“Is that why you chose it?” she asked softly.
He paused for a long time. Preston waited, counting his own galloping heartbeat, pressing the microphone closer. Come on, you son of a b***h. Say something we can use.
Finally, Vince laughed. “You’ll n-never be able to outsmart m-me, Joanie. D-don’t even try,” he said and hung up.
Preston snapped off the recorder and sank onto the couch.
“He’s feeling arrogant,” Joanie said. “He thinks he’s in love with that stupid little receptionist. Says, ‘She makes me feel like a man again.’”
Preston didn’t respond. He’d thought having Joanie on his side would be the break he’d been looking for. But Joanie had done her best and they’d netted nothing except a little flustered stuttering.
A NOISE WOKE Emma late in the night. Someone was moving around. Was it Max?
She listened carefully, waiting.
There it was again. Movement. A rustling sound. But it wasn’t coming from Max’s room.
Getting up, she hurried to her son’s bedside, just in case she was wrong. She lived in constant fear that he’d need her in the night and she wouldn’t hear him. But she found him sleeping peacefully.
So what had disturbed her?
She returned to her own bedroom to check the time on the radio alarm. It was after midnight. And she and Max were supposed to be alone in the motel.
Drawing on the robe Preston had bought her, she shoved her tousled hair out of her eyes and tiptoed into the living room. From her kitchen window, she could see the moon reflecting off the pool a few feet away. The water looked like ice.
Chills ran down her spine as she thought she saw someone sitting in the Jacuzzi where she and Preston had made love last night. But it was only the reflection of a lounge chair. The pool area was empty. From her vantage point, she couldn’t see anyone lurking around the buildings.
A noise at the front door caused her pulse to jump into overdrive. Leaning closer to the window, she strained to see the stoop—then jumped back when she spotted the shape of a man. There was someone outside! Her first thought was to grab the phone, but she didn’t have service.
The door handle began to turn. Click, click…Click, click.
Pressing a hand to her chest, she moved silently toward it. She tried to peer through the peephole, but it was completely dark. Someone had covered it—probably with a thumb or a finger.
Oh, God…was it Manuel? She’d already mailed the list to the DEA. If he got in, he’d kill her, just like Juanita. And poor Max would probably see it all.
She grabbed Max’s bat, which she’d propped against the wall before going to bed. “Hello?” she said, the terror she was feeling evident in the breathless quality of her voice.
Emma’s knees nearly gave out on her. It wasn’t Manuel; it was Preston.
She put the bat back, removed the chain and opened the door to find him leaning against the side of the building. He had a cigarette in the corner of his mouth, but it wasn’t lit.
“You scared me,” she breathed. A quick glance at the peephole told her he hadn’t covered it at all. The workmen who were putting the finishing touches on the place had taped over it so they could paint the doors.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t want to wake you, but my key wouldn’t work. I must’ve demagnetized it somehow, probably by keeping it too close to my cell phone.”
She focused on his unlit cigarette. “Looks like you need a match.”
He took the cigarette out of his mouth and slipped it inside his shirt pocket. “No. I quit.”
The first two buttons of his denim shirt were undone, revealing part of the tanned, muscular chest she admired so much. She remembered the smooth texture of that chest beneath her hands as she’d straddled him in the Jacuzzi, and ached to feel his arms around her again.
But he made no move to come any closer.
“Did you buy a car?” he asked.
She toyed with the belt of her robe. The air around them felt heavy with the things they needed to say. But Preston was the one holding back, and she knew better than to press him. At least he’d come to her tonight. That was a victory of sorts. As of last night, he hadn’t been planning on it.
“Didn’t you see that beautiful maroon Monte Carlo in the parking lot?” she teased.
His teeth flashed in a grin. “Now do you miss your Jaguar?”
“No.” She let her eyes caress the face she loved so much. There were lines of fatigue around his mouth, making her worry about what might have happened to him today. What was he going through? And why wouldn’t he share it with her? “All I miss is you,” she said softly.
He looked torn, but he still didn’t move toward her. He pushed away from the wall. “Emma, I can’t stay. I only came to check on you.”
“Well, I’m fine. Besides buying the car today, I learned about a teaching job. Maybe I’ll be lucky enough to find a position.”
“Are you going to use your real name?”
“No, I’m Emma Wright now.”
“What about housing?” he asked.
“There’re a few houses for rent in the paper, but I want to make sure I can get work first.”
“A good plan.” He frowned at the baseball bat. “How’s Max?”
“Lonely without you.”
“He’s a great kid.” He glanced reluctantly behind him. “I guess I’d better go.” Bending his head, he gave her a light kiss and started to move away. But Emma had no intention of letting him leave so easily. She wasn’t sure what was keeping them apart, but she wasn’t going to let it beat her without a fight. Catching his hand, she guided it inside her robe and beneath her T-shirt.
“Are you sure you want to go?” she asked.
“I have to,” he said, but he hesitated only briefly before his fingers curved around her breast.
“Will a few hours really make any difference, Preston?”
He opened her robe to take her nipple in his mouth. When he raised his head, his breath was coming quicker, but he was still fighting his instincts. “It’ll make a difference,” he said. “Every time I make love to you, I—”
“Lose a little more of me,” he said, his heavy-lidded eyes fastened to where his mouth had been.
She looked at him from beneath her lashes, then leaned in to kiss his neck, to feel his heartbeat at the base of his throat. “Is that so bad?” she whispered, sliding her hands under his shirt to rake her fingernails along his back.