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Death Angel (Chapter Thirty-one)

"WHY DID YOU COME HERE?" HE ASKED.

"How did you find me?" she countered.

They were lying naked amid the tangle of sheets and pillows, drowsy and relaxed and finally able to concentrate on something other than getting as close as possible to each other. He was still holding her close against his side, her head cradled on his shoulder, as if he couldn't yet bear not to touch her.

They were both new to this, to the sense of utter joy in someone else. Andie couldn't stop touching him, either, astonished at how fast things had changed between them, that she was now free to touch him and kiss him, bury her face against his neck and inhale the wonderful heat and scent of his skin. She kept having little episodes of unreality: she was actually here with him? Her body had joyously accepted his presence, but her mind hadn't quite caught up yet to this sudden change. The man she had gone in terror of for so many months was now her lover. Not just her lover, but her love. However ill-advised it was, she loved him. They didn't have the comfort of having known each other for years, dating, learning all the details and quirks of personality and tastes. Instead, every time they'd met, the contact had been intense and fraught with emotions neither one of them had any experience in handling. She was as much a novice as he in this business of loving, so all of this was difficult to take in.

To begin with, she felt giddy. Drunk. Drunk on him, on sex, on relief and joy and pain all rolled together. When he touched her, she felt cherished-she, Andie Butts/Drea Rousseau-who had never been cherished before in her life, who had never been loved, never been valued. The full realization that he valued her, that he was concerned with her pleasure, her comfort, her well-being, was almost more than she could take in.

Just as disconcerting was the depth and strength with which she cherished him. She would do anything to protect him, to care for him and smooth life's bumps out of his path. If she felt this way about him, she could only imagine how this emotion would feel turned around toward her, in a man whose middle name was "intense" and whose every instinct was that of a predator. How would he react if he knew she intended to put her life in danger? Not very well, she was afraid. No man would, not even an average Joe, and he wasn't average by any measure she could imagine.

She would have to tell him why she was here. She wouldn't deceive him. This new, wonderful thing between them deserved better than that, but not right now. For right now, if he thought the time had come for questions and answers, then she wanted her own questions answered first, to prevent him from distracting her after he got his answers.

She tilted her head back on his shoulder, looking up at his face as she sifted through the possibilities. "Even if you have a tracer on my Explorer, that would track me only as far as the airport parking lot," she said, thinking aloud. "You wouldn't know what airline I used or what flight I took to where. I suppose if you're a good enough hacker-"

"I am," he interjected, without any hint of ego or bragging, simply stating a fact.

"You could eventually find out, but that would take time unless, by sheer luck, you found me in the first couple of databases you hacked. But then, after you found I'd come to New York, you'd have to find out where I'm staying. Considering how many hotels and motels are in this area, and that you have no idea what name I'd use to check in, there is literally no way, using a computer, that you could find me so fast."

He didn't say anything, his expression one of interest as he watched her think through the situation.

"You have a tracer on me," she said. "It's the only explanation. Not on the Explorer, but on me."

"I have one on the Explorer, too," he admitted without shame.

"So where is it?"

"Think logically." His mouth curved in amusement. "You'll come up with the answer."

"It would have to be on something I keep with me. My purse, but women change purses all the time. Something in my purse. Oh, hell-my cell phone."

"GPS technology is a great thing. I can locate you within a certain number of yards, and with my computer can even get the address where you are. For instance, why were you at the FBI building?"

"Talking to the FBI. Duh." She accompanied the "duh" with an eye-roll, just to tease him. She suspected he'd never been teased much in his life, and he needed some playfulness. "How did you get a tracer on my cell phone? When did you get your hands on it?"

"Months ago. I went into your apartment early one morning, when you were sleeping."

He'd been in her apartment, in her bedroom-because she'd kept her purse close at hand, just in case-and she'd never known it. If an untimely lightning flash hadn't revealed him standing in the parking lot at the truck stop, she never would have known he'd been watching over her like a guardian angel, keeping his distance but always making certain she was safe. But thank God for that lightning flash; because of it, he was here now, his arms around her.

"You didn't have to come to New York to talk to the FBI," he pointed out. "There's a field office in Kansas City."

"But none of the agents there have been keeping surveillance on Rafael," she said. "I had to come here."

"The FBI has phones."

"Simon, I had to come here."

"Your being here is dangerous," he said, ignoring her tone of voice, which invited him to drop the subject. He turned on his side facing her, so their bodies were pressed full against each other. "Even with your hair different, even though you aren't staying in Salinas's part of town, you shouldn't be here. There are thousands of people on the street who are involved, one way or another, in his business. A good many of them knew you by sight. The FBI watches them; they watch the FBI. Salinas could already have word that a woman who looks a lot like you has been meeting with the feds."

She actually hadn't considered that any of the people on the street could be photographing anyone and everyone who entered the federal building, though she should have. Certainly foreign interests involved in espionage and intelligence would be interested. Rafael-yes, she could see him going to that extent, too. He hadn't gotten where he was in the drug trade by overlooking the obvious. Trust was nonexistent, even in his own organization.

He cupped her chin in his hand, tilted her face up so he could read every nuance of her expression. "For the third time, why are you here?" His hand lingered, smoothed a strand of her hair behind her ear.

"You know why." She sighed and turned her cheek against his palm. "Whatever I can do to help them get him, I'll do. I spent the morning talking to two agents, going over every detail I can remember."

"Why is getting Salinas, in particular, so important? A lot of people deal drugs. They're scum, he's scum. He's worse than some, but I've met others who make him look like a choir boy."

That was a scary concept. Andie shuddered a little. "He's the one I know stuff about. I don't know those others. And I profited from the drugs by living with him. I have to make up for that, try to make things right." She wouldn't tell him yet that she'd offered to act as bait in any trap the FBI could set up. Agents Cotton and Jackson hadn't been enthusiastic about the idea, for various reasons, and if the idea never came to fruition there was no point in getting Simon riled up for nothing. She had the sneaking suspicion that riling Simon could be a dangerous thing to do-not to her, but she didn't want him wiping out the entire building at Federal Plaza.

But if-big if-Cotton and Jackson came up with a plan, she'd have to tell him. Trust came hard to her, and even harder to Simon. She wouldn't abuse something so precious and new.

Today, though, there was nothing to tell him. For the rest of the day, and the night, she had nothing more important to do than simply be with him. They might not have much time together, so she wanted to make the most of it.

ANDIE WENT FROM being miserably unhappy to almost glowing with joy at Simon's presence. They napped, made love again; by then the afternoon had worn away to evening and she was hungry. After showering-together-in the unremarkable and slightly stained tub, they walked down the street to an Italian restaurant.

Simon didn't have a bag with him, so he put on the clothes he'd worn there. Andie hadn't unpacked, on the premise that her suitcases were cleaner than the dresser drawers, so she flipped open the unzipped top of a suitcase to rummage for clean underwear. The wig box caught her eye and she hurriedly tossed a shirt over it. Thank goodness she hadn't taken the wig out to brush it, and a wig box was fairly small and-

"What's that?" Simon asked in an expressionless voice, silently appearing at her shoulder. He reached into the suitcase and with one finger lifted the shirt that covered the wig box.

"It's a shirt," Andie said, though she knew damn well that wasn't what he was asking.

He didn't reply. Instead he took the box from the suitcase and opened it, pulling out the wig and shaking it so the long blond strands fell free. He held it up, the synthetic curls wrapping around his forearm.

"It isn't exactly the right color, but it's close," he said, still in that remote, deliberately flat tone as he turned the wig back and forth, studying it. "And it isn't as curly." He dropped it back into the suitcase and turned his narrowed gaze on her. There was only one reason for her to have a long, blond, curly wig, and they both knew it. "I'll be fucked and damned if I'll let you play bait for any stupid-ass trap the feds have dreamed up."

Andie squared her shoulders. She believed she was doing the right thing, so she had to stand by her decision. "The feds haven't dreamed up anything. I suggested the idea-which they didn't go for." She didn't tell him it wasn't any of his business what she did, because it was, the same way he had become her business. She had given him that right when she told him she loved him.

"Damn good thing. I haven't killed anyone in law enforcement yet, but that would be a good place to start."

If most people said something like that, it would be safe to assume they were exaggerating and blowing off steam. Not so with Simon. He stated facts, and he backed up his statements. Andie reached out and caught his hand; he let her, but he didn't return the pressure.

She cupped his hand in both of hers and cradled it to her chest, just over the scar that ran from beneath her collarbone all the way to the end of her rib cage. An hour ago he had kissed that scar with the tenderness of a mother kissing a newborn, and she knew they had both been thinking about what had happened to her, and the walking miracle she was now. "I have to pay for this," she said softly. "It came with a price, and part of that price is doing what I can, anything I can, to stop Rafael. I can't walk away and do nothing just because I've fallen in love with you and would like nothing more than to spend the rest of my life sailing the ocean with you, or whatever the hell it is you do. I have to pay this debt. I have to earn this second chance."

"Earn it some other way. Work in a soup kitchen. Give all the money to charity-"

"I've already done that," she said. "Before I came here."

"Taking care of loose ends, in case you don't survive?"

Sarcasm lent a knife-edge to the words, but she said, "Yes," and saw him flinch. The reaction was gone so fast it might have been an illusion, but she knew better and her heart ached for him.

"I don't want to do anything that will take me away from you. I have another appointment with the agents tomorrow, and I promise-I promise-that if there's any other way at all, I won't endanger myself."

"That isn't good enough. I don't want you anywhere near him regardless of whether or not he ever spends so much as an hour in jail, or if he dies rich and happy at the age of ninety. I've already watched you die once. I can't do it again, Andie. I won't."

He pulled his hand from hers, turned, and walked to the window, though the view was of nothing more interesting than a narrow alley and the back of another building. Silently she finished getting dressed. There was nothing she could say to reassure him unless she lied, and it was ironic that she, a world-class liar, couldn't bring herself to betray his trust. She had promised as much as she could; beyond that, she could only hope for the best.

They walked to the restaurant, where they ate in silence. It wasn't a sullen silence, or a resentful one, but more as if they had both said all there was to say and anything else would be beating a dead horse. At the same time, she didn't feel like making small talk and he wasn't a small talk kind of guy; neither did she want to make plans for their future when they might not have one, which pretty much left her without anything to say.

But he held her hand as they walked back to the Holiday Inn, and after getting mostly undressed they sat on the bed, propped against the stacked pillows, and watched television. She went to sleep in the middle of a show, her head resting on his stomach.

The next morning, she called Agent Cotton and requested that they meet somewhere other than the federal building. Simon's warning about people watching the FBI building to see who entered made Andie uneasy, the way it made her uneasy when she was shopping and noticed one of the floor security personnel watching her. She knew she wasn't doing anything wrong, but she still didn't like being watched; it set off some sort of primitive alarm.

What bothered her more was the possibility that Rafael had a paid informant working there, and he already had word that a woman claiming to be his ex-mistress was talking to the agents. That would give him time to think and plan, and take away the shock value of seeing her again. If she had to sacrifice herself, damn it, she didn't want it to be for nothing.

"How about Madison Square Park?" Cotton suggested. "I'll be in the area, so that'll be a nice place to talk. I'll be waiting at Conkling's statue at one o'clock."

Simon left around ten, merely saying that he was going to get his suitcase and he'd be back. She didn't know where he had to go, but she waited until a little after noon before leaving, and he still hadn't returned. She wrote a note and left it on the desk. He didn't have a key card, but that hadn't stopped him the day before, so she wasn't worried about returning to find him standing in the hall waiting for her.

The day was warmer than the day before, with the wind sending fat white clouds scudding across the sky, but she was glad to have her coat. She stuffed her hands in her pockets and settled into the brisk walk of the city dweller, arriving at the park a little ahead of time. She went to the southeast corner, where the Conkling statue was. She didn't think Senator Conkling had done anything more remarkable than freezing to death in the 1888 blizzard, but evidently that was enough to warrant a statue.

Both Agent Cotton and Agent Jackson were waiting for her, their overcoats buttoned against the wind. "I hope you like coffee," said Cotton, extending a takeout cup to her. "I brought cream and sugar, too, if you need it."

"Black is fine, thanks." The warm cup felt good in her chilled hands; she took a tentative sip, not wanting to burn her mouth with too hot coffee.

"Let's sit down over here," said Cotton, indicating a bench nearby. They walked over and she sat between the two men, both hoping and dreading that they had come up with some viable plan.

"Have you thought of anything else to tell us?" he asked, his gaze constantly cataloging their surroundings. Cops, even federal ones, always had restless eyes.

"No, but I wanted to talk to you about the plan I suggested-"

"Don't bother," said a quiet voice behind them. "It's a nonstarter."

Both of the FBI agents visibly started, whirling out of their seats to confront what could, for all they knew, be an attack. Andie had recognized his voice as soon as he spoke, and surged to her feet, too. She hadn't been expecting him; making himself so visible to two FBI agents, letting them get a good look at his face, wasn't a good idea.

He stood just behind the bench, his hands in the pockets of a black cashmere overcoat, his eyes hidden by very dark sunglasses. She had no idea how he had gotten so close without either of the agents noticing him; he hadn't been in sight when they sat down, and they had been there, she figured, less than thirty seconds, so that meant he'd been moving fast.

After a short, startled silence, Cotton sighed and removed his own sunglasses. "I'm Special Agent Rick Cotton," he said, introducing himself and flipping out his ID. "This is Special Agent Xavier Jackson."

"I know your names." He didn't tell them his, not even an alias. Nor did he take his hands out of his pockets. Cotton made a brief movement, as though to offer a handshake, but evidently saw that the polite gesture wasn't going to happen and aborted the motion.

"I'm not at liberty to discuss Ms. Pearson's business with-"

"It's okay. He knows all about it," Andie said. She didn't introduce him. If he'd wanted the agents to know his name, or any name at all, he'd have introduced himself. She wanted to heave a huge, frustrated sigh. If he had just told her he was coming to the meeting and given her a name beforehand, this situation could have been handled much more smoothly.

Agent Cotton wasn't pleased with Simon's presence. He said to her, "This isn't a good time. I'll be in touch with you about your plan. I think something can be worked out." He nodded at Simon, then he and Agent Jackson strode briskly toward the street.

Astonished, because she hadn't thought they would think there was any viability to a plan that could involve getting her shot, Andie bowed her head and stared at her feet as she fought the sting of tears. She couldn't look at Simon, couldn't face that impassive expression.

"Let's go," he said, taking her hand and linking their arms. He was silent during the walk back to the Holiday Inn, though they had plenty of opportunity to talk. He'd stated his position, and he didn't see the need to keep restating it.

She still felt compelled to offer what comfort she could. "It'll be all right," she finally ventured, to be met by a wall of silence.

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