The lights from oncoming cars hurt his eyes and seemed to pierce right through his skull, stabbing at his brain until he wanted to scream. He quickly tuned the radio station until the soft, sexy voice of the Night Siren flooded the car. It was taped, but it helped. His vision tunneled, so that everything took on a dream-like quality. Buildings flashed by, cars appeared as streaks of light rather than solid matter.
“Where are we going?”
He jumped. For a moment he had forgotten he wasn’t alone. Throwing an impatient glance at the whore seated beside him, he felt the terrible pounding in his head that had just begun to ease, return. In the dark she looked a little like the woman he needed. If she kept her mouth shut, he could pretend. Tempted to tell her she was going to hell very soon, he forced a slight smile instead. “You’re getting paid, aren’t you? What difference does it make if we drive around for a little bit?”
She leaned forward and fiddled with the radio.
He slapped at her hand. “Don’t touch anything.” He had the station tuned right where he wanted it—needed it. The Night Siren’s voice was drifting out over the airwaves making his body hard and his head clear. The woman wasn’t going to make it through the hour if she touched that dial again.
He kept his eye on the car he was following. He knew what he had to do. He had a job and he was damned good at it. The whore was such a good cover, and gave him such an anticipation of the pleasure to come later. He hadn’t been caught yet. Damn Whitney for his interference. The doctor had threatened to send someone else again. Stupid man didn’t like his reports. Well fuck him. The Doctor thought he was so superior, so intelligent and was worried—worried—about the situation deteriorating. What a crock of bullshit. There was no situation, nothing was deteriorating. He could handle surveillance on a GhostWalker any day of the week.
Whitney thought his precious GhostWalkers were super soldiers to be revered. Well screw that. GhostWalkers were genetic mutations, aberrations, abominations, not the fucking miracles Whitney purported them to be. The entire lot of them should be wiped from the face of the earth, and he was the man to do it. They were government experiments that should have been scrapped long before they were ever let loose on the world.
He saw himself as the guardian, the lone man standing between the mutants and the humans. He should be revered. Whitney should bow down to him, kiss his feet, thank him for his reports and his attention to detail…
“You never told me your name. What do I call you?”
The voice jerked him out of his reverie. He wanted to slap the little whore. To pound his fists into her face until there was nothing there but bloody pulp. To take her head between his hands and hear a satisfying crack just to shut her up, but that was for later. If she kept her mouth shut he could fantasize that she was the Night Siren.
The Night Siren belonged to him and he’d have her soon enough. He just had to get rid of the GhostWalkers once and for all. And then she’d do everything he told her.
“You can call me daddy.”
The whore had the audacity to roll her eyes at him but he resisted the urge to punish her. He had other plans for her.
“I am a naughty girl,” she said and leaned over to rub his crotch. “And you obviously like me that way.”
“Don’t talk,” he snapped and sighed when she opened his jeans. Let her just go to work on him while he took care of business. It would keep her mouth and hands occupied. He could look at her skin and hair and everything would be all right. It was going to be a long night tonight and at least he could look forward to later.
Up ahead the car he’d been following pulled to the curb. It was a strange thing to do, but he couldn’t get caught—and he couldn’t lose them. He pulled over as well and waited while the whore worked on him, the rush beginning to flood his veins like a drug.
Saber Winter leaned back against the plush seat in the low slung sports car and stared incredulously at her date. “Am I hearing you right?” She tapped a long, perfectly polished fingernail against the arm rest. “You’re saying you’ve taken me out on three dates, and you’re claiming you’ve spent a hundred dollars…”
“A hundred and fifty,” Larry Edwards corrected.
One dark eyebrow shot up in disbelief. “I see. One hundred and fifty dollars, not that I have any idea what you spent it on. Your favorite restaurant is a truck stop.”
“The San Sebastian is no truck stop,” he denied hotly, staring into her violet-blue eyes. Unusual eyes, beautiful and haunting. He had noticed her voice first—on the radio—the Night Siren—everyone called her. It seemed a husky whisper of pure sensual promise. Night after night he’d listened to her and fantasized. And then when he met her… She had great skin and a mouth that screamed sex. And those eyes. He’d never seen eyes like that. She looked so innocent, and the combination of sexy and innocent was just too hard to resist.
But she was proving to be difficult and damn it all, what did she really have to brag about? She was skinny, looking like a lost waif, nothing to be all haughty and uptight about. In fact, she should be grateful for his attention. As far as he was concerned, she was nothing but a tease.
She shrugged in a curiously feminine gesture. “So you think because you spent this money on three dates it entitles you to sleep with me?”
“It damn well does, honey,” he snapped. “You owe me.” He hated that distant, disconnected look she gave him, as if she had secrets and was laughing at him. She needed a real man to put her in her place—and he was just the man to do it.
Saber forced a smile. “And if I don’t—how did you so delicately put this—if I don’t ‘put out’ you intend to dump me off right here in the middle of the street at two o’clock in the morning?”
She hoped he made a move or forced the issue, because he was going to get a lesson in manners he was never going to forget. She had nothing to lose—well almost nothing. She had stayed too long this time, made too much of a life for herself, and if she wiped up the floor with good old Larry the Louse, before she disappeared, she’d be doing the women of Sheridan a favor.
“That’s right, darling,” he smirked at her complacently. “I think you’ll agree you need to be a little reasonable about this, don’t you?” He slid his hand along the back of her seat, fingers not quite touching her. He wanted to. Usually by now he was doing a lot of touching, loving watching the woman squirm. Loving the power he had over them. He didn’t understand why he wasn’t forcing her mouth to his, yanking open her blouse and taking what he wanted, but as much as he longed to do that, there was something inside of him warning him to go slower—to be a little more cautious with Saber. He was sure, very soon she would sit quietly and he’d be able to do whatever he wanted with her. He expected her to cry and plead for him not to leave her there, but instead, perfect little white teeth gleamed at him like bright pearls, making his stomach clench.
He looked so smug Saber wanted to slap his boyish good looks. “I’ve got some bad news for you, Larry. The sad truth is, I’d rather pull out my fingernails one by one than sleep with you.” She slipped out of the low slung car. “Your breath stinks Lar, and let’s just face it—you’re a creep.” She slammed the door with such force he winced visibly.
Fury swept through him. He leaned out to warn her. “This is a bad section of town Saber, drunken cowboys, drug dealers, deadbeats. Not a good idea to stay here.”
“Better company, I’m sure,” she taunted.
“Last chance, Saber.” His eye twitched angrily. “I’m doing you a favor, here. Sex with a scrawny thing like you is no Fourth of July. Basically you’re a pity fuck.”
“So tempting, Lar, so very tempting. Did that get results from some scared teenager, cuz it’s really not working with me.”
“You’re going to be sorry,” he snapped, furious that nothing he said seemed to get through that wall she had around her. She talked down to him like a princess to a peasant and made him feel like slime under her shoe.
“Don’t think it’s over hotshot,” she warned, still hanging on to her smile. “This will make a great little story on my radio show. I’ll build an entire program around the theme. Worst jerk you ever dated.”
“You wouldn’t dare.”
“You’re not dealing with a sixteen year old, Larry,” she informed him with haughtiness, too angry to laugh at the situation. He had no idea who—or what he was dealing with. The idiot. He thought he could force her into sleeping with him, by threatening to dump her in a bad part of town? She wondered if his plan actually had worked for him before. The idea made her fingers itch to get at him. She held onto her cool and stared him down.
Swearing furiously, Larry revved the motor and, laying a trail of rubber, screeched away, leaving her standing in the middle of an empty street.
Saber stamped her foot, as she glared at the disappearing tail lights. “Darn it, Saber,” she muttered, kicking at the curb in frustration. “If you insist on going out with jerks, what do you expect?” She was tired of trying to be normal. Weary to death of pretending. She was never going to fit in, not in a million years.
Raking a hand through the mass of thick, blue-black hair curls spilling in unruly confusion around her face, she took a long, slow look around. Larry hadn’t been kidding, it was an appalling part of town.
Drawing a deep breath, she muttered under her breath. “Just wonderful. There are probably rats down here. Starving rats. This is not good, Saber, not good at all. You should have kicked the hell out of him and stolen his car.”
Sighing heavily, she headed down the cracked, dirty sidewalk toward the only street light illuminating a telephone booth. “It will be my luck the stupid thing is broken. If it is, Larry,” she vowed aloud, “you will definitely pay for your sins.”
Because, of course, she couldn’t have a cell phone like everyone else. She didn’t leave paper trails for anyone to follow. Next time, if there ever was a next time that she was stupid enough to go on a date, she would take her own car and she would do the dumping.
A forty-five minute wait for a cab. Bravado would only carry so far. She was not going to wait forty-five minutes in the dark surrounded by rats. No way. How incompetent of the taxi service not to have planned their resources better.
In a fit of temper she slammed the phone in its cradle, giving only a fleeting thought to the dispatcher’s ear. Saber kicked the side of the booth and nearly broke her toes. Howling, jumping around like an idiot, she vowed eternal revenge on Larry.
She should have stayed in the car and faced him down instead of letting him drive off. He was a worm crawling his way across the earth, but he was no monster. She knew monsters intimately. They dogged her every step and soon, far too soon, if she didn’t leave, they would find her again. A slime bag like Larry was a prince in comparison. Larry certainly hadn’t recognized the monster in her. If he had touched her… She pushed the thought away and made herself think normal. She should have decked him though, just once, for all the other women who would be put in the same situation because he liked power. She was fairly certain most women would have had the desire to at least punch the slime bucket.
Saber sighed softly and shook her head. She was putting off the inevitable. She wasn’t walking home and she couldn’t very well stay where she was. She was going to pay royally for this, but what was one more lecture out of several hundred? Fighting for a deep controlling breath, she punched in the numbers, her fingertip unconsciously using a rather vicious stabbing motion on the blameless telephone.
Jess Calhoun lay sprawled out full length on the wide, leather, specially built futon, staring up at the ceiling in the darkness. Suffocating silence surrounded him, wrapped him up and pressed heavily down on him. The sound of the clock ticking was only in his mind. Endless seconds, minutes. An eternity. Where was she? What the hell was she doing out at two-thirty in the morning? This was her night off. She wasn’t at the radio station working later than usual, he’d already checked. Surely she hadn’t been in an accident. Someone would have notified him. He’d called every hospital in the area, at least he could console himself she wasn’t in any of them.
His fingers curled slowly into a fist, beat impotently once, twice, on the leather. She hadn’t told him she was going out. She hadn’t even called to say she would be late. One of these days he would be pushed too far by mysterious, elusive Saber Winter and he would just strangle her.
The first memory of her washed over him unbidden, reminding him it was his own folly landing him in such an uncomfortable position. He had opened the door ten months earlier to find the most beautiful child he had ever seen on his doorstep, worn suitcase in hand. No more than five foot two, she had raven colored hair, so black, little blue lights gleamed through the riot of curls. Her face was small, fragile, with classic delicate bones and a faintly haughty nose. Soft flawless skin, full mouth and enormous blue-violet eyes. She had an innocence about her that made him want—no need—to protect her. She was shivering unbearably in the cold air.
She’d wordlessly handed him a piece of paper with his ad in it. She wanted the job at the radio station vacated after his night crew had been killed in a car accident. The accident had left everyone shaken, and Jess had taken a long time before he thought about filling the position, but he’d recently advertised for someone.
It had been her eyes and mouth that had given her away. This was no child wrapped in a thin denim jacket several sizes too large, but a young, exhausted, exotic, disturbingly beautiful woman. Those eyes had seen things they shouldn’t have had to and he wouldn’t—couldn’t turn the young woman with those eyes away.
It had taken a moment to close his mouth and move back into the foyer, inviting her in. His hand had completely enveloped hers, yet he could feel the strength of her grip. Beneath the deceptive peaches and cream skin were muscles of steel. She moved with flowing grace, her carriage so regal he pegged her for a ballet dancer or gymnast. When she had finally offered a tentative smile, she had taken his breath away.
Jess raked a hand through his hair, cursing himself for inviting her in. From that moment, he had been lost, he knew with a certainty he always would be. Over the last ten months she had cast a spell and he didn’t even want out. He had never had a reaction to a woman the way he had her. He couldn’t let her go, no matter how illogical that had been, so instead, he’d opened his home, offering her the job as well as light housekeeping in exchange for a place to live.
Of course he’d investigated her, he wasn’t entirely out of his mind. He owed it to his fellow GhostWalkers, members of his elite military team, to know who was sharing his house, but there was no Saber Winter in existence. It wasn’t exactly shocking, he suspected she was hiding from someone, but it was very unusual that he couldn’t find out every last thing about her, especially when he had her fingerprints.
The shrill ringing of the telephone sent his heart slamming hard against the wall of his chest. His hand flew out, the swift striking of a coiled snake, and snatched up the receiver. “Saber?” It was a prayer, damn her, a blatant prayer. He inhaled deep, wishing he could draw her into his lungs and hold her there.
“Hi, Jesse,” she greeted breezily, as if it were high noon and he hadn’t been climbing the walls for hours. “I sort of have this teeny little problem.”
He ignored the relief racing through his body, the tightening of his muscles at the soft, sexy sound of her voice and the instant hard-on that never quite went away when he thought about her—which was all the time. “Damn it, Saber, don’t you dare tell me you landed yourself in jail again.” He really was going to strangle her. A man could only take so much.
Her sigh was exaggerated. “Honestly, Jesse, do you have to bring that silly incident up every time something goes wrong? It’s not like I tried to get arrested.”
“Saber,” he said in exasperation, “holding out your hands with your wrists together is asking to be arrested.”
“It was for a good cause,” she protested.
“Chaining yourself to an old folk’s home to call attention to conditions is not exactly the right way to go about changing things. Where the hell are you?”
“You sound like an old grumpy bear with a sore tooth,” Saber tapped out a rhythm with a long fingernail on the booth wall, one of the nervous habits she’d never overcome. “I’m stuck out here near the old warehouses, sort of, um, like by myself—without a car.”
“Damn it, Saber!”
“You already said that,” she pointed out judiciously.
“You stay put.” Cold steel was in the deep timbre of his voice. “Don’t leave that phone booth. You hear me, Saber? I’d better not find you throwing dice with a bunch of deadbeats down there.”
“Very funny, Jesse.”
She laughed, actually laughed the little brat. Jess slammed down the phone itching to shake her. The thought of her, so fragile and unprotected, down near the warehouses, one of the worst parts of town, scared him to death.
Saber hung up and leaned weakly against the wall of the phone booth, momentarily closing her eyes. She was trembling so hard she could barely stand. It took an effort to pry her fingers, one by one, from the receiver. She hated the dark, the demons lurking in the shadows, the way the black nights could turn people into savage animals. Her job at the radio station, the job she owed to Jess, couldn’t have been better suited to her because she could stay up all night.
And tonight, her first night off in ages, had to be spent with Larry the Louse. He just had to dump her butt in the worst section of town he could find, not that she couldn’t take care of herself, and that was the problem. It would always be the problem. She wasn’t normal. She should be afraid of what lurked in the night, not afraid of harming someone.
She sighed. She had no idea why she had gone out with Larry three times. She didn’t even like him or his rotten breath. The truth was, she didn’t like any of the men she dated, but she wanted to like them, wanted to be attracted to them.
She sank down in the small booth, drawing her knees up to her chest. Jesse would come for her, she knew it. It was as certain as Jess’ silly story about needing someone to rent the upstairs apartment, or how it was so cheap because he needed someone to do light housekeeping for him.
The place was a palace as far as Saber was concerned. Wide open spaces immaculately clean. The upstairs was no apartment, had never been an apartment. The second upstairs bathroom had been added after she had moved in. The huge, well equipped weight room and full size swimming pool was an added enticement that he’d said she could use anytime.
For the first time in her life, Saber had swallowed her pride and had taken a handout. The truth was, as much as she hated to admit it—she had never had cause to be sorry, not once since she’d moved in—except that she knew she couldn’t stay too long. Jess was the real reason she stayed—not his house, the swimming pool or her job. Just Jesse.
She closed her eyes briefly and rubbed her chin on her knees. She was getting far too attached to the man. Six months ago it wouldn’t have occurred to her to call for help, now it didn’t occur to her not to. The revelation made her uneasy. It was time to leave, past time to leave, she was getting too comfortable. Saber Winter had to go out in flames and a new identity had to rise from the ashes, because if she stayed any longer, she was in terrible danger, and this time, it wasn’t going to be anyone’s fault but her own.
The van rumbled up to the curb in record time. Jesse thrust his handsome face out the window. His eyes were dark with shadows as he looked her over rather anxiously. The drift of those gorgeous eyes had her stomach flipping when she didn’t want to feel anything but relief.
Saber stood up slowly, a little shakily, and dusted off the seat of her jeans, allowing herself time to recover.
“Saber,” he growled her name, cold steel very much in evidence.
She hopped in, leaning over to give him a quick kiss on his shadowed jaw. “Thanks, Jesse, what would I do without you?”
The van didn’t move so she made a slight face at him and, under his watchful gaze, she snapped her safety belt around her.
“Let’s not find out.” Velvet over steel. He said the words in exasperation, his glittering eyes sweeping her small, slender figure possessively, assuring himself she wasn’t hurt. “What happened this time, baby? Someone convince you these little warehouses are deathtraps and you decided to commit a little arson?”
“Of course not,” she denied, but she studied the buildings with a prejudiced eye as they drove by. “Although now that you mention it, someone should probably look into the problem.”
Jess groaned his annoyance. “So what happened, angel face?”
She shrugged with casual disdain. “My date dumped me off after a little tiff.”
“I can imagine,” Jess said, but something dark and dangerous began to smolder in the depths of his eyes. “What did you do? Suggest stealing someone’s stairs from their porch? A raid on the Y.M.C.A? What was it this time?”
“Has it occurred to you that it just might be Larry’s fault?” she demanded indignantly.
“Sure, for all of two seconds, although I intend to find this friend of yours and beat him to a bloody pulp.”
“Can I watch?” Saber grinned at him, inviting him to laugh at the entire incident with her. That was the thing about Jesse she loved so much. He was so protective and dangerous. He gave the illusion of being a teddy bear, but underneath… underneath all that muscle was something deadly that drew her like a magnet.
“It’s not funny, you little brat, you could have been mugged, or worse. Now, what happened?”
“I’m quite capable of taking care of myself,” Saber informed him haughtily. “You know I can, too.”
“I know you think you can. That isn’t quite the same thing.” He turned probing, hawk-like eyes on her. “Now stop avoiding the question and tell me what happened.”
Saber stared sightlessly out the window. It almost made her resentful that she was going to tell him. She didn’t want to, but for some reason she seemed to tell him anything he asked. Worse, she never felt uncomfortable with him afterwards. She was definitely getting too close—and that meant she had to leave him.
Leave him? Where had that come from? Her stomach dropped out from under her and her heart did a strange little flip that was very alarming.
“Stop sticking your obstinate little chin out, Saber, it always means you’re about to become stubborn. I don’t know why you bother, since you always tell me what I want to know in the end.”
“Maybe I don’t think it’s any of your business.” She said it decisively, pretending she felt no guilt.
“It’s my business if you have to call me out at two-thirty in the morning when one of your low-life boyfriends dumps you out on the street.”
Instantly Saber’s temper flared into life. “Hey, I’m sorry I bothered you,” she said belligerently. Because the way he made her feel was scaring the hell out of her. “If you want me to, I’ll get out of your precious van right now.”
He sent her a long, mocking, ice-cold stare. “You can try, sweetheart, but I can guarantee you won’t make it.” His voice gentled, became a velvet caress, smoothing over her skin and sending a current of electricity snaking through her bloodstream. “Stop being your usual contrary self and tell me why he dumped you.”
“I wouldn’t sleep with him,” she muttered in a low voice.
“Run it by me again, baby, this time looking at me,” he suggested silkily.
Saber heaved a sigh. “I wouldn’t go to bed with him,” she repeated.
There was a long silence while he opened the security gate by punching a code into the remote control opener, and maneuvered the van down the long winding drive and into the large garage.
Jess, using his heavily muscled arms, hoisted himself into his waiting chair. His electric one, Saber noticed. “Come on, honey,” his voice was so unexpectedly gentle, she found herself blinking back burning tears. “You can ride on my lap.”
Saber managed a small smile, although her gaze skittered away from his all seeing eyes as she curled up, snuggling against his chest, drawing comfort from his presence. He was as hard as a rock. Her bottom slid over the large bulge in his lap, sending a thousand wings beating at the walls of her stomach. She sat on him all the time, and he was always hard. Always erect. There were times when she desperately wanted to do something about that—like now, but she didn’t dare change their arrangement. And it wasn’t as if it were all for her. She wished it was, but he never once made a move on her. Not one.
Jess could feel the trembling of her slender body. His hand brushed the pulse beating so frantically at the base of her throat. For a moment his arms closed protectively around her, his chin resting on the top of her silky head. She had to feel the monster of a hard-on, but she never said a word, simply slid her bottom over him and settled down as if she fit there perfectly. If she could ignore the damned thing, so could he.
“Are you sure you’re all right, Saber?” he asked quietly.
She nodded, making a little sound of affirmation, muffled against the broad expanse of his chest.
The wheelchair was locked in place, the lift lowering them to the ground. Normally, Jess preferred his lightweight racing chair. He propelled it manually, maneuvering it with ease, liking the exercise, the control, giving him the freedom to play. But, at the moment, he was grateful for his larger, heavier electric chair. It left his arms free to cradle Saber against him. She seemed a little lost tonight, very vulnerable and she rarely showed him that side of her. Saber preferred humor to anything else and used it often as a barrier between her and the rest of the world.
Once in the house, he took them straight through to the darkened living room. His hand tangled in her hair, fingers massaging her scalp, easing the tension out of her.
“So facing me was preferable to sleeping with this bum, hmm?” he teased gently.
She turned her face up to his. “I would never sleep with someone I wasn’t in love with.” And she wouldn’t either. She was going to live her life to the best of her ability. She was going to make friends, have causes, know what fun was. And damn it all, just once, just one time, she was going to know real love. When that time came she’d give that man her body, because she wouldn’t have anything else to give him.
“You never told me that. You mean all these idiots you date…”
She sat up abruptly, would have jumped from his lap, but his arms came up to circle her slender form, effectively holding her prisoner. She glared at him, furious. “Is that what you’ve been thinking of me all this time?” she demanded. “You think I just go to bed with anyone at all?”
Actual tears sparkled in her eyes, tugging at his heart. “Of course not, angel face.”
“You’re such a liar, Jess.” She shoved at the solid wall of his chest again. “Let go of me, I mean it, right now.”
“Not like this, Saber. We’ve never had a fight before and I don’t want to start now.”
For a moment, she stayed stiff, holding herself away from him, but she couldn’t stay angry with Jess. With a small sigh, Saber lay back against him, the tension draining out of her. His arms were the only place she ever felt safe. The darkness was everywhere, waiting, watching. She could almost hear it breathing, waiting for her to climb the stairs and go to her lonely room.
She couldn’t remember clearly the first time Jess had pulled her on to his lap, probably after one of his outrageous races, but it had always been the same. The moment his arms closed around her, she felt as if she never wanted to leave.
Maybe that was why she’d allowed their relationship to go so far. It was why she’d stayed too long and taken too many chances. She couldn’t bear the thought of walking away from him and that made her just plain stupid.
“So, are you going to hide from me or are you going to accept my apology?” His chin rubbed the top of her hair.
“If that’s the way you apologize,” she sniffed indignantly, “I’m not sure I will ever forgive you. I don’t like what you think of me.””
“I think the world of you, and you know it.” He tugged at a particularly intriguing curl. “Is, ‘I’m sorry’, good enough?”
“I hope we never get into a really serious fight.” Saber slapped at his hand, but she was more irritated at herself than him. She could stay right where she was forever, just inhaling him, feeling the muscles of his body and the warmth of him spreading through her with a luxurious heat she’d never known before.
He laughed softly, the sound feathering down her spine like the cool touch of fingers.
Instantly Saber lifted her head, horrified at the disturbing sensations in her body. “I’d better go upstairs, Jesse, and let you get some sleep.” Because if she didn’t get away from him, she might make a fool of herself and give in to the urge to feather kisses up and down his throat and over his jaw and find his oh, so disturbing mouth… She jumped up, her heart pounding.
Reluctantly he allowed her to escape. “I know you better than that, baby, you’ll go upstairs and keep me up all night with your ridiculous pacing. Go get you bathing suit on, we can go swimming.”
Her face lit up. “You mean it?”
“Go,” he ordered.
She walked across the hardwood floor to the bottom of the stairs, and paused to look back at him. In the dim light he could see her perfect profile, breasts thrusting invitingly against the thin material of her pale blouse. His body tightened even more, hardened into a painful, familiar ache that wasn’t going to go away anytime soon.
Jess cursed beneath his breath, knowing he would spend another endless night, like so many others, craving the feel of soft skin and haunting blue eyes. He’d never had such a reaction to a woman the way he did Saber. He couldn’t keep her out of his mind, and if she was anywhere near, his body hit overdrive in seconds.
Hell, she didn’t even have to be near to him. The sound of her voice over the radio, her scent lingering in the air, her laughter, and God help him, just the thought of her turned his body into one painful ache.
“Thanks, Jesse, I knew you wouldn’t let me down. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
He watched her walk up the stairs, thinking about her words. This was the second time she had made that statement to him tonight. And there had been a new note in her voice. Wondering? Was she finally noticing he was more than a man in a wheelchair? That wasn’t fair. Half the time she didn’t seem to notice the wheelchair, but she didn’t seem to notice the man either.
He ached for her, fantasized about her, dreamed about her. Sooner or later he was going to have to claim her. Ten months was long enough to know she was wrapped inextricably around his heart. He might be in a wheelchair, his legs useless below the knees, but everything above was in top working order, demanding satisfaction, demanding Saber Winter.
He sighed aloud. She had no idea she had knocked at the devil’s door and he’d invited her in. He had no intention of giving her up.
Saber turned on every lamp on her way through her sitting room to her bedroom. She stood at the window staring up at the stars. What was happening to her? Jess had taken her in, against his better judgment, she was certain. They had become best friends almost immediately. They liked the same movies, the same music, they talked for hours about everything, anything. She laughed with Jess. She could be the real Saber Winter with Jess. Outrageous, sad, happy, it never seemed to matter to him what she said or did—he simply accepted her.
Lately she had been so restless, lying in bed thinking of him, of his smile, the sound of his laughter, the width of his shoulders. He was a handsome, athletic man, wheelchair or not. And living in such close proximity with him often made her forget the wheelchair completely. He was totally self sufficient, cooking for himself, dressing himself, driving himself all over town. He bowled, played ping pong and every day without fail, he lifted weights and went swimming. She had seen his body. It was that of a top athlete, his arm muscles were so developed he could barely touch his fingertips to his shoulders, his biceps kept bumping. Jess had told her the nerves below his knees had been damaged severely, and were irreparable.
He disappeared for hours into his office, the one room she never went into, and he kept it locked up tight. She’d caught glimpses of high end computer equipment, and she knew he liked gadgets, that he had been in the Navy—a SEAL team, and still received countless calls from his friends, but he kept that part of his life away from her and it was just as well.
Did he think of women? They certainly thought of him. She had seen dozens of women flirting with him. And why not? Good looking, wealthy, talented, the sweetest man in Wyoming, Jess was a great catch for anyone. He owned the local radio station where she worked, and he did other things as well, things he wasn’t so forthcoming about, but it mattered little to her. She just wanted to be close to him.
Her fist closed over her lacy curtain, bunching material in her fist. Why was she thinking these stupid thoughts about a man she could never have? She didn’t deserve to be with a man like Jess Calhoun. He never complained, never talked down to her. He was arrogant, used to being obeyed, no question about it, but he always made her feel special. He was exceptional, extraordinary and she was—she was going to have to leave soon.
Idly, she let her gaze stray to the road. For a moment her heart stopped. A car was parked in the trees just beyond the security gates. A tiny red circle glowed brightly as the occupant inhaled on a cigarette. Everything in her froze, became utterly still, her breath catching in her throat. Her heart began to race and her fingers twisted the material of the curtains until her knuckles turned white.
Then she could see the couple necking, the man struggling to hang on to his girl and the lit cigarette. Most of the tension slipped from her body. Of course. This was a perfect parking place, a dead end road.
Ten months ago, Saber had turned down that same road thinking she would avoid people. She had actually camped on Jess’ property for a few days before it got so cold she was certain she would freeze to death. That was before he had installed the security gates and the high, fancy fence.
Had he done that for her, because she was almost always nervous those first two months, before Jess had made her feel as if he could keep her safe from the entire world? Or was there some reason he felt the need for security?
Saber sighed as she dropped the curtain back in place. Did Jess see far more than he should? Was he aware that for all her crazy antics and bravado, she was really afraid all the time?
Thoughtfully, she peeled off her black denim jeans and pale lime blouse, perfect attire for one of Larry’s favorite dining holes. “A hundred and fifty dollars,” she sniffed indignantly, aloud. “He’s such a liar. The meal didn’t cost more than a can of dog food. Who does he think he’s kidding?”
She pulled on her one piece charcoal gray and salmon bathing suit. It hugged her breasts, emphasizing her narrow rib cage and small waist, rode high in a French cut over her small hips. Saber raked a hand through the thick mass of raven curls, yet carefully avoided the sight in the mirror. Hastily she donned a tee-shirt, caught up a towel and hurried down the stairs to join Jess.
Subject Winter. Put in a situation where dispatching the problem would solve it, subject chose to call for aid. In the few short months she has been with Subject Calhoun she has lost her edge. She spotted me, yet was fooled because she wanted to be fooled. She grows weaker as time passes, her training forgotten as she is lulled into a false sense of security. A few more weeks and we should be able to reacquire her without much trouble or risk. I was able to introduce the virus into her system and it should begin to work almost immediately. At that time I may gain entry to subject Calhoun’s premises. He is much more difficult, alert all the time.
“What are you muttering about?” The woman sitting beside him had been applying her lipstick in the rear view mirror as he dictated.
He glanced once more up at the empty window before turning to look at her with a cold smile. “You aren’t finished yet.” He unzipped his pants and dragged them down, catching her by the nape of her neck. “Let’s see if you can earn all that money you’re charging me.”
He turned up the music and leaned back against the seat, closing his eyes as she went to work on him. He blew a circle of smoke and crushed out his cigarette, allowing the rush to overcome him. It was an amazingly powerful feeling to sit back and enjoy her, knowing it would be the last thing she ever did. Knowing she worked and worked to please him, thinking she would be getting such a lovely tip, and instead…
He moaned and forced himself deeper, holding her head even when she tried to struggle, forcing her to accept all of him, forcing her to clean him up, before taking her head into his hands, and, smiling, broke her neck.