Convincing Alex. Nora Roberts
of contents. There were enough cosmetics to supply a small department store. And they weren’t the cheap kind. Six lipsticks, two compacts, several mascara sticks and pots of eye shadow. A rainbow of eyeliner pencils. Scattered with them were two sets of keys, a snowfall of credit-card receipts, rubber bands, paper clips, twelve pens—he counted—a few broken pencils, a steno pad, two paperback books, matches, a leather address book embossed with the initials ELM, a stapler—he didn’t even pause to wonder why she would carry one—tissues and crumpled papers, a tiny micro-cassette recorder. And a gun.
He whipped it out of the pile and stared at it. A water gun.
“Careful with that,” she warned as she found her overburdened wallet. “It’s full of ammonia.”
“I used to carry Mace, but this works fine. Here.” Pleased with herself, she pushed the open wallet under his nose.
It might have been her in the picture. The hair was short and curly and chic, a deep chestnut rather than a brassy blonde. But that nose, that chin. And those eyes. He frowned over the driver’s license. The address was right.
“You got a car?”
She shrugged and began to dump things back into her purse. “So?”
“Women in your position usually don’t.”
Because it made sense, Bess stalled. “I’ve got a license. Everybody who has a license doesn’t have to have a car, do they?”
“No.” He jerked the wallet out of her reach. “Take off the wig.”
Pouting a little, she patted it. “How come?”
He reached across the desk and yanked it off himself. She scowled at him while she ran her fingers through short, springy red curls. “I want that back. It’s borrowed.”
“Sure.” He tossed it onto his desk before he leaned back in his squeaky chair for a fresh evaluation. If this lady was a hooker, he was Clark Kent. “What the hell are you?”
It was time to come clean. She knew it. But something about him egged her on. “I’m just a woman trying to make a living, Officer.” That was how Jade would handle it, Bess was sure. And since Jade was her creation, Bess was determined to do right by her.
He opened the wallet, skimmed through the bills. She was carrying around what would be for him more than two weeks’ pay. “Right.”
“Can you do that?” she demanded, more curious than annoyed. “Go through my personal property?”
“Honey, right now you are my personal property.” There were pictures in the wallet, as well. Snapshots of people, some with her, some without her. And the lady was a card-carrying member of dozens of groups, including Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Federation, Amnesty International and the Writers’ Guild. The last brought him back to the tape recorder. When he picked up the little toy, he noted that it was running. “Let’s have it, Bess.”
God, he was cute. The thought passed through her head as she smiled at him. “Have what?”
“What were you doing hanging around with Rosalie and the rest of the girls?”
“My job.” When his eyes narrowed that way, Bess thought, he was downright irresistible. Impatient, a little mean, with a flash of recklessness just barely under control.
“Really.” All honesty and cheap perfume, she leaned forward. “You see, it all has to do with Jade, and how she’s having this problem with a dual personality. By day, she’s a dedicated lawyer—a real straight arrow, you know—but by night she hits the streets. She’s blocking what happened between her and Brock, and coupled with a childhood memory that’s begun to resurface, the strain’s been too much for her. She’s on a path of self-destruction.”
The frown in his eyes turned them nearly black. “Who the hell is Jade?”
“Jade Sullivan Carstairs. Don’t you watch daytime TV?”
His head was beginning to buzz. “No.”
“You don’t know what you’re missing. You’d probably really enjoy the Jade-Storm-Brock story line. Storm’s a cop, you see, and he’s falling in love with Jade. Her emotional problems, and the hold Brock has on her, complicate things. Then there was a miscarriage, and the kidnapping. Naturally, Storm has problems of his own.”
“Naturally. What’s your point?”
“Oh, sorry. I get offtrack. I write for ‘Secret Sins’ daytime drama.”
“You’re a soap-opera writer?”
“Yeah.” Unlike many in the trade, she wasn’t bothered by that particular label. “And I like to get the feel of the situations I put my characters into. Since Jade is a special pet of mine, I—”
“Are you out of your mind?” Alex barked the question as he leaned over into her face. “Do you have any idea what you were doing?”
She blinked, at once innocent and amused. “Research?”
He swore again, and Bess found she liked the way he raked impatient fingers through his thick black hair. “Lady, just how far were you intending to take your research?”
“How—? Oh.” Her eyes brightened with laughter. “Well no, not quite that far.”
“What the hell would you have done if I hadn’t been a cop?”
“I’d have thought of something.” She continued to smile. He had a fascinating face—golden skin, dark eyes, wonderful bones. And that mouth, so beautifully sculpted, even if it did tend to scowl. “It’s my job to think of things. And when I spotted you, I thought you looked safe. What I mean is, you didn’t strike me as the kind of man who’d be interested in…” What was a delicate way of putting it? she wondered. “Paying for pleasure.”
He was so angry he wanted to yank her up and toss her over his lap. The idea of administering a few good whacks to that cute little butt was tremendously appealing. “And if you’d guessed wrong?”
“I didn’t,” she pointed out. “For a minute there, I was worried, but it all worked out. Better than I expected, really, because I had a chance to ride in a— Do you still call them paddy wagons?”
He’d been so sure he’d seen everything. Heard everything. With his temper straining at the bit, he spoke through clenched teeth. “Two hookers are dead. Two who worked that area.”
“I know,” she said quickly, as if that explained it all. “That was one of the reasons I chose it. You see, I plan to have Jade—”
“I’m talking about you,” he interrupted in a voice that had her wincing. “You. Some bubbleheaded hack writer who thinks she can strut around in spandex and a half a ton of makeup, then go home to her nice neighborhood and wash it all off.”
“Hack?” It was the only thing she took offense to. “Look, cop—”
“You look. You stay out of my territory, and out of those slut clothes. Do your research out of a book.”
Her chin shot out. “I can go where I want, wearing what I want.”
“You think so?” There was a way to teach her a lesson. A perfect way. “Fine.” He rose, tugged the tote out of her hands, then took a firm grip on her arm. “Let’s go.”
“To holding, babe. You’re under arrest, remember?”
She stumbled in the three-inch heels and squawked, “But I just explained—”
“I hear better stories before breakfast every day.”
“You’re not going to put me in a cell.” Bess was sure of it. Positive. Right up until the moment the bars closed