Page 25 of A Sexy Time Of It

He watched Gale and the woman exit the lecture hall, and he made himself congratulate Rhoades on the success of the signing. Then, he picked up the business card the woman had dropped. “Bookends: Cornelia Rafferty and Lincoln Matthews, proprietors.” He tucked it into his pocket. Confident that he was in control, he walked up the aisle and out of the building. As he stepped into the sunlight, he spotted Gale and the woman not twenty-five yards away, standing in the shade of a tree. They were close, holding hands and talking very intently about something.

His lips curved into a smile. Then stepping behind a hedge, he made himself invisible.

Sometimes acting on impulse was the only way to solve a problem.

“WE SHOULD GO back in. I’ll try again.”

“No.” Max gripped her shoulders. “If you can’t pinpoint him, it’s too dangerous for you.”

Neely grabbed fistfuls of his T-shirt. “His anger was primarily directed at you. He didn’t expect to see you at the lecture.”

“I’ll just bet he didn’t.” Max looked over his shoulder and checked the grounds. Neely followed the direction of his gaze. The gardens were less crowded at two o’clock than they’d been earlier, but there was still a steady flow of tourists along the paths. A woman in a flowered dress and straw hat was just stepping out of the door they’d exited from. A moment later a man came through the same door and followed the woman down the short flight of steps.

Max turned back to her. “I’m going to put you in a taxi. Then I’m going to go back in there and take a quick look around.”

“No.” She grabbed his arm, sagging against him as a new wave of emotions assaulted her.

“What is it?” Max asked.

“He’s not in there anymore. He’s getting closer.”

Max turned, searching the grounds again.

“If we don’t leave right now, he’s going to kill you.”

Something in her voice chilled Max’s blood.

“He’s going to put a knife into you.”

He saw that her eyes had turned glassy with fear, her skin white. And she was no longer looking at him, but beyond him.

“He’s coming. Can’t you hear the footsteps?”

He did. Whirling, Max shoved her behind him and scanned the area. All he could see was a man sitting on a bench tossing bread crumbs to some pigeons. Two women who’d been close to Neely when she’d been in the autograph line stood chatting at the door of the lecture hall.

“He’s walking on the grass now,” Neely said in an undertone. “And he’s moving faster.”

Max was so intent on trying to see what she was sensing that she stepped in front of him before he could prevent it.

The knife came out of nowhere, slicing through the air. Max shoved Neely aside and drew his weapon, but blood already blossomed on her forearm. He heard the footsteps retreating and shot in the direction of the sound.

There was a guttural scream and he glimpsed the edge of a flowered skirt and a straw hat before the air five feet away from him shimmered and the footsteps stopped.

“He’s gone,” Neely said.

“You’re certain?” He remained staring at the spot where he was sure the Ripper had been.

“Yes. He was disguised as a woman, wasn’t he?”

Max grunted his agreement as he eased Neely into a sitting position on the ground and knelt beside her. Relief flooded over him when he saw that the cut on her arm was only a scratch. Just thinking of what might have happened filled him with fury. He grabbed her shoulders and gave her a shake.

“What were you thinking, jumping in front of me like that? He could have killed you.”

“He wanted to kill you. He knows you’re chasing him.” She looked at him accusingly. “But you knew that already, didn’t you? That’s what Deirdre came to warn you about. He must have seen you in Buck’s Row. I’m responsible for putting you in his path.”

Max pulled her to her feet. “This isn’t the place to talk about it. Let’s find a taxi. I’ll explain everything when we get back to Bookends.”

Neely dug in her heels. “No. This is all my fault. I dragged you to London. If your life’s in danger, you have to leave.”

“I can handle myself.”

She shook her head. “You were the one he tried to stab.”

“You’re the one whose life is in danger. You’re the last victim of Jack the Second in 2008. He’s supposed to kill you in less than twelve hours.”

Neely stared at him as images streamed through her mind—Max strolling into Bookends that first day, Max sitting on the stoop across from her store, Max making himself invisible and hiding in the park. Other images mixed with them—Max lying on top of her in her bed, Max in the kitchen fighting off a toast attack, Max sniffing books in the store. Suddenly, as if she were looking through a kaleidoscope, everything shifted and reality clicked into place. The rush of feelings was no less intense than what she’d felt from the Ripper only seconds before. Fury was foremost. “You lied to me,” she said.

“I was going to tell you.”

She poked a finger into his chest. “You don’t have to. I get it. I should have realized from the beginning. You came here to get close to me. You were going to just wait around until the Ripper killed me, then nab him and take him back to your time.”

“That’s not what—”

“That’s exactly what!” Neely punched him in the stomach, hard enough to send him stumbling back two steps. Then she whirled and ran down the path to where a line of taxis waited.

MAX PACED BACK AND FORTH in the kitchen at Bookends. Sam leaned against one of the counters and Sally sat at the oak table. Linc was pouring coffee into tall mugs. Max had just given them a brief summary of what had happened at the Psychic Institute, including the Ripper’s attack and the reason why he and Neely had come back to Bookends in separate taxis. Neely hadn’t offered any explanation when she’d arrived ten minutes ahead of him and run up the stairs to her bedroom. Mabel was with her now.

“Punched you in the stomach, did she? I would have liked to have seen that,” Sam said.

Linc distributed mugs to everyone. “I didn’t know the girl had a violent streak.”

“Neely’s always had a bit of a temper,” Sally commented.

“But her nature is basically so sweet.”

Sweet? Max still felt the impact of the punch and he could picture the raw fury in her eyes. He turned to face them. “I think we’re concentrating on the wrong thing here. I deserved the punch, but now she’s not speaking to me. And the Ripper has her in his sights. She’s not just a random victim he’s chosen from Julian Rhoades’s groupies. She poses a real threat to him because she can sense him even when he’s invisible. He’ll track her down to this place.”

“We’ve decided that we’ll be staying here with her for as long as it takes,” Sam said.

“That’s right,” Linc added. “Unless the creep can walk through walls, he doesn’t have a chance. And now that we know he’s disguised as a woman—well, I’m pretty good at spotting disguises, especially the ones that involve cross-dressing.”

“He won’t be able to get to her,” Sam said.

“As long as she cooperates,” Max muttered. “I can’t predict what she’s going to do anymore.” Running his hands through his hair, he sank into the chair next to Sally. “Hell, I haven’t been able to predict her from the beginning.”

Sally reached over and patted his hand. “You’ve got it bad, honey.”

Max glanced up and saw that all three of his companions were looking at him with odd mixtures of amusement and concern in their eyes. “Got what bad?”

“You’re head over heels in love with her,” Linc said.

As Sam and Sally nodded in agreement, Max felt his heart take a long, slow tumble. Then panic wound its way through his system. “I can’t think about that now.”

Sam put a steadying hand on his shoulder. “Of course not. What you have to concentrate on is catching the Ripper. Are you still planning on trying to catch him in London?”

Max dropped his head into his hands. She was making him lose his objectivity. Not once on the ride back to Bookends had he thought about his mission. Finally, he said, “Yes. Capturing him in London is still a viable plan. But I’ll go alone.”

NEELY WANDERED AROUND her bedroom, still trying to sort through everything she was feeling. But there was such a wild mix of emotions tumbling through her. And it had all started when she’d first sensed the Ripper in that lecture hall.

“You’re angry. That’s understandable,” Mabel said.

She was angry. Furious—with herself. Twice since she’d arrived home and run up to her bedroom, she’d had to stifle an urge to throw something at the wall. She’d never done anything like that in her life.

She’d never punched anyone, either.

“In the space of a few hours, you’ve discovered that two people you care about deceived you. First your grandmother and now Max.”

Neely stopped and met Mabel’s eyes. “I can hardly stay angry with them when I participated in the deception.”