Cry Uncle(8)

By: Judith Arnold


“No, it isn’t money,” she cut him off. She had plenty of money, an embarrassment of money. She’d withdrawn a large chunk of her savings from her bank in Seattle. She hadn’t yet opened a local bank account, because bank records were easy enough to trace. If she could deposit the money as Joe’s wife, using the name Pamela Brenner, maybe she would escape detection.

But the child... She couldn’t take Joe’s name and his hand in marriage when doing so might place his niece in danger.

“If it’s the sex thing,” Joe continued, “we can work that out any way you want. I’m looking for a little play-acting here. Public displays of affection, nothing more. I’m sure we—”

“No, it’s not sex.” She stared into his eyes and felt herself tumbling into the blue, being sucked in. When a man with eyes like Joe’s talked about sex, she could forget about his earring, his beard, his slovenly apparel. She could forget about almost everything.

But she couldn’t forget about Mick Morrow.

“Joe,” she said, glancing away to break the spell of his enchanting gaze, “there’s something you need to know about me before this discussion goes any further.”

He leaned forward. Tracing the line of his vision, she noticed that he was staring at her hands. She hadn’t realized she had furled them into fists so tight her knuckles had turned as white as schoolroom chalk.

She made a concerted effort to relax—and then gave up. There was no way to say what she was about to say and remain calm. “Joe...” She sighed. “Back in Seattle, where I lived before I came here, I testified in court against a hit man.”

Joe sat straighter and lifted his eyes to her face. He looked startled, horrified—but also sympathetic. “A hit man?”

“He was convicted of murder based on my testimony. But his conviction was set aside on a technicality. He’s free on bail pending a new trial. And...” She sighed again, shuddering the way she did every time she confronted the reality of her current existence. “He wants me dead.”

***

“DEAD?” The word came out on a croak. How the hell could a fragile blond slip of a woman have wound up on the wrong side of a hit man?

“It’s all right,” she said bravely. She seemed suddenly relaxed, or maybe resigned. “We haven’t signed any contracts here, Joe. I know you didn’t bargain for anything like this. If you want to retract the offer—”

“Not so fast,” he silenced her. His brain told him he ought to run like hell from a woman who was on a murderer’s shit-list. But his gut told him he should sit tight and work it through.

He wasn’t given to heroics. If a gun-toting mobster started buzzing the island in a fully armed Apache helicopter, his impulse would be to grab Lizard and split, and the hell with everyone else. Joe looked out for Numero Uno—which used to be himself until Lizard came along and knocked him out of the top slot. He would sacrifice his own life for the Liz-monster, and he’d do whatever was necessary to avoid that sacrifice. But he wasn’t about to play the white knight for some silver-eyed stranger from Seattle who’d been stupid enough to testify against a professional assassin.

On the other hand... If he didn’t marry Pamela while he had the chance, he might not find anyone better. Superficially, at least, she was everything he needed: conservative, personable, reasonably attractive—certainly not the sort of woman he’d be ashamed to be seen in public with. Given her current predicament, she was probably as eager to grab a husband as he was to grab a wife. She didn’t have the luxury of quibbling over the fine points with him.

And what were the odds that a liquidator from the Great Northwest would track her down to the Florida Keys?

“Okay,” he said, leaning forward and staring straight into her troubled eyes. “This guy’s in Seattle, right?”

“Yes.”

“And he doesn’t know where you are?”

“Nobody knows. Not even my parents. I told them I had to get away, and they agreed. I keep in touch with them, of course. And I’ve been in contact with my attorney, who in turn stays in contact with the police.”

“How come the police didn’t offer you protection?”

He watched the shifting of her shoulders as she shrugged, and decided that, if a woman wasn’t going to be overly endowed in the mammary region, sexy shoulders were a nice consolation prize. The thin straps of her dress revealed intriguing hollows and delicate ridges in the arrangement of her shoulder blades, collarbones and upper arms. He wondered if her skin would feel as creamy as it looked.

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