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Authors: Kimberley White

All the Way (6 page)

BOOK: All the Way
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“Tonight, get some rest.”
“I'll try.”
He watched as she climbed under the covers, facing the wall, the tattered nightgown hanging from her body as it began to dry.
“Adriano?” She glanced over at him with an innocence that took him by surprise.
“Yeah?”
“Everything'll be okay once I get to the FBI, right?”
“They'll take good care of you tomorrow. I'll take good care of you tonight.”
She burrowed down in the bed. Her eyes flashed at him again. “Are you sure?”
“I promise I won't take you to them if I don't think they can help you.”
“No, you wouldn't.” Payton studied him wearily. “I'm betting my life on it.”
Chapter 7
A mite-size succession of sneezes stirred Adriano awake. His eyes opened at a leisurely pace. It took him a minute to focus and remember why he was sleeping on a chair in a cheap motel. A delicate cough turned his attention to the petite lump on the bed above him.
Payton Vaughn would provide him with inside information on Sherman Grazicky, and he'd write the exposé of the century. In his mind's eye, he could see the pose he would have her take for the cover photo. Together with the information he and Jake were gathering, it wouldn't be a stretch to expect to win
Chicago City
's coveted Reporter of the Year Award. After he had Jake investigate the FBI agent at Payton's house and connected him to Sherman, Adriano might even get a book out of it, and then nothing would stand between him and the
New York Times
bestseller list.
Before Payton turned herself in to the FBI, he'd get his story. He'd never get an interview with her after they took her into custody. The FBI wouldn't botch up again. He couldn't believe the Charlotte police had let a delicate little bird like Payton slip out of their grasp.
Grazicky wasn't someone to play with. The man could frighten women and children, but Adriano didn't scare easily. He'd keep Payton safe until he got her to FBI headquarters and turned her over to someone in charge—someone immune to Grazicky's money. He'd do everything in his power to make sure Grazicky was off the streets.
Behind the mask of terror Grazicky's organization displayed was a weak and cowardly ruler. How could he put a hit out on an angel like Payton? He had committed crimes and been caught. He had to pay the price. Killing Payton would not make his transgressions go away.
How had Payton ever gotten involved with Grazicky? A vision of her sad, soulful eyes interrupted his thoughts. The evening storm had ended, but not before providing him with a sneak peek of her sensuous body. He'd never forget the way the wet gown clung to the arc of her hips and the curvature of her ripe breasts. The cold rain made her dark nipples stand at attention, teasing him, almost daring him to take her in his arms and tear the sheer fabric away.
In the right place, at the right time, he would have spent the entire evening sampling the sweetness he could pull from her pert nipples. His mind moved with the speed of a locomotive as he imagined the pleasure they could have shared last night. He tried to admonish those thoughts when his manhood became engorged and rigid, reminding himself this was about business—not long-needed pleasure.
Business,
he reminded himself.
You'll get the interview, see her safely to the FBI, and go back to Chicago to write the story.
Hearing Payton sneeze again, Adriano walked over to the bed and handed her a tissue. “Did you catch something?”
She nodded.
“I'll get you some clothes.”
She sneezed again. “And cough syrup.”
Her innocent eyes pulled with the force of a magnet, and he found himself sitting on the side of the bed.
Payton asked, “When should I call the FBI? They'll say I have to come in—immediately.”
“We'll call after breakfast. You won't tell them where you are. You'll just tell them you're all right and I'm bringing you in.”
“Where's the office?”
“There's a field office in Charlotte, but I'd bet the agent in your apartment last night works out of that office. It would be safer to get you to the Special Agent in Charge at the Columbia, South Carolina, branch.”
“What's wrong?”
“Since the crime was committed in North Carolina, that branch is responsible for handling the case.”
“You're worried they'll transfer me back to Charlotte.”
It was a possibility. They would need compelling evidence about the rogue agent to convince the Special Agent in Charge not to send her back. He didn't know the results of his anonymous call last night. The agent might have been gone before anyone arrived to investigate his story. It should be simple, but he wasn't fooled into believing bureaucracy and red tape wouldn't complicate the matter.
He watched the uncertainty in her eyes. “Listen, they'll protect you. We'll explain why we came to Columbia instead of Charlotte. Everything is going to work out.”
Payton smiled unconvincingly.
To get an unobstructed view of her profile, Adriano pushed a bushel of hair from her face. The rain had made her mane wild, giving her an uninhibited, exotic appearance. They watched each other in silence. He couldn't figure out what she was thinking or what she wanted him to do. He wanted to move into the bed beside her. He'd start with light kisses to her forehead and cheeks. Then he'd take her lips between his and he—
Payton sneezed.
He sprung up from the bed and crossed the room. She was pretty, no doubt, but he knew better than to get involved with a source. It would call the credibility of his article into question.
He stepped into his shoes and grabbed his keys. “I'll get you some clothes. Be back in an hour.”
“You're leaving me?”
“I wouldn't leave you.” He tried to ease the distress crinkling her brow by lightening his tone. “You owe me a story, remember?”
“Aren't you afraid I'll run away?”
He paused at the door. “You have no clothes, money, or transportation. And you need my help. I'm not afraid you'll leave.”
Adriano took the time to remove the logos from the SUV's exterior before he filled the Land Cruiser with gas and asked directions to the nearest town. The damage to the rear bumper would cause the truck to stand out if someone knew what they were looking for, but the
Chicago City
logos were a dead giveaway. A short drive later, he found a small town with a bank, restaurant, gas station, and general store.
The healthy woman behind the counter at the general store watched him suspiciously as he wandered through the women's clothing department. She kept one hand behind the counter—probably on her shotgun—at all times. He quickly remembered he was in the South, not urban Chicago. Here, black men still disappeared in broad daylight. He treaded lightly through the women's department searching for suitable clothes for Payton. A young girl came from the back of the store and asked if he needed help.
“I need clothes for a woman about this big and this tall.” He used his hands to measure out Payton's height and width.
Amused, the young girl began to flip through the clothing rack. “What are you looking for?”
“Jeans, T-shirt, jacket. And underwear. Oh yeah, shoes.”
The girl nodded.
“Something to do her hair and shower with too.”
“Okay, sir,” she acknowledged with a southern drawl.
After paying for the motel and buying gas, his cash reserve was dangerously low. Mr. Conners would grumble about the expenses when he saw the credit-card bill. Until Adriano dropped the final draft of the exposé on his desktop.
He moved through the store and found himself a shirt, slacks, and toiletries. He had missed their flight, but he flipped open his cell phone and tried Jake anyway.
Jake sounded panicked. “What's going on? I've been calling you all morning. I need to tell you about Payton Vaughn.”
“Relax, man. She told me everything.” He cradled several bags of chips in his arms. “She's giving us an exclusive. I'm going to get her to FBI headquarters, and she's going to give me the story.” He followed the woman to the counter to pay for his purchases.
“Where are you? I'd like to be there. We've worked long and hard to get this story.”
He pulled out his company credit card and handed it to the young woman. “I know, but you keep working on the informant, and I'll get Payton's interview. Anything on the FBI agent who attacked us at her place?”
“I was right there when the police arrived. The man was gone and the place was clean. No signs of a struggle.”
“No blood? I hit him pretty good.”
“Nothing. If you ask me, the apartment was professionally cleaned, and those same professionals escorted our boy on a very long trip.”
Adriano signed the charge slip.
“What exactly did Payton tell you?” Jake wanted to know.
“Thanks,” Adriano told the young woman and grabbed his bags. As he loaded the SUV, he recounted Payton's story for Jake and then headed across the street to order breakfast.
“Adriano, for you to brag about knowing women as much as you do, you sure were fooled by this one.”
“What do you mean?” He slipped into a booth to wait for his breakfast order.
“My informant told me last night that Payton Vaughn is a whole lot more than a manager to Grazicky.”
The static on the phone obstructed Jake's words. “Say again, Jake. My battery's dying.” He'd left the charger in his suitcase back at the hotel in Charlotte.
“According to my source, Grazicky is crazy about her. The informant said Grazicky had a man beaten to a pulp because he whistled at her.”
“It can't be true.” Picturing Grazicky's hands on Payton turned his stomach. “Payton is scared to death of Grazicky.” He returned to the counter, paid his bill, and left the restaurant.
“You have to see her, Jake. She's gorgeous. There's no way she's messing around with Grazicky.”
“Ask her,” Jake said.
“I will. The minute I get back to the motel.”
“You left her alone at the motel?
Alone?
” Jake blew into the phone. “She won't be there when you get back.”
“She will.” He didn't know how, but he was certain she wouldn't break their agreement. She needed him.
Wisely, Jake avoided that argument. “The FBI agent saw you last night, and now he's disappeared.”
“I know.” His energy was focused on Payton's safety. He welcomed the opportunity to tangle with Grazicky, but he couldn't protect Payton if he was dead.
“Watch your back.”
“I will.”
“Find out everything Payton knows.”
He climbed into the Land Cruiser. “Do you doubt my investigative skills, my brother? I'm usually the one slinging the camera or fighting off the goons to save your butt, but I do remember how it's done.”
“This isn't about your wounded ego, Adriano. Grazicky is desperate. You have to stay sharp.”
Jake hadn't been there to see the fear in Payton's big brown eyes as they eluded the speeding car chasing them into the night. He hadn't witnessed her grit when she took the crooked FBI agent down. Jake hadn't slept at the foot of the bed with Payton relying on him for security. All night long she muttered, twisting restlessly in her sleep. She tossed left and right, kicking the blanket off the side of the bed. It was all he could do not to climb into bed and take her in his arms.
“Stay focused,” Jake warned as if he could read Adriano's private thoughts.
“My battery is dying. I'll call when I know the plan.”
Adriano hoped Payton was as innocent as her eyes portrayed. Jake had meant to jolt him back into reality, to keep him from getting wrapped up in a pretty face and perfect body. As Adriano climbed into the SUV and started down the road, he tried to remember the last time he'd been this attracted to a woman.
Working stories with Jake, he spent most of his time with the unsavory elements of society—not much potential for a mate there. When he and Jake cracked a big story and the accolades came, so did the fame-hunting women. With Jake being a faithfully married man, Adriano had more than his share of offers. And he took up quite a few. But the attraction was always fleeting, ending as soon as the woman allowed him penetration of her body. None of those women made him feel hopelessly—and helplessly—under their spell. In the midst of danger, his mind remained focused but never lingered too far from the sexual tension mounting between him and Payton.
He turned off the dirt road when he saw the one-pump gas station. The tires spat gravel as he rounded the building to the small motel. He loved Chicago, but the beautiful weather year-round in the South was a definite perk of his visit.
His trained eye didn't miss noticing the cars parked at the motel. Where there had been only one beat-up pickup truck the night before, there were two new cars; both black with an extra antenna. Unmarked cop cars? Had Payton called the FBI while he was gone? Would they send two cars to pick her up? He estimated Payton to be five-five—five-six at the most—about six inches shorter than himself—and no more than one hundred and twenty pounds. Four cops were not needed to bring her in. And wouldn't they want to be discreet? Especially after the fiasco at the Adam's Mark?
“If they're trying to be inconspicuous, they're doing a terrible job at it,” Adriano grumbled.
He drove a wide circle around the formation of cars. He kept his eyes focused straight ahead, trying not to draw any attention. A car was posted near the lot entrance, blocking the pickup truck. The other was boldly parked in front of their motel-room door.
As Adriano passed the cars, he stole a glance inside of each. One man in the first; two men in the car parked in front of the motel-room door. All the men were dressed in black.
This looks like a hit—not a witness recovery,
Adriano thought. He panicked when he considered he might be right. Payton could be lying dead inside the motel room. Instantly, his palms began to perspire. He never should have left her behind. With her sneezing and coughing, he had thought it better for her to wait instead of going out wearing only the tattered nightgown.
Stay calm,
he told himself.
BOOK: All the Way
4.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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