Authors: Honey Jans
“Do you smell cigarette smoke?”
Crispin tensed as the scent drifted his way, and looked at her. “Do you pick up a disturbing feeling?”
“You believe me, that I'm psychic,” she said with a happy smile.
He was surprised that his approval meant that much to her. “Yeah, I do.”
“I knew you'd come around,” she said with a smile. “Now we've just got to teach you to tap into your own…”
“Hold it,” he said as she started on her flight of fancy. He might agree that she had psychic powers, but he certainly didn't. Besides, they had other things to worry them. He tried not to notice her hurt feelings as he physically disentangled her from him and set her on her own feet. “Concentrate, sugar.”
“Fine,” she said with a grumble. “But this isn't over.” She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Her nose wrinkled. “The stinky bastard is nearby,” she said, shivering.
His blood chilled as he made for the door, but then there was a thud from the outside. Haley jumped beside him, and he turned to her.
“Go. Don't worry about me. But be careful,” she said.
Then they both smelled it—acrid smoke outside the dressing-room door. Crispin pushed at the door and swore when it wouldn't budge. “Damn thing's blocked by something.” He put his shoulder against it, giving it two shoves. His shoulder aching, he pulled out his gun, saying, “Stay back, sugar.” He fired a round into the latch, and it blew open. The chair that had been blocking it crumpled, leaning drunkenly to the side. Just then Miranda came running up to them, a baseball bat in her hands.
“What happened? I heard a shot.”
Whoever had trapped them was long gone, so Crispin put his gun away. “Someone trapped us in here.”
Miranda coughed as smoke billowed from nearby.
Crispin kicked over an upturned metal wastebasket to see a smoldering road flare burning a hole in the carpet outside the dressing-room door. “Son of a bitch.” As Miranda hit it with a fire extinguisher, Crispin picked up his cell phone and called Harry.
Haley sat nervously in Crispin's car as he drove them into the large estate where the shower was to be held. Bright balloons and lights decorating the outside of the wrought-iron fence told her they were in the right place, but that didn't do much to soothe her troubled mood. Her case was no longer on the back burner after the attack at Indiscretions.
She was sure that Trevor was the culprit and that it proved he was losing control. The Feds hadn't been so sure, thinking that Chad, her old manager and spurned boyfriend, could be responsible. After she'd broken up with him, he seemed to have dropped off the end of the world. But she didn't think it was him, and she knew they'd never believe her if she told them she psychically felt Trevor's sick vibes.
For all she knew the bastard was stalking her just like he'd stalked her in her past life. Was he following her? Although Trevor was getting more careless and crazy, he knew how to get away with murder. The issue had been plaguing her in the two hours since the attack. Even though Harry had assigned them a plainclothes escort, she wasn't feeling safe.
Crispin pulled up to the gates, and the security guard opened it for them and their FBI tail. Crispin gave her a troubled glance. “You feeling okay, sugar?”
“Just fine,” she said, seeing the gates close behind their FBI tail. “But I'm not sure my—I mean, Kiera—is prepared for an armed camp.”
“Look, you know I'd rather have you home under lock and key, but I know this is important to you. You and Kiera seem to have formed a bond that I'm not going to question.”
It was an opportunity to tell the truth, but she bit her lip instead. This was the wrong time. “Someday I'll explain it all to you,” she said.
He nodded. “I'll hold you to that, sugar.”
Haley looked up at him, seeking reassurance. She was the one who was supposed to be the guardian, protecting him. Now it seemed that the roles had reversed. She had to suck it up and be strong. “Okay, let's do this,” she said. Something told her that it was too late to stop the sequence of events. She'd just have to make the best of them.
“Don't look so worried. I called ahead, so they're prepared for our special circumstances.” Crispin said.
“Right,” she said drily. “I'm a walking disaster zone. Just ask Miranda,” she said, thinking of the ruined carpet and smoke damage at Indiscretions.
He smiled. “Don't worry. Her insurance will amply cover it, and she said she wanted to redecorate the back hallway.”
“She's a good sport,” she said, thinking of the other woman's glib approach to the disaster. If she weren't mistaken, she figured that Miranda had her eyes out for Harry. The agent had stayed behind when they had left.
“Just be sure that you remember my rules,” Crispin said, opening his door.
“How could I forget?” she said, wryly grinning when he scowled at her. “Don't worry; I remember. I'm supposed to stick to your side like Velcro.”
“See that you do.” He got out of the car and walked around to let her out.
She sat there, patiently waiting for him to open her door, feeling a bit bemused. His old-fashioned gallantry was unheard of in this day and age. Of course it had the added edge of danger because of the sicko after them. That alone was enough to sober her.
When Crispin opened her door, she let him get her out of the car, feeling almost as delicate and fragile as he thought she was. He didn't know how strong she could be, but if need be, she'd personally take on Trevor. Anything to keep him from victimizing anyone else.
“What's wrong?” Crispin asked, gazing down at her.
She wordlessly went into his arms, trying not to show how shaken she was. “Nothing,” she murmured into his chest. She'd just have to make this work for all their sakes. “Come on, my big, strong protector. Let's party.”
He nodded, giving her a questioning look, then grabbed the present off the backseat, took her hand, and led her to the stairs.
She didn't miss him giving pointed glances at the two FBI agents who took up positions outside the building. They were all on edge, and it brought back to her the danger they were all in. They walked into the mansion, and she looked around, noting all the homey touches Kiera had put on the place. It warmed her heart and made her smile. Everything was going to be all right; it had to be.
“You're okay?” Kiera cried out in an anxious voice. “After the fire, I wasn't so sure.”
Haley spun to see her sister hurrying toward her from a side room. Kiera was glowing, but there was a look of concern in her eyes. Drat. She'd made Harry promise to keep the attack at Indiscretions quiet. How had Kiera found out? She frowned at Crispin. “Your pal Harry has a big mouth.”
“I don't know anyone named Harry,” Kiera said with a frown. “I heard it from Jaden's dad Fletcher that there was a fire at Indiscretions and put two and two together. He's got a police band radio.”
“We're fine,” Haley said in a soothing tone, taking her sister's trembling hand. “And you know I wouldn't miss this evening for the world.”
“The crazy Scarlet A Killer did it, didn't he?” Kiera muttered.
“That hasn't been confirmed,” Crispin said in a reassuring tone.
“Yeah, right,” she said sarcastically. “Those Keystone cops wouldn't know a clue if they sat on it.”
“Now, honey, don't get agitated,” Jaden said, walking into the room and pulling her into his arms.
Kiera sighed, leaning against him. “I'm not. It's just that they make me so mad. They were so sure the man who confessed, then killed himself, was telling the truth. They never looked any further.”
“I know, honey,” Jaden said, running a soothing hand down her spine.
Haley was relieved to see her sister relax against him and go loose. She didn't want her sister giving premature birth because of this. Trevor would not be allowed to wreck their lives this way. “He's right,” she said. “Let the Feds do their job, and you do yours by taking care of that precious child you're carrying.” When Kiera looked at her from the shelter of Jaden's arms, Haley felt a deep connection that threatened to buckle her knees. The corresponding look of wonder in Kiera's eyes said that she felt it too, even if she didn't understand it.
Kiera smiled and then glanced at the large wrapped gift Crispin was carrying. “Jaden can show Crispin where he can put the loot,” she said, stepping out of Jaden's embrace and walking up to Haley. “And we can go join the ladies in the family room. The men are down in the game room.”
Haley gave Crispin a shrug, glad of the reprieve. She needed time to work alone if she was going to salvage this. And Max, darn him, had been completely out of touch and thus no help at all. Sometimes she wondered if her heavenly coach was even watching her anymore. Crispin met her innocent smile with a scowl. There was no way she could follow his “stick together” rule at this shower, and he knew it. “Go ahead and hang with the guys, honey. I'll be fine,” she said blithely, and he scowled at her.
“Fine, as long as you don't wander off,” he said after a moment.
“Baby, I'm not going anywhere,” she said fervently as she gazed into his eyes…
At least not on purpose
, she added silently. She actually had no idea how close she was to skating on the edge of disaster. It was like she was working without a net. One false move and oops. She saw Crispin react to her worry and hurried to smile, wanting to reassure him. She should have known that he wouldn't be easy to pacify. “I'm okay, really,” she said, taking a step back from him. His dark look told her that he didn't like her move one bit.
He frowned, relenting. “Fine. I'll be right downstairs. Yell if you need me.”
Haley smiled wider, seeing her chance to work unfettered by Crispin's rules. She might even agree with most of them, like keeping him close enough to protect, but she figured he'd be safe in a crowd.
* * * * *
Crispin reluctantly followed Jaden down the stairs and toward the game room, where he could hear the sounds of music and men talking and laughing. Being separated from Haley shot his well-laid plans to hell. “Hold on a sec. I want to tell our escort where she's located.”
Crispin clicked the com and waited for their FBI team to answer. After a moment there was a
“Agent Hardcastle here.”
“Crispin. I just wanted to update you about…”
“You don't know?” the junior agent said nervously.
Crispin's gut twisted; had something happened? “What's wrong?”
“We just got the order that we've been recalled. I was about to inform you of our change in status.”
A nerve pulsed in Crispin's jaw. “Why?”
“They caught the perp,” Agent Hardcastle said brightly.
A surge of relief went through Crispin, but he wasn't ready to drop his guard. “The Scarlet A Killer?”
“Nah. It was Chad Lowell. We stopped him at the airport with a pile of money and Ms. Aims's documents and password. Apparently he was high on something and talking out of his head. And he'd been driving a rented black SUV with body damage.”
Crispin felt a gleam of sweet victory at getting rid of his rival. Sure, he was now convinced that Haley wasn't interested in her ex-manager/lover, but at first he hadn't been so sure. It felt good to put the thieving bastard away. But it almost felt too pat. He believed in hedging his bets. “Can you stay on for the rest of the week?”
There was a silence from the other end.
“Mister, I would if I could, but now that the bigwigs are aware of what's happening, they are not pleased about being kept in the dark. Harry's getting reamed out for doing this without agency approval.”
“Shit,” Crispin said with a wince. If his friend weren't careful, he'd be doing out his twenty in Fargo, the lowest step for an FBI agent. “Tell him I'll be in touch.”
“Will do,” Agent Hardcastle said. “Call us if you need us. Otherwise AIC Whitehead wants to see you both in his office tomorrow morning.”
He pocketed the phone and looked up at Jaden to see him watching with wary eyes.
“I take it your guards are leaving.”
Crispin nodded. “They caught Haley's ex-manager at the airport with all her financial papers. And apparently he was talking out of his head…high on something. So the escorts are being recalled.”
Jaden gave him a quizzical look. “So it's all over?”
“Maybe,” Crispin said, an uneasy feeling inside. It just seemed too contrived.
“A cautious man,” Jaden said with a nod. “I'm with you. Do you want me to send some of my security guard’s home with you?”
Crispin almost said yes, but he knew it would be overkill, and Haley would hate it. She hadn't exactly welcomed their FBI tail. “Not right now. I'll let you know if things escalate.”
“How bad is it?” Jaden asked.
There was no use in sugarcoating things. For all he knew, Kiera, being the sister of one of his first victims, could be on the Scarlet A Killer's hit list. “Bad. The serial killer is sneaky and smart. Despite what the agent said, I'm not completely convinced that he wasn't behind the incident today. Whoever it was laid a trap for us at Indiscretions and damned near did us in with smoke inhalation. And he didn't care who else burned with us. If you'll take my advice, you should keep Kiera close to your side and keep your extra security.”