Oct. 15 –5:30pm
"You need to drive, Alexandra." She looked over at him in surprise and noticed the spreading stain on his left shoulder.
It took them longer to reach the estate than Alex would have liked. The drive was once again mostly quiet other than periodic inquiries concerning Erik's health or to verify directions. She gripped the steering wheel until her knuckles turned white and tried to think of anything other than the sounds of gunshots or the smell of blood in the air. Knowing her passenger was injured, she felt uneasy talking to him when he should be resting and preserving his strength. He might be the most frightening, obstinate, ill-tempered, sexy man she'd ever met who had earlier sent her running from him like all the hounds of hell were after her, and yet he was injured now because of her. She couldn't shake that one thought. Hard on its heels was the additional realization that he had probably…no, definitely saved her life today. It was humbling. It was terrifying.
Erik felt only the slightest twinge of guilt at letting Alex think he was injured worse than he really was. The wound in his shoulder bled a lot, but preliminary assessment was that the bullet had passed straight through, missing bone. He doubted there would be another attack tonight and this gave him a legitimate excuse to study his lovely companion. Erik had shifted to lounge comfortably against the passenger door, his eyes open to mere slits so he could watch her undisturbed. She was such a confusing, exasperating female that he couldn't put her into any one category. He had frightened her earlier when she'd mentioned his mask; the damn thing always put him on the defensive and brought out his temper. Alex hadn't cowered long under the weight of his fury. No, instead, she had planned out a way to escape him and his abrupt anger. He was pleasantly surprised at her courage and resourcefulness; the plan was well conceived and nearly flawless in execution. Nearly. Unfortunately, the flaw was a major one: her destination. The very last place she should have gone was to her apartment as it was the most logical. It was easy enough to deduce that if she left, she'd need more clothing and her vehicle. He decided to humor her but, after waiting for several minutes for Alex to leave the building, he was forced to call in order to hasten her departure. He had seen a couple of shadows making their way to the complex and somehow he just knew they weren't residents or friendly visitors. Either they'd seen her go into the building or he hadn't been the only one who'd noticed her disappearing act from the post office. Again, she proved her intelligence by using the fire escape at the rear of the building instead of taking the risk of running into him and thus the watchers. These traits would help her in the days to come when things got even more dangerous.
Once they'd left the town behind, the traffic had begun to thin until the only lights to be seen were the moon overhead and the twin headlights of their car. As deserted as the road had become, he quickly and easily noticed the black SUV slowly gaining on them. He had decided not to mention it to Alex at first, hoping he could outpace them. That had almost proven to be a costly mistake when he'd barely gotten her head down before the first hail of bullets. Erik had expected her to go into hysterics or freeze up in fear; her frightened scream had backed that initial thought. But then he'd asked for the weapon he kept in the glove box…Where in hell had she learned to handle a pistol with such efficiency? There had been nothing in her file concerning any type of small weapons training. The way she checked the weapon and prepared it for use let him know she'd done it many times in the past; it had been so smooth, so instinctive. She had even loaded a fresh magazine in case he needed it. He made a mental note to inquire about that later when they were both better rested.
As the car pulled up to the gate, he quietly gave her the access code while noticing her pallor and how tightly she gripped the wheel. She had fought it the entire trip back but, now that the danger had passed and they were safe inside his estate, shock was beginning to set in. The lingering smells of blood and gunpowder weren't helping to keep the fear at bay. He directed her to park at the front door and moved around the car to help her inside. Once he'd seated her in the Library, something inside her broke and Alex began to shake all over, taking in great, gulping breaths of air and yet feeling like she was suffocating. Erik held her hands and spoke quietly in his most persuasive voice; he had to calm her or she'd never stop hyperventilating. As her breathing slowed, her eyes darted fearfully around the room seeing nothing until they fell on him, a beacon to guide her to safety. With a cry, she flung her arms around his waist and sobbed against his chest. She could feel his long, nimble musician's fingers stroking her hair and it was so calming, so soothing...so safe. The soft strokes of his fingers and the warmth of his angelic voice lulled her into a fitful sleep. Erik laid her gently on the sofa and covered her with a blanket before climbing the stairs to his room in order to tend to his shoulder.
In less than ten minutes, Erik had returned to the Library wearing a clean shirt over his bandaged wound. Moving silently to the desk, he pulled his laptop from the main drawer and watched Alex while it booted up. Her sleep was far from restful, however, plagued as it was with nightmares. There would be moments of peaceful slumber shattered by agitated tossing and turning and small whimpers of fear. He hoped she'd be able to handle the days to come; it would only get worse before it got better. Of that he was certain. As the muffled beep pulled his attention back to the computer, Erik quickly checked email. If al-Zahir had discovered any new information, he would have sent him a quick message to arrange a meet. Erik wasn't sure if he was relieved or disappointed to find his inbox empty; no news isn't always good news in this business. Knowing there was nothing to be gained in needless worry, he pulled the flash drive from his pocket and inserted it into the USB port. He only hoped what was on this small device had been worth young Samuel's death.
Oct. 15 –6:00pm
Alex slowly returned to wakefulness to the faint clicking of someone typing on a keyboard. Opening her eyes, she lay quietly and watched Erik at the computer. How could someone who was so frightening at the same time be so gentle and seem so safe? Her host was so complex and contradictory. And gorgeous and sexy, a little voice whispered in her head. Frowning, she pushed the thought away. There was no way she could fall for a man like him nor could he ever fall for her. They were entirely too dissimilar. After his anger in the car, she had expected him to be furious after grabbing her in the parking garage. However, he seemed to have taken her escape in stride, almost like he'd expected her to try to run from him. And then, after everything, there was the way he had protected her in the car.
Closing her eyes she could still feel Erik's hand on the back of her head as he pushed her into the seat, still see the glass shattering and falling around her in that first hail of bullets. Mere seconds had separated her from life and death. Mere seconds…and the reflexes of a man she was certain wished her anywhere but in that car beside him. In those few seconds, she'd gotten a quick look at the shooter and his look of unholy glee had shaken her to the core. It hadn't been a job for him. He wasn't trying to kill them for money or material gain though she was certain he wouldn't turn it down. No, he had enjoyed it, enjoyed inflicting pain and fear, causing death and destruction. In that one look, those few seconds, Alex knew they'd never stop until they had what they wanted. Only death satisfied men like that. Hot tears seeped from her closed eyelids; she had thought she was scared before but now she was truly terrified. If it hadn't been for Erik… He had protected her, killed for her, and taken a bullet for her. Even now, he was trying to help her. And for what? What reason could he have?
"Why?" Alex had whispered the question aloud without thinking. When Erik's head snapped up from the monitor and his golden eyes caught hers, she attempted to clarify. "Why are you doing this? Why are you helping me?"
"Why? Because I was asked to as a favor for an old friend; because if the person behind this is who I think it is, then I feel partly responsible. And," he shrugged elegantly as he stood and began pacing, "because people like you should never have to deal with people like them."
"Oh." Alex followed his movements, reminded of a panther prowling his territory. "You saved my life." She sat up and folded the blanket to mask her shaking hands. "I know it's not nearly enough, but…thank you."
"Alexandra." Erik took the blanket from her hands and waited for her to look up at him. Slowly, light green eyes met amber and were captured in the tenderness of his gaze. "You did wonderfully today, my dear. There is no need to thank me."
Blushing at his praise and the soft glow of his eyes, Alex glanced around the room to find some way of changing the subject. When she saw the laptop open at the top of his desk, she remembered the package her brother had sent. Perhaps the small drive would provide some answers as to why all this was happening.
"Have you discovered anything from the flash drive Sam sent me?"