Midnight Man (Midnight #1)

All right! His eyes narrowed and his body quickened until he stopped himself just short of reaching for her. She’s talking about the lease, you idiot, he told himself.

“I’ll get a contract drawn up and have a copy of the keys made for you. When did you say you want to start moving in?”

Now! His body clamored. Right this second. But he had things to take care of. “I don’t have much to move. Mostly filing cabinets and computer equipment. Lots of that.” He smiled into her eyes. “You’re going to order the furnishings for me, right? Spend whatever you have to, I’ll be good for it.”

She was looking up at him, breathing slowly.

“Right, Suzanne?”

She blinked and seemed to come out of a daze. “Oh, yes, um, that’s right. And I’ll have a copy of the keys made for you.”

He opened the door. The contrast between what was behind him—a delicate lady in a jewel of a building—and what was in front of him—bleak burned out storefronts, liquor stores and empty lots—made him turn back to her. Little Miss Muffet had to know that there were spiders out there. Big bad ones.

“Check me out, Suzanne. Make sure you know who you’re putting in your house. Call Bud. Call him now.”

Pale pink lips slightly parted, gray eyes wide, she stared at him. “Okay, I…” She swallowed. “I will.”

“And set the security system when I leave.”

She nodded, her eyes never leaving his face.

“Do you know the seven digit code by heart?”

“How do you—? All right, no I don’t.”

“Start getting used to keeping the building secure. Learn the code by heart. I’ll bet you keep the code on a piece of paper taped to the underside of your desk. You’re right-handed so it’s probably taped to the right side.”

She blew out a little breath and nodded. Bingo.

“That’s not good. From now on keep the code in a safe and memorize it. You’ve got a security system, so use it. I want this building locked down after I leave.”

“Yessir, Commander, sir.” A dimple twinkled then disappeared. “Or would that be aye aye?”

“The correct answer is—yes, I’ll do exactly as you say.”

She was so close he could have seen the pores in her skin if she’d had any. Instead, her skin was as smooth and perfect as marble, except soft and warm, he’d bet. He had one foot out the door, stepping from one world into another. He had to force himself to move.

“Lock the door, Suzanne,” he said again as he crossed the threshold, pulling on the handle.

He waited patiently on the steps until he heard the distinctive whump-ding of the XOL security alarm going on then walked down the steps into the rainy morning.





CHAPTER TWO


Whew.

Suzanne leaned against her door and put a trembling fist to her racing heart. Her legs felt like wax and she wanted to slide down to the floor in a puddle.

John Huntington—Commander John Huntington—wasn’t anything like what she’d been expecting.

The email had been innocent enough.

Dear Ms. Barron,

Saw your ad in The Oregonian today for the lease of office space and am interested in viewing the premises. I am looking for corporate headquarters for my company. If it would suit you, I would like to make an appointment for 10 a.m. on the 21st of December.

John Huntington, President, ASI.

How nice. A CEO, she’d thought as she emailed back. An image of a white-haired avuncular type floated in her mind. A businessman. Perfect.

The Pearl was gentrifying at a dizzy pace, but pockets of it were still very dangerous. Having a businessman around would make her feel safe.

The one thing the man sitting across from her didn’t make her feel was safe. Scared, maybe. No, not scared, really, just…what?

Not a white haired fatherly type at all. Not old. Not safe. He looked dangerous. That was it. That was what had Suzanne’s entire system on alert.

At first she thought the wrong man had come. He hadn’t looked like the president of a company. He looked rough, dangerous. Like a biker, not a businessman. A big man, shoulders so broad they spanned the chair back, black, close-cropped hair with a dusting of silver at the temples, eyes somewhere between a very dark blue and brown, impossible to guess at in the uncertain watery light.

Whatever the color, though, he’d looked at her as if he were about to swallow her up whole.

She’d never seen a man so blatantly…male. Of course, she thought, with a wry shake of her head, the men she met as a decorator were a little different from the men in the Navy. Still, the brute male power he’d exuded had been overwhelming.

He hadn’t done anything, had barely moved in his chair, never fidgeting or moving position, he hadn’t said or done anything untoward, but she’d felt her entire body go into overdrive. She’d kept her hands from trembling only by sheer force of will.

This was crazy and had to stop now. John Huntington was paying a lot of money for the rental—more money, actually, than it was worth, given the location. So she was going to have to start getting used to him as a tenant. She couldn’t afford to have to stand against a door and wait for her heart rate to slow down every time she saw him.

Maybe I should get out more, she thought. Stop working so hard. Start dating. Get a life.

Maybe the next time her bank manager asked her out, she should accept, instead of making an excuse. They’d dated a few times. Except Marcus Freeman was so pale, even by Portland white bread standards, and so boring. His hands were soft and white. Not broad and dark and hard like John Huntington’s hands…

Stop that!

Good Lord, what was the matter with her?

Feeling her legs steady now beneath her, and able to bear her weight, she walked back down the hallway to her office. Seeing the familiar objects, each one hand-picked, each one with a history, calmed her. She’d had such pleasure designing this place, with the hardwood floors, beveled stained glass windows and terracotta sconces. The color and shapes gave her a lift, brightened her day.

Odd how her design for the rental unit was so completely different.

One rainy afternoon, when she had nothing better to do, she had walked across the hallway into the part of the building she wanted to rent out. Four rooms, one after another. The spaces were big and empty, a blank canvas.

Designing always excited her and she was usually quick, but that day, as she sat cross-legged on the big, empty hardwood floor, back against the wall, the design had just come pouring out of her, as if she were sketching a vision already formed. As if she already knew something darkly powerful were coming.

Her own office and living quarters were colorful and feminine. But the rental had come flowing out from her hand in shades of slate and ecru and teal, sleek and streamlined. It was as if she’d had John Huntington in mind as she’d sketched, had sensed his power and strength.

She’d seen the look of recognition in his eyes and knew that somehow she’d designed something that fit him.

Somehow she’d known that he’d need an oversized armchair, in soft black leather. Somehow she’d known that a man like him wouldn’t like fuss or objects d’art—just a long linear desk made of titanium and black marble, open faced bookshelves, a teal and cream Chinese rug in geometric patterns.

For his bedroom, she’d choose an oversized bed with a mahogany headboard. An image of John Huntington in bed, naked, made her thighs suddenly tremble and clench. His pectorals had been visible beneath the sweater. His chest was probably covered with thick black body hair, narrowing down to…

This was crazy. She was crazy.

Shaken, Suzanne sat down behind her desk and tried to focus on something other than John Huntington’s body. Magnificent though it was…

Her hands clenched on the desk and she stared at her white knuckles for a long moment. She leafed through the phone book until she found the number she sought, then pulled out her cell and thumbed in the number.

“Portland Police Department,” a bored voice announced.

“Lieutenant Morrison, please.”

A click and then another voice. “Homicide.”

“I’d like to speak with Lieutenant Morrison.”

“Hold.”

There was a lot of background noise. Someone screamed, then she heard male voices shouting, the sounds of scuffling, then a deep voice came on the line. “Morrison. What?”

Suzanne smiled. Bud, normally cool as ice, sounded harassed and out of breath. “Bud, this is Suzanne. I wonder—“

“Suzanne.” His deep voice sharpened. “Hey, is something wrong? Has something happened to Claire?”

“No, no, it’s nothing like that.”

Bud was engaged to her best friend, Claire Parks. Suzanne had met him on a couple of social occasions. He was absolutely besotted with Claire, but Claire was beginning to have doubts. Too macho, too take-control, too protective, she’d said. Tall and tough looking, and a friend of John Huntington’s to boot, Suzanne could see Claire’s point.

“Claire’s fine. No, I’m calling about something else. I’m calling because my new tenant put your name down as a reference.”

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