A Touch of Death Ch. 05byWine_Maker©
I stared up at him through slitted eyes. His dark face was flushed and his nicely shaped chest heaved as though he'd run a marathon. I hoped no one had heard my shrieking. Not that it bothered Ty. He seemed overly pleased by it, in fact.
"When you said you had after lunch plans, I had no idea the trouble you intended to get into," I told him from my vantage about ten feet to the east of the sailboat. I treaded water and glared up at him from where he'd unceremoniously thrown me overboard and into the cold water. My nipples shrank to tight, almost painfully hard eraser tips.
"It was nothing," he said modestly. "You just looked so smokin' hot that I knew I had to cool us down."
"I seem to be the only one cooling down," I answered dryly. Actually, the water felt good after the warm sun and I did need to cool off the heat I'd felt growing between us. Not that I intended to share that little bit of information with Ty.
"Good point." He pulled off his shirt and tossed it aside carelessly. When his shorts joined them I could see I didn't have to worry about having the most revealing bathing suit. That little bit of cloth might have been labeled a swimsuit in Europe, but here in the good ole USA it was called a thong.
He looked down at his undeniably hunky body. His abs were so defined you could grate cheese with them. He had the deluxe package: wide shoulders, a trim waist, dark skin, and enough dark curly hair to run your fingers through without being a rug. "You like my suit? I picked it up while I was in the service."
I let my eyes wander low enough to take the full tour. "Nice suit. Very Euro-trash. I thought it was bathing suit optional over there. Or is this a compromise between the two options?"
He grinned and dove in, surfacing a few feet away. "I'm the very soul of compromise," he assured me. "Still, this far out on the lake I suppose I could just take it off."
Even in the cold water I felt my body flush. Parts of me were voting to check out door number two with gusto. The residual ache in my nipples crossed the line to pleasure and added their voices to the discussion. I ruthlessly ruled them down.
"I'm sure you'd be all for that, wouldn't you big guy," I said in my best quelling tone of voice. "Then I, of course, would have to pony up or look chicken, right? Didn't you get a good enough look this morning?"
His grin told me I wasn't that far off the mark. "Truthfully? No."
I grabbed his head and dunked him with a growl. He didn't fight me at all, unless you count his hands grabbing me and pulling us together when he came back up for air.
All the parts of me that I'd ruled out of order began clamoring for a recount. His body burned against mine as he effortlessly kept both of us afloat all by himself. I wonder if he could tread water with my legs wrapped around... I caught my thought just before it turned to action and fought my way back from the brink.
All he did was smile. He knew what a devastating effect he was having on me, I was sure, but he kept his hands outside forbidden territory. I only hoped I was having a similar effect on him.
I rolled my eyes. If I was we might burst into flame, water or no water. "So, you'd like to see more?" I asked in my best smoky voice. "What if I'm too nervous to skinny dip?"
"I suppose I could help," he said in a thoughtful voice.
I was actually seriously considering that when he suddenly submerged, angling away and leaving me floating alone on the surface.
"Tyrone Walker," I screamed. "You better not touch me!"
Without warning his body flashed past mine, his fingers tugging on my top but leaving it in place. Then he was gone again.
I, of course, shrieked. Then I twisted myself around in a circle as fast as I could, watching for him to surface. Nothing.
Seconds ticked by and I started growing concerned at his absence. "Ty?"
Again he flashed past me from behind, this time tugging lightly on my bottoms. I shrieked again, in spite of myself.
I wasn't waiting around for another pass so I quickly swam to the sailboat's stern and scampered up the ladder, carelessly letting water sluice off me onto the deck. I ran from one side of the boat to the other looking for him in the clear water. Nothing. Where was he?
After a minute I was getting scared. "Tyrone Walker stop scaring me," I shouted. "Stop it!"
Something wet and soft smacked against my back and fell to the deck. I whirled and glared at Ty as he floated, grinning, in the water behind the boat. I forced my eyes to not look down, resolutely not thinking about what was laying at my feet and what he wasn't wearing now.
"You scared me to death!" I railed at him. "I thought you'd drowned or something!"
His grin faded into a lazy, confident smile. "I told you I was a diver and a SEAL. That means I can hold my breath a long, long time."
The urge to grab something and throw it at him was almost irresistible. I only barely caught myself before I grabbed his thong. I snatched my hand back from its downward plunge and grimaced.
Ty, the rat, laughed.
"I ought to sail right off and leave your naked ass floating out here in the lake," I said.
It didn't diminish his humor but my threat toned his grin down to a smile. "I wouldn't want that," he said. "I should just hop right up. Don't you think?"
My traitor face again turned red and my curiosity warred with my decorum. "Whatever you like," I said in a falsely offhand manner.
Slowly, one step at a time, he rose like a god from the waters. A god who was wearing his thong.
I whipped my eyes down and saw a wet washcloth lying innocently on the deck. Where the hell had he gotten a washcloth? My eyes slitted and I glared at him. "Bastard!"
I shoved his laughing ass off the boat.
* * * * *
Things settled down after that, for which I was grateful. This afternoon had been taking a turn in a direction I wasn't sure how to handle and I needed to make some decisions about what I wanted.
We dried off and got dressed again before setting course back to the marina. I lounged on the bench and watched him sail. Even with his clothes on, I could still imagine the hard lines of his body. His glances back at me held a kind of smoldering heat that promised... What? Passion? Incredible sex? Love? Probably not love.
I sighed. After Calvin, I wasn't sure that I wanted to love someone again. I needed to focus on what was real. He and I had an attraction game going on and I had to know how far I was willing to go before something happened to push me past it. Did I want to have sex with Ty? My body, at least, quickly informed me where it stood. No surprise there, it was all for the idea.
He looked great. The sex would probably be incredible. The question was, would I be letting myself in for more pain than it was worth when it ended? He wasn't moving back here, after all. He was just here to do a job and then he'd leave. I'd be alone again.
I think about things too much. What's the Nike motto? Just do it. Make a decision and go. Let the pieces fall where they may.
When I stopped thinking so hard, I noticed he was staring at me with a confident smile on that handsome face of his. Did he know what I was thinking? Did it matter? What was I afraid of? Being hurt? Been there, done that. Someone finding out about my curse? Maybe, but it seemed unlikely anyone would ever believe it was real. Hell, if people could believe in crystals then this could be played off as another harmless eccentricity, right?
"Penny for your thoughts," he said.
My lips curved in a smile. "I'm not sure they're worth a penny."
"Do I frighten you?"
I blinked in surprise. "No, why should you?"
"I'm a pretty direct person and that sometimes scares people. What's the word? Forward. Direct. It's a carryover from my 'bad boy' days."
"Well, you don't frighten me," I said firmly. "I like to know where people stand. It makes life simpler. You're not dangerous or anything."
He laughed. "Oh, yes I am."
"I think I'll just take my chances."
That sure sounded like I'd made my mind up.
We sailed on in silence for a few minutes. I spent half of it wondering if he knew things had just changed between us before deciding that it didn't matter.
"Toss me my purse," I said at last. "I need to go freshen up."
He grabbed my purse from where it hung on his chair and hefted it in surprise. "Jeeze, what do you carry in here? Rocks?"
I laughed. "It's not that heavy!"
He peered inside my purse and plucked out the Crown Royal bag. "This is what's so heavy." He glanced at me curiously. "What's in it, if you don't mind my asking."
I'd forgotten all about the bag. How did I explain it? I hadn't meant to, but I guess I'd stolen whatever it was. Well, maybe borrowed without permission would be closer to my intent, not that my opinion would carry much weight if I got caught. I'd just wanted to know what was in it. I still did. Things hadn't slowed down enough for me to take a peek. Perhaps now was the time.
"Well, that's a little complicated," I admitted.
He arched an eyebrow. "How complicated can it be? You either know or you don't and, if you don't, then why carry it around?"
I put on my best abashed expression. "I kind of picked it up while I was snooping around. It was an accident, really."
He assumed the expression of a man who'd heard this all before and was sure he wouldn't like what he was going to hear. "You fill me with dread. Snooping where? About the Armstrong thing?"
I cringed just a bit. "I was just asking a few questions."
He hefted the bag. "This is a bit more substantial than words. And a bit more illegal. Tell me. Please."
Haltingly, I told him about my meeting with Wallace. And about slipping back into his house after he fled.
Ty kept his face neutral and attentive until I finished. He hefted the bag again and frowned at it. "That does sound pretty suspicious," he finally admitted. He speared me with his eyes. "But breaking into his house wasn't smart. You almost got caught. Was this worth it?"
"Open it and find out."
He smiled wryly. "That's it, make me an accomplice and I'll have to stop riding you about interfering with a police investigation?"
"Like that would stop you," I snorted. "And they've already made up their minds. I have people who know people. Take my word for it; they think this was an accident."
"In that case, let me get something pointy to untie this knot."
"You're going to help me?" I asked, surprised.
His gaze was steady. "If I don't you'll just go it alone. If I'm wrong, no harm done. Unless, of course, you get arrested."
"Your confidence underwhelms me."
He grinned. "On the other hand, if you're right, your bumbling around could get someone interested in you and not in a pleasant way."
"Bumbling?" I asked, outraged. "I wasn't bumbling."
"And that was how you accidentally stole something and ripped off all your clothes in public?"
I pushed my nose up in the air and sniffed. "You make it all sound so sordid. And I didn't see you complaining about the state of my clothes."
"It was that sordid and do you realize your mother thinks we're sleeping together?"
"What?" I asked in consternation. "Why would she think that?"
"Let's see, when she looked out the window we were together and you were more than half naked under that jacket, that's why. I could tell from the looks and questions she shot my way while you changed."
I flushed. "Great. I'll deal with it. If she gets too nosy I'll ask her about the secret man in her life. That should shut her right up. Open the bag and quit torturing me."
"Secret man? That sounds like quite a story. I bet the revelation will be fascinating." He ducked down into the cabin and came back out with a pin. He sat down beside me and slowly undid the knot and opened the bag.
"What the hell?"
He reached into the bag and pulled out what looked like a twisted, melted lump of metal about five inches long and half again thick and wide. It glittered and gleamed in buttery gold.
"Is that gold?" I asked incredulously.
"It's heavy enough to be gold," Ty admitted. "It might be fool's gold, I suppose. It weighs at least a pound and a half. Maybe two. If it is real, it must be worth a fortune. Where did you find it again?"
"In a grungy filing cabinet in Jake Wallace's office." I held out my hand. "Let me see that."
Wordlessly, he handed it over. It was cold, hard, and solid in my hand. Before I could make another comment, the vision overwhelmed me.
I was still staring at the twisted lump of metal in my hand, but it wasn't my hand anymore. The arm was covered in a sleeve of rough-spun material, a sleeve that was torn and patched in many places. The gold lump in his hand was the same one I'd found, but now it was coated in mud and seemed duller.
"Gold..." a voice said. The voice of my temporary host. His voice sounded scratchy and breathless. "Gold."
He looked around and I saw he was standing in a hole a few feet deep near a muddy stream. The landscape was mostly brush with a few twisted trees dotting the hill above him.
A hundred feet upstream were a pair of men dressed in ragged overalls with the knees torn out. They had obviously been patched time and again. Each wore a wide-brimmed hat and high boots. The tops were folded down and had the legs of the overalls tucked into them. Under the overalls were long sleeve shirts of some rough material dyed a ratty brown, buttoned up to the neck.
They looked to be in their late forties but the bushy beards might be throwing off my estimate. One had a crude pick stopped halfway to his shoulder and both of them stared at me, at the man, with mouths open. They looked like some men in pictures I'd seen of the 49ers. Prospectors.
The man thrust the huge gold nugget into the air with a scream of triumph. "Gold! I've struck it rich! Do ya hear that? Lem Abrams is a rich man!"
Even as the other men rushed forward to look at the gold the vision faded and I was looking into Ty's worried face.
"Candy? What's wrong?"
I blinked and gathered my scattered wits. Dammit. I'd zoned out in front of him. He'd seen me this way twice in two days. At least I hadn't fainted.
"I think this really is gold," I said, ignoring his question. Maybe he'd just let it ride. "It doesn't look like iron pyrite. It must weigh over a pound. How much is something like that worth?"
He shrugged, moved back, and watched me with a concerned expression. "Who is Lem Abrams?"
A cold wind blew through my soul. Crap! What had I said? I hadn't realized I could speak during a vision.
"I'm sorry. What?" I temporized.
"You mumbled something. All I caught was something that sounded like 'Lem Abrams.' Is that a name and, if so, what does it have to do with a whopping big lump of gold?"
"I read something somewhere about one of the '49ers," I lied. "That was the name I remembered." I hefted the gold. "This reminded me of him because it looks like something he might've found."
His eyes were dark and unreadable. "I see." He reached out and plucked the gold from my hand and examined it again. "He doesn't sound like the kind of guy that would have a lump of gold worth thousands of dollars. At least."
I couldn't agree more. He didn't strike me as a man having much money at all. "That's one of the reasons he seems a little off to me."
Ty scowled at me. "I can't say I'm very happy about this obsession you're having. If Steven Armstrong was murdered, you need to let the police handle it. You could go to jail for taking this. Breaking and entering. Grand theft. Those kind of things can send you to jail for a couple of decades. Is that what you want?"
I narrowed my gaze back at him. "Is this the teen rebel I knew all grown up? It looks like age and experience have turned you into a pussy."
I regretted the words as soon as they were out of my mouth. To my surprise, he threw his head back and laughed.
"If that's what you think, you really don't know me. The difference between then and now is that I understand what risks to take and which ones to decline. You're not planning on keeping the gold, are you?"
I shook my head. "Not if it really belongs to Wallace. I didn't intend to take it anyway. I'm not a thief," I sniffed.
"Yes," he assured me, "you are. At least in the eyes of the law if not to people that like you, like me. You need to put this someplace safe that won't be searched if Wallace calls the cops on you. Do you have a place?"
"You're not mad at me?"
He shook his head. "I'm worried about you. I think you're getting in over your head. I don't want to see you get hurt."
All my tension flowed away and I smiled. "I'll be more careful," I swore. "I can hide this away until I talk to Wallace again."
He tapped his fingernails on the side of the boat. "I'd rather you didn't take any more chances."
"I'll be uber careful," I assured him.
He raised his eyes to the heavens. "Why do I doubt that?" he asked rhetorically. At least I was going to pretend it was rhetorical.
After I failed to respond, he shook his head. "Well, we better start heading back in. I don't know about you but I need to rinse off. Ladies first, if you like."
I barely stopped myself from asking if he'd like to rinse off together. I opened my mouth and it almost fell out. Jeeze, I had it bad.
I grabbed my purse and dry clothes before ducking into the cabin. I tossed an ambiguous smile over my shoulder at Ty. I wasn't quite at the point to be making explicit overtures but I wouldn't necessarily say no if he made one. The thrill that ran up my spine as I considered the odds of him joining me in the shower made me feel sexy. I'd forgotten how fun the game was to play.
The cabin was large, well lit, and comfortable. It had a king-sized bed with blue silk sheets and a fluffy comforter. The walls held what certainly looked like original art, mostly seascapes, built-in dressers, and a vanity with a large mirror.
I made a stop at the vanity just to see what was there. I expected to find a vast array of makeup but there was actually very little, though it all looked pricey. There was also a bit of inexpensive jewelry in a small, open wicker basket. Fake gems and some inexpensive silver chains. A half heart locket like the ones that were popular back when I was in high school peeked out from the tangle. A hand-drawn line in blue ink looked like waves at the very bottom of the heart.
The bathroom itself wasn't nearly as compact as I'd been afraid I'd find. It even had a two person whirlpool bath to go with the shower stall. I opened the shower stall door and considered how well to wash off.
After a moment's consideration, I left my swimsuit on and slipped into the shower. If I took it off and he joined me, we'd end up having sex right here, right now. I wasn't quite ready.
It only took a few minutes to rinse off. I grabbed a towel and stepped back into the bedroom, vigorously drying my hair. When I pulled the damp hair away from my face I saw Ty sitting at the vanity, smiling at me with bedroom eyes. Uh oh.
"I might have been naked," I said dryly.
"There was that possibility," he agreed. He stood up and sauntered into the bathroom. "You pays your money, you takes your chances."
I stood frozen in place as he turned the water on and slid the glass shower door closed. I smiled and wondered if he would be naked when he came out. I shook my head. I'd be finding out if I didn't get dressed and back up on deck right now.
His clothes were laying right next to mine on the bed, I saw as I started moving. Something black and metallic lay under his shirt. I spared a glance at the bathroom and picked up the shirt. Nestled into a small holster was a large pistol.
I swallowed. He carried a gun? Wow. Without thinking, I picked it up.