I didn’t remember flagging his messages to go into a special folder. But now that I thought about it, I hadn’t seen a new message from him in more than a week.
Frowning at the screen, I tapped my fingers on the touch pad. I thought we’d handled all of Schuna’s cases. In fact, I’d sent him his last progress report the day before. Maybe there was a problem with the report? I opened the message.
I need another progress report on the Bishop ‘missing person’ case. The client is getting antsy. Thank God, the guy’s in Tennessee, or he’d be camped out in my office, waiting for news. I’d drop his twitchy ass, but he’s paying me double. I’m willing to up your stake by twenty percent if you would just find this woman and put us all out of our misery. Send me what you can ASAP, and I’ll pass it along to him.
It took me a moment to realize that the wounded, inhuman sound piercing my eardrums was coming from my mouth. Bishop case? Out of Tennessee? It couldn’t be true. It couldn’t be my Bishop case. There had to be some sort of funny coincidence to explain this away.
All of the blood seemed to drain from my hands, leaving them cold and shaking as I tapped at the touch pad and opened the rest of the e-mails. They started two months before, around the time Red-burn sent me the red alert. I opened the attachments and found Glenn’s official “case report” listing me as a runaway spouse. He’d told Schuna I had a history of mental illness, substance abuse, and filing false police reports. He’d been trying to get me help, he claimed, and when I found out that he was planning to have me committed to special rehab for the mentally ill, I ran. He just wanted to bring me home and get me help, he claimed.
I clicked through the attachments, finding our wedding portrait, credit reports, transcripts, lists of friends, my résumé and work history—which was amazing, really, considering the supposed mental problems and pill addictions Glenn subtly indicated to my coworkers. The final blow was a picture of me on the beach on our second wedding anniversary. It was displayed on a flyer demanding, “Have You Seen This Woman?” I’d always hated that picture. I was giving the camera my happy-on-the-surface smile, and I looked a little tired around the eyes, but that was to be expected when Glenn had kept me up until five that morning, accusing me of flirting with the waiter who served our anniversary dinner.
Caleb had been hired to find me.
I stumbled into the bathroom on watery legs, collapsing in front of the commode just before I tossed the contents of my stomach. Rivers of tears poured down my cheeks as I threw up, over and over. I balanced my head against my crossed arms, sobbing and sniffling. I grabbed a washcloth, still wet from my shower, and swiped at my face. I collapsed back against the tub.
How could I have been so stupid? He’d been lying to me all this time. Everything he’d said and done had been a cold-blooded calculation to lead me back to Glenn. Pretending not to know my name. Pretending not to know about my connection to the pack, not to know I was a doctor. He’d been pretending, training me to trust him, to let him close, like coaxing a stray cat into your house with a can of tuna. I thought I was being so smart, so guarded, and I’d walked right into his trap.
How could the worst liar in the world have tricked me so thoroughly? I’d slept with him! I’d let him see every part of me. I’d told him things I’d been afraid to admit to myself.
I didn’t understand why. Was the fancy hotel some sort of trick to make me feel more comfortable or an attempt to soften the blow of betraying me? Or did he just want to screw on soft sheets before giving up his favorite toy? What was his angle? Enjoy one last week with me at this hotel, then pack me up in the truck tomorrow, maybe drug me once I figured out we were driving toward Seattle? Or would he shove a bag over my head and take me to some airplane hangar in the middle of nowhere?
I felt so completely stupid. Did he have a girlfriend somewhere he was going to go home to after he tossed me to the wolves?
Bad choice of words.
The mating. Was the mating real? Had I wanted so much to belong to someone that I let myself believe that we were connected in some spiritual, otherworldly way? Had I made up all those clingy, desperate emotions? My face flushed hot and red, tears stinging my eyes.
I’d been right before. There was no such thing as magic.
He promised he wouldn’t hurt me. What complete and utter bullshit. I wasn’t his mate. He never loved me. He was probably laughing at me this whole time, humoring me as he coaxed me into trusting him. Why hadn’t I questioned that? Why didn’t I pay attention to all of those alarms going off in my head?
I had to run. There was no other way. I had to get on the road before Caleb figured out what was going on. He’d made it clear where his loyalties were: his wallet. I could only imagine the kind of money Glenn had offered him. It would be better if I could catch a ride with the next semi I saw. I could get maybe an hour or two head start if his errands took long enough. I could hitch a ride from the tavern down the street, or maybe some of the hotel staff would be willing to help.
I packed as calmly as I could with my heart and mind racing. I took all of my clothes, except the red dress. I crumpled that up in a ball and threw it into a corner. I surveyed Caleb’s cache of tools and took some plastic restraints and pepper spray. You never knew what sort of trouble you could get into while traveling. Frowning at what seemed like a trifling amount of protection in my shoulder bag, I also took the collapsible baton. I’d come to think of it as mine, anyway.
And on one last impulse, I grabbed his Taser.
I would need cash. Caleb had socked away a good portion of our earnings in the hotel-room safe. He’d used my fast-approaching birthday as the combination. The thought of stealing from him . . . well, it didn’t bother me a whole lot, at the moment.
I dropped my bags near the closet door and was about to kneel in front of the safe when I heard the electronic lock click on the hallway door. I froze.
Caleb was back already!
How the hell did he get his tires inspected that fast? I glanced at the clock. He’d been gone for almost three hours. Apparently, I’d spent more time in the bathroom having a mental breakdown than I’d realized.
The thought of him walking through the front door, all smiles, made me want to swing that horribly heavy hotel steam iron at his face. But that would probably tip him off that I was angry. Right. I could act my way through this. I’d faked orgasms that made Glenn think he was some sort of sexual wunderkind. I could play the loving, stupid, unassuming, naive, deceived, imbecilic—
Rein it in, Campbell, I told myself as the door opened. You can play the loving girlfriend for the next few minutes. Just get him to leave the room, and you’re gone.
I straightened, kicked my bags into the closet, and shrugged into one of Caleb’s shirts as if I’d just been slipping into it when he returned. Not pilfering his weaponry and contemplating his demise via steam iron.
His sunny smile tore my heart like wet paper. I forced the muscles of my face into a pleasant expression.
“Took you a while,” I said as he dropped his grocery bag and strode across the room toward me. He wrapped his arm around my waist and nudged the closet door with his foot just so he could shove me against it.
“I missed you,” he rumbled, pressing my hips against the straining zipper of his jeans to show me just how much he missed me. A rush of longing crashed through me, taking my breath. He was breaking my heart. Even now, I could feel the cracks rippling across the surface.
I cupped my hand around his cheek. As much as I wanted to hate him—and I would—I was going to miss him so much.
“You OK?” he asked, dragging a thumb down my cheek. “Your eyes are all red.”
“Fine,” I said, my voice a little wobbly. I sucked in a breath to steady it. “I’ve been staring at the computer screen too long.”
“Well, I need a shower. That garage reeked, and I feel like it soaked into my skin. You could join me,” he suggested, grinning at me. “In the interest of water conservation and all.”
I kissed him, long and deep, drawing it out so that I would remember the feel of his deceitful, shameless lips on mine for the rest of my life. It took everything I had not to bite down and draw blood, to cause just a fraction of the pain he was causing me. I smiled up at him, trying not to wince at the distinct cracking sensation in my chest. “OK, you go get the water warmed up. I’ll be right there.”
He kissed me right between the eyebrows and dropped me gently onto the bed. “Will do!”
He walked across the room, whistling as he dropped his clothes. I let my head fall back on the mattress. Get up, I told myself, pushing myself off of the bed. Get out the door. Break down later.
The moment I heard the shower run, I moved back across the room to the closet.
Listening for the sound of water, I quietly slid the closet door open and tapped the combination into the safe’s keypad. I winced as each keystroke produced a loud, whining beep. I hoped his werewolf ears wouldn’t pick that up.
My eyes slid across the laptop, still open on the desk. I knew it would be so much smarter to delete the e-mail, to give me that much more time as Schuna and Caleb straightened out their miscommunications. But I wanted Caleb to know why I left. I didn’t want him to have any doubts.
Eventually, he’d look at the screen, realize what happened, and start tracking me. But before that, I wanted him to realize that I knew what a lying, lowlife asshole he was.
Stop it. You’re wasting time. Get your ass out that door and on the road.
I yanked the safe door open, finding a respectable stash of twenties bundled into five-hundred-dollar stacks. I calculated my percentage of Caleb’s stash and tucked eight hundred dollars into my pocket.
I pushed myself to my feet and slung the bag over my shoulders. After casting one last glance at the steamy bathroom, I shook my head and made for the door. I had my hand on the door handle when I felt long, wet fingers snap around my wrist.
Caleb was standing behind me, dripping wet, with no towel in sight. His expression was hurt and confused as he looked me up and down, spotting the bags, the jacket, all the signs that I was bolting.
“What are you doing?” he demanded.
I had a hundred responses tumbling around in my head.
Just going to get some ice, honey.
I’m going down to the lobby for some Tylenol.
I’m blowing this Popsicle stand, you lying sociopathic werewolf dick.
But I couldn’t seem to produce the words. They seemed to be building up in my throat, threatening to choke me if they poured out of my mouth.
“Tina, what’s going on?”
I was practically hyperventilating. All the moments we’d shared, the laughs, the mishaps, every kiss and touch, spun through my head on fast-forward. And rage, white-hot and all-consuming, bubbled up from my belly. I yanked my hand out of his grasp, raised my foot high, and stomped his sensitive instep. Caleb yowled, letting go of my wrist as he hopped away on his good foot.
“What did you do that for?” he demanded, but by that time, my hand had snaked into my bag and charged the Taser. I clicked the control, swung my arm up, and pressed the prongs to his skin. Without a moment’s hesitation, I fired it, sending canned lightning straight into Caleb’s chest.
Unfortunately, I hadn’t considered how the water covering Caleb’s skin would carry the current, and he ended up twitching on the carpet in full-body shock. He shouted for just a second before his jaw muscles locked up. The charge ended, and Caleb looked up at me, eyes wide and golden in their distress. “If this is some sort of kinky ‘naughty cat burglar’ role-playing game, I am not getting it,” he said, panting.
I grunted and gave him another shot, just on principle. This could be considered a breakup, right? Nothing says I’m just not that into you like Taser fire.
“S-stop T-t-tasering me!” he shouted, sounding more annoyed than injured. For a millisecond, I felt a little guilty. There’s nothing more pathetic than a wet, naked guy flopping all over a hotel carpet while being electrocuted. And then the laptop caught my eye, and I got pissed off all over again. I dropped the Taser into my bag. He sat up, gingerly pressing at the already-healing contact burns on his chest. “What the hell is going on?”
“Read your e-mail,” I snarled. Caleb caught my arm, dragging me down to the carpet next to him.
“What are you talking about?” he demanded.
I shrugged him off and tried to stand up, only to have him grab my arm again and stop me. “You know exactly what I’m talking about, you asshole!”
He sighed. “I’m really sorry about this.”
“You think sorry is going to cover what you did?” I hissed, finally managing to push to my feet.
He shook his head. “No, I’m sorry about this.” With speed you wouldn’t expect from a guy who’d been recently Tasered, he swiped his leg out, knocking my feet out from under me. I flopped onto the carpet next to him with a startled uuhf!
My only excuse was that, as with a lot of things about Caleb, I just didn’t see it coming.
He groaned, pulling my arm away from his face, where it had apparently flopped with quite a bit of force as I fell. As petty as it was, that made me feel a little bit better.
“I’m sorry I kicked you,” he said solemnly, working his jaw to loosen the abused muscles. “But considering the Taser, I think we’re even. Now, will you please tell me what the hell is going on?”
“You know who I am,” I told him, scooting across the floor to brace my back against the closet door.
“Of course I know who you are!” he cried, rolling toward me. “You told me all about it.”