"I know who you are."
The voice was all burr and rough music, the words slanted at the edges like her eyes. Wayne thought it was silly getting a tingle in his gut, just hearing this woman finally speak. He saw in her gaze the message he had come to know all too well. The one that said, I'm not going to give you anything like what you want. Not now, not ever.
But there was nothing to be gained by letting her know he knew. So he leaned back in his chair, crossed his arms, and asked coolly, "And you are?"
"My name is my own. I will tell you only if you agree to help. Otherwise, I will leave here today and you will never see me again."
The longer she spoke, the more distinctive her accent became. A slight rolling of the r's, a musical inflection to some vowels. Try as she might to give him nothing but serious chill, the woman tasted each word in a most exotic fashion.
She made a mistake then. That is, if she intended on holding this little gathering to a totally professional level. Nerves or a simple desire to dominate caused her to rise from her chair and begin to pace.
Jerry emerged from the kitchen. Foster settled back in his chair, deeply involved in the show. The woman transformed the bare boards into a catwalk rimmed with lights and cameras.
"I represent a very important businessman. He holds considerable power in central Florida. He ..."
It was the woman's turn to take a two-armed grip upon herself. She wore a skirt of linen smoke and a matching jacket tight enough to make self-hugging a strain. But she did it anyway. She held on and she paced.
"You might as well tell him," Eilene said. "It won't get any easier."
The woman said, "He believes he has been visited by an angel."
She made two more circuits of Wayne's tiny front room before Jerry said, "Run that last bit by us again."
"You heard her," Eilene said.
"I heard the words, but I'm not putting them together well."
"An angel," the woman repeated.
"As in, guardian angel?"
"He doesn't believe in them."
Eilene said, "Guardian angel is a Catholic term. Or earlier. A lot of pagan sects hold to the concept. There's nothing in the Bible to suggest humans have individual ..." She stopped because of the look her brother gave her. "What?"
Wayne said, "Skip the history lesson and get to the now."
The woman stopped by the rear window. She said to the outside world, "He believes he has been visited by an angel."
"God's holy messenger," Eilene said.
Jerry asked, "This guy, he's a religious nutcase as well as rich?"
The woman just stared out the window.
"I've known him for fifteen years," Eilene said. "He's a friend. Yes, he lives for his faith. And no, he's not insane."
The woman said, "That's what I want you to find out."
Wayne asked, "Why me?"
The woman touched the glass by her face. As though wanting to assure herself of reality.
Eilene said, "Something the angel told him."
The woman corrected, "If it was an angel."
"Of course," Eilene said.
Wayne asked his sister, "You were there?"
"Then, if you don't mind, I'd like to hear it from her."
The woman said, "I was not there either."
"But this guy, he described it to you, right? So tell me what he said."
The woman's accent grew decidedly stronger. "The angel told this gentleman that he was in grave danger and must hide himself away—his life and the lives of his family depended on it. The angel also told him to find himself a warrior. Someone he can trust to act as his arms and legs. This warrior must be one who gives his strength to the weak. One who cares little for gold."
She was Russian, Wayne decided. Or one of the break-off states with stan at the end of its name. It went with the slanted eyes and the haughty demeanor. "I don't have anything against money."
"You refused your commission," Holly pointed out.
Foster asked, "That's what you three were doing in your office before you come marching over here. Talking about how you were going to set our buddy up, see if he'd go for the money?"
Eilene said, "We had to know."
"He's your brother."
"That's right. And this is a friend in a crisis situation." Eilene vented a trace of steam with her words. "Since the incident, her boss has refused to leave his estate. He's turned his entire empire over to associates. Some of whom she does not trust."
Wayne said, "So you think one of his people used this guy's religion against him—"
"His faith," Eilene corrected. "This has nothing to do with religion."
Wayne waited until he was sure she was done, then continued, "Used it against him so they could take control of his company?"
The woman did not respond.
Jerry said, "Man, that is cold."
"Tell me," Eilene said.
Wayne said, "So you want me to investigate this situation and discover who's behind the scam."
"No." The woman turned around and gave him a look of feline fear. "I want you to keep my friend alive."
All Through the Night by Davis Bunn
Copyright © 2008; ISBN 9780764205422
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.