trip."
When she came back to the table to wipe it down, Jenna stared hard at her. It didn't take Alex's uncanny inner lie detector, or even Jenna's years of training as a cop, to read the plain and obvious fact that Alex was smitten. Turned inside-out by a man she'd known only a couple of days. Tempted to let this man who was a hundred confusing shades of gray into her tidy little black-andwhite world.
"Be careful, Alex," Jenna said. "I'm your friend and I love you. I don't want to see you get hurt."
"I know," she said. "And I won't."
Jenna laughed under her breath and waved her hand dismissively in front of her. "Well, why are you standing around when you need to get ready for this nondate? Go on. Luna and I will handle breakfast cleanup detail."
Alex grinned. "Thanks, Jen."
"But when you get back from this nondate," Jenna called after her as she raced down the hall, "I'm gonna want this guy's last name and social security number. And a full medical history, too. You know I'm not kidding!"
Alex did know that, but she was laughing anyway, floating on a welcome, if unaccustomed, feeling of excitement and hope.