Dying to Please by Linda Howard

  “She was named after the two grandmothers, Devonna and Darnelle. Which one would you like to be called?”

  “DeeDee, hands down.”

  “No joke. Dudley, now—his real name is Thane—is a state cop, so he wears the Do-Right uniform. Between the two of them, they've made me an uncle five times. DeeDee's the oldest, by two years. I'm thirty-six, by the way.”

  “You don't have any kids?”

  “No, thank God. That's the only good thing about my divorce, that we didn't have any kids whose lives we wrecked. The rest of the family always thought I was a slacker for not reproducing, but now they're glad, too.”

  “What about your parents?”

  “They thought I was a slacker, too.”

  She punched his arm. “Smart aleck.”

  He grinned, then frowned a little and rubbed his arm. “Ow. You pack a punch.”

  “I pulled it. You're just a wuss.” Yeah, right. His arm was so hard, she could have seriously damaged her knuckles. “Your parents,” she prompted.

  “They live in Kentucky. They had a reason for moving there, but I don't know what it was.”

  “What's wrong with Kentucky?”

  “It snows there.”

  “What's wrong with snow?”

  “I've been a patrol cop, you know. Have you ever seen what happens down here when it snows?”

  She began to laugh, because one inch of snow could and did cause havoc with traffic. Southerners didn't deal well with snow; it was a giant headache for patrol cops, with all the accidents. For someone who had spent one memorable winter in upstate New York, the alarm caused by a snow flurry down here was hilarious.

  Abruptly she noticed that they were heading south, away from town. “Where are we going?”

  “How do you feel about high school baseball?”

  She paused. “Is that a rhetorical question, or are you telling me something?”

  “One of my cousins has a game tonight, a doubleheader. We'll miss the first game, but by the time we get something to eat and get to the field, we should be just in time for the second game. JoJo plays shortstop.”

  JoJo was evidently the cousin. “I like baseball, but this jacket isn't heavy enough for sitting out for hours in the cold.”

  “I have a blanket behind the seat, a thick wool one. We can cuddle on the bleachers, and with the blanket wrapped around us no one will know if I sneak a feel every now and then.”

  “I'll know.”

  “God, I hope so. If you don't, then I've either lost my touch or my aim.”

  Maybe a public place was the safest place to be with him. “All right,” she said. “I'm willing. We can even grab a hot dog at the game if you want to catch some of the first one.”

  “I knew you were good folk,” he said happily.

  Sitting on cold bleachers on a chilly night, surrounded by yelling, laughing, chatting parents and siblings, a few teachers, and clumps of students, turned out to be more fun than she remembered from the days when Daniel and Noel had played baseball. For one thing, Cahill's cousins—there were about ten of them there—were all loony. She had to wonder if the sense of humor was a family trait. For another, cuddling under that blanket with him was . . . more than fun.

  The king-size blanket, as he promised, was thick wool. He wrapped it around both of them before they even sat down, so even her legs were protected from the chill. His body heat and the blanket combined to keep her toasty warm, even though the April night was so chilly their breaths fogged. He was pressed all along her left side, his hard thigh rubbing hers, and he kept his right arm around her except for those times when he felt compelled to leap to his feet and yell insults at the home plate umpire who, as it turned out, was yet another cousin.

  A few times he even managed to cop a feel, as he had promised. The caress was subtle, just his thumb rubbing against the side of her right breast, but it was deliberate and she knew it. The first time it happened, she glanced sharply up at him to find him innocently watching the game, a slight smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. She retaliated by trailing her left hand up his thigh, oh, so slowly, stopping just south of the bull's-eye. He tensed, the smile leaving his mouth, and though he kept his gaze on the game, he had that unfocused look that told her he'd lost track of the action on the field.

  She felt terribly naughty, doing such things in public, even though they were wrapped like mummies in that wonderful blanket and no one could tell a thing. She wanted to forget about teasing him and go for the gold with a stroke that would make his eyes roll back in his head; she wanted to twist her body a little so his hand was fully cupping her breast.

  She didn't have to twist her body. He managed just fine without her help.

  She caught her breath at the warm pressure of his hand, at the stroke of his thumb over her nipple. It didn't matter that the triple layers of bra, shirt, and jacket protected her skin from his touch; her breasts tightened, her nipples drawing into hard little peaks, and her entire lower body clenched in response.

  “Are you okay?” he asked, his tone casual, as if he were asking if she was cold.

  She really, really wanted to grab him, but squeezing a man's genitals on the first date was way out of her league. She settled for burrowing her right hand inside his shirt and pulling his chest hair. Hard. He couldn't control a flinch.

  “I'm a little hot,” she said, just as casually. “Maybe we can loosen the blanket.”

  “Good idea,” he said, sounding a little strangled now, and they both shrugged the blanket down to their waists. They resorted to coffee to fight the chill for the remainder of the ball game.

  Because he had to work the next day, after the game was over he drove her straight home. When he kissed her good night, she was smart enough to hold his hands while he did. He was grinning when he lifted his head. “I haven't had my hands held during a kiss since high school.”

  “I haven't been groped at a ball game since high school, either.”

  “It was fun, wasn't it?”

  She found herself smiling. “Yeah, it was.”

  “Do you have plans for tomorrow night? And every night this week?”

  “You're asking me out every night?”

  “I have to wear you down. How else am I going to get to second base without getting tagged out? Here's the agenda: tomorrow night we go bowling—”


  “Cosmic bowling. It's a hoot.”

  She didn't bother asking what cosmic bowling was. “What about Wednesday?”




  From the ridiculous to the sublime. She shook her head in amazement; at least she wouldn't be bored. “Friday?”

  “I'm hoping by that time we'll have moved on to the wild monkey sex.”

  She hooted with laughter, and he smiled as he leaned against the doorjamb. “Is it a date?” he asked. “Or dates.”

  “Up until Friday.”

  “We'll see,” he said, and whistled as he walked back to his truck.

  He was positively Machiavellian.



  The Mountain Brook Police Department is offering no information other than “no comment” on their investigation into the murder of retired federal Judge Lowell Roberts. The investigation seems to have stalled, and concerned citizens are wondering if the department, which hasn't investigated a murder in five years, is experienced enough to handle this type of case.

  “That's bullshit,” he growled, tossing the paper onto his desk. All of the investigators in the detective division were pissed. The lieutenant was pissed. Basically, everyone was pissed. The investigation was stalled, all right, but it had nothing to do with incompetence or lack of experience. If the idiot who wrote that article had done his research, he'd have known th
at the Mountain Brook department was top-notch, with excellent people and excellent equipment. The head evidence technician had handled the gathering of evidence, and he'd done it right. Cahill himself had done a tour of duty with the Birmingham Police Department, where murder investigations were much more commonplace; all of the detectives were experienced. They knew how to run an investigation, but they couldn't manufacture evidence that wasn't there.

  It came back to lack of motive. When Judge Roberts had been murdered he hadn't been walking down the street and been a victim of a drive-by shooting, a for-kicks murder. His murder was deliberate, planned, and executed with precision—an assassination, in fact. Whoever had killed him had known it was Sarah's day off and the Judge would be alone in the house. The mystery phone call by the mystery man from the pay phone in the Galleria was the only lead they had, but no one so far had recognized anything about the man in the photograph. They'd talked to friends, neighbors, family, and come up with exactly zilch.

  The easy way hadn't panned out. Things would have been a lot simpler if Judge Roberts had been gunned down as he opened the door, or walking to his car; then the revenge scenario would have played. Instead Cahill kept coming back to the inescapable conclusion that the Judge had known his killer and willingly let him into the house.

  And that brought Cahill right back to the mystery man in the surveillance photo. The timing of that phone call was right. Someone whom the Judge knew, from out of town maybe, who had called and said, Hey, I'm in the area; and the Judge invited him to the house, and the guy killed him. That was the scenario the circumstances supported. But who, and why? That was the old truism—find out why, and you'll know who.

  Too bad he didn't have any fucking idea.

  He scrubbed his hands over his face. His bad feeling about this case hadn't gone away. The answer was out there, but they weren't getting any closer to it and he was afraid they wouldn't. This one was going to be filed under “Unsolved.” He hated unsolved crimes of any sort, but a murder really ate at him. Even as a kid puzzles had nagged at him, and he couldn't stop until they were solved. The damned Rubik's Cube had driven him up the wall until he got it figured out. On a scale of one to ten, the Rubik's Cube was like a five, and a murder was like ten zillion. That's how bad it nagged at him. He could easily become obsessed with this case if he wasn't careful.

  This one was more personal than it should have been, because it had touched Sarah. If she'd been at home instead of at the movie, she might have been killed, too. She felt guilty because she thought she could have prevented it, but Cahill got a cold feeling in the pit of his stomach every time he thought of her there in the house with a killer. She would have gone to her quarters and left the two . . . friends? acquaintances? talking in the Judge's library; she might not even have heard the shot, if it was silenced. Then, because she had seen him, the killer would have quietly gone up those stairs to her quarters. She wouldn't have been expecting him, she wouldn't have been armed, and he would have killed her. It was that simple, and he broke out in a sweat every time he played it through in his mind. Going to the movie had saved her life, and she had gone because she wanted to give the idiot who sent her the fancy pendant an opportunity to approach her. Funny how things worked out; by sending her the pendant and making her so uneasy, the weirdo had saved her life.

  Sarah was . . . he didn't know what Sarah was. Fascinating. Sexy. Strong and tender at the same time. He didn't know what would happen between them; he wasn't even letting himself think about what might or might not happen. With her, he was living totally in the present. When he was with her, he didn't think about the past, and he didn't care about the future. Hell, that was a lie, because if he had anything to say about it, the future included getting her clothes off and having some really hot, wet, wrecking-the-bed sex. Now that was some real planning for the future.

  It felt good to focus on one woman, rather than have more of those ships-that-pass-in-the-night encounters that took some of the pressure off his balls but left him still feeling alone the next day. He enjoyed playing with Sarah, and that was exactly what they were doing: playing. Having fun. It had been too damn long since he'd had fun, too long since he'd felt the particular thrill of watching a woman's face and feeling in sync with her.

  Like last night, for instance; she had seriously thought about grabbing his balls as payback, but had decided not to ratchet up the intimacy between them to that degree. Her dark eyes had been cool and challenging, but still he'd known what she was thinking, read it in the slight tensing of her very toned body. He'd been ready to endure a certain amount of pain—he doubted she'd cripple him, but she would still have made him hurt—in order to speed things up between them. Too bad she'd thought better of grabbing him, because from the way he looked at it, if she'd hurt him, she would have had to kiss it to make it better. Worked for him.

  Getting a hard-on at work wasn't a good idea. Cahill wrenched his thoughts upward.

  He had a month to get her, the month she estimated it would take her to get everything packed and to close up the house. She would be taking another job; he hoped she would still be in this area, but nothing was guaranteed. As she had said, if someone needed her combined services of butler and bodyguard, the pay was much better, and how many people around here needed a bodyguard? He figured the odds were at least fifty-fifty she'd be leaving the area, so he had to work fast. Who knows? Maybe if they were having an affair, she'd take a job nearby and they could take their time with each other, see where this thing went.

  That thought edged too far into the future, and he pulled back from it. All he could handle right now was right now. He would see Sarah every night, and every second in between the murder he had to investigate, plus the other investigations that came up.

  The newspaper said the police didn't have a clue in the Roberts murder. What a shame.

  He was pleased; once again, he had proven himself more intelligent than others. Of course there were no clues. First he had seen Sarah safely in the movie, then he had driven to the Galleria and made the phone call from a pay phone. Thousands of people were in the Galleria every day; there was no way to pick him out. Judge Roberts, the old fool, had been happy to talk to the friend of a friend about a point of law, and as easy as that he was in the house.

  Though his fingerprints weren't in any AFIS data banks for the simple reason that he'd never been fingerprinted, he had still made certain to note everything he touched while he was in the house, and he had carefully wiped those surfaces before leaving. He had refused anything to drink, so there was no cup or glass to be taken care of. He had also picked up the spent cartridge shell from the carpet where the automatic had ejected it, and disposed of it in the trash the next day. The trash had since been picked up, so that was gone.

  He was safe. Now he could concentrate on Sarah.

  He didn't want to repeat his offer too soon. She wouldn't like that; her sense of propriety would be offended. But neither could he afford to wait too long, because her services would be in demand. He had discovered through his network of acquaintances in the neighborhood—really, one couldn't call them friends—that the Roberts family was putting the house up for sale and had arranged for her to stay on to oversee that, for the time being.

  Things couldn't have been more perfect. He had time, a grace period as it were, to carefully think through how he would word the next offer. He'd made a mistake the last time, not taking her sense of loyalty into account and reducing her worth to merely that of money. Of course she was worth that amount, she was worth much more, but a woman of her conscientious nature would need something in addition to money: a sense of purpose.

  She had to think he needed her. He did need her, so much more than she could imagine. Since first seeing her, he had come to realize she was the perfect woman for him, the woman he'd been waiting for his entire life, and he wouldn't be complete without her.

  He felt almost dizzy, thinking of her here, in his home. He would give her everything she cou
ld possibly want, protect her from a world that couldn't possibly appreciate her sheer perfection. It had to be a trial to her, forced constantly to deal with people who weren't worthy of her. When she was with him, there would be none of that. She wouldn't need other people. Together, they would be perfection.

  Tuesday was an incredibly sad and lonely day. It was the first day she had been entirely alone in the house; yesterday the family had been here until the early afternoon; then she had gone out with Cahill, which took her mind off the emptiness. Cahill, she suspected, could take her mind off dying.

  Today, however, he wasn't there. The knowledge that she would see him that night was a beacon she kept in the back of her mind, a bit of brightness against the gloom. She kept herself busy. She didn't have to hunt for things to do; there was a huge amount of work to be done.

  She began the work of methodically packing up each room, with a master inventory she devised and entered into her laptop, to show what contents were in which box and from which room they were taken. The boxes would be numbered, and on each box she'd tape an envelope containing a packing list for that particular box. The chore was time-consuming and exhausting, but that wasn't enough to keep her mind off the fact that she was alone in this huge house, or to keep her from remembering every time she passed the library what had happened in there.

  The phone rang incessantly. The callers didn't mean any harm, with their questions about the family and what they intended to do, but the constant interruptions meant Sarah didn't accomplish as much as she'd planned, and the questions kept the Judge fresh in her mind. She didn't want to forget him, but she would have liked a little distance from the pain.

  Thinking about Cahill provided that distance. Maybe she was thinking about him too much for her own well-being, but . . . well, she'd just have to deal with that.

  Far from being the humorless man she'd first thought him, he had a lighthearted streak that made her laugh and kept her on her toes. She sensed that he was being careful with her—not because she was fragile, but rather because she wasn't.

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