Dinner and a Show
“Violet, you snake!” The words were underscored by the crinkle of newspaper pages being strangled in a tight grip.
“You rat.” Now they were being torn apart.
“You two-faced, pinch-mouthed, spiteful little shrew!” Cora threw the ragged paper to the floor. Then she snatched it up to read the final lines of the article, ignoring the flicker of movement across from her as Hayes rose to his feet.
“And if you see this, Cora dear, let me add, ‘congratulations.’ Having the favor of a god must feel wonderful after being rejected by your pet detective. You’re once more the center of all attention. Love and kisses, ducky.”
Her shriek rattled the coffee cups in their saucers. When she tried ripping the newspaper into even smaller shreds, Hayes caught her hands. “Easy. Try to calm down. She wrote that just to rattle you.”
“It certainly worked! It’s bad enough she tricked me into becoming a sacrifice for a disgusting blob. Now she’s insulting me from beyond the grave, and everyone can see it.” Cora flung herself back in her seat, cheeks stinging with heat. Her heart pounded like it was about to pop.
In front of her waited a grapefruit half she’d picked from the array of food on the table. She shoved it aside and went after a box of donuts, devouring two in the time it took Hayes to draw his chair next to hers. When he pulled his plate over as well, she grabbed the sandwich on it—a huge thing stuffed with fried eggs, cheese, and ham—and took the biggest bite she could manage.
Grease ran down her fingers as she swallowed, but she took a second bite that was just as ferocious. It was then that she grew aware of his attention. “I always eat like a man when I’m furious. All self-control flies right out the window.”
Hayes shrugged. “I never understood having a piece of fruit for breakfast. That’s not a meal. It’s a garnish.”
“Try telling that to my tailor.” She took the sugar bowl and emptied it into her coffee. Then she gulped it all down.
For several moments afterward, she panted for breath while the urge to scream and throw things faded beneath the shock of so much grease and sugar. “I can’t believe reporters got their grubby little hands on her note. I’m sure they’ll go for her diary next. She always kept one.”
Her fingers remained tight against the coffee cup until Hayes once more coaxed them to relax against his. “Even if the police keep the rest out of reach, you’re front and center as the one victim of the cult who survived. When Davenport and the others go to trial, you’ll be the most important witness testifying about them. It’s unfortunate, but the newspapers won’t leave you alone anytime soon. Last night’s ritual was the topic of conversation wherever I went this morning.”
She sighed, the warmth of his touch melting her anger. “It’s not really the lack of privacy. At this point, it feels normal for strangers to know more about my life than I do. As for Violet, well, she always had to have the last word. Always. I’m just fed up with people thinking I’m dumb and useless. I don’t like it, you know. I really don’t. But once I realized no one ever took me seriously, I learned how to use it to my advantage. It almost made their assumptions fun… at least until Father disappeared.”
Then she glanced up, aware of the answer even before she asked the question. “It’s going to happen again, isn’t it? All these people will comb through my life and question whatever they find in the most condescending way possible. And I’ll have to sit there with a smile when all I really want to do is tell them off. Or at least strangle them with their ties.”
“At least one thing will be different. You won’t be facing them alone.” He studied her glum expression and then added, “Tell you what. Since we’ll both be busy and stuck inside for the next few days, how about something to look forward to in the evenings?”
“Like what?” she said, already brightening.
He smiled a little, that reluctant one she loved seeing. “Your choice. Think of something we can do tonight. Something fun.”
It was impossible to hold onto her frustration when he was so close to her, so steady and sure and flat-out irresistible. “I can think of one thing already, but we’ve agreed to stay professional.”
“There’s your sparkle,” he murmured.
Now her heart beat like a drum for a very different reason. Then the phone rang, its shrillness impossible to ignore, and Hayes squeezed her fingers a final time before pulling away. “Sounds like the rest of the city has woken up.”
She sighed and poured a fresh cup of coffee, this time adding a normal amount of cream. “Yes. I suppose it’s time to notify everyone where I am. The lawyers alone will be in fits over last night.”
They were. Not fifteen minutes after she phoned to tell Maisie where to direct callers, her father’s lawyers arrived. With their stooped shoulders, dark suits, and balding heads, they looked as dour as vultures while crowding together in the small living room. There hadn’t been time for her to change out of her peach nightgown and silk robe, but they knew her well enough to ignore that fact. Only Mr. Forrester gave her a paternal frown, warning her of an impending lecture.
She tried fending it off by greeting him and then immediately adding, “I hope your head is feeling better from our last meeting. I’ve heard migraines can last for weeks.”
“It’s fine,” he said, curtly. Then he glanced over into the main bedroom, where Hayes paced while on the phone. “My God, Cora, I can’t believe you’re staying here.”
“Why not? It’s a very nice place, and the view outside is wonderful. Are the ducks still in the pond? I was watching them earlier.”
“I meant being alone with the wolf. And to be in such a state of undress in front of him! It’s a shocking business.”
“Not as shocking as nearly being sacrificed, and I survived that just fine,” she said, keeping her smile bright. Despite herself, she also looked over at Hayes. He turned enough to give her a wink, the wryness in his eyes suggesting he was well-aware of being the subject of their conversation.
Her smile grew genuine as she refocused on Mr. Forrester. “Besides, he’s been frustratingly professional since the day we met, so there’s no need to scold me like I’m your daughter. I’d much prefer that you scold me as your client.”
“He is, Miss Marshall,” said one of the other lawyers, his long face crinkling in consternation. “We don’t want to give Frederick Davenport’s team any further examples to discredit your character.”
Mr. Forrester raised a hand. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First things first: composing a statement for the police. Mr. Brix will take charge for now.”
Cora muffled a sigh, realizing things were about to get very boring.
She recounted the night as clearly as possible while they took notes. They were thorough yet impersonal; even questions about her exact history with Freddy remained as bland as their expressions. When their attention shifted to composing the statement, she knew she’d be ignored for a while and began pondering Hayes’ idea. It was difficult to think of a good time that involved staying at home. She was far more used to enjoying the glitz and glamor offered throughout the city.
Her mind didn’t return to the men before her until Mr. Forrester handed over a pen and the statement. After she read and signed it, the lawyer said, “That’s all we need at this time. If anyone tries to interview you, direct them to me. Do you have my number? Good.”
Just then, Hayes walked into the room. Mr. Forrester turned to him and added, “That goes for you as well.”
Cora bristled at the man’s frigid tone, but Hayes’ easy expression didn’t change. “Relax, Mr. Forrester. I’m as concerned about her safety as you are.”
“I should hope so.” Then he and the other lawyers rose from their seats. “We’re walking a tightrope here. Davenport’s defense will try anything to shift the blame from him. It really would be better if you were under police protection, Cora. Staying with a wolf has too many implications.”
It was a sentiment later repeated by the police detective and enchanter who were her next visitors. By that time, she had been able to style her hair into soft finger waves and wore a cream dress striped with gold at the collar and waist. It was a breezy and appropriate look, as well as one of her favorites, yet she felt far less comfortable facing them than she had with the lawyers. Notably, Hayes took the phone off the hook and settled next to her while the two men introduced themselves and sat down. His presence kept her from fidgeting with her diamond bracelets.
Detective Nichols had the dull neatness of an accountant and was unremarkable in every way. He spoke without aggression or kindness and read through her statement with the same neutrality. “This will do. We may require a follow-up interview later. There’s only one other thing to discuss at this point: you’re clear of contamination.”
She blinked. “Oh. That was very fast.”
The other man cleared his throat. Cora recognized him—and certainly his pompousness—from the night before. It was that master enchanter fella. Byrd. He looked pale, even unwell, hands twitching slightly as he said, “An incident this morning expedited matters. All enchanters on the force were reassigned to this case, and with the extra manpower we’ve been able to identify and map out all magical residue.”
Cora nodded but was more interested in the bruise by the man’s temple. It hadn’t been there before. “Are you quite all right?”
The man reddened. “Of course.”
Hayes also looked him over. “No, you’re not. What happened?”
Byrd drew himself up. “It’s nothing worth going into. All you need to know is that Miss Marshall hasn’t been… compromised by the creature.”
Then Nichols folded his hands, resting them on Cora’s statement. Unlike the enchanter, he showed no sign of nerves. “It’s the only reassuring thing we learned. In fact, I strongly recommend you accept police protection. Immediately. The magic in this case is baffling, and we have yet to find Harold Beaumont. He’s a dangerous man who has repeatedly unleashed and cast unknown magic, and there’s no telling what he might try next.”
Cora shook her head. “Thank you, but I feel very safe here.”
“Nothing gets through the wards protecting this place unless I want it to,” said Hayes. They were mild words, but his expression made it clear that he wasn’t about to argue.
Nichols’ voice turned dry. “Yes, we’re aware that Jane Feral is quite the enchanter.”
A scoff from Byrd suggested he didn’t agree, but the police detective wasn’t finished. “Now that we’re through with Miss Marshall, are you willing to answer a few questions?”
Hayes remained easy in his seat. “Sure.”
Cora understood both of their glances. Her part in the conversation was finished, and she could escape. Relief fought with curiosity while she rose from her seat, and she made sure to leave the door to the guest room slightly ajar so she could listen in.
Unfortunately, the apartment was large enough that their words were indistinguishable. All three had that brisk, flat tone that men often took with each other when speaking as professionals, and she soon found her thoughts drifting in a different direction while she unpacked her suitcases. It seemed likely that she would stay with Hayes until Harold Beaumont was found. The idea was thrilling, and so was listening to his deep voice, so confident and decisive compared to the skeptical drawl of the police detective and the pinched interjections from the enchanter.
Strange, how comfortable she felt here. All her old friends would have reacted to the plain bedroom in shock and the lack of servants in outright horror. Then they would have complained about going without the luxury and coddling they expected as part of life.
Well, she thought it was wonderful. Hanging up her clothes in the small closet and setting out her cosmetics on the simple table was satisfying in a way she couldn’t explain. She felt… tucked right into Hayes’ life without being pressured to fit perfectly.
She had never lived with anyone besides her father, and they had always done their best to ignore each other whenever humanly possible. Perhaps that was why it was so hard to think of a fun idea for the evening—there had been nothing to enjoy at home. If anything, fun had meant getting away from it. To shop, or watch the latest play, or stay out at parties until night gave way to dawn.
Now that she thought about it, it had all been some form of erasing loneliness. The dry, dusty type that permeated her father’s house. The raw, throbbing type that could appear even at the most raucous parties.
She didn’t often examine herself and couldn’t say it felt comfortable. But it did put her in a distracted mood, enough so that the slam of the front door startled her. She looked over just as Hayes knocked and stepped inside the bedroom.
The tension in his shoulders stayed out of his voice. “They’re gone.”
“Is everything all right?”
“It’s fine. They’d rather have you under their watch, but I got them to agree that you could stay here.”
She sat on the bed beside her suitcase, aware that there must have been much more to their conversation. “The lawyers advised police protection as well. You’re the only one not pushing me to accept it. Why? Is there some danger I don’t know about?”
For a moment, he hesitated. The gold of his eyes darkened into something grim, even angry. “Let’s call it bias on my part. Once you see one organization at its worst, you distrust all the others. Besides, they couldn’t prevent a suicide note from falling into the wrong hands. What might happen to an important witness?”
Perhaps the words should have left her frightened, but she hadn’t lied to the police detective—she truly did feel safe with Hayes. She pushed herself upright and approached him, putting a teasing note in her voice. “Then I guess we’re stuck together.”
He nodded, still on edge. “We probably won’t get any other visitors today, but I’d guess the phone will start ringing off the hook once I put it back in place. Is there anyone you want to talk to?”
She glanced at her remaining luggage. “No, I’ll be quite busy enough with unpacking.”
He hadn’t exaggerated about the amount of calls. Most seemed to be from lawyers representing various people connected with Freddy’s cult, all of them hoping to interview her or Hayes. Others were thaumaturgists or researchers dying to hear a firsthand account of a transdimensional being. And of course, there were the journalists.
He was still stuck on the phone when she finished her last suitcase and went into the kitchen to make a fresh pot of coffee. As she put the percolator on the stove to heat it up, her eyes roamed over the pristine pots and pans hanging against the wall. Then an idea popped into mind, and she began checking the larder. The percolator finished at the same time she did, and she was still smiling while taking a steaming cup to Hayes.
By this point, he had set up at the small desk near the window, jotting down notes while he listened. He hung up without a goodbye and glanced at her.
“Coffee?” he said, appreciation clear in the word.
“You were starting to sound tired.” Then she handed it over.
He took it with a smile but still looked surprised. “You seem very comfortable in the kitchen.”
“I suppose I am, yes.” She hadn’t really thought about it. A girl of her wealth and position had servants to do everything, which meant she wasn’t expected to know anything. “I’m not sure how… wait, I do remember.”
A flash of insight filled her mind, like recalling fragments of a dream. “I pestered the servants to teach me basic housekeeping, because I expected to do it all on my own as a… a wife. As his wife.”
The lover she had planned to elope with. The lover scrubbed out of her life down to his name, down to her being able to make coffee without realizing the significance of it. Silence fell, and she felt herself flush. Not from revealing this glimpse of her past devotion, but because doing so might have changed the easiness between her and Hayes. He said nothing yet watched her intently.
She put on a smile, determined not to let it spoil things. “Anyway, I’m glad I can remember whatever they managed to teach me.” Before she could add anything else, the phone rang again. She groaned. “It’s really been going all day, hasn’t it?”
“Half of it is directed from my office,” he admitted. “It should quiet down in the evening. Speaking of… have you thought about what you want to do?”
“Yes,” she said, her smile widening. “You’ll soon find out.”
It wasn’t exactly a surprise. Even though he was trapped in his bedroom, the chop of a knife against the cutting board and the smells of tarragon and shallots quickly filled the apartment. She had no trouble finding her way around the small kitchen and soon fell into a rhythm of preparing ingredients, shaking the sizzling pans, and tasting to check the seasoning. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d enjoyed herself this much without sex playing a part.
Typical of a man, there was no sign of table settings beyond plates and utensils, but she was able to arrange the food nicely on the kitchen table. A glance out the living room window revealed night had fallen.
Hayes was still on the phone when she walked in. The hoarse note was clear in his voice while she sat on his desk and primly crossed her legs. She waited until he hung up before saying, “Don’t you think you’ve done enough work for one day, Detective?”
He smiled wryly, rubbing a hand against his five o’clock shadow. “What do you suggest?”
“My fun idea. Jane told me you don’t get a home-cooked meal very often, so I made us both dinner.”
“I noticed a lot of good smells out there.” He obligingly followed her out and sat at the kitchen table. She set the plate before him with a flourish. “Filet mignon with béarnaise sauce, potatoes noisette, and stuffed artichokes.”
She was quite pleased with the results considering how long it had been since she’d cooked with careful technique. The beef was sliced thinly and drizzled with the sauce, the potato balls were perfectly round, and she’d even remembered how to hollow and cut the artichokes into the shape of swans.
Hayes stared at the food, clearly impressed. “I haven’t had a meal this fancy since my time at court.”
It was the first time he had mentioned his old life in the Saxby Pack without sounding bitter or guarded, but Cora decided not to point it out. As she brought over her own plate, she said, “I learned from Henri Toussaint, but really, it’s more about the presentation than anything. If you break it right down, it’s still just steak, spuds, and greens.”
“Henri Toussaint? You mean the famous chef?”
Cora nodded. “We met and quickly moved beyond being strangers, although I can’t say what possessed me. He was bad-tempered and unbelievably fussy. When I pointed out those flaws, he claimed I couldn’t handle a day of what he gave to his underlings in the kitchen. I like a challenge, so I bet him that I could last a week and if so, he’d have to teach me how to cook without one insult in the process. He had to eat his words, and I went from not knowing how to boil water to understanding the five so-called ‘mother sauces’ like the back of my hand.”
Hayes laughed, finally losing the professional mask he’d worn all day.
As they began eating, she couldn’t resist using the syrupy tones that wives on the radio always used on their husbands. “So. How was your day?”
It worked. He answered her playfulness with his own. “Uneventful. Yours?”
“A little dull compared to the night before, but the company has been much better.”
“I’m better than a god, huh?”
She loved seeing him come alive. Perhaps it was fun to tease his self-control, but it was even better seeing him with his unguarded, boyish smile. “You’re certainly more handsome. And really, it’s a marvel to watch you work. You handle things better than most businessmen I’ve known.”
“I have a lot of experience from my former position in the Saxbys.”
It was another mention of his past that held no bitterness, and Cora decided to risk learning more. “Back when we first met, Captain Dempsey told me you were the royal inspector.”
A wry glint appeared in his eyes. “Between him and Jane, you must’ve learned everything about me. Yes, that was my final place in the pack. I started off as a guard at sixteen, transferred to the investigative division at twenty, and became the royal inspector at twenty-four. I left two years later.”
“And then became a pit fighter,” she murmured, gaze moving to where that nasty scar on his chest hid beneath his shirt.
“Just until my career as a private detective took off.”
“Lady Hawthorne’s murder. Her mother didn’t believe it was suicide, and you proved it was Lord Hawthorne instead. I couldn’t believe you did it.”
He shrugged. “It was a straightforward case. Humans aren’t used to a wolf finding clues with their nose. I smelled him on the body immediately. The hard part was cracking his false alibi.”
She leaned forward, food forgotten. “But that’s what I mean. He had powerful friends everywhere. I’m sure some must have threatened you.”
“Sure, but that’s the nice thing about living among humans. There’s no one I have to answer to and there’s nothing to intimidate me with.” There was a moment of silence before he added, “Is that case why you came to me instead of the many other private dicks out there?”
She thought about giving him a coy answer, but he sounded truly curious. “Well, yes. When public opinion turned and I was seen as a conniving killer, not one person I knew took my side. And believe me, I reached out to plenty. I suppose I realized how cowardly humans are and that a wolf, at least, wouldn’t be afraid to fight. But I didn’t expect us to be so…”
As her voice trailed off, she waved a hand in the air, unsure of how to even describe how exciting, how good her life had become despite the nasty circumstances.
“I know,” he said, quietly. The words brushed over her like a caress. “It’s the same for me.”
It made her feel as sweet as syrup, and she didn’t even mind when he moved onto the neutral topic of stopping in at his office tomorrow to collect any mail. Obviously holding onto his resolve to stay professional for dear life. She didn’t try to return to personal topics, well-aware that her presence would continue to crack his reserve. She only hoped it would be sooner than later. Just because she understood his point in avoiding improper behavior with a client didn’t mean she agreed with it.
When they finished eating, he shook his head and looked at her. “That was the best meal I’ve ever had. How about I do the dishes as a way to say thanks? I’ll pour us some drinks afterward. Maybe we can find something on the radio.”
“All right,” she said, hardly able to hold her excitement. “I’ll just freshen up in the meantime.”
The servants had packed her array of perfumes along with the rest of her toiletries, but she decided against wearing any, remembering the sensitive noses of wolves. She refreshed her makeup and changed into a lace-edged chemise and a silk robe. Both were a delicate pink in color that contrasted nicely with her black thigh-high stockings and garter belt. The final touch was a pair of heeled slippers.
Out in the living room, she arranged herself on the couch in a lounging pose that always worked very well on men. When he came in with two empty glasses, she was pleased to see that he couldn’t resist glancing her over. “You’re not going to make it easy on me, are you?”
She shifted slightly as if moving into a comfier position, one that happened to arch her back and push out her chest. “Not at all.”
He walked over to the small bar that was next to the radio. “What do you want?”
“Any scotch or whiskey will do. If you can believe it, I’ve never been fond of cocktails. I much prefer the taste of plain alcohol.”
He turned on the radio while adding ice to the glasses, flicking past two stations and pausing on a program announcer to pour the liquor. Cora gasped, forgetting all about her seductive pose to shoot upright and twist toward the radio. “Don’t switch it! He’s just said that Murder Time will be on next. It used to be my favorite show.”
“Can’t say I’ve ever listened to it.” He brought the drinks over and sat beside her, taking a sip from his before loosening his tie.
She took her glass and thanked him, but absently, instead caught up in the theme music. “It’s an hour-long show where each episode is a different murder mystery. Obviously, you try to work out the killer’s identity as the play goes along. Just before the resolution, there’s a thirty-second intermission for you to make a final decision before the ending reveals everything. I listened to it religiously as a girl.”
Hayes nodded. He looked less interested in the explanation than in her, the gold of his eyes warm and relaxed. “It sounds straightforward enough. How many of the mysteries would you solve?”
“I always felt I was quite good at it.” Then she flashed him a smile. “Up for a battle of wits?”
“What’s the prize?”
She was too excited to sip at her drink in an alluring manner, instead using the whiskey’s strong burn to clear her head as the program began. The premise was simple enough: a rich man was poisoned on the opening night of his new restaurant. His lovely, unfaithful wife and cash-strapped business partner were among the suspects. Although the wife insisted her affairs were only spiteful rumors, she was seen arguing with her husband on the night of his murder, to the point of storming out and returning shortly before he died. Witnesses couldn’t agree on the timeline of her movements, with some insisting they’d seen her after she was supposed to be back in the restaurant.
When the music for the intermission played, Hayes said, “The eyewitnesses should be interviewed again. Maybe it was poor lighting. Maybe they remembered incorrectly. There are a lot of innocent reasons why a witness might be wrong. One might have even lied about it to protect the girl… or blackmail her. The partner seems more likely. He was the one who inherited all the businesses and was also the beneficiary for the dead man’s life insurance policy. Always check the name on the insurance policy. It ends up matching the killer’s name for so many murders.”
Cora had been thinking carefully throughout the show. “If an eyewitness saw the wife at a time where she did have an alibi, then who’s to say there isn’t someone posing as her? Or—what if she has a twin sister?”
“A twin sister no one knows about?” Hayes sounded baffled.
“Why not? She mentioned having a foster father at one point. Perhaps the twin was adopted by someone else. Maybe she resents her luckier sister and wants to ruin her life, right down to framing her for scandals and murder!”
When Hayes started to respond, she flapped a hand at him. “Shh, it’s starting back up.”
Five minutes later, Cora smiled triumphantly over the show’s ending theme.
Hayes looked torn between confusion and amusement. “How did she know what her sister would wear that night in order to mimic her appearance and poison the husband?”
“You obviously aren’t a woman. It’s vital to know what everyone will be wearing at an event like that. You don’t want to be caught dead in the same dress or furs as another girl. What if it looks better on her?”
“All right, but how would she get an exact replica of the outfit right down to the jewelry?”
“Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
He shook his head and smiled—his real one. “Guess there’s no point in being a sore loser. I concede. Were you always this good at solving the murders on this show?”
“Fairly. I do wonder if it didn’t give me an itch for detective work. I’ve certainly enjoyed being your assistant.” She smiled back, realizing how they had moved closer to each other throughout the program, so close that the heat of his body gave her as delicious a burn as the lingering traces of whiskey.
As the radio’s noise shifted into music, she couldn’t help asking, “What about you? When did you become interested in investigating crimes? What made you devote your life to it?”
He didn’t tense up at the question, and she wondered how long he had expected it. “I like helping people, especially the ones who have been wronged. It’s easy to grow hopeless in a world like this, but I can’t live that way. I have to think that I can make a difference against all the corruption and greed that drives a lot of crime.”
Then he looked out the big window at the nightlife glittering beyond. One hand toyed with his empty glass, but he didn’t seem inclined to get more. If anything, he looked frustrated instead of dejected, eyes sharp as he took in the glittering lights of Crescent City.
Cora watched him, for once without words. His shirtsleeves were still rolled up from washing the dishes, and the top button of his collar had been undone sometime throughout the evening. Little details, but they added to the sudden intensity she felt from him. He was a wolf without a pack, hiding all but the most polished parts of himself to live among humans. Did he ever get a chance to rest? Did he ever have a day without frustration?
She reached out and brushed his bare forearm, wondering if he would pull away. He didn’t. Instead, he turned toward her, those wild eyes absorbing every inch of her face.
“You don’t just try,” she said, softly, hoping he would sense the truth of her next words. “You succeed. People talk more and more about you and your cases, you know. They want to sneer, but what can they say besides calling you a wolf? As if that’s an insult compared to what we are. We’re all bored children playing with expensive toys because we’re too scared to grow up, or face being hurt in life, or even just admit how useless we are.”
They were now so close that his mouth was inches from hers. She felt like she could lose herself in the gold of his irises as he said, “Don’t include yourself. You’re none of those things. In fact, you’re the most remarkable woman I’ve ever met.”
Why was she always breathless around him? It was as if the slightest action on his part showed her how a full heart sweetened even the smallest moments in life. Oh, she’d known plenty of charmers who could make a girl feel good, and plenty of seducers who drew out the chase to make the resolution all the more thrilling. But they were all like fireworks—a big, bright bang with nothing left afterward. A brief distraction reinforcing the emptiness she felt the rest of the time.
Suddenly, she realized this all was much more than teasing him for the reward of his attention, and much more than the surprise of being treated like she was worth listening to. What she felt had a name—love.
Shock left her looking down at her glass. She wasn’t sure she knew what to do with love. It hadn’t been part of her life growing up, not with a dead mother and a father cold as ice. And as an adult, her only experience with it had been burned from her mind. Was this really another chance at feeling it? At being loved in return?
Still speechless, she looked back up and saw an intensity in his expression that matched the one whirling in her heart. For the first time, his face lost all hints of professional reserve. He wanted her. He wanted her badly. The moment stretched out, hot and tenuous, as if a single word might break it.
“Hayes…” she murmured, heart aching for release.
At the sound of his name, he moved in, as silent and sudden as the wolf he was. His mouth found hers, hot and urgent. Then his hand caught her chin and angled it to deepen their kiss. As soon as she gasped against his hunger, his tongue slipped in.
Her body throbbed in pure excitement as her hands ran along his chest and shoulders, thrilled by the hard muscles and impatient strength. Each shared breath felt electric, and when he growled at her fingers sliding down past his lean stomach, she moaned in response. Without breaking off the kiss, he used his weight to pin her beneath him.
Just as his hand found the sash of her robe, the phone rang. She groaned in disappointment as he broke off, swearing under his breath. Shivers ran over her inflamed skin as he got up to answer it.
“What is it?” he said, voice rougher than normal.
Cora watched his expression change. A different kind of tension filled his next word. “When?”
He didn’t say anything else before hanging up, and for a few moments, he only stood there by the phone and stared at it, rubbing the back of his neck.
“Hayes?” She pushed herself into a sitting position, realizing something was wrong. “What is it?”
At that, he looked over. His voice sounded very flat. “Freddy Davenport is dead.”