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Authors: Nora Roberts

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BOOK: Sacred Sins
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When she came back in, she carried the violets in a small Wedgwood vase. “I'll offer you a drink, but I don't have any Stolichnaya.”

“It's all right.” He made the decision without weighing pros and cons. He'd learned to trust his instincts. While she set the violets in the center of a table, he walked to her and took her hair in his hand.

She turned slowly, no jerking, no surprise, and met the long silent look with one of her own.

She smelled of Paris. He remembered the five days he'd spent there in his twenties, going on a shoestring
and optimism. He'd fallen in love with it—the look, the smells, the air. Every year he promised himself he'd go back and find whatever it was he'd been looking for.

“I like it better down,” he said at length, and let his fingers linger a moment longer. “When you had it up this afternoon, you looked remote, inaccessible.”

Tension snapped into her, the ripe man-woman tension she hadn't felt with anyone in years—hadn't wanted to. She still didn't want to. “Professional,” she corrected, and took an easy step back. “Would you like that drink?”

He thought about making a long, thin slice through her control. What would it be like? But if he did, he might find his aim off and slice his own. “We'll get one at the theater. There's enough time before the curtain.”

“I'll get my coat.”

H
E
seemed as familiar with the staff at the Roof Terrace as he'd been with those in the smoky little bar the night before. Tess watched the way he spoke to this one, greeted that one, the ease, the casual intimacy. So he wasn't a loner, she concluded, except when he chose to be.

She admired someone who could be at ease with people, without worrying about impressions, opinions. To be that way you first had to be at ease with yourself. Somehow, as content as she was with her life-style, she'd never quite gotten there.

Ben picked up his glass, stretched out his legs, and stared back at her. “Got me figured out yet?”

“Not completely.” She picked up an almond from the bowl on the table and chewed it thoughtfully. “But I think you do. If more people understood themselves the way you do, I'd have to look for a different line of work.”

“And you're very good at what you do.” He watched her choose another almond with long, slim fingers. An antique pearl gleamed dully on her right hand. “Class valedictorian,” he began, and watched her hand stop. “A private practice that's growing too fast for you to keep up with it. You just turned down an offer to join the psychiatric staff at Bethesda Naval, but you work once a week in the Donnerly Clinic in South East for no fee.”

His mild rundown annoyed her. Tess was accustomed to knowing more about the people she associated with than they knew of her. “Do you always do background checks on a date, Detective?”

“Habit,” he said easily. “You spoke about curiosity yourself last night. Senator Jonathan Writemore's your maternal grandfather, a little left of center, outspoken, charismatic, and tough as nails.”

“He'll be pleased you said so.”

“You lost your parents when you were fourteen. I'm sorry.” He lifted his drink again. “It's always hard to lose family.”

She caught the tone, the empathy that told her he'd lost someone too. “My grandfather made a difference. I may not have recovered without him. How did you find out so much?”

“Cops don't reveal a source. I read your profile.”

She stiffened a bit, expecting criticism. “And?”

“You feel our man's intelligent.”

“Yes. Cunning. He leaves what he chooses behind, but no trail.”

After a moment Ben nodded. “What you said made sense. I'm interested in how you came to the conclusions.”

Tess took a sip of her drink before answering. She wouldn't ask herself why it was important she make him understand. It simply was. “I take facts, the pattern
he leaves behind. You can see it's almost identical each time, he doesn't vary. I suppose in your business you call it an M.O.”

He smiled a little as he nodded. “Yeah.”

“The pattern forms a picture, a psychological picture. You're trained to look for clues, evidence, motives, and apprehend. I'm trained to look for reasons, causes, then to treat. To treat, Ben,” she repeated, meeting his eyes. “Not to judge.”

He lifted a brow. “And you think that's what I'm doing?”

“You want him,” she said simply.

“Yeah, I want him. Off the streets and in a cage.”

He crushed out a cigarette, slowly, methodically. It was a measure of control. But his hands were strong.

“You want him punished. I understand that, even if I don't agree.”

“You'd rather open his head and make him all better. Christ.” He tossed back his drink. “You don't want to let your heart bleed over a man like this.”

“Compassion's part of my business,” she said tightly. “He's ill, desperately ill. If you read my profile, and understood it, you'd know what he does, he does in pain.”

“He strangles women. If it hurts him to tie a knot around their necks, it doesn't make them any less dead. I've got compassion, Tess, for the families of those women I've had to talk to. I have to look at their faces when they ask me why. I don't have an answer.”

“I'm sorry.” She reached for his hand without thinking. Her fingers closed over his. “It's a hideous job. One that wakes you up at night. I've had to talk to families—the ones left stunned and bitter after a suicide.” She felt his hand tense, and soothed automatically. “When you lie awake at three A.M., you still see the questions in their eyes, and the grief. Ben…” She leaned toward
him, needing to draw him closer. “I have to think like a doctor on this. I could give you clinical terms—impulse disorder, functional psychoses. Whatever label we use, it equals illness. This man isn't killing for revenge or for profit, but in despair.”

“And I have to think like a cop. It's my job to stop him. That's the bottom line.” He was silent a moment, then pushed his drink aside. “We talked about your Monsignor Logan. Harris is checking it out.”

“That's good. Thank you.”

“Don't. I haven't a lot of faith in the idea.”

She drew back with a little sigh. “We don't have any common ground, do we?”

“Maybe not.” But he remembered how small and warm her hand had been on his. “Maybe we just haven't found it yet.”

“What do you like to do on a Saturday afternoon?” she asked abruptly.

“Sit down with a beer and watch the ball game.”

She wrinkled her nose. “That won't work. What about music?”

He grinned. “What about it?”

“What do you like?”

“Depends. I like rock when I'm driving, jazz when I'm drinking, and Mozart on Sunday mornings.”

“We're getting closer. How about Jelly Roll Morton?”

Surprised, he grinned again. “Yeah.”

“And Springsteen?”

“He caught me with
The River
.”

“Marvin Gaye?”

Ben sat back and took another long look. “Maybe we've got a start.” His leg brushed hers under the table. “Wanna go back to my place and listen to my record collection?”

“Detective Paris…” Tess chose one last almond. “Trained psychiatrists don't fall for shopworn lines.”

“How about fresh ones?”

“Such as?”

“Have a late supper with me after the theater and we'll see who can remember more old Beatle lyrics.”

She flashed him a grin, quick, impulsive, and totally unlike the careful smiles she'd given him before. “You'll lose, and you're on.”

“Do you know a guy with two thousand dollars worth of caps on his teeth and a Brooks Brothers suit?”

Her brows drew together. “Is this a quiz?”

“Too late, he's coming over.”

“Who… oh, hello, Frank.”

“Tess, didn't expect to see you here.” He patted the hand of the pencil-slim, exotic woman at his side. “Lorraine, this is Dr. Teresa Court, an associate of mine.”

Obviously bored, and earning Tess's sympathy, the woman held out a hand. “So happy to meet you.” Her gaze slid easily over Tess and latched on to Ben. “Hello.”

His smile was slow, and though his eyes never left her face, he took in every detail. “Hello, I'm Ben.”

“Tess, you should've told me you were coming. We'd have made a party of it,” Frank said.

Lorraine tilted her head as she looked at Ben. Maybe the night could be salvaged after all, she thought. “There's always after the play,” Lorraine said.

“There certainly is,” Ben murmured, and earned a swift kick from Tess under the table. His smile never wavered. “But Tess and I have to make an early night of it. Business.”

“Sorry, Frank, we'll have to do it another time.” Knowing escape was always in doubt, Tess was already up. “See you around the office. Bye, Lorraine.”

“Here's your hat, what's your hurry?” Ben mumbled as he followed her out.

“If you knew what I knew, you'd thank me.”

“Your, ah, colleague has better taste in women than he does in ties.”

“Really?” Tess made a business of brushing her coat smooth as they walked. “I thought she was rather obvious.”

“Yeah.” Ben cast a look over his shoulder. “Uh-huh. Obvious.”

“Some men like cleavage and mink eyelashes, I suppose.”

“Some men are animals.”

“She was his second choice,” Tess heard herself saying. “I turned him down first.”

“Is that so?” Intrigued, Ben slowed her down by swinging an arm over her shoulders. “He asked you to the Coward thing and you turned him down?”

“That's right.”

“I'm flattered.”

She shot him a look. His ego didn't need any help from her. “I only said yes to you because you're not perfect.”

“Hmm. When did he ask you?”

“Yesterday afternoon.”

“It didn't seem to put his nose out of joint that you turned him down and were here with me.”

Uncomfortable, Tess shifted under his arm. “I told him I had a date.”

“Oh. You lied.”

He said it with such pleasure, she laughed. “I'm not perfect either.”

“That makes things easier.”

T
HE
early night Ben had spoken of ended at two A.M., when they walked down the corridor to Tess's apartment.

“I'm going to hate myself in the morning,” Tess said over a yawn.

“I haven't even asked you to go to bed yet.”

The yawn ended on a muffled laugh. “I was thinking about drinking a half bottle of wine and five hours' sleep.” She stopped at her door and turned to lean against it. “I didn't expect to have such a good time.”

Neither had he. “Why don't we try it again? Maybe we won't.”

She thought about it for three full seconds. “All right, when?”

“There's a Bogart festival tomorrow night across town.”

“The Maltese Falcon?”

“And
The Big Sleep
.”

She smiled, comfortably sleepy. “Okay.” When he stepped closer, she waited for him to kiss her. If the idea warmed her, she thought it only natural. The desire to be held and touched was a human one. Her eyes half closed and her heart beat just a little faster.

“You've got to replace this Mickey Mouse lock.”

Her lashes fluttered up again. “What?”

“Your door lock, Tess, is a joke.” He traced a finger down her nose, pleased to see confusion. “If you're going to live in a building without security, you'd better make sure you've got a dead bolt on your door.”

“Dead bolt.” With a half laugh she straightened and reached for her keys. “I can't argue with a cop.”

“Glad to hear it.” He put his hands over hers and kissed her before she'd prepared herself again. Later, when she could think straight, she'd wonder if he'd planned it that way.

It was silly to believe that a kiss as gentle, as easy as this one could send shock waves through the body. Blood didn't really heat and the mind didn't really swim.

She knew better, but felt it anyway. Touching nothing but her hands, he took her under.

His mouth was clever, but she'd suspected as much. His lips were warm, soft, and he used his teeth to add a nip of excitement. They scraped over her lip before his tongue slid over hers. She told herself it was the late hour, the wine, the relaxation, but she gave herself to the moment without any of the caution she was prone to.

BOOK: Sacred Sins
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