Mr. Perfect by Linda Howard

  “Okay, if you’re right, at least we have a place to start,” Roger said, briskly returning to the subject. “Hammerstead Technology. I’ll get the ball rolling on getting access to their personnel files, see what shakes out of the tree, but if you’re right about the computer geeks, this could take a while. Officially, I don’t know what we can do to keep the ladies safe. You’re talking four different towns—”

  “And two counties. I know.” The administrative hassle would be a bitch. Sam got a headache just thinking about it.

  “Unofficially, we’ll work out something. We’ll call in favors, maybe get some guys to volunteer for watchdog duty. The ladies do know to be cautious, right?

  “They’re all supposed to get Caller ID and cell phones today. We might get lucky if he calls one of them again. I also told them not to let anyone in except family, not to accept rides from anyone. I don’t want this son of a bitch to be able to get anywhere near them.”


  Jaine found herself studying every man she saw at work that day, wondering if he was the one. That one of them could be a killer was almost beyond belief. They all seemed so normal, or at least as normal as any other large group of men who worked in the computer industry. Some of them she knew and liked, some of them she knew and didn’t like, but she couldn’t see any of them as killers. A lot of guys, particularly the ones on the first two floors, she knew by sight but not by name. Had Marci known one of them well enough that she had let him into her house?

  Jaine tried to think what she would do if someone she recognized knocked on her door at night, maybe claiming to have had car trouble. Until today, she probably would have opened her door without hesitation, wanting only to be helpful. The killer, even if he turned out to be some stranger, had forever robbed her of that trust, that inner sense of security. She had liked to think she was smart and aware, that she didn’t take chances, but how often had she opened her door at a knock without asking who was on the other side? She shuddered now to think of it.

  Her front door didn’t even have a peephole in it. She could see who was at the door only if she climbed on her sofa and pulled back the curtain, then leaned far to the right. And the upper half of her kitchen door was nothing but nine small panes of glass, easily smashed; then all any intruder would have to do was reach in and unlock it. She had no alarm system, no means of protecting herself—nothing! The best she could hope to do if anyone broke into her house while she was there was escape out the window, assuming she could get it open.

  She had a lot of work to do, she thought, before she would feel safe in her house again.

  She worked half an hour later than usual, doing a little catch-up on the pile of paperwork that had accumulated during her absence. As she was crossing the parking lot, she noticed there were only a handful of cars remaining and, for the first time, realized how vulnerable she was leaving work late like this, alone. All three of them, she and Luna and T.J., should time their arrivals and departures with the crowd, to take advantage of the safety in numbers. She hadn’t even told them she intended to work late.

  There was so much she had to think about now, so much inherent danger in things she had never before had to consider.


  As she crossed the parking lot, the sound of her name broke into her consciousness, leaving her aware that someone had called her at least twice, maybe more. She turned around, mildly surprised to see Leah Street hurrying after her.

  “I’m sorry,” she apologized, though she wondered what Leah wanted. “I was thinking and didn’t hear you at first. Is something wrong?”

  Leah stopped, her graceful hands fluttering, an uncomfortable expression on her face. “I just—I wanted to say I’m sorry about Marci. When is the funeral?”

  “I don’t know yet.” She didn’t feel up to explaining again about the autopsy. “Marci’s sister is making the arrangements.”

  Leah nodded jerkily. “Let me know, please. I’d like to attend.”

  “Yes, of course.”

  Leah seemed to want to say something else or maybe didn’t know what else to say; either condition was awkward. Finally she bobbed her head and turned to hurry to her own car. Her full skirt flew around her legs. Today’s dress was particularly hopeless, a lavender print that did nothing for her coloring and with a small ruffle around the neckline. It looked like a yard-sale reject, though Leah pulled down a good salary—Jaine knew exactly how much—and probably shopped at nice department stores. She simply had no fashion sense.

  “On the other hand,” Jaine muttered to herself as she unlocked the Viper, “I have no people sense.” Her judgment must be seriously off, because the two people from whom she would never have expected sympathy and sensitivity—Mr. deWynter and Leah Street—were the two who had gone out of their way to tell her they were sorry about Marci.

  Mindful of Sam’s instructions, she drove to an electronics store and bought a Caller ID unit, signed up for cellular service, went through all the paperwork for that, then had to choose a phone. The selection engrossed her; did she want one of the little flip-tops or one that didn’t flip? She decided on the non-flipper, figuring that if she were running for her life from a crazed murderer, she didn’t want to have to deal with flipping up before dialing.

  Next she had to decide on a color. She immediately dismissed black as too basic. Neon yellow? It would be difficult to misplace. The blue one was cute; she didn’t see many blue ones. On the other hand, there was nothing like red.

  Once she selected the red phone, she had to wait for it to be programmed. By the time she left the electronics store, the late summer sun was almost down, clouds were sweeping in from the southwest, and she was starving.

  Because a cool wind was blowing in off those clouds, promising rain, and she still had two more stops to make before she went home, she got a fast-food burger and a soft drink and gulped them down as she drove. The burger wasn’t very good, but it was food, and that was all her stomach required.

  Her next stop was a firm that installed security systems, where she answered questions, selected the system she wanted, and wrote a large check. The system would be installed a week from the upcoming Saturday.

  “But that’s ten days!” Jaine said, frowning.

  The beefy man consulted an appointment book. “Sorry, but that’s the earliest we can get to you.”

  Deftly she reached over the desk and plucked her check from where it lay in front of him. “I’ll call around and see if someone else can get to me sooner than that. Sorry I wasted your time.”

  “Hold on, hold on,” he said hastily. “Is this some land of emergency? If someone is having trouble, we move them to the top of the list. You shoulda said so.”

  “It’s an emergency,” she said firmly.

  “Okay, let me see what I can do.” He studied the appointment book again, scratched his head, tapped his pencil on the book, and said, “I can work you in this Saturday, since it’s an emergency.”

  Careful not to let any triumph show in her expression, she returned the check to him. “Thank you,” she said, and meant it.

  Her next stop was a building materials store. It was a huge place, with everything one would need to build a house, except the money. She bought a peephole for the front door—the instructions said “Easy to install”—and a new kitchen door that wasn’t half glass and two new deadbolts. After making arrangements for the door to be delivered on Saturday, and paying extra for the privilege, she heaved a sigh of relief and started home.

  Rain began splattering on the windshield just as she turned onto her street. Darkness had fallen, deepened by the cloud cover. Lightning flashed briefly in the west, lighting up the belly of the storm system, and thunder rumbled.

  Her house was dark. She usually got home well before dark, so she didn’t leave any lights on. Normally she wouldn’t worry about stepping into a dark house, but tonight she felt a chill creep up her spine. She was edgy, more aware of her vulnerability.

>   She sat for a moment in the car, reluctant to turn off the motor and go inside. No vehicle was parked in Sam’s driveway, but there was a light on in his kitchen; maybe he was at home. She wished he would leave his truck in the driveway instead of parking it in the garage, so she could tell when he was there and when he wasn’t.

  Just as she turned off the headlights and ignition, she saw movement to her left. Her heart jumped into her throat, then she realized it was Sam, coming down his front steps.

  Relief flooded through her. She gathered her purse and plastic shopping bags and got out of the car.

  “Where the hell have you been?” he shouted, looming behind her as she locked the car door.

  She hadn’t expected him to start yelling; startled, she dropped one of the bags. “Damn it!” she said as she leaned down to pick it up. “Do you have to make a career out of scaring me?”

  “Someone needs to scare you.” He grabbed her upper arms and hauled her up to face him. He was shirtless, and she found herself nose-to-pectoral-muscle with him. “It’s eight o’clock, you may have a killer stalking you, and you don’t bother to call and let anyone know where you are? You deserve more than just being scared!”

  She was tired, nervous, the rain was getting heavier by the minute, and she was in no mood to be yelled at. She lifted her head to glare at him, and water trickled down her face. “You told me to get Caller ID and a cell phone, so if I’m late, it was your idea!”

  “It took you three goddamn hours to accomplish what a normal person can do in half an hour?”

  Was he saying she wasn’t normal? Incensed, she put both hands on his bare chest and shoved him as hard as she could. “Since when did I start answering to you?”

  He staggered back maybe an inch.

  “Since about a week ago!” he said furiously, and kissed her.

  His mouth was hard and angry, and his heart pounded like a sledgehammer beneath her hands. As always when he kissed her, it was as if time spun away, leaving only the here and now. The taste of him filled her; his bare skin was hot to the touch, despite the rain beating down on them. He locked her against him, his arms so tight she couldn’t draw a deep breath, and against her belly she felt the thrust of his erection.

  He was shaking, and suddenly she realized just how scared he had been on her behalf. He was big and rough-looking, and strong enough to hold his own with an ox; every day he probably saw, without flinching, things that would make the average person cringe in horror. But tonight he had been afraid—afraid for her.

  Her chest ached suddenly, as if her heart squeezed. Her knees wobbled and she sank against him, melting into him, rising on tiptoe to meet his kiss with equal force, equal passion. He groaned, deep in his throat; the kiss changed, the anger fading, to be replaced by violent hunger. She had surrendered totally, but that didn’t seem to be enough for him because he sank his hand in her hair and pulled her head back, arching her neck and exposing her throat to his mouth. Rain spattered in her face, and she closed her eyes, helpless in his iron grip and not wanting to be anywhere else.

  After the emotional upheaval of the past three days she needed to lose herself in the physical, to push all the grief and fear away and feel only Sam, think only of Sam. He lifted her off her feet and began walking with her, and she didn’t protest except when he stopped kissing her, didn’t struggle except to get closer.

  “Damn it, would you stop wiggling?” he growled in a strained tone, shifting her to one side as he climbed his front steps.

  “Why?” Her voice sounded smoky, sexy. She hadn’t known her throat would do that.

  “Because I’m going to come in my jeans if you don’t,” he half-shouted in raw frustration.

  Jaine thought about his problem for maybe half a heartbeat. Since the only way she could be certain not to overexcite him was to tear herself out of his grip and not touch him at all, that meant she would be depriving herself.

  “Suffer,” she told him.

  “Suffer?” He sounded outraged. He wrenched open his front door and carried her inside. It was dark in the living room, the only light filtering through from the kitchen. He smelled of heat and rain and wet hair. She tried to run her hands over those broad shoulders and found herself still encumbered by purse and shopping bags. Impatiently she dropped them to the floor, then attached herself to him like a limpet.

  Cursing, he staggered a few steps and pinned her to the wall. He tugged at her slacks with rough hands, attacking the button and zipper until the button flew off and the zipper yielded. Her slacks slid down her legs and pooled around her feet. She kicked off her shoes, and he lifted her out of the circle of fabric. Immediately she wound her legs around his hips, feverishly trying to get closer, to meld their bodies and ease this wildfire of need that was burning her up on the inside.

  “Not yet!” Panting, he leaned his weight against her to keep her in place against the wall and unwrapped her legs from his waist. Her ribcage depressed by his weight, Jaine could manage only the first protesting moan before he hooked his fingers in the waistband of her panties and tugged them down her thighs.


  She tried to think why she had been going to make him wait another couple of weeks, at least, maybe even a whole menstrual cycle. Nothing reasonable came to mind, not when making him wait also meant making herself wait—not when she was so scared that the same person who had killed Marci might also be targeting the rest of them and she would kick herself if she died without knowing what it was like to make love with him. Right here, right now, there was nothing more important than trying this man on for size.

  She kicked her panties away, he lifted her high once again, and she coiled her legs around him. His knuckles brushed between her legs as he unfastened his jeans and let them drop. She caught her breath as the last barrier fell from between them and his penis pressed against her, naked and hot, searching. Pleasure zinged through her, making her nerve endings sizzle. She arched helplessly, seeking more, needing more.

  He swore softly, under his breath, and hitched her just a little higher to adjust her position. She felt the head of his penis probing at her, smooth and hard and hot, then an almost incredible sense of pressure as he eased his support and let her weight sink down on it. Her body resisted at first, then began to stretch and admit him, inch by searing inch. She felt everything in her begin to tighten as sensation roared through her—

  He stopped, breathing hard, his hot face buried against her neck. His voice muffled, he said rawly, “Did you go on the pill?”

  Jaine dug her nails into his bare shoulders, almost sobbing with need. How could he stop now? Only the thick head of his penis was inside her, and it wasn’t enough, wasn’t nearly enough. Her inner muscles clenched around him, trying to draw him deeper, and an explosive curse tore from his throat.

  “Damn it, Jaine, did you go on the pill?”

  “Yes,” she finally managed to say, and her tone was just as raw as his.

  He braced her against the wall and with one rough thrust pushed his entire length inside her.

  She heard herself cry out, but the sound was distant. Every cell in her body focused on the thick shaft pounding back and forth inside her, his rhythm hard and fast, and she climaxed the same way. Sensation exploded in her, and she bucked against him, screaming, her hips jerking and her entire body shuddering. The rest of the world spun completely away.

  He came a second later, driving into her with almost brutal force. She thudded against the wall with each deep thrust, her weight sliding down and forcing him even deeper, so deep that she stiffened convulsively and climaxed again.

  Afterward, he rested heavily against her, his skin damp with sweat and rain. He was breathing hard, his chest heaving as he sucked in air. The house was dark and silent except for the rain drumming on the roof and the gasping sounds of their overtaxed lungs. The wall was cool against her back, but uncomfortably hard.

  Jaine tried to think of something clever to say, but her mind refused to work. Th
is was too serious, too damn important, for quips. So she closed her eyes and rested her cheek on his shoulder while her galloping heartbeat slowly began to calm and her loins relaxed around his shaft.

  He muttered something unintelligible and tightened his grip on her, holding her with one arm around her back and the other under her bottom as he stepped out of his jeans and unsteadily walked to the bedroom. He was still inside her, her body anchored to his, as he lowered them to the bed and settled on top of her.

  The room was dark and cool, the bed wide. He stripped off her silk shirt and unclipped her bra, tossing both garments to the floor. Now they were both totally naked, his chest hair rasping her nipples as he began to move again. His rhythm this time was slower but no less powerful as each thrust took him in to the hilt.

  To her surprise, the fever began to build again. She had thought she was too exhausted to be aroused again, but she found out differently. She hooked her legs around his and ground her pelvis up to meet each thrust, clinging to him, pulling him even deeper into her, and when she came, the paroxysm was even stronger than the others. He made a guttural sound, climaxing while she still shuddered beneath him.

  A long time later, when pulses had slowed, sweat had dried, and muscles had become halfway responsive again, he levered himself off her and rolled onto his back, one arm draped over his eyes. “Shit,” he said under his breath.

  Because the room was so quiet, she heard him. A tiny flare of temper made her eyes narrow. She still felt like a limp, overcooked noodle, so a tiny flare was all she could manage. “Gee, that’s romantic,” she said sarcastically. The man hadn’t been able to keep his hands off her for a week, and now that they had finally made love, “shit” was the best comment he could make, as if the whole experience had been a mistake?

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