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The barrel of the gun glinted blue in the bright lights. Theresa Wade stared at it, her fingers still chilled from touching the cold steel. She reached into her purse for a box of ammunition and set it down beside the gun. Then she set her purse aside and picked up the noise-canceling ear protectors.
After she'd donned the headgear and the safety goggles, she looked down the narrow corridor stretched out in front of her. At the far end, twenty-five yards away, was a piece of newsprint on which was printed the silhouette of a man's head and torso in deep blue.
There was no face on the silhouette, nor was there one in her mind. Still, she knew who the target represented. It was the shadowed face of the Lock Rapist. The man who'd raped her sister and five other women, the man she'd seen sneaking out of her apartment building that night. The man who had seen her.
With renewed determination, she looked down at the gun. It didn't look like much lying there. A few inches of blue-black metal. A hollow tube with a handle.
She reached for the box of bullets, but her jaw clenched and her temples pounded. Her fingers closed in a fist.
"Come on, Resa," she whispered. Pick it up. She'd brought her gun in here. She'd set it on the counter. And if tonight went the way every other night had gone for the past two weeks, at the end of the evening she'd pick it up, slide it back into her purse alongside the box of bullets and leave the firing range.
But tonight wasn't like every other night.
Tonight she stopped waiting for Geoffrey Archer to come to her.
Frank Berry, the day manager of Archer's firing range outside of Nashville, had warned her, "You want to learn to handle that gun,come during the day. I'll be happy to teach you. But I leave at seven. After that, you're on your own."
She'd asked him about Archer.
"Yep. He's down here every evening till ten. But he's not gonna help you. Don't expect him to."
But she did. Archer was the reason she was here. She could feel him, sitting in his office near the stairs that led up from the basement firing range into the foyer of his Victorian home.
Detective Geoffrey Archer. Former detective with the Nashville Police Department.
She glanced at her watch. Ten minutes to ten. Every evening, right around this time, he came out of his office. He walked down the row of laneschecking, she supposed, to see if everyone had left. Usually the only people who stayed this late were copsboth uniformed and detective, and her.
Tonight there was no one else here.
She flattened her palms against the counter and kept her eyes on the target as she took a careful breath and waited for him to walk by.
How did she know when he was behind her? Was it a scent? A change in the conditioned air that swirled around her? The ear protectors kept her from hearing his approach. Still, she knew that even if she could hear, she'd have to depend on her other senses. Because he moved as silently as a cat through his shadowy lair.
Something changed and a warm finger of awareness slid down her spine. He was there, behind her. Her shoulders tightened and she suppressed a shiver.
It had been six months since her sister's attack, but she still started at unexpected sounds and shied away from men. It had taken her weeks to step into an elevator if there was a man in it.
She took a deep breath and turned, but he was gone.
Damn him. He'd done what he did every night. He'd paced the length of his massive basement, then slunk back to wherever he wenthis office, his lair, his underground dungeon. She mentally shook her head at her silly thoughts.
Archer was no mysterious phantom, stealing through underground caverns, hiding from the light. He was just a man. A wounded, heartbroken man.
He and she had a lot in common, although he didn't know it. Not yet.
But he would find out tonight.
She removed the ear protectors and goggles and set them on the shelf, then stuffed the empty gun and ammunition into her purse.
She walked past the firing lanes toward the stairs. To her left was the table with the sign-in sheet for the range. To the right was his office. He was always in there sitting behind the desk when she came in. He'd never looked up.
Tonight she ignored the sign-in sheet. She turned and looked through the door into his office.
He was standing with his back to her, slowly and carefully writing something on a wall calendar. His white T-shirt stretched across his broad, spare shoulders and hung loosely over faded jeans that hugged his hips and butt in that way that only comes with years of wear and washing.
His body was long and lean, yet even with his back to her, he gave off a powerful presence that at once comforted and disturbed her.
He needed a haircut, but his just-too-long hair suited him. The wavy strands at the nape of his neck drew her eye. If she were interested in himwhich she wasn'tshe might be tempted to slide her fingers around his nape.
Just as she reminded herself that she only had one interestlearning to shoot her gunhis head angled like that of a predator sensing prey.
He turned and tossed the pen onto his desk, then raised his gaze to hers. His dark eyes were hooded, his brow furrowed. A few days' growth of beard shadowed his lean cheeks.
She fought not to lower her eyes. She'd felt his sharp gaze on her as he prowled the range, but nothing had prepared her for the impact of his eyes. Even though everything about him conveyed competence and protection, his piercing stare was grim and disapproving.
Resa lifted her chin and stared back. She would not be the first one to look away. She needed him, and she wasn't about to give him a reason to think she was a wimpy female.
A muscle in his jaw ticked. His mouth flattened into a frown and he crossed his arms.
"Can I help you?" he growled.
Resa's whole body went cold. She nearly turned and ran. But two things kept her rooted in place. Running was exactly what he wanted her to do. He wanted her to leave him alone. And she knew that if she didn't talk to him now she'd never get up the courage again.
Her jaw tightened. She sucked in courage with a deep breath. "I want you to help me."
She hadn't thought his eyes could get any darker, but they went as black and as opaque as coal.
"See Frank." He sat down in his desk chair and picked up a sheet of paper.
"I've seen Frank. He can't help me."
Archer put down the paper and stared at it for a few seconds. Then he leaned back in his chair and sent her a quelling glance. "If Frank can't help you, I sure can't."
"I'm paying a fee to rent a lane here." A couple of stray hairs tickled her eyelashes, but her hands were trembling too much and she didn't dare swipe them away.
Something flickered in his eyes. "Thank you," he said wryly as his dark gaze slid over her pale ecru blouse and sleek black trousers, not stopping until it settled on her überfashionable round-toed black pumps. Then he raised his brows and retraced each inch of her until he was looking into her eyes again.
His stare took her breath away. She swallowed. "I want you to teach me to shoot."
"No? Whatwhy" She was speechless. She'd expected him to give her a hard time, but he'd shot that single word at her like a bullet.
She closed her eyes for an instant, struggling to stay calm. She couldn't get rid of the urge to turn and run, and he knew it.
He was trying to intimidate her. Trying, ha. He'd succeeded, and he knew that too. But her sanity, maybe even her life, depended on persuading him to help her. She'd be damned if he would succeed in scaring her away.
When she opened her eyes he was watching her.
"Why not?" she asked. "This is a public range, isn't it?"
"Well, Detective Archer, I'm paid through the end of the month."
He winced. "Geoffrey Archer. Not Detective."
His hostile growl rumbled through her. She'd thrown out his former title to try to gain a semblance of an advantage over himand truthfully, to hit him where it hurt.
She'd definitely done that. Too well. She'd seen pain behind his narrowed eyes.
Involuntarily, she glanced down at his hands. They were big and elegant, with long blunt fingers. The only visible indication of the injury that had forced him to retire early was the network of scars across the back of his right hand, and the slight curve of his index finger.
She knew from newspaper reports that more than a year ago his wife had shot him in the hand before turning the gun on herself and committing suicide.
Feeling embarrassed that she'd deliberately baited him and unaccountably sorry for what had happened to him, Resa spun on her heel and walked back toward the lane she'd rented.
She stepped up to the counter and pulled the gun out of her purse. She ejected the empty magazine and laid it on the counter. Then she wrapped her fingers around the gun's handle.
She wasn't going to give up. She'd learn how to handle a gun. Eventually, she'd learn to shoot it, with or without Archer's help.
"What the hell are you doing?"
She jumped. He'd sneaked up on her, something she'd have thought he could never do. She answered him without turning around. "Learning to hold my weapon."
"It's nearly ten." His words were tight, squeezed out from his clenched jaw.
She felt a mean triumph. She'd forced him out from behind the barricade of his desk. She whirled and glared up at him. "I need a few more minutes."
Without meeting her gaze, he stalked away.
Gritting her teeth and ignoring the frustrated stinging behind her eyes, Resa awkwardly aimed her empty gun at the silhouette of the man who'd raped her sister.