“That all makes sense, I guess.” She held ultrastill. A move away could well relay how much his presence affected her, and she wasn’t sure if she wanted to take that step or not.
“Actually, I didn’t come up with the theory myself. That’s what his boss seems to think happened. Apparently Rand Smith had been talking about the woman around work for quite a while.”
Could be, but it still felt… off. She’d been with Ted and Madison when they’d met with the deputy and she hadn’t gotten that vibe at all. Of course nothing felt normal right now, and Wade’s presence scrambled her already shaky senses. “I should give my statement while things are still fresh in my mind—and before I pass out. Are they coming in here or do I go somewhere?”
“You’ll call from here. It’ll be a video-con, so it will be like a regular face-to-face interview.”
She drew in a shaky breath. “Okay, I can handle that.”
“Afterward, I’ll make sure they give you quarters to stay in for the night.” He reached into his pocket. “You’ll need some cash for incidentals.”
“No!” She placed a hand on his arm. A jolt of awareness sparked up her fingertips, tingling all the way into her arms. Ignoring him wasn’t working, but that didn’t mean she would lose sight of what she needed to accomplish tonight. “Can we please just go somewhere else?”
His body tensed. Their eyes locked. Heat spiked in the room. Or was it just in her bloodstream?
“Honestly, after all I’ve been through recently, I really don’t want to stay here alone.” She tried to think of a reason why she wouldn’t take the offer of a free room just because it happened to be on a military base that totally freaked her out. She downplayed it with “Gotta confess, the base is rather overwhelming. I’ve had a scary couple of days and thought… Maybe I could stay at a hotel. I’ll pay you back with interest. But I need to get off base. All the noise and people are like a steamroller to my senses when I’m used to the closest neighbor being a mile away.”
He shook his head. “Those close-by people also bring security, and until I know what the hell was going on with Deputy Smith, I’m not going to feel comfortable with you out there unprotected.”
“How about I stay with you then,” she blurted in desperation.
His eyes blinked wide for a second before his expression went neutral. “How do you know I don’t live here on base?”
“You’re not married, so you can’t have one of the base houses… Well, unless you’re a Catholic chaplain—then you could live on base alone.” She couldn’t help but grin. “Are you a priest?”
“Not by a long shot.” Leaning back in his chair, he folded his hands over his chest, his smile a hint wicked.
Heat singed her ears. “Didn’t think so.” God, she liked his smile. “And since you’re not a freshly recruited E1 airman, you can’t live in the airman’s dorms. So I can only conclude you do not live on station. Have I covered everything?”
“You know a lot about base life.”
Her insides chilled. Why was it so easy to lower her guard around this guy? She would do well to remember that around him, and without question, he was her best bet for a ticket off this base until she could figure out what to do next. So she needed to rein in the rogue attraction where he was concerned. “I had an uncle in the service. So can I stay at your place or not? I saved your butt on that mountain, after all, by showing you that cave.”
“And I saved your butt when the guy was shooting.”
“That you did.”
He angled forward again, so close she thought for a second he was going to kiss her. Which would only complicate things.
“I didn’t mean—”
“I know,” he said simply. “Yes, you can stay at my place if you wish. It’s small, but there’s a bed and a sofa.”
A sigh shuddered through her long and hard, her relief almost overriding her body’s reaction to watching his lips wrap around the word bed. One hurdle taken care of. And if she could keep her wits about her, she had a place to stay and access to a computer that was less likely to be monitored. And although that kiss still hovered unspoken in the air between them, he’d offered a sofa rather than assuming she wanted to jump in bed with him.
Now if she could only be so sure she could hold strong against sliding into the comfort of his arms to calm her soul and fears.
Brett fought the urge to fling his BlackBerry across the room, smack between the eyes of the mounted reindeer head.
How in the hell had that deputy—Rand Smith—screwed up so completely? It was such a simple job. Take out two people with an entire, deserted wasteland to dispose of the bodies. He’d thought having someone from the local police department on his payroll would make things easier, not harder.
Pacing, Brett restored order to his office, to his world. He dropped a stray pen into the pewter holder, thumbed a fingerprint from a glass whale paperweight his wife had given him to commemorate their fifteenth anniversary. Everything he did was for her, and had been since the day he fell hard and fast for the flame-haired, fiery-tempered woman on a charter fishing boat.
He’d left Montana for Alaska looking for opportunity and adventure, and he’d found Andrea. Everything he did was for her, to give her what she needed.
For the past two and a half years, that tiny, secluded town had offered a perfect—and lucrative—conduit for smuggling people, intelligence, and even weaponry in and out of Russia. He could stash them there until the time was right to make the next move. And never had a package promised to be more profitable than the explosive surprise in the works three days coming.
One pacing step at a time, he steadied his heart rate and his focus. He could make this happen. He needed to make it happen for Andrea. His knuckles skimmed the top of a honeymoon photo snapped on safari in Africa. With the larger payoff in the works, he could give her a future with more magical times like that.
He set the frame in place, carefully angled in the collection lined along his windowsill. Now was not the time to draw attention to this corner of Alaska. Mistakes were not tolerated by his new business associates, and his gut clenched over the possibility of Andrea being widowed.
The most expedient way to keep a lid on this? Let Rand think he was regaining favor with a last chance opportunity to off Sunny Foster, a woman who now knew way too much about the world outside.
Then he would stage Rand Smith’s death to look like an accident, while planting some love letters from Madison on his person. Loose ends tied up neat and tidy.
He reached for the phone to call his wife. Damn right, people would do anything for love.
Walking up the narrow stairwell to Wade’s home, a third-floor apartment, Sunny couldn’t shake the sense that she’d missed something crucial back at base. She’d given her statement to the police about what she’d seen. She’d explained simply that she escorted small excursions leaving an off-the-grid community on the Aleutian Islands. Luckily—and a little surprisingly—the interrogator on the other side of the phone line hadn’t pressed.
They hadn’t been able to hold the video conference as originally planned, due to a storm that rolled in through the islands, scrambling the satellite feed. The techies had tried for ten minutes, but only received blurry reception, so they’d opted for phone lines, which worked well enough with only the occasional crackle. Thank God, that was out of the way. Now she could focus on contacting her family.
Then what? She would be alone with Wade in his apartment. Adrenaline and want and a thousand other confusing emotions scrambled through her brain. She didn’t know what she felt anymore.
She only knew she had to reach her sister, and Wade was the one person she even halfway trusted out here. Not that trust had anything to do with how she kept checking out the taut curve of his backside in uniform as he led her up the stairs.
Chewie’s nails clicked on the scarred wooden steps as he followed her. The base vet had given him a clean bill of health. And now she owed Wade even more.
Stopping outside the thick oak door, he pulled out his keys, unlocked two dead bolts before opening up. He spread his arm wide. “Welcome to my garret, sweet garret.”
“Thank you, really. You’re being so generous.” Careful not to brush against him, she strode past into his one-room studio apartment, sprawling and rustic.
Thick maple beams stretched across the slanted ceiling, all natural and light. Chewie lumbered past slowly, nose to the ground, sniffing as he explored the new space. The apartment itself was full of typical guy furniture, a fat brown sofa and huge recliner. An oversized television with a flat screen took up half a wall. She’d seen some like it in movies, but had never used one. Most of the appliances where she lived were older and simpler, requiring minimal power. And they always used fireplaces and wood stoves.
Apparently, so did Wade, if the massive stone hearth was anything to judge by. Chewie padded over, hunkering down to stare at the bear rug with a low growl. Finally, her dog surrendered and flopped into an exhausted heap with a hefty sigh.
Wade flipped a switch, activating track lighting along the angled ceiling over the kitchen. “Help yourself to anything. The cabinet under the little island there has standard snack crap, chocolate chip granola bars, Pop-Tarts, and such.”
Best as she could tell, all sugary. Not much of a gourmet or health food aficionado, but somehow it made her smile all the same. Then she saw what she’d really come here for.
His dinette table sported a computer and a printer rather than dishes or even a napkin holder. Her fingers curled into a fist to resist the temptation to type away right now. Only a minute or so more and she would be able to contact her family.
She traced the edge of the dark wood table, nostalgia blindsiding her. Meals were a big deal in her family. She pressed her fingers against the ache in her chest. The skylight and wall of windows gave a sweeping view of the breathtaking Alaska Range, reminding her all the more of her family, her home. God, she loved this place, a photographer’s dream. A place where people were just as welcome in jeans and mukluks as they were in diamonds and furs.
And suddenly she realized. “I don’t know where you’re from.”
“A little of everywhere.” He dropped his green bag of gear by the sofa. “My dad was an army warrant officer, helicopter pilot. Mom was an air force reservist, a medical technician on C-130s outfitted as hospitals.”
“You’re a military brat times two.”
“Needless to say, we moved around.”
“I imagine your parents are proud you’ve continued in their footsteps.” Her father had never said anything against his son. But there were days…
“So my dad says. But I sure gave them a few gray hairs back in the day.” He walked past her almost touching, electrifying the air on his way to the stone fireplace. “I was a hardheaded hell-raiser in high school.”
“What made you change your ways?”
Kneeling, he tossed two logs onto the grate. “Oh, the hardheaded part is still alive and well. Ask anyone. As for the hell-raising?” He arranged kindling with knowledgeable precision. “Let’s just say it ended the day I witnessed a helicopter crash. As I watched the rescuers in action, I knew right then what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.”
She sensed there was more to the story, but he didn’t seem open to sharing as he kept his back to her, striking a match. “What are your parents doing now?”
“My parents have retired to Arizona, where my dad plays a lot of golf and my mom, um, shows off pictures of their grandchildren.”
“My sister and her husband have two kids, a boy who’s five and a girl who’s four.”