Blue-Eyed Devil Page 81

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"No, Miss Travis, he didn't say anything. I guess he seemed . . . tired."

"Okay. Thanks."

"No problem."

I hung up and sat with the phone in my lap, willing it to ring. But the damn thing was silent. I waited until I was certain Hardy had had enough time to reach his apartment, and then I called his main line. I got a voice message.

Flopping back on the sofa, I stared at the ceiling with bleary impatience. Unable to stand it any longer, I called Hardy's cell phone.

Another recording.

What was going on? Was he all right?

"Let him alone," I said aloud. "Go to bed. Let him sleep. He'll call tomorrow when he feels like talking."

But I wasn't listening to myself. I was too worried about Hardy.

I paced around my apartment for another fifteen minutes, and then I called again.

No answer.

"Crap," I muttered, scrubbing my eyes with half-closed fists. I was tense and tired and uneasy. No way was I going to get any sleep until I made sure Hardy was okay.

Just a quick knock at his door. Maybe a hug. Maybe a cuddle in bed. I wouldn't ask him to talk. No pressure. I just wanted him to know I was there if he needed me.

Sticking my feet into a pair of hard-soled slippers, I left my apartment and took the elevator to the eighteenth floor. It was cold in the elegantly sterile atmosphere of the hallway. Shivering, I went to the threshold and rang the bell.

Stillness. Silence. And then a scrape of movement inside the apartment. I waited, waited, and realized incredulously that Hardy wasn't going to answer. My face tightened in a scowl. Well, that was too damn bad. I would stand at his door and ring the bell all night if necessary.

I pushed the button again.

I had a sudden, terrible thought that maybe Hardy wasn't alone. What other reason could there be for his refusal to see me? But I couldn't make myself believe —

The door opened.

I was confronted with a version of Hardy I had never seen before. It was mostly dark in his apartment, a faint illumination coming from the living room where the skyline bled an artificial glow through the row of long windows. Hardy was dressed in a white T-shirt and jeans, his feet bare. He looked big and shadowy and mean. And I got a strong, acid-sweet whiff of cheap tequila, the kind you went for when you wanted to get really hammered, really fast.

I had seen Hardy drink before, but never to excess. He had told me he didn't like to feel out of control. What he hadn't said, but I had understood, was that he couldn't tolerate the idea of being vulnerable, physically or emotionally.

My gaze traveled from his dark face to the empty shot glass in his hand. A crawly feeling went across my shoulders. "Hey," I managed to say, my voice coming out in a wheeze. "I wanted to see if you were okay."

"I'm okay." He looked at me as if we were strangers. "Can't talk now."

He began to close the door, but I stepped over the threshold. I was afraid to leave him by himself — I didn't like the blank, weird look in his eyes. "Let me fix you something to eat. Eggs and toast — "

"Haven." It seemed to take all his concentration to speak. "I don't need food. I don't need company."

"Can't you tell me something about what happened?" Without thinking, I reached out to stroke his arm, and he flinched backward. As if my touch were repulsive. I was stunned. It was quite a reversal for me, after all the times I had done that to other people, jerking away from them in a startle reflex. I had never considered how it might have made them feel.

"Hardy," I said softly. "I'll go. I promise. But first tell me what happened. Just a few words, so I'll understand."

I could feel the anger radiating off him. It was too dark for me to see the color of his eyes, but the shine of them was almost malevolent. Anxiously I wondered where the real Hardy had gone. He seemed to have been replaced by an evil twin. "I don't know how the f**k you could understand," he said thickly, "when I don't."

"Hardy, let me in," I said.

He continued to block me. "You don't want to come in here."

"Oh?" I forced a skeptical half-smile. "What's in there that I should be afraid of?"

"Me."

His answer sent a ripple of uneasiness through me. But I didn't move. "What did you do tonight?" I asked. "What did your mother call you for?"

Hardy stood with his head lowered. His hair was rumpled as if he'd tugged at it repeatedly. I wanted to smooth those gleaming dark locks and settle my hand on the taut back of his neck. I longed to soothe him. But all I could do was wait, with a patience that had never been easy for me.

"She asked me to bail my father out of jail," I heard him say. "He was taken in tonight for a DUI. He knew better than to call her. I've given him money over the past two years. I pay him to stay the hell away from Mama and the boys."

"I thought he was in prison. But I guess . . . he's out now?"

Hardy nodded, still not looking at me. His free hand clenched the doorframe. I felt a little curl of repulsion in my stomach as I saw how brutally strong those fingers were.

"What did he do," I asked gently, "to get himself in prison?"

I wasn't sure Hardy would answer. But he did. Sometimes the closest-held secrets in the world can be pried out by the right question at the right time.

Hardy spoke in the flat, hopeless whisper of a criminal in a confessional. I knew I was hearing things he'd never said to any living being. "He did fifteen years for aggravated rape. He's a serial ra**st . . . godawful things to women . . . never gave him parole, they knew he hadn't changed. But the term was finally up, and they had to let him out. He'll do it again. I can't stop him. I cant watch over him every minute. I can barely keep him away from my family — "

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