Disclaimer: The Equalizer and all its characters are property of Universal and The Powers That Be. No copyright infringement is intended.
Author's Note: I had not seen the episode, "Coal Black Soul" prior to writing this story, so it won't do you any good to point out the similarities--only now, after the fact, I'm aware of them. Oh well, coincidences do happen, and this story is proof of that, I suppose. A great deal of credit goes to three people who guided me along and kept me going: Andrea, who knew I could do it, Anna, who gave me valuable Mickey tips and spelling help, and Paige, who deserves every hug I can spare. Without these three, I might never have finished this or considered a sequel.
Robert McCall was annoyed. The weather outside was especially foul, his schedule was cluttered with small but unavoidable errands, and he could feel the beginnings of a cold seeping through his sinuses. Any single one of these things normally wouldn't bother him, but all three on the same morning were enough to set his teeth on edge. Stonily he sipped his tea and thought about staying in, catching up on a Tom Clancy novel instead of dashing to and fro today.
It would be rather nice, he thought, if people would arrange to get into trouble in the spring rather than the fall--skip all mayhem from November through March and truly concentrate on the 'Peace on Earth, Good Will to Man' part of the holidays for once.
The phone rang. Sighing, he listened as the answering machine picked it up. After his message, a deep male voice breathlessly broke in.
"McCall, Mickey here. You need to know that I saw Janet uptown near the Plaza a few minutes ago." The urgency in the man's voice made McCall sit up. "Dunno if Cosovi has men stationed there, but it's possible. She went into the little building in the middle of Forty-third. Want me to check it out?"
McCall picked up the phone and barked, "No--" Dropping into a softer, more controlled tone he added, "No, I'll handle it myself--thank you."
"Fine. Better you than me." A click and the call disconnected, leaving McCall holding the receiver, looking into space and thinking.
What the hell is she doing back here, let alone uptown?
Angelina Cosovi should have
been safely out of the country--an escape McCall himself had arranged
weeks ago. What could possibly bring her back into the lion's den of
mafioso husband's fury? There were no children, no close family or
Puzzling over this question, he quickly finished his tea and pulled on his greatcoat.
Forty-third was a two-story
little old lady of
Down in front, McCall scanned the street, spotting the two trenchcoated goons a block away. Swiftly he stepped into the building foyer and glanced at the plaque in the lobby: a dentist, a tax accountant, a psychiatrist and two graphic design companies--nothing vitally critical to a woman with a contract out on her life. McCall sighed and turned to the dentist's office, opening the door and glancing in.
Five clients looked up. All children--no help there. Across the hall was one of the graphic design studios and he crossed to the door there. It was locked, and the note on the door indicated that they would be closed for remodeling until the 17th of the month. McCall took the stairs, two at a time.
On the second-floor landing, he spotted the doors for the second graphic design business and the psychiatrist's office. McCall opted for the for the former first. Three heads bent over a slide table looked up at him.
"Can I help you?" a painfully thin young man in trendy business clothes asked softly. McCall shook his head after a quick glance around.
"My mistake--" He closed the door and took a moment to listen; the main lobby door below was opening, the sound of rain louder when it did. McCall opened the last door swiftly, stepping in and closing it behind him as he did so.
"I'm sorry, are you hear for an appointment?" came a deep and sexy voice. Startled, McCall looked down into a pair of clear grey eyes and a ready smile. A chill rushed through him as he recognized the woman's uncanny physical resemblance to Janet Cosovi: the same erect willowy frame, the same waist-length dark hair, the same high Slavic cheekbones.
McCall's own annoyance grew; through the door behind him he could hear the elevator coming up to the second floor. He met Doctor Baron's steady gaze and gave a tight little smile of his own.
"Doctor Baron, you are in a great deal of danger. Suffice it to say that you are the mirror image of a woman targeted by an insane husband. This man has just sent two very large and violent men to deal with his wife and I doubt in their ability to discriminate you from her. We must leave immediately." While he spoke he moved past her to the window facing the street, looking for the fire escape. A quick tug and the window flew up. Doctor Baron crossed her arms and watched him with amusement.
"You want me to climb out of the window into the pouring rain with you and escape?"
"No I want you to sprout wings and fly--" he replied with impatient sarcasm. "We have precious little time, Doctor Baron, and I'm not really in the mood either to argue with you or fight with them."
As she looked at him, her demeanor shifted when she heard heavy footfalls on the landing outside the door. A flash of fear illuminated her face as the doorknob rattled behind her. Gracefully quick, she grabbed her purse, crossed the room and reached the window. He helped her over the sill onto the fire escape just as a gunshot took the doorknob off. She gasped. McCall gave her a light push to hurry her down the steps and followed her into the drizzling wetness of the day.
At the foot of the stairs she tripped and fell into a puddle; McCall yanked her up by her upper arm, hurrying her along the street to the waiting Jaguar.
"Stop!" Doctor Baron shrieked, but McCall paid no attention. She was difficult to hang on to; she struggled against his gloved grip as he unceremoniously shoved her into the car. A quick glance behind them confirmed that the goons were clambering down the fire escape. McCall pulled the Jag out into traffic, letting the big engine take them down the street and into the safety of the mid morning commuter traffic.
"I don't believe this--" moaned Doctor Baron, slumping in the passenger seat. "I'm driving to God knows where with a total stranger, I'm dripping wet and covered with mud, I don't even have my coat--"
McCall snapped out tersely. He concentrated on driving, his thoughts
his own as
the woman next to him listlessly pulled on her seat belt. After fifteen
minutes, they pulled into the parking garage of an apartment building
upper west side of
"This is a safe place. I suggest you take a shower and use the phone to cancel any appointments you have for today, Doctor."
"A safe house--right," her wonderful voice radiated skepticism. "I don't even know who you are, let alone why I ever let you talk me into a mad dash through the rain to end up damaging the upholstery of your car."
"Ah. It's Scotchguarded," he broke in with dour amusement. Facing her for the first time, he held out a hand. "My name is Robert McCall and I suppose you might call me a freelance specialist for sticky situations. Janet Cosovi, your doppelganger, hired me nearly a month ago to get her safely away from her husband."
"Cosovi?" Doctor Baron arched an elegant eyebrow as she looked at him in surprise. She shook the proffered hand with a quick, light grip. "As in the mobster Dominic Cosovi?"
"One and the same," McCall got out of the car.
"That explains a few things." Seeing his intent expression, she climbed out of the car as she continued speaking, "The salesclerks jumping to wait on me, the preferred parking--it wasn't really for me, it was for her."
"Undoubtedly," McCall nodded, leading the way. "But Mrs. Cosovi decided that those perks weren't enough to compensate for living with a psychotic. And unfortunately, neither one of us ever suspected that someone else might get caught in the cross fire. I take it you haven't lived in the city long?" They took an elevator up to a silent hallway and finally reached a door at the far end.
Baron made a face. "Not
He unlocked the door and ushered her in; she caught a glimpse of a clean quiet apartment. Impersonal. McCall stepped into the kitchen and turned the burner on under the tea kettle there. He spoke over his shoulder to her.
"You need a cup of something hot. Take a shower first, then we'll have a talk."
She stared at him for a long moment, shifting her weight from one leg to the other as she shook her head in exasperation.
"We're going to have to do some work on that obsessive control streak of yours--it's very retentive. And what exactly did you expect me to wear after my shower, Mr. McCall?"
He refused to smile, even though his eyes twinkled and he pointed his chin towards another doorway. "There are clothes in the bedroom, Doctor Baron. Nothing fancy, but serviceable--I'm sure you'll find something in your size. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a few calls to make--" He turned his back to her and reached for the phone on the counter.
In the time it took her to shower, dry off and dress, Robert McCall learned quite a lot about Doctor Lydia Emmeline Baron. Those few calls yielded interesting information: She'd been born in New Orleans, graduated from Tulane with her medical degree, done internships in psychiatric medicine in both Louisiana and New York, and had settled in private practice for the last eight years. She had a few speeding tickets, voted regularly and subscribed to Time, The New Yorker, and Theatre Life magazines. She'd married Martin Swann, a history professor at NYU and subsequently been widowed four years ago when he died in an airline crash. No children, one dog.
McCall was lost in thought as she stepped into the kitchen and settled in, catlike, on the chair at the other end of the table.
"Two sugars, no lemon, no milk." she replied before he'd even asked; he raised an eyebrow. She'd braided her wet mane into a long tail, and the green and white New York Jets sweatshirt and black leggings looked rather good on her. She sighed, offering an explanation.
"You're British, therefore something hot means tea, and tea means either lemon or milk, depending on your regional background."
"You're well-informed," he replied, pouring her cup first, and then one for himself.
husband was from
"I could make you something else--coffee perhaps, " McCall offered belatedly. She shook her head, a chagrined expression on her face.
"No, tea's fine. You'd have to have known Martin to get the joke anyway--it's nothing." Her quiet dismissal ended it, and McCall moved on to another topic even as he filed away the incident in his mind.
"As I see it, we have a problem," he opened cautiously. "You physically resemble the wife of a sociopathic killer."
who has managed to
escape said killer, "
"Spoken like a psychiatrist," McCall wryly commented. "But an accurate assessment of the situation. Cosovi's legendary temper has been flaring of late, causing quite a few people to keep checking over their shoulders these days. The question is--"
are we going to
"Easiest option would be to change my appearance: cut and dye my hair. Not my favorite choice," she mourned. He cocked his head sympathetically.
"Understandable, but better shorn than dead."
"Leaving the city would be wise."
my clients would be
"Then one step at a time--coiffure first, I suppose."
"Not today. I have a date tonight, Mr. McCall and I have no intention of inflicting a new hairstyle on Trevor without warning. Tomorrow will be soon enough."
"Doctor Baron, you don't seem to appreciate the gravity of your situation. Dominic Cosovi has in the vernacular, 'made his bones' dozens of times over." His voice grew harder. "By best estimate, he has a criminal network of roughly four hundred people working for him, and each will have a vested interest in finding you." He stopped, letting his words and their implications hang there.
"I'm aware of that," she replied, her anger just as controlled as his. "But Mr. McCall, I'm not about to spend my days hiding in fear because someone wants to kill me. I will not put my life on hold. If I do--" she paused, and her rich voice softened, "--then he's as good as murdered me already."
Something in her forthright anger made a very small smile quickly cross McCall's features; only a few clients truly understood the odds right from the beginning. He sighed.
"Very well. You know that returning to your home is out of the question for the moment--"
worked this all out,
have you? And are you planning on telling your beau about the price on
head?" he remarked mockingly. For some reason McCall was enjoying
It was a rare event, to duel with someone possessing as much sang froid
"I'd be surprised if he didn't tell me all about it. Do relax, Mr. McCall, I'll be perfectly safe in a crowded theatre."
"Back here safe and sound before midnight. You're off the hook tonight."
Hardly, he thought to himself. Hardly.
"I think we should have traded places," Mickey grumbled into the portable phone.
"Oh?" McCall murmured into the receiver as he turned the page of his novel with his free hand. Outside the safe house the rain poured down steadily.
"Yeah. I don't think I can take much more of the Mikado. I'm right over the orchestra pit, and all those bouncy tunes have a way of invading my head and staying."
"It's called culture, it's good for you," came the sardonic reply. An audible snort was the response to this insight, and McCall grinned briefly.
"Anyway, things seem pretty uneventful. Her escort was whispering to her all through the first act. Mr. Debonair is quite the operetta critic." Mickey observed. "Now she's giving him the evil eye anytime he tries to talk."
"While this is all vaguely entertaining, could you spare a moment and tell me if you see anyone of the Cosa Nostra persuasion in the audience?"
"One possible, but he hasn't even looked her way. Show's ending in about forty minutes and I'll be down to pick her up before the doors open."
"Good." McCall muttered, engrossed in his novel. The phone clicked off, and during the next hour he managed to read three chapters before a sense of unease made him close the book and check his watch. As his hand reached for the phone, he heard the sound of footsteps coming down the hall. Drawing his gun, McCall stepped lightly to one side of the doorway and waited, poised. A key rattled in the lock.
"What happened?" he asked, although he had already guessed.
"I got mugged," she growled, carrying the coat to the kitchen sink. Her wet hair clung to her face and McCall took a moment to bring her some towels. "They managed to snatch my purse right at the doorway of the theatre, lousy bastards."
Mickey dropped you off and
went to check on your house, " he mused.
"He figured they'd grabbed my purse for the information more than the money." She told him over her shoulder. McCall leaned on the door sill, arms crossed.
right. And what he finds
"Thank God Mrs. Suskind has Barnum at her house tonight."
spoke again for a few
"Unzip me please? I need a long shower to decompress."
wry smile he complied,
tugging the tiny tab down the length of her dress. In one quick glance
noticed the charming curve of her shoulderblades, the delicate ridge of
spine, the white lines crisscrossing the back of her ribs on her left
McCall narrowed his eyes, trying to remember where he'd seen that sort
before. Sensing his scrutiny,
all right?" he
"Suffering from shock and adrenaline fade I suppose." A small smile crossed her face. "Trevor's in worse shape--insisted that we drop him off at the hospital. I'll have to check on him tomorrow, poor dear." The smile faded. "You'll let me know if Mr. Kostmayer finds out anything?"
McCall nodded in return, and watched her pad off to the shower. He picked up the phone and hit the speed dialer. Mickey picked up on the first ring.
"Talk to me--" McCall demanded in a low and controlled voice. Mickey sighed.
"Professionals. Got the bag, but she racked one of them up pretty good. Someone's taught this lady some karate."
"Really. The dirtbag she left writhing on the sidewalk will be singing Yumyum's part for a week. I didn't want to risk leaving her in the care of that manikin she's dating, so I dropped her off and headed out here."
"And?" McCall demanded impatiently. The line was silent a moment and he sighed. "That bad?"
"Totally ransacked. Not even a salvageable antimacassar." Mickey admitted softly. "It's a damned good thing her dog wasn't here."
"Mmmm," McCall agreed.
"Round him up and bring him over?"
"A Great Dane? Here?" The indignant tone amused Mickey, who unsuccessfully covered his laugh with a cough. "He'll keep until tomorrow I should think."
"Right. I'll bring him by first thing." Kostmayer hung up. McCall sighed, eyeing the carpet and the furniture.
"And hundred and fifty pounds of slobbery clumsiness--" he grumbled to himself.
"Mr. Kostmayer will be bringing your dog here in the morning," he managed to mutter, moving into the kitchen.
"Barnum is a good dog," she protested, seeing the look on his face. "Obedience trained."
trained is all that
concerns me," he replied as he poured two glasses of wine.
looked up from his book to
He hid a smile and strode off to the bedroom, turning out lights as he went. Outside the rain had turned into sleet and sharp gusts of wind howled down the dark streets.
A few hours later McCall awoke. Alert but calm he lay for a moment, waiting in the dark, listening. A soft shuffling sound, fabric on carpet caught his ear.
back in a whisper. In the darkness he couldn't see anything of
"The power's off."
"Yes I k-k-know," came her curt reply. "Has been for about th-th-three hours. I'm freezing out there."
"Good old reliable Con Ed," came his sarcastic snort. "I don't remember if there are any more blankets in the linen closet--"
"Just--l-l-l-let me get into bed with you."
There was a slightly shocked, slightly amused pause on his part. McCall who had never blushed in his entire career, was grateful for the darkness, which hid his nonplussed expression.
"I beg your pardon?"
not a p-p-pass, it's a
matter of compassion, all right? I'm never going to get some sleep if I
d-d-d-don't get warm,"
McCall harrumphed. "Well. You're certainly putting a lot of faith in my abilities to behave like a gentleman," he shot back, a tad more defensively than he meant to.
"Mr. McCall, today alone I have been abducted, r-r-robbed and had my house ransacked. Believe me, the last thing I'm worried about is your shocked sensibilities. So scoot over."
She padded over to the left side of the bed and dropped the blanket from her shoulders as she slid under the covers beside him. A grateful sigh escaped her as she settled in; she rolled away from him. McCall copied her position and soon felt her chilly back pressing to his. He twitched.
God, you must have
permafrost on your spine," he growled.
"Think that's cold, wait until you feel my feet . . ."
your feet on me, and I will
shoot you," McCall flatly
"Go to sleep," he added in a softer tone. Bit by bit she relaxed against him, and after a while he too, plagued by doubts, dropped off.
The cold grey light of a rainy morning filtered through the window, giving the room a cave-like feel. McCall didn't open his eyes right away, but took a moment to collect his thoughts as he stifled a yawn. A sudden twitch reminded him that he wasn't alone in the bed. He froze, assessing his position, and cursed himself for his moment of indecisiveness a few hours earlier.
Spooning. Dear God, this was all he needed right now. To be curled around a client and a rather delectable one, if we're admitting the truth, he chided himself, and in a completely indefensible position should Mickey Kostmayer pop in. That would be the crowning irony, he knew--to see the mocking expression of cynical amusement on that young/old face.
shifted, uncomfortably aware
of another annoying fact. This one was a biological quirk typical of
men in the
morning, and having
How did he get in these situations?
Slowly, to prevent waking her, he tried to extricate himself. It was certainly made more difficult by her sleepily grinding her rear against him in slow sensuous circles. For a moment he gave in to darkly lustful thoughts. To hell with being a gentleman--two swift tugs could get her out of that silk, and then he'd be free to play erotic arpeggios up and down her naked body--
McCall gritted his teeth, rolled away from her and sat up, casting a baleful glance over his shoulder.
"Yet another unsung and noble action . . ." he muttered to himself as he reached for his glasses. A low laugh from the bed startled him.
believe there's a word
to describe a woman like you--" he began.
"I know there is. Forgive me--I haven't woken up next to anyone in years; baser instincts dominate my subconscious."
"That is a pseudo-psychiatric excuse if ever I've heard one," McCall grumbled. He rose from the bed and glared at her. "Everyone's subconscious is dominated by baser instincts. No, you'll have to do better than that to avoid being labeled something far more Anglo-Saxon in my book."
book is that? Your
little black book? I can just see my entry now--
but if the shoe fits--"
cutting and lofty reply. Unexpectedly
"It's just . . . funny," she gasped. "You standing there with that 'holier-than-thou' attitude and that marvelous erection jutting against your pajama fly like a conductor's baton . . ."
Sucking in a deep breath, and trying to gather the tattered remains of his dignity around him, McCall spun sharply and headed for the bathroom, slamming the door. He took far longer than usual in the shower and glowered at himself in the mirror as he shaved.
Holier-than-thou indeed! Well what did she expect? He wasn't made of stone, and damn her for crawling into the bed anyway. In his anger, he growled at his reflection. Never mind that she'd used the adjective 'marvelous' and that the very memory of her admiring tone made him throb slightly, no it was the overall point that mattered.
He paused. She was singing in the kitchen. He sighed.
Maybe Cosovi was the one in trouble now.
came into the kitchen,
expression carefully neutral,
"I'm sorry," she blurted. McCall said nothing but sat down at the table and watched as she poured a cup for him. "Normally I'm not so . . ."
" . . .
blunt?" he offered
"Rude. Everything that's happened in the last few days has been hard to take. When I become stressed, I lash out. Being rude is sometimes my way of . . . whistling in the dark."
McCall pondered this quietly for a long moment, sipping his tea. Then he cocked his head, set his cup down and asked,
"Those scars on your back-- how did you get them?"
"I was stabbed. Five times," she hugged herself and spoke again, the words coming slowly.
"I made the mistake of turning away at the wrong moment. He was already in a rage, and managed to knock me to the ground. He broke the knife on one of my ribs."
said nothing, but his lips
tightened in empathetic anger.
"But really, I was lucky. He was stabbing too low to reach my heart and too high for my kidney--"
apprehended?" McCall demanded in a steely tone.
"In a manner of speaking."
"Where is he now?"
"Ah," McCall relaxed. "You're certain?"
She nodded. "Oh yes. As his widow, I'm certain."
on the door interrupted them
and she rose to answer it, leaving him sitting there, slightly stunned
trying to absorb the impact of her final reply. It seemed
yet--her offhand remark about
the tea came back to him. The memory of her pursed lips hinted at
unsaid . . . McCall wondered if Jonah could pull up medical records
sounds of doggy whimpers and excited voices reached him. He roused
enough to join
"--Quite a brisk pace all around the deck, scaring seagulls," Mickey commented. He looked at the older man in quiet acknowledgement. "McCall."
"Mickey. So this is Barnum."
sound of his name, the dog
looked up at McCall from his ungraceful sprawl on the floor. His
elegant ears pricked
up, his tail thumped briefly.
thank you for bringing
"A little," he agreed, rubbing a sweater-covered bicep. "And call me Mickey. But it's no big deal, right boy?" He squatted and dropped a firm hand across the dog's back. Barnum turned his head and licked Mickey's wrist enthusiastically. A shy grin crossed Mickey's face and McCall realized with an envious pang that the younger man had that rare rapport with animals that he himself did not.
"I'll run out and get some dog food."
"In a moment--" McCall agreed. "But first, an agenda for the day. I believe your salon appointment is a priority."
I'll get dressed and
cancel my clients--"
"With the information they have, they'll be waiting--at her office, at her hangouts--"
I suggest you and
Barnum take her to and from the salon." They heard
"Where are you going to be?"
"Watching. Waiting," McCall murmured. Mickey looked up sharply at him. Barnum yawned.
"You think they'll try at the hairdressers." Statement, not a question.
"I know it. If they have her appointment book, logic dictates that they'll anticipate the makeover."
Mickey gave a thoughtful whistle and Barnum pricked up his ears at the sound. McCall reached down and patted him firmly. Barnum's tail wagged.
"You want to follow them."
"And have a little talk with Mr. Cosovi."
Delight was tucked between a
bookstore and a deli on the upper west side.
"Sure you want to come in? Jonelle will try and talk you into a trim. Maybe even suggest a perm," she teased. Mickey made a face.
"Give me a barbershop any day--sports, politics, girly magazines--"
"Hey--what you see is what you get, " he replied, unfazed. "Skin. No articles on how to save your relationship, or latest fashions or hot colors for Fall."
have a point,"
"Ly-di-a! Finally!" A tall Haitian woman with dreadlocks wrapped in a colorful scarf came out to meet her. She patted Barnum and cast a questioning glance at Mickey.
here to hang on to
"You could use a trim too, shaggy mon."
I'm growing a winter
coat," Mickey rumbled with a small smile. Jonelle grinned back,
her hands up in good natured defeat. She turned to
the street in the Jag, McCall
watched them with dour amusement. He could see the black Lexus three
the street, and the same goons from
He settled down to wait.
an hour he caught sight of
movement behind the picture window of Shear Delight. McCall sat up,
book away. One of the men got out of the Lexus stiffly clutching his
the car pulled out slowly. On the sidewalk, the newly coifed
bizarre slow motion of
frustration, he watched as the man swung the uncovered baseball bat at
striking the big dog squarely against the ribs. The animal slammed back
Mickey, knocking him down. The man swung three more times, and a
cut through the air; people turned and stared. McCall saw the attacker
Mickey struggled under the injured dog. He met McCall's laser gaze and shouted.
"--I know, I know!" McCall shouted back. "Take care of him." With a last glance in the rear view mirror, he saw Mickey gingerly picking up the limp Great Dane. He gritted his teeth as a wave of black anger flooded through him.
With a few breaths he managed to get his rage under control; anger wouldn't help anything and he needed his energies focused to keep track of the Lexus up ahead. Grimly, McCall kept his gaze on the car and followed it.
loading warehouse had been
abandoned years before; it sat on the end of the pier over the waters
car stopped, the two men
look alike," the man
in the dark suit spoke. His words were tinged with a hint of
Very, close. You're a
little taller and your eyes are the wrong color, but other than that .
." his words trailed away as he walked all the way around her. Subject's
potential for violent humiliation of others high.
Dominic Cosovi wore a three-piece suit and a garishly yellow power tie. He was a short dark-haired man with heavy eyebrows and faint acne scars on his cheeks. At first glance he seemed innocuous enough; an investment banker an insurance salesman perhaps. Only the eyes, glittering with maniacal glee revealed any truth about the man within.
He stopped at her side. He smiled.
like Janet. Oh this is
going to be good.
You'll be the
practice session and when I find that bitch, she'll be the real thing."
reached out a hand, cupping her breast.
"Strip her. I want to see it all."
two--watch the door
downstairs. I don't want to be disturbed for a few hours," Cosovi
announced to them. To
"Knifed in the back I see. Story of my life. Did you kill the bastard?"
She forced herself to speak up quietly, "No."
"You let him get away with this?" Cosovi came around to her face, a slight frown on his features. She shifted her weight, adjusting her stance.
"Actually, I shot him so full of thorazine he could barely blink." A faint flicker of sound caught her ear, a scratch from the doorway. She didn't dare shift her focus.
"That's no revenge, " he chided, his gaze roaming over her nude body. "Didn't you want him hurting? Didn't you want him dead?"
"Ooooh tough little woman, aren't you? Got spirit--I like that. Makes the game more interesting--" he reached for her breasts again.
touch you all I want
to, bitch! You don't
understand--we've got hours and hours
to kill." He quickly pulled out a switchblade and flicked it open, edge
glittering in the light from the window.
"Oh Janet, you're backtalking me again aren't you? A man doesn't have to take that . . ."
himself, Cosovi crashed
through the window, plunging two stories down into the icy water below.
"Dear God, you threw him out the window--" he muttered in stunned admiration as he tugged off his overcoat and draped it on her. "--And people have the audacity to accuse me of direct action at times--"
"Current's taking the body out to sea. I doubt they'll ever recover much of him."
"Foolish, woman," he chided into her hair. "That was one hell of a risk."
"I was lucky," she agreed, her words muffled as she buried her face in his shirt front. Her shaking grew in intensity and McCall braced her against his chest for a long while.
" . .
.Want to go home . .
"Right. Watch your step then," he directed. Slowly they walked out of the warehouse (McCall shielded her from the sight of the crumpled bodies at the doorway) and up the long pier to the gate. McCall made her wait while he brought the car to her; gratefully she slid into the front passenger seat, burying her bare toes in the soft carpeting.
drove back to
in the middle of an anecdote
about the merits of
"Fine, fine," he agreed, secretly pleased that she was coming out of the shock. "Whatever you say."
of what you're doing, you know,"
"Oh?" his tone took on an air of wounded innocence.
noise therapy. A
soothing stream of meaningless sound designed to keep me from
she replied impatiently. "It's useful for a primary trauma, but I've
through it before. Believe me, I'm still a little shaky, but I'm here,
I don't need to hear anymore about wines, or camel spit or your Granny
was running out of
topics," he admitted with a brief smile.
"Splinter from the pier. Can you believe it? After all that's happened today, this is all I have to show for it."
brought the small first aid
kit from the bathroom and sat on the other end of the sofa, turning to
her. Responding to his nod,
there--" he stroked
the heel with the edge of his thumbnail.
"Quit tickling," she counter demanded, a trifle breathless. McCall gave a huge put-upon sigh and studied the splinter again. It took willpower on his part to ignore the curve of her long calf, the provocative way her skirt rode up her thigh. He reached for the tweezers.
"This might hurt a bit."
as you take your time
and go slow, I can take anything you might do to
came his mutter
of satisfaction. "
"Have a care--" came his strained voice.
"Mmmmm. I'd rather have something else."
you're about to get
something else if you don't stop
that--" McCall snapped.
Or threat?" she
stretched her bandaged foot up to touch his ear. McCall grabbed it and
"Threat. Definitely a threat," she muttered. McCall shook his head. He deliberately took off his glasses and set them on the end table, then leaned over her supine form, pinning her there between his hands.
"Actually I thought this looked rather--promising--at least from my point of view."
make this Cajun woman
"I believe I'm fairly safe," he replied smugly. "There aren't any windows in this room."
"Shut up and kiss m--"
very effectively cutting off
her words as he dropped his mouth onto hers. She couldn't believe his
so soft, so warm.
"Yes I want this," she sighed. "And this, and this, and--"
"Acquisitive, aren't you?" he smiled against her cheek. She blushed.
"Impatient. I don't know about you Robert McCall, but it's been nearly four years for me--"
"Ah." he rumbled between light kisses across the bridge of her nose. "Well, It's rather like riding a bicycle, you know--it will all come back to you--"
"Hmmmm," she distracted herself by plucking at the buttons on his shirt, but McCall reluctantly sat up again and caught her hands; the look he gave her was serious.
been on the Pill for
years, Robert--regulates my cycle," she admitted calmly. He nodded,
digesting this information even as his hands tugged her forward to his
They kissed again, longer this time.
sighed, lightly rubbing the iron grey fur that covered his chest. He
down, slightly startled, as if noticing it for the first time in a long
for the goose, good for
the gander--" he remarked in a deep voice. She tossed her head back and
there, McCall wrapped her in
his arms, his mouth traveling the side of her neck as he backed her up
edge of the bed. When she felt it against the back of her knees,
patience, she ignored his
words, one eager hand sliding across his furry chest, the other tugging
belt. McCall moved swiftly. He rolled to the side of her, grabbing her
and pinning them both over her head in one strong fist. On her back,
"Let me go--" she laughed in excited frustration as she writhed against his body. Ignoring her protests, he pushed the bra up to her throat and shifted his tactile attention to each breast in turn, teasing the erect nipples with a deliberately sensual touch that made her groan happily. She turned her hips to him and rubbed herself against his thigh.
"Now now--you were the one who labeled me as having an obsessive control streak," he breathed softly into her face. "Rather nice to have your diagnosis confirmed, isn't it?"
hands were slow and gentle as
ever. McCall pressed a series of moist kisses down the side of her
continued down the valley between her breasts. His free hand shifted to
her bare stomach and abdomen. Lightly, he slid fingertips under the
edge of the
elastic of her panties.
"Please, Robert--I'm going out of my mind"-- she hissed.
go of her wrists. The minute
he did, she grabbed his hand, pushing it under the thin silk of her
McCall brought his mouth to hers again, his tongue stroking in her wet
his fingers stroking expertly through the gossamer between her thighs.
panties slowly slid to her knees. For long moments
McCall slowly withdrew his hand, resting it on her bare stomach as she caught her breath. Her head lolled back and they lay quietly together for a while. Finally she turned to look at him in the dim light.
"Ohhhhh . . ." A pleasure-filled sigh escaped her smile. He kissed her damp forehead and whispered,
"Believe me, you're quite welcome."
for the gander . .
." she repeated, her warm hands freeing him from his trousers and
Propped back on his elbows, McCall watched her, wary desire glinting in
pulled her down onto him again,
hoarsely whispering, "
She made a pleased sound and began to raise and lower herself on him in a steady rhythm, feeling him throb deep within her. McCall's hands slid down to her hips, and even as his mouth began to set in a tight line, she could feet the growing tension in his grip.
long while they were quiet,
content to stretch out under the comforter, not sleeping or talking,
holding each other.
"You're thinking about how to say goodbye," she remarked. Uneasily, McCall stirred, looking up at her in the dim light, an expression between sadness and surprise on his face. She smiled.
"Give me credit, Robert--I've spent a lot of time studying people in my line of work. You've gotten as close to me as you'll ever let yourself get with anyone, and it's making you very uncomfortable. I'd say you've been hurt on a regular basis starting at a young age, and now the protective wall around you has all but calcified. So it's time to run. Time to regain the distance you need to feel comfortable again."
"Yes, well--" he began, sighing. "It's not as if I'm in the habit of bedding clients--"
"--I'm not a client. I never hired you; you came to me," she pointed out as she brushed a strand of hair from her eyes. "Let's keep that very clear."
"Point of semantics," he growled. "Without my help, Cosovi would have kidnapped and killed you."
"Probably," she agreed. "But it was coincidence that brought us together, not a contractual agreement."
McCall tightened his jaw. He rolled over to mirror her position, his head propped on his elbow, facing her. "And what if I may ask, is the significance of that?"
"I hold a degree of independence here," she spoke carefully. "And I believe I was the one who seduced you."
"Oh you'll get no argument from me on that--" McCall managed a small smile. "Mind you, I didn't put up much of a fight--"
put up something else.
Several times as I recall,"
"Anyway, oh virile one, my point here is that you're not comfortable with this yet. So you're trying to think of ways to break it off."
There was a pause.
too damned insightful for their own good." McCall grumbled, his hands
lightly stroking her back.
"Echoes of Martin--he said the same thing time and time again."
about him," came
McCall's gentle request.
"Oh very well. He was wonderful. Shorter than I, thin, wiry, hair always needed combing, wonderful dark eyes. We met at a charity thing upstate--he spilled a canapé down my dressfront. Told me later he'd done it on purpose just to meet me. Within a year we got married."
"Down your dress?" came McCall's dryly amused tone.
"Give me a break--you came in my door and dragged me out a window. Anyway, he started changing about two years later. Headaches, mood swings, temper flare-ups. The doctors did all the tests but couldn't come up with a cause. One night, he began screaming at me about how I couldn't make tea properly." She paused, and McCall protectively tightened his grip on her. Swallowing, she continued. "He threw the cups and teapot against the wall. When I went to clean them up--he stabbed me. I managed to hit the phone to the floor and got help."
McCall pressed his lips to the top of her head as she took a deep breath.
scan finally caught the
tumor. Malignant, judged inoperable, right in the center of the
He couldn't control his emotions, and spent months drugged up and
while I tried to find an expert to help him. I finally did, in
"I'm so sorry."
"It's all right," she murmured. "I thought about it for two years and reached the conclusion that I wouldn't have traded our time together for anything. I'd do it all again, even the tumor, exactly the same way, in a heartbeat."
McCall grumbled. He tugged her hair until she turned her face up to him. He spoke, softly, urgently, his gaze locking onto hers.
that's your point,
"Give the man a cigar," she grinned crookedly. "You're doing what your conscience urges you to do--God forbid you change this late in the game, Robert. I won't spend my nights worrying about your vocation. I refuse to. You're just as likely to get wiped out by a crosstown bus or a bad oyster as you are by a bullet."
"Hmmm." He released her hair, brushing it away from her face, his expression inscrutable.
want the chance to have
you for a while without putting you on the defensive. So in the
going to get dressed, haul myself back to
it?" he demanded
"That's it. A take-it-or-leave-it proposition with no strings attached."
thank you very
much--don't I even get a say
"Of course you do love," She murmured sleepily. "You've got a entire week to talk yourself out of it--or into it."
And long after she'd drifted off, McCall lay awake, moodily staring into the darkness.
chime of the doorbell
alerted Barnum, who gave a single defiant bark and settled down again
quilt in front of the fireplace.
"Come in!" Carefully she wiped a paint-covered sleeve across her face and set the brush down on the splattered newspaper with the headline: MAFIA BOSS FOUND DEAD. Slowly she backed down the ladder and turned to face her visitor.
"Sorry about all the mess, but I--"
McCall. She stopped,
mid-sentence and stared at him steadily. He looked wonderful, dressed
thick black wool coat with matching black leather gloves and a bright
scarf, but his expression was bleak.
"What I've got to say won't take very long," McCall began tersely. "I've done a hell of a lot of thinking in the last hundred and fifty-six hours. Most of it in a rather negative vein, I'm afraid."
of it. There's still a cautious note of optimism in my nature.
Microscopic at times, but there. God knows how it manages to exist,
everything that's ever tried to kill it off, but I can't deny its
He stopped and bit his lower lip with the air of a man uncertain of how
"Very well. The premise is this: If you are willing to accept the nature of my work--the danger, the uncertainty, the tenuous truth of what I'm compelled to do and accept me for who I am--a melancholy, bitter, untrusting man--then I am willing to give this a try." He looked slightly haunted, slightly haggard.
seemed a strange and timeless
licked her lips.
took her by the wrist,
yanking her forcefully into his arms, his kiss hot, eager, almost
groaned happily against his mouth, wrapping herself around him with
disregard for the paint splatters that were transferring themselves