M arliss Melton has a knack for combining edge-of-your seat romantic suspense and an engrossing love story featuring multi-layered characters who struggle with realistic emotions. Hannah and Luther make a fine team whether they're racing against time to stop the bad guys or trying to sort through their escalating feelings for one another. Melton is a great new talent and In the Dark a fine addition to her action-packed series.
Hannah delayed the inevitable nightmare by rearranging her twisted sheets. A thump on the roof caused her to freeze. Perhaps it was an acorn falling off the immense oak tree that stretched its branches over Westy’s house. But then it came again, too stealthy to be an acorn.
And this time, it sounded closer.
Hannah rolled out of bed. In two steps, she crossed the small room and pressed her back against the wall, peering beneath the flimsy curtains of the dormered window to see outside.
A shadowy figure ducked out of view, perhaps catching sight of her. Fear jolted Hannah’s system, propelling her out the open door and into the hallway. She gasped in fright as she ran straight into Westy’s powerful and practically naked body.
“Shhh,” he said, whisking her around the corner. “Get down into the stairwell and stay there,” he commanded, pushing her head down.
Hannah obeyed, wishing fervently that she had a gun like his. His SIG Sauer glinted in the darkness as he drifted soundlessly into her room.
Just then, the dog let loose a warning bark downstairs. Luther hushed him. Quick footsteps signaled his response to the alarm.
The noises on the roof came again, this time retreating. “Fuck.” Westy threw up the window, batting the curtain aside as he attempted to peg the intruder before he got away. The attempt obviously failed. In the next instant, he was flying past her, his steps remarkably quiet on the creaking stairs. “Don’t move,” he ordered.
“Okay.” Hannah’s heart thumped unnaturally loud. She couldn’t hear what Westy was saying to Luther, probably that they should split up and go out either door. But if they did that, then she’d be left all alone here, without a weapon.
Sure enough, she heard the kitchen door squeak open. It had to be Luther slipping out the back because Westy was stealthier.
A scrabbling noise greeted her ears. Hannah tensed, but it was only Jesse, the black Lab, climbing up to the landing to whine at her pathetically.
You think you’re scared? she conveyed telepathically. They left me here without a weapon.
If the intruder had a partner, working in pairs like the Obradovitch couple, then one of them would lead Westy and Luther away while the other sneaked through an upstairs window to blow her head off.
No, this wasn’t good. Hannah eased down the steps, scooting on her bottom. She needed to arm herself, and a knife was better than nothing.
The kitchen was full of shadows. Through the French windows of the addition Westy had built on the back of the house, she could see his back yard, with its shade trees conveniently placed for snipers to hide behind.
She went down on her hands and knees, crawling across the heart of pine floor, keeping well below the counter tops as she made a beeline for Westy’s knife rack. Peering up at it, she selected the largest blade. The haft felt reassuring. She’d done some hand-to-hand training back at CIA camp.
For what seemed an excruciating amount of time, she crouched in the kitchen expecting the worst. If the Individual was after her, he wasn’t going to let her live this time, not when she’d killed his Cuban presidential hopeful.
Without warning the back door flew open. Hannah sprang to her feet, launching an offensive that could not have been predicted or counter-measured with a gun.
“Hey, hey, hey!”
It was Luther, not Misalov Obradovitch, who stood at a similar height. In three quick moves, Luther disarmed her. He slammed the knife down on the counter and jerked her against him, the muscles in his body rigid with anger. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he raged through his teeth.
“Sorry, I thought you were—”
“I’m not. I’m here to protect you.” His arm was a band of steel trapping her against his naked chest. “Stop going offensive and let me do my job,” he added.
His chest was warm and smooth and faintly damp from the humidity outside. Hannah stood nose to nose with him, her mouth so close that it would take no effort at all to steal a kiss.
So she did, not really intending to. The instinct to soothe his agitation and comfort herself overrode her common sense for the moment.
His lips were soft and warm. She knew exactly how it would feel if he kissed her back. She drew a breath, as desire coiled around her. “Sorry,” she whispered, pulling away.
She wasn’t really, but he didn’t need to know that.
His grip didn’t slacken. He stared down at her, stunned. She could feel his body quickening against hers, growing hard.
But then he released her, letting her heels fall to the floor. His gaze flew to the windows. “Let’s get out of this room,” he muttered. He pulled her with him into the living room, closing the drapes so they couldn’t be seen.
“Did you see who was on the roof?
“Yes, running away. He got into a car and took off. Westy’s parked behind a bush hoping he’ll come back, but I think it’s safe to say he won’t.”
“Was it Misalov Obradovitch?” She quailed as she recalled the impassive look in the European’s eyes. The thought of him and his ruthless wife after her unnerved her completely.
“I don’t think so. This man was slim, light on his feet. Something about the way he ran looked familiar, but I couldn’t see his face.”
“Someone knows who I am,” she concluded, collapsing on the couch as her knees gave out suddenly.
Luther turned and looked at her. “How?” he said, his voice rough with frustration. “How could anyone know already?”
“There has to be a leak,” she said.
Luther shook his head.
“Your fiancée,” Hannah suggested.
“Don’t call her that,” he said. His abrupt tone told her she’d struck nerve. “She’s not my fiancée. She never should have been.”
The words released a certain tension in her chest. “Could she have figured out who I am, though? Does she know enough of what’s going on?” Hannah pressed.
He sat down next to her. “I don’t know.”
“Who else knows me? There’s the defense lawyer and the men in your platoon.”
“Not one of them is loyal to Lovitt,” he reassured her. “Shit, it has to be Veronica,” he admitted darkly. “Maybe she found out who you were from the ID scanner.”
“Only a security officer could do that.”
He gave a humorless laugh. “Or the secretary screwing the security officer,” he countered. “I wouldn’t put it past her to play some kind of game with me. She has no idea the seriousness of it all.” He put one hand behind his neck, squeezing it. “If Veronica told Lovitt, then he he’d probably come after you himself. I think that’s who it was,” he said, looking at her sharply. “That was Lovitt’s run. I thought I recognized it.”
“He’ll tell the Individual where I am,” Hannah added, her mouth growing dry with fear.
“He’ll also try to clean things up in Sebena.”
They sat shoulder to shoulder, reeling with the implications. “We need to leave for the Northern Neck tonight,” Hannah urged.
“No, we should wait for your ID to come tomorrow,” he argued.
“No one’s asked to see it yet.”
“They’re not going to let you into the Trial Services Building again without it,” Luther insisted.
“Fine.” She collapsed against the cushions. It was either that or launch herself at Luther and steal another kiss.
“Why don’t you go upstairs and catch some sleep before we go?” he suggested.
“Right, like I’m going to sleep up there when Lovitt was just trying to shoot me through the window.”
He rolled to his feet, disappointing her. “Lie down here then,” he offered. He crossed to the window to peek outside.
Hannah swung her feet onto the couch and nestled into the blanket Luther had been using. It smelled like him, like sportsman’s soap and ironing starch. “What about you?” she asked, wishing he would join her.
“I’ll catch a few winks in the chair here.”
Hannah turned her face to the pillow and closed her eyes. She knew she wouldn’t sleep. Her ears were cocked to the sound of Luther easing into the arm chair. The springs protested his weight. He propped his long legs out in front of him.
“Can I ask you a favor?” Hannah asked ten minutes later. It was sheer desperation that made her say it. Her eyes felt like they were hard boiled. If she didn’t get some sleep soon, she’d have a mental breakdown, and men in straight-jackets would have to be called in to cart her away.
“Depends,” he said, warily.
“Would you mind laying down beside me for a little while?”
“Lying down,” he said, correcting her grammar, but he didn’t immediately answer her question. Finally, he rolled to his feet. “You’re going to have to scoot way over.”
She did, giving him most of the space. When he was finally on his back, she settled against him, holding in her sigh of contentment. He was long and muscular. She fit against him like a long-lost puzzle piece, shoulder tucked under his arm, her head on his chest. Closing her eyes, she listened to the steady pumping of his heart.
Exhaustion tugged at her. “Thank you,” she mumbled, drifting toward sleep.
Luther said nothing at all. Either he was too tired himself to speak or she wasn’t welcome.