Mr. Perfect by Linda Howard


  “How in hell can I cheat? You’re the one who blew into it!”

  “Then it’s wrong! It’s defective. We all drank the same amount, so how can I be over the limit when no one else is?”

  “They outweigh you,” he said patiently. “Luna’s pushing the edge, but she’s legal. You aren’t. I’ll drive you home.”

  Now she looked like a sulky kid. “Which vehicle are we going to leave here, yours or mine?”

  “Yours. Let it look as if Luna has company, if anyone checks the parking lot.”

  That argument got to her. She was still pouting, but after a minute she said, “Okay.” With only a little more trouble he got her bundled into his truck, where she promptly went back to sleep.

  She woke up enough to get into his house under her own power, but she stood glowering as he turned on the shower and began stripping himself, then her.

  “Did you intend to wash your hair?” he asked.

  “Yes.”

  “Good. Then it won’t matter when I do this.” He picked her up and swung her into the shower, directly under the stream of water. She sputtered and coughed, but didn’t fight him. Instead she heaved a big sigh, as if the water felt good.

  After her hair was shampooed and rinsed, she said, “I’m not in a good mood.”

  “I noticed.”

  “I’m always cranky when I haven’t had enough sleep.”

  “Oh, is that the problem?” he asked dryly.

  “The biggest part. I’m usually very happy when I’ve had a few beers.”

  “You were happy last night. This morning is a different story.”

  “You think I have a hangover. I don’t. Well, a little headache, but not much. Just let this be a warning to you if you keep me from sleeping again tonight.”

  “I kept you from sleeping? I kept you from sleeping?” he repeated incredulously. “You are the same woman who shook me out of a sound sleep at two A.M. yesterday morning, aren’t you?”

  “I didn’t shake you. I kind of bounced on you, but I didn’t shake you.”

  “Bounced,” he repeated.

  “You had a hard-on. I couldn’t let it go to waste, could I?”

  “You could have woke me up before you started not letting it go to waste.”

  “Look,” she said, exasperated, “if you don’t want it used, don’t lie on your back with it sticking up like that. If that isn’t an invitation, I don’t know what is.”

  “I was asleep. It does that on its own.” It was doing it on its own right now, as a matter of fact. It poked her in the stomach.

  She looked down … and smiled. It was a smile that made his testicles draw up in fear.

  With a sniff, she turned her back on him and ignored him as she finished showering.

  “Hey!” he said, to get her attention. Alarm was in his tone. “You aren’t going to let this one go to waste, are you?”

  They made it to the funeral home on time, but it was close. He drove her back to Luna’s to pick up her car, so if the killer was at the funeral, he wouldn’t see her getting out of Sam’s truck and figure out where she was staying. With the Cobra in his garage, he had to park the truck either in the driveway or in Jaine’s garage, which was a pain in the ass, since she didn’t have an automatic garage door opener.

  He was relaxed, and Jaine was in an infinitely more mellow mood, too. Medicinal sex was great stuff. She had managed to resist him for a full five minutes, but just when he was beginning to really sweat, she cuddled up to him with a sparkle in those blue eyes and whispered, “I’m feeling tense. I think I need relaxing.”

  She looked great, he thought, watching her from across the room. She wore a neat little navy suit that hit right at her knees, and sexy pumps. She had let him watch while she put on what she called her “funeral face.” Evidently women had a makeup strategy for every occasion. The eyeliner and mascara were waterproof, to head off smudges. No blush or foundation, just powder, because she would be hugging people and didn’t want to leave smears on their clothing. And kiss-proof lipstick in what she called a “discreet mauve,” though he had no idea what in hell mauve was. Her lipstick looked pinkish, but women couldn’t just say “pink.”

  Women were a different species. Aliens. That was the only explanation.

  Cheryl wore black and looked very dignified. Her husband had joined her, and stood beside her, holding her hand. T.J. wore a dark green suit, and her husband also attended with her. Mr. Yother was a trim, all-American type, with neat brown hair and regular features. He didn’t hold T.J.’s hand, and Sam noticed that T.J. didn’t look at him very often. There was trouble there, he thought.

  Luna wore a form-fitting column of red that hit her at mid-calf. She was, simply, beautiful. She walked over to join Jaine, and Sam moved closer, to hear what they were saying.

  “Marci loved red,” Jaine said, smiling at Luna and reaching for her hand. “I wish I had thought of it.”

  Luna’s lips trembled. “I wanted to send her off in style. This isn’t in bad taste, is it?”

  “Are you kidding? It’s great. Everyone who knew Marci will understand, and if they didn’t know Marci, then they don’t matter.”

  Roger Bernsen was there, trying to blend in. He didn’t do it very well, but he was trying. He didn’t come over to speak, but then, they weren’t here to socialize. They moved around, studying the crowd, listening to conversations.

  There were several blond men in attendance, but Sam carefully studied each one of them and none seemed to be paying any special attention to Jaine or the others. Most of them were with their wives. The killer could be married, he knew, and live a very normal life on the surface, but unless he was a stone-cold serial killer he would show some kind of emotion when faced with his handiwork, and his other targets.

  Sam didn’t think they were dealing with that kind of killer; the attacks were too personal, and too emotional, like someone out of control.

  He continued to watch all during the graveside service, which was mercifully brief. The heat was already stifling, though Cheryl had scheduled the service as early as possible to avoid the worst part of the day.

  He caught Bernsen’s eye, and Roger slowly shook his head. He hadn’t spotted anything either. Everything was being taped, and they would watch the film later, to see if there was anything they had missed, but Sam didn’t think there was. Damn it, he’d been certain the killer would attend.

  Cheryl was weeping a little, but mostly keeping it under control. Sam saw Jaine blot her eyes with the edge of a folded tissue: more female strategy to preserve the makeup. He didn’t think his sisters knew all these tricks.

  A pretty, slender woman in a black dress approached Cheryl and was extending her condolences when she suddenly broke down and collapsed in Cheryl’s startled arms, sobbing. “I just can’t believe it,” she wept. “The office isn’t the same without her.”

  T.J. and Luna moved closer to Jaine, both of them eyeing the woman with “what’s going on?” expressions. Sam walked over, too. People were grouping in clusters, politely ignoring the emotional storm, so he wouldn’t be conspicuous doing the same thing.

  “I might have known Leah would play this for all she’s worth,” T.J. muttered in disgust. “She’s a drama queen,” she added, for Sam’s benefit. “She’s in my department, and she does this on a regular basis. Give her something the least bit upsetting and she turns it into a tragedy.”

  Jaine was watching the display in disbelief, her eyes wide. She shook her head and said mournfully, “The wheel’s still going around, but her hamster’s dead.”

  T.J. choked on a bark of laughter and tried to turn it into a cough. She quickly turned her back, her face red as she tried to control herself. Luna was biting her lower lip, but a snicker broke through and she, too, had to turn her back to the scene. Sam covered his mouth with his hand, but his shoulders were shaking. Maybe people would think he was crying.

  A red dress! The bitch wore a red dress. Corin couldn’t believe his eyes. That
was so shameful, so cheap. He wouldn’t have believed it of her, and he was so shocked it was all he could do to keep his hands off her. Mother would be horrified.

  Women like that didn’t deserve to live. None of them did. They were dirty, filthy whores, and he would be doing the world a favor by getting rid of them.

  Luna sighed with relief when she finally stepped into her apartment and could kick off her high heels. Her feet were killing her, but looking good for Marci was worth the pain. She would do it all again if she had to, but she was glad she didn’t.

  Now that the funeral was over, she felt numb, exhausted. The wake had helped immensely; talking about Marci, laughing, crying, had been a catharsis that had allowed her to get through the day. The funeral itself, the ritual, was its own comfort. Her dad had told her that military funerals, with all the pomp and protocol and the precisely orchestrated movements, were a comfort to the families. The rituals said: This person counted. This person was respected. And the services were sort of an emotional marker, a point at which the grieving could honor the dead and yet have a starting place for the rest of their lives.

  It was funny how they had all connected to Cheryl. It was like having Marci, but different, because Cheryl was definitely her own person. It would be nice to stay in touch with her.

  Luna twisted her arms to reach the back zipper of her dress, and had it half unzipped when someone rang her doorbell.

  She froze, sudden panic freezing her veins. Oh, my God. He was out there, she knew it. He had followed her home. He knew she was here alone.

  She edged toward the phone, as if he could see through the door and know what she was doing. Would he break it down? He had broken into Jaine’s house, by knocking out a pane of glass, but was he strong enough to break down a door? She had never even thought to find out if her door was reinforced, or a simple wooden door.

  “Luna?” The voice was puzzled, low. “It’s Leah. Leah Street. Are you okay?”

  “Leah?” she said weakly, relief making her dizzy. She bent over at the waist, breathing deeply to fight off the shakes.

  “I tried to catch up with you, but you were in too much of a hurry,” Leah called.

  Yes, she had been. She had been desperate to get home and out of those shoes.

  “Just a minute, I was about to change clothes.” Why on earth was Leah here? she wondered as she crossed to ‘the door and unchained it. Before she unlocked it, however, she put her eye to the peephole to make certain it was Leah, though she knew she had recognized the voice.

  It was Leah, looking sad and tired, and suddenly Luna felt guilty about the way they had laughed at her at the funeral. She couldn’t imagine why Leah wanted to talk to her, they had never exchanged more than a few words in passing, but she unlocked the door. “Come in,” she invited. “It was miserably hot at the service, wasn’t it? Would you like something cold to drink?”

  “Yes, please,” Leah said. She was carrying a large shoulder bag, and she eased its weight off her shoulder, clutching it in her arms like it was a baby.

  As Luna turned to go to the kitchen, she noticed how Leah’s blond hair glistened in the light. She checked, a tiny frown knitting her brow, and started to turn back.

  She was too late.

  twnty-six

  Jaine woke up at ten-thirty Sunday morning. She woke up then only because the phone was ringing. She started to fumble for the receiver, remembered this was Sam’s house, and snuggled back into the pillow. So what if it was on her side of the bed? His phone, his responsibility.

  He stirred beside her, all heat and hardness and musky male scent.

  “Get the phone, will you?” he said sleepily.

  “It’s for you,” she mumbled.

  “How d’you know?”

  “It’s your phone.” She hated having to point out the obvious.

  Muttering something under his breath, he heaved himself up on one elbow and leaned over her to reach the phone, squashing her into the mattress. “Yeah,” he said. “Donovan.”

  “Yeah,” he said again, after a short pause. “She’s here.” He dropped the phone onto the pillow in front of her and smirked. “It’s Shelley.”

  She thought a few swear words, but didn’t say them. Sam still hadn’t made her pay for the “son of a bitch” she’d yelled when she hit her head on the table, and she didn’t want to remind him. Cradling the phone to her ear, she said, “Hello,” as Sam lay down beside her again.

  “Long night?” Shelley asked sarcastically.

  “About twelve, thirteen hours. The usual for this time of year.”

  A hard, warm body pressed against her back, and a hard, warm hand smoothed over her belly on a slow sweep up to her breasts. Something else that was hard and warm prodded her bottom.

  “Ha, ha,” said Shelley. “You have to come get this cat.” She didn’t sound like the point was negotiable.

  “BooBoo? Why?” Like she didn’t know. Sam was rubbing her nipples, and she put her hand over his to still his fingers. She needed to concentrate, or she might get stuck with BooBoo again.

  “He’s destroying my furniture! He’s always seemed like such a sweet cat, but he’s a destructive demon!”

  “He’s just upset at being in a strange place.” Deprived of her nipples, Sam moved his hand down to another interesting spot. She clamped her legs together to halt the slide of his fingers.

  “He isn’t nearly as upset as I am!” Shelley sounded more than upset; she sounded outraged. “Look, I can’t take care of planning your wedding when I have to watch this demon cat every second of the day.”

  “Do you want to risk him getting killed? Do you want to tell Mom that you let a psycho nutcase killer mutilate her cat because you care more about your furniture than you do her feelings?” Boy, that was good, if she did say so herself. Masterful.

  Shelley was breathing hard. “You fight dirty,” she complained.

  Sam tugged his hand free from the clamp of her thighs and chose another angle of attack: her rear guard. That thought-destroying hand stroked her bottom, then slid on down and around, finding just what he wanted and working two long fingers into her. She gasped and almost dropped the phone.

  Shelley also chose another angle of attack. “You aren’t even staying at your house, you’re staying with Sam. BooBoo will be all right there.”

  Oh, no. She couldn’t concentrate. His fingers were big and rough, and they were driving her out of her mind. It was his revenge for making him answer the phone, but if he didn’t stop it he was going to have an outraged cat shredding everything in his house.

  “Just pet him a lot,” she managed to gasp. “He’ll settle down.” Yeah, in a couple of weeks. “He especially likes to have his ears scratched.”

  “Come get him.”

  “Shel, I can’t just bring a cat into someone else’s house!”

  “Sure you can. Sam would put up with a herd of maniac demon cats just to get in your pants. Use your power now, while it lasts! In a few months he won’t even bother to shave before crawling into bed with you.”

  Great. Shelley was trying to turn this into a male-female power issue. Sam’s knuckle rubbed over her clitoris, and she almost mewed. She managed to say, “I can’t,” though she wasn’t certain to whom she was saying it, Sam or Shelley.

  Sam said, “Yes, you can,” in a low, smoky voice, and Shelley shrieked in her ear, “Oh, my God, you’re doing it right now, aren’t you? I heard him! You’re talking to me on the phone while Sam is boinking you!”

  “No, no,” Jaine babbled, and Sam promptly made a liar out of her by sliding out his fingers and replacing them with a hard thrust of his full-grown morning erection. She bit her lip, but a strangled sound escaped anyway.

  “I can see I’m wasting my time talking to you now,” Shelley said. “I’ll call again when you aren’t occupied. How long does it usually take him? Five minutes? Ten?”

  Now she wanted an appointment. Since biting her lip hadn’t worked, Jaine tried biting the pillow. De
sperately reaching for a moment of control, just a moment, she managed to say, “A couple of hours.”

  “Two hours!” Shelley was shrieking again. She paused. “Does he have any brothers?”

  “F-four.”

  “Man!” There was another pause as Shelley evidently weighed the advantages and disadvantages of dumping Al in favor of a Donovan. She finally sighed. “I’m going to have to rethink my strategy. You’d probably let BooBoo tear my house down, brick by brick, before you’d do anything to upset that particular applecart, wouldn’t you?”

  “You got it,” Jaine agreed, her eyes closing. Sam shifted position, getting to his knees and straddling her right leg, with her left one hooked over his arm. Forking her that way, his penetration was deep and straight in, and his left thigh rubbed right where it did the most good. She had to bite the pillow again.

  “Okay, I’ll let you go.” Shelley sounded defeated. “I tried.”

  “Bye,” Jaine said thickly, and fumbled to return the phone to its hook, but couldn’t quite reach it. Sam leaned forward to do the honors, and the movement pushed him so deeply inside her that she shrieked and climaxed.

  When she could speak, she pushed her hair out of her face and said, “You’re evil.” She was panting and weak, unable to do anything except lie there.

  “No, babe, I’m good,” he countered, and proved it.

  When he was lying beside her, sweaty and limp, he said sleepily, “I gather we almost got BooBoo back.”

  “Yeah, and you weren’t helping matters,” she grumbled. “She knew what you were doing, too. I’ll probably never live this down.”

  The phone rang again. Jaine said, “If it’s Shelley, I’m not here.”

  “Like she’ll believe that,” he said as he groped for the receiver.

  “I don’t care what she believes, as long as I don’t have to talk to her right now.”

  “Hello,” he said. “Yeah, she’s here.”

  He extended the phone, and she took it, glaring at him. He mouthed, “Cheryl,” and she sighed with relief.

  “Hi, Cheryl.”

  “Hi. Listen, I’ve been trying to call Luna. I have some photos of Marci that she wanted to have copied, and I wanted her address to mail them to her. I was just there yesterday, but who pays attention to street signs and numbers? Anyway, she isn’t answering her phone, so do you have the address?”

 
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