No sooner had I kicked my shoes off and padded into the kitchen in my stocking-feet, than there was a knock on the door. I reversed direction and unlocked the door again, wondering what Todd had forgotten to say. Had he decided to come out and propose, after all...?
“What did you...? Oh!”
The man outside lacked Todd’s all-American, clean-cut good looks, as well as his $500 suit and his impeccable manners. Instead of waiting for me to invite him in, he sauntered across the threshold, brushing against me on the way. Not by accident. I glanced out into the hallway – no sign of Todd – before I followed. “Come in. Make yourself at home.”
To my dismay, my heart was thumping a little faster than usual. I was nervous, and not looking forward to teasing answers to my questions out of him, although I can’t say I was terribly surprised to see him. I had called him, after all, and it wasn’t the first time he’d shown up unannounced on my doormat.
He stopped in the door to the living room and turned to face me. “Thought I already did. Hot date?”
“Dinner with Todd.”
Out of my customary high heels, he seemed even taller than usual. I folded my arms across my chest. It was a reflex, although in my more lucid moments I wasn’t entirely certain whether I was trying to prevent him from seeing into my cleavage or if it was more of a defense mechanism against the man in general, emotionally as well as physically.
He nodded. “Saw you drive up. Thought maybe he’d be staying the night.”
“I didn’t see you,” I said, diverted. He shrugged. “No, he won’t spend the night. I let him walk me to the door and I kissed him goodnight, but that’s it. My mother always told me a man won’t pay for the cow if he can get the milk for free.”
Rafe grinned, white teeth flashing. “So you’ll kiss Satterfield, but you won’t kiss me?”
So much for pretending last week’s kiss had never happened... “I kissed you. Or let you kiss me, which comes to the same thing.”
He shook his head. “No, it don’t. I’ll show you the difference, if you like.”
I stepped back, out of reach. “Some other time.”
He grinned, but let it go. “So what can I do for you, darlin’?”
“Oh. Um… Right. I called you, didn’t I? I’m never quite sure whether my messages are going to get to you or not. Sometimes you call back, sometimes you don’t, and whoever answers the phone – Wendell, isn’t it? – never answers it the same way twice. First it was a car lot, then a pawn shop, and today he said it was a storage place. The only consistent thing he says is that you’re not there.” I realized I was babbling, postponing the inevitable, and I reined myself in. “I wanted to ask you something. Do you want to sit down?”
He quirked a brow – usually I was trying to get him out, not in – but he didn’t comment. “Sure.”
“The living room is through there.” I pointed. “Can I get you anything? Milk, water, sweet tea?”
“Sorry. Although I think I may have half a bottle of Chardonnay somewhere...” I looked around vaguely.
“I ain’t that big on wine. But I’ll take a glass of tea, if it ain’t too much trouble.”
“Coming right up.” I walked into the kitchen while he headed for the living room. A minute later, when I entered with two glasses of sweet – iced – tea on a tray, I found him not on the sofa, where I’d expected to see him, nor by the balcony doors, looking out at the view – my second guess – but lounging in the doorway to the bedroom, assessing my queen sized bed with an experienced eye. And why I had expected anything different, I don’t know. Nevertheless, I stopped as if I’d hit an invisible wall, and blushed. One corner of his mouth curled up, but he didn’t speak.
I prodded myself into moving, and put the tray down on the coffee table. “Here you go. It’s just instant; I didn’t have time to brew fresh.”
“You’re slipping, darlin’. What’d your mama say?” He removed himself from the door and came around the sofa to retrieve his glass. I did my best to avoid touching him when I handed it over, but without success. His fingertips brushed my knuckles, and I’m not willing to swear it wasn’t intentional. Rafe’s got the kind of in-your-face sex appeal that a lot of women – and Tim – seem to like, and although I’ve been brought up to value old-fashioned manners and decorum, I’m not entirely dead below the neck, either. Especially as he doesn’t scruple to turn the setting up to scorching hot every time he sees me.
“Cheers.” He lifted his glass. I did the same, without thinking. “To us.”
He drank. I hesitated, and then took a small sip from my own glass. It was just a toast, and joining in it didn’t mean that I acknowledged that there would ever be an ‘us.’
“So what do you need?” He put the glass down on the table and himself on the sofa, where he leaned back comfortably. He was wearing jeans tonight, and a black T-shirt that molded to his chest and upper arms. I turned away to sit down in a chair, before he could catch me looking. He added, with a grin, “You got someplace you need me to break into for you? Or somebody I can beat some answers out of?”
Recently, we had broken into a storage unit together, in the process of trying to discover who had murdered my two coworkers Brenda Puckett and Clarice Webb, and we had also persuaded a young man to come clean about finding Brenda’s dead body and not calling the authorities. Rafe hadn’t had to do any actual beating, but the way he had loomed over the youth, cowing him with his six feet three inches and 195 pounds of solid muscle, not to mention the demeanor he had developed in two years behind bars, hadn’t hurt. Nineteen-year-old Maurice Washington had sung like the proverbial nightingale.
I shook my head. “I know how much you enjoy doing that sort of thing, but this time, you can give me the answers I need yourself.”
“Shoot.” He lifted the glass and took another long draught of iced tea, throat moving smoothly as he swallowed. I wasn’t sure whether the word was an invitation to ask what I wanted, or a reaction to hearing that there was nothing macho and illegal for him to do.
“Do you know anything about these open house robberies that have been going on for the past two weekends?”
He put the glass down, and I thought there was a watchful look in the depths of his eyes, but it was hard to be sure. They’re so dark as to be almost black, and he’s learned to hide his feelings and reactions almost too well. “Why?”
“Tim has asked me to host an open house for him this Sunday.”
I shrugged. I hadn’t been paying attention when Tim went over the details on Monday. “Some million-dollar McMansion in Brentwood somewhere.”
“Better be careful then, darlin’.” Rafe picked the glass up and took another swig. The ice cubes jingled when he put it down on the table again, empty. “So you want me to get you some protection? Gun? Knife? Something untraceable, in case you have to use it?”
“Lord, no!” I moderated my voice. “I’m not going to walk around with a gun in my handbag, thanks all the same. I thought about it after Walker tried to kill me, yes, but I’ve decided I’m just not comfortable carrying a weapon. More tea?”
“Not right now. You’d be more comfortable once you got used to using it.”
“What makes you think I’d want to be comfortable using it? Deliberately shooting someone, or sticking a knife into them? No, thanks. I don’t think I have it in me.”
“If you had to, you could,” Rafe said, in a weird echo of Detective Grimaldi’s statement from earlier in the week.
I shrugged. “I appreciate the offer, but no. I don’t suppose you’d be willing to give me some... um... personal protection? Stay with me during the open house, just to make sure nothing happens?”
“Guard your body?” He grinned, letting his eyes wander over it. I compressed my lips and willed the incipient blush to stay where it was. “You sure your body’d be safe with me, darlin’?”
I hesitated. “I’d trust you to protect it from someone else coming at it with a knife or a gun.” Although not necessarily from himself. But if we were in someone else’s house, surely I’d be safe. “And I’d be happy to pay you for your time, if you’d like.”
“With your body?”
“No! Don’t you ever think about anything else?”
“I’m a man,” Rafe said, as if that was an explanation. Maybe it was. “It’s a tempting offer, darlin’, but I’ve got plans for Sunday afternoon.”
I’d been afraid he’d say that.
# # #