L'Affaire C. 15bysharkandpen©
She felt the hands on her first, dragging her up. She knew it wasn't Matt, he had left after they'd made love, not willing to risk being seen leaving her house in the morning while things were still unsettled. He had woken her up to explain this. She'd have rather he let her sleep. It was a blessing, it turned out, because she put on pajamas when he left before crawling back into bed.
She noticed the coughing next, noticed it was her coughing, smelled the smoke that burned her nose. Tears spilled from her eyes as they tried to clear themselves. She was in someone's arms, mostly. He had an arm at her waist but was for the most part dragging her. They were running and she was coughing and she thought she might throw up.
When he got her outside her door he stopped running, slowed to a fast walk as they made their way in the cool night air down the steps leading up to the condos. Her neighbors were streaming out of their own homes and it was only then she realized the fire alarm was blaring, that it was a fire. Her lungs screamed with each breath. She looked at the man holding her. It wasn't a neighbor. She'd never seen him before. He was big, tall and burly and surly looking, with long dishwater blond hair that needed a good cut. "Who are you?" she barely got the words out around her coughs. He either ignored her or didn't realize the noises she was making were intended as speech. He wasn't a firefighter, wasn't dressed like one, and in fact there wasn't a fire truck in sight. She looked back at her home, at smoke billowing out. There were no flames visible from where they stood.
When they made it down the stairs she tried again, "Who are you?" She knew he heard her because he looked right at her. Her eyes and throat still burned but the coughing was getting better. They were walking toward a black SUV with tinted windows. She wasn't wearing shoes, and the ground was wet, she realized then it was raining. Nothing dramatic, more of a drizzle, but enough dampen her shirt, a thin white cotton that wasn't exactly opaque when dry. She tried not to think about her nipples as he opened the door and pushed her into the vehicle, closing the door behind her. He got in the driver's side and turned the car on, reaching forward to adjust the heat settings before her pulling out a phone and dialing a number. She couldn't see the screen, didn't know who he was calling but knew it wasn't 911. It occurred to her then she wasn't entirely sure she wasn't being kidnapped. The car's display told her it was 3 am.
"I'm Nicki," she said. He shushed her, then started talking rapidly into the phone in another language. What though? It wasn't Russian, she would have recognized Russian.
"Ott volt a tűz." Deciding that if she was being kidnapped he would have locked the doors, she relaxed back into the seat as he gestured at a bottle of water in the console cupholder. It was half gone, he'd clearly been drinking it. She didn't want any at the same time that she wanted it desperately. He didn't have any visible mouth sores so she reached for it, took a sip. "En-hoz megragad a lány."
She was trying to cough quietly. Her other sense's were returning. The car wasn't exactly warm, and goose bumps dotted her flesh. "Biztonságban van. Jól van." He sounded defensive, now. "Nincs. Gyújtogatás." She could hear sirens in the distance. "Rendben." He hung up abruptly after that and turned to her. "He is coming," he said, in heavily accented English. "You won't talk to the police, he will do it." The accent she knew. She'd heard it so recently-- a weaker version, on a more practiced English speaker. She new without a doubt then that it was Hungarian she had heard. By extension, she knew who he had been speaking to, knew who was coming.
Nicki watched the first fire truck arrive, and an unmarked police car. She hoped no one was injured. She was lucky. She could have been seriously injured if she'd not been dragged out by her rescuer. It occurred to her, at the same time it occurred to her that her dog was in the apartment, that she wasn't lucky at all. She was being watched, Karsa was having her watched.
"Piper," she whispered before reaching for the door handle and pushing her way out, nearly falling to the ground in her haste. Why hadn't she barked? She wasn't dressed for heroics, in pajamas made up only of a thin cotton t-shirt and shorts. It didn't matter. It registered the gentleman hired to keep tabs on her exited the car shortly after she did, running behind her yelling something. He wasn't the one who stopped her, though. She was caught by a familiar face from the police department. "Donovan, let me go. My dog is in there!"
Donovan held her. "We have a dog in the unit," he yelled at gathering fireman. "Is there anyone else in your home?"
Nicki shook her head. She looked around, found her next door neighbor, Mr. Gibbens, was standing outside with a cluster of other neighbors who had evacuated after the alarm.
"Okay, come on over to my car and we'll—"
"No questions. Ms. Moreau has an attorney, you will speak to him."
"Oh? Is he here?" Donovan asked.
"You will wait," the big man grabbed her arm, pulled her away from Donovan. "He will be coming. She will be in my car." He looked at Nicki. "Go to my truck."
"You will not be the one to save your dog." He did not suggest who would be the one.
Nicki wasn't sure why she walked back to the SUV. She wasn't afraid of him, but she didn't trust him. It could be that her intestines were in knots and standing was too much. Talking to Donovan was certainly too much. They couldn't honestly think she'd tried to set herself on fire. But she didn't get in. She stood watching as a fully suited, masked fireman entered her condo. Flames still weren't visible. Someone produced a blanket. Her dog came out, limp in the arms of the fireman.
"Piper!" she cried, running past both men who seemed to be intent on arguing anyway. The blanket fell off as she ran. Piper was placed on the ground and her snout held closed while another fireman blew into her nose. She couldn't have said how long she stood there. Long enough that the hose was put in place and water started flooding into her apartment. Long enough that Piper twitched, then sneezed.
A voice sounded behind her. "I'll help you get her to the Emergency Vet. Go get in the car." Her heart jumped, and the relief that had flooded her body only seconds before turned to tingles and heat. Karsa. How she could feel heat when every part of her was cold was beyond her comprehension. The heat was centered between her legs so it shouldn't have been too difficult to understand it's source. Karsa put a hand on her lower back and led her toward a black coupe, whispering, "I'll get her," as he helped her into the passenger seat. Their faces were inches apart for a brief moment that tightened her nipples and made her thankful that someone had replaced the blanket around her, hiding her body's betrayal. He left before anything even more embarrassing could happen and came down after what felt like an eternity, a dog-sized blanket in his arms, Piper's head resting on his shoulder.
She was silent on the drive to the Emergency Vet clinic. He told her he would have to speak to fire investigators eventually. He told her that her condo was uninhabitable. He told her that Piper would be okay. When he told her this he put a hand on her knee. Skin on skin. He was shockingly warm. His hand lingered, moved slightly when he turned a corner, his hand sinking to the inside of her thigh, just above the knee. Her heart was thundering. He looked unfazed. His hand was gone before she knew it, but the heat of it seemed to remain, travel upwards, greet the heat that lingered in her.
"Wait here. She'll need to stay the night. You can't come in."
"She's my dog."
"Wait here. You'll come to my house. There's a security guard and a gate, I have a security system."
"What? No!" And what did him living in a gated community have to do with anything?
"Well, where do you intend to go?"
"I can sleep at my brother's house. He's been staying with his girlfriend."
"You aren't staying alone."
"Then I'll stay with Matt."
Karsa lifted an eyebrow, a silent question. More a challenge than a question. She met his eyes, worked on trying not to think about what they saw. "We're back on. He apologized."
He got out of the car and walked around to the passenger side, yanked open the door. Did he think she was beautiful? Did he imagine the curves of her body under her clothes? He certainly didn't seem to appreciate her body, so probably not. Probably he thought she was a hot mess and he was regretting getting involved. "He said he was sorry."
"It is a little early in the relationship for sorries, isn't it?" She met his eyes but was silent, her heart thudding in her chest as her girlish mind thought up a variety of reasons that this was even a topic of conversation between them. The girl in her had many explanations: he was jealous, he wanted her, ect. "Fine. Use my phone to call him." He lifted the dog out of her arms and went into the building.
She picked up the phone and went to dial. But she didn't know his number. It was in her own cell phone. Who memorized numbers anymore? Nicki groaned. The probability of him wanting the girl he'd gone out on a couple of dates with staying at his place, playing house. It was a terrible idea, anyway. Especially when he wasn't especially enthused about being seen with the girl in public, on account as her reputation of being a crazy person. A violent crazy person.
Nicki leaned her head back in the seat. She noticed then how luxurious the car was. His phone was still in her hand. Of all the times for her curiosity to kick in, it had to be now, this moment, this man. She tapped the phone, bringing the screen back to life, and thumbed through the screens until she saw it. A social networking app. It made her smile, to imagine him posting statuses and sharing pictures. It was hard to imagine. She activated the app and, seeing an icon, went to the messages section. And there they were. Women. So many messages from so many women, most of them unread. She left them unread, just checked out the first words of each, which appeared in preview.
Sara: I ran into Kal and it reminded me of...
Delia: She won't be enough for you, you'll...
Kendall: Free tonight? I would love to see...
Nicki stopped looking, didn't want to see any more. It was enough, wasn't it? Should have been enough to shut down her body's reaction to him. To the way the smell of him lingered. To the way the stubble covered his face. To the rumpled look of his shirt. To the way his hair stood up on one side, betraying that he slept. That this man slept. Tonight, he probably slept in that shirt. It was terrible, having to imagine this man sleeping. The thought of it made her wet, put her whole body on alert. Was he alone tonight when he got the call? Was he with the woman who would not be enough for him? She still hadn't asked him why. Why she was being followed? Why he did he get up in the middle of the night to come to her? What was happening to her life? Why can't she look at him without...Nicki sighed. Matt. She should imagine where Matt is, the way Matt looks when he sleeps. That man. The right man.
Nicki turned her attention to the texts next.
Delia: Just come over. My place this time. You can sit back and relax while I
Relax while she what? Blows him, no doubt. It was the next name, though, that startled her.
Peter Janis: I appreciate everything, but the answer is no. Things aren't perfect but they're fine. I can't do that to her.
Oh, God. Out of the corner of her eye Nicki saw the light let out by the door being opened and she quickly exited out of the text section and tossed the phone onto the passenger seat. He was still in contact with Janis. Of course he was, the trial, the acquittal, was so recent. What had Karsa offered, or suggested? Was Janis in more legal trouble? Or had he raped someone else, but hadn't been caught?
The door opened and Karsa climbed into the car, immediately having to lift himself up to pull the phone out from under him. He set it in the cup-holder and turned to her, laser focus, all on her. She stared back at him, she hoped confidently. His eyes gave nothing away.
"Well? Where are we going?" he asked, resigned, as if he were dealing with a petulant child.
She stiffened. She couldn't remember having done anything with any particular petulance within the last hour. "I don't have his phone number. I couldn't call, I can't stay there."
"So where are we going?"
He wanted her to say it, she realized. She wouldn't. "Look, you can take me to a motel or something, I can—"
"What?" Nicki asked, confused. They were charging her with arson? What kind of nightmare world was she living in?
"Your balcony door had been pried open. They suspect an accelerant was used. They suspect someone is trying to kill you, or scare you. It could be the same people who stabbed your ex-boyfriend and left you to take the blame. Someone is angry with you so, no, Nicki, you cannot go to a hotel. You cannot go to a motel. You cannot be alone. So where are we going?"
Nicki bit her lip, looked down at her hands, clasped tightly in her lap. Silver nail polish, fresh but already chipping. She smelled like smoke. She needed a shower. She was a mess. She looked up to find he was still watching her, his face impassive, but his eyes had softened. His jawline was one of the most beautiful things she had ever seen. It was hard not to reach out, brush her fingers against him, starting at his jaw but moving back, into his hair, burying her fingers into his hair and pulling him—Jesus. What was she doing? As her knew friend Kelly would say, WTF? Steeling herself, she said, "We're going to your place."
To his credit, he showed no reaction, just put the car in reverse and pulled out of the parking lot.
Nicki wasn't sure what would happen. Her mind went through all the scenarios? Would he sleep on the couch? Would she? Was this a ruse to get her into bed? Would she go along? She thought about her fantasy in the shower, how it was him that came to mind. That it was his hands she was imagining on her when she came. She had always heard that if you want to know where your hear is, that you should look to where your mind goes when it wanders. But she couldn't, she wanted a relationship, not just fucking, no matter how just thinking about Karsa in this way again made her tingle, and she concentrated in order to hold onto a shudder. She didn't want to reveal herself, didn't want this man to know that if he touched her again she might melt. Didn't want him to realize that if he'd left his hand on her knee for even a second more she would have let her legs relax, fall open. She had wanted to, wanted to give him an easy path, wanted his hand to roam up the inside of her thigh to her sex, wanted his fingers to brush against her panties before pushing them aside. God, she hated him.
"Why are you having my place watched? Is that guy following me around?" She worked on keeping her tone from being accusatory. Her pussy was so wet, and she felt like a furnace was turned on inside of her. She wanted him, but not in a real way. She couldn't actually want someone like him, not for more than a night. And if she did want him it was only to get him out of her system. It was the magnetism of him. How many girls had he been with for "just one night"? How many girls promised themselves they only wanted a good fucking, would be fine when he was gone in the morning and didn't call, didn't text, didn't even bother to read their messages.
Karsa looked grim, his eyes on the road, the only reaction were his fists clenching on the wheel. He said, "He was watching. He was also investigating."
She didn't want to hear any more about that.
"Who would do this?"
He didn't even look her way when he said, "I don't know Ms. Crime Reporter. I can't imagine how you could alienate anyone."
* Karsa was not, it turned out, trying to get her into bed. And no one was sleeping on the couch--there was another bedroom. He led her to a bedroom big enough to be the master, decorated garishly, with pale lavender walls. The walls, at least, were calming. It was a woman's room, with it's own bathroom and a huge walk in closet, which Karsa opened, instructing her to look for something to sleep in and something to wear to the mall for shopping tomorrow. He explained then his wife had been short, so nothing would fit right, but at least she could be covered.
"Yes. I can drop you off to pick up your car in the morning."
"I don't have a car." She felt silly telling him this, as if she should be embarrassed about it. As if this was proof she was not a responsible adult. But she was. She lived in a city with a great transit system. She took the bus and used a car share service. She rode her bike. It was all very responsible and, if not normal, then at least acceptable.
But it was yet another reason for him to look pained. "Then you can take the truck in the garage. I'll give you my credit card in the morning. You can buy things than don't make you look like a prostitute, a couple outfits to get you through until you can collect things from your apartment. We will meet with investigators after lunch."
He was telling her how to dress, again. Suggesting she dressed like someone who exchanged sex for money. She was grateful for the excuse to be annoyed with him. Nicki didn't respond, just threw him a dirty look and turned her back on him, walking into the closet. He left her then, she heard the door to the bedroom close behind him. She smelled like smoke, wanted to get changed. She dug through drawers, first in the closet, then through the dressers in the room. She found only negligee. She would not put on a dead woman's negligee while her husband roamed the house.
Nicki, still in her white cotton shorts and tank top, left the bedroom and walked down the hall. There was an open door, with light shining through into the dark hallway. The floors in the hall were hardwood, likely maple, stained dark. The floor was cool underneath her feet. Nicki knocked softly on the door, pushed it open further without thinking. Because if he was in a state that demanded privacy he would have shut the door, and because he had so obviously fallen asleep in his suit before, she assumed he would still be dressed now. And he was. Sort of.
"Oh." Nicki was struck dumb. He was wearing flannel pajama pants that hung low on his hips. She could see the outline of his pelvis peeking above the waistband, see his taut stomach because, God help her, he wasn't wearing a shirt. There were washboard abs sliding into slim hips. There was hair on his chest she was suddenly desperate to feel. She wasn't expecting to see washboard abs and chest hair.
He let her stand there for a few seconds, her mouth hanging open stupidly, struck dumb, before he asked, "What do you need, Nicki?" Is was an abrupt question, delivered softly. He was watching her, she saw his gaze travel toward her chest before bouncing back up to her face. She realized then that her nipples were hard, could feel the cotton brush against them. A coil of heat reasserted itself between her legs.
"There are no pajamas. There is only..." She didn't want to say it. "Lingerie."
A smile played at his lips, one corner of his mouth quirking up. She wanted to lick him, then, run her tongue across those lips, taste that sexy smile. "I looked for T-shirts, sweat pants, anything, but—"
He waved his hand, dismissing the rest of her statement. "No, she had packed the casual things, was taking them with her." So she wasn't dead? Nicki was so confused. Why would someone leave an entire closet of clothes and shoes? He walked toward his dresser and pulled out a light cotton button-up pajama shirt and matching pants in a pale blue, brought them to her. She took them gratefully and held them up against her chest, a barrier between him and her wayward nipples.