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Meg was halfway through her salad when her office door swung open. She looked up, saw him, swallowed too quickly and coughed as if she had a two-pack-a-day habit. When she finally stopped, her eyes were tearing.
Cruz hadn't moved from the doorway.
His gaze lingered on her face, bold, blatant. Heat was the immediate reaction, starting in her neck and flooding her cheeks until finally it seemed as if the top of her head might explode. Finally, he shifted his gaze and she let out the breath she'd been holding.
The curtains on the big windows were open and he studied the hotel's towering cypress trees, the manicured flower beds and the exquisite stonework. He gave no indication that he was impressed by the lushness of the San Antonio River Walk. Turning ever so slightly, he inspected the room, looking at the cherry desk, the matching credenza, the leather chairs. "Nice digs," he said finally.
Her first corner office. She'd worked twelve-hour days for the past year to earn it. "It's fine," she said, ignoring the impulse to defend the space.
He nonchalantly rubbed his hand across his chin. Her mostly empty stomach jumped when she saw that he wasn't wearing a ring. It was pure craziness that she wasn't sure if that made her sad or happy. She didn't want him to be alone. Had never wanted that. But then again, she couldn't stand the thought of him being with someone else.
Which was why she tried not to think of him at all. And most days, she managed pretty well. Leaving him had almost killed her. She couldn't risk that kind of pain again. "Look," she said, "I don't mean to be rude but I'm pretty busy."
He tilted his chin down. He needed a shave. "It's been a year, Meg, and you don't have ten minutes?"
It had been one year and twenty-two days. She'd seen him only once during that time period, but he'd been unconscious, probably hadn't even known she was there. "I'm sorry. You caught me a little off guard."
He nodded and continued to boldly stare at her. Her bare arms felt chilled and she resisted the urge to pull at the edges of her V-neck blouse.
She stood up fast. So fast that her skirt caught the corner of the plastic container on her desk and flipped it. Salad spilled out onto the desk.
She ignored it. There'd be plenty of time to clean up the mess later. When he was gone.
"I like the hair," he said, surprising her.
She wore it shorter than she had before. "Yours is longer," she said. He'd worn a buzz cut for years and while his thick dark hair was still cut close, it was long enough for anyone to see the natural wave. Other than that, he looked the same.
She thought she recognized the faded brown cargo shorts and the T-shirt that was stretched across his broad chest. She definitely knew the well-worn sandals.
He looked at the nameplate on her desk. "Senior Vice President, huh? Congratulations."
It was her turn to nod. He'd never been a jerk about her working. Maybe because he'd been raised by a woman who had worked way too hard. "How's your mom?" she asked.
"Good. Still at the hotel but she's finally cut back to part-time."
Maria Montoya had been the hardest working, most welcoming woman that she'd ever met. Her husband had left her and their four children when Cruz, the oldest, was just twelve. She'd managed to hold her family together, to feed and clothe them working six days a week cleaning rooms at a hotel. When Meg had told her goodbye, it was the first time she'd seen disapproval in her soft brown eyes.
"And Sam?" Without thought, her eyes went to Cruz's leg. It had been shattered by a bullet when Cruz and Sam had tried to stop a robbery-in-progress at a small coffeehouse. Sam wasn't blood but the closest thing to it. He'd been Cruz's partner for five years and he'd been the one at the scene, urging Cruz to hang on. Had been the one to call her, to tell her the awful news.
"Claire's pregnant. They just found out."
Meg leaned back against her desk, letting the wood take her weight. "That's great," she said, hearing the brittleness in her voice, hoping like hell that she was hiding it.
He moved farther into the room. Close enough that she could smell his scentit was soap and citrus and evoked memories of warm summer nights and a porch swing that took up half the patio. Knowing that he'd always been too good at simply looking at her and knowing what she was thinking, she moved behind her desk and turned to the window.
The River Walk was coming to life. By early evening, the stone walkways would be filled with tourists. Music would pour out of buildings. Lovers would stroll in the moonlight, hand in hand, their faces close.
She always pulled the drapes at night. It was easier. "I'll send them a card," she murmured.
"You do that." He stared at her. "But don't you have bigger things to worry about?"
Damn. It was what she'd been afraid of since she'd seen him standing in the doorway. "I'm not sure I know what you're talking about?" she hedged.
"Oh, I think you do. I got a telephone call yesterday from the San Antonio Police Department. They were interested in what I'd been doing for the last couple of weeks. Once I convinced them that I'd been working my ass off in Chicago, they were a little more forthcoming. Professional courtesy and all."
She turned and faced him. "I didn't send them looking for you. I didn't even tell them about you."
"That became abundantly clear when I talked with them. And you know what?" he asked, his voice louder now. "That's what really got to me. Don't you think I'd want to know that my wife was getting death threats?"
"I read the fine print," he replied, his tone full of sarcasm. "What the hell is going on, Meg?"
She wished she knew. "It's nothing. A few threats, that's all."
"Detective Myers said your boss told them you had an ex-husband who might have a reason to be pissed off."
"I never suggested that and I certainly didn't ask Scott to say anything. I guess he's he's more worried than I thought."
"Of course," Cruz said, his tone mocking.
She understood. After all, she'd deliberately let Cruz believe the worst, that she'd followed Scott to San Antonio because they were more than colleagues. She'd had no choice. She wasn't going to tell him the truth. Ever. "Did the police ask you to come here?"
"No. I did let Detective Myers know that I was coming. Professional"
"Courtesy," she finished. "I got it. Well, your timing is bad. I was just on my way out."
He looked at the pile of salad on her desk. "Really?"
"Shopping," she said. He hated to shop.
Grabbing her suit jacket off the back of her chair, she stuffed her arms through the sleeves. It was a hundred in the shade but she didn't care. She needed armor. Once she was safely in the car, away from him, she'd yank it off, crank up the air-conditioning, blast the Boss on her CD player and forget about it all.
With deliberate strides, she walked past him. She offered up a prayer to the office gods that Charlotte was still at lunch. She didn't want to have to make introductions.
The executive offices flanked the lobby on the left and right sides. VPs of Finance and Purchasing next to her; Guest Services and Facilities on the other side. All of them reported to Scott, who claimed a corner of the third floor as his own.
Her heels echoed softly on the slate floor as she walked down the side hallway. He followed, a half step behind. She wondered if that was deliberate. Did he limp? Was he trying to hide it from her? She couldn't look without making it obvious.
A sharp right would take her past the guest elevators and concierge. She veered left, heading straight for the service elevator that would take her to the parking garage.
The elevator was empty. She got in and he followed. He stood close to her, as if it was okay to breach her personal space. She edged away, until her back hit the wall. Then she had to reach past him to punch B.
"Where do you park?" he asked.
"Where all employees park. In the lower level lot."
He didn't answer. When the door opened, he moved fast. He held up a hand, stopping her.
"Oh, good grief. It's very safe," she said. "There are security cameras everywhere."
He rolled his eyes. "And if this is like most parking lots, there's nobody actually watching them. So all the good they'll do is maybe, if you're really lucky, they'll catch your attacker on tape. Excellent evidence and all but if you're already dead, it's not going to be that much help to you."
She didn't bother to answer. Instead, she pointed to the far left side. "After you," she said.
He didn't limp. Not even a little. She felt insanely glad for him. He'd always been an athlete. If he hadn't been riding his bike or running along the lake, he'd been catching a quick pickup basketball game with whoever happened to be at the courts. "Congrats on the rehab," she said. "You must have been pretty diligent."
He stopped but didn't turn around. "I had a lot of time on my hands," he said, his delivery stiff.
After you left, she added silently.
She didn't need his contempt. She had plenty of her own. When he started walking again, she let him get a little farther ahead. Even so, when he stopped very suddenly, she almost rammed into him.
"Wha" The words caught in her throat as he grabbed her arm, yanked her behind one of the stone pillars that supported the roof, and pressed her body against the cold, rough concrete.
She could feel his back against her back.
She twisted her neck to look. Cruz had pulled his gun and his arm was raised, level with his shoulder. He rotated in a half circle. Then, with his free hand, he pressed against her side, to shift her. In tandem, they sidestepped halfway around the pillar. Once he'd done a three-sixty inspection of the garage, he lowered his arm and moved away.
"You okay?" he asked.
What the heck? She was about to demand an explanation when he pointed in the direction of her car.
The front and back windows on her red Toyota were smashed and it looked as if someone had taken a baseball bat to the hood. On the rear bumper, BITCH was sprayed in white paint. The passenger-side window, which was facing them, had been almost completely knocked out, just a few shards of glass remained.
Her heart, already racing in her chest, kicked up another notch.
"You're close enough," he said.
Like hell. She started walking. He didn't try to hold her back, just fell in step next to her. "Don't touch anything," he said.
As they got closer, a raw and disgusting smell made her gag. They peered inside. Two dead fish, already deteriorating, had been tossed onto the driver's seat. Cruz turned his head. There was violence in his eyes that would have scared her if she hadn't known him so well. And for just a minute, she thought he was going to yell at her, perhaps throw her casual remark about how safe the garage was in her face.
Instead, he said, "I'm going to assume that wasn't the rest of your lunch?"
In spite of it all, she wanted to smile. She'd missed his wicked sense of humor. No one would ever make her laugh the way he had. "I prefer my fish frozen and shrink-wrapped."
"Good plan." He straightened up, pulled a cell phone from his shirt pocket, and handed it to her. "Call the police and your security department, too. Let's hope the camera wasn't broke today."
When she didn't protest, didn't make any noises about him not being the boss of her, Cruz figured she was as shook as she looked. After he'd seen the damage and the dead fish, he'd been this close to losing it but then he'd seen her pale face and her pinched lips and figured she didn't need him to be an ass.
She was too thin. She'd always been in good shape, had worked out regularly, eaten right. But she'd lost at least ten pounds off her frame. She seemed almost fragile. Shiny dark hair with hazel eyes, flawless skin, she still looked very much like the girl next door, even at age thirty-five. He suspected at fifty she'd still be beautiful. At seventy, she'd be lovely. At ninety, she'd be radiant.
He had thought he would see all those ages with her. But then suddenly a year ago, after six years of marriage, she'd kicked him to the curb. And followed her boss to San Antonio.
Wasn't he some kind of stupid fool for thinking more than once in the past year, that just maybe she'd find her way back to Chicago, back to him? But people didn't come back. They moved on. His father had. Moved out and moved on. Started a new family and never came back to his old family. Even though they'd desperately needed him.
His mom had been a rock even though he'd done his very best to make her life miserable. He'd been angry and defiant, determined to prove to everybody that his dad was justified in leaving. But somehow his mother had held her small family together, even when there were weeks where the only food to eat were peanut butter sandwiches.
Just like Meg and Slater could manage this. Scott Slater ran this fancy hotel. He had the money to beef-up security, get some around-the-clock protection.
It wasn't Cruz's problem. And clearly, Meg wasn't overjoyed to see him.
But, he realized, as he walked around the car, each circle making his stomach grip tighter, none of that mattered. He wasn't going anywhere. Not if there was a chance that Meg was in danger.
The creep had been thorough. There was hardly a spot that hadn't been damaged. Somebody had wanted to make a point.
"So who have you pissed off lately?" he asked, without looking at her.
"I don't know. I've been through it a hundred times in my head and I can't think of anybody. The police asked for a list of people that the hotel had terminated in the last year."
It was a good place to start. When people lost jobs, they wanted somebody to blame. The Senior Vice President of Operations was as good as anybody. He'd seen stranger things in his fifteen years on the force. Hell, once a man was stalked for three weeks and ultimately killed because he'd taken somebody's seat on the train. People were squirrelly.
Beat cops arrived before the in-house security, which didn t give him a whole lot of confidence in the hotel staff. He and Meg told their story, everybody walked around the car a couple times, and a whole lot of pictures got taken. Security arrived five minutes later, trailed by Detective Harold Myers. The man was twenty pounds overweight, in his fifties, smelled like cigarettes, and his nose was too big for his face.
They told their story a second time, did some more walk-arounds, and then it was up to the main office to take a look at the security cameras. Cruz managed to keep his I-told-you-so to himself when it became clear that the location of Meg's parking space was about fifteen feet beyond the scope of the camera. But he did want to kick her boss's ass. How could the guy have allowed her to park somewhere where there wasn't even a security camera after she'd received death threats?
But Slater was playing golf and Sanjoi Saketa, the skinny Asian from in-house security, didn't seem inclined to page him. It gave Cruz only a little satisfaction that Meg wasn't demanding that he do so.
Cruz drummed his fingers on the metal desk. "You do have a camera on the entrance and exit, right?"
"Of course," Sanjoi said, sounding a little offended. "There's one gate in and one out. The camera swivels between them, every four seconds."
"Do employees have to swipe a badge to activate the gates?" Cruz asked.
Sanjoi shook his head. "No. Guests park here, as well. The gates are activated by a car pulling up."
Myers shrugged. "It's not the best system, but then again, I've worked this beat for a lot of years and this hotel has had very few problems. Let's take a look at the tapes and try to isolate cars that enter and leave again quickly."