Home > Soul Mate(2)

Soul Mate(2)
Catherine Bybee

“I don"t remember asking for that.”

The blonde next to him laughed. “She did the same thing for you?”

“Yeah. Sitting at a counter in a diner gives her permission to pour coffee, I guess.”

Nick didn"t place her voice. He expected it to be high pitched and well...

blonde. But it wasn"t. It was slow, deep, and very sexy. The kind of voice men called 900 numbers to hear.

“So, should I have the pancakes?”

“Do you like pancakes?”

“Yes.”

“Then order them.”

“All right, I will.” He tossed the menu aside and turned to face her. “I know how this sounds,” he paused, took a breath, “but do I know you?”

She shifted and swallowed her mouthful of food while her eyes raked his form. Tilting her head back, she replied, “No, I don"t think so.”

“Are you sure? I never forget a face.”

“Now that sounds like a line.”

He put out his hand. “Nick Murdock.”

After wiping a hand on her napkin, she reached over. “Kari.”

Small, soft, and confident, again, not the combination he expected. By his estimates, she couldn"t be more than one hundred and twenty pounds yet she shook hands like a politician. She let go all too quickly, but not before he felt her pulse quicken. “Just Kari?”

“A girl can never be too careful, even to seemingly innocent men who wear FBI jackets in a Podunk diner.” Raising her fork she pointed to the paper with the dark headline. “You must be here because of that missing girl.”

Small, soft, confident, and he needed to add, smart. Nick was impressed.

“Found girl,” he corrected.

“Oh, I didn"t hear she"d been found. She"s all right, I hope.”

“Safe with her parents as we speak.”

Kari nodded and finished the last of her pancakes, which meant she"d be leaving soon. He hadn"t placed her yet and didn"t want her to leave. “So, you must be here on vacation.”

She put down her fork and stared across the counter at the wall. “Maybe I live here.”

Nick shook his head. “You called this a Podunk diner. Your shoes are meant for walking on Rodeo Drive and not the trails of the forest.” He leaned forward and sniffed. “And you smell like expensive perfume, not bug spray. No, Kari, I don"t think you live here.” Odd though, she wasn"t wearing a ring and didn"t have any trailing boyfriend or children at her side. Vacationing alone in the Sequoias struck him as odd.

“This is a nice place to visit,” she clipped out as she reached inside her purse.

Removing a ten-dollar bill and placing it by her plate, she stood up. “It was nice talking to you, Mr. Murdock. I"m glad the girl came back to you safe and sound.”

“Leaving already?”

Her smile was lethal, her laugh seductive. “I need to get back to Rodeo; Gucci is calling out to me.”

His chest rumbled in laughter.

As she walked away, his eyes followed the gentle sway of her hips. Damn, she was something to watch.

Once out of sight, he turned in his seat and brought the coffee cup to his lips. As he swallowed, his eyes landed on the car keys sitting next to Kari"s empty plate.

With a wicked smile, he covered them with his hand and headed toward the door.

Outside he watched her fumbling through her purse while standing in front of a four-wheel drive rental. A strand of blonde hair slid over her face; she tossed it back in frustration and mumbled a curse.

“Looking for these?” He held up the keys and shook them with a jingle.

Her head shot up, eyes narrowed.

“You left them on the counter,” he found himself explaining.

Taking a step in his direction, she reached out to capture them from his fingers. Nick playfully pulled them out of reach. She cocked her head to the side and dropped her hand.

“Have dinner with me,” he spoke before she could say anything.

“What?” She looked at him as if he was crazy.

“You know, dinner. Kind of like breakfast, only later and with wine.”

“Are you always so forward, Mr. Murdock?”

“Nick.”

“Are you always so forward, Nick?” she emphasized his name to express her annoyance.

“I believe in being direct.”

She took another step in his direction and smoothed her hair back. Her tongue shot out and moistened her lips. The action shot heat to his groin. “I"m glad to hear that, Nick. I believe in being direct, too.” Stepping closer, she brought one hand up between them, tilted her head back to gaze into his eyes. Low lashes fluttered in a way that proved she knew her affect on him.

A small shock registered when she trailed a finger down his arm. “I think you are very attractive.”

“That"s a start.” His voice grew husky. “But...”

“But,” she sighed and walked her fingers down his arm. “I don"t like being held hostage for a date.” With that, she grabbed her keys from his hand and turned to walk away.

A quick response had him grasping her arm. Kari twisted out of his hold with the skill of a trained officer. But when she stepped back, her left arm reached for her right shoulder. “Son of a...” she left the profanity out, turned white as a sheet, and leaned against the car.

Nick felt like an ass, their playful banter had somehow caused her pain.

“Damn, are you okay?”

“Fine!”

Moving her hand away from her shoulder, she fumbled with the key as blood seeped through her clothing.

“I don"t think so.” Ignoring her protest, Nick moved next to her and slid back the light jacket she wore. A large saturated bandage covered her shoulder.

“What happened?”

“Nothing.” Kari pushed him away and managed to open the car door.

Blood dripped down her arm as she practically jumped into the driver seat.

“You should have that looked at.”

“Thank you for your concern, Nick. But I can take care of myself. Now if you"ll excuse me.”

She slammed the door, turned over the engine, and gunned the car in reverse.

Nick stepped out of the way to avoid the gravel kicked up by the tires.

“Well done, Murdock. You couldn"t have messed that up better if you tried.”

Chapter Two

Kari shoved clothes into her suitcase with her cell phone nestled between her shoulder and ear.

“There"s nothing today?” Frustration filled her voice.

“I"m sorry, Miss Pierce, but the airport you"re requesting is small, and departing flights are only scheduled twice a week. The soonest I can get you anything is Thursday at one-thirty in the afternoon.”

The packing stopped, Kari flopped on the edge of the bed and groaned.

“Fine, I"ll take it.”

She finished with her reservation and hit end.

On speed dial, Kari called her office.

“Hey, sis,” Dee"s voice echoed over the airwaves. Kari could almost smell the nail polish that most certainly sat on the desk in the small one room office she kept.

“How is everything there?”

“Carter called. He says his wife was out again last night. He"s starting to think you can"t find any dirt on her.”

Kari rubbed the back of her neck and opened her e-mail on her laptop.

“Did you tell him I"m out of town on another assignment?”

“Yeah, but he didn"t seem to care. What is it with these guys?” Dee asked.

“They think the world revolves around them?”

“I"m afraid it"s a trait all men have.” Pausing, Kari thought of the men she"d worked for in the last seven years as a private investigator. All of them thought their case was in need of her dropping everything to solve. From unfaithful wives, girlfriends and even boyfriends to backstabbing employees and stealing maids, it was the end of their world if she couldn"t solve the case in three days.

“Tell Mr. Carter I"ll be in on Thursday.”

“Ahh, why so long?” Dee whined and Kari cringed.

“Airline delay.”

“Can"t you find another flight?”

“There aren"t any. Hold down the fort. And none of those three hour lunches.”

Dee laughed, yet Kari sensed her kid sister had already taken advantage of her absence.

“You"re a slave driver.”

“Well, go back to school and you won"t have to work for me.” It was a constant argument. One Kari knew her sister would blow off.

“I"ll take care of everything.”

“That"s what I"m afraid of.”

“Safe flight, sis. See ya Thursday.”

Kari felt her heart soften, “Love you, nut.”

“Bye.”

On a deep sigh, she tossed the phone on the bed and resolved herself to a few hours of work on-line before taking a much-needed nap.

Running a Private Investigative Agency was a lot more monotonous than it sounded. Kari considered bringing in another agent at one time, but changed her mind after interviewing all of four candidates. Their inquisitive nature was needed when spying on cheating spouses, but dangerous for her.

Dee didn"t even know she turned furry three nights a month around the full moon. And Kari didn"t want anyone else snooping around in her life figuring it out.

Her thoughts drifted to Nick Murdock. He pegged her as more than a tourist the minute he hit the diner door. It would only be a matter of time before he found more to be concerned with than her place of residence. Still, he was tempting. It had been quite a long time since her libido had been scratched. And she couldn"t remember a smile derailing her as Nick"s did.

Kari pulled up her sleeve and looked down at the damage the scumbag from last night had inflicted. Already the edges of her skin were mending together.

Healing fast was one of the perks of being a werewolf. It was the first thing she noticed after being bitten eight years before.

Shaking her head at the memories, Kari pushed away from her computer and opted for a shower and a nap before work.

It wasn"t as if she had anything better to do.

Having a badge with the three little letters F.B.I. stamped on it had its advantages. Nick fumbled through the yellow pages where he crossed lines through several names. The phone to his ear was ringing.

“Day"s Inn, how can I direct your call?”

“I"m checking to see if one of your guests has checked out yet?”

“What is the guest"s name?” the clerk asked while the tapping of computer keys vibrated through the line.

“Miss Kari Pierce?” Nick found her last name by pulling strings with the local sheriff and the rental car company.

“I"m sorry, sir, but we don"t see any guest by that name.”

“Hmm, I thought for sure she was staying at the Day"s Inn,” Nick lied, scratching off the name in the book.

“Have you tried Dave"s Inn on Twelfth Street?”

“Oh, maybe that was it. Do you have their phone number?”

Scribbled down the number she rambled off, Nick then disconnected the line.

After four more calls, he finally hit gold.

“No, Miss Pierce hasn"t checked out yet, would you like me to connect you to her room?”

“Please.”

The operator made the connection, but Nick hung up on the first ring.

Almost immediately, the phone rang again.

“Murdock,” he answered.

“It"s Thompson.”

“Did you find anything on Kari Pierce?”

“Yeah, but I don"t think it"s what you"re expecting?”

Oh, that didn"t sound good. “Any sheet?”

“No, Miss Pierce doesn"t have a record, but her name did come up involving a double homicide.”

Nick felt his neck tighten. “Whose?”

“Her parents, Ron and Susan Pierce. They were attacked by a pack of dogs.

Kari Pierce was with them at the time it happened, got pretty messed up herself from the pictures I have here.”

“Attacked by dogs and it was labeled a homicide?” Nick"s pencil tapped on the pad before him.

“According to an eyewitness, the dogs were directed to kill by their owner.”

Nick did his best to hold back the images filling his head. He started remembering bits and pieces about the case. Only it wasn"t a case he actually worked. His brow wrinkled. No, it was one used in case studies for the bureau.

“Send me copies of the file,” Nick instructed.

“They"re already in cyberspace.”

He smiled. Thompson always anticipated his requests.

“Great. Was there anything else on her?”

“No, not really. Looks like Miss Pierce works as a PI in LA.”

Now we’re talking. No wonder she was so quick to get out of his hold.

“Thanks again, Thompson.”

Nick opened the files from his in-box and watched the crime scene photos unfold in front of him. Recognition flooded.

The pictures he had seen before. Ron and Susan Pierce sprawled in the open and dead in the parking lot of a rural department store. Kari Pierce, only eighteen years old at the time, had made it to the backseat of her parent"s car with a younger sibling and escaped the brunt of the attack. But when she realized her parents were being killed, Kari left the car and attempted to save them.

Nick swallowed hard when Kari"s picture came up on his computer. He had seen this picture before. Blood soaked hair with a gash running down the side of her neck, and another above her left eye. Her eyes were most striking. The same piercing blue, only in these photos they appeared haunted by her ordeal.

The first time he had seen these pictures, he remembered thinking, „What a shame, her beautiful face forever scarred by the attack."

His brows pinched together. Yet, she didn"t seem to bear any scars at all. He knew plastic surgery did wonders, but having no scars after such a vicious assault was unheard of.

Nick continued to read the report. At least three dogs were involved, and at one point the dogs turned on each other. In the end, the animals left the scene in two separate cars driven by men who were later apprehended. Before the case went to trial, the men „accidentally fell" in prison and broke their necks.

Snatching his keys from the dresser, Nick headed out the door. Some relief came at knowing where he had seen Kari Pierce before, but now he had other questions.

Questions he planned on asking in person.

It wasn"t often Kari had the opportunity to extend her stay when on assignment. A flight delay was as good as any excuse to see the Sequoias. With the nights of the full moon behind her, she didn"t need to stash clothing in the woods to retrieve after the change. Out of habit, Kari always hiked with a complete backpack full of life"s essentials: water, food, clothes, a blanket, lighter, flashlight, and a smutty romance novel was all Kari needed to get by. She didn"t plan on sleeping in the elements, but if night fell she could.

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