Read Golden Threads Online

Authors: Kay Hooper

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary

Golden Threads (9 page)

BOOK: Golden Threads
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Lara smiled somewhat helplessly as several startled looks were directed toward her, then she looked back at Luke as the others resumed their activities.

"He isn't a cat," Luke said. "I don't know what he is, but he isn't a cat."

Her smile turned rueful. "I've often thought the same thing."

Luke sighed,
then
said, "Why don't we have dinner and discuss what he might be."

Remembering only then what they had talked about the evening before, Lara hesitated. Luke seemed as straightforward as Devon was complicated, and she wished the heart was a logical organ. But it wasn't. "Thanks, Luke, but I don't think so."

He eyed her for a moment in silence, then leaned back against the piano and folded his arms.
"Devon?"

Luke's clear blue eyes were uncomfortably and unusually grave, and Lara found it impossible to lie outright. "Was that a question?" she asked lightly.

"Yes. But I'll spell it out if you like. Is Devon the reason you're turning me down?"

"Does it have to be another man?" she responded, thinking that the other man wouldn't let her get away with answering a question with another question.

"No. I think it is, though."

Lara shrugged. "We've seen each other a couple of times. Outside the theater, I mean."

Frowning a little, Luke said slowly, "I don't want to sound like a sore loser, but maybe you'd better be careful, Lara."

"What are you talking about?"

"Devon.
There's something fishy about him."

"You'll have to be more specific than that," she told him evenly.

He hesitated,
then
said, "Ask him what he was doing watching your apartment building this morning at dawn."

Lara felt a chill. "What?"

"I was driving by on my way to work. He was across the street from your building, watching it."

"You must have been mistaken."

"No. It was Devon; he is rather noticeable, you know. And he was watching your apartment building."

No, not Devon.
Sanity reasserted itself quickly. Devon hadn't wanted to leave her alone in her apartment last night, not after someone had broken in. He had been worried about her. So he had guarded
her, that
was all.
Watched over her.
That had to be it.

Sanity?
In an insane situation?

She fought the doubts desperately. He couldn't be her enemy, not Devon. He'd been with her when that truck had tried to run her down, and they'd been together while her apartment was searched. He couldn't have been responsible for those things. He had urged her to call the FBI—

But that would have been the natural response. And she would have wondered if he hadn't urged her to call the authorities, would have been suspicious if he hadn't. Besides that, what made her so sure there was only one enemy? The cartel could have sent two. Yes, two.
One to shake her, the other to steady her.
One trying to frighten her and the other offering a sympathetic shoulder and a willing ear.

The stakes were high if her father had indeed gathered damning evidence against the cartel. They wanted that evidence. And since they clearly believed she knew something, what better way to get the information out of her? Attack on two fronts, one overtly deadly and the other subtle and designed to appeal to a lonely, isolated woman.

Dear God.

"Lara? Hey, I didn't mean to—" Luke broke off,
then
added worriedly. "You're white as a ghost!"

She looked at him, feeling numb. In a voice that sounded quite calm to her own ears, she said, 'Thanks for the warning, Luke."

Clearly upset, he said, "Look, maybe there's a reasonable explanation."

"Yes. Maybe there is."
And maybe not.
Maybe the only explanation was the one ripping at her like a knife. "I—I think I'll go home." She looked across the stage and found the director. "Nick, are we finished for the night?" she called. She was proud of her voice; it was steady.

"Sure.
Same time tomorrow."

"Lara—"

"I'm fine, Luke. See you tomorrow." Before he could say anything else, she turned away from him.

She continued, vaguely, to be proud of herself. Her legs worked steadily as they carried her into the wings and backstage. She was in control. At least until she reached the scarred old table. Devon was sitting there, apparently studying his lines. Ching was curled up in his lap.

Purring.

Lara picked up her script and fished in the pocket of her jeans for her car keys. With utter calm, she said, "May I have my cat? I'm leaving."

Devon looked up at her, his eyes immediately narrowing. He rose, still holding Ching. "I'll carry him out to your car," he said slowly. "He's heavy."

She acceded to that only because she didn't trust herself to say another word without revealing the turmoil inside her. Silently, she led the way to the rear exit and outside. Unconsciously drawing deep breaths in the chilly night air, she walked to her car and opened the door, waiting for him to put the cat inside. When he silently did so, she got in and closed the door. She couldn't close him out, though, because the window on the driver's side was down several inches, and she heard him clearly.

"Lara, what's wrong?"

She inserted the key and turned it. The engine made a healthy getting-ready-to-start sound, but wouldn't catch. Lara waited a moment, then carefully held the gas pedal halfway down with her foot and tried again.
Just the whirring of an engine that wasn't going to start.
She tried again, and again.

"Damn," she whispered.

Opening the car door, Devon said, "Come on, I'll take you home. You can call a garage tomorrow to have a look at it."

"I'll call a cab," she said tensely.

There was a moment of silence, and then he took her arm and pulled her from the car. His grip was neither painful nor rough, but she didn't think she could easily pull away from him.

"Ching," he said, waiting until the obedient cat joined them outside the car. He reached in for the keys, then shut the door and led Lara to his own vehicle. When he opened the passenger door, the cat leapt in without waiting to be told.

Lara wasn't given a choice; she was thrust unceremoniously inside. She didn't fight him, mainly because she was trying desperately to convince herself that she was imagining things, letting her suspicions run away with her. Devon wasn't her enemy; he couldn't be.

There was this affinity between them. And even though he was obviously fighting it, there was desire. It was real. They both felt it. He couldn't have faked that... could he? Could he be ruthless enough to pretend desire—or use it—-just to get information from her?

No, he couldn't do that, because she... Oh, dear God.

Devon didn't say a word during the drive to her apartment, and when they got there he didn't give her a chance to escape him. He turned off the motor and then scooped up Ching somewhat brusquely, an action the cat protested with only a faint murmur. Then Devon got out of the car and came around to her side. She was already standing on the pavement.

"I can—"

"We have to talk," he said flatly. He took her arm and led her toward the building.

Minutes later, facing him in the living room of her apartment, Lara could feel her precarious control faltering. "There's nothing to talk about," she said, watching as he set Ching absently on the coffee table, shrugged out of his light jacket, and tossed it onto the couch.

"No? You walked offstage looking like somebody had kicked you in the stomach. You look worse now."

"Thanks," she said stiffly.

Devon shoved his hands into his pockets and stared at her, his eyes narrowing. "You heard something," he mused slowly, almost to himself.
"Or were told something.
What was it, Lara?"

Refusing to be in limbo again, Lara wanted answers. Good or bad, she had to know.
"Nothing much.
Why were you watching this building last night?"

He went very still. "Who told you that?"

"Never answer a question with a question."

"Tell me, dammit."

"You first.
Answer the question, Devon."

"You should know the answer." His voice was impatient. "You wouldn't call the police or anybody else. Did you expect me just to leave tamely? Whoever searched this place could have come back. I watched in case they did."

"Knight errantry?" She wanted to sound mocking, but her voice emerged unsteadily.

Devon's lips twitched suddenly, and he said in a dry tone, "No, you forget. I'm the prince. I could have used a couple of squires, though. It was cold as a witch's broomstick out there last night."

Her suspicions wavered. That voice of his... And she didn't want to believe he was her enemy.

"Who told you, Lara?"

Automatically, she answered. "Luke. He saw you around dawn as he was passing by."

"Luke," Devon said softly.

Lara hardly heard him. "You could be lying. How do I know you aren't?"

"Why would I?" he demanded, and then frowned in a sudden realization. "Oh, I get it. I've suddenly become one of the bad guys."

"How do I know you aren't?" she repeated. "Nobody bothered me until I met you—"

"Nobody bothered you until they found you. Dammit, Lara, you met several people when you met me. You joined a community theater group. And I was with you when you were nearly run over; have you forgotten that?"

"No." She swallowed hard. "But there could be two people—one trying to frighten me, the other..."

"What? Trying to seduce you?" Devon's mouth tightened. "If I'd been on that end of the plan, we would have been lovers last night."

Lara didn't know what to believe; all her emotions were in turmoil. She felt so raw that a touch would have sent her screaming. "Maybe that's what you've been fighting," she heard herself say thinly. "It wouldn't be so hard to pretend desire, but there comes a point when it has to be real."

He stared at her for a long moment. A muscle bunched under the tanned flesh of his jaw, and his eyes were so dark they were nearly black. Then, in a thickened voice, he said, "It is real. That's the problem."

For a fleeting instant, Lara felt a feathery chill of fear. Because it would no doubt
be
a problem for a would-be assassin to feel real desire for his intended victim. But then, caught in the tortured shadows of his eyes, she saw and accepted the utter certainty that this man was no killer.

She half-lifted her hands in a pleading gesture. "Devon, I don't understand."

He hesitated,
then
slowly crossed the space between them to stand before her. "Lara..."

The last scrap of her control deserted her. "Dammit, tell me what's going on!"

Silently, he pulled a leather folder from his pocket, opened it, and held it out.

There was an ID card on one side, with his photo and name.

On the other side was a badge.

Five

 

At first, Lara was aware of nothing except the irony of it. At no point had it even crossed her mind that Devon could have been a federal agent. She stared at the badge for an endless moment, then turned away and went to sit on the couch. By the time he joined her there, she was beginning to think again.

"Why?" she asked.

He didn't need the question clarified. "More classified designs have disappeared," he said in an impersonal tone. "It began to look as if your father was right about some organized group's being behind the thefts. But we didn't have a lead. Then we received an anonymous tip—maybe from the same person who warned your father—that you were no longer safe."

"So you were sent here." She looked at him. "But undercover. I wasn't warned. What was I supposed to be, Devon?
Bait?"

He didn't flinch from her steady gaze. "Yes, if necessary," he answered softly. "The consensus was that you were the only chance we had."

Lara drew a breath. "You guys play rough."

"I won't try to justify that decision, Lara."

"Was it your decision?"

He hesitated,
then
shook his head. "No."

She realized, suddenly, what he had said.
If necessary.
And a bitter pang went through her. She had been right, in a sense. There had been two. On different sides, yes, and using radically different approaches — but sharing at least part of a goal: They both wanted information from her.

"The music changes," she murmured painfully, "but the dance is the same, after all."

"What?"

"So I was going to be bait if necessary?" She laughed with no humor. "The FBI didn't believe I'd told them everything; they made no secret of it. They thought I was holding something back. And they sent you to try once more to find out what it was. Is that your role at the bureau, Devon?
Resident seducer?"

BOOK: Golden Threads
3.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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