Virgin in Disguise, p.1
Her warm scent surrounded him, filling Frank’s head with all sorts of imaginings better left for late nights and soft beds.
Angel kept a firm hold on his handcuffed wrist. “Let’s see if we can do this nice and easy. Swing your legs out of the car, stand up and turn around.”
He followed her directions. She was close enough that he could feel her warm breath fanning the exposed skin of his throat. Close enough that he could see her swallow and watch the dawning awareness in her eyes.
Close enough that she would notice exactly how…aware…he was in a couple of seconds.
If he didn’t watch out, this attraction would get out of hand way too easily. He’d already broken one of his rules by talking to a civilian about his assignment.
He stood dangerously close to breaking a few more.
Virgin in Disguise
grew up on a dairy farm, attended a one-room schoolhouse, lived in an English castle and (finally) settled in Minneapolis. She lives in a charming old house (which needs much work) with her romantic husband (who doesn’t need much work at all) and four cats (who work very hard at being cute).
Rosemary would love to hear from readers. You can visit her Web site at www.rosemaryheim.com or write to her c/o Midwest Fiction Writers, P.O. Box 24107, Minneapolis, MN 55424.
To Elise Heim and Dorothy Bentler.
My mother and sister. Special women, both.
My heartfelt thank-yous to: Shannon Godwin, for believing in Angel’s story and being our champion. Dr. Lou Betty Rood and members of KOD for coming to my medical assistance, pointing me in the right direction and letting me know I was on the right track. The Princesses and my critique group, a phenomenal collection of women. You know why. And Georgie-Peaux. I miss your calls, long talks and friendship. The state fair will never be the same.
Author’s note to those familiar with downtown Minneapolis—I know. Please forgive my artistic license in relocating an escalator or two and building the library before its time.
“There ya go, darlin’,” the thick southern-accented voice coaxed. “Wake up and let me see those baby blues.”
Frank Cabrini did not want to open his eyes—no matter how gentle and enticing that voice sounded. If he did, the light would just set off another set of drums to join the timpani already pounding a rhythm in his brain.
A gentle hand smoothed through his hair, sliding down to pat his cheek. The faint scent of vanilla surrounded him. His eyelids flickered against his will.
“Are you sure he’s going to be okay?” Another woman’s voice registered in his fuzzy brain.
“Sure. Thanks for your help.” The first voice again, this time without the southern inflections. “Go ahead and take off. I can handle things from here.”
Frank fought the fog muffling his awareness. Something was wrong. Way wrong. He didn’t recognize either voice. The last thing he could remember was sipping a tonic water at the shabby CC Club bar and being chatted up by a woman who looked better suited to lunch at Chino Latino, the trendy Minneapolis Uptown restaurant.
That was how long ago?
Now, he lay stretched out on a bed that wasn’t his. He could tell because it was too short for his six-foot-four frame, and the pillow under his head was flat as Nebraska.
Somewhere to his left, a door clicked shut. He wanted to ask what was going on, but his mouth felt like the morning after cleaning out the liquor cabinet.
Vanilla surrounded him again as his head was lifted and something pressed against his lips. Water, cool and unflavored, dribbled into his mouth.
“Thanks.” His voice cracked on the single word. The bed shifted and the vanilla scent faded. He turned his head and tried opening his eyes. He knew better than to leave himself vulnerable like this. In his line of work, it could get you dead real fast.
Whatever drug he’d been slipped was wearing off. The water helped clear his head, but his arms and legs still felt weighed down with lead.
He pried his eyes open a slit, just enough to let in a little light. Not that the heavily curtained windows allowed much to filter into the room. What he could see was mostly shadows.
The bed dipped again, creaking with the movement. The woman leaned over him to brush the hair away from his face with one hand. Her other hand slid down his arm, pausing a moment to test his biceps before continuing down to his hand. He watched with a detachment he blamed on the drug as she raised his arm above his head.
Something cool and hard pressed against his wrist, accompanied by the sound of metal sliding through a ratchet. Handcuffs. A surge of adrenaline cleared the last of the drug’s effects from his system, and his eyes snapped open.
The first thing he saw was the cold gray barrel of a gun. Second were the colder gray eyes of the woman holding him at gunpoint. Instinct had him jerking his shackled arm, trying to get free.
“Don’t bother.” She spoke with the non-accent of a network newscaster now.
Holy hell, he was in some sort of trouble. “Your accent slipped.”
“Well, like, duh,” she said, snapping an imaginary wad of chewing gum as she slid into Valley Girl. “As if I’d give you a clue.”
The bed squeaked as she stood. Frank followed the lines of her lean body as she straightened, the gun still held steady and pointed right at him.
She was tall. He flicked a glance downward but couldn’t see if shoes augmented the impressive height. He doubted it. From the way she carried herself, he didn’t see anything artificial or out of balance in her posture.
Her clothes were nothing special—worn blue jeans and a too-big navy-blue T-shirt. A wide, black leather belt wrapped around her waist, held in place with a wicked-looking flattened spike. Dark hair pulled away from her face. No jewelry, not even a watch, interrupted the clean lines of her hands and arms. If she wore makeup, it was minimal and unnoticeable.
A memory wavered into being. He recognized her from the bar. She’d been sitting alone at a corner booth. “You were following me?”
She raised one straight eyebrow, but didn’t answer. Instead, she squatted beside the bed. She worked her free hand beneath him, wriggled her fingers into his left back pocket and pulled out his wallet.
Relief eased the tension in his muscles. Seemed like a lot of work to go through just to rob him, but this kind of trouble he could manage. At least his cover wasn’t blown.
His jailer settled into the straight-back chair next to the bed. She laid the snub-nosed revolver in her lap and began to rifle through the contents of his wallet. It wouldn’t take long.
“I don’t carry credit cards. You’re welcome to what cash there is, but it sure don’t seem worth all this effort.”
She pulled out the driver’s license. The bogus name, Frank Boylen, went with his cover story, and would lead to a fabricated history if she tried to dig.
She tossed the wallet onto the mattress beside him, but kept the license. Holding it between two fingers, she tilted it from side to side, then inspected the back before flipping it to land neatly on top of the wallet. She picked up her gun and pointed it back at him. “So, Frank Cabrini, anything you want to tell me before I haul
Bounty? Oh, hell.
Three facts registered as new tension threaded cold fingers along his spine.
His captor was a bounty hunter.
She knew his real name.
He was in a world of trouble.
Angela Marie Donovan, aka Angel, studied her prisoner’s reaction. Background information had included that little tidbit about the license being under a false name.
Whoever Frank Cabrini was, he was good at the game. His only reaction to her use of his real name had been a slight widening of his eyes and the involuntary dilation of his pupils. The muscles in his arm flexed as he tested the handcuffs, but his movements were subtle. He didn’t struggle.
Memory of the strength she’d felt in those muscles warmed her hand. Her reaction to this transient bothered her. He wasn’t her type. Not that she had a type, much to the chagrin of well-meaning friends. But this guy was even further out of sync than the last blind date her friend Tina had set up for her.
No, Frank Cabrini was so rough she could file her nails on his edges. His black hair was in desperate need of a cut. Either that, or it needed another month or two of growth before he’d be able to tie it away from his face.
What she could see of his face piqued her curiosity. Blue eyes, the same color as the Minnesota summer sky, studied her with a clarity that might unnerve a weaker soul. Especially when contrasted with the heavy beard that hadn’t been groomed or trimmed in a longer period of time than his hair.
In general, his appearance fairly shouted, “Danger! Stay away!”
His appearance did, but not his manner. She’d watched him at the bar. No one approached him, but he’d been civil enough to the bartender and waitress. When Tina had sidled up to him, he’d acknowledged her, but he hadn’t hit on her. He’d played the gentleman, right up to the moment the sedative had kicked in and they wrestled his semiconscious butt up the stairs to this makeshift holding cell.
Cabrini rattled the handcuff against the old wrought-iron headboard. “Is this really necessary?”
“Care to tell me what this is all about?”
She smiled. He was cool enough about the whole situation—she’d give him that. Most men took exception to being handcuffed. At least, they did when it was without prior consent.
Cabrini’s calm didn’t fit the profile of the typical collar.
After almost ten years in the business of tracking down bail jumpers, she had a pretty good sense of the norm. Cabrini differed from her usual quarry, both because of his manner and because of her client.
She decided to indulge a little curiosity. “Now Mistah Cabrini, suh.” She slid back into the southern accent. It usually elicited the most information. “Just what did you go and do to get yourself into this predicament, hmm?”
His eyes narrowed and he took his sweet time answering. No skin off her. She could outwait him any day.
“If you really are a bounty hunter—”
“We in the industry prefer ‘bail bond enforcer.’”
He shifted on the bed and rolled onto his side, probably trying to get more comfortable. Good luck.
“Regardless of what you call yourself, don’t you normally inquire as to the nature of the criminal you’re hunting?”
She nodded, conceding the point. “I always find it entertaining to hear the tales of woe spun out as an excuse for bad behavior.”
“Sorry to disappoint you, sweetheart. No sad tale here. In fact, I can’t begin to imagine why you think there’s a bounty on my head.” He shrugged, an oddly elegant gesture in spite of his awkward position. “Who sent you on this fool’s chase, anyway?”
She shook her head. “I’m sorry, but that is privileged information. My client prefers to remain anonymous, at least for the time being.”
Cabrini rolled onto his back and scooted into a sitting position with his back braced against the wall. The new position had them on the same level, looking eye to eye. “We seem to be at something of an impasse. You won’t divulge your client’s name, and I can’t think of any bail I’ve jumped, nor anyone who would want me bad enough to send a bou—bail bond enforcer after me.”
“Well, suh, you’ll just have to ponder a bit harder. Perhaps it will come to you.” She stood, regaining the dominant position and forcing him, once again, to look up at her. “I’ll leave you to your musings.”
“You’ll be back?” The faintest hint of concern threaded through his voice.
She smiled and sashayed to the door, paused and glanced over her shoulder at him. “Rest your poor, troubled head, Mistah Cabrini. I shall return with all due haste.” With one last hip sway, she pulled the door closed behind her.
The southern-belle facade disappeared with her next step. She reverted to her natural stride, tucking her Smith & Wesson Airweight into her back waistband as she moved the few steps to the end of the hall. From that vantage point, she could watch the street below while keeping an eye on the door to the room, as well as the stairs leading down to the street. The metal fire escape outside the window would allow for a quick departure if that became necessary.
This was as close to privacy as she was going to get for a while. She pulled out her cell phone and scrolled through the address book. She needed to sort through a few details.
She’d known her client, Marvin Dexter, her entire life. Honorary uncle and surrogate father since her dad’s death, when he’d approached her about tracking down Cabrini, she’d made an exception to her “no family” rule. It was the least she could do after all the ways Dex had helped over the years
And if that wasn’t enough motivation, her mother’s health insurance had gone up again. The extra money she earned for bringing in Cabrini would go a long way to help cover that bill.
She highlighted a number and punched “ok.”
Dex answered on the first ring, his cultured tones clear on the cellular connection.
“Hey, Dex. It’s me. I’ve got him.”
“Already?” The question followed a brief pause. “I hadn’t expected you to catch up with him so soon.”
“Yeah, well, I’m just that good. Which is why you hired me, right? Now that I’ve got him, do you want me to bring him down to your office?”
“No.” Another pause, longer this time, which was out of character for Dex. He was known in his political circles for his sharp intellect and quick responses. “I’m not ready to meet with Mr. Cabrini. There are still a few details I need to iron out.”
“What am I supposed to do with him in the meantime? I can’t very well keep him locked up in this room.”
“I’m sorry, sweetie.”
The endearment triggered a tiny ache in her chest. She could hear the echo of her father’s voice in the phrase, even after almost twenty years.
“The situation is quite complicated,” Dex continued, “and everything needs to be right before we can proceed.”
“You didn’t tell me there was a timing issue.”
“I know, and I apologize for that omission. Nevertheless, it would be extremely awkward for me to take custody right now.”
“Awkward for you? I’m the one with a man in custody and no warrant. Can you at least help me out on that?”
“I don’t have anything to take to a judge. At least, not yet.”
“I’m skating a thin line here, Dex.” She paced the short distance from window to door and back. Working blind did not leave her with a good feeling. “Can you at least give me a clue as to what this is all about?”
“He’s been poking around in some old cases.” Dex paused, then added in a lowered tone, “Of your father’s and mine.”
Her throat tightened. “Why would he do that?” She pushed a swallow through the knot. “Do you think he knows something?”
“I really don’t want to say any more right now. I need more time. Do you think you could take him out of town for a while?”
Angel weighed the offer, comparing it to other obligations, trying to make this new scenario fit. “I’ll need to make a couple stops first, but I think I can work it out.”
“Good, good. I’ll leave a key with your mother—I assume one of your stops will be there before you leave?”
“Excellent. I’m about to leave my office for a few errands of my own. The key will be there when you arrive, along with some additional information.”
“Is there any chance you can get a warrant on him for something?”
“That simply isn’t a possibility at this time.” Dex’s sigh hinted at some annoyance. “Angel?”
“I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate your help in this matter. You do understand that, don’t you?”
“Of course.” Did he understand the risk she was taking for him?
“And you appreciate the need to keep this strictly confidential?”
“I am a professional.”
“I meant no insult. This is a delicate project, and you’re the only one I can trust to do it.”
“Sorry.” Angel reined in her momentary irritation. “It’s going to take me an hour or two to get things in order. I’ll stop at home last, before I leave town.” That should give Dex plenty of time to drop off the key.
“What are you going to do with Cabrini until you leave?”
“Good question. I’ll figure something out.”
“I have every confidence that you will, Angel. You’ve always impressed me with your resourcefulness. When I have everything lined up here, I’ll be in touch with you.”
“We’ll talk then.” Angel closed her cell phone and slid it into her front pocket. Dex wasn’t telling her everything, but he was family. She trusted him more than she trusted most. That entitled him to some leeway. She just wished he’d been a bit more forthcoming with information.
He hadn’t given her any more than what she already knew—that he wanted Cabrini brought in. There didn’t appear to be any legal charges against him, so it was more of a P.I. locate job.