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There was a sound from the darkened bathroom. The gunman was stepping out of his hiding place in the shower. He stood in the semidarkened room, hidden by the shadow of the door, watching me.

"Good job," he whispered and stepped out of the bathroom. He was huge, much taller than I had guessed, over six feet. Everything about him was dark. Black hair, long and unruly, curling around his collar, dark, faded black jeans and a leather jacket, a black T-shirt, and dark black boots. His eyes were obsidian pools that were staring as hard at me as I was at him. But I was memorizing him for the cops, assuming I would live long enough to tell them: tall, dark complexion, and built like he worked out, over and over again.

The gun hung at his side, not forgotten, but no longer pointed in my direction. A scar ran from the corner of his left eye and down along the top edge of his cheek. It was the only spot of light on his face.

"Talk to me," he said, his voice again thick and husky, like a whisper across a football field.

I leaned back in my chair, swallowed, and tried to think up a wild goose chase to send him on.

"Have you talked to Jolene, his other ex-wife?" I asked. He was looking me over, studying me, his face unreadable.

"She's in Raeford. Why would I talk to her?" He hadn't moved from his spot by Jesus. So, he knows about Jolene. What else does he know?

"Maybe she hired someone."

This brought him a step closer. I wanted to shrink down in the chair but I forced myself to look back at him, right down into those huge black eyes.

"You watch too much TV," he said, and smiled softly. For a moment he almost looked friendly, but the smile vanished. "Jolene doesn't have money, or access, or any friends crazy enough to take a whack at her ex-husband. Maybe we should ask Sheila when she gets back."

My heart started banging against my chest. My palms were sweating. Bastard!

"All right. All I know is that Vernell vanished two days ago, without any belongings but his truck. He took all the money he could grab and didn't do anything to let me know where he was going." I never looked away even though I couldn't stand the intensity of his gaze. "Would I be here if I knew where Vernell was?"

"Maybe he sent you back to get something he needs?"

He walked over and squatted down in front of the chair where I sat. He put his hands on each armrest, pinning me back and keeping me from leaving. A small smile crossed his face again, but this time there was no warmth behind it. I knew in that one instant, that this man expected to get what he wanted and would stay in my face or on my back until I gave him everything he was looking for.

"I don't know," I said softly. "Vernell's missing. That's all I know. I'm his ex-wife, for Pete's sake!"

He frowned and reached a finger out to touch my cheek. I winced. "Ouch!"

"Sorry," he said softly. "You need to put some ice on that. What in the hell happened to you?"

I glared back at him. For all I knew, this man was going to kill me. What did black eyes matter? "I ran into a door," I answered.

"Uh-huh." He didn't seem to believe me.

He dropped his hand down onto the arm that rested in my lap and I froze. His face was now mere inches from my own. My skin prickled with adrenaline, my face was starting to flush. All I wanted to do was run, or maybe not run. Something in the way he moved made him both terrifying and mesmerizing in the same instant.

"I know all about you, Maggie Reid," he said. "I made it my business to know. I know where you live. I know where you work, and I know what you do when you think no one is watching you." My heart was stuck in my throat. How did he know anything about me? What had he seen? Where had he been hiding and watching? And for how long?

"Vernell will contact you," he said. "Because I know he still loves you. Wherever he is, Vernell will try and get word to you. Now here's the easy part." His voice had a hypnotic quality that drew me in as it swirled around me. "When Vernell calls, I want you to let me know immediately. I want you to set up a meeting with him." He leaned back slowly and focused on my face.

"You know why you want to help me? Because bad things will happen to everyone you care about if I don't find Vernell Spivey. If he isn't already dead, he could wind up dead. I'm not the only one looking for him, you know. I'm just the guy who's going to find him and straighten a few things out. The others are going to kill him."

Another jolt of alarm shot through me. What kind of trouble was Vernell in?

"What has Vernell done?" I asked.

"He's left a very important person in a very embarrassing position," he said.

I raised my eyebrow and gave him a dose of my mama. "Now why should I believe one word of what you're saying? Vernell Spivey wouldn't run out on anyone!"

The stranger laughed again and gave me a "wake up and smell the coffee" look.

"Okay," I admitted, "he ran out on me, but that doesn't mean he'd welch on a deal. Vernell's an upstanding businessman. He'll turn up, and when he does he's gonna be mad as hell that you bothered me!"

I leaned forward like I was going to get out of my chair, but he stopped me. There was no going through this man.

"Why, you're a little wild thing, huh?" he said, but he laughed as he spoke, like he found my situation amusing.

I tossed my head and forced myself to stare back at him. I wanted to cry, or scream, or do any one of a thousand things, but I wouldn't. "I'm not afraid of you, you know. You can walk around like a big man when you're carrying a gun, but if you meant to kill me, I'd be dead by now."

"You think so, do you?" he asked softly. His face was eye level with mine and he was watching me. "And you're not afraid, not even the least little bit?" He moved closer and I backed as far as I could go into the chair. "You know me that well, do you?"

I couldn't move. He was coming closer and closer and I just couldn't move. That's when he leaned in and kissed me, his hand sliding around my neck and pulling me closer to him, crushing my lips against his. I started to squirm, trying to push away, but he held me fast. He wanted the control, I knew that. This was no kiss of passion. I felt myself spinning, caught up in the sensations that swirled around me: the way he smelled like old wood, the way his leather jacket was warm butter on my skin, the way my heart jumped into my throat, and the way my body started to respond, against my will, to his touch.

He stopped as suddenly as he'd started, rocking back on his heels and smiling a smug little grin like now we both knew something.

"Scared now?" he said.

"Don't you ever do that again!" I said, working to catch my breath.

He laughed, knowing how my body had responded, knowing I was powerless to stop him. He rose up onto his feet and towered over me. "I'll be watching you, Maggie Reid. Find Vernell for me, and I might be able to help him out. I'm the only guy not looking to shoot him on sight."

Oh, right, like I believed that! Did he think he could just burst in here, hold me at gunpoint, and then expect me to believe every word he said? "Do you think I'd trust anything you said or did?"

He jammed the gun in his pocket and cocked his head slightly to the left. "Let's hope you do, Maggie Reid, because Vernell Spivey's life depends on it."

He turned around and walked out the door, out into the garage and into the cool evening air. A moment later, in the distance, I heard the roar of a motorcycle starting up and taking off down Vernell's quiet little street.

I brought my fingers up to my lips, touching the skin that still tingled from the rough feel of his kiss. I stood there for a few minutes, thinking. What in the hell had just happened here? And why hadn't I made one move, in the moments he'd been gone, to call the cops?