Authors: Brenda Jackson
She decided it was none of her business. Besides, she’d better leave before Nate found something else for her to do. As she headed for the door, she couldn’t help noticing that the voices had gotten louder. She paused. Nate was definitely upset about something, but so was the man he was talking to. His voice was deep and sounded slightly hoarse. She could only assume, since she hadn’t been sitting at her desk when Nate returned, that he thought she had left for the day. Not wanting to eavesdrop on Nate’s argument any longer, she slipped out the door.
Drey heard his cell phone ring the moment he stepped out of the shower. Wrapping the towel around his waist, he quickly walked out of the bathroom to pick it up off the nightstand next to his bed. “Yes?”
“Drey, this is Charlene.”
He felt his stomach churn and immediately thought, not for the first time, that she had such a sexy phone voice. There was just something about it that made goose bumps rise on his skin. Wanting to curb the boost to his testosterone level, he said, “Charlie.”
She paused a moment, and he figured she’d done so to blow off a little steam, before saying, “I was able to take a look at Nate’s report on Dennis.”
The way she said the statement told him there was more. “And?”
“And I noticed a couple of things you might want to know.”
“There was trauma to the head consistent with some sort of an attack from behind.”
Drey nodded. Not that the police had been much help, but he had paid a visit to headquarters after lunch hoping to learn something not on paper. For some reason it seemed everyone had closed lips. Usually they would loosen for a former member of their own, but today was not the case. And unfortunately, Detective Lavender Sessions, his former partner while on the force, was out of town. Like Charlene, Drey could always count on him to tell him what he needed to know.
“And there’s something else pretty strange about Joe Dennis.”
Charlene’s statement cut deep into his thoughts. “What?”
“He swallowed a key.”
“Excuse me?” Drey said, certain he hadn’t heard her right.
“I said he swallowed a key. One was taken out of his stomach.”
Drey rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Are you sure?” Immediately, he knew he had made a mistake in asking her that. In all his dealings with Charlene he had come to realize that she was a professional who knew her business.
“Of course I’m sure. Not only did I read it in the report, but I saw it myself. Nate hadn’t removed it from the table.”
Drey didn’t say anything for a moment; he was too busy thinking. Had Dennis swallowed the key to keep it from getting into someone else’s hands? Was the key a link to Harmon’s death? Those were questions he intended to get answered. “What sort of key was it?” he asked.
“Too small to be a door key. It was more like the size of a locker key or safe-deposit box key.”
He rubbed his chin again, his curiosity igniting. “I need a copy of that key,” he said, placing the phone on speaker so he could get dressed.
“That’s not possible, Drey. I don’t mind passing information on to you if I think it will help your case, but I draw the line at removing anything that could later become evidence.”
“And I’m not asking you to,” he said quickly.
you asking me to do?”
He could hear the agitation in her voice. The last thing he wanted to do was get her teed off, especially now when he needed information about that key. “I’m asking that you provide me a mold of it in wax. I’ve got a small kit that resembles a ladies’ compact.”
She didn’t say anything for a moment, as if contemplating his request. And then she asked, “But what good is that when you don’t know what the key goes to?”
“I’ll find out. So will you get an indention of that key?”
“I don’t know, Drey….”
“Please.” If he sounded desperate, there was no help for it. He needed to know everything about Joe Dennis’s death, especially now that he knew it hadn’t been from natural causes.
He could hear her deep sigh and felt his heart begin to beat wildly in his chest. Even her sigh was a turn-on.
“Okay, fine,” she said.
He couldn’t help but smile. If he solved the case and was able to link it back to Harmon’s death, then he owed her more than just dinner. “Meet me tonight so I can give the kit to you.”
“You name the place. Better yet, if you give me your home address I can drop it off there.”
He heard the hesitation in her voice and was about to throw out another option when she said, “That’s fine, since I really don’t want to go back out tonight. I live in the Rippling Shores Condos.”
He knew the area. It was a newly developed subdivision of nice townhomes. “I know where it’s located. What’s the condo number?”
She rattled it off to him and he saved it in his memory. “I’ll be there in less than an hour.”
He smiled when, with not even a goodbye, she hung up the phone. For some reason he was looking forward to seeing her without her lab coat.
harlene glanced out the window and wondered for the umpteenth time why she had given Drey her address instead of meeting him somewhere. What had happened to her “do not mix business with pleasure” rule?
She was used to seeing him in a business setting, but now he would invade her personal space. The only consolation was that since he was dropping something off she wouldn’t have to invite him inside.
Satisfied with that, she glanced down at herself. Okay, so she had decided to change out of the frayed pair of shorts and T-shirt she had put on after coming home into a skirt and blouse. No big deal. It wasn’t as though he would see her in them. It was dark outside and all she had to do was poke her head out the door to get whatever he had to give her. Again, no big deal. She sighed deeply, thinking she was definitely making a lot out of things she considered to be no big deal.
When she heard a car door slam, her breath caught and for a moment she didn’t move. She inhaled deeply, trying to control her racing pulse. There was no reason to get nervous and jittery. Drey St. John wasn’t the first guy to come to her house…but she had to admit he was the first one in over a year, if you didn’t count the serviceman who dropped by a few weeks ago to take a look at her computer when it had gone on the blink.
She didn’t want to think about Carlos Hollis, the guy she had dated nearly two years ago. They had met at one of those financial seminars and she had taken him up on his offer to go somewhere for drinks afterward. They ended up going on a couple of dates after that, and when he began hinting that he wanted to sleep with her, she felt it was only fair to let him know up front that she was a virgin. He informed her that most guys were turned off by any virgin over the age of twenty-two, and to prove his point he never called her again.
Charlene heard the knock on the door and for a brief moment she contemplated not answering, which made absolutely no sense.
There is simply no reason for you to be nervous,
she told herself firmly as she headed toward the door. She reached for the doorknob and paused before turning it, convinced that even through the thickness of the wood that separated them she could breathe in Drey’s scent. At least it was the scent that she always associated with him, robust and definitely manly. Drawing in a deep breath, she opened the door slightly and saw how the glow from the porch light lit his handsome features before she acknowledged him. “Drey.”
“You shouldn’t have opened the door until you were absolutely sure it was me, Charlie.”
She thought about closing the door on him but decided she was a lot more mature than that. Instead, she opened it a little wider to place her arms across her chest and glare at him, or at least she tried to while attempting to downplay the heated sensations flowing through her. “The name is Charlene and I knew it was you.”
“And how did you know that? I note you don’t have a peephole in your door.”
There was no way she would tell him that his scent had been a dead giveaway for her. “I just did. Now, if you don’t mind, please give me what you drove all the way over here to deliver.” She reached out her hand.
Instead of placing anything in her hand, he took her hand into his and looked at it. The moment he touched her she felt a slow sizzle move up her spine and she kept her body still, not to let him know the effect of his touch.
“You have pretty hands, Charlie.”
She tensed at the compliment before pulling her hands from him. “Thanks, and how many times do I need to remind you that it’s Charlene?”
Drey then glanced back at her and noted her stance and felt his temperature rise. There was just enough light from the lamppost to see her outfit. The skirt and blouse looked cute. No, they looked exquisite, in a subtle sort of way. His gaze moved down to her long, shapely legs.
His eyes met hers then as he decided he owed her an explanation for his intense scrutiny just now. “This is the first time I’ve seen you without a lab coat and you look different.”
She lifted an arched brow. “Different how?”
“Different as in nice. Not that you didn’t look nice before, mind you.”
was too mild a word but he felt it would be out of place for him to say anything else. He doubted he could ever call her Charlie again without thinking how much like Charlene she now looked.
Whenever he dropped by the coroner’s office she would be sitting behind her desk and wearing her lab coat with her hair twisted on top of her head in a ball. Now she was standing up and wearing a skirt and blouse with a mass of long light brown hair flowing around her shoulders. In his opinion the entire package was sexy.
Desire flowed hot and heavy through his veins and he downplayed his rapid breathing when he said, “So, what’s a nice-looking girl like you doing home on a night like tonight? Why don’t you have a date?”
Charlene’s glare deepened. It was the same question her mother had asked her when she’d called earlier tonight. Nina Anderson-Smallwood-Caldwell-Olson actually thought a woman’s life centered on a man. But after four marriages Charlene wasn’t surprised her mother would think that. Her father was just as bad with wife number three. Since her parents seemed happy with their lives, she left them alone to do as they pleased and reminded them of their pledge on her twenty-first birthday to do likewise with her.
“I don’t have a date because I don’t want a date, so now give me the wax kit before I change my mind,” she said, extending her hand back to him, hoping he didn’t pull what he had before and take her hand again. His touch evoked feelings within her, unfamiliar feelings, feelings she could very well do without. When she was around him, a keen physical yearning seem to overtake her common sense, but she always fought to ignore it.
“Okay, here,” he said, placing the item in her hand. She glanced down at it. He was right. It did resemble a small makeup compact.
“You want me to show you how to use it?”
She looked up at him. Was he looking for any excuse to come inside? She immediately dissed the thought. Why should he? Besides, she was certain she wasn’t his type anyway. “No, I think I can handle it. It should be easy.”
“It is. But even if it weren’t I have a feeling you’d be able to handle it. In fact, Charlene Anderson, I think you can handle just about anything and anyone.”
Another compliment—one laced with sexual innuendo? Or was she imagining things? Letting her mind jump to all kinds of conclusions? No, she decided after looking into his eyes, she wasn’t imagining things. She might be a virgin but she wasn’t naive. They had a routine of giving each other a hard time, but she was smart enough to recognize the sexual tension that existed between them.
Was he throwing out a challenge? Could she handle him? She wanted to wrap her arms around herself to ward off the yearning she felt, but then she quickly decided that she had a right to experience these things. She was a woman, after all, and Drey was definitely a man who could make an impression on a woman. She didn’t know any female who wouldn’t be affected by the sheer maleness of him. He was dressed casually in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. Both showed off an ultrafine body, one that probably spent a lot of time in a gym messing around with all kinds of machinery with the sole purpose of staying in shape. She could tell that whatever clothes he wore he was well-toned and filled them out with masculine perfection.
She suddenly felt the need to retreat, instinctively aware of a need to protect herself from him and from the things he was making her feel. But then another part of her wanted to explore those feelings, to discover—up to a point—all the things she hadn’t experienced yet. Was she prepared for such a discovery?
“If you’re certain I don’t need to show you anything, I’ll be going.”
His words flowed through her mind, and her body picked up on the sensuality that laced his words. Again she wondered if she was imagining things. She studied his eyes. The slant in their shape made them look sexy and—Was that desire she saw in their dark depths? She shook her head, certain she was imagining things now. But then…
“Would you like to come inside for a drink, Drey?”
She inwardly flinched at the question, sure he had been asked that a thousand times by different women. He probably recognized it as the old “hit” line it was, one that had played out years ago, and was likely wondering if that was the best she could do. Unfortunately, it was. She didn’t want to give the impression that she was anywhere close to being promiscuous or an easy mark, because she was far from it.
“I’d love to come in and share a drink with you, Charlene.”
It hadn’t gone unnoticed that he had called her Charlene this time instead of Charlie. His words, spoken in what she thought was an overly sexy tone, reeled in her thoughts and caused her to focus once again on his eyes. He was staring at her intensely, as if she was a puzzle he was determined to figure out. The thought bothered her until she felt surprised he was even taking the time to do so.
On their own accord her eyes then lowered to his mouth. When she thought of that mouth pressed against hers, a warm sensation flowed low in her belly.
Without saying anything, she took a step back inside the house and he followed.
Drey found himself drawn to Charlene’s alluring sensuality as he stepped across the threshold into her home. With each step he took he felt something happening to him, something that could be perilous to his well-being as well as to his state of mind. Yet he was at a loss to stop it even with all the caution signs flashing at him.
He was used to women inviting him inside their homes with all kinds of intent and had always been careful to make sure it wasn’t a setup of the worst kind. When it came to his sex life he maintained control. There was never a discussion on the matter. He chose his bed partners as meticulously and carefully as he chose anything else. He wasn’t one to take anyone lightly. He could spot ulterior motives a mile away, and with the keen sense of a man who could most times read a woman like a book, he could figure out—even long before they could—if they wanted him.
Charlene wanted him but for what reason he wasn’t sure. He wasn’t even certain if she knew. There was something about her, something about her invitation to come in for a drink that made him smile. Most women he knew just came right out and asked at the end of the date, “Would you like to come in for sex?” They didn’t beat around the bush about anything and usually by the time the door closed behind him they had stripped naked.
He glanced across the room at Charlene. She was fully clothed and the thought flitted through his mind that he would give anything to see her naked. Seeing her without her lab coat was an eye-opener. Removing her clothes was a boner just waiting to happen. Even now he could feel desire flowing through him. Heated lust that was increasing the flow to his brain up north and a certain other body part down south. Whether Charlene knew it or not, she was an extremely desirable woman. Why had she kept it hidden?
“So, what would you like?”
Her words pulled in his thoughts and immediately a vision flashed across his mind. Sexual imagery, hot and enticing, shot through his brain and threatened to short-circuit his nerve endings.
“What would I like?” he asked, shooting the question back at her, pausing to fully enunciate, sensually articulate every single word. He watched her tense as she realized she had unintentionally set herself up for that one.
She tilted her head at an angle he thought was sexy and glared at him. “What would you like to drink?”
He smiled, tempted to tell her sipping on her would satisfy him rather nicely, but decided not to do so. He might be wrong, way off base, but he had a feeling she was trying to downplay a certain innocence about her, while at the same time trying to prove something. What? And to whom?
“I’ll take anything you have,” he finally got around to answering. “But I prefer a beer if you have one.”
She nodded. “Yes, I have one. I’ll be back in a second.”
He heard panic in her voice and when she left the room he shook his head. Did she think he would pounce on her the first chance he got? She had been the one to invite him in.
He smiled thinking he might not pounce on her right away, but he intended to kiss her before he left. For a long time he had wondered how her lips tasted and he intended to find out tonight. Her lips had always intrigued him, had always turned him on even when they had been discussing dead bodies.
He remembered one in particular. Joe Dennis. His concentration should be focused on working his investigation and not working Charlene. He sucked in air, trying to get a grip. Instead he got a whiff of Charlene’s scent. It was all over the place. Jasmine.
He moved to the center of the room and looked around. She had a cozy place, nicely decorated, not overly furnished and crowded. It looked lived-in in a feminine way with splashes of pastel colors blended with the boldness of some darker shades. He noted that her preference in style leaned toward Early American while his remained staunchly Asian. He thought it was an interesting contrast.
“Sorry I took so long.”
He turned to face Charlene and swallowed hard, while fighting back the sensations that suddenly engulfed him. Compared to him she seemed to be a tiny thing, no taller than five three if that. His six-four height seemed to all but tower over her. And then there was the way she filled out her skirt and blouse. She was just as shapely up top as she was around the hips. Usually, he didn’t make a habit out of sizing up a woman’s breasts, but with the way hers filled her blouse he couldn’t help doing so. He had seen her many times, but because of the way she normally wore her hair, he hadn’t noticed the red highlights in her hair and what they did to her medium brown complexion.