“Talia,” he said, wrenching free.
By the time she thought to tell him to sit still and recover for a minute, he’d already lurched to his unsteady feet. He staggered, which probably wasn’t good for his humiliation factor.
“Jesus,” he muttered, grabbing the umbrella pole for support.
“Here.” She got up, too, reaching for him. “Let me—”
That was the wrong thing to do. He flung his arms wide, breaking free. “I don’t need your help,” he roared, his features contorted and unrecognizable with fury. “You think I want your pity? Huh? You think I want you to see me like this?”
God. This man was ripping her heart out.
“It doesn’t matter, Tony—”
“Doesn’t matter?” Some ugly sound came out of his mouth. A laugh, maybe, or a verbal sneer. “I’m crazy, and it doesn’t matter?”
He stalked several feet toward the boardwalk, thought better of it and wheeled back around. “Is that why you don’t want any part of me? Because you know how screwed up I am up here?” For emphasis, he jabbed two fingers at his temple.
This man was going to shred her heart into mincemeat before this was all over.
“I don’t think you’re screwed up.”
His lips peeled back, revealing teeth that seemed sharper than usual, almost feral. “You should,” he said grimly.
“So much for your advice, eh? I thought I could get through an hour at a time. Maybe I should break it down a little more. Maybe second to second is more my speed. I think that’s about all I can handle. Don’t you?”
He stalked off, leaving only Chesley and the seagulls to hear her calling after him.
That night, Talia startled awake, knowing something was wrong long before she could pinpoint what it was. She sat up and blinked into the darkness, trying to get her bearings.
Her alarm clock’s digital display read 3:21. Her room, like the house, was utterly silent, but for the distant white noise of the surf. Since she kept her drapes open to enjoy the spectacular view, there was enough moonlight dappled from the waves to show that nothing was out of place in her room. There were no looming shadows behind the chair in the reading corner, for example, and no figures darting out from behind the entertainment armoire.
And yet something—maybe everything—was wrong.
Had she had a nightmare?
Rubbing her eyes, she tried to shake off the anxiety—
Wait. What was Chesley doing?
The dog was sitting by the closed door, looking over her shoulder at Talia. When she caught Talia’s eye, she whined and pawed at the knob.
Silly dog. Why couldn’t she do her peeing at a decent hour, like everyone else did?
Muttering, Talia tugged a long-sleeved T-shirt on over her tank top and shorts, found her flip-flops, tightened her silky sleeping scarf around her head and was on her way to the door when she heard a muffled sound that made her spine melt.
It was the long, eerie wail of someone in pain.
Sudden fear rooted her feet to the floor. She’d never heard a sound like that, and whatever caused it wasn’t good. The keening rose up again, drowning out the roar of blood in her ears, and the last of her sleep-induced confusion dissipated.
Tony. That was Tony in trouble.
Over at the door, meanwhile, Chesley was running out of patience. Wriggling with agitation, she gave a sharp bark easily translated into English: hurry up, dummy!
Talia snapped into action, throwing the door open and heading down the hallway at a dead run. Guided only by a small console lamp and Chesley’s haunches as she raced past, Talia sprinted around a corner and into another wing that she’d never visited, and then—
This new corridor had a hundred freaking doors marching up and down its length, all of them shut. Which one was—
Chesley went straight to a door midway down, sat and barked at her.
Oh, thank God for this wonderful dog.
They were just in time, too, because Tony was going berserk now. The last of his wails twisted into something coherent. A desperate plea for help and for…her?
“Please. Don’t do that! Don’t— Talia… Taliaaaa… Talia!”