He rubbed at his arm, his jaw clenched. Not so blank any more. “Don’t do that.”
Innocent as the devil, she blinked over at him. “Don’t do what?” Arouse you? Make you crave more of me?
“So what I’m trying to say is, we should consider using the witness as bait to draw out the Arcadian or whoever hired him.” Dallas’s snapped words stopped her from doing something stupid, like leaping over the table and devouring Hector. Uh, she meant, slapping some sense into Hector. “If the two cases are connected, the Arcadian will try to cover his tracks and tie up all loose ends. Right now, the witness is the only loose end we’ve got.”
“That we know of,” she replied. “But he’ll never agree. He was scared as hell already.”
“Well, we don’t have to use him in the field,” Hector said. “Just his name and someone who kinda looks like him. I don’t want to go that route, though. Not yet. Not until we have a few more answers.”
For a long moment after he’d spoken, he watched her, silent, his intense expression somehow transporting her back to the reception hall, with his arms caging her, his lips pressed into hers. Hot, aching arousal pooled between her legs.
Stop. You have to stop this.
She cleared her throat, breaking the spell.
He looked away. “I’ve got agents scouring Whore’s Corner, searching for other possible witnesses. Especially someone who isn’t a user. They’re texting me updates and so far no luck.”
“They probably won’t find anyone,” she said. “Witness mentioned a foot chase. Our killer would have found anyone else in the vicinity and we would have found a trail of dead bodies.”
“Maybe. Or, if our killer found someone else, he might have taken him to a secondary location, thinking everything was then under control. But there are no footprints anywhere. So either our witness was lying and there was never a chase or they were wiped.”
“Wouldn’t be difficult for a rich man to wipe the prints. With the right equipment, you can wipe anything. You need to have the agents search the field for a small pinlike device. It’s small, thin, and will blend in, but when shoved into the ground and switched on, it disrupts the natural lay of the land, kind of like shaking dirt in a glass.” Of course, if the device was used, the body could have been dragged there without leaving tracks.
“Never heard of something like that,” Dallas said. “Wouldn’t we have felt a quake or something?”
“Nope. And you’ve never heard of something like that because it’s black market and new. I certainly don’t know about it because Ava and I trashed a senator’s prized backyard after he threw a tantrum when she wouldn’t sleep with him. I just like to stay up to date on new inventions.”
“Up to date?” Hector said. “That’s the alibi you’re going with?”
“I’ll have the agents look. As for us, we need to notify Mr. Marks’s family about his death before the press learns his identity. I tried to phone the mother, Brenda Marks, on the way over, but there was no answer.” There was a dagger-like sharpness to his tone. Clearly he hated that part of the job. “When she finds out, there will be a public outcry for action and answers, and we’ll have cameras on our every move.”
“Probably. Brenda Marks is as cold and unfeeling as a woman can get. You don’t have to worry about any tears or accusations that you should have done your job and saved Bobby. But she does like the limelight, and she will phone every newspaper in town the moment you leave her.”
A tangle of scents wafted to Noelle a split second before the waitress arrived. Noelle’s mouth watered. Steaming plate after steaming plate was skidded across the table. Her stomach twisted with eagerness.
Her favorite development? The men stared at her food with absolute longing.
“Don’t ask, because I’m not sharing.” Smug, she lifted a piece of extra crispy bacon, bit off the tip, and gave another of those moans, as if the cloned meat was the best thing she’d ever tasted. Maybe it was. The flavors exploded on her tongue as she chewed.
Dallas reached out to confiscate a piece of toast, but she stabbed his hand with her fork in a lightning-fast motion he couldn’t dodge.
“The fact that I’m not sharing means I’m not sharing.” She signaled the waitress and said, “My friend would like a bowl of pretzels if you’ve got them. Oh, and a bandage for his hand.”
“I’ll see what I can find.” Off the waitress went again, returning a few minutes later with a bowl of crackers and a clean rag.
Dallas ignored the rag and munched on the saltines, glaring at Noelle the entire time.
Hector waved his fingers at her sausage. “Give me the patties or walk home.”
O-kay. Normally a guy making any kind of demand after semi-rejecting her—more than once—would have pissed her off. But … that husky voice, paired with those glittering eyes, and the stubborn tilt of his chin, was just flat-out sexy. Wouldn’t do to give in gracefully, though.
Forcing a put-on expression, she scooted the plate of patties his way, and said, “Only because I’ve had my hand wrapped around your …” His eyes slitted and she smiled innocently … “tool kit.”
Hector’s pupils pulsed at that, but he said nothing else, just focused all of his intensity on the food.
“Mia will be ticked.” Dallas worried two fingers over his stubbled jaw.
“That I didn’t share my toast with you?” Noelle shook her head as she shoveled in a bite of eggs, swallowed. “Try again.”
The worrying paused for a moment. “No, moron, if the media learns Marks’s identity before the family is notified.”
He was lucky Ava wasn’t here. The namecalling would have sent her friend into a red-hazed rage and when Ava raged, people required hospitalization. Or coffins. “But you guys still want his name kept out of the papers?”
“Yes.” Hector bit into the sausage with gusto.
“ME’s report will hit our desks in the morning, and you can wait to notify Marks’s mother until then,” Dallas said, shifting the bowl of crackers back and forth between his hands. “But there’ll be no keeping the details on lockdown after that.”
Noelle noticed that while she called the victim by his first name, Hector and Dallas used his last. Their way of remaining distanced, she thought. Any other case, she probably would have done the same. But then, she’d known Bobby before his murder.
“We still risk a leak beforehand.” Reporters would be all over a rich man’s death. Just like the vultures they were. While she could ensure information was filtered in the media outlets her family owned, she couldn’t do a damn thing about the ones they didn’t. “I’m sure a press conference will even be called, and as the primary on this case, your face will be plastered on every TV screen in town,” she said to Hector.
He cursed under his breath. “I’ll just say no comment and leave it at that.”
Clearly the man had never dealt with a reporter determined to stake a flag in the cutthroat world of news. “The only way to keep them from running one story is to give them another. Something better. Hotter.”
She polished off the rest of her food. Or rather, the portion Hector and Dallas left behind. As she ate, her hands busy, they threw what they could into their mouths, successfully managing to avoid a forking.
All the while they discussed false stories they could feed the media, and she listened, doing her best not to roll her eyes. Alien abductions and probings weren’t exactly news anymore—considering the aliens lived here.
“I’ll take care of the story,” she said. “No one will care about Bobby.” And that was a shame. But an agent did whatever was necessary to solve her case. That had been drilled into her head since day one.
“Trust me. I know how to manipulate the press.”
She would have preferred to make this call in private, but whatever. She lifted her cell and dialed her contact at What’s Happening, New Chicago. After three rings, a too-perky female voice answered.
“This is Noelle Tremain,” she said, and both Hector and Dallas leaned toward her, propping their elbows on the table. Dallas still looked a little shell-shocked and sickly, but Hector was all intent and emotionless again. That must be his default setting. “You know, the heiress. The adventurer. The YouTube sensation. You saw me smack that AIR agent around last year, right?”
She wished she were better at reading him.
“Oh, my God! Elle! How are you, darling? I haven’t heard from you in so long, I thought you’d forgotten me.” A pout. Faked, of course. Just like the news Marsha Tolle delivered.
Noelle and Ava had gone to high school with Marsha, and though the girl had thought her dreams of stardom made her better than everyone but Noelle, she’d never said an unkind word about dirt-poor Ava. That’s why, when she’d phoned a few times last year hinting for invites to certain exclusive parties, Noelle had given them to her. Now Marsha owed her.
“As if I could have forgotten you, sweetie.” She used the bubble pop voice she usually reserved for the men in her family, all air, no substance. “Listen, I just found out the most amazing news, and I wanted my closest friends to be the first to know.”
A gasp of pleasant surprise. “I’m so honored you thought of me.”
“Of course I did.” Noelle forced a giggle, her gaze locked on Hector. His lips were now twitching, and she decided she might not need an instruction manual to read him, after all. He enjoyed her grade A acting. “So get this. I still can’t believe it myself, but oh, it’s just so exciting, and I’m shaking.”
“What? What’s happened?” Marsha couldn’t keep the greed out of her tone.
“I’m pregnant! And you know that football star, Corban Blue? He’s the father!”
Hector’s voice drifted from the upstairs of Noelle’s home. Her heart drummed erratically as she navigated the foyer on shaky legs. She tried to concentrate on her surroundings rather than the gorgeous warrior she yearned to have in her bed. The floor was a lovely gold-veined marble, the wall tables carved from rich mahogany. Crystal vases and bowls rested on top and cast colorful flecks of light in every direction.
Still shaking, she climbed the winding staircase and walked the plush carpet of one of her many hallways, and entered her private wing.
She found him standing in the doorway of her bedroom, peering inside, as though frozen. His back was to her, but he sensed her and stiffened.
Brushing past him, she breathed in the scent of wild sky and clean laundry. After she’d hung up with Marsha, he’d driven her home. She hadn’t been ready to part with him, so she’d played the it’s dark out, and I’m afraid to go in alone card.
Whether he’d believed her or not, he’d checked every shadow, every closet for the bogeyman.
As she’d waited for him to finish, her mind had replayed their earlier kiss and her blood had heated. He was here, in her home. They were utterly alone. The low simmer of arousal she’d experienced all evening had exploded, demanding its due. Demanding satisfaction, no matter what he’d said about being too dangerous, no matter that she’d decided to think things through first.
And he didn’t appear ready to leave …
He leaned against the jamb, and stuffed his hands in his back pockets. He wasn’t looking at her, was studying her bedroom. A single sweep of his gaze, and he had memorized every detail, she would bet.
What did he think of the large, canopied bed, with the ice-blue silk draping the sides? Too girly? What did he think of the matching curtains, the fabric so sheer, so delicate, the golden rays of the sun seeped through the window every morning, haloing every inch with rings of shimmering fire? Too romantic?
He probably liked the stone hearth, with two thickly cushioned chairs in front of it, a small, round table between them. And the books … maybe. They were the real thing, with paper pages, and colorful covers, not the electronic pads. The books were old, some of them brittle, but she couldn’t, wouldn’t, part with them. Before Ava, those books had been her favorite, and often only, companions.
Noelle pictured Hector standing on her balcony, her garden surrounding him as he smoked a cigar. She’d never seen him smoke a cigar before, but whatever. She pictured him bathing in her natural spring, even crooking his finger at her, silently demanding she join him.
The water remained warm year round, always bubbling, always whirling. Even now, steam curled from the surface, winding through the air like ivy, clinging to the ceiling. Beyond that was her bathroom, complete with an enzyme shower, as well as a real water shower, a vanity mirror and chair, and a black and gold granite countertop.
Was Hector surprised by the elegance? Had he envisioned something more hedonistic? Something more exclusive? This wasn’t the choicest location in the city, but it was close to Ava. To Noelle, that made it the best.
“Well,” she said, turning to face him, splaying her arms. “What do you think?”
“I think this is where God would move if he could afford it.”
As tall and thickly muscled as Hector was, encircled by such delicate, expensive things, he should have looked out of place. Plus, his dress shirt was wrinkled, and there was a dirt smudge on his pants. Dried mud caked the bottom of his shoes. But out of place? No. He was wild and wicked, the dark knight willing to do anything to slay his damsel’s dragons.