Part 5

Waiting in the shadows finally took its toll on Alex. He checked his watch numerous times, wondering when Dara would leave her office and he could join her. Another pleasant surprise. Another planned moment.

It was silly of him to proceed this way. They had a relationship. She gave him her number. He could call, set a date and wham, no more shadows. But the spontaneity of showing up provided him what he'd been missing all of his life. The unbridled delight in her eyes as she noticed him. No one had ever been that happy to see him. No one had ever wanted to see him purely for the sake of being in his company. To think he was willing to risk this on the basis of Carrington Spence's orders was too damn dumb for words.

The doors opened. Dara stepped onto the sidewalk. Alex prepared to greet her. Then, another appeared. A man who stood too fucking close for comfort. Alex recognized the hovering figure immediately. Jerry Jacks. Another man who traveled just outside the circles of normality.

What the hell was Jacks doing with Dara?

Blood red rage threatened to erupt. He swallowed it down, only to find the emotion replaced with the greenish tint of jealousy.

He squeezed his hand into a fist, his nails digging into his palm. Confronting them would tip his hand. Besides, he wasn't in his right mind. He needed to relax and figure out what it meant.

Remaining in the shadows, he watched them walk past him and waited to follow.

*/*

"Hey, honey, you're home!"

Fox grinned as Dawn entered their apartment, blushing furiously. He loved doing that to her. When things were good between them, the line usually led to passionate foreplay followed by intense lovemaking. Her caramel hued flesh glowed under his. Her body opened for him and squeezed him tightly upon entry. The familiar ache returned to his crotch. And he noticed how her gazed dropped to his zipper for a millisecond before she smiled into his eyes. A warm, genuine smile of happiness to see him.

"Hey, yourself." She tossed her keys onto the end table and removed her shoulder holster. On the way to lock it in the nightstand, she paused to kiss his cheek and smack his backside.

"Ow! What was that for?" He followed her into the bedroom. Unable to help himself, he stared longingly at their queen-size bed, wanting to pull her onto it and make wild, crazy love to her. Yet, refusing to go back on his word. Promises meant everything to her. Then, he felt her eyes on him. He met her stare and gave her a crooked smile. "What? You getting ideas?"

"No, but I can see you are." She sat on the bed and began to untie her boots. "Something smells good. Don't tell me you're making dinner."

"I am." He rested his backside against the dresser. He loved watching her undress. "The roast will be ready in another hour to be served beside salad and garlic mashed potatoes."

After she pulled off her socks, she wiggled her toes. "What about dessert?"

"I figured you'd take care of that." He waggled his eyebrows for effect. Her responding laughter gave him hope. He moved to join her on the bed. Careful not to appear too seductive, he kept his hands on his lap. "What gives? You look exhausted."

"Um…"

He raised his hands in mock defense. "Husband to wife and vice versa. There are no reporters or cops here. Is that good enough?"

"The deal was I'd trust you," she said, staring at the pattern her big toe was drawing on the rug. "Is it good enough that I'm trying?"

Damn, he really fucked up in cracking her faith in him. He drew in a deep breath. "It has to be."

"Things are changing at work. Lennie is leaving." She looked at him then. "I endured a lot of shit after… Well, you know how cops can be, but Lennie and L.T. had my back. Van Buren is inside her office, though, and Lennie's on the street with me. After he's gone… I don't have a clue who she'll pair me with and who'll want to be partnered with me. Crazy days are ahead."

After the article came out in the paper, he didn't allow himself to think about what it meant for her job. He knew there'd been fall-out. They fought; she kicked him out and consulted a divorce attorney. But he didn't really consider the consequences she faced.

"Peaches, I'm sorry." He placed his hand on her back. When she didn't push him away, he moved closer and wrapped both arms around her. As he rested his chin on top of her head, he murmured, "What can I do?"

She leaned against him, pressing her whole body against him, falling into his embrace. "You're doing it. I'll be okay. I'm a tough black woman with a gun."

"And don't forget, with a man who loves her."

"A man who cooks and loves her." She tilted her head back to smile at him. "We can work through this Fox. It just takes time."

Yeah.

*/*

Alone on the back porch, Jian-Wa watched as stars filtered into the night sky. Keesha gave him the option of leaving a while ago, but then reneged in favor of feeding him. Now, she was putting her son to bed. And Jian-Wa didn't want to face the idea of going home to his single room at the hotel down the street. Sure, his violin offered solace, but he wasn't ready to accept the instrument's comfort. Tension centered on Keesha and the Australian man. The little boy seemed starved for affection and if the Aussie wasn't the child's father…who was?

He sensed rather than heard her approach. Opening the door for her to join him, he stepped aside. "It's a nice night."

"Yeah. I hope the weather will continue to be good to my plants," she said.

"A florist shop." He shook his head. "What happened to the woman determined to save the world?"

She stiffened. "I realized that you can't save what doesn't want to be. What are you doing here in Connecticut?"

He turned and sat on the railing, facing her. The light from the inside provided enough for him to gauge her reactions. She was curious and a little worried. Honesty was his only choice.

"I'm hiding…the same as you."

She stepped back against the wall. "I'm not. Why would you say that?"

"Keesha, I'm not stupid. You're running away from something."

"I'm beginning a new life with my son. That's it."

"Where's his father?"

"That's hardly any of your business," she snapped. "He's not here."

"Is he coming?"

A glimmer of fear flashed in her eyes. She blinked it away. "No."

"Does he know where you are?"

"Jian-Wa--"

"What? That's none of my business either, right?" He stood and crossed to her. The temptation to touch her was overwhelming. He thrust his hands into the front pocket of his jeans as a precaution. "Do you still like to dance?"

She visibly relaxed. Laughter bubbled from her. "That came out of left field."

"I suppose it did," he agreed. "Do you? When I think about Philadelphia, I remember dancing with you. Nothing else comes to mind…except for that and losing you."

Her laughter faded. "You didn't lose me. We lost each other."

"But Fate took care of that." He took her hand and squeezed. "I'll see you tomorrow."

She followed him inside and locked the door after him. He circled the block. For hours, he stood in the shadows of a maple tree, knowing that she was inside, fearful of her and Jacob's safety and fiercely determined to protect them both.

But from what?

He vowed to soon find out.

*/*

"What the hell were you thinking?" Dara felt her blood pressure rising, but her anger wouldn't be abated.

"You need protection." Justus' voice was the epitome of calm. "I sent you the best. Trust me. Trust him."

"Dammit, Justus." She clutched her cell phone. The idea of throwing it across the room came to mind, but what good would it do? Justus would remain uninjured. And right now, all she wanted to do was shake him silly. "You shouldn't have sent him. You know that. I can't believe you did this to me."

"What is the problem? You dated. Big deal. Come on, Dara. I thought you were a mature adult."

She heard the smirk and grunted. He wouldn't dare say that shit to her face.

"This has nothing to do with the couple of dates Jerry and I shared," she clarified. "This is about his arrogant, ego-maniacal way of handling things. I wanted silent protection. Jerry doesn't know the meaning of the word."

"You deserve the best and there he is," Justus replied. "Kill him with kindness, but do what he says. "

Hell that would be easier said than done, and Justus damn well knew it. Dara clicked off.

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