LOVE IS A JOURNEY…NOT A DESTINATION.
TEMPTED TO DEATH
Luca Castell leaned against the headboard as Oliver brushed his teeth. Luca’s head pounded, and he just wanted to go to sleep. Get a couple solid hours before he had to face Tara and her brother, again. And as hardheaded and dickish as the researcher was, it was Tara who had Luca’s stomach in knots. And he knew Oliver was in the same state.
So much for being over her.
A knock sounded, and Oliver stepped out of the bathroom. “Told you so.”
Luca rolled his eyes. “Sure it’s her?”
“Of course, I am. Hello, Tara,” Oliver drawled, pulling open the door without even looking through the peephole.
Tara jolted back slightly, shock clear in her wide green eyes. She clutched several files to her chest and looked between Oliver and Luca. She wet her lips, and the muscles of her throat worked as she swallowed.
“Well?” Oliver swept his arm to his side. “Not going to stand here with the door open all night.”
She stepped quickly past him, but didn’t move far into the room. She stood, knuckles whitening and folders crinkling under her tight grip. Luca frowned, taking the the time he didn’t before to really look at her. This was not the confident, spit-fire hunter they knew. Her skin, already pale, was nearly translucent, the freckles over her nose and cheeks standing out more harshly than ever. And the dark circles under her eyes… Luca would put it down to worry and grief over her sister-in-law, but that wouldn’t account for the amount of weight she’d clearly lost. Tara had always been tiny—deceptively so because she could definitely take care of herself—but now… Now, the cargo pants she wore hung loosely on her hips, and she was practically swimming in the t-shirt and lightweight jacket.
“What do you need, Tara?”
Luca turned his gaze toward Oliver. His partner had an air of indifference, but he was anything but. Even his words had an edge of tension that Luca wanted to soothe—would soothe as soon as they were alone.
He wondered if she could hear it, if she even had a clue how much she’d fucked them both when she’d taken off. The way she was staring at Oliver, right now—eyes still wide, full lips trembling slightly—Luca thought maybe. Maybe a little.
“I thought…” Her gaze flicked toward Luca then back to Oliver. “Here are our files. Everything we have about the victims—their movements the weeks before their deaths, as best as we could piece together—the crime scenes…” She shoved the folders at Oliver, shaking them slightly when he didn’t take them right away.
“What are you really doing here?” he asked, taking the files and tossing them onto the small table near the window. “These could have waited until morning, and you know it.”
She pressed her lips together and drew a deep breath through her nose, eyes closed. Opening them again, she said, “I just wanted to make sure we were okay. That…that there wouldn’t be any problems.”
“Problems?” Oliver lifted a brow.
“With us working together,” she clarified. “I know we didn’t end things in the best way, and—”
“We didn’t end things at all, sweetheart,” Oliver snapped.
“You ghosted. Disappeared on us without a word,” Luca added.
She fingered the hem of her t-shirt, dropping her gaze. “I know. That was really shitty of me.”
An awkward silence fell over the room, broken by Oliver’s disbelieving laugh. “That’s it? Fuck, you’re something else.”
“Ollie,” Luca murmured, moving to sit on the edge of the bed.
“I’m sorry,” Tara said barely above a whisper. “I didn’t want to… I needed to…” Her hands clenched into tight fists at her sides, and she swayed slightly.
“Tara?” Luca pushed to his feet as her eyelids fluttered.
Oliver moved faster, reaching out and grasping her elbow and dragging her to the bed. He pushed her down on the mattress.
“Fuck, when was the last time you slept?” he asked harshly. “Or ate?”
“I’m fine.” She shook her head then groaned, pressing the heel of her hand to her temple. “I am sorry. And that’s why I’m here. I need to know that what happened between us isn’t going to affect hunting this thing. I know my brother can be…”
“A massive dick?” Oliver supplied, stepping back.
She huffed a hoarse laugh. “Yeah, mostly because he doesn’t get hunters. Hates that I am one. But with Nicole being taken…” Tara looked up and met Luca’s gaze, her eyes glistening with tears. “He’s broken. Desperate. What I did was horrible, unforgiveable, but I’m begging you not to let that affect how you treat this case. Because, as much as I hate to admit it, I can’t find this thing on my own. I need you. We need you.”
“We said we’d help,” Oliver said between clenched teeth.
“And we will,” Luca promised. “We don’t allow personal feelings to get in the way. That thing is going to keep killing unless we stop it. That takes priority over everything else.”
“Thank you,” she murmured.
“You do realize,” he began gently, “the likelihood of finding your sister-in-law alive is almost non-existent. Yes, there was one case a long time ago when a victim was held for that long and a handful when when the victims weren’t killed immediately, but that’s not normally how these things work.”
Tara nodded. “I know. I know she’s probably dead, and honestly, Ben knows that, too. But, he’s holding onto any little bit of hope he can, right now. Wouldn’t you?” She looked between them. “If it were someone you loved?”
“You should get some sleep,” Oliver said gruffly, rubbing a palm over his short hair. “We have a lot to do tomorrow.”
“Come on.” Luca nodded toward the door. “I’ll walk you to your room.”
“You don’t have to—” Her protest cut off when her knees buckled as she stood.
“Don’t argue,” Oliver advised. “Do you have something to eat?” He began rooting through one of the bags near the door then held up a protein bar. “Take this. And actually eat it.”
Luca took Tara by the arm and guided her out of the room, grabbing the bar from Oliver, who held the door open. She didn’t say anything as they walked the short distance to her and Ben’s room. When they came to a stop, she pulled the keycard from her jacket pocket and opened the door. Luca pressed the protein bar into her empty palm.
“You need to take better care of yourself, Tara,” he murmured. “Sleep well.”
He pivoted and headed back to his room. Pushing inside, he saw Oliver already in bed, all the lights except the bathroom turned off. Luca went into the small room, washed up and brushed his teeth then turned off that light, as well. After checking the door and windows, he stripped and climbed into bed. Oliver immediately rolled over and pressed to his side.
“I would, you know?” Oliver said, lips tickling the sensitive skin of Luca’s neck.
“I would hold on to any shred of hope I could if it were you. If you were taken away from me.” He kissed Luca’s pulse. “And I would hold on until I saw with my own eyes that I shouldn’t anymore.”
“I know,” Luca murmured. “I’d do the same. For you.” He squeezed his eyes shut then added quietly, “And for her.”
He heard Oliver swallow, and the other man turned his head, pressing his face tight to Luca’s shoulder. His words were muffled, but Luca knew them before they were even spoken.
“Yeah, me, too.”