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Lucas Washington stared at the darkened house across the way from where he stood on a quiet residential Kansas City street. Although everything was silent and it appeared the occupants of the house were sleeping, Lucas knew this was the most dangerous time in the job he had to do.
He was about to repossess the two-year-old Buick in the driveway, and he didn't know if there might be a crazy man with a rifle in one of those darkened windows ready to protest the repossession.
Lucas didn't believe in favors, giving them or getting them. Still, it was repaying a favor that had him standing on the street on a cold November night at two in the morning. Repossessions were usually done in the middle of the night when hopefully the deadbeat was sleeping and there was less of a chance of a confrontation.
As the third partner of Recovery Inc., it wasn't unusual for Lucas to be repossessing some kind of vehicle. But the business dealt in big-ticket items, speedboats and airplanes and such, and they often ventured into dangerous territories to get back whatever was necessary.
A two-year-old Buick wasn't their usual kind of job, but when Bob of Big Bob's Used Car Sales had called and asked Lucas to repossess the car, Lucas had reluctantly agreed.
Big Bob had given Lucas's sister a heck of a deal on her car and had overlooked the fact that Loretta's credit wasn't exactly stellar.
Besides, business had been slow lately and Lucas had been out of sorts. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that in the last four months his partners had both found love and suddenly had a life that didn't include him.
He scowled and pulled his collar up against the cold night air, then reached intohis pocket and grabbed the key that Bob had provided him. All he wanted to do was get this car to Big Bob's, then go back home to his apartment.
According to Bob, who had financed the deal, the man who'd driven it off the lot hadn't made a single payment in four months. Bob's phone calls to try to work something out had gone unreturned, and so he'd called Lucas.
"No pay, no play." Lucas muttered. He hoped there wouldn't be any drama, that Mr. Deadbeat would wake up in the morning and wonder what in the hell had happened to his ride.
He approached cautiously, checking the windows of the house a final time then heading across the street. He crouched behind the back fender and listened, but heard nothing to cause him alarm.
Pulling the key from his pocket, he edged around to the driver's side and tried the handle. It was unlocked. Sweet. Mr. Deadbeat had made it remarkably easy.
He opened the door, slid into the seat and breathed a sigh of relief. He put the key into the ignition, cranked the engine and yelped as a hand fell on his shoulder.
He whirled around, expecting Mr. Deadbeat with a gun. Instead he found himself staring into the biggest, bluest eyes he'd ever seen. Female eyes. They belonged to a blonde who looked as if she'd just gotten the hell beat out of her.
A nasty gash decorated one side of her forehead. It had bled down her face and onto her white blouse.
"Please, if you're stealing the car, just let me out now." Her voice was thin and reedy and her face was pasty white.
"I'm not stealing the car, I'm repossessing it. What are you doing back there?" As he asked the question he backed out of the driveway.
He wasn't about to sit and talk with a bloody woman in the backseat with the engine idling when Mr. Deadbeat might come outside.
He pulled out onto the street and headed in the direction of Big Bob's. He glanced in the rearview mirror and saw her slumped in the corner, a perplexed frown on her pretty face.
"What are you doing in the car? Is it yours?" he asked. What in the heck was going on? "What happened to your head? Did somebody beat you up?" The questions snapped out of him. He didn't like surprises, and a banged-up woman in the back of the car was definitely a surprise.
He also didn't like the fact that she wasn't talking, wasn't offering any explanation for her presence. He frowned and shot her another glance in the rearview mirror. Maybe she was seriously hurt.
"Do you need to go to a hospital?" he asked more gently.
"No!" The word shot out of her like the report of a gun. "No, please." Her eyes were shiny with tears. "Just drop me off someplace. I'll be fine."
A domestic issue? he wondered. Maybe she was afraid that if she went to the hospital, whoever hurt her would find her. He tightened his hands on the steering wheel. There was nothing he despised more than a guy who abused women.
"Look, if your husband or boyfriend hurt you, then you really should go to the police."
"Please, no police, no hospital. Wherever you're going I'll just get out there and everything will be fine."
"What's your name?"
His question was met with silence and once again he looked at her in the rearview mirror. She met his gaze, then quickly looked out the side window. "My name isn't important," she finally said.
"Is this your car? Your husband's car?"
"No, I don't know who it belongs to. It was the only one on the block that wasn't locked and I was cold. I was just going to sit in it for a little while and try to warm up before leaving."
Something definitely wasn't ringing true. She wasn't telling him her name or what had happened to her. He'd get the car to Big Bob's, then figure out what he was going to do with the young woman.
What he'd like to do was drive her straight to a police station or to a hospital, but he'd heard the absolute panic in her voice when he'd mentioned either option.
His quick, easy favor for Bob was turning into something much more complex, and that was the last thing Lucas wanted or needed.
He breathed a sigh of relief as the car lot came into view. He told himself that he wasn't a part of whatever drama the woman in the backseat had going on and yet there was no way he could just dump her at Big Bob's.
She was obviously in some sort of trouble. He needed to get a closer look at the gash on her forehead to see if she needed medical attention.
He turned into the lot and pulled through a gate that led to a secured area. He'd park the car, drop the keys into a lockbox, then close a gate that would make it impossible for Mr. Deadbeat to retrieve the vehicle using the key he still had in his possession.
He glanced to the backseat where the woman lay, her eyes closed and looking as pale as the winter moon. He pulled through the gate, parked the car and cut the engine. Only then did she open her eyes and stare out the window as if terrified of what might happen next.
"I won't hurt you," he said softly. "I need to leave this car here, but mine's parked close by and I'll be glad to take you wherever you need to go."
He opened his car door and got out, then opened the back door. She stepped out of the backseat with obvious reluctance, and as she did, he gasped in stunned surprise.
She was pregnant.
The idea that somebody had beat up a pregnant woman caused a wealth of unexpected protective -ness to surge up inside him.
She was only about five-two, dwarfed by Lucas's six feet. And when she looked up at him, her blue eyes were once again filled with the threat of tears.
"Maybe you could drop me at a motel? And maybe I could borrow enough money to pay for the night? I promise I'll pay you back. If you' ll give me your name and address I swear you'll get every penny back." Her voice held a ring of desperation and promise.
"I can't do that," he said. "You're obviously in trouble. Tell me what's happened. Tell me your name."
Her lower lip began to tremble and her eyes filled with tears. "I can't." The two words were a mere whisper.
She drew a deep, tremulous breath and leaned back against the Buick. "I can't tell you because I don't know." She raised a hand to her forehead and winced. "I don't know who I am."
Lucas narrowed his eyes and stared at her, wondering if she was for real. She could be lying through her straight, white teeth.
She shivered and he knew he had to make up his mind quickly. She was coatless and pregnant, and somebody needed to clean that wound on her head. He'd do what he could to help her tonight, but in the morning she'd have to be on her way.
She might not be telling him the truth about having amnesia, but there was no way he could just abandon her in her present condition.
"Look, my apartment isn't far from here and my sister lives down the hall from me. She's a nurse. You need somebody to look at that cut on your forehead. Why don't I take you there and we'll figure out what to do with you after that?"
She eyed him warily and placed her hands on her protruding belly. "I don't know you," she finally said.
"My name is Lucas. Lucas Washington." He raked a hand through his long, shaggy hair. "I don't know about you, but I'm freezing and just want to get home. You're obviously in trouble, and if what you told me is true, then you need to trust somebody. It might as well be me."
"You'll take me to your sister's?" she asked. Lucas nodded. "And she's a nurse?"
"Okay," she agreed, although there was still more than a little wariness in her voice.
As Lucas walked to his car with her following just behind him he told himself he'd see her safely through what was left of this night, but tomorrow she had to go. He wasn't about to get any more involved in whatever drama she had going on in her life.
Could she trust him? She didn't know. He seemed all right even if he did look like what she'd assume a car thief might look like. At least he wasn't a car thief. She just wasn't sure what else he might be.
As she got into the passenger side of his sports car, she shot him a surreptitious glance. His black hair hung nearly to his shoulders and framed a face that was lean and slightly dangerous looking. The black leather jacket he wore stretched across broad shoulders and his dark jeans hugged slender hips and long legs.
On some level she found him intensely attractive, but could she trust him? Her head pounded with nauseating intensity. But the pain couldn't touch the frantic terror that clawed inside her.
Why didn't she know her name? How had she gotten hurt? Why couldn't she remember anything? She was pregnant and she didn't even know if she was married or not. She wasn't wearing a ring, but that didn't necessarily mean anything.
"You all right?" Lucas asked as he turned into the parking lot of an apartment complex.
At least he hadn't driven her to some field where nobody would hear her scream. "I guess," she replied. "To be honest, I'm terrified."
He pulled into a parking space, then turned to look at her, his eyes dark and enigmatic. "You don't have to be terrified of me. I promise I won't hurt you."
"I think that might be what all serial killers say just before they murder somebody," she replied.
A rumble of deep laughter escaped him as he turned off the engine. "I guess I never thought about that before."
He got out of the car and she did the same, comforted by the fact that if he did try to hurt her and she screamed, surely somebody in one of the apartments would hear her.
She had to trust somebody. She had no money, no identification and a headache that threatened to topple her to her knees. The night was cold, and she was beyond exhaustion. Even if she didn't care about herself, she cared about the baby she carried.
Surely after she slept she'd remember who she was and what had happened to her. All she needed was a couple of hours of rest and everything would become clear again.
She followed him into the building and down a long hallway. Not a sound came from any of the doors they passed. It was almost three in the morning and the building held the silence of a tomb.
"This is my place," he said softly as they passed apartment 104. "My sister's place is at the end of the hall."
When they reached the apartment numbered 108, Lucas knocked softly on the door. There was no reply and he rapped harder.
"I feel terrible," she whispered. "It's the middle of the night and you're waking her up."
"Loretta won't mind," he replied, and knocked once again.
The door cracked open and a pair of sleepy dark eyes that looked remarkably like Lucas's peered out. "Lucas, what are you doing here at this hour of the night?" The door closed again and there was the sound of a chain being removed and then the door opened all the way.
Loretta Washington was as petite as her brother was broad. She had the same rich, black hair and dark eyes, and those eyes widened as they saw her. She opened the door wide enough to allow them entry and then belted her short blue robe more tightly around her waist.
"What's going on?" she asked.
"Jane here has a problem," Lucas said.
Jane? As in Jane Doe. She supposed for now the name would serve her as well as any. "I'm sorry to bother you in the middle of the night," she said.
"Nonsense, come into the kitchen where I can get a look at that head wound." Loretta had a calm efficiency about her that put Jane somewhat at ease.