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Death Angel(8)
Author: Linda Howard

When their bodies quieted, he extricated himself and immediately moved away. "Is it all right if I use your shower?" he asked, walking toward the bathroom.

Drea searched for her voice and whispered, "Sure," a useless permission because he'd already closed the door behind him.

She lay amid the tangled sheets, knowing she needed to get up but unable to put thought into action. Her body was heavy and limp, her eyelids dragging downward with fatigue. Disjointed thoughts formed and disappeared. Everything had changed, and she wasn't yet sure exactly how. Certainly her time with Rafael was over, or almost over, and she needed to think about that, about what she should do. She knew what she wanted to do, and the idea was so new, so foreign to her, that she could scarcely take it in.

He came out of the bathroom within ten minutes, his hair wet, his skin smelling of her soap. Silently he began dressing, his expression calm and remote, as if he were lost in thought. She watched him, drinking in every inch of him, waiting for him to look at her. What they had shared for the past several hours had been so intense she almost couldn't remember what her life had been like before, a line of demarcation so plainly drawn it was as if everything before was in shades of gray and everything after was in Technicolor.

She waited, and still he was silent. She waited, certain that when he finished dressing he'd look at her and say...what? She didn't know what she wanted him to say, only that pain was swelling in her chest again, a pain that threatened to suffocate her. She couldn't stay with Rafael any longer. She wanted more, she wanted to be more, she wanted...God, she wanted this man, so intensely she couldn't let herself fully realize the breadth and depth of it.

He turned toward the door without saying anything and in panic she bolted upright, clutching the sheet to her breasts. He couldn't leave the same way Rafael had, as if she meant nothing, as if she was nothing.

"Take me with you," she blurted, choking back the humiliating burn of tears.

He paused with his hand on the doorknob, finally looking at her, his brows drawing together in a faint frown. "Why?" he asked in a sort of remote puzzlement, as if he couldn't understand why she'd said something so outlandish. "Once was enough." Then he walked out and Drea sat motionless on the bed. He moved so silently she didn't hear the penthouse door open or shut, but she felt his absence, knew the exact moment he left.

Silence closed around her, profound and tomblike. There were things she needed to do, she realized, but actually doing them seemed beyond her. All she could do was sit there, barely breathing, considering the shambles her life had suddenly become. She had just been screwed, in more ways than one.

Chapter Three

WHEN THE ASSASSIN LEFT SALINAS 'S PENTHOUSE, HE DIDN'T take the elevator. Instead he strode silently to one of the stairwells and went down four floors. Taking a key from his pocket, he unlocked the door to the luxury apartment he'd leased for a couple of months. He had to live somewhere, and though he moved frequently, he liked being comfortable. When he had to, he could-and did-endure long periods of wretched discomfort, but this wasn't one of the had-to times. Besides, it amused him to live right under Salinas 's nose.

The silence wrapped around him like a welcome blanket. Only when he was alone did he relax-at least, as much as he ever relaxed. The rooms were spare, not because he couldn't afford to buy furniture, but because he liked the space, the emptiness. He had a place to sleep, and a place to sit. He had a television, and a computer. The kitchen was supplied with just enough for him to get by. He didn't need anything else.

When he moved from here, he would wipe everything down beforehand with a cleaning solvent to remove any fingerprints he'd left, then he would donate all the furnishings to a charity. Finally, he would have the apartment professionally cleaned, and it would be as if he'd never been here at all.

He would take some of his clothing with him, but, like the furniture, he wore things only a few times before donating them. If a sharp forensics tech found a thread that had first escaped his own notice and then the attentions of the cleaning service, and if by some colossal stroke of good luck on an investigator's part led to him, nothing in his wardrobe would match that thread.

His computer was his Achilles' heel, but he couldn't do the necessary research prior to each job without it, so he did what he could to limit the risk, periodically wiping the hard drive, then removing it and installing a new one. As a final precaution, he would physically destroy the old hard drive. His safety routines were time-consuming, but they were simply part of his life. He didn't fret about them, he simply did them.

He traveled light, and he traveled fast. He had a sentimental attachment to nothing, so there was nothing from which he couldn't walk away. As for people...they were much like his possessions: temporary. There were people of whom he was fond, in a distant way, but no one who elicited any strong emotions in him. He didn't even get angry, because he saw it as a waste of time. If the issue was minor, he walked away; if it was something he had to handle, he took care of the matter calmly and efficiently, and wasted no time worrying about things afterward.

Being a killer was neither something he worried about nor reveled in; it was simply what he was. The assassin was a man who knew himself and accepted that knowledge. He didn't feel what other people felt; emotions, to him, were mild and distant. Because of that, nothing ever overruled his brain. He was sharply intelligent, and physically he was strong and fast, with the extraordinary hand/eye coordination that all truly superb marksmen possessed. Everything about him was perfectly suited to his chosen occupation.

While he might not have standards, as such-because standards seemed to imply some sort of moral guidance system-he did have rules. His number one rule was: never kill a cop. Never. Under any circumstances. Nothing would bring the full fury of law enforcement down on him faster than harming one of their own. Nor did he ever take a job involving romantic affairs, because not only were they messy, they tended not to be lucrative. His prime targets were usually connected to the crime underworld, industrial espionage, or politics. The cops didn't really care about the former, the second category tended to be hushed up, and he never took a political job in this country. That kept his life as tidy and uncomplicated as he could make it.

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