Excerpt Nikki hadn’t invited Dayd to follow her into her living room, but she let out a silent sigh of relief when he did. He didn’t need to know how much safer she felt with him there. If she showed any vulnerability, it might give him another excuse to keep her on the sidelines. “Okay, check the place for bad guys if you must. But make it fast.”
He stood there, not moving, looking at her with an unreadable expression on his face. Her heart pounded. The man had a way of filling every inch of a room with his tall, lean presence. She touched her lips, remembering his kiss. Forget it happened, she warned herself. Not an easy thing to do when she was still off balance from it.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” she asked, trembling inside.
“I shouldn’t have kissed you.”
“Why did you?” The huskiness in her own voice unnerved her.
He shifted his weight. “Pent-up worry. Relief to see that you were all right.” He took a step closer.
She backed into the sofa, barely able to breathe. “Thanks for your concern,” she said unsteadily. “Just don’t let it happen again.” She moistened her lips, waiting for his next move.
Dayd stared at her mouth a moment, then turned. “I’ll check the back rooms.”
She followed, fighting a wave of disappointment. From the hallway, he stepped into the den, opened the closet. Nothing. Same for the guestroom. From the end of the bed, her cat looked up sleepily, then closed her eyes again, disregarding the intrusion.
“This is totally unnecessary,” Nikki said, wishing she didn’t enjoy his protection so much.
Her bedroom was next. Dayd checked the closet, the master bath.
Nikki watched, tapping her foot. “As you can see, no bogeymen.”
He scanned the room. Her face burned. She’d dressed quickly, and a lacy bra and panties lay on the end of the bed where she’d flung them. A pair of nylon pantyhose had slipped to the floor.
Dayd glanced at them without a change in expression. His gaze moved on to her pillow and stopped dead—his attention riveted to a note pinned there. “Know who left that for you?”
Nikki froze. After a moment, she managed a shaky “no” past the constriction in her throat. “Do you?”
“A strong hunch.” They both moved toward the note at the same time and collided. “Don’t touch it!” he said and grabbed her by the arms, either to keep her from touching the note, or to keep her from falling.
“I’m not stupid,” she shot back and pulled away.
With tense vibes shooting between them, they studied the cursive handwriting. It was penned on a three-by-five index card and pasted to a slightly larger sheet of orange construction paper and trimmed with four rust-colored maple leaves.
“Considering the feminine handwriting,” Dayd said, “and grade-school, bulletin-board art, I’ll bet this is Margo Bettmore’s handiwork.”
Nikki’s neck prickled. The name of Godunov’s mistress kept coming up. “A woman mixed up in this dirty business? How would she get in here?”
“She didn’t. Housebreaking isn’t Margo’s style. She just penned the note.”
Nikki’s mouth went dry. “You’re saying it’s from Godunov?”
She started to reach for the note then drew back.
Dayd caught her wrist in his firm grip. “I told you not to touch it.”
“And I didn’t, did I?”
Without bothering to answer, he removed a pair of latex gloves from his pocket and slipped them on.
Her heart pounded. How in blazes had she gotten mixed up with a man who routinely carried such items? “A plastic bag, now this,” she said. “What kind of man carries such things in his pocket?”
“A prepared one,” he snapped.
He held the note so they could read it together. The unsigned message said to be at the Oktoberfest celebration at Porgie’s Place in Running Springs tomorrow night. Bring the disks and Glenda is yours, it promised, and ended with nyet militia.
“No police,” Nikki murmured, repeating the last two words in the message. In spite of her attempt to control her voice, it wavered.
Dayd held out his hand. “Give me the plastic bag with the other note.” When she warily handed it to him, he added the second one, and slipped it all into his pocket.
“You can’t take those,” she said. “I need them.”
“You need more than those notes. You need a positive ID of the sender. Let me do a little more snooping around. I’ll give Sinclair everything tomorrow.”
She met his gaze with a steadiness she didn’t feel. “Since when did you become his buddy?”
His eyes lightened with amusement. “Proximity makes the heart grow fonder. He’s the detective who released me from jail. Twice. He’s not a bad guy, as cops go.”
“We can’t show him those notes until I have Glenda back. You read the message—no police.”
Dayd’s face clouded, and his look bored into her. “One of Godunov’s men stood right here, next to your bed. What if you’d been home alone?”
Nikki swallowed hard. If Dayd’s intention was to heighten her fear, he was doing a good job of it. Her knees went weak.
“Sit down a minute.” He eased her to the bed, his arm protectively around her. Suddenly, although she was still trembling, he left her, and leaned against the dresser. What did his quick flight from her side mean? Clearly his professional cool had been shaken. Against reason, she wanted his arms back around her.
When the kidnappers grabbed Glenda, she’d been so concerned about her friend’s well being that she hadn’t dwelled very much on the implications of the break-in. Now the impact of knowing that strangers had been in her bedroom and touched her things shook her to her core. She felt so violated. “They can come in here anytime they want to,” she said softly. “Oh, God, what am I going to do?”
He shifted forward slightly as if he wanted to come to her, soothe her. Instead, he remained at a distance and said, “Stay calm. You’re not in this alone. We’re a team, remember?”