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Death Angel (Chapter Twenty-nine)

DAMN HIM, DAMN HIM, DAMN HIM.

Andie cursed him for the next two days, not only because she didn't see him at all even though somehow she knew he was still there, keeping watch, but because, sitting in that booth at the IHOP and listening to him expose his soul, she'd fallen in love with him. Of all the ill-advised things she'd done in her life, falling in love with a hit man, even a retired one, had to top the scale. If she had ever needed verification that she should stay far, far away from any romantic relationship because she was incapable of making a good decision when it came to picking out a man, there it was, proof positive.

She hadn't cried, though she'd wanted to. He'd made his heartbreaking confession so calmly, in such a matter-of-fact tone, that he'd enabled her to keep her composure, and after a while she'd been able to ask more questions, such as where he was from (he was born on an army base in Germany) and if he had any family (he was an only child, and both his parents were dead). Even if he'd had any close family, she thought, he would still have chosen to be alone. She'd sailed alone herself, so she knew what it was to confide in no one, to trust no one. She still didn't trust, at least not very much. She had made no close friends since settling here in K.C., which was really pitiful, but on this level she completely understood him.

He was atypical in a lot of ways. He didn't care for professional sports of any kind, which also made sense; team sports wouldn't appeal to a loner. He didn't have a favorite color, and he didn't like pie. Maybe he saw preferences as weaknesses that could be used against him and he'd deliberately disassociated himself from many of the likes and dislikes that people used to define themselves and their boundaries; maybe he had always had that distance between himself and everyone else.

Yet he had reached out to her, more than once. On the afternoon they'd shared, he'd seen how frightened she was, and he'd reassured her with tenderness, seduced her with pleasure. He'd made love to her, though at the time neither of them had seen it that way. When she'd had the accident, he had stayed with her as she died, watched over her until someone else could come.

She never dreamed about the accident, seldom visited her vague memories of dying. First came that incredible light, somehow both pure and vivid, and then she'd been in that wonderful place. Her recall of both was detailed down to scents and textures, but what came between those two happenings was sketchy and out of focus. Maybe it was because she was sitting across from him, staring at his face and making memories, that abruptly she saw the scene as clearly as if it were taking place in front of her eyes. In her mind she heard him whisper "God, sweetheart," and saw him touch her hair. She watched him wait with her. Looking directly at her own body was nearly impossible, as if there were some sort of shield around her, but she could see him oh so clearly. She could see the anguish he struggled to control, the pain he could barely acknowledge.

Like a bolt once more going through her chest, she knew why he'd looked up the newspaper accounts of her accident. He had wanted to find out where she was buried, so he could put flowers on her grave.

"Andie." He reached across the table and caught her hand, cradling it in his rough palm. "Where are you?"

Inside she was shattered, but she had pulled herself back to the present, away from memories she didn't want to have, but bringing with her another piece of understanding of the man sitting across from her, the man who was trying to be less remote, who was willingly exposing himself by answering any question she asked.

She couldn't bring herself to ask any other questions, and in silence they finished what remained of their meal. He watched her, his expression once again still and blank, though she couldn't say he'd been wildly expressive before. He'd let himself show a little amusement, and occasionally his gaze would settle on her mouth and pure heat would burn in his eyes, but other than that nothing of what he was thinking or feeling had come through.

He'd taken her home, and gone up on the porch with her, but stood at a slight distance that somehow told her he didn't intend to come in even if she invited him. Instead he walked to the other side of the duplex, rapped sharply on the front door. What was he doing? Her brows knit in puzzlement as she watched him. Fifteen seconds later, he knocked again. No one came to the door.

"What are you doing?"

"Making sure no one's home. The car's gone, but one of them could be at home." With that sentence he confirmed to her that he'd watched the house enough to know a couple lived in the other side of the duplex, but not enough to know that both of them worked second shift, like her, and were usually gone by one o'clock.

"Why? What does it matter?"

"People are nosy. They listen when they shouldn't."

"So?"

"So this isn't any of their business."

Curious, completely in the dark, she watched as he pulled out his wallet and extracted a card. "In case you have trouble accessing the money," he said, extending the card to her.

It was her old driver's license.

She stared at the license, at the picture on it, and her fingers trembled as she reached out to take it. She had thought Drea was gone, dead even if she wasn't buried, but there she was again: the mass of long blond curls, full makeup job, slightly vacant expression. She wasn't that person now. Most people would have to examine the photo very carefully to find the resemblance between Drea's face and her own.

"I'm giving the money to St. Jude's," she said numbly. "I have a bank account here. I was going to do an electronic transfer to this account, then go to the bank and get a cashier's check made out to St. Jude's. The IP number would be different on the transfer, but I have the password and…" Her voice trailed off. She was chattering, not paying attention to what she was saying. He'd know about IP numbers and electronic transfers, though he probably did his banking offshore. She probably wouldn't have any trouble making the transfer, though she'd thought about calling Mrs. Pearson beforehand and alerting her. By returning her old driver's license to her, though, Simon had guaranteed she wouldn't have any trouble doing whatever she wanted with the money even if Mrs. Pearson no longer worked at the bank.

"Thank you," she whispered, clutching the license even though she never wanted to see that photograph again. "Why did you keep it?"

He didn't answer the question, because evidently her carte blanche in that area had ended when they left the restaurant. Instead he said, "I have a plane to catch," and left her there on the porch. She watched him drive away, then went inside and sat down on the couch, thinking about the last two hours.

He had a plane to catch, her ass. She didn't believe him for a minute.

She hadn't seen him since, but she had learned that that didn't mean anything. He was there, somewhere, still keeping check. He didn't trust her not to run, even though he'd gone out of his way to reassure her she had nothing to fear.

On that score, at least, Andie did believe him. She was safe. She was free to live her life in the open, free to stop looking over her shoulder, free to do whatever she wanted even though she would be smart to avoid New York City until Rafael was either dead or in jail. The odds of seeing any one particular person in a city that size had to be tiny, but screwier things had happened; she was living proof of that.

Evidently she wasn't smart, because going back to New York was exactly what she intended to do. First, though, she had to slip away from her self-appointed bodyguard.

The one thing she could do that would most reassure him she was staying put would be to go back to Glenn's and ask for her job back, which she was certain Glenn would be glad to give her. Unfortunately, that was the one thing she couldn't do, because she had every intention of leaving within the next few days and she didn't want to mislead Glenn that way.

Instead she concentrated on taking care of business. She did call Mrs. Pearson, who expressed heartfelt relief. She'd been worried when no action had been taken on the account since she'd last seen Andie, and her e-mails had gone unanswered; she was afraid something had happened. Something had happened, but Andie didn't go into it. Instead she reassured Mrs. Pearson that everything was fine. They chatted for a while, and at one point Andie thought Mrs. Pearson had mentioned that she had a granddaughter who would be born in a few months. When she said, "Congratulations on that granddaughter," though, Mrs. Pearson gasped.

"How did you know there's a baby on the way?"

"You told me," said Andie, a little uncertainly. "Didn't you?"

"No, I haven't mentioned it. We won't find out if it's a boy or girl until next month."

"Oh. I would have sworn-" She broke off, and hastily covered her slip, because the explanation wasn't something she wanted to go into. "No, I remember now who mentioned having a granddaughter. I'm sorry, I'm a little scatterbrained this morning. I must need more coffee."

After she got off the phone she made the electronic transfer, then periodically checked her account until the transaction showed up. Once the certified check was on its way, by FedEx, to the children's hospital, she felt as if an immense weight had been lifted from her shoulders. That money had been a pain in the ass from the moment she took it, which she supposed was only fitting.

Mingled with relief, though, was a sense of regret. Too bad she couldn't have kept it, because a part of her really would have liked being rich, even with stolen money-dirty stolen money. Maybe she'd get extra points for getting rid of it, because that so went against the grain. Being virtuous was as big a pain in the ass as having the money had been.

But the money was gone now, taken care of, and she could move on to the next item on her list. She didn't have a lot of cash, and she needed some, so it was time to use the jewelry Rafael had given her.

She got the phone book and started looking for a diamond broker. She could hock the jewelry but she would realize only a fraction of its worth, and the pawn shop would make a killing because she wasn't interested in redeeming any of the pieces. She had to sell the jewelry, and she didn't want to take the time to auction it off on eBay.

She'd settled on a course of action and she felt driven to complete it, to get to New York and set the plan into motion. It was time.

A week later, with money in her bank account-though not as much money as she'd hoped-and a newly issued bank credit card, she booked a flight to New York for the following day and set about putting the duplex in order, in case she never made it back.

She cleaned out the refrigerator, getting rid of all the perishable food in the house. If she didn't come back, she didn't want the landlord, in a month or so, opening the door to the overpowering stench of rotted food. She swept and mopped and neatened, and tried not to cry. The shabby secondhand furniture she'd bought to furnish the duplex wasn't much to look at, and she didn't own the place anyway, but the duplex was still her first real home. It was hers; she'd picked out everything in it, from the cheap cookware to the chenille bedspread. She'd bought the lamp in the living room at a yard sale, for five bucks, and the soft throw draped across the arm of the couch for a dollar at yet another yard sale. The scent of the air freshener was the scent she preferred, the soap was the soap she liked.

She packed all her clothes. She didn't have much; every stitch she owned fit into two suitcases, and that included what makeup she'd bought, which wasn't much. She had delighted in not wearing much makeup, in not having to care if anyone saw her less than perfectly dolled up and tricked out. The last remnants of permed curl had long since grown out of her hair, which she had let remain dark. She didn't want to be blond again; Drea was blond; Andie had no-nonsense brown hair.

When the apartment was clean and her suitcases packed, she had two more errands to run. The first was to a large mall, where a wig shop was located. She would have to be Drea again, to get Rafael's attention, but she wanted to be able to whip off a wig and quickly become someone he might walk past without recognizing.

There weren't any wigs in the shop that matched the way she'd worn her hair then. She chose one that was close enough: a little longer, a little straighter, and the shade was more platinum than golden, but it would do.

Her final errand was more subterfuge, but of a different kind. Just in case Simon was still watching her, she went to the grocery store where she usually shopped, and stocked up on some nonperishable stuff. Buying food would reassure him that she intended to stay where she was. Also, if she actually got to return to the duplex, having food there would be a good thing.

The next morning, she drove to the airport, parked the Explorer in the long-term parking lot, and began her return to New York. Her seat, booked at the last minute as it had been, was a middle seat in the very last row. She sat crammed between a largish gentleman and his equally largish wife, who had evidently chosen their seats hoping no one would get the seat between them and they'd be able to spread out more comfortably. They were out of luck, and so was she.

After spending a little over three hours waiting for a connecting flight, it was mid-afternoon by the time she finally landed at La Guardia. She collected her luggage, rolled the cases out to the ground transportation area, and stood at the curb waiting for the hotel shuttle to arrive. The spring day was cold, about fifty degrees, and with the breeze the windchill was probably forty-five.

When the shuttle arrived, four more people got on it with her, but none of them seemed to be traveling together, so they all rode in silence toward the skyscrapers of Manhattan.

She loved the city, Andie thought as she watched the skyline getting closer. She loved the people and the busy pace, the sights and sounds and smells. Kansas City wasn't a small town, by any means, but it wasn't anywhere near the scale of New York. Maybe, if things worked out, she could move back here.

Or maybe not. She wouldn't be able to get a high-paying job, and Manhattan was expensive. The money she had from the sale of the jewelry wouldn't last long here. She had to be practical, because she had no particular skills or job training, and wanting more than what she could provide for herself was what had led her to men like Rafael in the first place. From now on, she would content herself with what she could afford.

She checked into the Holiday Inn, and when she was in her small, rather dingy room she hauled out the gargantuan phone book and began looking for a number. "United States Government," she murmured, then found the group of listings and began running her finger down the column. When she got to the number she wanted, she kept her finger on it while, with her other hand, she turned on her cell phone and waited for it to find service. When it did, she punched in the number.

THERE SHE WAS. He'd found her. She'd finally turned on her cell phone.

Simon's fingers flew over the keyboard of his laptop, typing in commands. He had relocated to San Francisco, and remained there longer than he'd ever been in any one place. Now that he wasn't active in the business anymore, he had no need to keep moving around. He hadn't exactly put down roots, but he'd modified his habits somewhat.

He had left Kansas City when he'd told Andie he was leaving. He didn't want to crowd her; he'd given her a lot to think about, and she had some adjustments to make. He had kept track of her and been reassured when her movements seemed to be mostly routine, though it bothered him that she hadn't gone back to Glenn's. The fact that she hadn't put him on alert, and he'd kept an unusually close watch on her movements.

His cell phone had buzzed before dawn, though he wasn't immediately alarmed. Kansas City was in a different time zone, so it was well after dawn there. But he got up and tracked the Explorer, and when its movement stopped at the airport he'd broken out in a cold sweat. She was getting on a damn plane, and he was a thousand miles away, unable to do a fucking thing about it.

He hadn't hacked into any system in months, hadn't needed to. He didn't know which airline she'd used, which hampered him, but he began systematically searching them all, just in case she either hadn't taken her cell phone with her or didn't bother turning it on until she needed to use it.

When the locator in the phone was powered up, he immediately typed in the commands that would tell him exactly where she was, and when the map popped up on the screen he felt icy sweat pop out on his skin.

She was in New York.

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