Under the Tycoon's Protection(10)By: Anna DePalo
She frowned. “His English skills aren’t very good, are they?”
“Yeah, which does point to our man Taylor or, more precisely, one of his gang members who isn’t behind bars.”
“Hmm. Maybe.” She looked unconvinced. “Or it could just be someone trying to throw us off the scent and point the finger elsewhere.”
“What makes you think that?” He had his own theory in that regard, but he was interested in hearing hers.
She crossed her arms. “If one of Taylor’s pals wanted me dead, I’d probably already be gone—or, at least, they wouldn’t have bothered with a note.”
He nodded. She’d obviously learned a few things at the DA’s Office. He just wasn’t sure he liked her being acquainted with the seedier side of life. Sure, he’d often made fun of her diamond-studded-slipper upbringing, but he knew better than most just how bad the alternative could be.
“The person who is doing this obviously wants to scare me,” Allison mused, “but so far he’s hung back from doing more than threaten. So, again, we have a profile that might fit better with Kendall, who’s a white-collar criminal.”
“You know something, petunia?”
“What?” Her chin came up, as if expecting a sarcastic remark.
“You took the words right out of my mouth.”
Her shoulders relaxed a little. “That’s probably the highest compliment in your book.”
Allison didn’t know why she’d let Connor talk her into spending the weekend at his getaway cottage in the Berkshires, west of Boston. Somehow she’d let him convince her that she needed the change of scene.
She sat in the living room, her files around her, having spent the afternoon working on her brief in response to Kendall’s attorney’s pre-trial motion to exclude certain evidence from being presented to the jury.She could hear Connor moving around in the kitchen. After they’d gone into town for groceries, he’d gone to work on his computer. There were four of them in the den, she had discovered, plus some hitech computer accessories.
She was thankful that the past week had been less eventful than last Saturday. After they’d discovered the anonymous note in her mailbox, the rest of the day had been spent talking to the police that Connor had summoned to the townhouse. She’d spent more than an hour being grilled, the dull throbbing at her temples a testimony to the thoroughness of their questioning.
The police had since informed them that the photographs and note hadn’t turned up any fingerprints other than Connor’s, though the envelope that they had come in had had many different prints, including probably that of her mailman. None of the shop owners or anyone else near the locations where the photographs had been taken had remembered anything suspicious.
Yet, despite the uneventfulness of the week, she hadn’t felt relaxed. Whereas before she’d only thought someone might be watching her, the photographs confirmed that to be the case.
It was a spooky and unsettlingly thought. She now found herself turning around at odd moments, expecting to catch someone watching her.
So, at the end of the week, when Connor had argued she could work just as well at his country house as she could at the townhouse, she hadn’t disagreed too strenuously. In fact, she admitted to herself, having him around made her feel safe. Perhaps it was the photos and note that had done it, but she no longer had the same desire to get rid of him.
And going to Connor’s place was a distraction. When they’d arrived that morning, she’d discovered that Connor’s “getaway cottage” was a two-story, wood-frame structure nestled in the woods, well back from the road. It boasted four bedrooms, two baths, a spacious kitchen, a living room, dining room, den, deck and, for good measure, a hot tub.
She tried hard not to think about the hot tub—and tried harder still not to think about the fact that her bedroom was next to his.
She looked through the sliding-glass doors leading to the outdoor wooden deck and watched Connor fire up the barbecue grill. Beside him, plates held some steaks and potatoes, ready for grilling.
Deciding it was time to put away her files for the evening, she rose and gathered up her papers, putting them in a neat stack on an end table.
When she got outside, Connor was nursing a beer and watching the rays of the disappearing sun twinkle through the branches of the trees.
He opened another beer and handed it to her.
“Thanks,” she said, watching as he expertly used a long fork to turn the steaks. “You know, I could almost get used to having you cook for me, Rafferty.”
At his astonished look, she laughed. “But I suppose grilling is up there with manly pursuits like knowing how to open a beer bottle and programming a remote control.”
Seemingly despite himself, he chuckled. Closing the barbecue, he said, “You got that right, petunia. So for the rest of the evening, remember that I’m the one in charge and you’re the deputy.”
She rolled her eyes. “What do you mean for the rest of the evening? That’s what you try to convince me of every day.”
“Right, but with little success.” He nodded through the glass doors at the kitchen. “The rest of the stuff for dinner is in there.”
Tossing him a look, she nevertheless took the hint and went to the kitchen. She returned with plates, utensils, and napkins for the outdoor table. She also carried out the salad he’d left on the kitchen counter.
As she set the table, she cast him a surreptitious look. His faded jeans did little to hide a tight rear end. He wore his button-down plaid shirt open at the collar, where it revealed a small bit of the white undershirt he wore beneath. Overall, the effect was casual but sexy.
Until they’d actually sat down to eat, Allison didn’t realize how intimate it was to be having dinner alone with Connor, surrounded by the woods, eating food that he’d prepared. Despite that—or maybe as a distraction from it—the conversation flowed easily between them. They talked about the latest news, what the Boston Red Sox could do to make it to the World Series, and what qualified as classic rock-and-roll music.
As a result, by the time they were done eating, she was feeling pleasantly relaxed. So much so that she was able to say casually, “There’s one thing I never understood about you, Rafferty.”
“Only one?” He quirked a brow and sat back, looking amused. “What a letdown. I don’t even qualify as complex, misunderstood, or—better yet—tortured?”
She rolled her eyes. “James Dean was tortured, you’re just—” she paused to think for a few seconds “—inscrutable.”
“Inscrutable?” He rubbed his chin. “Okay, I guess that’s better than nothing. So, I suppose you’re going to enlighten me about what makes me ‘inscrutable’?”
Ignoring his mocking tone, she plunged ahead. “As I was saying, there’s one major thing I haven’t understood about you.” She took a fortifying sip of her beer. “It’s this whole South Boston business.”
His expression, she noted, became ever so slightly shuttered.
Nevertheless, because she wasn’t one to turn back once she’d started, she went on, “You leave South Boston, get a fancy degree from Harvard—with high honors in computer science, no less—and then, instead of starting the corporate climb at some cushy investment banking job, you wind up going back to South Boston to set up shop.”
“Not only that,” she persisted, “but you choose an unglamorous area like security systems. Most people don’t go to Harvard just to come full circle.”
He sat back in his chair and studied her. “True, but things worked out well anyway.” He nodded around him to the large house and the surrounding trees. “Maybe, princess, it was all part of the master plan.”
She nodded. “Knowing you, I don’t doubt it. What I want to know is, what was the master plan?”
He looked amused. “You just keep probing until you get some answers, don’t you? Which is probably what makes you a great prosecutor.”
“Don’t try to sidetrack me with compliments.” She steeled herself against his flattery and leaned forward in her seat. “Why go back to South Boston after Harvard? One would assume you had every reason not to, particularly since your father was killed in the line of duty there.”
She knew from Quentin that Connor’s father had been a cop who had died when Connor was still a kid. She also knew Connor’s mother, a nurse, had died of breast cancer soon after his high-school graduation, leaving him parentless from the age of eighteen. It had all made her feel very sorry for Connor when she’d met him.
“Am I being cross-examined?” Connor’s tone was casual, but she sensed an underlying tenseness in him.
Knowing that she was on to something, she ignored his question and said, instead, “Tell me about your father.” She added, gentling her voice, “Please. I’d really like to know.”
He saluted her with his empty beer bottle. “Okay, princess, I see I’m not going to throw you off.”
She wondered if that were true. She got the feeling he was only going to give her an answer because he wanted to—and she also sensed she was on terrain that Connor didn’t ordinarily let people onto.