White lies (Chapter Twelve)
"What's going on?" She was very still now.
"I'm going out to the shed. That's the communications beeper. Frank's trying to get in touch with us."
"Then why not turn on a light?"
"He wouldn't contact us in the middle of the night unless it was an emergency. It might be too late. Piggot could already be close by, and a light would warn him."
"The guy who tried to make me into beef stew, remember?"
"I'll go with you." In a flash she was out of the bed and fumbling with her clothes in the dark. Lucas started to stop her, not wanting her to leave the safety of the cabin, but if Piggot had found them, the cabin wouldn't be safe. A hand- held rocket launcher in the hands of an expert, which Piggot was, could turn the cabin into a shattered inferno in seconds.
He stamped his feet into his boots and grabbed the pistol out of the holster, which he always kept at hand. As he left the room he lifted his jacket from the hook beside the door, then shrugged into it as he raced through the dark cabin to the back door. Jay was right behind him; she had on her jeans and his flannel shirt, her bare feet shoved into boots. They slipped across the snow to the shed, staying in the shadows as much as possible. The ramshackle shed was a revelation; Jay had been stunned the first time Lucas had shown her what lay below its surface. He moved a bale of hay aside and revealed a small trapdoor, just wide enough to allow his shoulders through, then pressed a button on the pager that released the electronic lock. The trapdoor silently swung open. A narrow ladder extended downward, illuminated only by tiny red lights beside each step. Lucas urged her down, then he followed and closed the door, once more sealing the underground communications chamber. Only then did he switch on the lights.
The chamber was small, no more than six by eight, and crammed with equipment. There were a computer and display terminal, a modem hookup and a printer against the end wall, and an elaborate radio system on the right. That left about two and a half feet of room on the left for maneuvering, and part of that was taken up by a chair. Lucas took the chair and flipped switches on the radio. "On air."
"Get packed. Piggot has been spotted in Mexico City, and we have word the location of the cabin is no longer secure." Frank's voice filled the small chamber eerily, without the tinny sound radios normally produced, testifying to the quality of the set.
"How much time do we have?"
"The Man estimated four hours; less if Piggot has already put accomplices in the area."
"His usual method is to move people in, but keep them at a distance until he arrives. He likes to orchestrate things himself." Lucas's voice was remote, his mind racing.
Silence filled the chamber, then Frank asked quietly, "Luke?"
"Yeah," Lucas said, aware of Jay's sudden movement behind him, followed by absolute stillness. He hadn't wanted to tell her like this, but all hell would be coming down in a hurry. Four hours wasn't a lot of time, and no matter what happened, he wanted her to know his name. For four hours she would know whose woman she was.
"A couple of days ago. Any chance of intercepting Piggot before he gets here?" That would be the best-case scenario.
"Slim. Nailing him there would be our best bet. We don't know where he is, but we know where he's going."
"He won't go through customs, so that means he's in a small plane and will land at a private airstrip, one close by. Do you have a record of them?"
"We're pulling them out of the computer now. We'll have men at all of them."
"Where's a safe place for me to stash Jay?"
Frank said urgently, "Luke, you're out of it. Don't set yourself up as bait for the trap. Get in the Jeep and drive, and call me in five hours."
"Piggot's my mess, I'll clean it up," Lucas said, still in that cool, remote tone. "If I'd taken care of him last year, this wouldn't be happening now."
"What about Jay?"
"I'll get her out of it. But I'm coming back for Piggot."
Realizing the futility of arguing with him across two-thirds of the continent, Frank said. "Okay. Contact Veasey, at this frequency, and scramble." He recited the frequency numbers only once. "Roger," Lucas said, and flipped the switch that cut them off. Then he shoved the chair back and stood, turning to face Jay.
Her entire body felt numb as she stared at him. He knew. His memory had returned. Her time of grace had ended, the mirrors had shattered, the charade was over. The violence that had brought him into her life was about to take him out of it again.
With the return of his memory, he was truly Lucas Stone again. It was there in his eyes, in the yellow gaze of the predator. His face was hard. "I'm not Steve Crossfield," he said bluntly. "My name is Lucas Stone. Your ex-husband is dead."
She was white, frozen. "I know," she whispered.
Of all the things he'd expected her to say, that wasn't one of them. It stunned him, confused him, and irrationally angered him. He'd agonized for days over how to tell her, and she already knew? "How long have you known?" he snapped.
Even her lips felt numb. "Quite a while."
He caught her arm, his long fingers digging into her flesh. "How long is 'quite a while'?"
She tried to think. She had been caught in a web of lies for so long that it was difficult to remember. "You… you were still in the hospital."
Scenarios flashed through his mind. He'd been trained to think deviously, to keep hammering at something until it made sense, and he didn't like any of the situations that came to mind. He'd assumed from the beginning that she was an innocent blind, used by Sabin and Frank Payne to shield him, but it was more likely that she'd been hired to do the job. White-hot fury began to build in him, and he clamped down on his temper with iron control. "Why didn't you tell me?" God, for a while he'd thought he was going crazy, with all those damn memories coming back and none of them connected with the things she had told him. He might have gotten his memory back sooner if he'd had one solid fact to build on instead of the fairy tales she'd woven.
He was hurting her; his grip would leave bruises on her arm. She pulled at it uselessly, gasping as he only tightened his fingers. "I was afraid to!"
"Afraid of what?"
"I thought Frank would send me away if he knew I'd discovered you weren't Steve! Lucas, please, you're hurting me!" At last she could say his name, even though it was in pain, and her heart savored the sound.
His, grip eased, but he caught her other arm, too, and held her firmly. "So Frank didn't hire you to say I was Steve Crossfield?"
"N-no," she stuttered. "I believed you were, at first."
"What changed your mind?"
"Your eyes. When I saw your eyes, I knew."
The memory of that was crystal clear. When the doctor had cut the bandages away from his eyes and he'd looked at Jay for the first time, she had gone as white as she was now. That was odd, because he knew Sabin would never have overlooked a detail as basic as the color of his eyes.
"Your husband didn't have brown eyes?"
"Ex-husband," she whispered. "Yes, he had brown eyes, but his were dark brown. Yours are yellowish brown."
So his eyes were a different shade of brown than her husband's had been; it was almost laughable that Sabin's carefully constructed scam could have fallen apart over something as small as that. But she hadn't told them that they had the wrong man, which would have been the reasonable thing to do. She hadn't even told him, not then and not during the weeks when they'd been up here alone. Angry frustration made his voice as rough as gravel. "Why didn't you tell me? Didn't you think I'd be a little interested in who I really am?"
"I couldn't take the chance. I was afraid–" she began, pleading for understanding.
"Yeah, that's right, you were afraid the gravy train would end. Frank was paying you to stay with me, wasn't he? You were with me every day, so there was no way you could hold down a job."
"No! It isn't like that–"
"Then what is it like? Are you independently wealthy?"
"Lucas, please. No, I'm not wealthy–"
"Then how did you live during the months I was in the hospital?"
"Frank picked up the tab," she said in raw frustration. "Would you please listen to me?"
"I'm listening, honey. You just told me that Frank paid you to stay with me."
"He made it possible for me to stay with you! I'd lost my job–" Too late, she heard the words and knew how he would take them.
His eyes were yellow slits, his mouth a grim line of rage. "So you jumped at the chance for a cushy job. All you had to do was sit beside me every day and anything you wanted was given to you, while Frank paid your bills. This explains why you wouldn't marry me, doesn't it? You were happy to accept your 'salary,' but marrying a stranger was a little bit too much, wasn't it? Not to mention the fact that the marriage wouldn't have been legal. You saved yourself some sticky trouble by dragging up all those excuses."
"They weren't excuses. For all I knew you could have had someone who cared for you–"
"I do!" he yelled, his neck cording. "My family! They think I'm dead!"
Jay groped for control, managing to steady her voice. "I couldn't marry you until you'd gotten your memory back and knew for certain you wanted to marry me. I couldn't take advantage of you like that."
"That's a convenient scruple. It actually makes you look noble, doesn't it? Too bad. If you wanted the gravy train to keep running, you should have married me while you had the chance and just kept pretending I was Crossfield. Then, when I got my memory back, you could have been the poor victim and maybe I would have stayed with you out of guilt."
She shrank away from him, her eyes going blank. Somehow, during the long months she had spent with him, she had come to believe he loved her, though he had never said the words. He'd been so possessive, so tender and passionate. But now his memory had returned, and he couldn't have made it plainer that his absorption with her had ended. He didn't need her any longer, and he certainly wasn't going to renew his offer of marriage. It was over, and they weren't even going to part friends. The worst had happened; she had lied to him, kept his identity from him, and he would never forgive her for it. He thought she had done it just because the government had been willing to support her for as long as the charade had lasted.
He released her suddenly, as if he couldn't stand to touch her any longer, and she staggered back. Catching her balance, she turned toward the ladder. "Open the door," she said dully.
He clenched his fists, not ready to break off the argument. He didn't have all the answers he wanted, not by a long shot. But her movement recalled the need for urgency; he had to get her out of there before Piggot found them. The last thing he wanted was for Jay to be caught in the middle of a firefight.
"I'll go first," he said, and shouldered past her. He signaled the door open and climbed the ladder, the pistol ready in his hand. As soon as his head was above ground he looked cautiously in all directions, then climbed out and knelt on one knee by the hole to help Jay out. "All right, come on."
She didn't look at him as she crawled out, nor did she accept the hand he extended. He closed the trapdoor, then replaced the bale of hay over it. She started to just walk out of the shed, but he grabbed her and held her back. "Watch it!" he said in a furious whisper. "We go back the same way we came. Stay in the shadows." He led the way, and Jay followed him without a word.
He still wouldn't allow a light on in the cabin, so Jay stumbled to the bedroom and gathered a few clothes in the dark. He came into the bedroom as she took off his shirt to put on her own clothes, and after a moment of frozen embarrassment, she awkwardly turned her back while she struggled with her bra. Her hands were clumsy, and in the dark she couldn't manage to straighten the straps. Despairing of getting it on, she finally dropped it on the bed and simply pulled her sweater over her head.
Lucas watched her. Her pale breasts had gleamed in the fault light coming through the window, and in spite of his anger, his sense of betrayal and the need for haste, he wanted to go to her and pull her against him. Only a few hours before he had held her breasts in his hands and pushed them up to his avid mouth. He had made love to her until the building anticipation had bordered on agony, and they had writhed together on that bed. She had told him she loved him, over and over, and now she turned her back as if she had to hide her body from him.
It hit him hard, shook him. There was more to it than she'd told him, more than the mercenary motives he'd thrown at her. He needed to know what it was, but he didn't have time. Damn it. If only she didn't look so beaten and remote, as if she had withdrawn inside herself. He had to fight the urge to take her in his arms and kiss that look away. Hell, what did it matter why she had done it? Maybe money had been the reason at first, but he was damned certain it wasn't the reason now, or at least not all of it. Even if it had been, he thought ruthlessly, he wouldn't let her go. He'd get this settled between them as soon as he'd taken care of Piggot, but right now the most important thing was to make certain Jay was safe.
"Hurry," he urged roughly.
She sat down on the edge of the bed and jerked her boots off, quickly put on a pair of thick socks and put the boots on again. Then she got her purse and shear- ling jacket and said, "I'm ready."
He didn't see the need for her to get anything else, as they would come back to the cabin and pack after he'd taken care of Piggot, and he was pleased that she didn't insist on wasting time. Jay was a good partner, even though she was out of her depth.
He had to find a safe place to leave her. He doubted that Black Bull, the closest town, had a motel, but he didn't have the time to go any farther than that. He drove the Jeep at breakneck speed across the meadow, especially considering that he didn't dare risk turning on the headlights. But he had taken the possibility that he might have to do this into consideration and had walked the meadow over and over, mentally tracing the route he would take, estimating his fastest safe speed, noting all the rocks and ruts in his path. He edged so close to the tree line that branches scraped the side of the Jeep.
"I can't see," Jay said, her voice strained.
"I can." He couldn't see much, but it was enough. He had good night vision.
She held on to the door as they jolted across a hump, rattling her teeth. He'd have to turn on the headlights when they went down the mountainside, she thought; the track was only wide enough for the Jeep, with a steep drop on one side and vertical mountain on the other. Even in daylight she hardly dared to breathe until they had safely negotiated it. But when they made the turn that took them onto the track, he kept both hands on the wheel. The darkness in front of them was absolute.
Jay closed her eyes. Her own heartbeat was thundering in her ears so loudly that she couldn't hear anything else. There was nothing she could do. He had decided not to turn on the lights, to risk the drive in the dark, and nothing she could say would change his mind. His arrogant confidence in his own ability was both maddening and awesome; she would rather have walked down the mountain in ten feet of snow than risked this hair-raising drive, but he had simply decided to do it, and now he was.
She couldn't estimate how long the drive took. It seemed like hours, and finally her nerves couldn't bear the tension, and numbness settled in. She even opened her eyes. It didn't matter. If they went over the side, they would go whether her eyes were open or closed.
But then they were down and bumping across the second meadow. Suddenly he slammed on the brakes, swearing viciously. Jay saw what he saw: a set of headlights playing along the edge of the meadow in front of them. They were still safely out of range of the light, but she knew as well as he did what it meant. Piggot's men were drawing close, closing the net to wait for Piggot's arrival.
Lucas put the Jeep in reverse and backed the way he had come, keeping the Jeep at the tree line. When he reached the rear edge of the meadow he turned, taking the Jeep up the north edge. They were off the track now, and the snow tires dug in deep, spewing snow back behind them.
"Are we going around this way?"
"No. We won't be able to make it. The snow's too deep." He pulled the Jeep under some trees and got out. "Stay here," he ordered, and disappeared back toward the track.
Jay swiveled in her seat, straining her eyes to see what he was doing. She could barely make out his form, black against the snow; an instant later he was out of sight.
He was back in less than two minutes. He vaulted into the Jeep and slammed the door, then rolled the window down. "Listen," he hissed.
"What did you do?"
"I wiped out our tracks. There was only one vehicle. If it goes past us, we'll get back on the track and make it to the highway yet."
They listened. The sound of the other motor came plainly through the night air. The vehicle was moving slowly, the engine toiling in low gear as it cautiously made its way up the slick, snowy, unfamiliar track. The headlights stabbed the darkness, coming almost straight toward them.
"Don't worry," Lucas breathed. "They can't see us from the track. If they just don't notice where we turned and if they keep on going, we'll be okay."
Two ifs. Two big ifs. Jay's nails were digging into her palms. The headlights were close enough that their reflected light illuminated the interior of the Jeep, and for the first time she noticed that Lucas had on his thick shearling jacket, but no shirt. The odd detail struck her, and she wondered if she might be edging toward hysteria.
"Keep going," he said under his breath. "Keep going."
For a moment it seemed as if the other vehicle slowed, and the lights seemed to be coming over the slight rise straight toward them. Then they turned, and the noise of the engine slowly moved away.
She let out her breath. Lucas started the engine, knowing the sound wouldn't be heard over that of the other motor. He put the Jeep in gear and turned it around, praying they were hidden well enough that the red glow of the brake lights wouldn't reveal their position. But at least they were behind the other vehicle now. If he had to, he could make a run for the road. As rough as the track was, the chance that they would be hit by gunfire from a pursuing vehicle was small.
The Jeep lurched through the snow, and then they were on the track again. No other headlights disturbed the darkness, and they could just catch glimpses of light playing through the trees as the other vehicle moved slowly up the treacherous mountainside track.
Jay sat silently, even when they reached the road and Lucas finally turned on the headlights. She was numb again.
They reached Black Bull at two in the morning. The local populace of one hundred and thirty-three souls were all in bed. There wasn't even an all-night convenience store, and the one gas station closed at ten at night, according to the sign in the window. A county sheriffs car was parked at the side of the gas station.
Lucas stopped the Jeep. "Can you drive this well enough to get out of here?" he asked brusquely.
She looked at the gearshift, but not at him. "Yes."
"Then drive until you hit the next town big enough to have a motel. Stop there and call Frank. He'll arrange for you to be picked up. Do you have his num- ber?"
So this was it. It was over. "No."
"Give me a pen. I'll write it down for you."
Jay fumbled in her purse and found a pen, but she didn't have even a scrap of paper for him to write the number on. Finally he grasped her hand and turned it palm up, then wrote the number on her palm.
"Where are you going?" she asked, her voice strained but even.
"I'm taking that county car right there and radioing Veasey. Then we're going to catch Piggot and end this once and for all."
She stared out the windshield, her hand clenched tightly as if to keep the number from fading off her palm. "Be careful," she managed to say, the admon- ishment trite but heartfelt. She wondered if Frank would even tell her the outcome, if she would ever know what happened to Lucas.
"He ambushed me once. It won't happen again." Lucas got out of the Jeep and strode over to the county car. It was locked, but that wasn't much of a deterrent. He had the door open in less than ten seconds. He looked at the Jeep, staring at Jay through the windshield. Her face was ghostly white. He wanted nothing more than to jerk her into his arms and kiss her so hard that they both forgot about this mess, but if he kissed her now, he might not be able to stop, and he had to take care of Piggot. It was just that he wanted her so badly, wanted to use the bond of the flesh to make certain she knew she was his. A sense of incompletion gnawed at him because they hadn't thrashed out the situation between them, but it would have to wait. Maybe it was better this way. In a few hours he wouldn't have to worry about Piggot any longer, and his temper would have cooled. He would be able to think clearly and not react as if she'd betrayed him. He didn't understand her reasons yet, but underneath everything, he knew she loved him.
Instead of climbing over into the driver's seat, Jay opened the door and got out to walk around. She paused in front of the Jeep, her slim body starkly outlined by the glare of the headlights. "It was the only way I could think of to protect you,'' she said, then got into the Jeep and put it in gear.
Lucas watched the taillights as she pulled out of the gas station and onto the highway. He felt stunned. Protect him? He was so used to being out in the cold, on his own by choice, that the idea of anyone protecting him was alien. What had she thought she could do?
She could keep the charade intact. She had been right; Frank would have quickly and quietly hustled her away if she'd told him there had been a mistake, that he, Lucas, wasn't her ex-husband. She didn't have his skill with weapons or in fighting, but that hadn't stopped her from literally setting herself up as his bodyguard. The charade had depended on her, so she had kept quiet, and shielded him with her presence.
Because she loved him. He swore aloud, his breath crystallizing in the frigid night air. His damned training had tripped him up, making him look for betrayal where there hadn't been any, making him question her motives and automatically assuming the worst. He had only to look to himself to understand why she hadn't said anything. Hadn't he kept quiet these past two days because he'd been afraid of losing her if she knew the truth? He loved her too much to accept even the possibility of losing her, until Piggot had forced his hand.
Swearing again, he folded his length into the county car and began the process of hot-wiring the starter.
Dawn threw rosy fingers of light across the snow, a sight Lucas has seen many times since coming to the mountains, but the scene wasn't peaceful this particular morning. The meadow was crowded with men and vehicles, the pristine snow trampled and criss-crossed by both feet and tires. Here and there the white was marred by reddish-brown stains. A helicopter sat off to the left, its blades slowly twirling in the breeze.
Ten guns snapped toward him as he stepped out from the trees, then were lifted as the men holding them recognized him. He walked steadily toward them, his own pistol held in his blood-stained hand down at his side. The stench of cordite burned his nostrils in the cold air, and a gray haze lay over the meadow, resisting the efforts of the breeze to disperse it.
There was a tall, black-haired man standing next to the helicopter, surveying the scene with grim, narrowed eyes. Lucas walked straight to him. "You took a chance, setting us up in your own cabin," he snapped.
Kell Sabin looked around the meadow. "It was a calculated risk. I had to do it to find the mole. Once the location of the cabin was leaked, I knew who it was, because access to that information is very controlled." He shrugged. "I can find another vacation spot."
"The mole blew my cover?"
"Yeah. Until then, I had no idea he was there." Sabin's voice was icy, his eyes like cold black fire.
"So why the masquerade? Why drag Jay into it?"
"To keep Piggot from finding out you were alive. Your cover was blown. He knew about your family, and he's been willing in the past to use someone's family to get to them. I was trying to buy time, to keep everyone safe until Piggot surfaced and we could get to him."
Sabin looked up at the trees behind the cabin. "I assume he won't be bothering us again."
"Or anyone else."
"That was your last job. You're out of it."
"Damn straight," Lucas agreed. "I've got better things to do, like get married and start a family."
Suddenly Sabin grinned, and the coldness left his eyes. Few people saw Sabin like that, only the ones who could call themselves his friends. "The bigger they are," he jibed, and left the rest of the old saw unsaid. "Have you told her yet?"
"She already knew. She figured it out while I was still in the hospital."
Sabin frowned. "What? She didn't say anything. How did she know?"
"My eyes. They're a different shade of brown than Crossfield's."
"Hell. A little thing like that. And she still went along with it?"
"I think she figured out that the whole thing was to protect me."
"Women," Sabin said softly, thinking of his own wife, who had fought like a tigress to save his life when he'd been a stranger to her. It didn't surprise him that Jay Granger had put herself on the line to protect Lucas.
Lucas rubbed his jaw. "She doesn't even mind this ugly mug."
"The surgeons did what they could. Your face was smashed." Then Sabin grinned again. "You were too pretty anyway."
The two men stood and watched the mopping up process, their faces becoming grim again at the loss of life. Three men were dead, counting Piggot, and four more were in custody. "I'll notify your family that you're alive," Sabin finally said. "I'm sorry they had to go through this, but with Piggot on the loose, it was safer for you, and all of them, as well, if the charade was played out. It's over now. Collect Jay from wherever you've stashed her, and we'll get the two of you out of here."
Lucas looked at him, and slowly the blood drained out of his face. "She hasn't called Frank?" he asked hoarsely.
Sabin went still. "No. Where is she?"
"She was supposed to drive to the next town, check into a motel and call Frank. Damn it to hell!" Lucas turned and ran for the shed, with Sabin right beside him. Suddenly he felt cold all over. There was a possibility Piggot could have gotten to Jay before coming here, as well as the slightly less terrifying possibility that she could have had an accident. God in heaven, where was she?
After leaving Lucas, Jay simply drove, automatically following the highway signs picked out by the headlight beams, and eventually wound up on U.S. 24, the highway that they had taken to Colorado Springs. She turned in the opposite direction. She didn't pay any attention to the tune; she just kept driving. U.S. 24 took her through Leadville, and finally she connected with I-70. She took a right, toward Denver.
The sun came up, shining right into her eyes. She was nearly out of gas. She got off at the next exit and had the tank filled.
It would be over by now.
Exhaustion pulled at her, but she couldn't stop. If she ever stopped, she would have to think, and right now she couldn't bear it. She checked her money. She didn't have much–a little over sixty dollars–but she had her credit cards. That would get her back to New York, to the only home she had left, the only refuge.
I-70 went straight to Stapleton International Airport in Denver. Jay parked the Jeep and entered the terminal, carefully noting where she had parked so she could tell Frank where to retrieve his vehicle. She bought her ticket first, and was lucky enough to get on a flight leaving within the hour. Then she found a pay phone and called Frank.
He answered in the middle of the first ring. "Frank, it's Jay." She identified herself in a numb monotone. "Is it over?"
"Where the hell are you?" he screamed.
"Denver! What are you doing there? You were supposed to call me hours ago! Luke is tearing the damned place up, and we have every cop in Colorado prowling the highways looking for you."
Her heart lightened, the terrible dread lifting from it. "He's all right? He isn't hurt?"
"He's fine. He took a little nick on the arm, but nothing a Band-Aid won't cover. Look, exactly where are you? I'll have you picked up–"
"Is it over?" she asked insistently. "Is it really over?"
"Piggot? Yeah, it's over. Luke got him. Tell me where you are and–"
"I'm glad." Her legs wouldn't support her much longer; she sagged against the wall. "Take… take care of him."
"My God, don't hang up!" Frank yelled, the words shrieking in her ear. "Where are you?"
"Don't worry," she managed to say. "I can get home by myself." Totally forgetting the Jeep, she hung up the phone, then went into the ladies' rest room and splashed cold water on her face. As she pulled a brush through her hair she noticed the pallor of her cheeks and the dark circles under her eyes. "You guys sure know how to show a lady a good time," she murmured to her reflection, drawing several startled glances her way.
Yogi Berra had said, "It ain't over till it's over," but this was very definitely over. Jay couldn't sleep on the flight, despite the utter exhaustion weighing down her body. Nor could she eat, though her stomach was empty. She managed to drink a cola, but nothing more. After the solitude of the meadow, New York's J.F.K. airport was bedlam. She wanted to shrink against a wall and scream at all the scurrying people to go away. Instead she got on a bus, and an hour and a half later she let herself into her apartment.
She hadn't seen it in months; it was no longer home. It had been well taken care of in her absence, as Frank had promised, but it was as empty as she was. She didn't even have any clothes with her. She laughed hollowly; clothes were the least of her worries. Frank would make certain they were shipped to her. But there were sheets to go on the bed, and towels for the bathroom. She took a warm shower, then even summoned the strength to make up the bed. The afternoon sun was going down as she stretched out naked between the clean sheets. Automatically she turned, searching for Lucas's warmth, but he wasn't there. It was over, and he didn't want her. Acid tears stung her eyes as her heavy eyelids closed, and then she slept.
"Janet Jean. Janet Jean, wake up,"
The intruding voice pulled her toward consciousness. She didn't want to wake up. So long as she slept, she didn't have to face life without Lucas. But it sounded like his voice, and she frowned.
"Janet Jean. Jay. Wake up, baby." A hard, warm hand shook her bare shoulder.
Slowly she opened her eyes. It was Lucas, sitting on the edge of her bed, scowling at her. Those yellow eyes looked almost murderous, though his tone had been as gentle as his ruined voice would allow. He looked like hell; he badly needed a shave, his hair was uncombed, and a bloodstained bandage was wrapped around his left forearm. But at least he had on a shirt now, and his clothes were clean.
"I know I locked the door." Sleep still muddled her mind, but she knew she'd locked the door. In New York, one wasn't careless about locking the door.
He shrugged. "Big deal. Come on, sweetheart, go to the bathroom and splash some cold water on your face so you can focus your eyes. I'll make coffee."
What was he doing here? She couldn't think of any reason, and though part of her rejoiced at seeing him, no matter why, another part of her cringed at having to say goodbye to him again. She might not be able to stand it this time. At least before, she had been numb.
"What time is it?"
"It can't be. It's still daylight."
"Nine in the morning," he explained patiently. "Come on, get up." He lifted her to a sitting position, and the covers fell to her waist, exposing her bare body. Quickly Jay grabbed the sheet and pulled it over her breasts; she couldn't meet his eyes as a flush chased the pallor from her face.
His face was expressionless as he got to his feet and unbuttoned his shirt. "Here, put this on. I packed your clothes and brought them with me, but they're all tumbled together in the suitcases."
She took his shut, still warm from his body, and pulled it around her. Without another word she got up and went into the bathroom, firmly closing the door behind her. She started to lock it, but decided not to waste her tune. Locks weren't much good against him.
Five minutes later she felt much more alert, having followed his advice and splashed cold water on her face. She was very thirsty, after having gone so long without anything to drink, so she drank several cups of water. She would have felt more secure if she'd had on something more than just his shirt, but it almost swallowed her. His scent was on the fabric. She lifted it to her face and inhaled deeply, then let it drop and left the security of the bathroom.
He was lying on the bed. She stopped in her tracks. "I thought you were going to make coffee."
"You don't have any." He got to his feet, put his hands on her shoulders and shook her. "Damn you," he said in a shaking voice. "I went through hell when I found out you hadn't called Frank. Why did you run? Why did you come back here?"
Her hair had fallen over her face. "I didn't have anyplace else to go," she said, and her voice cracked.
He yanked her into his arms, reaching up behind her back to lock his fist in her hair and hold her head back. "Did you really think I'd let you get away from me that easily?" he all but snarled.
"Was what I did so bad?" she pleaded. "I didn't know any other way to protect you! When I saw your eyes, I knew you had to be the agent Frank had told me had been killed, and I knew he'd gone to an awful lot of trouble to hide you, so you had to be in danger. You had amnesia. You didn't even know who was after you! Keeping the lie going was the only way I had of keeping you safe!"
The yellowish eyes glittered. "Why should you care?"
"Because I was in love with you! Or did you think that was a lie, too?"
His touch gentled. "No," he said quietly. "I think I've always known you loved me, right from the start."
Tears leaked from the corners of her eyes. "The first time I touched you," she whispered, "I felt how warm you were, and how hard you were fighting to stay alive. I started loving you then."
"Then why did you run?"
He was relentless, but then, she had always known that. "Because it was over. You didn't want me. I'd been terrified of what you would do when you found out. I was afraid you'd send me away, and you did. So I left."
"I only wanted you away from the danger, damn it! I didn't intend for you to go two thousand miles!" He picked her up and dropped her on the bed, then fol- lowed her down. "No excuses this time. We're going to get married as soon as we can legally do it."
She was as stunned as she had been the first time he'd mentioned marriage. "W-what?" she stammered.
"You told me to ask you again when I'd regained my memory. Well, I have. We're getting married."
All she could say was, "That's not asking, that's telling."
"It'll do." He began unbuttoning his shirt, uncovering her breasts.
"Is it because you think you owe me–"
His head jerked up, those eyes fierce and wild. "I love you so much I'm out of my head with it."
She was stunned again. "You never said. I thought– but then you made me leave…"
"I didn't think I could have made it any plainer how I felt," he growled.
Very simply she said, "Do you need the words?"
That stopped him. "I need the words very much."
"So do I."
He bent his head and kissed her, his hand stroking her bare body beneath the shirt. His muscled legs moved against hers, and she felt his hardness against her thigh. "I love you, Jay Granger."
The sun was exploding inside her, lighting her eyes. "I love you, Lucas Stone."
At last she could speak his name with love.