The Medusa Proposition
He jolted. Follow her? She could follow him. He retorted, “I’ll go first.”
“You’re the target. I’ll go first.”
“You’re the girl—”
“Shut up, Rowe.”
Well, okay then. He tried another tack. “You’re not exactly dressed to crawl around out here.” “I’ll survive. Let’s go.”
He watched in shock as she hiked up her ball gown around her hips and commenced scrabbling along in a shockingly efficient low crawl, her belly barely an inch off the ground. It took huge strength do that. Where in hell did Paige Ellis develop that kind of power? He knew male Special Forces soldiers who couldn’t do it that well.
Shouting voices in the distance sounded like they were approaching. The cavalry coming to the rescue, no doubt. Paige stopped in front of him in the shadow of an overhanging banyan tree. He pulled up beside her, elbow to elbow. The length of her thigh pressed against his, strong and slender. And damned if she still didn’t smell good.
She glanced sidelong at him, a glint of humor in her eyes. “Wanna stick around to talk to the authorities? The way I hear it, you like them about as much as you like journalists.”
He snorted. “Snakes or lizards—take your pick. I suppose you’re going to want to dust yourself off and jump in front of a news camera and cover this, aren’t you?”
She frowned. “It’ll be a hell of a breaking story. Unfortunately, I have somewhere else to be this evening.”
He matched her scowl, inexplicably irritated. “You got a hot date or something?”
“Or something.” She pushed up to her hands and knees and then to a standing crouch. “You have fun evading the cops, Tom.”
“You’re leaving me?”
“Now that every security guy on the island is converging on this garden, I expect you’re about as safe as you’re ever going to be. Our shooter is either bugging out right now or is already gone. He won’t stick around for the entire French Polynesian police force to surround him.”
She was right, but for some reason, he didn’t like the idea of her leaving him. There was something electric about her presence. She stood upright and commenced dusting off her gown. “Need help with that?” he asked.
She glanced at him. “Lay a hand on me and you’ll withdraw a bloody stump, buddy.”
He snorted with laughter. “Big words from a little girl.”
She turned and stalked off into the shadows. He glanced down, perplexed. Barefoot. Again. She’d been barefoot on the beach this morning, too. He’d noticed then that she had nice feet. High arches and pretty toes with sassy red nail polish. He jogged after her and caught up. “Where are you headed?”
“Back to my place. Thought I might clean out my refrigerator.”
They walked quickly back toward the hotel, dodging the bulk of the security personnel streaming toward the source of the gunshot. Without warning, Paige grabbed his arm and yanked him off the path into a stand of bushes that had some sort of sharp, prickly frond.
He murmured under his breath, “I knew you were attracted to me, but I had no idea you were this desperate.”
She glared at him and whispered, “They would spend all night questioning us, and meanwhile you wouldn’t be getting any safer. I need to get a security perimeter set up around you.”
A pair of police officers raced past them. Another pair. Lots of shouting erupted behind them in the vicinity of the dead man.
Paige stalked back out to the path and took off toward the hotel without waiting to see if he caught up with her. A security perimeter, huh? It kinda made a guy feel loved. This could turn out to be an interesting conference, after all. Not to mention, damn, she was fun to tease. She rose to the bait so easily for him.
They’d almost reached the brightly lit hotel before he broke the charged silence by asking, “Who’s coming to collect Ando?” Maybe now that someone had tried to kill him, she’d be a little more forthcoming with him. And indeed, she was.
She answered, “An American forensics team. They’ll try to determine cause of death and look for anything else on the body that might help catch the killer.”
“This is going to make a hell of a story for you.”
She threw him an exasperated look. “If I was going to break the story, I’d have done it this morning when I found that bag on the beach.”
He countered, “There’s nothing to stop you from breaking the story now.”
“Yeah, except national security interests and the safety of everyone at this summit.”
He stared. “Are you telling me you actually have a conscience and think about these things?”
She rolled her eyes and merely strode along faster.
He lengthened his stride to keep pace with her as the hotel loomed.
She muttered, “We shouldn’t be seen together. I’ll walk around to the front through the gardens. You can go inside here and kiss whoever’s butt you need to.”
He grinned. “They mostly kiss mine.”
She retorted dryly, “Well, you enjoy that then.”
It was his turn to roll his eyes. She veered away from the ballroom, which appeared to be in an uproar and was emptying quickly. He veered with her. The gardens in this area were crowded with guests and he murmured under his breath, “I’ll give you a ride back to your place.”
“That’s not necessary.”
“I never said it was. Nonetheless, the offer stands. My car’s over there.”
Although she glared at him when he took her by the elbow and steered her into the parking lot, she made no further protest. He escorted her to the passenger side of his Jeep and steadied her as she swung into the vehicle. Her ball gown hung up on the door and their hands collided as he reached for the satin to release it. His gaze snapped up to hers.
Her eyes were wide, her pupils dilated. And something flared in his gut in response. It was lust. Just lust. It had been quite a while since he’d been with a woman. Truth be told, until Paige showed up, he’d been cruising the party in search of a female who’d go for a little meaningless sex. Plenty of women at these affairs knew the score. A few nights of mutual pleasure, no strings attached, no promises. A nice piece of jewelry when it was over, and everyone went their own way. But here he was instead, driving away from the hotel with a virago who’d bite his head off if he even hinted at the idea of jumping into the sack with him. He sighed.
Thankfully, for a busybody, she was capable of keeping her mouth shut now and then. The short ride to her cottage was quiet.
He turned off the beach road and stopped abruptly, flipping off his headlights. “I see lights on at your place. How do you want to play this?”
She studied the pair of large, dark SUVs parked in front of her cottage for several seconds. “I’ll take care of it. You head on back to the hotel. And thanks for the ride.”
Did she seriously think he was just going to toss her to the sharks like this? Without comment, he watched her climb out of the Jeep and square her shoulders. Leaving the lights off, he backed up the vehicle and pulled away. But he only went to the beach road before he pulled over and tucked the Jeep behind a stand of palmettos. His tuxedo wasn’t exactly ideal for sneaking around in the bushes, but it would have to do. After a mental apology to Giorgio Armani for ruining his tux, Tom plunged into the dense undergrowth.
With every light blazing in her little house, it was an easy matter to make his way unseen practically to her back door. Three coplike guys who sounded American were clustered in front of the open door of Paige’s refrigerator examining the bag stuffed inside it.
Four more suited men, who sounded local, were standing by glaring and muttering among themselves. One of them turned to Paige and snapped, “Why were we not informed of this discovery immediately?”
“Monsieur Martine,” she answered evenly, “I notified my government immediately. They deemed the security of the summit more vital than following the exact letter of police procedure.”
“You have interfered with a police matter, madame. You face serious criminal charges.”