Behind her, his chair squealed, then in less than a second, Peter’s body pressed hard into her back, and his erection harder at her butt. His hands were locked around her in a death grip, painfully squeezing both breasts.
“Get the hell off!” She felt one arm release, and thrust herself backward, but he was stronger. He trapped her between his body and the wall, a human sandwich. “You freak!” She wrenched against him but made no headway against his surprisingly strong grip. The photo crashed to the tile, shattering glass at her feet.
He worked one hand over her mouth.
Annalisse squirmed, fighting to breathe through her nose. Blood pounded her eardrums. Think. He’s drunk, and your mind’s clearer than his. Spin the nozzle. Pick your moment.
“Don’t fight it, Ann. You know you’ve wanted this. You said I’m good. Let me show you.”
The vile mixture of body odor and cheap whiskey swirled in the little air she had available to her. She hoped the gallery surveillance cameras were on and recording her assault. Annalisse gagged behind his clammy fingers, too far from her teeth to bite, and readied the tube of pepper spray.
“Anna?” Chase asked, muffled by the distance.
In her jumbled thoughts, she’d forgotten Chase, but the surprise voice from outside was enough to break Peter’s concentration.
Annalisse slammed back against the man’s rock of a forehead.
“Oww!” he cried.
The pressure against her body slackened, and his palm disappeared from her face.
Annalisse spun a half turn and kneed him in the groin with the as much force she could muster.
Peter fell on his side holding himself, yelping in pain.
Chase flung open the door and ran to her side. “Dang, dude. Zip it up.” He shifted his eyes to her. “You hurt?”
“Get back.” She checked her aim, depressed the nozzle, and let the cone of mist spread over his balding head and exposed skin, saving a little for his genitals, until the canister emptied and he was a rolling, crying, blathering idiot.
Annalisse tossed the pink tube in the trash can and gagged against the pepper smell cutting off her air.
With both hands plastered over his eyes, Peter wailed, writhing on his back and wheezing.
“I can’t breathe! Bitch. You blinded me! Get me something to wipe this burning shit off! Jesus, you’re gonna pay.” He doubled over on his knees and spat gobs of yellow-tinged saliva on the floor. His moans bounced throughout the ten by ten space.
Chase pulled her to the doorway. “Back away Anna! He’s trying to get up.” He waved a hand in front of her. “Man, the fumes. The scuzbag left marks. Your mouth’s red.” Chase looked at him. “He’s sure got a hurt on.”
“Yeah, to match his hard on—call 911. I’m out of here. The stench is making my eyes water.” She coughed and kicked Peter in the shoe. “By the way, slimy bastard, I quit.”
Annalisse set her purse down into the flipped over cushions on the couch, repositioned them, and stepped through what used to be neat stacks, years of gallery research. A groan passed her lips when she walked to the desk marred with new scratches, bereft of her monitor and tower hard drive. She looked around the room for her laptop; it, too, was missing.
Cursing under her breath, she saw her prized possession, a two-foot bronze statue of a shepherdess with a pair of sheep grazing near her feet, lying on its side next to a toppled plant stand. An expensive work of art from Florence she’d had no business buying, but she couldn’t resist. When Generosa had called from Italy describing it, Annalisse had to have it. Everyone who knew her well understood her love for sheep. Even if she’d declined Generosa’s offer to bring it back for her, she’d felt certain the bronze would end up in her hands eventually.
Alec waited by the stairs and whispered, “Your bedroom up there?” He pointed upstairs.
She nodded, lifted the mahogany stand upright and, with both hands, replaced the hefty bronze to its rightful place next to the desk.
“Stay downstairs. You’ll be safer. I won’t be long, and I’ll look for your cat.” Alec hit the first step.
Whoever destroyed her home had acted with malice. They had her personal data and internet search history, where she shopped online, email correspondence as well as business contacts. A privacy breach she couldn’t afford. Compiling a list of possible suspects in her head, she felt so violated, even more so than by what had happened with Peter. Names and faces blurred together. With fingertips pressed at her temples, she willed the jackhammers in her head to stop.
Raising her arms, as if a make-believe thief told her to, she said, “I give up. I may as well set a match to this place, for all the good it’s going to do me now.”
Alec uttered a sentence upstairs she couldn’t make out.
“Alec, did you find Boris?”
The sound of shuffling filtered downstairs then a thump.
“Alec, what fell?” She looked up at an empty landing.
The unnatural silence pricked the hairs straight out on her neck. “Answer me.”
A mechanical voice broke the silence. “Don’t move.”
She stopped breathing and froze, afraid to look up, but then looked anyway.
A figure in a brownish ski mask and desert camouflage occupied the top of the staircase. Holding Alec. He—or she— held him at gunpoint. One arm cradled Alec’s waist and a black pistol so close to Alec’s right ear, his curls hid part of the barrel.
She’d expected Alec’s expression to be as wild as hers must have been, but he appeared strangely calm.
“I’m all right, Annalisse.”
“Shut up.” The voice was distorted with some kind of voice altering mechanism. Deep tones, similar to a bumblebee in distress.
A second later, he was beside her, his Zavos gaze in desire mode. “You’d do that for me?”
“I should’ve checked you before now. Stop me the next time I become too self-involved. Lift the shirt.”
Alec grimaced and pulled the long-sleeved tee over his head, exposing a dark patch of glistening chest hair. An extremely broad chest. All muscled up like guys who work out. Damn Sam, he’s gorgeous.
His hypnotic aroma engulfed her with creamy heat.
Annalisse considered whether or not his chest hair was soft or wiry, or if he’d hold her tenderly or with restrained force. Licking her lower lip, she tore her eyes from his pecs to his shoulder and gently pulled the adhesive tape. She peeked at the neat row of stitches to calm the flutter in her heart. The area around the sutures had reddened and were puffy.
“We’ll watch the swelling. Having been in battle with metal and gunpowder, I expected worse. I’d find something waterproof to put over it in the shower. Like a liquid bandage. And finish all of your antibiotics even if you feel better.” His skin was smooth under her fingertips.
“I’ll do that, Dr. Drury. Thank you.” He glanced at her fingers on his shoulder. “Anything else?”
Annalisse’s face flushed with heat. She jerked her wrist back and balled her hand in her lap. Her mind told her to get some distance from him, but her feet had other ideas.
With his forefinger, he rotated her chin so she’d face him. “It’s just you and me.”
He was far too close. Close enough to kiss his perfectly matched, parted lips. God. Being next to him like this…it was too soon. His wonderful mother as her mother-in law…quit! She shuddered.
“Are you afraid of me?” His question came disguised in a throaty growl.
She clenched her jaw, afraid what he’d say to the truth.
He took her hand and flattened her palm to his chest. “I want you to trust me.”
She opened her mouth, but couldn’t speak.
“I’ll take that as a maybe.” One side of his mouth lifted into a sly smile.
Her head swam at his touch. Helga gone, she could allow herself to taste want, defer her loneliness; Alec could wash so much sadness away, even if temporarily. No, she couldn’t. Not with him. As much as she wanted—needed—sex like crazy, this kind of man could damage her heart in an unspeakable way. Too much risk in a hunky, charming, dreamy Greek. Her throat tightened, and she swallowed.
Annalisse slipped her hand from his and drew back from no-return territory. “I’ll get your shirt.” She jumped for his polo at the end of the chaise and wobbled backward, grabbing the edge of the seat.
Alec caught her waist with one arm. “Gotcha.”