Lee was seeing red. Red as the blood red letters on the mirror in Amanda’s room. Before he could stop her, Amanda rushed to the mirror.
“Amanda! Wait!” Lee hastily checked behind the door to the room, but there was no one hiding there. He drew his gun anyway, ready for whatever might spring at them.
“It’s lipstick! Lee, it’s just lipstick!” Amanda held up the tube with the lipstick inside smashed down because someone had used it to write the words on the mirror. “They completely ruined my lipstick, but it’s not-“
“Amanda, stay back!”
Lee had spotted the long shape under the covers on Amanda’s bed. He approached it carefully, gun ready, and yanked back the blankets.
There was no one there. He had very nearly killed Amanda’s pillows.
Amanda giggled, nervousness bubbling over in laughter. “Pillows!” she gasped. “Just pillows.”
Lee quickly checked under the bed, just to be sure, but no one was there, either. Then, he took a closer look at what was lying on top of the pillows.
“It’s not just pillows,” Lee said, picking up the picture frame.
It was the framed poem, Ode to a Rose by Charlotte Ransom. Amanda stopped laughing and looked at the blank spot on the wall where the poem had hung earlier. Neither of them moved for a moment. They were both looking and listening, but they were completely alone in Amanda’s room. Finally, Lee snapped.
“That’s it!” he said. “You’re spending the night with me.”
“Get your things together, you’re not sleeping in this room.”
“It was probably a practical joke. For Halloween. Maybe Cynthia-“
“It’s not funny!”
Lee picked up Amanda’s suitcase and put it on the bed.
“Lee, what are you doing?”
He quickly rummaged through it, but didn’t see anything that looked like it didn’t belong. Then, he grabbed the toiletries case and did the same thing.
“Someone was in here, messing with your room. You said that someone went through your stuff earlier. I’m making sure that there’s nothing harmful in here.”
There wasn’t. All he saw were ordinary toiletries. He handed the bag to Amanda.
“Check it and make sure there’s nothing in here that you don’t recognize. Then, grab some clothes. I’m taking you to my room tonight.”
Lee pulled out his handkerchief and started wiping off the mirror. Amanda was bewildered.
“What are you doing that for? Lee, shouldn’t we tell Billy about this?”
“No,” Lee said. It surprised him even as he said it.
As the agent in charge of security, it would have been standard procedure for him to inform his superior and do a security check, but that was what bothered him about it.
“If we did a security check, I doubt we’d find anything. We didn’t find anything last night, and we started our search right after Francine started screaming about her intruder. Whoever did this could have set it up hours ago, while you were downstairs with the others or in my room, talking to me. The culprit’s probably snuggled safe in his bed now, waiting for the big reaction when you discover it. I don’t want to give him the satisfaction. Or her.”
“So what are you going to do?” Amanda asked.
“Just what I said. I’m going to clean things up like nothing happened. Then, I’m taking you to my room, where you’ll be safe. In the morning, I’m going to ask the security guards if they found anyone walking around in the middle of the night.”
“Whoever set up this ‘joke’ did it for a reason. He’s expecting a reaction. So, we’re not going to give him one. It’s possible that he’ll eventually get tired of waiting and come here to see what happened. If he does, I’m hoping that our patrols will catch him.”
“And if they don’t?”
“In the morning, we’ll play it cool and see if anyone acts suspiciously, asks you how your night was or something like that. If it was just someone’s sick idea of a joke, it will serve them right, and if it’s something more . . . at least, you’ll be safe with me tonight. We can talk to Billy in the morning, too.”
“Billy is in the room next to yours. What if he catches us together?“
“If anything else happens tonight, I’m not going to care who catches us together as long as you’re okay. Billy’s certainly not going to complain if my being with you saves your life.”
“I don’t think my life is in danger.”
“I don’t want to take the chance.”
Amanda looked worried, but she said, “Okay.”
Before leading Amanda to his room, Lee checked the hallway to make sure that it was empty. If anyone was lurking there, he would have taken out all his frustrations on them, prankster or not. But, no one was.
Once they were back in Lee’s room, they found themselves staring at each other awkwardly. Amanda had brought a nightgown with her as well as a change of clothes for the next day.
“I could go change in the bathroom,” Amanda said.
“No,” Lee said. “I don’t think you should leave this room again tonight. I’ll turn my back.”
“Okay.” Amanda was still looking at him shyly, a little hesitant.
Lee had the uncomfortable feeling that his earlier flirting and innuendos had made her wonder about his intentions.
“Listen, Amanda,” Lee said, taking her hands in his. “This is for your protection. I want to keep you safe tonight. I’m not going to take advantage of you. We agreed to take things slowly, and I’m not going to push you farther than you’re willing to go.”
“That’s alright,” Amanda said, giving him a tiny smile. “I trust you.”
“Good. Everything’s going to be alright.” Lee smiled and brushed a lock of hair off of Amanda’s forehead, planting a small kiss on the spot where it had lain. “Go ahead and get ready for bed.”
It only took a couple of minutes for Amanda to get undressed and into her nightgown. They were tantalizing minutes, and even though Lee kept his face buried in Cynthia’s history book the whole time, he had some interesting images in his head as he listened to the rustling of Amanda’s clothes.
Amanda also turned her back while Lee changed into his pajamas. He carefully placed his gun next to the bed. He probably wouldn’t need it, but he wanted it within easy reach if it became necessary. Lee stared at Amanda’s back while she looked at the history book and wondered if she was thinking about him in the same way he’d been thinking about her.
He was a little disappointed when Amanda suddenly laughed and said, “Look at this, Lee.”
She pointed to a spot on a page to show him.
“Oh, wow. No wonder Cynthia wanted this back. We should have read more of this earlier.”
“My old college textbooks didn’t have notes like that in them.”
“You were right about this being her rough draft.”
“I wonder how many more notes she has in this book.”
“You can find out in the morning,” Lee said. “It’s late, and we should get to bed.”
The ‘we’ part of that sentence gave him a thrill, but he sternly reminded himself that he was on his best behavior. Her willingness to share his bed tonight was for her protection, and he didn’t want to give her any reason to think that he was going to take advantage of her or the situation. To Lee’s way of thinking, no man who really loved a woman would. Oh, he had high hopes for Amanda to share his bed more often, but that could wait for a time when she was safe and willing. It would be a lot more romantic then. And a lot more fun.
It had started to rain, so they decided not to crack open the window, like Amanda usually liked to do. The fire in the fireplace cast a warm glow on the room. As Amanda climbed under the covers, Lee went to the chest at the foot of the bed and started taking out the extra blankets.
“What are you doing?” Amanda asked him.
“Getting out blankets,” Lee said. “You’re going to sleep under the covers, and I’m going to sleep on top of them tonight.”
“Why?” she asked.
“Well, I thought that you might be more comfortable that way,” Lee explained awkwardly.
Amanda smiled. “I appreciate it, but I don’t want you to be cold or uncomfortable tonight. You can sleep under the covers with me. When I said that I trusted you, I meant it.”
Lee put the extra blankets back and climbed into bed next to Amanda. As soon as he pulled the blankets up, she snuggled up against him. Her feet were cold, but Lee didn’t care. The rest of her was warm. He put his arms around her and held her close, gently rubbing her back. For a few moments, the two of them lay quietly side-by-side, listening to the raindrops pelting the window.
“Oh, darn!” Amanda groaned.
“What?” Lee asked, worriedly.
“I was just thinking of how late it is, and I was going to get up early to get a shower!”
Lee groaned too, but it was more the groan of someone hearing a bad joke than any real annoyance.
“I’ll set the alarm,” Lee said, reaching over to the clock on the bedside table. “We should both get up early anyway to make sure that no one sees you leaving my room.”
“You’re right. Thank you,” Amanda said. She snuggled into his arms again.
“Are you comfy?” Lee asked, giving Amanda one more chance to tell him if she was alright with the sleeping arrangements.
“Mmm-hmm,” Amanda said. She was starting to look relaxed and sleepy.
“Are you warm enough?”
“Mmm-hmm.” Amanda closed her eyes, nestling her head into the pillow next to Lee’s.
“Good. Relax and go to sleep. You’re safe here with me.”
“I know,” she murmured sleepily.
Lee lay awake for awhile even after Amanda dropped off to sleep. With Amanda at his side, he felt wide awake. He was aware of every little sound. Rain was pelting on the window. The wind had picked up again. Amanda shifted in his arms and mumbled something in her sleep.
“Shhh,” Lee said softly, stroking her back again to soothe her.
Lee had the feeling that Amanda wasn’t as shaken by tonight’s scare as he was. If this ugly prank had been aimed at him, he would have worried less. The prank actually hadn’t been harmful, but someone had definitely wanted to frighten and intimidate Amanda. Why, he didn’t know, but the thought that someone harbored any malevolent intentions toward Amanda was unsettling. The thought that some nasty, disturbed person had been in Amanda’s room, had gone through her things, used her lipstick to write threatening messages, that this person could just walk into her room at any time, stand next to her as she slept, reach out to grab her . . .
Lee pulled Amanda a little closer, being careful not to wake her. There wasn’t a lot that he was afraid of, but threats to Amanda scared the hell out of him. Most likely, whoever had been in her room wasn’t really going to hurt her. He was just trying to scare her. It could still just be someone’s stupid idea of a prank. If anyone had actually wanted to harm Amanda, they could have just waited until she was asleep and vulnerable . . .
No! Lee stopped that train of thought before it could go any further. Amanda was here with him, safe in his arms. Nobody else was going to come near her tonight. And if anyone tried, Lee thought grimly with a glance at the gun on his bedside table, he’d turn this stupid fake ghost into a real one.