Excerpt – Masked by Moonlight

Masked by Moonlight

The restlessness returned the second Cee Cee stepped across the threshold.  She paused there, leaning against the heavy wood door, holding it open, and pulled a cigarette from her purse.  She’d been trying to quit smoking for twelve years.  Oh well, what was one more day?  She lit the end and took a long drag, then nearly choked as a gasp of surprise sucked the smoke into her lungs.
Inside a man moved quickly across the front of the church.  She couldn’t see his face but there was no mistaking the lethal grace of his steps.
The cigarette fell, forgotten, and was quickly crushed beneath her toe as she reentered the sanctuary to race up the wide aisle.  Dodging through one of the side doors and down a narrow hall, she burst out into the pale shimmer of dawn. Steam rose off the dirty streets as a weak sunlight crept down the sides of nearby buildings, pushing shadows closer to the ground. And out of those shadows, in a swirl of his long black raincoat, Max Savoie disappeared into an alley.
What was Jimmy Legere’s henchman doing at St. Bart’s, where the wife of a recently murdered man was in hiding?
She sprinted down the uneven sidewalk to ask him, but when she ducked down the alley, there was no sign of him.  Just a tight gauntlet of overflowing trash bins and stacks of broken skids.  Water dripped down from the air conditioners above where the buildings leaned in to seal out the new day for a few moments longer. This wasn’t the kind of position she liked to get into: no back up, no traffic, and no room to play it safe.  But Savoie had gone down this alley which ended at ten feet of chain-link topped with vicious curls of barbed wire.  The fence wasn’t moving, so he still had to be on her side of it.  He couldn’t have gone up and over it so quickly without leaving a sway in passing.
She unsnapped her holster, cursing softly at her foolishness as she stepped into the dank corridor.
For the first twenty feet, the only sounds were her footsteps on puddled brick.  Then a quiet rustling behind one of the Dumpsters.  Though she couldn’t quite picture Savoie hiding from her behind a heap of garbage, she continued on, more irritated than cautious.
A man suddenly rose up in front of her, smiling ferociously when his gaze swept over her. His smile never reached the flat soullessness in his eyes.
“Well, hello there, little lady. Don’t you know it’s not safe to come down here all by yourself, unless you’re looking for trouble?”
One hand was on her pistol grip as she reached for her badge with the other.  “You don’t want my kind of trouble.  I’m a–“
His fisted blow caught her in the midsection.  The pain was so sudden, so stunning, she doubled up. She hung on tenaciously, swinging an elbow to catch him in the jaw, knocking him back a few steps while she wheezed for breath.  Son of a bitch! She knew better than to put herself into this kind of situation.  She rose above the heaving nausea to adopt a defensive stance.
When he came at her again, her fists connected with quick, stunning impact, once, twice, followed by an uppercut that staggered him. As he tried to shake it off, dazed and momentarily malleable, she moved back to put room between them. Angry, still fighting the urge to wretch, she reached for her cuffs.
Large, cruel hands gripped her elbows as another man came in behind her. She was so woozy, she hadn’t even heard him. She threw herself against him, clawing, twisting, kicking, and cursing, inflicting almost enough damage to get free. Then she saw the arc of the first man’s hand and the glint of her own weapon in it. The butt smashed into her temple, dropping her to hands and knees with the other man atop her.
She choked on acidic bile as he tore her shirt, popping all the buttons off, before shoving her face down. The wet stones were cold and cutting beneath bare skin. And the man straddling her was cold and determined as he yanked on her belt, reached behind her to fumble with her zipper, and started dragging down her jeans.
A remembered fear so strong she couldn’t breathe past it, paralyzed her.  Her reflexes failed her; her courage curled up into a fetal position as a dazed mind spun back to a different time, a different but no less dangerous place. And she knew with a soul-crushing certainly exactly what was going to happen if she couldn’t rise above the debilitating horror.
Move now!  Do something!
     She turned her head to scream, when suddenly something wet and hot suddenly splashed her face, blinding her.
The weight lifted off her in an instant.  She could hear the man scrambling, trying to run.  Then awful screams—first of terror, then agony that went on and on.  She tried to get up, but was trapped by her pants.  Dizzy and disoriented, she rolled onto her side and found herself looking into the wide glassy eyes of her first assailant.  His mouth was open in a silent scream; his throat was shredded.  And there was nothing beneath that jagged neck wound. Nothing at all.
She must have fainted. A tug on her clothes woke her, but before she could struggle, her pants came sliding up her hips.  Firm hands closed on her upper arms, sitting her up.  Something damp and revivingly cold swiped across her face and neck. Her senses spun and she clenched her lips tight, afraid she was going to throw up.
Then his voice reaching through her fear and pain with a deep, steady familiarity.
“It’s all right.  No one’s going to hurt you.”
She made herself open her eyes, and that wonderfully strong face appeared before her in an almost ethereal blur.  For a moment, his gaze seemed to glow, hot, bright, iridescent; then she blinked rapidly and it became an intense, steady stare.  He wore an expression of grim concern.  And a splattering of blood.  As she started shuddering involuntarily, he stripped off his raincoat and wrapped it about her shoulders, concealing the rent in the front of her shirt that exposed her muddy bra.
With her breath coming in quick, anxious pulls, she glanced around them—at the headless corpse, at the arm dangling out of the trash bin dripping crimson. Her shaking intensified.
“I came back because I smelled your perfume.”
She stared at him for a long minute, then her laugh sounded thin and a bit crazed. And her arms were around his neck.
“Max.”
He couldn’t move, startled, stunned by the feel of her in his arms.
It had happened so fast, he hadn’t paused to think it through. He’d felt her following him, smiled to himself as he easily slipped away. But as that smug amusement warmed him, the hair on his nape prickled and he caught the unpleasant scent and stealthy sounds of two others.
He’d slowed, reluctant to push his way in where she wouldn’t want him.  Charlotte Caissie was hardly helpless.  So he lingered, still smiling, imagining her knocking the snot out of her would-be attackers.  Watching her was always quality entertainment. He’d have paid just to stand there, slack-jawed and tongue hanging out, while she pumped gas. The thought of her pumping her fist into some petty criminal was pay-per-view material.  The husky growl of her voice was a hand running against the nap of his senses, stirring him up effortlessly into a rough bristle of want.
When her words were abruptly cut off and she moaned in pain, the speed of his rush made the fence shiver as he cleared it. Several powerful bounds brought him upon a scene that burned through him like napalm. She was face down on the filthy bricks. One of them had rough hands on her, sealing his fate when she cried out in distress. It was the last mistake either of them would ever make, as he tore into them with a merciless fury.
He should have disappeared the minute he’d eliminated the danger, before she could gather her wits and identify him.  But the sight of her sprawled and vulnerable and cruelly exposed called to him in a way she never would. And he couldn’t leave her like that.  Never like that.
Then she’d looked up at him and said his name. He was lost in an instant.
Despite her shivering, he noticed that her body was lush and firm and strong, just as he’d imagined when caressing her with years of sidelong glances. He held himself still, calling on a rigid self-control as her scent swirled about him, teasing up his nose. Carefully, rapturously he inhaled.  Her heat scalded through his clothing to imprint her shape on his skin. And he would have gladly remained on his knees forever, if it meant indulging those chastely ravenous desires for just a moment longer.
But she was still shaking, in shock. Daylight and discovery was almost upon them.
He stood, lifting her up off the damp stones with him. When she wobbled, he scooped her up into his arms to carry her out of the carnage-strewn alley. She was hardly a small woman, but he carried her as if she was no burden at all.
Cee Cee was too shaken to marvel at his strength or question his intentions.  She lay limp and trusting upon his chest, her head aching, her heart still racing. His body heat slowly thawed the paralyzing chill, yet she lingered in his powerful embrace, enveloped by a sense of safety. She buried her face against the warm pulse of his throat, her fears vanquished by the rhythm of his breathing, oblivious to her surroundings, until he stopped and spoke quietly.
“Do you think you can drive, or do you want me to sit with you for a while?”
Her fingers tightened in the fabric of his shirt. She wanted to curl into him, to indulge for just a little bit longer, but her senses began to reassemble and she knew that she couldn’t. She shouldn’t. Reluctantly she lifted her head from his shoulder, surprised to discover they were beside her car. How had he carried her for such a distance without the slightest strain?
“Put me down.”
She must have sounded more capable than she felt, because he eased her to her feet.  She stumbled back to look at him a bit wildly, her gaze touching the blood on his face, on his shirt, on his hands.  Feeling traces of it drying on her skin.
“You killed those men.”  Her voice quivered between accusation and awe.
His eyes were unblinking. He didn’t admit it.  Not exactly. “I’m sorry.  Did you want to get to know them better?”
She tried to speak but had to turn away quickly so she wouldn’t vomit on his shoes.  She swallowed down the bitter taste, saving her dignity in at least that one thing. His hand touched her shoulder.  A surprisingly careful touch, as if she was fragile and he feared she might break. She hadn’t expected such gentleness from him and it made her uncharacteristically compliant. For just a moment. She took the handkerchief from him to blot a cold sweat from her face.  Then, abruptly, she straightened, gripping his wrist, wrenching it toward the center of his back as she spun him up against her car. He allowed her to manhandle him with a surprising good grace, assuming the well practiced position.
“Where’s my gun?”
She patted him down roughly, jerking her revolver from his trouser band before continuing the search.
“I never carry a piece, Detective. You know that. I don’t like guns.”
The image of those dead, staring eyes made her shivering start up again, which agitated her all the more.  “You rushed in to take on armed men with your bare hands? You expect me to believe that?  Are you insane?”
“Should I have just kept walking?”
She was running her hands up and down his long, muscular legs, over his hips, the movements brusque and impersonal, convinced he had to have some sort of weapon on him.  Something brutal enough to decapitate a man.
As her palms moved up his abdomen, he turned so they were face to face.  Her eyes widened in surprise, then objection, as he cuffed her wrists with his hands and reversed their positions to press her back against the car.  His gaze locked into hers, his eyes darkening with something she’d never seen in them before, but recognized as the rawness of want. Nothing as ugly and degrading as her assailants in the alley. But suddenly, just as overwhelming.
He slowly leaned against her, easing his hard contours along her long, lavish ones. Halting when panic flared in her eyes.
“Step back, Savoie.”
Her gruff command must have lacked conviction because his head lowered until his breath feathered against her lips. Soft.  Warm.
“Don’t.”
Not quite so tough.
He tasted her slowly, riding the jerk of her chest, gentling his hold on her hands, finally releasing them.  Her palms came up to rest against his shoulders, motionless at first, then beginning to push. He lifted off her by a scant inch, his stare delving into hers, his breathing hurried.
“Max, stop.”
That hoarse whisper still didn’t convince him. The tip of his tongue lightly traced her full lower lip, the gesture so provokingly intimate, she trembled with helpless response.
His challenge brushed silkily over her damp mouth.  “I will if you mean it.”
And for one startling moment, she didn’t.
Knowing it, he smiled faintly and settled in to kiss her more deeply, druggingly, as if searching for something he was determined to find. And she was willing to let him look, lost to his increasingly urgent explorations. Rough then soft, hungry and hot, then devastatingly sweet.
The aggressive jut of him pressing into her hip shook her.  She stiffened into a taut column of denial as he rocked against her, the motion frightening, stirring panic instead of passion. She began struggling, pushing for distance.  He left the cushiony softness of her mouth and rubbed his cheek against hers, going completely still when he felt the dampness of her tears.
With a resigned sigh, he stood back from the impossible temptation she’d become. She was so beautiful, so strong yet so alarmingly fragile, her eyes tightly closed, shutting him out with the glistening fan of her lashes.  They fluttered open as he stroked his knuckle down her cheek that was soft as sun-warmed satin.
“The next time you come chasing after me, sha, you’d best be sure you really want to catch me.”
And with a small smile, he turned and walked away.  In no particular hurry, as if he wasn’t leaving behind two dead men and a far from impartial witness.