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Death Angel(13)
Author: Linda Howard

They both stared at the computer screen in frustration, even though right now it was showing them exactly what they had: nothing.

Chapter Five

RAFAEL SALINAS QUIETLY OPENED DREA'S BEDROOM DOOR and walked to her bedside. He had seldom been in this room, though he'd had his men regularly search it to make certain she wasn't up to anything. Her chosen decor was so fussy and frilly it was cloying, and normally he didn't like being reminded that his mistress had such bad taste. Tonight, for some reason, the excess not only didn't bother him, but in a strange way was almost touching. Her room was like the room of a young girl whose doting mother had let her decorate however she wanted, almost innocent in its exuberance.

She was asleep, lying on her side facing away from the door, curled in a tight knot on the very edge of the bed. She looked smaller than usual, as if she'd been diminished. The light from the hallway spilled across the slightly exotic cast of her cheekbones, tangled in the heavy mass of her curly hair. She had cried until she was exhausted, and even in the dimness he could tell how swollen her eyes were.

He wasn't a man who suffered from self-doubt; that was for fools and pussies who either didn't know what they were doing or didn't have the guts to do what they wanted. Still, for the first time in years-decades-he felt crippled by uncertainty.

Equal amounts of panic, anger, and confusion churned in his gut. How had this happened? Why was he feeling this way about Drea, of all people?

He sat down in the bedside chair, moodily watching her. She'd been with him for two years, longer than any other woman, but only because she was placid and undemanding. He didn't have either the time or patience to deal with whines, pouts, and demands. Being with Drea, however, was easy; she was even-tempered, slightly dumb, and interested in nothing except shopping and looking pretty. There was never any drama from her, no tantrums, no demands for expensive gifts or, worse, his time. He never gave her much thought; she was just there, smiling and complacent, whenever he wanted sex.

If he'd had to think about it, though, he would have said sex was the only reason he kept her. He hadn't wanted to let that bastard have her, sure, because no man worth his cojones shared his woman, but his options had been limited, and all of them bad. If he'd said "no," which his pride and ego wanted to do, he'd have lost the killer's very valuable services-services he would very much need when the time was right. There was also the real possibility that the killer would take his refusal personally, and while Rafael wasn't afraid of anyone, he was smart enough to know there were some people you just didn't fuck with-and the assassin was one of those people.

So he'd swallowed his pride, his temper, and said "yes," and he hadn't liked it one fucking bit. He'd stewed about it all afternoon, imagining his woman naked with another man, and he'd even caught himself, damn it, wondering if the bastard's dick was bigger than his. He didn't have to worry about shit like that, so he was pissed that the little niggle of doubt had intruded. He had the money and the power, and that was what mattered to women like Drea.

But even though he'd seen the shock in her eyes when he agreed to let the assassin have her, he hadn't expected her to really care very much. After all, sex was how she paid her way. No big deal, right?

Part of him really thought he'd find her filing her nails, or watching that damn shopping network she loved so much, as placid as always. Instead he'd found her huddled on the balcony, crying her heart out, and he felt as if he'd been punched in the stomach. Her appearance had shocked him: her hair wet and slicked back, no makeup, eyes swollen from crying. Her face had been pinched and white, as if she was in shock, and the expression in her eyes-

Broken. That was the only word he could think of to describe her. She'd looked broken.

At first he'd thought she'd been hurt physically, that the bastard was the kind who got his rocks off by hurting women, and once again Rafael had been knocked off balance by an unexpected reaction, this time his own: he'd been swamped by pure rage that anyone would dare harm what was his, that simple, harmless Drea had been hurt. No matter what it cost him, now and in the future, he'd have the assassin hunted down and killed.

But that wasn't what had happened. Instead, she was devastated by this proof that he, Rafael, didn't love her, and she had given up hope that he ever would. He mentally fumbled all the pieces together, setting himself up for another punch to the gut.

The last blow was the one that leveled him, put him down for the count. Drea loved him.

Rafael still couldn't get his head around the idea. Love wasn't part of their deal. But here she was, making plans to leave him because now she knew he didn't love her and she didn't have any hope he ever would. The assassin hadn't even touched her. As unbelievable as that seemed, she had no reason to lie about it, because he'd arranged it, expected it. There was nothing to hide from him, nothing that needed to be hidden. Suspicion was second nature to him, so he'd checked the penthouse. No bed in the place showed signs of having been used. Drea was fresh from the shower, the bathroom still humid, the clothes she'd been wearing dropped on the floor as always, one towel used and carelessly discarded. He had to figure she was telling the truth.

He felt betrayed, because she wasn't what he'd expected, what he'd become accustomed to having. She wasn't there because of convenience and money and protection, or any of the other reasons a woman like her usually hooked up with a man. She was there because she loved him. He was confused, and furious, and-fuck!-flattered. He didn't want to be flattered, he wanted everything to be exactly the way it was before. He didn't want it to matter to him that she loved him, but it did.

It shouldn't matter to him if she moved out; he could replace her without effort. Women always came to him, he never had to go out looking for one. He knew that-he knew it, and yet the thought of losing her made him sick with panic. He, Rafael Salinas, was worried about a woman! It was enough to make him laugh. And yet, there it was: he didn't want to lose her. He didn't want another woman. He wanted Drea. He wanted to keep her in clothes and shoes and give her money to buy all the silly pampering she wanted, and most of all, he wanted her to love him. That was the most ridiculous part of all this, that he should care at all if she loved him, if anyone loved him.

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