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Assistant District Attorney Gabriele not did his best work in the dark.
Standing silently in an old warehouse that had been submerged during hurricane Katrina, he refused to let himself move, barely let himself breathe. Much of New Orleans had recovered. Homes were being rebuilt. Stores had restocked their shelves. Music again pulsed through the city, a touch of Hispanic added to the blues. Even tourists once more swarmed the French Quarter.
The city who charmed by day and seduced by night was on her way back.
But here on the fringes, squalor remained.
The night bled in, thick and suffocating despite the early–March breeze swirling outside. Away from the city, moonlight seeped in through the windows, but the smear of mud and grime revealed little more than shapes and shadows.
A metal wall guarded Gabe's back, stacks of empty crates took care of the rest. No one would find him unless he wanted them to. But Gabe did not allow himself to relax. Either a man learned from his mistakes, or he lost.
Gabe had no intention of losing.
The emaciated dogs had run off, leaving silence to throb through the warehouse, broken only by the occasional horn of a tugboat. There was no trace of the waitress who'd insisted they meet privately. Fear had flared in her eyes when she'd realized who he was and what he wanted. She'd paled, panicked.
And inside, for the first time in weeks, Gabe had smiled.
She knew something. A name, a place, any little detail that could link the senseless murder of a fellow waitress to the high–profile restaurateur who'd written both their paychecks. That was all Gabe wanted. A scrap, a crumb.
He could take it from there.
Young and scared, she'd refused to speak to him in the French Quarter restaurant where she continued to wait tables despite the murder of her coworker. Unwilling to so much as take his drink order, she'd gone on a sudden break—but not before slipping him a cocktail napkin with detailed instructions about where she would talk to him.
Restless, Gabe moved away from the crates. His watch showed that almost thirty minutes had passed. If the waitress was going to show, she would have done so by now.
And if she was going to approach him, she wouldn't stop moving every time he did.
Through the darkness he heard the muffled movement behind him. And when he stopped, it stopped. And, damn it, he was so freaking tired of running in circles and chasing phantoms. Him. Gabriele not. The man who could bluff an opponent into folding, even when Gabe had nothing but a handful of trash.
It had been a long time since he'd held anything else. Jaw clenched, he retraced his steps, confident the maze of crates would conceal him until it was too late for his pursuer to realize that the hunter had become the hunted.
He was a lawyer by training, a man of tailored suits, leather briefcases and expensive loafers. It was his cousin who was the cop. But Cain had taught him well.
Against the trickle of moonlight, the silhouette stood without moving. Except for the breathing. Gabe heard each rasp, felt them ricochet through his body. Fear had a taste and feel unto itself and, despite the darkness, he knew his target realized the tables had turned. Tall, he noted. Far too tall to be the petite waitress he'd met earlier that evening.
Quietly he lunged—and the shadow bolted.
Gabe gave chase, grabbing the high–powered flashlight from his pocket and flicking it on. The shadow boxer–danced around a shopping cart and sent it careening toward Gabe. Shoving against it, he sent it crashing to its side as he veered around an old piano just as the figure darted behind more crates. Gabe charged, sending the stack crashing down.
The distorted grunt told him they'd found their target. Rounding the pile, he saw the man scrambling to his feet. "Freeze," he called. "I have a gun." He didn't, but the punk didn't know that.
The beam of Gabe's flashlight caught the man who'd been following him, revealing dark jeans and a bulky field jacket with a fleur–de–lis across the back, a baseball cap pulled low.
"Raise your hands and turn around," Gabe instructed.
"Nice and slow."
From somewhere in the warehouse, the dogs were barking, but Gabe ignored them and focused on his man. Two weeks before, the intruder trying to break into his house had gotten away. He had no intention of history repeating itself.
"Now," he said, directing his light to the man's hands, where he saw gloves, but no gun, "don't make me ask again."
The man didn't. He called Gabe's bluff and ran. On a low roar Gabe lunged after him, keeping the fleur–de–lis locked in the beam of his flashlight. The front door was less than ten feet away. If the idiot got outside—
With a burst of speed Gabe launched himself like a veteran linebacker driving a rookie receiver into the turf.
The impact of body against body jolted through him. He felt more than heard the other man's breath leave his body as they slammed into the concrete. But he didn't relax, didn't pull back, instead used his weight to pin the fool to the ground. "You have exactly five seconds to start talking."
The body beneath his stilled. "Three seconds," Gabe gritted out, pressing his hands against shoulders that felt surprisingly thin. That's when he noticed the hair. Dislodged during the struggle, the baseball cap fell to the side, revealing a swingy fall of brown hair.
Soft. Silky. "What the he—" he started, but the body beneath his twisted, and a pair of tilted gray eyes met his.
The sound of her voice, hoarser than usual, slammed into him. Then came the burn. It started low and sliced fast, obliterating everything but the sight of her sprawled beneath him. Her skin was flushed, her mouth slightly open, just as it had been—
He blocked the memory, focused only on her eyes, wide and dark and drenched with a wildness that fired his blood—and resurrected every fragmented image he'd tried to destroy. Every touch. Every kiss. Every lie.
Every betrayal. "Well, well, well," he drawled, because for the first time in months, he no longer held a hand of junk. He held her. "If it's not lady justice in the flesh."
The district attorney's little darling. The media's champion. The common man's avenging angel. Evangeline Rousseau—the woman who'd reeled him in with the finesse of a pro, then hung him out to dry.
"You just can't stay away from me, can you, catin?" The slow smile was the first to reach his mouth in a damn long time. "Even when you should."
The word scraped through her, but Evangeline refused to give it voice, just as she refused to beg or apologize. Not to this man. He would see only what he wanted to see. Believe only what he wanted to believe.
Especially when it came to her.
Against the throb of pain at her temple she narrowed her eyes and tried to reconcile her last sight of him–clean–shaven in a devastatingly well–cut tuxedo—with the man who held her pinned to the concrete. The attorney with a taste for Armani wore a knit cap over his dark hair, with whiskers obscuring his jaw and violence glittering in his eyes.
It was a far cry from the way he'd looked at her once, when he'd found a way to touch her without lifting a hand.
The vertigo wobbled closer, no matter how hard she tried to ignore the cold soaking into her stomach and thighs. Once his touch had been one of friendship and warmth. Then heat. Now his hands curled around her upper arms, while his thighs sandwiched her lower back.
"This is a good look for you," he said, and if she'd had any doubt about his state of mind, his deceptively quiet voice took care of that. It was the attorney's voice, the signature gentle lull he used during opening statements to bond with the jury. Just before he went for the jugular. "If Judge Guidry had gotten a look at you like this, you might not have lost—"
And she wasn't going to let him do it. Wasn't going to let him attack, wasn't going to let him pretend that he was the victim.
"Get off me—" She twisted against him…but the warehouse twisted with her, started to spin. "Th–this isn't…what you think," she managed, but the vertigo tilted harder.
Not much light broke the shadows, only that from the beam of his flashlight. But it was enough to reveal the slow smile curving his lips. "Oh, but I think it is."
Maybe she should have been afraid. Most women would have been. he'd caught her red–handed—again. They were alone, and he'd been pushed too far. He knew too much, would try to cram pieces together until they fit, even if they had nothing to do with each other.
"We're finally alone," he drawled, "just like you wanted from the start. So tell me. What happens now?"
The quickening was as violent as it was automatic. She couldn't remember the last day she'd awakened without thinking—
But that wasn't true. She could remember. It had been summer.
She'd been eighteen years old. "You have no idea what I wanted," she said—she'd made very, very sure of that. But the words came out thicker than she wanted. The pain came next, stabbing with sharp streaks of blue and white. "I—I…can't breathe," she managed.
"Maybe you should have thought of that before you followed me into a dark warehouse," he said, and though it was Gabe who spoke, it was not the man she'd met four months before who she heard. "No telling what could happen…who you might run into." Some said that man no longer existed—too much whiskey, too many pills.
"Maybe even someone who doesn't know when to stop," he added quietly and, for the first time, she questioned the wisdom of following him into the shadows.
Shifting, he raised up on his knees and eased his weight from her body.
She seized the opportunity and tried to push from beneath him, realized her mistake too late.
Within seconds she was flat on her back, and he still straddled her body.
"Tell me something, catin. Was this part of your plan, too? Getting me on top of you?"
The French word for doll scraped. She wanted to shove against him, to push him off her body and—
That was just it. There was no and. She couldn't go back and change what had already happened. She couldn't erase the fact that he'd found her here, in this warehouse. Following him.
She could only pick up the pieces and move forward, the way she'd been doing since the night he'd frozen her out of his life three months before.