Now You See Her by Linda Howard


  She didn’t know the number. She had never called Candra at home, and she vaguely remembered being told the private line was unlisted. Richard’s business line was listed, though, and unless he had an appointment somewhere, he should be in his office now. She wrestled the heavy white pages into her lap and clumsily flipped through to the Ws. “Richard Worth, Richard Worth,” she mumbled to herself. In a city the size of New York there were a lot of duplicated names, but she could pinpoint her Richard Worth with his address. Ah, there it was. She punched in the numbers, then huddled deeper into the blanket.

  A female voice answered and recited the number. “May I help you?” she pleasantly inquired.

  “May I speak to Richard, please?” Maybe she should have called him Mr. Worth instead of Richard.

  “Your name?”

  “Sweeney.”

  “S-w-e?—

  “S-w-e-e-n-e-y.” Her name wasn’t difficult, she thought irritably. Why would anyone have any trouble spelling it? Of course, her teeth were chattering so hard she might be difficult to understand, so she gave the woman the benefit of the doubt.

  “Sweeney.” Richard’s voice sounded in her ear only a few seconds later. “What’s wrong?”

  “How did you know?” she asked weakly.

  “That something was wrong? Why else would you be calling me?”

  She tried to laugh but couldn’t. “I’m cold,” she said, and was appalled to hear a whimper in her voice. “Oh, God, Richard, I’m so cold I think I might die.”

  “I’ll be right there.” His tone was quiet and calm. “You’ll be okay.”

  Because he had said it, she clung to the idea while she waited for him. She would be okay. He would arrive soon and get her warm with that miraculous body heat of his. “I’ll be okay,” she whispered, though her legs began cramping again and she couldn’t even crawl back to the vent. Tears wet her face again, and she dried them with the blanket. She didn’t want to be crying like a sissy when he got here.

  She would have to unlock the door. She tried to get up and fell back with a cry when her thigh seized in a cramp. She knew she should wait until he arrived, that it was dangerous to leave an entry door unlocked, but damn it, what if by then she wasn’t able to move at all? She massaged the knotted muscle, digging her fingers deep in a savage effort to buy herself a few relatively comfortable minutes. One minute would be enough, just long enough for her to get to the door and unlock it.

  If she couldn’t walk, she could crawl. If she couldn’t crawl, she would drag herself on her elbows. She would get to the door.

  She drew her right leg beneath her, pushing herself up, and breathed a sigh of relief when it didn’t cramp. Her entire body was trembling violently, both from the cold and in reaction to the incessant shivering. She was unbelievably weak. How could shivering be so debilitating? Wasn’t it the body’s means of producing heat?

  She couldn’t stand. Even though her legs weren’t cramping at the moment, she simply didn’t have the energy to get to her feet. She crawled a few feet, then collapsed on her side, breathing hard from the exertion. After a few moments she rolled, blanket and all, like a large human sausage. If babies could use rolling as a means of locomotion, so could she.

  She laughed aloud at the picture she must have made, and then cried because she ached so badly in every muscle. When she reached the door, she stretched to reach the doorknob, then hauled herself up on her knees. In that position she could reach, just barely, the two dead-bolt locks on the door. She fumbled them open, then curled into a ball beside the door to wait for Richard.

  CHAPTER

  NINE

  The ringing of the doorbell, when it came, startled her. She had no idea how much time had lapsed. “R-Richard?”

  The bell rang again, and she realized her voice had been too weak to penetrate the wood. She took a deep breath, holding it to buy herself a few seconds free from shivering. “Richard,” she called, not letting herself think what she would do if someone else was at the door.

  “I’m here. Open the door.”

  “It’s u-unlocked.”

  He opened the door, looked down, and saw her curled on the floor and said, “Shit,” in a very quiet, very controlled tone. He closed and locked the door, then bent down and effortlessly lifted her in his arms.

  “How long has this been going on?” he asked as he swiftly carried her to the couch.

  “S-since I woke up. A-about n-nine.”

  “It feels like the Sahara in here,” he said grimly. He placed her on the couch and unwrapped the blanket, then with sure, brisk movements unfastened her jeans and stripped them down her legs.

  “H-hey!” Sounding indignant and outraged was difficult when your teeth were chattering, she discovered.

  “Don’t argue,” he said, and pulled her sweatshirt off over her head. She wasn’t wearing a bra, because she never did when she was at home. Her nipples had pinched into tight little points. She started to cover her breasts with her hands, then abandoned that idea in favor of wrapping her arms around herself to conserve heat. Her eyelids drooped heavily.

  “Don’t let yourself go to sleep,” he ordered.

  “I w-won’t,” she promised, and hoped she wasn’t lying.

  He left her socks on and went to work on his own clothes. He wasn’t wearing a suit today, she noticed, just slacks and a silk shirt. He unbuttoned the shirt, his fingers moving swiftly, and dropped it to the floor. He kicked off his shoes and unbuckled his belt at the same time, stripping himself as efficiently as he had her. His pants hit the floor, he jerked off his socks, and then he was with her, wrapping her in his arms and all but crushing her against the back of the couch. “Easy,” he murmured, feeling her convulsive shaking, and pulled the blanket over them.

  He pushed his feet under hers and placed one big hand on the back of her head, tucking her face into the hollow between his neck and shoulder, forcing her to breathe air heated by his body.

  The shock of his heat was so intense she thought she might faint. At first all she was aware of was warmth, surrounding her, seeping through her skin and penetrating down to her marrow. He held her tightly against him, helping her contain the shivering, adding his strength to hers. “Don’t cry,” he whispered, making her aware that she still was, and wiped her face with the blanket.

  After what seemed like hours but could have been as little as five minutes, the shivering eased for a moment, allowing her to relax. She lay bonelessly in his arms, breathing heavily, then the monster seized her in its jaws again and shook her until her teeth rattled.

  The next respite lasted a little longer, long enough that she began to hope it was over. Richard’s body heat continued to pour over her, through her, reaching that central core of ice that no amount of coffee, hot water, or heated air had been able to touch. He was sweating; she could feel the moisture on his skin. She tried to stretch, ease her tired and cramped muscles, but the movement triggered more shivering.

  He held her through that, too, whispering reassurances in her ear. She didn’t need to be reassured, she thought fuzzily. Richard was here, so of course he would get her warm. Funny how she was so positive of that.

  She stilled again, lying quietly in his arms. The minutes ticked by, the room silent except for the sound of their breathing and the strong, steady thumping of his heart under her ear.

  She was all but naked, wearing only panties and socks. He had on even less, nothing but a pair of tight boxers. The crisp hair on his chest rasped her nipples, keeping them puckered even though she was no longer cold. He was very hard, she thought drowsily, brushing her lips against his shoulder without quite realizing what she was doing. Muscular, too. Her fingers moved over his shoulder, feeling the power beneath his sleek, warm skin as she stroked down to the hard bulge of his triceps. Even his belly was hard, and his legs were heavy with muscle.

  His erection prodded her stomach. A different kind of heat gathered in her, pooled between her legs. Instinctively she shifted, pushing her hi
ps against him in an acceptance she knew was dangerous, but the knowledge came a split second after the action. Even then she didn’t withdraw. The contact felt too good, too right.

  He kissed her forehead, the caress slow and tender. “Warm now?” he asked, and she nodded.

  “Good.” His breath sighed over her closed eyelids. “Sleepy?”

  “Um hmm.”

  “Go to sleep then, Sweeney.” At least she thought he said Sweeney. Something about her name sounded different, but she couldn’t quite place what it was. She inhaled with slow, deep precision, drawing his heated scent into her lungs and feeling something deep inside loosen and give way.

  His hand covered her breast, his callus-roughened thumb rubbing over her nipple. She had never thought breasts were the great source of pleasure portrayed in books and movies, having never felt more than irritation when some boy grabbed hers and pulled the nipples and expected her to become incoherent with pleasure when what she really felt like doing was punching him in the face. She didn’t feel like punching Richard. His circling thumb produced a prickling sort of heat in her nipple, then there was an almost unbearable tightening, and a hot wire of sensation ran from her breast straight to her loins, exploding there and spreading a different kind of heat throughout her body. She moaned, a quiet little whimper of delight.

  He repeated the motion over and over, the pleasure building with every second until it seemed to take over her body. She was glowing with heat now, inside and out. She surged against him, back and forth like the gentle, inexorable wash of the tide. A faint remnant of caution was swamped by the flood of pure physical delight.

  He tugged on her hair, pulling her head back. His mouth closed over hers, leisurely intensifying the pressure until her lips parted. He slanted his head then and kissed her, deep and hard, taking her with rhythmic thrusts of his tongue. Sweeney didn’t open her eyes, couldn’t open them, lost in a combination of fatigue and desire that both demanded and beguiled. Her fingers dug into the deep ridge of his back, slippery with sweat.

  He moved a little, adjusting his position so that the hard ridge of his penis nestled against her mound. She felt the soft folds between her legs open, just a little, and he rested between them. She started, a sliver of alarm working through the haze of desire, and that small movement rubbed her against his shaft in a way that sent pleasure rioting along her nerve endings. If the two layers of their underwear hadn’t been between them, he would have been inside her then, because she couldn’t stop the convulsive thrust of her hips. He groaned, deep in his throat, the sound vibrating in her own mouth.

  She felt as if her body were a bow, the hot wire of sensation pulling her tighter and tighter, arching her against him. She made a small, desperate mewling sound, all but clawing at him in her urgency, her thighs opening as she tried to ride the ridge of his erection. She was in pain again, a different kind of pain, hot and empty, almost mindless with need. Richard gripped her bottom and rubbed her against him, and everything inside her tightened, holding her on the verge of shattering for one long, unbearable moment before the tension released and she convulsed on great waves of pleasure. She heard her own cries, thin and wild, muffled by his kiss, and then for a while she didn’t know anything.

  Her dazed senses gradually regained their function. She was sweating, she realized with astonishment; her body sheened with moisture. As her heartbeat slowed, she realized that his hadn’t, but his touch was gentle as he settled her so that her head was pillowed on his arm. “Go to sleep,” he whispered.

  She didn’t have any other choice. Her muscles were like water, unable to function. “I had a climax,” she managed to say, and heard her own surprise.

  “I know,” he said on a low chuckle, his amusement strained but genuine. She nestled her face against him, breathed deeply, and like a child, was asleep.

  Richard pushed the sweltering blanket down a little. He didn’t want to trigger another of those alarming chills, but neither did he want either one of them to have a heatstroke. The apartment was so hot he could barely breathe. Sweat poured off him, and he hadn’t helped the situation by what he had just done. Foreplay with Sweeney was more erotic than any full sex act he had ever experienced; her response was swift and intense, and utterly beguiling. He had never before enjoyed so much something that left him so frustrated; he thought one touch of her hand would take him over the edge.

  He could have had her. She wouldn’t have accused him afterward of taking advantage of her, because she had the kind of bedrock honesty that made her take responsibility for her own actions. But he would have been taking advantage, and he knew it. She had been alarmingly weak, all her energy sapped by that constant, convulsive shivering. Her defenses had been down, and he could have done anything with her he wanted.

  What he had wanted most, it turned out, was to take care of her.

  He didn’t know how he had managed to control himself. He closed his eyes as he remembered the sight of her high, round breasts with the delicate blue tracery of veins and her small, tightly puckered nipples. Those soft mounds were flattened against his chest now, her nipples plumped but still firm enough that he could feel both of them.

  Her cheek was flushed now with warm color, her skin smooth and supple instead of roughened with chills. Something was very, very wrong, but he couldn’t begin to imagine what it was. There was no medical condition he knew of that would let body heat warm her but prevent any other means of heat from doing the same thing. Her condition this time had seemed far more extreme than it had during the other episode; she’d had all the symptoms of hypothermia, including the slurred speech. That was why he had stripped their clothes off, knowing she would get warm faster without the buffer of clothing between them. He had also known the other likely outcome and fought to keep himself under control while he deliberately aroused her.

  When she woke, and got some clothes on, he intended to hustle her pretty little ass into the car and get her to a doctor. He knew a couple of very good diagnosticians who would see her without an appointment, as a favor to him. Though he had been acquainted with her for several years, he was only now beginning to know her, to plumb the treasure chest of her personality, and he refused to let anything endanger his intoxicating discovery.

  She was damp with sweat, her own as well as his. The crisis, whatever it was, was over for now, and he was about to pass out from the heat. He eased away from her and got up, tucking the blanket around her as a safeguard, then went in search of the thermostat. When he found it, he winced at the setting and nudged it down to seventy-five.

  The heat had made him thirsty. He opened cabinet doors until he found the drinking glasses, then stood in front of the sink and guzzled two full glasses of water. He wanted a cool shower, but didn’t want to leave her alone in case her nap was a short one. She deserved to be held when she woke up after her first orgasm.

  He didn’t know what made him so certain that had been her first. Her surprise, maybe. He had always thought her totally oblivious to men, so focused on her work that there wasn’t room in her life for anything else, and now he knew his supposition had been right. Her experiences were probably few and a long time ago, very likely with boys her age, and had produced damn little pleasure for her. She had probably said to hell with the whole process; she had better things to do. He didn’t know why she had suddenly responded to him, but he wasn’t about to question his good luck.

  He went back into the living room, where he could keep an eye on her. The sweat was evaporating on his body, but he still felt too hot to put on his clothes.

  When he had been here before, he hadn’t paid much attention to his surroundings; he had been almost totally focused on her. Now he looked around, relieved beyond measure that everything wasn’t stark white, or black lacquer. Her furniture was traditional, and functional. Her artistry was revealed in her use of color, a deep blue bowl placed where the sunshine would fall on it and make it glow, a light green vase filled with red flowers, a purple afghan thro
wn across a chair. He noticed the abundance of plants and thought she must have a very green thumb, because all of them had glossy, abundant leaves and several of them were blooming in a riot of color, yellows and pinks and reds.

  She had a lot of books, too, most of them on shelves but some stacked on the coffee table. He picked one up, his eyebrows lifting as he read the title, The Ghost Detectives. He picked up another book, Paranormal Phenomena. Funny, he wouldn’t have thought she was the type to be hooked on this paranormal stuff, but he enjoyed The X-Files himself and he wasn’t normally a science fiction fan, so he couldn’t knock her interests.

  A third book was Spirit Sightings. Another was Ghosts Among Us. She was evidently fascinated by ghosts.

  He was a little interested himself. When his grandfather died, Richard had gone home for the funeral and stayed for a week with his mother in the tiny run-down house where he had grown up. The entire time he was there, he kept sensing his grandfather’s presence, catching a glimpse of movement out of the corner of his eye and then, when he turned, finding no one there. He was a logical man, but logic didn’t mean rejecting everything he couldn’t touch or see or taste. He couldn’t see electricity, but he could see its effects, and maybe in death the body left behind a lingering energy field.

  He thought it must be at least possible, though he admitted it was equally possible his brain had been playing tricks on him, because he was so accustomed to his grandfather being in that house that he expected to see him.

  Richard put the books down and checked on Sweeney. She was still sleeping soundly, one hand tucked under her cheek, her lips rosy and her fingertips pink.

  Her entire body had been icy when he first arrived. He frowned. He had thought, the first time, that she seemed almost to be in shock, and the impression was stronger now. Had anything happened both times to trigger such an extreme reaction? Or was her blood pressure dropping suddenly because of some physical condition? One way or another, when she woke, he was going to get to the bottom of this.

 
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