Cupping her jaw he nudged her chin so she had to face him. "It's been a long time for you, hasn't it?"
"You could say that," she replied, not quite meeting his eyes but staring at his mouth.
"It has for me too." Sax didn't know why he'd admitted that. "How long are you in town for?"
"Not long," she answered. "I leave today."
"Have breakfast with me?" Sax realized he had no intention of letting her out of his sight.
"Is that an invitation to spend the night?" She gave him that little half-lidded sultry look of earlier, her brows arching, and an impish smile curving her lips.
"Definitely. I should warn you, though, that we'll have to get creative. I only had the one condom." He traced the outline of her mouth with his forefinger, the irrational craving to stroke and caress her not a morsel diluted by their spectacular coupling. Instead he reacted like a junkie desperate for the next high.
"There's a vending machine in the ladies' room," she quipped. "But unfortunately I have to decline your invitation. I have a breakfast meeting, and I still need to get some work done tonight."
"I want to see you again," he stated, watching her carefully. "Where do you live?"
"That's not going to be possible," she said. "I'm engaged."
Sax rolled off her, too shocked and surprised to do anything but snap, "To be married?"
"That's usually the way it works," she replied.
"What was this? A last fling?" White-hot anger settled in his chest. She fucking used me.
"Something like that." She scooted across the bed, reached over, and gathered her clothes from where Sax had tossed them on the floor. "I need to use your facilities."
"What's your name?"
"Pardon?" She halted in midstride and turned around to face him. Shaking her head, one eyebrow lifting, she said, "How very appropriate. You don't even remember my name."
"I didn't catch it in El Meson. The flamenco music was too loud." He hated being on the defensive.
"Do you know, now that I think about it, that's probably a good thing. Ships that pass in the night." She shrugged. "Fate and all that."
Sax's mood had soured from pissed to pounding fury before she closed the bathroom door. Water ran; the hotel's old plumbing groaned. He removed the condom and went to the sink in the suite's kitchen to clean up. He flicked on the light, dumped the rubber in the wastebasket, and searched for soap.
He heard the bathroom door opening and decided to let her speak first, not trusting his control of his temper.
"Thank you, Sax, for a nice evening." She was fully dressed, not a hair out of place.
"That's it?" he snarled. "Wham, bam, thank you, sir?"
"I can't see a reason to prolong this," she said. "Can you?"
"Thanks for the fuck," he growled, pulling his lips wide but knowing his bared teeth couldn't remotely be described as a smile.
"Temper, temper," she muttered, opened the door to the suite, and waltzed out the door.
"Bitch," Sax spat as the door clicked shut. He kicked the wastebasket, the steel container tilted, and its contents--a half-eaten apple, a banana skin, a few crumpled pieces of paper, and the condom--spilled onto the floor.
He shoved the discarded fruit back into the garbage container and picked up the rubber, noticing a pinkish tinge to the fluid on the outside. Frowning, he straightened the condom and noticed the tear in the top. "Fuck. That's all I need."
Straightening the rubber, he identified what looked to be a smear of blood. "Fucking shit. The first time I don't get a sexual history--this is my reward?" Trashing the hotel room appealed like manna to his seething brain, but instead Sax searched his carry-on for an evidence bag, stuck the rubber in it, and stuffed the baggie into a zippered compartment.
The following morning Sax found himself at El Meson again.
"Who stuck a burr under your saddle?" Devil, aka Dominix Zubiri, stretched his legs under the table and laced his fingers together behind his head, mussing the thick shock of black hair brushing his shirt collar. "Have anything to do with the beauty you left with last night? Didn't get lucky?"
"Depends upon your definition of luck," Sax replied and took a slug of his beer. "I'll be glad to see the last of this town."
"Santa Fe? It's a great town, Lucifer. Fantastic galleries, great restaurants, amazing sunsets." Devil raised a bushy black brow. "What happened last night? Nalini sure looked hot for you."
"Nalini? Her name's Nalini?"
"You didn't get her name?" Devil's eyebrow winged up.
"I didn't catch it when Andrea introduced us," Sax retorted, cricking his neck left to right at the sudden knotting of his shoulders. "Is Andrea on today?"
"Didn't see her," Devil replied. "Why?"
"Maybe I want Nalini's number," Sax growled.
"She's as sweet as dulce de leche." Devil slouched farther into the wide chair. "Wait a minute. You didn't get her phone number," Devil said sitting up straight in his chair. "By God, somebody refused you." He slapped a hand to his thigh.
"What're you doing?" Sax snapped as Devil's fingers got real busy on his phone's keypad.
"Texting the squad. They're gonna love this one."
Their breakfast, a sizzling metal platter of eggs, ham, and peppers, arrived in a cloud of saffron, garlic, and tomatoes. Sax's appetite had vanished with Devil's mention of his one-night stand's name. "For your information sweet Nalini's engaged."
"In what?" Devil queried around a mouthful of scrambled eggs.
"Not in, but to whom, as in engaged to be married." Sax arranged the tomatoes around the eggs.
"No shit," Devil sputtered. "I'd have laid odds she wasn't a cheating woman."
Me too. Go figure.
"Did she inform you of this before or after?" Devil tore a slice of the crusty bread in half and topped it with a cluster of tomatoes, red pimentos, and a translucent slice of pata negra, the famous air-dried ham produced only in Spain and Portugal.
"After I told her I wanted to see her again," Sax replied, signaling a passing waiter.
"Ouch. Tough. She's a very tempting morsel."
Who probably gave me an STD.
"I have to find her."
"Another coffee?" the waiter asked.
"A couple of shots of tequila," Sax countered. He waited until the waiter left the table. "The condom broke."
"Double fucking ouch. She isn't local--Nalini, that is. Guess you may need this, then." Devil thumbed through the photos on his phone. "I took a shot of the two of you last night."
"Not exactly sure, Luce. Something just wasn't right." Devil dragged a hand through his mop of black curls--a gift of his Portuguese heritage. "She made a beeline for you."
"It's not a rare occurrence," Sax grumbled.
"Yeah, we all know that women throw themselves at you. Yada, yada."
Sax stared at the head shot of the woman he'd fucked last night. No doubt about her beauty or the quiet intelligence glistening from her dark gaze, but there was some intangible quality he couldn't pin down, some deja vu frisson that had tarantulas crawling across his vertebrae.
"What're you going to do?"
"Find Andrea and figure out if she can tell me how to contact Nalini." Sax checked the photo again.
"I'm taking it that Nalini doesn't know the rubber broke?"
"She left before I noticed." Sax waved a hand. "And I don't need to hear a single fucking word about that."
"Her future husband won't be thrilled."
"I'm not thrilled," Sax barked.
"Accidents happen." Devil shrugged.
"I've had that condom in my wallet for at least a year. I should've known better."
"You haven't fucked a woman? In a year?"
"For fuck's sake, Devil. I usually confine my activities to Trina in New York in the comfort of my own bed where I have a stash of fresh rubbers." The waiter arrived not a moment too soon with the tequila shots.
Nalini had tasted of tequila and lime.
Sax shoved the two glasses to the side.
Now I'm soured on tequila.
"What time's your flight?"
"An hour. You?"
"Same. Do you know about the meeting with the new client this afternoon?"
"Yeah, I'll be there. I'm heading back to the hotel. Do me a favor and see if you can get Andrea's phone number from the bartender."
"And e-mail me the pic of Nalini."
Nalini. So she was Indian. A faint memory stirred but failed to coagulate; he'd heard the name before but couldn't place where or when. Sax wandered back to the Hilton on autopilot, his thoughts too divergent to focus but returning repeatedly to the night before. Nalini hadn't shown an ounce of guilt about the man she was engaged to, had mentioned the engagement nonchalantly, almost as an afterthought.
Norwegian by birth and upbringing Sax didn't have any Quaker hang-ups about sex. He fucked responsibly. All his partners understood he had no interest in a deep relationship. Casual frolicking sex with women who could converse intelligently and happened to be stunning formed the basis of his sexual liaisons. Because of the demands of their new firm, he and the rest of the Hades Squad had been working long, arduous hours, and for the last few months, sex had been regulated to hasty shower masturbation and Trina, his longtime fuck buddy, when he could fit her in.
Just as he slipped the key card into the slot and opened the door of the suite, his cell rang. He checked the screen--Satan, aka Lorcan McGuillycuddy, the de facto head of their new company. "You're burning the midnight oil."
"Tying up some loose ends from the Indonesian Express job," Satan commented.
"We find our missing crew member yet?" Sax asked. The Hades Team had recently rescued a container ship from pirates in the Indian Ocean, and one of the hostages, the only female crewmember, had gone AWOL before she could be debriefed. Since the terms of the agreement with the shipping line had been full payment when all crewmembers had been accounted for, they needed to find the missing woman.
"Nah. Tomorrow the eleven o'clock news will lead with the story, but with only that lousy profile shot of her. I doubt we'll get a response. That's not why I called. Your father's in town. He's sitting in on our meeting with the new client. It seems he recommended us to them."
"Strange. He hasn't called me," Sax mused. He and his father, a diplomat and a member of the prestigious International Olympic Committee, had an excellent relationship, and though his folks lived in Oslo most of the year, the family stayed in close contact.
"It's a missing-person case."
"What?" Sax shook his head. His thoughts had strayed to Nalini again, and he'd lost the gist of the conversation.
"The case your father recommended to us. It's a missing-person case."
"I thought we'd agreed not to take any of those."
"Did you expect me to refuse your father?"
"Point taken. Anything else?"
"I hear you got dumped."
Sax knew Satan wore a smug grin, and he knew his next request would make the man howl. "I need the name of the lab we use."
"The forensic lab?"
"One that can do a battery of STD tests."
He hung up after listening to a full minute of Satan hooting.
The trip back to New York proved uneventful. Sax managed to contact their friendly El Meson waitress, Andrea, after arriving at La Guardia at around noon. Turned out Andrea and Nalini had met three days earlier at the Manitou gallery in Santa Fe. Andrea said Nalini had been living in Europe for the last couple of years, but didn't have a contact number for her.
Sax had to rush to make the afternoon meeting at the Hades Squad's new offices located in Amityville on Long Island. He literally bumped into Satan as he strolled through the main doorway.
"What's up?" Satan's features lived up to his nickname--black hair, black eyes, olive complexion, one Roman nose broken three times, and a permanent five o'clock stubble darkening his chin and jaw.
"Shit just hit the fan. You're not going to like this, Sax. I was broadsided too."
They never called each other by their real names. "What? Something wrong with Destiny?"
Sinner, aka Linc Chapman, a member of the team, had recently married, and the Hades Squad had adopted his new wife, Destiny, in a heartbeat.
"No, it's not Destiny. Much closer to home."
"My family?" A rake could have scraped the back of his neck--his skin and hair tingled that much.
"A picture's worth a thousand words, and all that kind of crap. Follow me. It'll become evident only too soon." Satan stomped through the reception area, which boasted a modular cherrywood desk sporting an oversize flat-panel LCD, an olive tartan-patterned upholstered couch, two matching chairs, and a low coffee table with a stack of magazines arranged by size.
The first person he saw upon entering the conference room was his father. He had his arm around a woman dressed in a tailored navy skirt and a crisp snowy blouse. She looked to be in her fifties and wore an exquisite pearl necklace with matching earrings and bracelet. Another man around the same age wearing a pinstriped suit Sax recognized as Savile Row tailor-made stood on the other side of the woman, holding out a mug, which the woman accepted.
Satan slapped a legal file on the table, Sax's father raised his head, and a jolt of affection and admiration shot through Sax as his eyes met his father's.
"Son, I'm glad to see you."
"Dad." Sax marched over to shake his father's hand and give him a hug and a shoulder pat. "I hear you've brought us a new client." Sax turned to face the older couple, and a deja vu foreboding spiraled up his spine, numbing the pads of his fingers.
"You remember Dr. Haresh Marajh and his wife, Chandani."
Sax might as well have been standing on a Norwegian fjord at the icy chill that sailed from his toes to his scalp. "Of course. You were stationed in Norway for a few years. I remember your son, Tarak. We attended the same school and were good friends. I believe you also have a daughter, Nalini."
The woman I fucked not fifteen hours ago.