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Authors: Kimberley White

All the Way (8 page)

BOOK: All the Way
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“No. Why would he?”
“To get into your pants. Tell you how unhappy he is at home, how his wife doesn't understand him the way you do.”
His sarcastic attitude made her ask, “Is this part of the interview?”
“Yes.”
He'd turned on his reporter switch and she hadn't even noticed. She wanted to ask if his kissing her was a part of the interview too.
After walking a few yards, he started firing the questions again. “We need to find out why Grazicky wants to talk to you. Do you keep his books?”
“He has an accountant.”
“Have you ever seen his financial records?”
“I manage the staff, so part of my job is submitting work hours for pay to the accounting team.”
“Ever notice any discrepancies in the hours you submit and the final paychecks?”
“I don't see the individual checks, but early on I noticed my final dollar payout didn't equal the accounting department's. I questioned it because my job hinged on making a profit for the club. I couldn't go over the personnel budget and meet my quotas.”
“How did they explain it?”
“Sherman pays a bonus to the waitresses who work the suites.”
“The infamous suites.” He took the camera bag from her shoulder and placed it on his. “Jake and I visited Skye our first night in town.”
“Really?”
“I recognized your name, but didn't connect it to Skye until later. You're the person to know if you want things done there.”
She couldn't enjoy pride in her work under the circumstances. “What did you think?”
“Nice place. Of course, Jake and I weren't famous enough or rich enough to leave the first level.”
“When I open my own club you'll have an all-access pass.”
He stopped abruptly, turning to her, and she immediately understood the double entendre associated with her promise. She wanted to ask him about the kiss again, but she'd tried once and he had quickly reminded her of why they were stuck together. He watched her, and she knew he wanted to say something. She found it strangely endearing that a reporter couldn't put his thoughts into words.
“Want to take a break?” he asked. “Your feet must be sore.”
“A short break would be good.” Her feet were tender, but the sneakers he'd given her and walking through the fields helped to cushion her steps.
Midday, the South Carolina sun was unforgiving and beat down on them with a vengeance. They found a clearing underneath the umbrella of a tree and sat on the ground facing each other. Adriano's perspiration-soaked shirt clung to every indentation of his chest, outlining her every desire. The T she wore gave him unrestricted access to the pert response of her eager breasts. Ignoring his sensuality was impossible. The struggle frustrated her into expending more mental energy, which further focused her attraction on him. She gave up the fight, acknowledging the magnetism between them didn't mean they were going to roll around in the loft of the nearest barn.
“What do you know about Sherman?” she asked.
Adriano removed his camera as he answered. “He's one of the biggest drug dealers in this region, but the authorities have never been able to link him directly with any illegal activity. Jake and I tracked drug shipments to Chicago and found a connection between the imports there with imports in several other major cities. We dug a little deeper and found the shipments originated from three places. After talking to a few informants and tracking money trails, we realized Grazicky's name always came up. We took the information to our editor, and he told us to follow up.”
“You could be wrong. Sherman could be an ordinary businessman.”
“I could be wrong, but I'm not.” He brought the camera up to his face and focused on her.
“What makes you so sure?”
“My instincts are never wrong.” He pressed the button and the camera whirled to life.
“This could be interpreted as a personal vendetta. You don't have any real evidence connecting Sherman and the drug business.”
“You don't have any real evidence connecting him to the murder, but you know he's responsible.”
Chapter 9
Adriano kept a careful watch on every car as it passed. They had been crouched in a ditch on the side of the road for at least thirty minutes waiting for his partner. Silently, he eyed every car, truck, and minivan driving by. He gave her a halfhearted smile. “He'll be here soon.”
“Do you think the FBI might have picked him up? It won't take them long to put you in the SUV, and then they'll know about Jake.”
“He would have given me a signal when I called him with the mile marker.”
“Try him again.” She did not want to be stuck in a field when the sun went down.
He pulled the cell phone from his waistband. “I'm afraid that'll have to wait, angel. No signal.”
“Why do you keep calling me angel?”
Adriano stopped fumbling with the phone. He watched her, his features becoming dark and introspective.
“Do I remind you of someone you know?”
“You remind me of an angel.” He let his gaze linger before checking out another approaching car. “Keep your head down,” he said, climbing out of the ditch.
Payton stayed low as she watched Adriano's lofty body cross the road and disappear inside the car. His silky hair bounced in the ponytail riding his shoulders. The expansive territory between his shoulders rippled underneath his dirty shirt. The haunches of his behind were high and firm, dimpling with every confident step he took.
And he thought she looked like an angel?
At her lowest point, she turned to Adriano to wrap her in his arms. Behind the confident stride and commanding voice, his tenderness and concern made her feel safe. He was sincere in his promise—would not leave her until she was safe. She'd heard him tell his friend the same on the phone. He could have abandoned her several times, but he hadn't. And the sincerity in his voice when he promised he wouldn't told her she could count on him until the end.
 
 
Jake tried unsuccessfully to convince Adriano to end the madness. “I still say take her in, A. She'll be safer with them than with you. Getting a story is one thing; getting killed for a story is another.”
Adriano glanced to where he knew Payton was waiting. “I won't leave her until I know she's all right. She slipped away from the police at the Adam's Mark, which started all this mess. There's no way I'm trusting them to keep her safe.”
“The FBI came to the hotel asking questions about you. It took me an hour to lose 'em.”
“It won't be safe for us to meet again.”
“It's not safe for you to be mixed up in this. We've done some stories together I still can't believe we had the balls to get involved in, but this is different. You're out there alone with a woman we know nothing about.”
“I'm on Grazicky's radar by now. The FBI agent in Payton's apartment has to have figured out who I am by now. And they'll track me back to the paper and to you.”
“More reason to pull back until things cool off. We can always pick up the story later.”
“If you had been sitting in the SUV when Payton jumped in, would you be so willing to walk away? Or would you want to see the story to the end?”
“Hell, yeah, I'd want to put an end to it. Before my wife found out,” he added with a sliver of humor. “You're a reporter—we question everything. Until it's verified by three sources, don't quote it. Aren't you the one who told me that rule? You believe what she's told you so far?”
Adriano never liked the taste of his own words, but his instincts were right about this. “Meet her. Tell me if you think she's conniving enough to make up this entire story.”
“I'll meet her, but first I want to know how far things went in the motel last night.”
“Nothing happened.”
“Because sexing up the source could taint the story. And be seen as unethical by some. What is it about this woman, A? You got a thing for her?”
“I've only known her a few days,” he answered cryptically.
“How many days does it take?”
“We would help anyone in this much trouble.”
Not to this extent,
his conscience nagged him.
“Not trying to be your mother, A. Trying to watch out for my partner—my best friend.”
“I know. It's okay, really. I still have my head on straight.”
Jake nodded.
Seeing the skepticism on Jake's face and being forced to deal with his guilt over the kiss, Adriano tried to explain. “If you were there . . . if you could see her face—I know you wouldn't have been able to walk away.”
“Is this about a pretty face?”
He swiped his hand over his chin. “This woman is in trouble, and I won't abandon her.”
“Why do you think taking her to the authorities is abandoning her? They can protect her better than you can, running around unfamiliar territory in an SUV. A, c'mon. Think about what's best for her. Taking her to the FBI is helping her.”
“Grazicky sent that rogue FBI agent to her apartment. I feel it in my gut. If I take her to the police, she'll run, or they won't be able to protect her. No, it's the FBI headquarters only, and we'll only talk to the Special Agent in Charge. I have to do this. Will you help me?”
Jake hesitated before giving in. “Let's meet the woman who has your boxers bunched. Only you, A. Only you.”
 
 
It was impossible to hear what they were talking about from her place in the ditch, but Payton saw Jake gesture several times in her direction. She crawled on her belly, moving closer to the car. She ducked, pressing her face into the grass when another engine sounded, growing louder as it got closer. An old-model truck passed without incident. When she peeked at the car across the street, Adriano had left the vehicle and was jogging in her direction. He'd been concerned about the passing car too. He jumped down in the bunker with her.
“What's going on?” she asked. “What took so long?”
“Jake had questions.”
“About me? He doesn't want to get involved, does he?” Her heart lurched, because if Jake didn't want to help, there was a good chance Adriano would follow his partner's lead.
“Angel.” His hand warmed her shoulder. “He's a reporter. He's supposed to ask questions before jumping into a dangerous situation.”
His touch calmed her and set her on fire at the same time. She began to tingle, radiating from her shoulders, across her belly, down her legs to her ankles. The sensation was biting, intensifying the longer his fingers lingered on her skin. The tingles prickled and stung, moving from warmth to fire.
“What's wrong?” Adriano asked. “You have the craziest look on your face.”
She scratched at the burning trail of fire moving up her legs. “My legs are on fire. And my belly. And my—”
“Let me see.” He pulled up the leg of her pants. “You're lying on a mound of fire ants.”
She jumped up, scrambling to put distance between herself and the biting ants. She plucked and swatted her clothing, fighting the ants off.
“That's the most girly scream I've ever heard,” Adriano said, fighting hard not to laugh as he chased after her.
“What's going on?” Jake was out of the car in a shot, yelling across the road. “What the hell, A?”
Adriano scooped her into his arms. “Calm down, angel. You've gotten them all off. It only stings for a minute.”
“Check! Check, Adriano.” She danced in place, fighting the urge to run down the road in search of the nearest creek. The hardest adjustment with relocating, secondary to missing her family, was getting used to the bug situation in the Carolinas.
Adriano shook out her shirt, moving around her in a complete circle to ensure a thorough job. He moved down each pants leg, doing the same. “No more ants.” He cupped her cheeks in his palms. “We'll get you a shower and you'll feel better.”
Now she felt plain silly. “Thank you.”

Hello?
” Jake called. “What the hell are you two doing?”
Adriano took her hand and led her across the street, helping her into the backseat of the car. Jake said a few words to him over the hood of the car before climbing inside. After introductions, Adriano told his partner what she'd witnessed. Jake watched her warily, his keen gaze penetrating, searching for any evidence of deception.
“You have no idea why Grazicky is opting to kidnap you instead of killing you?” Jake asked. He wasn't confrontational, but he made it clear he wasn't completely convinced by her story.
“None.”
“Think hard.” He grilled her on the daily operations of Skye and how involved she had been. He quizzed her about her personal involvement with Sherman.
“If I knew why Sherman wants to see me, I'd tell you. Why would I hide it?”
“Back off, Jake,” Adriano told his partner.
Jake ignored him. “Grazicky managed the books himself. He never gave you access?”
“Only to the payroll of the workers I supervised.”
“Okay. Was there any account, client list, or schedule he let you see? Maybe he was out of town and called and asked you to look up something.”
“Did you ever share the management of a client?” Adriano added.
She combed her brain but couldn't remember anything.
“Did you ever go to business meetings together?” Jake asked. “How did he keep tabs on you?”
“He handled the business with the suites. I managed the rest. We'd meet to discuss what I was doing, go over profits and losses.”
“You're out there working solo,” Adriano said. “If you're both going in different directions, how did you get in touch with him?”
“My calendar.”
Jake twisted in his seat, eager to hear more.
“What about your calendar?” Adriano asked.
“My life is mapped out in my planner. I kept a copy of Sherman's calendar too. In case there was an emergency. Sherman lives at Skye, but he spends a lot of time in meetings and doesn't like to be disturbed. I started getting a copy of his schedule from his secretary after he blasted me for walking in on him once. When he found out his secretary had been releasing his calendar, he didn't like it.”
“What happened?”
“Nothing major. His face said he was unhappy, but he held his composure. When I went to get his schedule for next month, a lot of the dates had been blacked out.”
“Bingo,” Jake said. “Where do you keep your planner?”
“My Palm Pilot, but the FBI confiscated it.”
“Forensic evidence.”
“They promised to get it back to me as soon as they were done.”
“You said your life is mapped out in the planner,” Adriano said. “What did you do for a replacement?”
“I didn't have to replace it—”
“What?”
“My Palm malfunctioned once, and I spent a week trying to reconstruct my schedule, so I always keep a hard-copy backup. At the end of the day I write everything in a pocket calendar so I'll have a duplicate.”
“We have to get that calendar,” Adriano said. “Where is it?”
“My apartment.”
“You did good, angel.”
Jake's eyes popped out of his head, but Adriano didn't see it because he was too busy smiling at her.
She broke eye contact, shifting to Jake.
“I spoke to our editor, Mr. Conners, about this,” Jake told her. “He has connections and resources he's willing to use to help, but this adventure is going to cost him a pretty penny. He wants the exclusive story, photos, and—”
“What do you want?”
“Like Adriano, I want to break the story.”
Adriano turned toward his partner but didn't argue the point. Despite the kiss they'd shared, this was about business for him. She'd better never forget how danger, adrenalin, and being hurled into a life-threatening situation could throw two people together, heightening their emotions. Once it was over, he'd go back to his life. She'd go back to hers. Business for him, life or death for her.
Jake was still explaining the paper's position. “The paper will probably run a weekly series capitalizing on your story. Publishing companies will want a book. The compensation could help you start over.”
“And you two get famous. You left out how you'll benefit.”
“It is what it is, but we won't take advantage of you,” he retorted.
“Jake, back off.” Adriano turned to her. “It's not as callous as it sounds.”
“I know.” She hesitated, softening her stance. “I want this nightmare over. Reliving it in a memoir doesn't appeal to me. Interviews, photos, writing a book—I'll never be able to put it behind me.”
“It's a lot to digest, but we don't have much choice. My help relies on the resources of
Chicago City,
so you'll have to give us the story. Or we can take you to the authorities right now, and you won't have to sell your story to anyone.”
She watched him, trying to see past his dancing eyes to the truth. Did he want to be rid of her so easily?
“I'll keep you safe—I've already promised you that—but you'll have to share the intimate details of your life with me.”
She couldn't explain the depth of her attachment to Adriano after only one day, but she didn't want to do this without him.
“You need looking after, angel.”
She studied him with a deep gaze that refused to let him look away.
He placed a comforting hand on her knee. “Are we going to do this?”
BOOK: All the Way
11.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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