“Larsen?” The male voice was followed by the brisk rap of knuckles on the glass door of her houseboat. “Larsen? It’s Jack Hallihan.”
Cop. Larsen’s heart sank even as her pulse leaped with a strange and unwanted rush of pleasure. She swallowed hard. She couldn’t very well ignore him. The blinds were still open. He knew she was here. She took a deep breath and started toward the door in her bare feet.
Through the window she could see Jack Hallihan’s imposing form in the light’s soft glow. Exhaustion swept over her with the certain knowledge this was no social call. She couldn’t deal with his questions tonight. But refusing to talk to him would only make him suspicious.
With a sigh, Larsen opened the door and slipped outside into the steamy night. If she let him inside, she might have more trouble getting rid of him. Closing the door behind her, she met the piercing blue gaze leveled on her. The small light above the door cast the bones of his face in high relief, making him look even more attractive, if such a thing were possible. Heat radiated from his body and twined with the spicy scent of his aftershave, stimulating her senses.
Distance. She needed distance. She tried to move past him, but he reached for her, sliding the rough pads of his fingers down her bare arm, sending awareness dancing over her skin. Larsen looked at him, startled by the unexpected touch. His eyes had widened as if he were as surprised by the touch as she was. Why was he here? To continue his earlier line of questioning her about what she saw at the church? Or was he here for more personal reasons? She wasn’t sure. All she knew for certain was that he couldn’t succeed at either.
She threw him her stock glare, hoping to cover for the way she’d reacted to his touch, and led him aft, away from the lights, where those eyes of his couldn’t see quite so much. At the back rail, Larsen turned to face him, crossing her arms over her chest.
“What can I do for you, Detective?”
He came to stand beside her, leaning a hip against the rail. Too close. She sensed a restlessness in him, a tension, that made her question the wisdom of seeking out the dark.
“I was worried about you.” His voice was as deep and rich as she remembered, a calming voice that nevertheless turned her pulse strangely erratic. She felt his probing gaze like a physical stroke. “How are you feeling?”
“I’m fine.” A lie. Tension coiled deep in her stomach. They both knew he wasn’t here out of concern for her supposed migraine.
“I assume you heard about the murder.”
Even knowing why he was here, she couldn’t stop the jerk, the small involuntary movement she prayed he hadn’t noticed.
“Yes, I heard.” But her voice was no longer steady. Just the mention brought it all rushing back. The blood. Somehow she had to convince him her running from the church was innocent, or he’d never leave her alone.
“The best I can figure...” he said, cocking his head and crossing his arms over his chest in a way that warned she had some serious explaining to do. “It happened about twenty minutes after I saw you outside the church.”
Her muscles bunched with the need to put distance between them, if not to outright run, but she knew better than to show fear to an adversary.
“Seems my migraine was timely.” She pretended not to see his frown. Instead, heart racing, she looked up at the clouds blotting out the night sky, glowing a dull orange with the reflection of the city’s lights. She felt him staring at her.
For long moments he watched her, studying her, turning her breath quick and shallow.
“Here’s the thing.” His tone was almost conversational. “I interviewed dozens of people today. Not one of them saw anything. They were upset, sure. A dead body and blood will do that.” He straightened, moving until he blocked her escape, his gaze sharp enough to cut. “But of all the people I talked to who attended that wedding, only one had eyes with the wildness that comes from witnessing violent crime. One.”
He leaned toward her until he was almost in her face. “You.”
Larsen struggled to hold her ground even as her throat went dry. “You misread me, Detective. I left the reception early because I was getting a migraine. The only wildness you saw was fear that I was going to vomit on the Metro on the way home. Which I did, by the way.”
His expression turned hard and disappointed. “You’re going to deny you saw something?”
She uncrossed her arms and moved away, unable to withstand his probing stare a moment longer. He could have stopped her if he’d wanted, but he didn’t. “There’s nothing to deny. I wasn’t there when the murder happened.”
“I’m not trying to say you were. But you saw something, or someone, that alarmed you. Something that might help me solve this case.”
“The only person who alarmed me was a poor girl who looked like she’d been undergoing chemotherapy. Otherwise, I’m afraid you’re mistaken–“
He grabbed her wrist and turned her to face him. ”I’m not mistaken. I know the difference between illness, worry and fear, lady. I’ve seen them all. What I saw in your eyes was raw terror.”
“You saw what you wanted to see.”
“You’re lying to me.” He pulled her closer until she could see the deck lights reflected in his eyes like chips of blue ice. “You know something. When I first saw you outside the church, you were running. Don’t try to tell me you weren’t.”
It was as if he could see right through her! Larsen gathered every ounce of coldness she could manufacture and stared pointedly at her bound wrist, then into his eyes, but he ignored her not-so-subtle hint.
“Four women have been assaulted, now a man brutally murdered, and I don’t have a single witness.” He finally released her and turned away, raking a hand through his hair. “Not a single clue to help me solve this case.”
He whirled back to face her. “It’ll happen again, Ms. Vale. Again and again and again, and I don’t know how to stop it.”
She didn’t want to hear this. Guilt already tore her to shreds, but she couldn’t tell him. She could never tell anyone.
“Help me, Larsen.” His handsome face implored her to cooperate. “Help me stop him before he does it again.”
“I can’t. I don’t know anything.”
He stared at her for long minutes, then released his breath on a slow burst of air.
“Tell me about the chemo patient.”
Larsen frowned. “Why? She was just a sick kid.”
“She caught your eye.”
“It’s all we’ve got to go on, Larsen. Maybe it’s nothing, but the subconscious tends to see more than we realize. Humor me.”
So she told him what she remembered about the girl in the too-large clothes with the clean-shaven head and startlingly violet eyes.
When she was through, Jack’s mouth skewed left. “Doesn’t sound like much of a lead, but maybe she saw something. It should be easy enough to track her down. Was there anyone or anything else that caught your attention? Anything at all?”
“No. Nothing.” Nothing in real time, anyway. Nothing she could tell him.
A flash of movement sliced through her peripheral vision. Pain exploded in her shoulder, knocking her back into the rail. She’d been hit. With a panicked gasp, she realized the thing was still on her.
An arrow. An arrow was sticking out of her shoulder! Was this some kind of sick joke? “Get it out of me. Get it out!” She grabbed it, trying to pull it away, but pain seared through her body.
Jack grabbed her wrist. “Don’t touch it. You’ll do more damage.” He swept her into his arms and ran for the door to her houseboat. Every step made the arrow bounce, setting fire searing in her shoulder. She squeezed her eyes closed and clamped her jaw shut to keep from crying out.
“Stay here. I’m going to try to catch the archer.”
She felt the soft cushions of the sofa at her back, then Jack released her and ran for the door. Agony radiated from her shoulder outward, as if a shark had clamped onto her and would not let go. She wanted it out of her. She squeezed her eyes closed as tears ran down her cheeks.
An eternity later Jack was beside her again, his forehead glistening with sweat.
“Did you...catch him?”
“No.” He leaned over her, his blue eyes tight with concern. “Hang on. There’s an ambulance on the way.”
She could hear sirens. They were growing louder. “Did you see who did it?”
“Yeah.” He took her hand, his expression grim. “It was a bald girl, Larsen. A tiny little thing in a Redskins t-shirt.”
She stared at him. Her mouth opened then snapped shut on the metallic taste of fear.
Jack’s expression turned grave and worried. “I don’t know what you’ve gotten yourself into.” He stroked her hair back from her face. “But I think you’re in over your head. Sooner or later you’re going to have to trust someone.”
She blinked, sending more tears sliding down her cheeks. Trust someone. The one thing she could never do.
End of Excerpt
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