Rory winced when the first traces of reason edged through the haze of after love-making, tugging at her still tender heart. Owen’s breathing matched her own, slow, but there was nothing content nor peaceful about the moment.
What had she done?
Not only had she forgotten her torment of two years ago, but she’d basically thrown herself at a man who was probably a thief, and who worked with someone who’d followed her and had scared the hell out of her.
Still…………..hadn’t she also dreamed of this many nights ago? Still, did. What it would be like to be held by him, to be touched by him, again? In fact, it had been after making love to her that Owen had gotten down on one knee and asked her to be his forever. Those had been his words. Not, ‘will you marry me?’ No, the way he’d stared at her, as if he could possess her just by staring had made her want to melt into his arms that night.
“Be mine, now and always, Ror.”
Needless to say, she was able to finally take a look at the ring he’d bought her, several hours later, when their sated bodies had curled next to each other wrapped in a blanket, listening to the fire crackle in their apartment.
When Owen shifted, she took advantage of the moment to slide from under him and get up before he could catch a glimpse of the past swimming in her glistening eyes. She went into the bathroom and wrapped herself in her old, tattered bathrobe before emerging again.
He sat, naked, watching her every move, as she began to pick up her discarded clothes, and throwing them in the laundry basket she kept in one corner of her room.
When he spoke, she flinched, as if a bucket of hard cold reality had been thrown at her face. Owen had left her, and he would do so again.
“What happened, Ror?”
Although both knew that question went beyond the reason for her call, they stuck to what was easier to deal with at the moment.
“I think someone was following me.”
“Who?” She heard him rummaging the floor for his clothes, then the pull of his jeans, a zipper, and then the rush of fabric as he put on his shirt.
“I think it was……..” But all of a sudden, rather than feeling sorry for her actions, she whipped her head around and stared at Owen. He must’ve seen the glare in her eyes for he’d been about to reach for her but thought better of it, tucking his hands in his pockets. Instinctively, he took out the cigarette pack and pulled one out. When her eyes widened, he cursed and threw the damn cigarette into the waste basket next to her bed.
“Sorry, nasty habit I picked up while……..”
“While what? I think it’s time I got some answers.”
Owen had been dreading this moment ever since seeing Rory again. Gone was the woman who had sobbed in his arms, and then had given her body to him. He’d made love to Rory many times before, each time as amazing and enlightening as the next one. However, he’d never just had sex with her, not even when they slept together for the first time. It was what had happened between them a few moments ago. He’d responded to her body, but he’d been shut out of her soul, her heart. The same way she was shutting him off now, even before he could deny her the answers she needed. The very same answers he needed to give her in order to fathom any possibility of ever being forgiven.
“Who was following you?” He pressed, trying to detach himself from the moment, and gather information in order to keep his investigation going.
“No. You come here, after two years, after I see you with this……this rapist, and you’re not going to tell me why? Why did you leave me? Why did you claim you still love me yet ran away the first chance you got?”
His instinct to comfort made him take two steps before she raised both palms to ward her body.
“You think I don’t want to tell you everything? I can’t.”
“That’s just pathetic, Owen. At least be man enough to tell me why you became the man you are today.”
The air crackled around them and it wasn’t because of the lingering sexual tension between them. Hell no, Rory was gearing up for a fight and he was damned if he didn’t want the same. There was so much still inside him, he needed to vent it all out. Even if it meant taking it out on her. Which was why he insisted on his previous question, his tone leaving no room for arguments.
“Who the hell was it, Ror.” He saw the surprise in her eyes, then her withdrawal, as she finally closed off, and left the room.
He raked desperate fingers through his hair and followed her, where she stood next to the open door, staring out.
“Damn it, you called me, remember? I’m risking a hell of a lot by being here. So you might as well tell me who was following you.”
“Well, sorry for putting you in danger. Let’s not forget you’re the one hanging out with some lunatic who should be put away. Are you afraid if he is caught you will be too?”
“Don’t be like this, Rory.”
“Like what? Hurt? Scared some man who wanted to rape me is following me? About to lose my mind because you and Kyle think I’m in danger, yet you won’t tell me anything? Screw you, Owen. I made a huge mistake calling you.”
Confirmation that Nathan had found Rory chilled his blood and had him going to her, taking her by the elbows, his touch far from comforting or tender.
“Did he follow you here?”
“No, but he sure as hell knows I live in the area. I should’ve called Kyle, instead. I don’t know why…….”
“Maybe your boyfriend should’ve taken better care of you. You’re right. Maybe you should’ve called him instead. Why me, Ror?”
He had no right. He saw it in her baffled expression, heard it in her harsh intake of breath, still, he felt the anger pounding inside his chest.
Nathan would stop at nothing to get to her, which meant he had to finish what he’d started and get the hell out so he could keep her safe. Or ask Kyle to do it.
“Because I’m an idiot. The same idiot who said yes to marrying you two years ago. Because…….” She let out a watery sigh. “Because I thought you’d tell me why.”
The plea in her words disarmed him and he did what he knew would doom him and haunt him until he solved this problem. He took her again in his arms and kissed her despite her protests, despite her pounding fists on his chest. Despite her sound of distress as she parted her lips to respond to his kiss.
“I can’t. I can’t.” He spoke while he continued to kiss her, taking one last taste of her to get him through the nightmare that awaited him outside her apartment.
“Then I can’t see you again. Go away, Owen, and never come back.”
Owen took the subway all the way to Arlington Cemetery and made sure he hadn’t been followed. Now that he knew Nathan was on to Rory, he’d made sure he wasn’t outside her apartment, before he’d taken the route he’d taken only twice before, to report and to hear further instructions. Not very encouraging taking into consideration he’d been at this for two years, but it had taken time to gain Alexander’s trust.
He took out his phone, punched the number and didn’t bother with a greeting when he said.
“We need to talk.”
He disconnected and blended in with the shadows, until a car approached and flashed its lights twice, before Owen shed off the cover of darkness and got inside. They drove for twenty minutes, before they reached a nondescript spot, amid trees and early developments.
Captain Jackson took out a smoke, offered Owen one. When he’d lighted his own, he passed the lighter to his undercover agent and took a long drag. Only before he had a chance to ask for new information, Owen said.
“I want out, now.”
Captain Jackson nearly dropped his smoke in shock.
“You heard me. I want out, now. I can’t leave Rory unprotected. I can’t…..”
His boss narrowed his eyes at him then slammed his fist on the steering wheel.
“Christ, Owen, you didn’t.”
“I had to make sure she was safe. She saw me, that day in the alley.”
“And so what? You know you’ve put her in jeopardy by going to see her. Damn it son, you think I was going to leave her unprotected?”
Owen laughed bitterly, then sobered up to say.
“Really? Did you know she was followed tonight? That bastard wants her. He wants her for him, for Alexander. Apparently, Alexander has his own private collection of girls. And now he is hunting her down. It’s a matter of time before he makes his move. Nathan doesn’t like to procrastinate once he sets his mind.” Owen opened the window, threw his cigarette out and cursed loudly, when Nathan’s sick plans for Rory echoed inside his head.
He relayed those plans to his Captain, who slammed a fist on the steering wheel again.
“What? He keeps some of those girls? Bastard.” Captain Jackson slumped back on his seat, all of his temper vanishing, leaving room for utter disbelief and disgust for the man Owen had had to call boss for two years.
“I can’t protect her while I’m inside. You need to take me out of there.”
“What else have you heard?” Jackson leaned forward, aware of the agony playing on his detective’s face, yet determined to make him focus.
Owen groaned, desperate, but gave his Captain a full briefing of what he’d found out so far.
“Nathan doesn’t know where the Shadow will make his appearance, but I’m betting it will be where Alexander has full control of the situation. He may be number two, but he’s no idiot. These men don’t trust anyone, not even their own shadow.”
“No one knows. But I doubt he’ll take long to show up. Not when there’s talk of an investigation looking into the murder of the woman Nathan killed. Apparently, The Shadow is pissed off about it, wants to clean house, take out whoever isn’t good enough to keep the business running.”
“You know we need him, without him, we’d only be taking down a part of this whole perverted business.” Captain Jackson said.
“I don’t give a shit, Jackson.”
“You can’t see her again, not until this is sorted out. If Nathan discovers…”
“If Nathan so much as gets close to her, he’ll wish he’d never been born. He won’t make me unless I want him too.”
“Over-confidence can get you killed, Owen.”
“So can being here, talking to you.”
Captain Jackson sighed, aware of the toll this was taking on his boy. He too would rip that man apart should he come near Rory, or went after Owen. He’d taken her word for it, that she was fine, but apparently, she wasn’t.
“I can talk to Kyle. He’ll make sure Rory is under surveillance.”
“No, get someone else.” Owen glowered.
“Because you wouldn’t want the man she’s involved with to get killed. Kyle tends to lose his focus if the issue is personal, just……”
He trailed off as he saw his Captain’s face.
“You think Rory is with Kyle? What in God’s name gave you that idea?”
For the first time since seeing Rory again, he felt something heavy lifting off his chest.
“Kyle is engaged to Terry, Owen. Their getting married this Saturday.”
“Christ.” He rubbed his face and kicked the dashboard. It didn’t help. He felt even sicker.
“Then you can’t use him. Not before his……….use someone else.”
“Look, Kyle is already pissed I gave the case to someone else. That kid’s smart, he would’ve found out about you before I had a chance to put on my shoes. He could help. We could use him, we could….”
“Hell, no. I’m not dragging him into this shit.”
Owen opened the door of the car and got out, then leaned into the open window.
“I give you one week. If nothing happens before then, you find someone else. I already gave you two years of my life. I’m not giving you more.”
“One week.” And he blended with the shadows, before it was only Captain Jackson’s car parked amid nature and construction.