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Hidden Moon (Chapter 19)

"Claire."

Josh Logan stepped closer, and the moon chose that moment to reappear, bathing his handsome face in silver. He looked more like a bloodsucker now than he had in my dreams.

"I've been waiting for you."

I glanced into the house, wondering if I could dive inside and slam the door. But that would be childish.

Oh well.

I made it into the foyer, even got the door nearly closed, before he grabbed it. Josh had always moved quicker than spit.

"What's the matter with you?" He followed me in.

I backed up, not wanting to remain in grabbing distance. Calmly he closed and locked the door behind him, then flicked on the lights.

He appeared exactly the same as he had the last time I'd seen him, but then, I doubted he'd lost as much sleep over the incident as I had.

Young, blond, buff, Josh was the darling of Atlanta.

Born in Washington, D.C., which ought be the South geographically but was a far cry from Earth technically, his father was a congressman who'd once been a lawyer. Hadn't they all? Josh's mother was a lawyer who'd become a lobbyist. So had his sister.

Josh was the bright light and shining hope of the Logan family. He'd attended the University of Georgia, then gone on to Harvard Law, before returning to work for the governor. An up-and-coming run for that very office would be the next step on Josh's path to the White House.

Ah, hell, I was going to have to turn him in. I saw that now.

"What do you want?" I asked.

"The same thing I've always wanted, Claire. You."

Goose bumps rose all over my body. I'd dreamed of this a hundred times, but I'd never really thought it would happen. Why would Josh return to the scene of the crime, so to speak? Why would he take the chance that seeing him again would make me realize how completely stupid I'd been? Make me understand quite clearly that I had to call the police and make certain he never did to anyone else what he'd done to me?

Maybe he wasn't as smart as he said he was.

Oprah began to growl from the stairs, and Josh's gaze went past me to the cat. The sound of her yowls was replaced by that of claws scrambling on hard wood as she fled up the steps and disappeared into the darkness on the second floor.

Josh's attention returned to me, and I had to resist the urge to turn tail and scuttle upstairs like the cat. If I did that, he'd grab me, and I wanted to avoid grabbing at any cost. What I needed to do was get him out of the house, and me along with him. Outside I might have a chance.

"Why don't we go onto the deck?"

Bracing myself, I turned my back on him. When he didn't knock me to the ground and start tearing at my clothes, I walked into the kitchen, then over to the sliding glass doors.

The sound of the refrigerator opening made me pause. Josh had his head inside. "No champagne?" He reached forward and withdrew a bottle of sauvignon blanc. "This will have to do."

He helped himself to two of my wineglasses, then nodded for me to continue. I should have kept going while he had his head in the fridge; I might have made it to the woods. My wits were not as sharp as they should be. I needed to focus so I could seize the next opportunity and get out of here.

On the deck, Josh set the wine on the table and poured each of us a glass. He held one out to me. "We need to talk."

"Talk?" I took the wine but didn't drink. Maybe I could throw it in his eyes and run.

Josh flashed his campaign smile – courtesy of thousands of dollars in orthodontia – and chuckled. "I want you back, sweetheart. I've missed you so much."

"Missed me?" I couldn't seem to stop repeating whatever he said.

"I know we didn't date long, but you got to me." He smacked himself in the chest with one fist. "Right here."

A hysterical giggle threatened to burst free. Was he serious? Why would he be here otherwise, unless – ?

My mind rebelled at the idea of what else he might want. I'd die first. Or he would.

"I'm making my bid for governor soon. We'll have to tie the knot right away."

"I – uh – what?"

"You're perfect. We'll play up the Appalachia thing." He gestured toward the mountains with his wineglass, sloshing a little over the side as he did. "You're from the hills, but you made good. Don't suppose you've got an old granny without her teeth we could parade around?"

"Huh?"

He tsked as he came closer. "You'll have to come home with me tonight. You've only been here a few weeks, and already you're losing that polish I love so much."

He reached for my hair, ignoring or perhaps not even noticing my flinch, then rubbed a lock between his fingers. "It would be better if you were blond. We'll take care of that tomorrow." He strode across the deck. "Pack your things."

"You – you actually think I want to marry you?"

Slowly he turned. "Why wouldn't you? I'm going to be the next governor of Georgia."

"No," I said quietly. "You aren't."

He gave an impatient sigh. "Claire, I thought you understood what all this was about."

"All what?"

"I took you everywhere. I made certain everyone saw us together. Then my people did a survey – grassroots, you understand, but good enough. I got the results the day we made love."

I couldn't help it. I choked, "That wasn't love."

His face relaxed into an expression of abject relief. "I'm glad you understand. At least I won't have to pretend. You won't care if I keep a girlfriend? You have to admit you're a little cold in the sack."

All I could do was gape. He was insane.

"Americans love an underdog and" – he lowered his voice – "truth be told, I'm not one. But you are. To come from this" – his lip curled as he waved in the general direction of Lake Bluff – "and accomplish what you did, to leave behind your hillbilly past and lose that horrible accent. Why, if I didn't know you were white trash, I'd never suspect. A large percentage of those surveyed trusted you. So if you stand beside me, as my wife, if you tell them they should vote for me…" He spread his hands and winked.

"Let me get this straight," I said. "You dated me to see how I played to the public. You took a poll and then – "

"I made you mine."

"Made me." Well, at least he'd gotten one thing right. He had made me.

"I staked my claim." He lowered his hands. "It's a guy thing."

"It's a rapist thing."

Shock spread over his face. "What?"

"You raped me."

"Did not."

I wasn't going to play " 'Did not' and 'Did, too,' " with this guy. I was going to call Grace.

I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket and he grabbed me. So much for avoiding it.

"We dated for months," he said.

"My mistake."

"I must have shelled out thousands wining and dining you. You owed me."

"You're right. And the time's come to pay up."

He relaxed a little, though he didn't let me go.

"How about this?" I continued. "You get to go directly to jail, do not pass go, do not become governor of Georgia." Not that he'd actually go to jail – I had no evidence and it was his word against mine – but it sounded so good.

My head rocked back when he slapped me. I tasted blood. My cell phone fell from my suddenly boneless hands, hitting the ground with a clunk.

For a minute I'd actually thought I could stand up to him. Turn him in. Make him pay. Then one slap, and I couldn't think, let alone defend myself and call the police.

I'd never been hit before. Grabbed, shaken, raped, but never hit. No one tells you what a shock it is – not the pain so much as the degradation, the knowledge that someone can do that to you and there's not a damn thing you can do to stop it.

Suddenly Josh was yanked backward. "Strike a woman, will you?" Malachi Cartwright lifted Josh into the air by the neck of his shirt and shook him. "Bastard."

Josh's legs flailed, shoes striking shins, knees pounding against thighs. Cartwright didn't seem to notice.

"Would you like me to kill him?" he asked mildly.

Josh's eyes nearly bugged out of his head.

"Put him down," I said.

"I dinna think I will," Cartwright murmured, his brogue thickening.

"Put him down."

Cartwright crooked a brow. "You're certain?"

"Yes."

He tossed Josh over the side of the deck. Josh's shout of protest was cut short with an "oof " when he landed.

"What did you do that for?" I demanded.

"He should not be breathing the same air as you, and well you know it."

A bellow of fury made us turn. Josh barreled up the steps. His suit was torn and muddied. He had scratches on his cheek. He was limping but still moving at quite a fast clip and headed directly for me.

"You bitch. I'll kill you for this."

Cartwright stepped between us. Josh roared with anger again; he didn't sound quite human. He didn't look very human, either, until he pulled the gun.

"Shit," I muttered, scanning the ground for my cell phone. Not that I could get help here faster than a speeding bullet, but at least I could throw the thing at his head.

"You think that scares me?" Cartwright asked.

"It should."

Malachi laughed and punched Josh in the nose.

Blood spurted; the gun tumbled to the plank floor as Josh slapped both hands to his face. "You broke my nose."

"You're lucky I didn't break your neck." Malachi grabbed him by the shirtfront and yanked him close. "Come near her again, and I'll make you wish you were dead."

The threat should have been laughable, words straight out of a John Wayne movie, but something in Cartwright's face must have convinced Josh he wasn't kidding, because his eyes widened and his face went white.

Cartwright let him go with a disgusted shove, and Josh crumpled to the ground, eyelids fluttering. "Call the sheriff," Cartwright ordered.

"Shouldn't I call an ambulance?"

"Ach, nothin' that can be done about a broken nose."

"I think he's unconscious," I said.

"He fainted." Cartwright nudged Josh with his boot. "Nothing that can be done about that, either."

I retrieved my cell phone. One glance at the display and I cursed. "Broken." Was anything made to last these days? "I'll have to go inside."

Cartwright nodded, bending to pick up Josh's gun.

"He could have shot you."

The moon glanced off Cartwright's black eyes, making them glow silver at the center. "Not with the safety on he wouldn't."

He held out the gun, using his thumb to flick the catch off, then on again.

"He still could have removed the safety and shot you quicker than you could have punched him."

"Perhaps."

"You're either very brave or very stupid."

His face hardened. "Men do not hit women. If they do, they're not men; they're beasts." Cartwright turned his face toward the moon. "This one deserved far more punishment than he got."

Malachi was right. But if I'd let him punish Josh, then Malachi would be the one going to jail. Cops were funny that way.

"May I wash?" Cartwright held out his hands, which were dotted with Josh's blood.

"Of course." I glanced at Josh, but he remained unmoving.

"He'll be all right for a minute," Cartwright assured me. "And it isn't as if you don't know where to find him if he decides to go."

True enough. Together Cartwright and I went into the house.

Grace answered on the sixth ring; she sounded wide-awake. "I'll be there in five."

Cartwright turned away from the sink, drying his hands on the dish towel. "I'm sorry I didn't come sooner. I was… delayed."

I remembered what had happened between us earlier that night and what hadn't because he'd been called away.

"Is everything all right at your camp?"

He began to nod; then his gaze swiveled toward the open doorway. "Hell." Josh was gone.

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