“I will never say a word.” He sketched a cross in the air. “On my honor.”
She sagged, bit her lip. “Thank you.”
“After what we saw…maybe we needed it. Since neither of us is married…”
Her eyes sizzled. “You said not a word. We won’t talk about why. It never happened.”
“Fine,” he said tightly. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’m kinda looking forward to getting home.”
She gave a nod, flinched as if she regretted it, and slammed the door of his Explorer. He waited until she was in her Subaru and had started it. Running his hand over his unshaven jaw, he watched in his mirror as she exited via the alley. Smart.
Too bad that after a couple pitchers of beer neither of them had been smart this morning. No, what was really too bad was that his own personal history had escalated his reaction to an already horrific tragedy. Otherwise he wouldn’t have had those damn beers in the first place.
Working with a woman he didn’t like would have been bad enough, Hugh thought. Working with a woman he didn’t like but had had drunken sex with was going to be next door to hell.
HOW COULD SHE have done something so stupid, so humiliating, so…undignified?
Nell stood under the shower with her face upturned, letting the hot water beat over her head as though it could cleanse her inside as well as out.
How could she face him again? How could she work with a man she’d let…
Nell moaned aloud at the fresh realization of exactly what she’d let him do. Never mind what she’d done.
Her head throbbed and she tilted it sideways to let the shower spray hit first one temple and then the other. The pressure didn’t help.
Nell reached for the soap and sudsed herself for at least the third time. Then she shampooed again as well. The rinse water was turning lukewarm. She’d been standing in there for an eternity.
But not long enough.
All the while she dried, got dressed and forced her self to eat a sandwich and drink a glass of milk, Nell’s thoughts raced in vicious circles.
She could only pray he was embarrassed, too, but what were the odds of that? Hugh McLean had a reputation with women. Word had it he had a different cute, petite blonde on his arm—or in his bed—every few weeks.
“A redhead once in a while,” Joe Redding had said admiringly. “But, damn, he picks lookers.”
Nell knew painfully well that she wasn’t even close to being a looker. But she was a woman, one more notch in his belt. Hey, he was drunk and in the mood, and she’d been handy. Handy? Who was she kidding? Randy, was probably more the truth.
There in her own kitchen, she flushed hot and cold. Her behavior had been so alien for the woman she’d become. It was as if too many beers had thrown her back to the wild teenager she’d been sixteen years ago, before she learned her lesson the hard way. Forget consequences, enjoy the now.
You feel good.
She whimpered and set down the half finished glass of milk. Her stomach was not enthusiastic about even something as innocuous as milk.
Would he keep his word, and not tell anyone? Nell didn’t know him well enough to be sure either way. The few times she’d had to work with him, they’d butted heads. She thought he was a sexist, macho jerk. Please, she prayed, let him also believe in old-fashioned chivalry.
She went back to the bathroom, brushed her hair into its usual severe, workday chignon, and carefully applied enough makeup to disguise some of the puffiness and blotches. Two more painkillers, teeth brushed and she’d done everything she could short of donning a mask.
Back in the kitchen she belatedly discovered a note from Kim carelessly tossed on the counter. It read, “Mom, Colin’s taking me to the spit. Call his cell phone if you won’t be home for dinner. I can eat with him. Bye.”
Nell crumpled the note. Great. Wonderful. Her just-turned-sixteen-year-old daughter was spending the day in the wilds with her entirely too ardent boyfriend. And what in hell could she, the single mother, do about it? Forbid a sixteen-year-old from dating? Hardly. Sign her up for summer camp? Uh-huh.
“What I wouldn’t give for year-round school,” Nell told the kitchen, and went out the door.
She was one of the last in the crowded briefing room at the station, for which she was grateful. She was able to stand in the back, unnoticed.
This wasn’t the usual beginning of her shift. She and McLean had been assigned, along with ten of the others present yesterday, to work this case. Four detectives from Major Crimes stood behind the captain. One, she was interested to note, was John McLean, Hugh’s older brother. He must have spent the night at the Joplin Building, because tiredness wore lines in his face that she knew weren’t always there, and his expression was bleak.
Nobody would mistake the relationship between the two men, although subtle differences in facial structure made Hugh handsome and his brother plain in a blunt, masculine way. Hugh’s bone structure was more defined, his nose thinner, his cheekbones more pronounced. Both shared imposing height and powerful shoulders and arms.
“The dead guy right outside the elevator on the fifth floor is our shooter,” the captain was saying.
While she was deciding which brother was sexier. Feeling a flush creeping up her face, Nell made a determined effort to block out awareness of Hugh McLean, sitting in the front row.
“A dozen witnesses have positively identified him.” Tiredness showed in the deepened lines on Captain Fisher’s face, but hadn’t succeeded in relaxing his military carriage or the iron in his voice. “He died of a self-inflicted shot to the head. As you all know, he’d been shedding his arsenal as he went. It appears right now that he used up his automatic rounds on the lower floors. He started down the hall, shot one more victim, then headed back to the elevator. He might have heard sirens and realized he couldn’t walk out. Hell, maybe he intended all along to end it that way.
“His name is Jack Gann. He was not a former or current employee of Greater Northwest. We don’t know yet what the association was. We’re guessing he was pissed about a denied claim, but, hell, it could be something else. One of the victims may be an ex-wife, the boyfriend of his ex…. It’ll be your job to find out.
“At this point, we believe he was acting alone. We can’t yet be certain of that, either. His car is in the lot, but so are ones belonging to a lot of other people who won’t be driving them home, either.
“The coroner has wrapped things up at the Joplin Building. You know the drill. We need accurate floor plans, drawings, notes.” Captain Fisher paused, his penetrating gaze traveling from one of his officers to the next. “You will be acting under the direction of the detectives. When you’re done, I want to know every step the son of a bitch took. How did he get to the third floor that heavily armed without being noticed? Who did he shoot first? Second? Third? Why those victims? Were they the ones who didn’t hide fast enough, or were they chosen?” His voice became softer, colder. “I don’t just want to know what he did, I want to know what he was thinking.”
Nods all around. “Sir.”
“These are your assignments.” Like a school-teacher, he stepped from behind the podium and passed out papers. When he’d reached the back of the room and Nell, he added his usual roll-call closer. “Do your jobs and do them carefully.”
Nell was praying she and McLean had been assigned to hunt background on the shooter. Her stomach roiled at the idea of going back into the Joplin Building, of seeing again where the bodies had fallen.
No such luck. She and her new partner—her temporary partner—would be part of the team securing, searching and recording the crime scene.
She waited in the hall for him. He was one of the last out the door of the briefing room,