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Death Angel (Chapter Two)

IN A BUILDING ANGLED ACROSS FROM RAFAEL'S APARTMENT, a federal agent blinked at his monitor, then announced in a tone of astonishment: "Hey, the girlfriend has a boyfriend."

"What?" The senior agent walked over to the monitor and stared at it, at the couple on the balcony. He whistled. "Talk about cutting it close; Salinas just left the building." He frowned, studying the images. "I don't remember seeing that guy before. Can we ID him?"

"I don't think so; not yet, anyway. He hasn't given us a good angle." Despite that, the first agent, Xavier Jackson, danced his fingers across the keyboard, trying to clean up the resolution. Salinas had chosen his penthouse well; the angle, the height, the distance, all worked to make visual surveillance, at best, somewhat difficult-and as bad as visual was, what they had there was still a damn sight better than any audio they'd managed to get. Not only was the apartment soundproofed, but Salinas had also installed sophisticated equipment that thwarted all their attempts to eavesdrop. Nor had they been cleared to tap any of his lines, which to Jackson 's way of thinking meant that some high-level judges were in Salinas 's well-tailored pocket. That royally pissed Jackson off, because it ran contrary to his sense of justice, of right and wrong. Judges were human; they could be stupid, biased, just plain bad, but, damn it, they weren't supposed to be dirty.

He froze a snapshot of the couple and sent it to the face recognition program, but he didn't have much hope.

The senior agent was Rick Cotton; he'd been with the Bureau almost twenty-eight years, had gone gray in its service. He was a quiet man, competent in his work, but neither talented enough at what he did nor politically savvy enough to rise any higher than his present position. He would retire in another year or so, collect his pension, and his absence wouldn't leave a gap, but at the same time the people who had worked with him would remember him as a solid agent.

In his own six years with the Bureau, Jackson had worked with some brilliant people who were also assholes, or, worse, slackers who were brilliant at ass-kissing, so he had no complaints about Cotton. There were a lot worse things in the world than working with a decent, competent man.

"This might be our break," Cotton said as they waited to see if the computer program could put a name to the unknown man's face. Until now, they hadn't found a chink in Salinas 's wall of security, but filming the girlfriend getting it on with some other dude was leverage they could use against her. Getting to someone on the inside would be an unbelievable break-not that it would shine up Cotton's reputation any, because some slick and savvy operator sitting in an office would find a way to take credit for it, and Cotton wouldn't protest, just plod on in his dependable way.

Jackson thought that he himself just might be that slick and savvy operator, because damned if he'd let someone else take all the credit after the insufferably long, boring hours he and Cotton had put in on this assignment. He wouldn't leave Cotton behind, though; the man deserved better than that.

Jackson kept an eye on the split screen, looking for a better angle, but it was as if the bastard knew exactly where they were, because not once did he reveal more than a partial view of his face. His right ear, though- Jackson froze a very good image of the ear. Ears were good; they varied from person to person in shape, size, the way they were positioned on the head, and the interior whorls. People who disguised themselves often completely forgot about the ears.

The facial identification program surrendered, telling him there was no match, which he'd expected. "Come on, look at the birdie," he murmured to the man. "Let me take your picture."

He was focused so intently on his task that, until Cotton gave an uncomfortable cough, Jackson didn't realize what he was watching. "Damn," he muttered. "He's doing her right there, out in the open." Not that they could really see anything, but it was obvious from the couple's positions and movements what was happening on that balcony.

Then the unknown man swung them around, presenting his back to the camera, and half-walked, half-carried the girlfriend into the penthouse, pulling the sliding glass door shut behind him.

Not once had he provided them with a clear look at his face.

AFTER THE BRIGHTNESS and warmth of the sun-drenched balcony, the penthouse was blessedly cool and dim, and private. Drea clung to him for support; her legs were like cooked noodles and her brain felt like mush. He dipped his head to trail a line of slow kisses down her throat and across her collarbone. "Is this place bugged?" he asked in that low, half-audible tone of his, his lips moving against her shoulder as he murmured the words on her skin. "Cameras anywhere?"

"Not now," Drea replied, then a sharp surge of combined lust and fear turned her insides to water. She worked hard to make people see her as ornamental, self-absorbed, and more than a little dumb: in short, nonthreatening. Having people underestimate her gave her an enormous advantage…but he didn't seem to underestimate her at all, and that both pleased and frightened her. If he could see the brains beneath the act, then others might, too. At the same time, his easy assumption that she'd know the answer to a question so crucial fed a need that she hadn't realized was there, a hunger to be treated as an equal on some level.

At any rate, it was too late now to continue the dumb act. Recklessly she added, "He used to, but he decided having a record of anything could be dangerous to him."

At first, Rafael had had her followed everywhere she went, and hidden cameras had recorded her in her bedroom, as well as her bathroom. She'd had no privacy at all, and she had simply gone with the flow, keeping her activities completely innocuous and boring. She had been with him for almost five months when she overheard him telling Orlando Dumas, his electronics whiz, to get rid of all the cameras and microphones, and to burn the tapes. Orlando hadn't bothered to tell him it was all digital, and there were no tapes, but Drea had had a private laugh at Rafael's expense.

If Rafael wanted to know how often she had her nails and hair done, fine, let him waste time having her followed. She shopped, she watched television, and she made a habit of going to the nearest library and checking out coffee table books of other countries. She would pore over the pictures, and in a deliberately careful manner read snippets about different customs and geographical features aloud to Rafael, until he impatiently told her he wasn't interested in ferrets and lemurs, nor did he care which waterfall was the highest in the world. Drea had managed to look faintly hurt, but thereafter kept the tidbits to herself. Shortly afterward, he'd stopped having her followed whenever she left the penthouse.

Most of the time, Drea didn't take chances, and behaved as she had when she'd been followed. She really did get her nails and/or hair done frequently, and she spent a lot of time shopping, both in person and on the Internet. She kept her bedroom television on a shopping channel, and a pad lying there with item numbers scribbled on it-numbers that she frequently scratched through, or changed, just in case Rafael had someone check. There were even real item numbers for clothing, should he check that far. She spent a lot of time doing exactly what Rafael expected her to be doing.

Occasionally, however, she did something entirely different. Rafael was ruthless and street smart, but he didn't think she was intelligent enough to slip anything by him, so she managed to slip quite a lot.

But this man, this killer holding her in his arms, saw beneath her carefully constructed façade, stripping away her defenses and exposing her as effortlessly as he'd stripped down her pants. She stared up into his narrowed gaze, wondering what else he saw. Was her secret safe with him, or did he see it as a card he could play whenever it was strategically useful? Maybe he'd want her to give him information about Rafael. Whatever he wanted her to do, she'd have to do it; she had no choice. That was actually an easy decision to make, because this man was one of the few people she'd bet on against Rafael.

Her thoughts had wrenched her from the control of her overloaded senses, and as clarity returned she again felt the icy finger of panic. He wasn't finished with her. So far he hadn't hurt her-the opposite, in fact-but that didn't mean she was safe. Maybe he was just playing with her, getting her to lower her guard, relax. Maybe he got his jollies from sucker punches.

"You're thinking too much," he murmured. "You just tensed up again."

Think! she commanded herself, willing the panic away. She had to think, get herself under control. God, how stupid could she be? Instead of acting like some twit who didn't know what her body was for, she should be using it, doing what she did best, which was make a man feel special.

She stared at her own hands, her fingers digging into the hard muscle of his shoulders as she clung to him, and tried to force them into action. She should be stroking him, with both words and actions. She should go down on him, make him come, then-please, God-he would leave, and she could use the time to decide on her best course of action. She should be doing a lot of things, all of which right now seemed to be beyond her.

"Where's a bedroom?" he asked, lifting his head to survey their surroundings, his eyes alert. "Not where you sleep with Salinas. Somewhere else."

"We don't…we don't sleep together," she mumbled, once more jolted into telling the truth. His gaze returned to her and narrowed even more, and she shivered at the threat she felt lurking behind his every action. "Sleep. We don't sleep. I have my own room."

Her heartbeat thudded as he waited a beat before saying, "You go to his room."

It was a statement, not a question, as if he had also read Rafael with uncanny accuracy. Still, she nodded in confirmation. She did go to Rafael's room whenever he wanted sex. That was the way it was; people went to Rafael, he didn't go to them. Afterward she always returned to her own room, which she had deliberately made as feminine and frou-frou as possible, in keeping with the Barbie doll persona she'd cultivated.

"Your room," he prompted.

Drea glanced to the right. "Down this hall."

He leaned down and stripped her pants to her ankles. "Step," he said, and she did, lifting her feet out of the pools of filmy white fabric. She didn't have time to feel awkward for wearing a tank top and a pair of four-inch heels and nothing else, because he simply hoisted her up so she had to lock her legs around his hips to anchor herself, and he carried her down the hall.

His rock-hard erection rode her cleft, every step he took rocking him against her softly swollen flesh. Drea tightened the grip of her thighs and rubbed herself against the thick length, spreading her own dampness on it, trying to push him past the limits of his control. A hot pool of sensation gathered at the point of contact, then rapidly spread through her, taking her by surprise. She'd already climaxed, so she hadn't expected to get turned on again. Hell, she hadn't expected to get turned on at all. Nothing about this situation was what she'd expected, and though she kept struggling to gain control she kept getting her feet knocked out from under her and she'd go under yet again.

He reached her door and she managed to say "Here" in a strangled tone, but she couldn't make herself release him so she could turn the doorknob. He did that himself, pulling her more tightly to him with one arm under her bottom, while he opened the door with his other hand. The motion adjusted their positions just enough that abruptly his erection slipped into her; hot tingles shot along every nerve. The sensation was so electric that she moaned, every muscle in her body tightening. Helplessly she began rising and falling, trying to get as much of him as possible, her range of motion limited by his grip on her. At this angle she could get only two or three inches of his penis inside her, and though the thick ridge of the head set off mini-explosions as she worked herself back and forth on it, that wasn't enough, she wanted more, she wanted all of it, deep and hard and fast.

The rhythm of his breathing hitched a little, the only sign he'd given, other than his erection, that he was the least bit excited. Abruptly Drea burned with humiliation at this evidence that, while he obviously wanted sex, he had no particular interest in her; she was here, she was available, and that was the extent of her use to him. She froze, and to her horror felt tears burn her eyes again. Doggedly she blinked them away.

What was happening? She wasn't the one who lost control; she used sex to control men, to get what she wanted from them. What was wrong with her, that she let this one man frighten her so much that all her usual defenses came tumbling down? Okay, so he was, like, king of the badasses, but she'd dealt with badasses all her life, and if there was one thing she'd learned, it was that when the little head lifted and took charge, the big head stopped thinking.

That didn't seem to have happened with him, but if she had a chance she could make him lose control; she knew she could. She wanted him to be as helpless as she felt, she wanted him fierce and hot and trembling, at her mercy instead of her being at his, but she wouldn't have any mercy for him at all, any more than he did for her.

He reached the side of the bed, lifted her off him, and tossed her onto the mattress. By the time she stopped bouncing, he had most of his clothes off, and she held her breath as she watched him strip out of the rest. Naked, he was hard and muscled, almost lean. His chest was lightly haired, and at some time he'd been naked in the sun because he was tanned all over. For some reason, thinking of him naked and relaxed, drowsy in the sun, sent both her stomach and nerves trembling.

He bent over her and tugged her tank top up and off, leaving her only in those lethal heels. His dark opal gaze fastened on her breasts, a look so loaded with male interest that her nipples puckered as if he'd licked them. She jerked, fighting an inexplicable urge to cross her arms over her breasts to shield them. Somehow she felt more exposed, more vulnerable, more naked, when he looked at her.

Reaching out, he lightly traced one fingertip around both nipples, then braced his hands on each side of her and leaned down to suck each breast in turn, his mouth so gentle on her that she felt the heat more than the pressure.

Her breath caught and her body arched upward, seeking more than he was giving her.

Desperately she groped for his erection, wanting, needing to seize some of the power, to balance the scales. Her fingers closed around the thick shaft, and a split second later his iron grip was on her wrist, firmly moving her hand away from him. "No," he said as calmly as if she'd offered him a slice of toast.

"Yes," she insisted recklessly, reaching for him again. "I want you in my mouth." In her experience, no man could resist that offer.

But the hard line of his lips curved in faint amusement as he caught her hand and anchored it to the bed with an unbreakable grip. "So you can make me come? You're in a hurry to get rid of me."

Drea stared up at him, her emotions in such a roiling storm of lust and anger and ever-present fear that she trembled.

He secured her other hand, too, holding her firm as he moved over her and took what he wanted.

THE HOURS THAT followed were a blur of lust and sex and fatigue, but a few moments were crystal clear. After her third climax she tried to squirm away from him, exhausted and overstimulated and unable to bear any more. "Leave me alone," she said fretfully, slapping at his hands as he drew her back to him, and he laughed.

He actually laughed.

She stared up at the curve of his mouth, the flash of white teeth, by now expecting the way her stomach muscles clenched and the bottom fell away and she went rushing back down into the dark pit of longing that he'd uncovered. No other man had ever paid so much attention to her needs over his own, had lingered over her body, as he did, with slow touches and hot kisses. Orgasms, for her, had been what she faked with a man and provided herself when she was alone, and that had been partly her own choice because she couldn't concentrate on providing the maximum pleasure for the guy if she was distracted by her own reactions.

He had done to her what she usually did, taken over her role, focused on her and provided so much pleasure she felt slightly drunk with satiation. He'd held back, stopping several times when he was on the verge of coming, and the strain was finally showing. His hair was damp with sweat, his face set in a hard, intensely focused expression; his eyes glittered with an intent so hot her skin should have scorched as he looked at her.

Until he laughed, and for a snapshot in time she saw him relaxed and momentarily-very momentarily-unguarded.

He hadn't kissed her on the mouth. He'd kissed practically every other place on her body, but not her mouth, and suddenly she wanted that more than she wanted anything else he'd done to her. Impulsively she reached out and touched his face, her fingers lying lightly along the hard line of his jaw, feeling the faint roughness of whiskers and the heat of his skin. His dark brows lifted slightly in question, as if her touch puzzled him. Drea surrendered to the want, lifting herself and clinging her mouth to his.

For another of those frozen moments she felt him go as motionless as stone, as if he had to force himself not to pull away, and inside her chest something squeezed as she waited for him to reject her kiss.

But he didn't, and tentatively she tilted her head to deepen the contact. His lips were soft and warm; the heated scent of him filled her, called to her, jerked her from satiation to need. He hadn't opened his mouth for her and she craved that, but was almost afraid to ask for more. She dared the smallest touch of her tongue to those soft lips.

Abruptly he was kissing her in return, wresting control from her and pressing her back onto the mattress, his heavy body covering her. He kissed her as if some primal beast in him had slipped its leash and he wanted to devour her, his mouth hungry and hotly demanding, his tongue dancing with hers and forcing more response. She clung to him, arms and legs twined around him, and gave herself up to the storm she'd raised.

At another moment, lying exhausted and half-asleep, she realized she didn't know his name. That lack of knowledge hurt her, somewhere deep inside where she let no one touch. The way he'd kissed her emboldened her, let her reach out to rest her hand on his chest as he lay sprawled beside her. His heartbeat thudded fast and strong under her fingers and she flattened her hand over it as if she could link herself to that beat of life. "What's your name?" she asked, her voice soft and drowsy.

After a moment of silence, as if he weighed her reasons for asking, he said calmly, dismissively, "You don't need to know."

In silence she removed her hand from his chest and curled on her side. She wanted to jump astride him and tease him, nag him, pry the information out of him, but one of the rules she'd developed over the years was not to nag, to always make herself agreeable, and the action, or lack of it, was so deeply ingrained she couldn't persist. Still, his lack of trust chilled her. She might feel as if some weird link had been forged between them, but he evidently didn't feel the same way. He was a killer, pure and simple, and he stayed at the top of his profession by trusting no one.

Some time later he lifted his head to look at the clock, and Drea did the same. Almost four hours had passed.

"Now," he said, his tone going rough and deep as he moved over her, pushing her knees apart and settling on her, in her. His muscles tightened, and a stifled groan rumbled in his throat, his chest. He shuddered, as if being able to release his self-control was a pleasure so intense it bordered on pain.

She caught her breath at the power of his invasion. She was swollen and more than a little sore from everything he'd done to her, yet she didn't want this to end. "We still have an hour left," she heard herself say, and cringed inside at the small note of pleading in her voice.

A cynical expression hardened his gaze. " Salinas won't honor the full five hours," he replied as he began thrusting long and deep. It was as if a dam had been breached, and the power that had been restrained suddenly rushed forward. All she could do was cling to him and try to weather the storm, offer him the same generous use of her body that he had given her-and be surprised, yet again, by a response she hadn't thought herself capable of. He stiffened and began coming, groans tearing from his throat as he surged against her in powerful rhythm. She locked her legs around his and arched upward, her own raw sounds of pleasure piercing the air as her climax chased his.

When their bodies quieted, he extricated himself and immediately moved away. "Is it all right if I use your shower?" he asked, walking toward the bathroom.

Drea searched for her voice and whispered, "Sure," a useless permission because he'd already closed the door behind him.

She lay amid the tangled sheets, knowing she needed to get up but unable to put thought into action. Her body was heavy and limp, her eyelids dragging downward with fatigue. Disjointed thoughts formed and disappeared. Everything had changed, and she wasn't yet sure exactly how. Certainly her time with Rafael was over, or almost over, and she needed to think about that, about what she should do. She knew what she wanted to do, and the idea was so new, so foreign to her, that she could scarcely take it in.

He came out of the bathroom within ten minutes, his hair wet, his skin smelling of her soap. Silently he began dressing, his expression calm and remote, as if he were lost in thought. She watched him, drinking in every inch of him, waiting for him to look at her. What they had shared for the past several hours had been so intense she almost couldn't remember what her life had been like before, a line of demarcation so plainly drawn it was as if everything before was in shades of gray and everything after was in Technicolor.

She waited, and still he was silent. She waited, certain that when he finished dressing he'd look at her and say…what? She didn't know what she wanted him to say, only that pain was swelling in her chest again, a pain that threatened to suffocate her. She couldn't stay with Rafael any longer. She wanted more, she wanted to be more, she wanted…God, she wanted this man, so intensely she couldn't let herself fully realize the breadth and depth of it.

He turned toward the door without saying anything and in panic she bolted upright, clutching the sheet to her breasts. He couldn't leave the same way Rafael had, as if she meant nothing, as if she was nothing.

"Take me with you," she blurted, choking back the humiliating burn of tears.

He paused with his hand on the doorknob, finally looking at her, his brows drawing together in a faint frown. "Why?" he asked in a sort of remote puzzlement, as if he couldn't understand why she'd said something so outlandish. "Once was enough." Then he walked out and Drea sat motionless on the bed. He moved so silently she didn't hear the penthouse door open or shut, but she felt his absence, knew the exact moment he left.

Silence closed around her, profound and tomblike. There were things she needed to do, she realized, but actually doing them seemed beyond her. All she could do was sit there, barely breathing, considering the shambles her life had suddenly become. She had just been screwed, in more ways than one.

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