The school had given me the rest of the week off.
Principal Harrison had already heard what happened by the time I’d called Tuesday morning.
I’d called Mel’s mom.
Talking to her had hurt deep. Mel’s mom was inconsolable. The two had their moments, like any mother and daughter, but the woman’s heart had been broken. When I’d hung up, I was sure my swollen eyes couldn’t shed any more tears, but I was wrong. I hadn’t told Mel’s mom what I had seen or what Mel had told me. At that moment, it didn’t seem like the right thing to do.
Local news had spotty information on the explosion. Was it a freak accident?
A terrorist attack? A hit on Mel? The latter was difficult to believe, and even I found it hard to swallow, but I had been there. I had known how scared Mel had been and I had seen that…that thing take out her car.
There had been no mention of the senator’s sons or what I had told the police.
On Wednesday, I found myself looking through old albums of Mel and I. The pictures made me smile.
And cry again. The photos of us in high school together were pretty telling. Mel had grown into this tall reed—runway model thin—and her blue eyes were vibrant against her tan skin and dark hair.
She was absolutely stunning with her megawatt smile, and when we’d been teenagers, she had entertained the idea of modeling.
She could’ve done it.
The pictures of me weren’t as glamorous. I’d stopped growing in the ninth grade, something Mel had always teased me about. My blond hair was long and wavy in a perpetually messy way.
Where Mel had a flawless complexion and a rocking body, in high school I had freckles and hips that came out of nowhere.
Flipping through the pictures had eased some of the pressure in my chest. Mel wouldn’t be forgotten.
I had my memories, but would there ever be justice for her? I doubted it.
What had happened seemed like something straight out of a science fiction movie. Even if my eyes hadn’t been playing tricks on me, if the senator’s sons were behind what happened to Mel, I knew it would be swept under the rug. Who was Mel compared to the political elite?
Anger festered inside me like a rotten wound, had me replaying the events over and over again.
On Thursday I received a brief call letting me know I could retrieve my car, but there was no other news as to who was responsible.
No more questions.
Silence. I didn’t know what to think about that.
After calling a cab, I changed into a pair of jeans and a shirt. Knots formed in my belly as I climbed into the back of the taxi. When I gave him instructions to the garage, my voice shook. A huge part of me didn’t want to go back there, but it wasn’t like I could buy a new car.
The normally congested streets of downtown Boulder were relatively clear. It took no amount of time to be dropped off at the entrance of the garage.
I stood there, clutching my purse to my chest like some sort of shield. The yellow crime scene tape flapped listlessly in the slight breeze. I inhaled, and maybe it was my imagination, but I still could smell burned metal.
Several moments passed before I forced my legs forward, my car keys already in hand.
Entering the parking garage was no easy feat.
The overhead lights had been replaced, but I could still see them exploding, showering sparks like the sparklers Mel and I had played with as kids. And how could the officers explain that? The lights had blown before the explosion.
Tiny goose bumps covered my arms. It was cooler in the garage, but I knew that wasn’t the reason. Being here…my throat closed with tears.
I told myself to look ahead, not at where Mel’s car had been. Go straight to my car, get in, and get the hell out of there, but I was standing before the spot Mel’s car had been.
The pavement had been scorched, as were the metal beams above it. Like someone had laid down black tar. I was no fire expert, but it seemed strange that either side of the marked cement was untouched. There wasn’t even a spot of singed floor.
How could a bomb be that controlled?
Stupid question because I knew it wasn’t a bomb.
I forced myself to continue walking. There were a few cars left in the garage. None of them suffered any damage. Not even the ones in the row behind where Mel’s had been parked.
I was halfway to my lonely car when another chill skated across my shoulders.
A horrible feeling of déjà vu washed over me, no doubt a product of the traumatic events. After all, I was standing in the exact same place I had been Monday night when I first saw the man. Though this feeling was different.
I was expecting someone to step out or call my name. I felt watched.
Casting a quick glance around, I saw that I was alone. No one was stalking me in the shadows. I was overreacting—totally understandable. But the chill wouldn’t go away.
Heart pounding, I dashed the rest of the way to my car, my flip-flops smacking off the cement.
Breathless, I pressed the unlock button on the keypad as I skidded to a stop.
As my fingers wrapped around the handle, all I could think of was that once I was in my car, it better start, and when it did I was never coming here again. Ever.
I yanked open the door and twisted to slide in, eyes darting over the shadowy, empty garage.
My heart was out of control, pumping blood through my veins way too fast. Was I having a panic attack? I had one before, the day I’d found out about Mom, but I’d never experienced such chaotic emotions since. Forcing myself to take several long and deep breaths, I tossed my bag on the passenger seat as I cast one more look around.
That’s when I saw him.
Or at least a shadow shaped like a man leaning against a beam no more than five parking spaces away from me. No one had been there seconds ago. I would have seen the hulking shadow and heard the footsteps in the tomb-silent garage… unless I was officially the most unobservant person in the world.
My breath caught as my fingers tightened on the car door.
The shadow was so dark and so deep it seemed to be its own black hole, sucking the light out of everything around it, and then it broke apart from the darkness, gliding forward. My heart dropped and I forced myself to blink.
It wasn’t a shadow.
A very tall man strode forward, his ass-kicking boots thudding with each fluid, predatory step.
Somehow nowhere near as obnoxiously loud as my flip-flops had been.
I took a step back. Every instinct fired warnings off left and right, but I was rooted to the cement, unable to move as the stranger prowled forward.
And he didn’t walk. Oh no. He moved like a giant jungle cat stalking its prey, and I had never felt more like prey in my life than I did at that moment. The man was ridiculously tall, reaching at least six and a half feet, which was like Bigfoot size to my five-and-a-half-foot demeanor.
As he came closer, I understood why I’d thought he was a shadow at first.
He was dressed in snug black leather pants and a plain black tee shirt that was stretched taut over broad shoulders and well-defined upper arms.
Dear Lord in heaven. I could see ropey muscles of his stomach under that shirt, flexing across his midsection with each step.
I bet my savings account that man had a rock-hard six pack. Mouth dry, I lifted my lashes.
Words couldn’t even describe him.
His skin was pale—not ghastly white or sickly, but alabaster against the mess of wavy hair so black it held a tint of blue to it, like raven wings. A strong chin and carved jaw made complete by broad cheekbones. He had to be in his late twenties, maybe early thirties. Full, sensual lips were turned up on one corner, as if he knew some private joke.
There was something exotic about the way his face pieced together.
Maybe it was the slight tilt to the outer corners of his eyes, or the fact that I’d never, ever seen anyone who looked like him before.
He reminded me of one of those male models on the cover of vampire romances.
He could’ve easily been any number of them except… “Miss Cross?” His voice was like whiskey, deep and smooth, but there was something about the hard line of his jaw that said the man didn’t smile a lot. Two eyes such a pale blue they seemed to lack color stared back into mine. The thick and sooty lashes framing those startling eyes made them appear even more unnaturally pale. For a moment I wondered if he was blind.
They were raw—beautiful.
And I realized then that I was staring at him and he was…he was smirking at me.
I snapped out of it, bristling. “Who are you?”
One single brow rose. “Is that typically how you greet people?”
I was usually indecently polite. Oddly, my heart hadn’t slowed even though I no longer really detected imminent danger. “Do you usually sneak up on women in a parking garage —?”
“—that someone was blown up in a few short days ago?”
I sucked in a sharp breath at the harsh reminder of what had occurred. “Excuse me,” I said, turning toward my car before I burst into tears.
The man sighed loudly.
“What I meant is that you had a point. I should’ve said something earlier. You have been through a very…”
He trailed off as I stared at him. A confused look marred his striking face, as if he was mentally going through a word list but couldn’t find the right thing to say.
I folded my arms, waited for what I felt was an acceptable time limit, and finally ran out of patience.
The man nodded. “Yeah, those things.”
My brows furrowed as my lips puckered. “What can I help you with?”
“My name is Hunter. I’m with the Department of Defense.”
“Department of Defense? Why are they involved? I mean, I know what I saw was some—”
“Okay. Let’s not talk about what you saw.” He folded his arms, stretching the material of his shirt.
My gaze dropped over him again. Strange attire for the Department of Defense.
I frowned, casting my eyes to where his forearms crossed.
Geez, this guy must have a wicked workout regimen.
“Are you with those officers I spoke to Monday night?”
“If one of them acted like he was constipated, then yes, I’m with Officer Zombro and Richards.”
My lips started to loosen.
“Well, yes, one of them did look uncomfortable…” I peeked up and found him watching me with eerie pale eyes. “I thought they were with Homeland Security?”
“Is that what they said?”
That wasn’t an answer, but as I waited for more detail, I realized that was all I was going to get. “Do you have a last name?”
“Are you here to ask questions about what happened?” I asked, my palms starting to sweat.
Something wasn’t right.
His expression remained the same. “No.”
I was thinking it was time to ask for some sort of identification, but before I could, Hunter stepped forward, crowding me. My back hit the side of the car and there was nowhere else for me to go. My heart tripped up as I inhaled sharply. The scent of masculine spice and soap swamped me. “Then why are you here?”
He cocked his head to the side as his pale eyes drifted around me before settling back on my face.