Killing Time by Linda Howard

  No, she was most definitely not opening that door.

  Instead she got on her hands and knees, grabbed her cell phone off the coffee table in front of the couch, and crawled into her dark bedroom. If anyone shot through the window, she would be below the bullet’s trajectory.

  Her purse was on the bed. She hooked it by the strap and pulled it to her, taking her laser pen out of it and slipping the slender weapon into her pocket. Her automatic weapon, inside its holster, was lying on the bedside table—and right behind the table was a window that looked out on the front porch.

  Cautiously, she eased up to the table and retrieved that weapon, too. She looked around; not much light was coming through the open bedroom door, since the only light in the house came from the lamp in the living room and the television, but if she moved the curtain aside, that was certainly enough light to betray her.

  She closed her eyes so they could begin adjusting, feeling her way as she crawled back to the door and silently shut it, plunging the room into total darkness. When she opened her eyes, she still couldn’t see anything, but after a moment she was able to make out the paler rectangles of the windows, and the sliver of streetlight coming through a tiny part in the curtains.

  There were footsteps on the porch, and abruptly that sliver of light vanished.

  Nikita froze in place. With the bedroom in complete darkness and the streetlight shining outside, she could make out the faint outline of someone standing on the porch in front of the window, with a darker blotch where a face was pressed to the glass as that someone tried to look inside.

  She knew she wasn’t visible, not with the bedroom darker than the porch. The human eye wasn’t made to operate best when it was trying to see from lightness into darkness. So long as she didn’t move, no one could see her. Even knowing that, though, her heartbeat was fast and heavy as adrenaline pumped through her. She was trained to act, but at the same time, the key was to choose the best course of action. Don’t just act, one of her instructors had drilled into them, act smart.

  In this case, the smart action was total avoidance. There could be no good outcome if she confronted Ruth Lacey.

  The situation had abruptly gone from being nothing more than a nuisance to having the potential for violence. More accurately, she thought, the potential for violence had been there from the beginning and she was just now recognizing it.

  The shadow moved away from the window, and she heard the footsteps retreating, then going down the front steps. There was a woman’s voice, but it was too faint for her to understand the words. Who was she talking to?

  Nikita crawled to the window, taking care not to bump into anything or let her knees thump on the floor. When she reached the window, she didn’t touch the curtains, because any movement of the fabric could betray her presence. Instead she maneuvered so she could see through the same tiny crack where the edges of the fabric didn’t quite meet, and slowly raised her head.

  A car was parked at the curb, and Mrs. Lacey was talking to someone inside it. The tiny slice of vision Nikita had didn’t allow her to see anything other than half of Mrs. Lacy’s back and her right arm. The woman was gesturing back toward the house. Then, evidently having decided it was wasted effort to bang on Knox’s door, she got into the car and it pulled slowly away from the curb.

  Nikita shifted her position, trying to get a better look at whoever was with Mrs. Lacy, but her field of vision was too limited.

  She remained where she was, crouched on the floor and watching the street in case Mrs. Lacey was wily enough to drive by again, perhaps hoping Nikita would turn on another light and thus verify someone was in the house. Nikita couldn’t swear that the car hadn’t parked just up the street and the occupants were not waiting to see if there was any sign of activity.

  Nikita sank to the floor and opened the flip top of her cell phone; the little screen and the numbers immediately lit up, and automatically she shielded the glow with her hand as she punched in Knox’s cell phone number.

  “Yeah, Davis,” he said after the second ring. He would have recognized her number, but the way he answered told her he wasn’t alone and was probably still at the murder scene.

  She kept her voice low, barely above a whisper. “This is just to let you know what has been happening; you don’t need to do anything. Ruth Lacey started calling incessantly this afternoon. I didn’t count the calls, but I estimate between forty and fifty times. Then she came here and began banging on your door, calling me by name—“Tina,” that is—and saying she knew I was in here.”

  “That doesn’t sound right,” he said.

  “I think she’s having emotional problems. I didn’t answer the phone or the door.”

  “Good. Don’t.”

  “Any estimate on how much longer you’ll be at the scene?”

  “Probably another couple of hours.”

  “Any problems?”

  “Not yet.”

  “I’ll see you in a couple of hours, then.”

  She closed the phone and ended the call, then got up on her knees to once more peer out the window.

  The car, headlights off, was parked at the curb again.

  Nikita’s heart gave a hard thump, and she forced herself to remain in place. She reminded herself that she could see them but they couldn’t see her. All she had to do was remain quiet and still, and they’d never know she was watching them. They had turned around, so the driver’s side was closest to the house. The shadows in the car were deep and she couldn’t make out anything other than that two people were in the car, and she thought the driver was a man. Mr. Lacey, perhaps?

  She wondered what they had hoped to accomplish. To tell her to get out of town and leave Knox alone, perhaps? Or maybe Mrs. Lacey was so far lost to reason that she would have simply attacked, in which case Nikita would have had to defend herself, and she had absolutely no doubt who would be the victor in any sort of physical confrontation with the other woman.

  Jealous people did foolish things all the time; the two hundred years between her time and now hadn’t changed that at all. But Mrs. Lacey wasn’t jealous in the classic sense; rather, she must be desperate for everything to remain the same, for Knox to remain in love with her dead daughter, and in that way she could still cling to a little part of life as it had been before.

  Nikita wondered what they would do if Knox drove up. She knew he wouldn’t, not for a while yet, but they didn’t know that. Had they thought what they would say, or were they simply operating without any plan?

  Common sense had to prevail at some point, and they would go home. She hoped.

  “There wasn’t another car here,” Byron said. “He came home this afternoon, let her out, and he left again. She unlocked the door and went inside the house.”

  “I don’t think she’s in there,” Ruth said doubtfully. “I listened, and there wasn’t any sound other than the television. No one was moving around. And only that one light is on; there should be a light on in the kitchen, too, if anyone is there.”

  “Why?” he asked, his tone betraying nothing but curiosity.

  “Because people who watch television will go to the kitchen during commercials, to get something to drink or eat. So they leave a light on, usually the one over the sink, or maybe the stove light. Just a small one, enough that they can see. That’s just what people do.”

  “But how could she have left? She doesn’t have a car.”

  “I suppose she could have called someone to pick her up. You came to get me, and I tried getting her on the phone for at least two hours, maybe longer. There was plenty of time for her to do that. She might even have called a cab.”

  “I really need to get a better look at her,” Byron said regretfully, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel as he stared at the house. He’d watched carefully, and there hadn’t been so much as the twitch of a curtain. Even if this Tina was really Nikita Stover, she would have no reason to be suspicious of Ruth and surely human curiosity would have led her to at
least look out. So perhaps Ruth was right, and no one was in the house.

  He didn’t like quarry slipping right through his fingers. He didn’t like loose ends. And he especially didn’t like having a highly trained agent like Nikita Stover out there somewhere, undetected. His skills were the equal of hers, but he was conducting two searches, while she was doing only one. He had to find that damn time capsule, or locate whoever had put the crucial information in the capsule. She, on the other hand, had only to locate him.

  If McElroy had done his job correctly, she didn’t have an inkling of the UT’s identity, which was his, Byron’s, biggest safeguard. Even if she saw him, she would likely think only that reinforcements had been sent. It would never occur to her to suspect a fellow agent.

  On the other hand, perhaps bringing Ruth along had not been the smartest approach, but he hadn’t known that at the time. Using her had seemed reasonable; she was a woman and, as such, less threatening to another woman. It was also possible that the multitude of phone calls had, instead of building up frustration, backfired by making Ruth seem a little less than sane.

  But either no one was in Knox Davis’s house, or the occupant was far more wary than he could have reasonably expected.

  The next time, he would use stealth. People were far more careless when they didn’t know they were being watched.


  After the car left again, Nikita waited half an hour in the dark, watching for its return. She still couldn’t be certain they hadn’t parked up the street somewhere to watch the house, risking alarming the neighbors, but at least they were no longer parked in front of this house.

  After half an hour, she moved quietly through the house, not turning on any additional lights as she did so. She had already checked all the windows to make certain they were locked, but now she checked to see that all the curtains were properly pulled, so no one could see in.

  This entire evening had annoyed her almost to her limit. First the ringing telephone, over and over and over, and finally the sensation of being hunted, in the one place where she was supposed to be safe, had grated on her nerves. The evening had given her a whole new appreciation for harassment charges; federal agents didn’t have to deal with those, but sometimes harassment was part of an escalating pattern that would end with federal statutes such as kidnapping being violated. After just one evening of it, Nikita was ready to do violence. She couldn’t imagine people dealing with it on a continuing basis.

  After an hour had passed without incident, she cautiously moved back to the living room, where the television droned on. Perhaps she was being too cautious, but she still kept low so she wouldn’t throw any shadows on the curtains. She also kept her purse and weapons at hand, and slipped the tiny cell phone into her pocket. Then she stretched out on the couch and tried to watch television, tried to relax, but every time a car drove by, she tensed and lost track of what she was watching as she listened to make certain the car wasn’t stopping.

  Over an hour later a car did slow, and turn in to the driveway. She waited; logically, that should be Knox returning home, but she wasn’t assuming anything. It wasn’t until the car pulled around back that she made her way to the kitchen and peeked to make certain that it was Knox’s car before she unlocked the door.

  She held her finger up to her lips as he entered the dark kitchen. He wasn’t a cop for nothing; he nodded, his entire demeanor changing from tired to wary. He shut and locked the door behind him, then whispered, “Why is the kitchen dark?”

  “Because I didn’t have a light on when she got here. If I’d turned on any additional lights, that would be a dead giveaway. But now that you’re home, you can turn on as many lights as you want. Your keys are on the table, by the way.”

  He went to the sink and turned on the fluorescent light tucked up behind a wooden valance. The curtains over that window were drawn, too, but they covered just the lower half of the window.

  “Tell me exactly what happened.” He still kept his voice low as he went to the refrigerator and took out a soft drink.

  “No, you first. Murder is more important than harassment.”

  They went into the living room and sat side by side on the couch, so they could more easily talk without being overheard.

  “So far, so good,” he said tiredly, sliding down on the seat so he could rest his head on the back of the couch. “The coroner is greatly interested in the wound, because he’s never seen anything like it. The body has been sent for autopsy. The real test will come tomorrow when this gets out, because that’s when people will start calling in that they saw a car at Jesse’s place on such and such day, at such and such time. I think we’re okay, though, because Jesse has been dead a couple of days, at least. He might even have been dead since Monday, which would probably make me the last person to see him alive. We’ll be looking for reports of vehicles there earlier in the week.”

  She nodded. She should have thought of that earlier; they both should have. Even if Knox’s car had been seen at Jesse’s house earlier today, the time of death would render that meaningless.

  “Tell me about Ruth,” he said, rolling his head on the couch to look at her. His eyes looked tired, the lids heavy.

  “You know about the calls, and her coming here. She knocked—banged—on the door for at least five minutes, saying she knew ‘Tina’ was in here. Then she tried to look in the windows. She left, and that was when I called you.”

  “Is that it?”

  “No. Someone was with her—I think a man. I couldn’t see well enough to get a description, but she was definitely talking to someone in the car with her, and from the bulk I’m fairly certain it was a man. They came back, parked at the curb and watched the house for a while, then left again.” She checked the time. “That was about an hour and a half ago. It’s been quiet since then.”

  “God,” he said, closing his eyes. “I never figured Ruth would freak out if she thought I was getting serious about someone else. After Rebecca died, she even told me to go on with my life. I’ll have a talk with her tomorrow, tell her one of the neighbors complained to me about the noise.”

  “Would your neighbors recognize Ruth?”

  He thought about it. “No. Good catch. I must be more tired than I thought.”

  “Because you never make mistakes, right?” she asked lightly.

  “Let’s don’t go there,” he said with a slight smile. “I’ve made some real doozies, and they usually involved not keeping my mouth shut when I should have.”

  She blinked. “What, exactly, is a ‘doozy’? I understand the general meaning from your usage, but—” She shrugged, lifting her brows to invite his answer.

  “Hell, I don’t know. In the context I just used it, it means some really bad mistakes. If someone had a really bad black eye—thank you for not punching me in the eye, by the way—I’d say he had a doozy of a shiner. If someone is a doozy of a cook, it means she’s a really good cook. So it’s a general superlative.”

  “I notice you said ‘he’ in reference to a black eye, and ‘she’ in reference to cooking.”

  “So sue me for gender profiling,” he said comfortably, sinking even further into the couch.

  He looked as if he would go to sleep where he was. “Have you had anything to eat?” she asked, before his eyes could completely close.

  “Yeah, one of the deputies came to town and picked up a sack of burgers.” His eyelids lifted. “Damn, I forgot about that. I don’t have much food here. Did you find anything to eat?”

  “Soup. I’m fine. But this entire situation isn’t working. I need to be able to operate independently of you. And I can’t stay here, with Ruth Lacey freaking out and watching the house because she can’t bear the thought of you having another relationship.”

  “Where else can you stay?”

  “You mentioned a ‘bed-and-breakfast.’ I assume that means one has a bed, and is fed breakfast.”

  “That’s exactly what it means, but I don’t like the idea.” He
yawned, and heaved himself to his feet. “I’m going to take a shower. We’ll talk about this when my head is clear.”

  She watched him walk away, her gaze automatically dipping to his ass. Yum, as a character on television had said. It was a very descriptive word.

  Somehow she wasn’t angry with him anymore. Nothing in her personal situation had changed, but during the day her hurt and anger had slowly ebbed away. Truthfully, she hadn’t been angry so much as lashing out in pain, but he couldn’t have known how deeply his question would slice at her.

  She stretched out again, cradling her head on her hand. They were both tired; she’d probably sleep soundly tonight, unless Ruth paid another visit. She closed her eyes, and the next thing she knew the room was dark and Knox was lifting her in his arms.

  “I’m awake,” she said, reflexively clinging to him lest he drop her. Her fingers dug into warm, damp flesh and hard muscle.

  “That’s good. Making love’s always better when both people are awake.”

  Her heart pounded wildly in her chest, and her thoughts scattered. “But—what—I didn’t—”

  “Hush,” he said, and kissed her.

  He smelled of soap and water, of man and heat. His mouth was slow and persuasive, and abruptly she thought, Yes. There were reasons why she shouldn’t become intimate with him, and she didn’t give a damn about them. She wanted him, wanted that long, lean body stretched on top of her, wanted him between her legs and inside her body.

  She pulled her mouth free, and he said, “No talking.”

  “I was going to say ‘yes.’ ”

  “Oh.” He paused. “That’s okay, then.” And he laughed before once again taking her mouth with his as he finished the journey into his bedroom. She clung to him as he bent to place her on the bed, holding the kiss until he lost his balance and collapsed on top of her.

  They both laughed like kids as they rolled on the bed in the dark, hands searching and learning. She stroked his muscled back, rubbed her face against his lightly haired chest, found the hard little peaks of his nipples and pinched them, then moved on to the serious stuff. She unfastened his jeans and found they were all he had on, sliding her hands under the loosened waistband to curve them over each ass cheek and squeeze. The hard-muscled globes were cool and smooth under her palms, warming quickly.

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