The Ideal Man (Buchanan-Renard 9)

Page 9

He remembered the route she had shown him, and it didn’t take any time at all to get her home. He parked the car in front of her building, turned the motor off, then unhooked his seat belt and hers.
“Come on, sweetheart. You need to get to bed.”
The second he touched her arm she was alert. “You don’t need to walk in with me.”
“Yes, I do.”
When he opened her car door, he took her hand.
Neither one of them said another word until they were inside her apartment. He did a quick check, pulled her phone out of his pocket, and handed it to her. Then he bent down and kissed her. She leaned into him and that was all the permission he needed. He wrapped his arms around her and deepened the kiss. She followed his lead and used her tongue to drive him as wild as he was driving her.
What was the harm in a few kisses . . . farewell kisses . . . she thought, as her arms curled around his neck.
Max pulled back, looked into her eyes, and with a low growl kissed her again. He loved the taste of her, like sugar and mint, and the feel of her soft, luscious body pressed against him. Most of all he loved the way she responded to him.
How could he resist her? The kiss was hot, wet, thoroughly arousing, and when Max realized it was getting out of control and he didn’t want to stop, he forced himself to end it. He couldn’t seem to let go of her, though. Holding her tight, he took a couple of deep, shaky breaths, trying to regain some semblance of control. He knew he shouldn’t have started this. He should let go of her and walk out the door. Yeah, that’s what he should do. Ellie wasn’t the one-night-only kind of girl. She wasn’t a hookup or a throwaway, as some of the guys in the office called their one-night stands.
Let go and walk out the door. He silently chanted the command and still didn’t move. How could he? Ellie was kissing the pulse at the base of his neck, making his heart rate accelerate. She kissed the side of his neck, then moved up to his ear. Her mouth was soft against his skin, and her tongue was driving him nuts.
He tightened his hold on her. “We need to stop this,” he began, realizing his words contradicted his actions, since he couldn’t make himself let go.
“I know,” she whispered, kissing him again.
“I’ve got to get back to Honolulu, and I don’t want to . . .” He was losing his train of thought, and all he could think about was kissing her.
“You don’t want to what?” she asked. Her fingers splayed into his hair as she leaned up to kiss his jaw.
He had to think about the question for several seconds, then said, “Hurt you. Yeah, that’s it. Sex tonight, gone tomorrow, I don’t think you could handle that.”
The truth was, he wasn’t sure he could handle it either. Ellie was going to be real hard to walk away from, almost impossible. He didn’t question why he felt that way, just knew it in his heart. She was so different from the other women he had known. She wouldn’t be forgettable.
“Ellie, it would be easy for me to get you into bed . . . ,” he began.
Easy? She felt her spine stiffen. How egotistical! A couple of seconds passed before honesty kicked in. He was telling the truth. It would be easy for him, but it would be just as easy for her to get him into bed. And hadn’t she decided that was a bad idea?
Her lips brushed his jaw when she said, “And I’d end up getting hurt?”
“Yes.” His voice shook. “I think you would.”
Ellie pulled away. “You’re right,” she said with a sigh. “You need a more experienced woman, someone who knows what she’s doing.” God, he was arrogant, but oh was he sexy. It took all she had not to throw herself into his arms again, but instead, she opened the door. “Have a nice flight home.”
Ben surprised Ellie early Sunday afternoon when he knocked on her door and told her he would drive her to the police station to look at some photos. If he had arrived fifteen minutes later, he would have missed her. Dressed casually in jeans, a white T-shirt, and tennis shoes, Ellie was throwing her phone into her purse with her lipstick, brush, wallet, latex gloves—she had learned never to be without them—a pack of tissues, and a small plastic bottle of disinfectant. She never left home without that item either.
She didn’t ask Ben where Max was, but he volunteered the information anyway. “Rob—that would be Agent Hughes,” he explained, “wanted Max’s help interviewing another possible witness. A young man was cutting through the park and says he saw the Landrys.”
“He can identify them?”
“We’ll see,” Ben said, unwilling to say more.
“So he won’t be at the station?” she asked as she slid into the passenger seat of Ben’s car.
“Who? Max? No.”
“I meant Agent Hughes,” she explained. “I thought he wanted to be there when I looked at the photos.”
Ben shook his head. “He’s so anxious for you to identify the Landrys, it’s been suggested that he might inadvertently steer you toward those photos, so he’s going to stay away.”
She nodded. “That’s fine.”
“Agent Wahlberg will be there to observe,” he said. “He’s local.”
Ellie’s cell phone rang. She looked at the screen and said, “Excuse me. It’s the hospital.” After a brief conversation, she put the phone back in her purse. “I just dismissed Kyle. His aunt is there to pick him up. He’ll be staying with her,” she announced.
“That’s good,” Ben said. “I’d hate to think he’d have to deal with another Gorman.”
“He’s not a typical social worker. Most are very competent and understanding,” she said. “Hopefully, Gorman’s replacement will be more compassionate.”
A few blocks later Ellie said, “Tell me about the Landrys.”
“They’re a piece of . . .” He didn’t finish the sentence, although he thought of several choice words he could have used to describe the pair. “They started out in Omaha,” he began. “That’s where they lived until about five years ago.” He rubbed the back of his neck as he added, “They sell weapons to anyone who can pay. Untraceable weapons. They started small—handguns, every make and model, then moved up to semiautomatic, then moved up again. . . .”
He pulled onto the highway and cut over to the center lane. “There are guns on the street now with bullets that can cut through steel. Bulletproof vests don’t stand a chance.”
“I know. I’ve seen the damage they can do. We call them spinners.”
“The other surgeons and I,” she said. “The bullets spin around inside the body, shredding arteries and organs. Last winter I tried to repair the damage one did to a ten-year-old boy. His mother told me he was walking across the street when the shooting started.”
“Did he make it?”
“No, he was gone before we could get it out. I promised his mother I would never forget him, and I won’t. He was such a beautiful little boy. His name was Joel Watkins.” She turned to look out the side window as she said, “I know the Landrys didn’t sell that specific gun to the man who killed Joel, but to me they’re just as responsible. Anyone who puts guns on the street should be held accountable for every death.”
He didn’t disagree. “There are hundreds of other dealers, but the Landrys . . . well, they’re going to get a special place in hell.”
“No doubt,” she said.
“They moved to Honolulu a couple of years ago when they got into bigger and better weapons.”
“They must have had something very big going on to bring them all the way here.”
“Yes,” he said. “Unfortunately, the men they were meeting were killed in the park. It would have been nice if we could have turned one of them.”
They reached the station, and Ben found a parking spot in the lot around the corner.
Ellie followed him through a set of double doors and asked, “How long do you think it will take before you catch them?”
“Hard to say, but I’m sure they’ll eventually show up. If not here, then in
Honolulu. They’re used to getting pulled in.”
“And they’ll see what evidence you have?”
“And witnesses.”
She felt a shiver. She had been warned how they worked. Witnesses disappeared, and if there was no clear evidence to indict them, the Landrys went back to business as usual.
Agent Wahlberg was waiting for them at the front desk and escorted them up to the second floor to a long, spacious room. The walls were industrial beige, and the desks were all but on top of one another. Every desk had a computer monitor on it and a chair sitting adjacent to it. Most of them were empty, but it was Sunday and still early in the day. Tonight, she guessed, would be another story if the station was anything like the ER.
Ellie passed a large, slouch-shouldered Hispanic man wearing a tank top and jeans. He was handcuffed to his chair and sat next to a detective who was typing a report into his computer. She noticed a woman and a little boy anxiously watching the proceedings from a bench across the room and assumed they were related. The man’s head was bent as he grumbled answers to the detective’s questions.
Ellie walked by the man and paused momentarily. She also noticed something else, backtracked to get a better look, then continued on to the back of the room where Wahlberg and Ben waited. Wahlberg courteously pulled a chair out while Ben placed two binders on the desk in front of her. He opened one to a page of mug shots. After getting instructions from Wahlberg, Ellie proceeded to study the faces on each page.
Every few minutes she looked up to see what was happening with the man sitting with the detective. There wasn’t any question what she had to do. When she saw the detective unlock the handcuffs, she pushed her chair back, stood, and said, “Excuse me a minute.”
Ben started to follow her, but she raised her hand. “I’ll be right back.”
“What’s she doing?” Wahlberg asked.
“I don’t know,” Ben replied.
Ellie didn’t have any idea how the man would react, but it was her responsibility to talk to him.
“This is your lucky day, Carlos Garcia,” the detective was saying as she approached. “I’m gonna let you go, but I won’t be so lenient next time.”
As soon as Carlos stood, so did his wife and child. Ellie walked around the desk to face the man.
“I’d like to have a word with you in private.”
Carlos looked wary at first, then angry at the request. The detective stood and asked, “What do you need with him? Maybe I could help you?”
“No,” she answered. She thrust her hand out to Carlos, all but grabbing his to shake it.
“Who are you?” he asked, glancing at his wife and then back to her. “Did I do something to you?”
“No,” she assured him. “Would you mind following me? It will only take a minute.”
She didn’t wait for his response but walked toward the corner of the room. Carlos followed.
“Look, lady, I don’t know what you think—”
She interrupted. “My name is Dr. Sullivan,” she began.
And that was all the detective who had been working with Carlos heard. The rest of the conversation was spoken in such a low voice he couldn’t catch a word. A few moments later Carlos called his wife over, and she was included in the conversation. She nodded as she listened to what Ellie was saying, looking more and more worried.
“What is she doing?” Wahlberg asked the question again.
Ben shrugged. He watched Ellie lean over the desk, grab a piece of paper, and write on it before handing it to Carlos.
Ellie put her hand on Carlos’s shoulder. “This isn’t going to cost you anything. I promise. The doctor owes me. Just promise me you’ll go soon. I’ll make sure he works you in. My cell phone number is on the bottom,” she added, looking at his wife. “If there is any problem, you call me.”
Both Carlos and his wife shook her hand. Ellie even shook the little boy’s hand.
“Okay then,” Ben heard her say as she walked back to him.
Without a word of explanation, she resumed her inspection of the photos.
She looked up. “Yes?”
“Did you know that man?”
“No, I didn’t,” she replied as she turned the page.
“Why did you talk to him?” Wahlberg wondered.
“I needed to,” she answered, but she didn’t say another word about the matter.
She wasn’t going to explain that, as she walked past Carlos, she had noticed the mole on the back of his neck and, upon closer inspection, was 95 percent certain it was a melanoma. It needed to be checked as soon as possible.
Carlos’s wife had told Ellie she, too, had noticed it, and that she was sure it hadn’t been there long. That was a good sign. Hopefully, if it was melanoma, it would be caught before it spread throughout the body. Ellie wanted her diagnosis to be wrong, but she doubted it was.
Both agents let the matter drop. Ben pulled up a chair and began to answer some texts as he waited.
Ellie turned a page and continued to examine the pictures of some of the homeliest and most terrifying men and women she’d ever seen. And that was saying something considering the number of gangbangers she’d put back together.
Her phone beeped that she had a text, and she paused to respond to it. When she was finished, she turned to Ben. “Your wife says hello.”
He grinned. “What’s she worried about today?”
“Diet,” she answered. “And just for the record, I like hearing from her, so don’t tease her when you get home.”
“I won’t,” he promised.
Ellie turned back to the photos.
“Look who’s here,” Wahlberg said. “I knew Hughes couldn’t stay away. And that must be the guy who was in the park and says he saw the Landrys.”
She looked up to see two men coming toward her. The one leading the way appeared to be in his early forties, but his hair was prematurely gray and his face was creased with deep frown lines that suggested he was not used to smiling often. He carried himself with authority, so she suspected he was Hughes, the agent she’d been warned about. With him was a younger man with a lanky build. His long hair was combed forward, concealing his forehead and nearly covering his eyes. And right behind them was Max.
Her heart skipped a beat. Damn it, she thought she wouldn’t see him after last night. Now she had to go through the angst again?
Oh no, she wouldn’t, she decided. She would choose not to be affected by him.
Great plan, lousy follow-through. Her stupid heart was racing by the time he reached her. It didn’t help that he was dressed in a pair of jeans and a gray T-shirt that showed off the muscles in his chest and upper arms.
Stop noticing, she told herself. She said hello and quickly returned to the mug shots. She would rather have stared at Max, but then who wouldn’t? Ignore him, her better judgment told her. That was the key to averting a heart attack. A heart attack? The possibility of such a thing happening was so absurd she couldn’t help but smile.
“What are you smiling about?” Ben asked.
“These lovely photos.”
Agent Hughes came around the desk to face her. “We haven’t been introduced,” he said. “Don’t get up,” he added as he extended his hand.
He was a polite but extremely stiff man, Ellie decided. The job showed on his face, but he seemed pleasant enough and not as overbearing as Max had suggested.
“Have you looked through that book yet? Did you really examine each picture?” Hughes asked her.
“She just got started,” Ben said.
“You should probably back off,” Max added with some irritation in his tone. “Let her look at the mug shots without any pressure.”
“Introduce me to the lady,” the young man standing next to Max requested. “My name’s Greg,” he said as his eyes scanned her body from head to toe.
She started to say, “Ellie,” but Max was quicker. “She’s Dr. Sullivan.”
“What kind of a doct
or are you?” Greg asked.
“Why don’t you go sit at that desk over there and start looking through the binder,” Max suggested. He stood directly behind Ellie and casually placed his hands on her shoulders. “Or you could look at the photos on the computer. Your choice.”
“I’ll do what she’s doing,” Greg said. “In fact, why don’t I sit next to her, and we can go through the pictures together.”
“That’s not how this is gonna work,” Max said. “Go sit.”
“Ellie, have you looked through this entire binder?” Hughes asked. And before she could answer, he said, “Maybe you ought to start over.”
“Why don’t you go sit with Greg,” Ben said, “and let Ellie look without any prodding.”
Hughes raised a hand. “Okay, okay. Just make sure she—” “Enough already,” Max snapped.
“Do you want to tell her what page the Landrys are on?” Ben asked.
Hughes shook his head and crossed the room to get some coffee but turned back to say, “Maybe we should just put six or seven photos on the table like we usually do . . . maybe . . .”
“You can’t change the set now. Let her look.”
Ellie felt as though she were in the middle of some macho competition. Hughes’s demeanor had become so intense, she was glad he was going to give her some space, but she did start over on the first page. She paused halfway through and tapped a photo. “I remember him. He came through the OR last year. Switchblade nicked the lateral thoracic artery. It was a tough surgery.”
“Don’t nicks in arteries bleed out quickly?” Ben asked.
“Not when the surgeon has her finger on it holding it together.”
“You did that?”
She nodded as she studied more faces. Three pages later she tapped another photo. “Two bullets in the stomach. Horrible recovery.”
And on it went. Twice more she pointed to photos and described the surgeries.
Max leaned against the desk. He watched her look at both Cal and Erika Landry’s photos, which Hughes had inserted among the other mug shots, and there was absolutely no recognition on her part.