Dying to Please by Linda Howard

  The first shot barely missed Cahill's head. He fired at the muzzle flash, then the second shot caught him high on the chest, with a kick like a mule. He was wearing his body armor, but the impact knocked his breath out and he sprawled across the floor, unconscious.

  “Cahill,” she whispered, standing at the top of the stairs and staring down at the wide expanse of the foyer, and Cahill's body lying limp and unmoving on the granite floor.

  She went numb. This wasn't happening. Not Cahill. The bastard couldn't have taken Cahill from her, too.

  She swayed, reaching out, and half stumbled against a gray metal floor lamp standing sentry beside a black enameled table.

  Not Cahill.

  The rage was a red tidal wave, rising in one massive surge and seizing her in its grip. She wasn't aware of pulling the floor lamp free from the plug. She wasn't aware of moving. She went down the stairs with a steady, purposeful stride, gaining speed as she went.

  “Densmore.” That wasn't her voice. It sounded like something from The Exorcist, deep and raw. She reached the bottom of the stairs. “You bastard, where are you?”

  There was movement to her right, in the shadows. She swung in that direction and saw Densmore materializing from the darkness into the dim light, like a phantom, a demon. His face was twisted with fury. “I told you not to speak to me that way,” he hissed, his hand rising.

  She didn't care. The rage suffusing her made the heavy floor lamp feel like nothing in her hands as she stepped forward, into the pistol, into the bullet, swinging the lamp like a baseball bat. If Cahill was dead, she simply didn't care anymore what happened. The explosion of the shot was deafening in the cavernous foyer, a blast of hot wind along her left side just as she slammed the base of the floor lamp into Densmore's skull. He crashed backward into the wall, a fine spray of blood flying from his head, his chest, and she swung the lamp again, and again, screaming wordlessly.

  “Sarah! Sarah!”

  The bellow finally pierced her consciousness. The lamp was suddenly too heavy to hold, and dropped from her nerveless fingers. Slowly, numbly, she turned as Cahill struggled to stand. He was holding a hand to his chest and wheezing, but she didn't see any blood.

  “Easy, sweetheart,” he said. “The son of a bitch can't die more than once.”


  CAHILL SLUNG HIS JACKET OVER HIS SHOULDER AS HE entered the house. He was in a good mood; the review board had ruled the shooting a righteous one, and he was no longer on administrative leave. He'd missed doing his job, though for the first week he'd been glad enough to take it easy; even through body armor, a slug gave the body a beating and left a hell of a bruise. At first he thought it had cracked a couple of ribs, too, but they were just bruised—as if there were any “just” to it. He'd felt as if the mule had not only kicked him, it had then turned around and stomped on him.

  He and Sarah had recuperated together. He was fine, and Sarah's mother had called to let her know that her father had indeed had a bad case of heartburn, so she didn't have that to worry about. And physically Sarah was fine. She'd been living with him since they were released from the hospital early the next morning, after he'd been x-rayed and poked, and the cuts on his hands sutured. His wounds were simple in nature. Sarah though—

  On the surface, she wasn't badly hurt. Some cuts on her hand, one requiring four stitches, but the others had been minor. The welts that striped her smooth skin and left raw, bleeding patches had been treated the way you'd treat a skinned knee, with cleaning and an antibiotic ointment over the worst patches. No matter how long he lived, he'd never forget the sight of her coming down those stairs, steady and unstoppable, naked and so covered with blood his heartbeat had faltered, but her eyes had glittered like black fire in her white face. She'd been carrying that heavy floor lamp in one hand, roaring for Densmore, and when the bastard started to shoot her, she hadn't paused, just waded in with that lamp like she was DiMaggio going for the long one. Cahill, struggling for breath, still woozy, was amazed he'd been able to make the shot. He'd barely missed Sarah, and the bullet had exploded Densmore's heart. Densmore had been dead before the lamp ever hit his skull, not that a little thing like that had stopped Sarah.

  By the time Cahill could get to her, he could hear sirens as squad cars converged on the house. He'd have to open the gates for them, he thought, but right now he needed to take care of Sarah. He'd taken off his shirt and put it on her, and she'd just stood there staring down at Densmore and the hole in his chest. She'd turned then, her expression already growing remote as she said, “Damn you, Cahill; I wanted to kill him.”

  He'd wanted to hold her, but there wasn't any way he could put his arms around her without causing her pain. Instead he'd held her left hand, the one that wasn't cut, getting blood all over her from his own cuts. He'd moved the lamp aside, and been astonished at its weight. Most people would have needed two hands to lift it, much less swing it.

  After he opened the gates, he and Sarah were carted off to the hospital, and since then he'd been on administrative leave, so he hadn't been involved in any of the investigation or mop-up. The other guys, though, had kept him informed.

  Densmore had planned that Sarah wouldn't ever leave that room. They'd found tiny cameras everywhere, even in the bathroom. She'd have had no privacy at all. The room, like the house, was a fortress. Its windows were unbreakable, and didn't open. The door had been reinforced steel. The only reason Sarah had been able to escape that night was that, in his hurry to see about the intruder, Densmore had left the door unlocked.

  Who knew what made a sick bastard like that tick? Everyone who knew him said he seemed like such a nice man—yeah, they always were—on the quiet side, a little shy, but a shark when it came to business. He did tend to become obsessed with little things, though, and could turn nasty if everything wasn't done to his satisfaction. According to his secretary, he'd gotten more obsessive over the years, to the point that she had to have her chair sitting in one precise spot or he went into a rant.

  His personal papers had been more revealing. Evidently sweet, shy Trevor Densmore had killed his own father over a business disagreement. Why he'd document a thing like that was anyone's guess, since if he hadn't already been dead, it would have been one more nail in his coffin—Alabama was a death penalty state, and this would have been a death penalty case—but the department psychologist read the papers and said the contents were an almost perfect example of how the mind of an egomaniac worked. Trevor Densmore thought he was smarter than everyone else, better than everyone else, and deserved only the best. That was it in a simplistic nutshell: Densmore thought he should have whatever he wanted, and he had no internal brakes when it came to getting it. If there was an obstacle, he either moved it, or he destroyed it.

  Evidently, when he'd seen Sarah on television, he'd developed an instant obsession with her—Cahill could kind of understand that, given his own feelings about her—and had set out to obtain her. When she refused his first offer out of loyalty to the Judge, he'd removed that obstacle by killing Judge Roberts. But she still hadn't accepted his offer; she'd gone to work for the Lankfords, which had enraged him because he thought the Lankfords were so far beneath him. Killing people meant no more to him than stepping on a bug; they were unimportant, nothing. What mattered was getting what he wanted.

  Cahill wished he could kill the son of a bitch again. What he'd done to Sarah . . .

  She'd been withdrawn since then, and he couldn't reach her, even though it had been over three weeks; the bruises and welts had faded and healed, the sutures had been removed, and they'd lived together under the same roof the entire time, but he couldn't reach her. She'd retreated to someplace inside herself where he couldn't go, and it was driving him crazy.

  When he'd first seen her, naked and bloody, he'd taken a second kick to the chest, thinking Densmore had raped her. He'd asked her if that was so, before the first patrolman came in with weapon drawn, and she'd shaken her head. But the assault she'd suffered
had bruised her inside, in her mind, and that hadn't healed.

  It wasn't just the brutality of the beating, or coming face-to-face with death; it was everything, the accumulation of shock and grief and horror. She'd been helpless, in the control of a madman, and she couldn't forget it or get past it.

  They hadn't slept together since then; she slept in one of the other bedrooms. At first he hadn't minded. They'd both been sore and wounded, and she hadn't been able to bear the slightest touch for several days. But now after three weeks, he definitely minded. He wanted her, he needed her, and he wanted to put their lives back together. Sarah had simply ignored everything he said.

  “Sarah?” he called now, wanting to tell her the news about the inquest.

  There was no answer, but the door to the basement stood open. He went down the stairs; the solid thunk of fists hitting the punching bag telling him she was working out some major hostility.

  She was wearing gray sweatpants and a black sports bra, and she'd evidently been beating the hell out of the punching bag for quite a while, because her shoulders gleamed with sweat and the waistband of the sweatpants was dark. The expression on her face was grimly intent.

  He leaned against the wall and watched her. There was still some pink discoloration showing the location of the newly healed stripes, but in a few months they would be completely gone. She'd lost some weight, a few pounds, making her sleek muscles a little more pronounced. She looked lean and fit, kind of like Linda Hamilton in T2, and he felt a serious hard-on growing.

  She glanced over at him. “How did it go?”

  “I'm off administrative leave. They ruled it a righteous shooting. I go back to work tomorrow.”

  “Good.” She threw a flurry of punches that impressed him with their fury. He was glad she was taking it out on the punching bag and not on him.

  He took a chance and said, “What about you?”

  “When am I going back to work, do you mean?”


  “I don't know that I will, at least not for a while. And I don't know if I can find a position in this area again; I sort of have a bad rep with employers right now.”

  “Are you going to look for a job somewhere else?” he asked, as casually as possible, though his lungs felt as if they were decompressing.

  “That depends.”

  “On what?”

  She stopped punching the bag and mopped off her face and arms with a towel. “He took something from me,” she said quietly. “He didn't have to rape me to do his damage. Every time I think of sex, I think of being helpless, and hating, and being so disgusted and repulsed I can barely breathe. I think of all the time I've put into my training, and when it came down to crunch time, it was totally useless. I was helpless against him.”

  “Not quite,” he said. “You bashed his head in.”

  “That doesn't count. He was already dead.” She gave him a feral smile. “But it felt good anyway.”

  “It damn sure did.” He hadn't said it out loud before, but the thought was there. “I enjoyed killing him.”

  The look in her eyes said she understood, and envied him the privilege.

  “So where does this leave us?” he asked. With everything that had happened, that was still the most important question.

  She walked up to him with a prowling, dangerous, totally feminine rhythm that set his heart to racing. “That depends.”

  He felt like a broken record. “On what?” She was close enough now that he could smell her, sweaty and hot and all female. He was so hard he was hurting.

  She slid her hands around his waist, and he felt the tug as she pulled his handcuffs free. “On you,” she said, and for the first time in three weeks, she smiled. “Let's see if we still fit.”

  He lay on the exercise mat, his arms stretched over his head and handcuffed to a pipe. He was naked, and sweating, and so desperate he was begging. The woman was killing him.

  She was in no hurry. She sat astride him, but she wasn't riding him. She had tucked him in, slid down to the hilt, then just sat there. At first he wondered what she was doing, and then he'd known; he'd felt her internal muscles clenching him, releasing, clenching, milking him while she sat virtually motionless. The sensation had been electric, and maddening, taking him to the edge of orgasm without pushing him over.

  She'd already come twice. The first time had seemed to take her by surprise as she convulsed around him, but she'd determinedly chased the second one. By then he'd been begging, dying to thrust, but every time his hips moved she stopped.

  God, she was something. Just looking at her made his heart feel like bursting. She was magnificent, naked and totally given over to what she was doing, her head thrown back and her eyes half-closed, her nipples red and tight. Surely by now she had all the bad memories replaced with good ones, but if she hadn't, Lord, he'd die happy.

  She leaned over and kissed him, her mouth hot, her tongue promising wild things. “We still fit,” she murmured.

  “I never doubted it,” he managed to say, but the words ended in a groan.

  “I did, but I couldn't let him win. You're too important to me, Cahill. I had to make certain I could push him away.”

  “Did you? Is he gone?”

  She rotated her hips. “Oh, yeah.”

  “Then for God's sake,” he whimpered, “put me out of my misery.”

  To his everlasting relief, she did. When he could think and hear and speak again, she was lying propped on her elbow beside him, leisurely stroking his chest.

  “I love you, Cahill,” she said seriously.

  “I love you, too, and don't you think it's about time you started calling me Tom?”

  “I'll think about it. Maybe on our fifth anniversary.”

  Now, that sounded good. “When's our first one going to be?” he asked as casually as possible.

  “Hmm, let me see. What do you think about July of next year?”

  Since they were now in the last week of May, it sounded fine.

  She stretched above him, unlocking the cuffs; as soon as he was free, he rolled, tucking her beneath him. She tensed for just a moment, then relaxed beneath his weight, her hands sliding up his back. “I thought he'd killed you,” she whispered fiercely, burying her face in his shoulder. “I hate him for what he's done to our lives, for the damage he did to so many lives.”

  “He wins only if we let him, sweetheart.” He kissed her, slowly, lingering. “Did you mean it, or was I reading more into your answer than I should? Are you going to marry me?”

  “Oh, yeah,” she said, grinning. “At least he clarified that issue for me. When I thought you were dead, I knew that nothing was more important than loving you: not traveling the world, not even if he shot me, too. I got over being mad at you in a hurry.”

  “I'm not going to make a practice of getting shot every time you get mad at me,” he muttered.

  “You won't have to, sweetheart.” She kissed his shoulder and snuggled against him. “You won't have to.”

  By Linda Howard

  A Lady of the West

  Angel Creek

  The Touch of Fire

  Heart of Fire

  Dream Man

  After the Night

  Shades of Twilight

  Son of the Morning

  Kill and Tell

  Now You See Her

  All the Queen's Men

  Mr. Perfect

  Open Season

  A Ballantine Book

  Published by The Ballantine Publishing Group

  Copyright © 2002 by Linda Howington

  All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by The Ballantine Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

  Ballantine and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.


  Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 2002090655

  eISBN: 978-0-345-45958-9




  Linda Howard, Dying to Please



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