Lucky's Woman
Linda Winstead Jones

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“He watched them,” Annie said softly, her fingertips tailing across a sheet of paper. “For a long time, he watched. He was drawn to their happiness because he has none of his own.”

“That’s fine,” Lucky said in a reassuring voice. “Good. What else do you see? Can you look beyond his mind to what was going on around him? What does he look like? Did the Huffs know him? Did they trust him?” How else could the killer have gotten so close?

“He watched from a distance at first, and then he moved closer.” She shivered, almost uncontrollably. “They knew him. They weren’t afraid until it was too late.” She closed her eyes and swayed slightly, and Lucky immediately placed his arm around her and drew her away from the table.

“That’s enough for now,” he said. “I don’t want you passing out on me.” He lowered her into her chair, and there she leaned her head back and took a deep, cleansing breath. He watched her closely, as the color returned to her face.

“We’ll do this in stages,” he said. “I don’t want you trying to do too much at once.” Whether her ability was real or imagined, she did exhaust herself when she reached for visions.

A timid smile transformed her face. “You’re very protective.”

“It’s my job.”

“But this isn’t a normal job, is it?” she asked.

“Not even close. In Nashville, you knew who the killer was. This time, things seem to be less clear. Why?”

Annie shuddered. “Back then I saw it all, as if I were a fly on the wall. Now I seem to be watching through the killer’s eyes. I can’t see him.” She closed her eyes. “It’s very frustrating.”

Lucky tried to ignore Annie’s responses while he made work of straightening his notes. He still hadn’t decided how he was going to tell Cal it was possible the kook was legit. At the very least, she’d pointed him toward a case that didn’t make any sense, and he couldn’t walk away.

As for how…He was still putting his money on some hard-to-explain function of the brain. Some people were good at math. Annie was just good with disjointed puzzles. Whatever the reason, with luck she’d soon lead him right to the killer. If not, he’d find evidence on his own. He’d gather evidence, work the case backward, invent some legitimate reasoning for the investigation and put the bad guy behind bars. No one would ever have to know that Annie had led him to the killer.

But he’d know. How would he ever approach any other investigation without wondering what she was thinking? What she might know that he couldn’t see? The fact that one person might actually be able to glimpse into the mind of another was intriguing. Impossible, improbable, but intriguing. If nothing else, her brain was great at working puzzles. Maybe he could use Annie in the future, when a mystery presented itself. It wasn’t necessary that anyone else know, but how could something so powerful and useful be ignored?

There was only one other possible explanation for her knowledge. She was somehow involved in the murders. He immediately dismissed that idea. Annie Lockhart annoyed him to no end. She was fascinating and maddening. And she was no killer.

Again he told himself that she was not his type, but now and then when he looked at her she was beyond pretty. Not gorgeous, not eye-popping, but beautiful all the same. Of course, she also looked like she might walk out the door at any time and hug a tree, or pick wildflowers and start to dance and skip with the animals.

It was in his basic makeup to wonder what she’d look like naked, and he pondered the possibilities as he fiddled needlessly with his notes. Leggy, curvy, soft, delicate. She was all those things, he could see that well enough even when she was dressed.

But what would she taste like? Did she kiss with the trepidation he so often saw from her, or with the ferocity she displayed when she lost her temper? He was guessing a bit of both. Annie was a complicated woman, and every man alive knew that complicated women were nothing but trouble. Brainless bimbos were easier to handle. A man never had to wonder what she was thinking, because she usually wasn’t.

Complicated or not, he did wonder—again—what Annie Lockhart would taste like. It was in his nature to wonder about such things, and a man who fought his own nature was fighting a losing battle.

He didn’t hear her move, but suddenly there was a soft, warm hand on his back and a gentle voice said, “There’s only one way to find out.”

They skipped past all the steps most men and women covered before getting to the kissing part. No flirty smiles, no awkward date, no touch of one hand to another, no not-so-accidental brushes of one body against another. No, she and Lucky went straight to the mouth-to-mouth stage.

He turned to face her, she went up on her toes and their mouths came together.

His thoughts had drawn her to him, in an undeniable way. Unlike the jarring and unwanted images she’d been suffering of late, Lucky’s reflections on how she might taste had seemed almost like her own thoughts. They were mingled with her own, not intrusive and strange. In the shop, the thoughts of others had come to her in a jarring and unpleasant way, almost as if they were shouting into her brain, and reaching for a killer had been draining and unpleasant. Lucky’s contemplations were mellow and easy. They were pleasant, and she needed that right now.

It had been a long time since she’d kissed a man. Years, in fact. And still, kissing Lucky seemed very natural. It was a kiss she felt throughout her body. Warm, arousing, comforting, dangerous—it was everything a kiss could and should be.

She liked it.

Rain pattered on the roof and the windows, isolating them. Outside this cabin the world was wet and windy, but inside there was safety and warmth.

For a few precious seconds Annie forgot all the unpleasantness that had brought them together, and just enjoyed the kiss. She leaned into Lucky; one of his arms encircled her, but not too tightly. He tasted of warmth and masculinity and security, and she loved the feel of his solid body against hers. It had been too long….

How did she taste to him? Even though they were touching, kissing, joined in a very primal way, she didn’t know. That was very nice. Something in her life should be normal, even if it was just a kiss.

And then without warning something of Lucky did speak to her, and it was so real she had no doubts about her interpretation. Save the girl, take what you can get, walk away before she gets too close. It wasn’t a plan, exactly. He wasn’t even aware the thought had passed through his mind—he was totally engrossed in the kiss, and he wasn’t thinking of anything else.

But what she saw, what she felt…it was the way he lived his life. At least she’d know what to expect, if this went any further than a kiss. She couldn’t let herself love Lucky Santana, not ever, because he didn’t know how to love her or any other woman.

She barely knew the man, so the word love shouldn’t even come into play. But there it was, dancing just out of reach. Lucky didn’t know what love was. To him the word was related to trust, or sex, or commitment. He’d never combined the first two, and he’d never truly experienced the third.

Did she know what love was? In the past she’d thought so, but it had ended badly…. She wasn’t so sure now.

She ended the kiss, and placed one palm against Lucky’s solid, warm chest. He would like to appear unaffected, but his heart beat too fast, just as hers did. “I needed that,” she said softly.

Lucky would never admit to as much, but he’d needed the kiss, too. And he’d liked it. As she returned to her chair he said, “You are the oddest woman I’ve ever met.”

Normally she wouldn’t take that comment as a compliment, but there was some flattery intended, she knew. “Thank you,” she said as she sank back into the chair and closed her eyes, not to relive the pain of reaching for a killer, but to commit to memory the beauty and wonder of a first kiss.

Chapter 4

Lucky’s usual professional attire—a good suit and a crisp white dress shirt—made him stand out like a sore thumb in Mercerville. It was a casual little town, filled with laid-back tourists and homey citizens. Fortunately, he’d packed more casual clothes, and when he headed into town on Wednesday morning he was wearing khaki pants and a dark green golf shirt. Maybe today people wouldn’t stare, as they had yesterday when he’d visited the small but well-stocked library.

Downtown Mercerville gave him the creeps. With those homey citizens who all seemed to know one another well—perhaps too well—and the too-quaint-to-be-real appearance of the downtown area, he pretty much expected blank-eyed children or toothless men bearing pitchforks to bear down on him at any moment. He was very much a city boy. He enjoyed the quiet solitude of the house he’d bought three years ago, but downtown Nashville wasn’t all that far away, and he spent more than his share of time there.

This…this was practically archaic.

Annie’s Closet was located in a prime downtown Mercerville spot, on a corner that looked to be the intersection. The other three corners were occupied by a pharmacy, a quaint café, and what looked to be an upscale restaurant. The rest of the area was populated with other small shops that would attract tourists. Antiques, souvenirs, T-shirts, fudge. An entire business devoted to making and selling fudge.

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