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In Shadows by Sharon Sala (1)

One

The showerhead was still dripping when Shelly McCann walked out of the master bath into the bedroom. Her steps were slow and measured as she dropped the dirty clothes in the hamper and glanced at the clock. It was almost midnight. She was going to hate herself in the morning when the alarm went off at 6:00 a.m., but it was hard to sleep alone.

She turned down the bed and was just getting ready to crawl between cool sheets when she heard a beep, beep, beep, beep and knew someone had just turned off her security alarm.

She spun toward the doorway, her heart hammering so hard she could barely breathe as she heard the solid thud of footsteps moving toward her. Someone was running down the hall!

All of a sudden the dark silhouette of a tall man with long hair filled the doorway of her bedroom. Her legs went weak.

“Oh my God, oh my God.”

Seconds later she was in her husband’s arms, returning kiss for kiss, pulling off his jacket as he removed his shoulder holster, unbuckling his belt so he could push the jeans down his legs. At the same time, he ripped the snaps open on his shirt, then reached for her nightgown and pulled it over her head.

Shelly was trembling. It had been so long since she’d seen Jack. At least a month. And when he sat down on the bed, she pulled off his boots so he could take off his jeans.

There was no foreplay and no need. He wrapped his arm around her and fell backward onto the bed, taking her with him.

Shelly was hot and wet and crying, “Hurry, Jack, hurry,” when he slid between her legs and began a steady, rhythmic thrust.

“Love you, baby, love you, love you. Ah God, you feel so good,” Jack whispered, and then tunneled his fingers through her long curly hair and kissed her.

It was always like this. The first time in hunger and desperation with no way to control what was happening. Sex lit the fuse, and the fuse was short.

Shelly was riding that glorious heat when the climax exploded within her. She screamed, which broke what was left of Jack’s control. He tensed, shuddering from the power of the climax rolling through him. Their ragged breathing filled the space around them, and for a few minutes more they held on to the afterglow, lying motionless in each other’s arms.

Then Jack finally raised up on both elbows and smiled at the well-loved look on her face.

“Hey, baby.”

She sighed. “Hey, yourself,” she said, and put her hands behind his neck and pulled him close.

“I missed you so much,” Jack said, as he leaned down and kissed the hollow at the base of her throat. “Are you okay at work? Nothing happening that’s causing you trouble?”

“It’s all good. Being a CPA is smooth sailing. Numbers don’t argue and they don’t lie. Only people.”

He was running his hands along her body, and it was making him hard again. He knew she could feel it, because she shivered.

“Again?” he asked.

She wrapped her legs around his waist and pulled him deep inside her. And so the dance began again, only this time slower. By the time they hit detonation again, she was out of her mind.

* * *

Two hours later, Jack was getting dressed while Shelly watched from the bed.

“How much longer is this assignment going to last? It scares me,” she said.

He sat down beside her, aware of the fear in her eyes, and thought she became more beautiful to him with each passing year. He’d loved her since he first saw her in ninth grade—a tall, skinny blonde with wild, flyaway curls and braces on her teeth. By the next year they were inseparable, and nothing had changed after all these years except the ring on her finger and his job.

“I’m sorry, Shelly. I promised you this assignment will be my last undercover job and I meant it. I can’t give you a time line, but I can keep that promise. Can you give me that much?”

Shelly crawled into his lap and put her arms around his neck.

“I would wait for you forever,” she whispered, and leaned into his kiss, shivering from the touch of his hands on her bare body.

It was Jack who finally called the inevitable halt as he grasped her by the shoulders.

“I love you so much, but I have to leave. I’ve already been gone too long. I don’t know when I’ll get to see you again,” he said, then made himself get up and finish dressing.

Shelly was trying to distract herself from dissolving into tears. “You do know all that long dark hair is kinda sexy.”

He grinned as he stomped his feet down into his boots and then pocketed his car keys.

“Not nearly as sexy as you sitting naked in that bed.”

She laughed.

He blew her a kiss and was gone.

She heard the security alarm being reset and then nothing, which meant he had parked somewhere else and came to their house on foot. One of Jack’s first concerns with every undercover job he’d been on was to make sure the perps never found out Shelly existed.

She glanced at the clock. Three hours of sleep. Oh my God. But he was worth it.

She lay back down, pulled the covers up over her bare body and cried herself to sleep.

* * *

Five blocks over, Jack was standing in the shadows only yards from his car, searching the area to see if he’d been made. He stood motionless for a good ten minutes until he was satisfied there was no one awake in his vicinity, then walked out of the shadows, got in his car and drove away.

The city streets of Houston were never devoid of traffic, but it was sparse compared to what it would be after the sun came up. He drove straight toward the Port of Houston, to a warehouse on Morgan’s Point owned by his current boss, a man named Adam Ito, who ran an import/export business.

Ito had been on the Feds’ watch list for at least three years, a suspect dealing in black market weapons to whatever country was willing to pay his price. So far, they’d never been able to pin anything on him, which was Jack’s latest assignment. Find the evidence to take him down. But four months undercover was getting old.

By the time he got back to the warehouse it was nearing 4:00 a.m. He parked up near the building, pocketing his keys as he reached the entrance, then knocked. The door swung inward, bringing Jack face-to-face with Mahalo Jones, the man who ran Ito’s work crew.

Mahalo frowned. “Where da fuck you been?”

“Chasing tail. Get out of the doorway,” Jack growled.

Mahalo’s frown deepened, but he stepped aside, then yelled at him as he was walking away.

“It’s a good thing you didn’t turn up late for the shipment comin’ in. Boss man would have had your ass.”

Jack turned on one heel and in seconds was in Mahalo’s face, jamming a finger into his chest.

“I chased ass because it’s my damn life, and I’m here because a shipment isn’t due for hours, which means I am not late, and I don’t take crap from anyone, so save your damn opinions for someone who cares. Got it?”

Mahalo looked like he wanted to punch Jack in the face just to watch him bleed, but he didn’t. Judd Wayne—Jack’s alias—was known as the kind of guy who would fight until one of them was unconscious...or dead.

When Mahalo didn’t say anything, Jack nodded. “That’s what I thought,” he said, and headed for the crew’s lounge area.

All he wanted was one of the cots to grab a couple hours of sleep, but the hair was standing up on the back of Jack’s neck as he walked away. He could feel Mahalo’s hate, but that went both ways. When he got to the lounge area, he eyed the cots scattered about the room.

There were seven other men sleeping in this room, and two empty bunks. One empty bunk was at the back of the room, and one at the front. He chose the one closest to the door, giving him a quick exit should the need arise. He pulled the nine-millimeter Glock from his shoulder holster and laid it beside the pillow.

The airless room reeked from the varied odors of unwashed bodies and the remnants of week-old pizza slices, but discomfort was all part of the job. He hung his jacket over a ladder-back chair against the wall beside the bed, took off his boots and then rolled over onto his side facing the door. With the Glock held loosely in his hand, he thought of Shelly and closed his eyes.

* * *

Adam Ito was buck naked, facedown on a massage table, slick with essential oils and groaning from the footsteps of the tiny Asian woman named Ling, who was walking down the length of his back. Every time he felt something pop in his spine, he moaned. When she dropped off the side of the table in a single, catlike motion and told him to turn over, his pulse reacted.

He knew what was coming next and held his breath as she climbed back up, straddled his legs and slowly lowered herself down onto his very slick, very hard erection. She was tight and hot and he came inside her before she was all the way down.

After a leisurely shower together, and a blow job that sent him to his knees, he sent Ling on her way and got dressed, before leaving his playhouse to head home.

It was nearing 1:00 a.m., and Tommy, his limo driver, was waiting in the driveway when Adam exited the small, unassuming house on the outskirts of Pasadena. The night sky was clear, but the lights of a city as vast as Houston made stargazing difficult.

Adam took a deep breath, imagining he could almost taste the salt air of the seaport city, and then went down the steps to go home. Tommy opened the door to the limousine without speaking. As soon as Adam was seated, the driver shut the door and quickly left the area.

Adam Ito felt good all the way to his bones. He was pleased with his very perfect, very orderly life.

* * *

The next morning, Tommy was again waiting beside the limo for his boss, but this time it was at Adam’s estate in the Memorial area of Houston. When he saw him coming toward the limo, he jumped out to open the door.

Despite the heat, Adam was wearing a white suit and shirt along with snakeskin shoes in a silver-gray leather. The only bit of color about his person was a Gucci necktie in robin’s egg blue. He led with his chin as he approached, indicative of how Adam also lived his life.

“Good morning, sir,” Tommy said, and bowed as he opened the car door.

Adam acknowledged the deference with a nod. “Good morning, Tommy. Straight to the office today.”

“Yes, sir,” Tommy said. “Ginger tea with lemon in the bar,” he added, and quietly closed the door as his boss settled into his seat and poured himself a cup of hot tea to enjoy on the ride downtown.

Within twenty minutes, they were caught in a traffic snarl on the 610 Loop and waiting for it to clear when Adam’s cell signaled a call. He glanced down at caller ID and immediately closed the window between him and the driver before he answered.

“Yes?”

“There is a very hot shipment of long-range missiles available. They are prototypes. Are you interested?” the caller asked.

“Prototypes? Do they work in existing launchers and how long range are we talking about?” Adam asked.

“Yes, to the launchers, and five hundred kilometer range. They came straight off an assembly line. The lot needs to move, ASAP.”

Adam frowned. “How many?”

“A thousand...in twenty crates,” his contact said.

Now it was time to get down to business. “What’s the price?” Adam asked.

“Twenty million.”

Adam snorted softly. “Granted that’s a good price, but for untested missiles?”

“That’s the going rate and they are not untested, just yet to be used in warfare. Think of the surprise effect of being three hundred miles away from an attack target. Launch at night...and unless they have high-tech radar on the ground, you’re golden.”

“What’s the accuracy?” Adam asked.

“Testing shows a seventy-five percent success rate right now. You know you’ll be making ten times over the buyout when you sell.”

Adam didn’t hesitate. “Delivery date?”

“Today is Wednesday. You will receive delivery at 3:00 a.m. Friday morning. They’ll produce the products, if both parties are satisfied, you will make the money transfer into his chosen account, then they will unload at your warehouse. It’ll be up to you to get the crates inside a shipping container. Once you’re good to go, one of those ship-to-shore cranes will do the rest.”

“And your cut?” Adam asked.

“The usual one percent of your cost.”

“I want you on-site for this one,” Adam said.

The caller’s voice sharpened. “You know that’s not going to happen. Ever. If this business model bothers you, it will be simple to offer the goods to other buyers.”

Adam frowned. He didn’t like to feel controlled in any way, but he chose not to push the issue. “Fine,” he said, as the line went dead in his ear.

He dropped the phone into his jacket pocket and glanced up. They were moving again.

* * *

Still wearing the afterglow of Jack’s unexpected visit, Shelly walked into work in baby blue slacks and a white short-sleeve blouse. She’d pulled the long curls away from the sides of her face today, clipping them at the nape of her neck with her favorite silver clip, but it was the big smile on her face that drew her coworker’s attention.

“Morning, Shelly. Who took you to bed last night?”

Shelly’s comeback was tinged with surprise that Mitzi would ask that, and worry that she’d let part of her private life slip into where she worked.

“What kind of a question is that, Mitzi Shaw? Do I ask you how many times you and Joe do the dirty? And just for the record, I took myself to bed and the smile was because I felt like smiling, and now I don’t.”

Mitzi frowned. “Dang. I was only making polite conversation.”

“In no way is that question part of polite conversation. Lord... I may as well work in a bar,” Shelly muttered, and went to her own cubicle to begin her day.

She kept books for five different businesses at Bates and Davis, the accounting firm where she worked, and she was good at her job. Most of the time working with numbers was calming to her. There were no variables in accounting. Numbers told the story, and if they didn’t balance out, then the search would be on. Shelly liked sure things.

Like how she’d felt the first time she’d seen Jack walking into a classroom her freshman year of high school. She’d been absolutely positive that he would love her and that they’d live happily ever after.

That was her first sure thing she marked as memorable. And it still held true today. She couldn’t wait for the case he was working on to be over.

When noontime came, Mitzi ambled over to Shelly’s cubicle and then peered over the divider.

“Want to go to lunch with me, or are you still too pissed?”

Shelly hit Save on the program she was in, then looked up.

“Yes, I’ll go to lunch with you. We’ll talk about your love life instead.”

Mitzi blushed. “Zinger...and a good one. I promise no more ‘inquiring minds want to know’ shit, okay?”

Shelly smiled. “Yes.”

“How does Chinese sound?” Mitzi asked, as Shelly grabbed her purse.

“Like a good idea. It’s right across the street, which leaves us a little more time to enjoy the meal, instead of rushing back.”

Outside was slap-in-the-face hot, which left no time to dawdle as they walked down to the crosswalk. Traffic was thick and it was loud. Pissed-off cabdrivers were honking at each other, trying to maneuver their cabs three lanes wide on a two-lane street.

“Lord, remind me why I thought Houston would be a swell place to live,” Mitzi muttered, as sweat beaded on her upper lip and on the back of her neck.

Shelly pointed at the crosswalk light and then they started walking within the moving crowd. Her purse was crossways over her shoulder with the bag pulled around in front of her chest, and held firmly within her grasp. As a law officer’s wife, safety first had been drilled into her from the beginning of their married life.

About halfway across, she felt the strap give on her shoulder and then a hard yank. She tightened her hold as she pivoted and saw the man behind her. He was holding the cut purse strap with one hand, and the knife he’d used to cut it in the other. Without thinking, she reacted just as Jack had taught her, kicking out as she spun, using the momentum of the turn to land a bone-breaking kick straight on the kneecap.

She heard it pop over the loud blare of the traffic and followed up the kick with the heel of her hand, ramming it into his nose.

Blood splattered as the thief dropped the purse strap. His knee went out from under him as his eyes rolled back in his head. He dropped in the middle of the crosswalk, flat on his back, unconscious.

Mitzi was screaming. Traffic had come to a complete stop all four ways, and as the crowd parted around them, a city cop cruising past witnessed the last half of what was happening.

He hit lights and siren as he radioed in the assault, and then he pulled his vehicle up to a curb and got out, already directing traffic before the man got run over.

“Get him out of the street!” he yelled, and three young men came running to move him to the sidewalk.

Shelly was rattled and she was angry. He’d ruined her Coach purse, which had been a Christmas gift from Jack.

“Ma’am, are you hurt?” the policeman asked, as Shelly and Mitzi followed the crowd out off the street.

“No, just shaken,” she said, and held up the strap on her purse. “I felt him cut it.”

Mitzi wasn’t screaming anymore, but she was trembling.

“How did you know to do that?” she asked.

Shelly shrugged. “My husband taught me.”

The cop handcuffed the thief, who was already regaining consciousness, sat him up so he wouldn’t choke on his own blood and then called for an ambulance.

“I’ll need your information,” the cop said.

“We’re on our lunch hour,” Mitzi said, and then realized that had nothing to do with what had just happened, and shut up.

Shelly was too rattled to cope with both Mitzi and the cop. “Mitzi, go eat. There’s no need for both of us standing here missing lunch.”

Mitzi hesitated. It didn’t seem right abandoning her friend.

“Seriously, Mitzi. I have to do this, you don’t.”

Mitzi finally nodded. “Okay. I’ll bring you takeout,” she said, and looked over her shoulder twice as she walked away.

Shelly’s hand was beginning to hurt a bit, but she could move everything just fine, which meant nothing was broken. She pulled out her ID and began giving her statement while the sun continued its high noon phase, making the top of her head feel like it was on fire. At first she was just uncomfortable, but in a few short minutes she began feeling sick.

She could hear approaching sirens and started watching the traffic, praying for their arrival. But after a couple of minutes when they still hadn’t come, she interrupted the officer’s inquiries.

“Officer, either I get out of the sun, or you’re going to need another ambulance.”

He looked at her. She was pale and shaking like she was cold, which was impossible in Houston heat.

“It’s not going to take much longer,” he said.

“No, you don’t understand,” Shelly said. “I feel nauseous and dizzy.”

And just like that, the sirens were suddenly screaming in her head as cop cars and an ambulance pulled up simultaneously from different directions. But it was too late. Just as she had cautioned, her legs went out from under her and she was on the sidewalk.

Someone was trying to help her up, and people were talking to her, but she couldn’t focus.

“Get me inside somewhere cool. I need water,” she kept saying.

Someone handed her a bottle of water, and other people were lifting her to her feet and walking her inside the nearest business, which happened to be a florist shop. The immediate swath of cool air that washed over her body felt wonderful, but she was still weak and shaking.

One of the owners came running with a folding chair from the workroom, and another came with a handful of wet paper towels. Shelly drank water and held the wet towels on the back of her neck until she began feeling better. Finally she felt good enough to give Mitzi a call, glossed over what had happened and asked her to come to the florist when she was through to walk her back to the office.

The cop who’d kept putting her off finally had his perp on the way to ER and was free to come check on her.

“I’m really sorry, ma’am. I didn’t fully realize the seriousness of how you were feeling. Do you want me to call an ambulance for you?”

“No, I’m already feeling better. I’ll be okay, and my friend is going to walk back to the office with me.”

“You’re sure?” he asked.

“Yes, I’m positive. And thank you for the rescue.”

He grinned. “You rescued yourself. I didn’t do anything but pick him up off the street. And by the way, kudos to your guy. He was a good teacher,” the cop said, and left.

The shop owner came up front to check on her again between customers, then gave her fresh cold towels and another bottle of water.

Shelly took it all gladly. “You’ve been so kind. Thank you for helping me out like this. As soon as my friend shows up, I’ll be out of your way.”

The man patted her shoulder. “You aren’t in anybody’s way and I’m glad we could help. Take care now, and call out if you need anything more.”

Shelly was blinking back tears as he walked away. Everyone was being so kind, but the only person she wanted was Jack, and that was impossible.

A few minutes later, Shelly saw Mitzi coming up the street at a lope. Her purse was on one arm and Shelly’s to-go lunch in a sack on the other. Then she was inside the store, crying.

“I shouldn’t have left you. I’m so sorry, sweetie. I’m so sorry. Are you feeling better? I can call a cab for you and send you home. I’ll tell Willard what happened when I get back to the office.”

Shelly shook her head. “I think I’ll be—”

“No, I insist. You were attacked by a mugger! You’re white as a sheet and have no business going back to work. I’m going out to hail a cab. You watch through the window and come out when you see it stop.”

Going home was suddenly the most important thing she needed to do.

“Yes, yes, okay, I think I will,” Shelly said. “And thank you.”

Mitzi handed her the sack she was carrying. “Here’s your lunch. It’s on me. You get home, get comfy and eat, then spend the day resting. You had the best smile on your face when you came to work this morning and now this. Horrid people. Lazy, horrid thief.”

She leaned down and gave Shelly a quick kiss on her forehead and out the door she went.

Shelly stood up, mostly testing her equilibrium before trying to walk again, and sighed with relief. She was certainly steady enough to be mobile. She watched from the window until she saw the cab stopping, then left the shop.

Hit with the heat and humidity again, Shelly was suddenly glad she’d opted to go home.

“Thank you again,” she said, as Mitzi helped her inside the cab.

“You’re welcome. Now mind what I said. Rest.”

“Yes, yes, I will,” Shelly said.

Mitzi shut the door.

Shelly gave the driver her address and then leaned back in the seat and closed her eyes.