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Death Angel(10)
Author: Linda Howard

Forty minutes later, an elderly gentleman with stooped shoulders and a slightly tottering gait left by the front entrance. He used a cane to steady himself as he made his way to the curb and waited for the doorman to hail a cab.

High above the street, Xavier Jackson and Rick Cotton noted the old man's exit, but they'd seen him coming and going several times before and a cursory investigation had revealed he was a tenant in the building, so their interest promptly moved on.

Chapter Four

HE WAS RIGHT, THE BASTARD; RAFAEL WOULD BE EARLY.

Drea forced herself out of bed; her legs were heavy and uncooperative, and her insides felt tender. She swayed, holding to the bed for support, her teeth chattering from a bone-deep cold. Ice had congealed in her veins, a coldness that permeated all the cells in her body and froze her from the inside out.

She had never before been so cold, but she couldn't allow herself the luxury of huddling under the covers. She had to do something to ward off disaster, and the only idea that came to mind was a long shot. Laboriously she smoothed the sheets and pillows, then hobbled to the kitchen and grabbed a can of Febreze. Returning to her bedroom, she sprayed the bed linens before tucking everything in tight and drawing the silk duvet in place. She stacked her decorative pillows on the bed in their usual order, then sprayed the air deodorizer around the bedroom and in the bathroom. Maybe she was just imagining it, but she would have sworn she could smell him.

Why was she so cold? The air felt freezing, but she couldn't take the time to stop and adjust the thermostat. After replacing the Febreze in the kitchen, she gathered her scattered clothing and took the garments into the bathroom with her, where she carelessly dropped them on the floor the way she normally did. Then she turned on the water in the shower, made it as hot as she could stand it, got in and swiftly soaped herself, cleaning away the stink and stickiness. At least the water lent her some of its warmth.

Think! She had to think.

She couldn't. Rage bubbled in her like a thick tar, coating her brain in icy blackness. How could she have been so damned stupid? Stupid, stupid, stupid! She was disgusted with herself. She knew better than to believe in that happily-ever-after fairy-tale bullshit, but let her spend a few hours with some guy who knew how to use his dick and she was all but begging him to take her with him. No, not just "some guy," but a man who killed as easily as most people brushed their teeth.

Self-ridicule clogged her chest until she felt as if she were suffocating. What had she thought? That because he'd been slow and easy and made sure she came he'd fallen in love with her? Yeah, right. His technique was different, that was all. Like every other man she'd been with, once he got his rocks off, he lost interest.

Humiliation gnawed at her like a hungry animal. Why couldn't she just have enjoyed the sex stuff and not let her emotions get involved? Instead she'd acted like the naive, idiotic girl she'd been at fifteen, thinking a man would make everything in her world right, instead of screwing things up even more.

At least she'd been young, the first time she'd made a fool of herself for a man and ended up alone and pregnant-and then just alone-so that was some excuse for being stupid. Not now. Not this time.

She rinsed off and got out of the shower, and despite an almost nauseating distaste made herself use the towel the assassin had used. Rafael noticed details, and too many towels would be a dead giveaway.

The blast of air-conditioning was frigid on her damp skin and she began shivering again as she blotted her wet hair with the same towel, which was now too wet to do much good. Tossing the towel aside, she grabbed the thick terry robe hanging on a hook and pulled it around her, then went to the marble vanity to get her comb and drag it through her hair.

As she stared into the mirror, she realized her face was wet, and with distant surprise she realized she was crying. Again. Twice in one day had to be a record for her.

She would not cry over this. Crying didn't help a damn thing. She all but slapped the tears off her cheeks.

They came back. She stood there, watching the woman in the mirror and the slow trickle of tears down her face, and had the disorienting feeling she was watching someone else, someone who had disappeared a long time ago. Her face was white, the expression in her eyes stark. Without her makeup, and with her long hair slicked back from her face, she was the girl whose baby had died and taken all her dreams with it.

Drea fled the bathroom, choking on bitterness. She should dry her hair and put on makeup, make herself look as pretty and sexy as possible, but she couldn't do it. Staring at herself in the mirror long enough to do that-no.

Her momentum carried her into the living room, where she faltered to a stop, her head down, like a wind-up toy with a broken spring. What now? What should she do? What could she do?

She was so cold. The death chill seemed to swirl through her and around her, turning her shivering into teeth-rattling shudders. Even though the floor was carpeted her bare feet were icy and bloodless, the magenta polish garish against her colorless skin. She hated the color of that polish, hated the way it had looked as he lifted her feet over his shoulders-

A raw, guttural sound burst from her chest as she shoved the memory away and lurched toward the sliding doors and out onto the balcony, into the warmth it offered.

She barely registered the soothing heat from the stone tiles under her feet. Besides warmth, the balcony also offered memories she didn't want, couldn't bear. She avoided looking at the railing where she'd stood earlier, and instead sank down on the tiled floor and leaned her back against the wall. The bright sun had warmed the brick, too, and welcome heat began to leach through to her skin. Whimpering with relief, she drew her legs up to her chest and pulled the robe around her so she was completely covered, and curled forward to rest her forehead on her knees.

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