“You left a desk job in a suit and put on sneakers to hit a house you hadn’t even cased properly?”
The teasing curl of his voice insulted her, but Terri was beginning to feel better about getting out of this little mess she didn’t want Brady, BAD or NOPD to find out about. If this guy had been a serious whacko he probably would have hurt her by now or said something creepy.
“Okay, I admit I suck at B&E,” she pandered. Not really, but he might take pity on a novice. “I may just give it up after tonight. I’m embarrassed. Can I go…please?” She smiled, working the whole blonde act to the hilt.
“Not yet. You owe me for stepping on my turf.”
Terri stopped smiling and held her breath, assessing what he meant. Her throat tightened at the first images that popped in her mind. How was she ever going to trust her instincts around a perp again if she’d pegged this guy so wrong from the start?
“Wh-what else do you want?” She ground her teeth at her jittery words and swallowed against the lump of fear crawling up her throat. Her heart thumped so hard he had to feel the pounding beneath his forearm wrapped across her chest.
“Take it easy. I. Don’t. Hurt. Women.”
She would have dismissed his words outright if not for the profound tone of insult behind them. The pressure of his grip eased as if he wanted to prove his words by lessening of threat.
Or was she just trying to convince herself she could handle this? In fairness, he hadn’t flexed a muscle, hadn’t made a forward move of any sort on her.
She felt a little better, but not enough to give him any more leeway than she had already.
“Okay, so what do you want?” she snapped.
He leaned closer until his warm breath feathered against her skin. She tensed. Scream for help and risk a backlash or hold still and be patient?
While her brain churned with the frantic debate, he inhaled deeply. Then he breathed the air back out slowly as he whispered against her skin.
“You smell good. Damn good.”
That was it?
Smelling her should freak her out and did on some level. But for some reason his words filled her with a deep sadness. He hadn’t put a hand on her except to stop her from attacking him. If she allowed him this concession, would he let her go?
He inhaled again, slowly as if he savored the breath, and whispered, “You smell the way a woman should. Nice.” His husky voice added to the simple action of breathing in her scent had a strangely erotic appeal. He nuzzled her hair and she went perfectly still. The movement brought them close. Rogue hormones started setting up camp.
Her DEA contact was right. She needed to get laid if a thief could raise a sliver of sexual interest in her. Bad as it sounded in her mind right now, she was sort of turned on. Had the attack three months ago distorted her emotions to the point she needed to be in danger to feel excited? With all the emotional baggage she already toted around after that night she hoped not.
Nightmares of knives, screaming and blood.
She’d been so sure she would die that night.
Buried terror of fighting a man armed with a razor-sharp blade who outweighed her by a hundred plus pounds burst alive in her mind. She shut her eyes against the images and the sound of her voice screaming when he stabbed her leg, yanking the knife and ripping flesh.
“You’re trembling.” The perp holding her cursed something in Cajun and physically withdrew from her without releasing his hold.
Damn him for unleashing the vulnerability she’d chained down so she could face the world again and function like a normal woman.
“I won’t hurt you,” he repeated, irritated.
She couldn’t hear anything but the pounding in her ears.
Her chest rose and fell faster with each breath. His assurance meant nothing to her. The last criminal she’d believed had led her into a deadly ambush.
“I’m going to let you go. Get the hell out of here and don’t come back.” All joking was gone from his voice. He sounded as cold and heartless as he had when he’d first spoken.
She started to say she would be happy to vacate the premises, but his arms released her so quickly she just stood there for a second regaining her bearings.
Terri snatched at her purse, digging out her weapon. She spun around to the door and carefully checked the hallway.
Empty in both directions.
No time to waste when she’d been given a break. She hurried back through the house, more than happy to get the hell out.
On her way through the kitchen, she glanced at the refrigerator out of reflex to check the note once more.
The pale yellow paper was gone.
Why would a thief take that note?
“Leave now and don’t come back,” whispered eerily from the hallway behind her like an unearthly warning.
She ran to the front door and scooted outside, down the porch and across the street before reminding herself to breathe.
Who was that guy?
She had no idea, but one thing was clear. He sure as hell wasn’t a thief.