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Authors: Anne Stuart

Tags: #Romantic Suspense / romance, #Adventure, #kickass heroine, #rock and roll hero, #Latin America, #golden age of romance

Darkness before the Dawn (6 page)

BOOK: Darkness before the Dawn
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“Yes,” she said. “Yes.”

Why the hell couldn’t he stop thinking about her? Randall began pacing back and forth over the thick wall-to-wall carpeting of the hotel room, trying to blot the memory of that look from her eyes when he’d come back and found her waiting
for him. Panic, anger, and wanting had all been mixed up. He’d known how to use all three. He’d known how to use her.

She’d been strangely docile as he’d stripped the clothes off her, but he’d liked that. He’d liked kissing her, arousing her, playing with her until she was lying in his arms, shivering and gasping and trembling, reaching for him with desperate hands that were clumsy and untutored and infinitely arousing despite, or because of, their innocence. He had half-expected to find her a virgin, was almost disappointed when he finally took her, plunging into her with a deep, almost savage stroke and finding no barrier. But disappointment was the farthest thing from his mind as she tightened around him, clinging to him, strange, moving little sounds of both panic and desire coming from the back of her throat. It hadn’t taken him long to bring her to the peak—she was starved for it, desperate for it, and he exulted in his sense of power, bringing her to ecstasy again and again, until she was weeping against him, begging for him, and he’d finally dropped his iron control and given himself to her, plunging deep and losing himself as he seldom dared to do.

If she’d looked shell-shocked, still half-panicked, it was nothing compared to what he felt when he finally pulled away from her. Suddenly he was exposed, naked, and vulnerable. And his panic matched hers.

Slowly he sat up beside her and waited until his voice was steady and his breathing had quieted. “If you’re that good already,” he drawled, his voice cool and distant, “I can’t wait till you’ve had a little practice.” And he’d sat and watched her withdraw, close in on herself without a word. And then he’d watched her as she slept.

Randall tossed back the brandy with less than his usual respect, slammed the snifter down on the fake antique furniture, and headed for the bathroom. Damn Maggie Bennett. By the time this was over, he’d be able to forget her. That was a promise, and he never broke his promises to himself. To others, perhaps, but not to himself.

But he never lied to himself, either, not if he could help it. As he stood under the icy beads of a cold shower, he wondered whether it was going to be a promise he had any chance of keeping.

six
 

When Maggie awoke the next morning, she was lying fully clothed in the guest-room bed. The sheets were tangled around her body, and she had no memory at all of how she had got there. Her head was pounding and throbbing, her mouth tasted like dust, and her spirits had plummeted even lower. For a moment she considered burrowing down under the sheets, bursting into tears, and hiding away from everything she didn’t want to face. But Kate would have left for work hours ago—there was no one to witness her weakness. And Maggie Bennett was made of stern stuff. She threw back the covers and staggered, moaning, to the shower.

She was standing in the tub and turning around under the stinging spray of the shower when full consciousness returned. And she remembered what shower she was standing in.

She screamed and jumped out of the tub, bringing down the new shower curtain that Kate had bought the day before, and then collapsed on the toilet seat, shaking. “Hell and damnation,” she said out loud in a shaky voice, pushing her sopping hair away from her face. She was tough, but nothing on this earth was going to make her get back in that shower.

She leaned over, turned off the spray, and headed down the hallway to her sister’s bathroom to finish her shower. Her wet feet left a trail of footprints on the pale gray carpet. The living room curtains were open letting in a flood of pale yellow sunlight, and Randall Carter sat on the couch watching her.

Her Scandinavian blood had left her essentially unconcerned about her nude body, but having Randall see her was
another matter. She would have preferred Jack the Ripper. She could feel the flush covering her pale skin as she met his incurious gaze. “Pervert,” she said, and kept walking. His soft laugh followed her.

By the time she climbed into Kate’s shower, she was well and truly awake. She stalled as long as she could. There was no question but that Randall would be there when she emerged, but she intended to be completely in control before she made her second appearance of the day. Kate kept aspirin in her medicine chest, makeup under the sink, perfumes and skin creams and everything a sybaritic female could want. That Kate usually had only minimal interest in such things didn’t pass Maggie unnoticed.

Maggie washed her hair, blew it dry, shaved her legs, flossed and brushed her teeth, rubbed Chanel 22 body cream all over her skin, gave herself a manicure, a pedicure, and a facial mask, discovered a partially done crossword puzzle in the trash and completed it in eyebrow pencil, and finished it all with stretching exercises. It was damned hard to stretch an almost-six-foot-tall body in a six-foot bathroom, but she managed—the thought of Randall in the living room waiting spurred her on. She tried not to think much about Randall Carter, but one thing was indelibly etched in her memory: He hated, he absolutely detested, to be kept waiting. She doubted he’d learned patience in the last six years.

She had no choice but to make use of Kate’s silk Chinese bathrobe, which didn’t do much to cover her statuesque proportions. Now, if she really had guts, she told herself, she’d walk back down that hall stark naked, just to show him how little he mattered to her. But that much guts she was sadly lacking, and even the skimpy turquoise silk bathrobe was too revealing to be completely comfortable.

He was still sitting where she’d left him, immaculate and at ease, the Italian gray suit fitting him to perfection. He’d helped himself to coffee, in Kate’s best Limoges cups, of course, and he lounged, if Randall could ever be said to
lounge, on the wide white sofa with his long legs stretched out in front of him.

He looked up when she reappeared in the hallway, and his gray eyes swept over her, impassive as always.

“Still here?” she demanded.

“Still here,” he replied. “Did you expect otherwise?”

“No. But one always hopes.” The animosity in her own voice startled her. She wasn’t that sort of person. But her outward hostility disturbed her far more than it seemed to disturb him. Carefully she pulled her self-possession back around her. “You could get me a cup of that coffee while I dress. I drink it with cream.”

His faint smile was hardly reassuring. “I remember,” he said. “Do you want anything to eat? Your sister left some croissants.”

“Sounds good,” she said with equal courtesy. “I’ll take one with grapefruit marmalade.” Better to attack, she thought, than to wait for him to bring it up.

She didn’t waste any time dressing, making do with faded jeans and an oversize cotton shirt. Randall hated jeans, hated casual clothes. She left her feet bare as a final act of defiance.

In the full daylight of her sister’s living room, she got her first good look at him in six years. He’d aged, of course. That handsome face of his had new lines, lines that certainly hadn’t come from smiling, she thought as she accepted the coffee, being careful not to touch him. No gray in his hair yet, no drooping of skin and muscle. It was his eyes that were old, she realized. Their expression belonged to a man twice his age. He’d already seen too much when she’d known him before—what more had he seen in the last few years?

He waited until she’d seated herself in the overstuffed chair where she’d spent most of last night, then went calmly, gently on the attack. “Why did you scream and rip the shower curtain down?”

She’d taken a sip of the coffee, and the blissfully strong caffeine was flowing through her veins. She didn’t even falter;
she lifted her eyes to meet his. “The hot water shut off, and I got a blast of ice water,” she said.

“How long did it take you to come up with that answer?”

“I would have had plenty of time while I was in Kate’s room,” she replied. “But actually, I just thought of it right now. Pretty good for spur of the moment.”

“Not good enough. Did you kill Francis Ackroyd in that bathtub?”

She leaned back, considering him for a moment. “Did Bud Willis send you here to extricate us?” she demanded, refusing to answer his question.

“No.”

“Let me rephrase that. Did Bud Willis send you to Chicago three days ago?”

“Bud Willis doesn’t send me anywhere.”

“Dammit, Randall,” she said, her spurious calm vanishing, “why are you here? And don’t tell me it’s coincidence—I won’t believe you.”

“I wouldn’t lie to you, Maggie—”

“Bullshit,” she said inelegantly.

“I’m here because of Francis Ackroyd,” he continued smoothly, ignoring her outburst. “But not because of his death. He was selling government secrets to the Eastern bloc. We were trying to put a stop to it.”

She blinked and digested the information in no more than a moment. “How?” she demanded. “How was he getting the information in the first place? How was he managing to pass it?”

Randall gave a long-suffering sigh. “If we knew that, dear heart, I wouldn’t have to be here. No one knows how he was doing it or who was helping him. He couldn’t have been doing it alone—that much is certain. The question is, who else was involved? Your sister seems a good possibility.”

“What!” she shrieked. “You’re out of your mind, Randall! Not that I didn’t already know that. Kate is the sweetest, most innocent, most loyal—”

“Kate’s in the midst of a nasty custody battle. Such things
are notoriously expensive, and espionage pays quite well. She may not have known what she was getting in to, and then when she found out, she had a blowup with Francis at work, lured him back to her apartment, and murdered him.”

Maggie controlled her temper. Randall was very good at infuriating people, just to see them lose control and let something important slip. She wouldn’t give him that pleasure. “You don’t believe that.”

He smiled faintly. “No, I don’t believe that. But it’s a possibility.”

“What makes you think Kate had anything to do with Francis’s untimely death?”

“I happened to be in his apartment when you lugged his body back and dumped it onto the kitchen floor. That aroused my suspicions.”

“Damn you, Randall. Why didn’t you call the police and have me arrested?”

“The less the police are involved, the better. Let’s stop fencing, Maggie. I’m here, I’m involved, and there’s nothing you can do about it. I want to know what you know, and then I want your word that you’ll keep out of it.”

“I thought you wondered if I’d killed Francis myself,” she shot back.

He shrugged. “Did you?”

“Do you think I could kill a man in cold blood?”

“Undoubtedly. Particularly if it were me.”

“Don’t flatter yourself, Randall. I couldn’t care less about you one way or the other.”

“Then why are you clutching that cup and saucer like it’s about to fly out of your hands?”

She considered that for a brief moment and was tempted to throw them at his sleek, handsome head. Carefully, she loosened her tight grip on the china, smiling sweetly. “I’ve got a hangover, Randall. It makes me edgy.”

“You didn’t used to drink too much.”

“Give me strength,” she muttered imploringly to the dregs of her coffee. Her eyes met his, calmly. “I don’t drink too
much as a general rule, Randall. Not that it’s any of your damned business if I want to become a lush.”

“It is when you’re involved in something I’m working on.” His voice was rich, smooth, unconcerned. She could almost believe it was pure self-interest that prompted him.

“Why are you working on it? Why didn’t they send someone else—why pick their handy elitist volunteer? I presume this is still volunteer work—you haven’t joined the CIA yet?”

“It’s still volunteer work. You know I never cared for joining groups.”

“Still the aristocrat. Why are you here, Randall?”

“We figured I’d be useful because of my connection with Kate’s family.”

“What connection with Kate’s family?” She racked her brain for some distant kinship with Brian’s silver-spoon relatives. No wonder she’d never trusted him.

“You.”

Maggie set her coffee cup down carefully. “Any connection with me is ancient history. I realize that half the intelligence network of the world knows all the sordid details—”

“Never sordid, Maggie.”

“Sordid,” she said firmly. “But they should also know that I haven’t even seen you in six years.”

“It still provides decent cover. I don’t necessarily have to be investigating Francis’s proclivities. I could be here to take up where we left off in Gemansk.”

“It’ll be a cold day in hell,” she snapped.

He raised an eyebrow, that quiet, elegant gesture that used to defeat her. But not this time. There was no way he could touch her, no way he could demoralize her, she promised herself fiercely.

“I didn’t say we were going to, Maggie dear. I just said it could look that way.”

“You’d need my cooperation for that.”

He smiled that cool, mocking smile that still managed to cause an occasional nightmare. “Oh, I’m counting on that.”

“And why would you be so foolish as to do that?”

“Because your sister’s at stake. We can protect her—I can protect her, if I want to. Or I can throw her to the wolves. It’s not an opportune time for your sister to be charged with murder. Or at the very least with obstructing justice. It does happen to be against the law, you know, to drag murdered bodies around Chicago.”

“Is it really?” She kept her voice cool and remote, not for a moment showing her inner panic.

He nodded. “Not to mention freezing them first. Really, Maggie, how unspeakably tacky. Couldn’t you have tossed him into the trunk sooner?”

“It was spur of the moment,” she said faintly. “What do you want from me, Randall?”

He smiled briefly, that chilly, slightly mocking smile, and for a moment she stared at him in complete confusion. How could she have ever thought herself in love with such a man? He had no warmth, no love, no tenderness at all—qualities that Mack Pulaski had had in abundance. Randall Carter was a cold, calculating man, permanently bereft of any trace of human kindness. The thought of making love to such an automaton was distasteful, and she wondered how she could have done it. And how she could have become so obsessed with him in such a short time. Thank God all that was in the past, more like a bad dream than a memory. There was no way he could touch her, ever again. Not with the memory of Mack’s real love like a talisman to guard her against evil.

“Cooperation,” he replied. “Simple cooperation, Maggie. I want to know what you know about all this, and I want you to keep out of it from now on. No more lugging bodies around, no more phone calls to Bud Willis, no more snooping and prying. Leave it to me.”

“Screw yourself, Randall,” she said pleasantly. “The only thing I’d leave to you is the
Titanic
.”

He moved so fast, she didn’t have time to react. One moment he was staring out the window, the next he was looming over her, his hands gripping the arms of her chair, his long arms imprisoning her. He didn’t touch her, but the threat was
very real, tangible, and faintly, perversely erotic. “Don’t be tiresome, Maggie,” he murmured. “What do you know about Francis Ackroyd?”

She stared up at him, determined not to be intimidated. But he wouldn’t move away until he got the answers he wanted, and she needed him to move quite desperately. “Nothing. He and Kate had a fight over some discrepancies in the books at Stoneham Studios. I think it was Caleb McAllister who first discovered the problem.”

“I’ve met him.” He stayed where he was, unmoving.

“According to Kate they had a massive blowout, screaming and yelling at each other in the studio commissary with many witnesses,” she continued. Her voice was low-pitched and nervous, and there was nothing she could do about it. “Francis disappeared shortly afterward. Kate worked late. When she got home, sometime after six, she found Francis in the guest bathtub with a bullet in his brain.”

He nodded. “That explains your distaste for the guest bathroom. When did you appear on the scene?”

“An hour later. I was flying in to stay for a few days to give her moral support during the court hearing.”

“And instead you’ve been serving as impromptu undertaker. Whose idea was it to hide the body?”

“I don’t know.” She reached up a hand to push her hair out of her face, and it brushed his gray suit jacket. She pulled her hand back quickly, and her breathing was ragged. “Would you mind moving back a little, Randall? I don’t like being crowded.”

BOOK: Darkness before the Dawn
7.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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