Saturday, 6 Feb 2010
They’d picked the wrong building.
The words ran in little circles in the back of Irene’s head as she rushed to the station to fetch Kate. They had picked the wrong building, and if Captain Watson hadn’t made the shot...
Irene’s hands clenched on the steering wheel. She was good with her revolver, but not that good. Kate would have taken the pill and might well be dead. Lost forever.
“Miss Adler?” Kate’s voice was very small and tight.
Anger bubbled up inside Irene. Kate wasn’t a meek, fearful woman. She was intelligent and vibrant and confident, the perfect companion. Suddenly, Irene found herself wishing Captain Watson hadn’t shot the killer, so Irene could have him dealt with more thoroughly. Preferably in a way that involved a woodchipper.
Irene forced her hands to relax and reached across the gearshift to take Kate’s hand. “It’s nothing, love,” she said reassuringly.
Kate’s grasp was tight, painfully tight, but Irene said nothing. Her strength meant she was still alive. God, it had been so close!
“Do you want to talk about it? You don’t have to,” she added quickly, glancing at Kate. She was sitting stiffly, her other hand twisted in the folds of her jacket. There were spots of blood on it — the killer’s blood, thankfully, and not Kate’s.
“I don’t...” She fell silent, and for three blocks, there was nothing but the sound of their breathing and the roar of the engine as Irene tore down the quiet streets, headlights flashing over damp pavement and a few determined late-night revelers.
Finally, Irene spoke up: “Go on, Kate.” She didn’t make it a sharp order, but her tone was firm.
Kate’s hand relaxed the least little bit. She let out a shuddering breath and said, “I still don’t understand... He had — There were two little bottles of pills. He gave me one. He said we’d both take them, and one of us would... would...”
Irene bit her lip to keep from interrupting. She knew this had to be Kate’s tale. Talking through this would help, and if Irene let on that she already knew that part of the story, Kate would never speak of it again.
So she listened as Kate haltingly described the precise scenario that Irene had figured out even before she’d made a few calls to her contacts at the Yard. A life-or-death gamble, Russian roulette with pills instead of bullets. It was the why that she didn’t understand, but right now, she didn’t care. She had to focus entirely on helping Kate get through this.
At home, she brought Kate straight upstairs, to their bedroom. “Strip, love,” Irene said, taking the jacket that Kate was still carrying.
Kate’s hesitation didn’t even last for a full second before she lifted her hands to the throat of her silk blouse, but for Kate, even that was unthinkable.
Folding the jacket over her arm, Irene touched Kate’s cheek and said, “I’m going to draw you a bath. You’re exhausted.”
“I can do that,” Kate said at once, starting to turn toward the bathroom.
“You can, but you won’t.” Irene leaned in and touched Kate’s lips with her own, a soft kiss that had nothing to do with sex or dominance and everything to do with her relief that Kate was alive and here with her, safely home.
When the kiss broke, the haunted look was still there in Kate’s eyes, but she managed to smile all the same. That little curve of her lips was like the sun rising on a new day, giving Irene hope.
“A hot bath, some tea, and then straight to bed,” Irene said, and the smile grew a touch more.
“Yes, Miss Adler,” Kate agreed.
Unable to resist, Irene claimed one more kiss before she tossed the jacket on the bed and went to start filling the tub.
The buzz of the phone in her pocket made her jump in surprise. It was late, but Irene’s clients and contacts were all over the world. Keeping one hand in the water to feel the temperature, she used the other to check the text:
Feeling better. I’ll be at work tomorrow. If you need me before then, call. -John
Oh, he was clever, wasn’t he? She should have anticipated it; he’d been the one to suggest they separate and manufacture alibis for their whereabouts at the time of the shooting, after all. Perhaps Captain John Watson, MD, wasn’t quite as pristine as his kindly nature seemed to imply. Or he was just smart.
Either way, Irene felt a rush of warm gratitude all over again. Catching the subtext of his message, she typed her response immediately:
I’m glad to hear that. All is well here, though I’ve closed the office for tonight. We’ll discuss it tomorrow. Kate sends her love. -Irene
Then she stoppered the tub and went to change into something more appropriate. Kate deserved a treat.
Steam filled the room, bringing warmth to the cool marble ledge surrounding the tub. Irene had changed into a black lace dressing gown — Kate’s favorite — and sat on the ledge, combing her fingers through Kate’s hair, now washed and conditioned.
“Something’s still worrying you, love,” she said softly, studying Kate’s face, flushed pink from the heat. A trail of bubbles clung to the side of her neck.
“The police don’t know who shot him. What if... What if they come after us?”
Irene had never considered keeping her part in the rescue a secret, but she’d planned to discuss it in a few days, once she knew Kate was really all right. Now, she didn’t hesitate to reassure Kate of the real reason she was safe.
“He won’t, I promise.”
Irene touched Kate’s lips with one finger, silencing her. She moved off the ledge to sit on the mat so she could look into Kate’s eyes. “I was there, little love.”
Kate sat up, splashing bubbles over Irene’s sleeve. “What? Miss Adler, you could —”
“But we weren’t,” Irene interrupted, gently but firmly easing Kate back down into the steaming water. “When you didn’t return, I rang your mobile. When you didn’t answer, I knew something was wrong. It was Captain Watson who had the idea of tracking your mobile’s GPS so we could find you,” she added sheepishly. She still felt like she’d failed Kate in a sense. If she hadn’t been so worried, she surely would have thought of it herself.
“Captain Watson? He knows?”
“He was there with me. We were both perfectly safe, I promise.”
“But — the shooter —” Kate’s mouth snapped shut as her eyes went wide. “Oh, my God. Did you...?”
The nagging sense of failure returned, and Irene resolved on the spot to get a more powerful weapon and to practice with it. “No. He did. Military training, remember?”
“I thought he’s a doctor, though.”
Irene nodded, her eyes narrowing a bit as she turned that thought around in her mind. Most military men had a certain bearing, a way of carrying themselves, and she’d simply attributed John Watson’s body language to that training. But was there something more to him?
It was like her thoughts were swimming in treacle. She’d been kidnapped before — three times, in fact, though she’d only been paid for it once — and every time, she’d kept her wits about her and managed to escape not just unharmed but ahead of the game. But one little hint of Kate being in danger and her whole brain had just shut down.
“Yes, well, be grateful he’s not just a doctor,” Irene said a bit more sharply. She could get hold of Captain Watson’s military records easily enough, and then she’d have some answers. For now, though, she was simply relieved.
“I am. To both of you.” Kate lifted one hand and left a trail of scented bubbles as she touched Irene’s fingertips with her own. “If there’s any way I can show it, Miss Adler...”
It was tempting. Kate was tempting. But Irene insisted, “What did I say earlier, love?”
With a laugh, Kate said, “Bath, tea, and bed.”
“But I wouldn’t mind skipping straight to bed.”
“Tea,” Irene insisted, “which I’ll go start making right now. Tea saves all.”
The bedroom filled a corner of the house, and had windows facing south and west. Irene watched the darkness give way to hazy light, casting a soft glow in the bedroom like sunlight filtered through angels’ wings. Her world smelled of lavender and bergamot and the lingering traces of Kate’s perfume, and Kate was snuggled warmly in Irene’s arms, sleeping peacefully as Irene kept vigil against any nightmares that might arise after last night.
Kate shifted slightly, and Irene gently rested two fingers on her throat, feeling the slow, steady beat of her heart. Not a nightmare, she decided, and very softly pressed a kiss to Kate’s hair. Soon, she’d allow herself a couple of hours of sleep, but for now, she simply held Kate and thought about how fortunate she was that she hadn’t lost the one person she loved more than anyone else in the world.
She’d have to find a way to thank John.