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Authors: Heather Graham

Sensuous angel

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Sensuous AngelHeather Graham

For Al and Lena, “Nana” and “Papa” Pozzessere, with lots of love

CONTENTS

PROLOGUE

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

A Biography of Heather Graham

PROLOGUE

MAY 5

Dear Donna,

New York, New York! “It’s my kind of town”! Or is that supposed to be Chicago? I can’t remember, but I am in New York and awfully glad to be here. Different scenery, etc., etc. I’m not sure what I want to do yet, but I guess I’ve got time. I’m going to be a tourist for the next few weeks. Having never been here before, I’m absolutely fascinated. Today the Empire State building, tomorrow the world.

Anyway, I am well and doing fine! How about yourself? Anything new? Write soon. Luv ya,

Lorna

June 1

Dear Lorna,

You sound great! And I’m sorry, but, “My kind of town” is Chicago. But that’s all right. New York is a “wonderful lady” and I’m sure it will be wonderful for you. It’s so hectic there that you really can forget anything painful and go on. Keep in touch; call if you get the urge. If I can, I’ll come down to meet you soon.

Donna

June 20

Dear Donna,

Radio City Music Hall and a half dozen museums later, I’m still in love with New York. Of course, I’ve been all over by now! I’ve seen the grand—and an awful lot of the very seedy. But I’m still doing fine. And I’m eager to see you when you get here. Hurry up and get some of that olive oil out of your hands so that you can come down and meet me. I’ll teach you how to ice skate a whole new way at Rockefeller Plaza.

Lorna

July 10

Dear Lorna,

Well, it hasn’t really been the “olive oil” keeping me, and you know it. But guess what? I’m an official “Miss” once again. It seems crazy to have been “married” less than a month—and then have it take over two years to finish with the paperwork. A divorce would have taken about eight weeks, they say, but I guess I’m glad I filed for the annulment. It meant so much to the family, and I didn’t want to do anything else right away. Not after Mark. This “olive oil” you’re teasing me about helped keep me sane!

But anyway, I found out the other day that the annulment went through Rome last February. I will be very officially single when I meet you—soon. I promise.

Donna

July 28

Donna!

Oh, my God! Can things happen here! Just a quick note to say I’m glad that things worked out—but don’t come here! I met the strangest man, and suddenly things went berserk. If I wanted danger and excitement, I guess I’ve got it now. But that’s New York—you never know what might happen when you walk down the street. I sound like I’m babbling, don’t I? But I’m frightened silly. I have to put my trust in Andrew McKennon—even though he can be a true SOB! I want to strangle the man half the time, but then again…well, he is trying to help me now. I haven’t any other choice. I know this sounds crazy, but right now I can’t explain the rest because I don’t know what is going on myself. Donna—sit tight. I’ll write again when I can. One day I’ll be able to tell you all about this and maybe then I’ll be able to laugh. No, I won’t ever be able to laugh. Oh, what a mess! Think of me, pray for me! But please don’t worry.

Lorna

August 5

Lorna! Lorna!

“Please don’t worry”! You’ve made me crazy!

What are you trying to do to me? You have me scared witless! What are you talking about and what is going on? Call me—as soon as you get this. Don’t you dare write to me again on hospital stationery and not say anything. Please, please, call me, Lorna, so that I know you are all right. I’m not even sure that my letters reach you—you keep changing addresses every time you write. Lorna, I’m begging you, give me a call. Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone for occasions just like this! Please, Lorna!

Donna

August 12

Dear Miss Miro:

I’m very sorry, but Lorna can’t call or write to you now. Please be patient. She’ll get in touch with you as soon as she can. You are trying to involve yourself in something that you don’t understand; please, for your own safety and Lorna’s, just be patient and wait. You will hear from her soon.

Andrew McKennon

August 14

AIR EXPRESS

MR. McKENNON:

I want to hear from Lornaright now.Today. I want to know what is going on. If not, I’ll have private detectives on the case immediately.

Donna Miro

AUGUST 15

RETURN TO SENDER

UNDELIVERABLE AS ADDRESSED

NO SUCH PERSON AT THIS ADDRESS

CHAPTER ONE

MILE AFTER MILE OFtenements seemed to reach into space endlessly, sliding into infinity as the stars in the heavens.

But this was no heavenly abode. Nor could it stretch forever, no matter how it seemed. Not far away, Donna knew, the lights of Broadway glittered down on the “beautiful” people, the diamonds of the rich, the sables, foxes, and minks coming into use as fall lowered its gentle hand over the steaming summer heat of the concrete jungle known as Manhattan. Land of ten million people, the Stock Exchange, the theater, the United Nations. The hub of hustling, teeming, ever-moving business. Central Park, Saks Fifth Avenue. And countless ghettos.

The crumbling facades of the neck-to-neck buildings Donna studiously scanned were withered and brown, swallowing what remained of the twilight, appearing to wait like mammoth monsters to pounce on the unwary. They reeked of dismal nightlife, of things done beneath the cover of darkness. It was almost as if the tenements silently laughed, waiting to open their arms and welcome all strays into a den of cutthroats, harlots, and thieves.

“And your imagination is incredible!” Donna whispered aloud to herself with annoyance. The tenements were nothing but housing for the poor, pathetic housing where the rats and graffiti battled for space.

Still, as she walked, she wished fervently that she had taken care of her business during the day. She had been so sure that she could read a map, that she knew what she was doing, that a cab would whiz by at any time she decided she needed one. But it was apparent that cab drivers didn’t cater to this neighborhood and just as apparent that she didn’t know what she was doing. She had read the map. But although it pointed out Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, the Metropolitan Museum, and even Macy’s, it did not point to this row upon row of tenements and warn: Detour! Dangerous ghetto!

Whom had she been fooling? she wondered now with growing dismay. A private detective had failed to find Lorna; even the police were behaving as if Lorna had never existed. They had told Donna quite flatly that no such person as Andrew McKennon had ever lived in New York.

It was growing darker and darker. Although her heels clicked bravely against the pavement, Donna was beginning to know fear. Belatedly she was remembering crime statistics, and that she was there in the first place because the city was famous for beckoning the unwary…sucking them up like quicksand.

There goes my imagination again! she silently chastised herself. No, it wasn’t really imagination. Lorna had come to the city and it might as well have swallowed her whole. There was no trace of Lorna Doria.

Something strange had happened to Lorna, yes. But Lorna hadnotwalked down the street and been swallowed whole by a row of tenements. The tenements onlyseemedto be alive, breathing with evil menace, because Donna was, admittedly, frightened—and allowing her imagination to run riot. Lorna’s disappearance was a mystery—but logic clearly informed Donna that the street, which wasn’t alive or evil, had done nothing to Lorna. It was just a street. A sad street. And surely no one would bother Donna either.

Or would they? Was she crazy? Or did she really hear the light fall of footsteps behind her? Donna paused, ostensibly adjusting the shoe strap around her heel. She barely breathed as she tried to listen. There was nothing, nothing but the distant sounds of the city, muted taxi horns, fading rock music. She started walking again.

She hadn’t realized her quest would bring her directly into the ghetto, but she had instinctively dressed for anonymity. She wore a severe navy-blue business suit with a plain white tailored blouse. Her hair was tied in a chignon at her nape, its sable length austerely hidden. Her features were fine-boned, clearly cut—almost fragile—but she had learned long ago to face the world with sharp blue eyes and challenge. Despite the delicacy of her five-foot-four frame, few would ever think her lacking the will of a polite, civilized tigress.

Except that right now, Donna Miro wasn’t feeling much like a tigress. She was wishing that rather than being the possessor of a truckload of business acumen, she had elected to take Karate 101 back at the university. At first she had only suspected she was being followed; she had rationalized the feeling by convincing herself it was a natural, if unfounded, fear.

Now she stopped again, this time adjusting the heel strap on her other shoe, and now there was no rationalization for her fear. It wasn’t unfounded. Above the distant, muted din of the city, she heard something else. Much nearer. Too near. She was sure she was being followed.

Stealthy footsteps could be heard behind her. And ahead of her all that loomed was shadow, as if the hulking tenements lurked, waiting with their embrace of darkness…of evil….

Donna quickened her pace as pinpricks of fear assailed her, ripping along the length of her spine with the same subtle whisper of the night sounds that breathed danger. Sounds that echoed and grew in her mind, sounds that mocked the self-assurance of her almost three decades of life.

Yes, she was definitely being followed. Glancing over her shoulder, Donna was just in time to see a shadow blend into a wall. She quickened her pace again until her clicking pace was almost a jog.

There were no more soft whispers of warning. The footsteps were no longer stealthy. Their pace quickened in time with hers, drowning out all else. They rang loud and clear in the cool stillness of the night. Their beat on the pavement spoke of one intent—to outdistance, to overpower. The shadow behind her was now oblivious to exposure.

Donna glanced back once more. The figure was coming after her full speed. She couldn’t best that speed in heels, nor could she take the time to discard her shoes. She screamed, but as in a dream, the sound was weak. It was a croak. She hugged her shoulder bag to her and ran, adrenaline providing a burst of energy.

But escape was impossible. Her assailant was upon her, catching her arm, spinning her about in a crazy circle that caught her heel and cruelly twisted her ankle. She was staring at him with wide eyes. Despite her panic, she realized that the man was really a youth, but a street-wise youth, fleet on his feet, sure of his trade. He could disappear back into the shadows just as easily as he had come when he was done with her.

Done what with her? she wondered desperately. She panicked and began to struggle fiercely, raining blows against his leather jacket. How ridiculous, she thought vaguely in a vain attempt to still her terror. She should be able to stop him. He had to be almost ten years younger than she.

“Hey, mama, just the bag, baby, just the bag,” the kid hissed.

Donna struggled then to loosen her arm from the shoulder bag, gasping as she saw the gleaming blade of a knife in the last glitters of twilight.

“Please!” Donna gasped in sudden horror. What the hell was she doing? Fighting over her purse! Give him the damn thing, she warned herself. It had just been natural instinct to fight, but now she tried to force herself to reason. To remember. In such a situation, she shouldn’t fight. She should just hand the bag over and start praying that she got out of the situation unharmed.

He was carrying a knife—a knife!

“I’ll give it to you,” she stated, aware that her voice faltered as she fumbled to hand him the bag.

She was even more terrified than she had realized. She dropped the bag. He seemed to emit an animal growl, and she dodged to retrieve it as the knife flashed beneath her eyes. “No tricks, baby, no tricks.”

She picked up the bag and handed it to him. He laughed, catching her arm again and pulling her close. He gave her an evil grin, which displayed yellowing teeth. “Oh, little mama! Jungle George don’t wanta hurt you, baby. Not unless you like it that way. Naw…baby…. ol’ George can think of lots better things to do.”

She was going to pass out, Donna thought with horror as the twilight swam to darkness before her. “Let me go…” she echoed weakly. She went rigid, telling herself he was a teenager. She shouldn’t sound like a simpering fool; she should use a voice of authority. Because they weren’t talking about her purse anymore. They were talking about life and death, physical harm, rape….

“Let go of me!” she snapped more strongly. “You’ve got my purse; take it and run. Leave me alone. Are you aware of the repercussions, the legal repercussions—”

“Are you aware, mama, that this blade could slide across your throat in a second?”

“Let me go,” Donna repeated quietly, firmly, giving no indication of the rampant shivers within her.

“Go…yeah, let’s go for a little walk—”

Her assailant’s words were cut off suddenly, as if his sentence had been severed by a steel blade. Donna was released so abruptly that she staggered and—unable to find her balance on her twisted ankle—fell to the sidewalk. Gasping with shock, Donna blinked and inhaled deeply and realized that another shadow had appeared in the night. A towering shadow in black that now wrenched her assailant about with the force of a tornado. Stunned, Donna watched as the youth was yanked by the scruff of the neck and pinioned to a crumbling wall, his toes not quite touching the ground.

“Not in my neighborhood, macho man, do you hear?” the new figure demanded in a chilling baritone. “Not in my neighborhood.”

“Let me go!” the kid hissed. “Hey, man, I got me a blade. I ain’t never sliced me a pr—”

“Drop the knife, man,” the towering, black-clad form mocked threateningly, “before you wind up wearing the damn thing all the way to hell.”

The knife clattered to the pavement. As much as the threat, the man’s language shocked the kid to silence. It also shocked Donna into a breathless immobility as she realized that the tall, broad-shouldered man pinioning the wiry youth to the wall with one hand and speaking in the low, deathly tones was a priest. Black shirt, black jacket, white collar….Yes, he was a priest, who wore black with almost sinful appeal, that very black emphasizing the rugged contours of a strong, trim, and yet well muscled body—a very healthy physique. A black that blended with that of a handsome head of thick dark hair, that contrasted sharply with strange hazel eyes—a hazel that gleamed golden in the night, like all the fires of hell….

Still sprawled on the ground, Donna was too transfixed to attempt to stand, too shocked to even assimilate her relief and gratitude at the timely rescue. She could only stare at the strange pair before her as the incredible action unfolded.

“You can’t hit me!” the teenager whined. “It’s against your religion.”

“Like bloody damned hell I can’t,” the priest warned with a wicked chuckle. “God is a real terror in the Old Testament, son. Vengeful guy. An eye for an eye and all that. He flooded the world and made rubble of Sodom and Gomorrah. I’m sure he’ll be real understanding if I just break the neck of one little sneak thief.”

“Please…I wasn’t going to hurt nobody,” the youth managed in a strangled gasp. “See, I just needed the bread. Times are hard, Father….”

“Really?” the priest inquired, deceptively polite. “Strange—I heard you definitely threatening the lady.”

“No…I was just scaring her a little. Really, Father. Hey, I ain’t no rapist. And my record’s clean. I swear it. I’ll swear it on a thousand Bibles.”

“Tell me about the ‘little walk’ you were about to take. A knife—that’s armed robbery, macho man.”

“No, Father, really.” There were tears in the boy’s eyes now. Donna felt an absurd twinge of pity; he was in deeper terror now than she had been when the knife had been at her throat. And he was young. Really young. Just a kid….

“I just wanted to get closer to the shadows of the buildings, Father. So’s I could let her go and then disappear with no chance of her getting a cop on me. I swear to God, Father! I swear. I’ll never do it again, Father, never—”

“Get out of here!” the priest commanded with disgust, shoving the youth from him. “I won’t call the cops—this time. But if I ever see you doing anything other than helping old ladies across the street again, I promise you’ll be in agony when you do sit in your jail cell—got it?”

Dumbfounded still and probably scared into ten years of penitence, the boy nodded fervently. His face was as ashen as the crumbling facades of the tenements.

“Padre, I’ll find a job. I promise. I ain’t never gonna steal again, I swear it. May God strike me dead—”

“If you’re serious, call the rectory. No promises, but maybe there might be something. Now, go!” the priest commanded.

Still the youth hesitated, the tears streaming down his cheeks. “Padre—”

“No one’s coming after you, son,” the priest said with a quiet sigh. “I’m going to trust your promises. Partly because I don’t think you’d chance another run-in with me. Now—go on! Go home!”

The youth began to back away, slinking against the wall. He moved hesitantly at first, then—as soon as he had gained a safe distance from the priest—he turned and began to run as if all the demons of hell were after him.

The priest watched him until he was swallowed up by the shadows of twilight. His face as ruggedly immobile as granite, he stooped and retrieved the offending knife with an agility that was startling for his size. He tripped the blade and folded it into his pocket. Then his disturbing golden gaze turned to Donna.

He crossed his arms over his chest and stared down at her, annoyance clearly etched across his well-defined and rakishly handsome features.

“All right, lady,” he demanded impatiently. “Just what kind of an idiot are you?”

She was no less stunned by the strange priest than her assailant.

CHAPTER TWO

“I’M NOT AN IDIOT!”Donna protested indignantly. She winced inwardly. Sprawled on the ground, her stockings ripped, her neat chignon a mass of tangled dishevelment, she did feel a bit like a fool, if not a complete idiot. But she was not about to condescend the point to this man—even if he had rescued her and even if he was a priest.

He shook his head with exasperation. “Lady, any woman walking along this street in a suit from Saks has to be an idiot.” He finally extended his hand to her. She gazed stupidly at his hand. It was broad, the fingers long, the nails bluntly clipped.

Ignoring his gesture, she attempted to rise on her own. As soon as she placed her weight on her injured ankle, a streak of pain ripped through her. Before she could stop it, a soft cry escaped her. To her vast dismay, she found she was losing her balance once more.

But before she could teeter ignominiously back to the pavement again, the supporting hand she had just refused came about her waist and she was steadied. She stared up into the flame hazel eyes that now held a glint of amusement and murmured an awkward “Thank you.”

It was the most disconcerting gaze she had ever encountered—and from a priest. “I—I can stand now,” she stuttered nervously.

He chuckled. “And then what?”

“Pardon?”

“It’s unlikely that you can walk.”

“I’ll just get a cab—”

“Don’t be a fool.”

A flash of anger ripped through her. “I’m already an idiot. Why not be a fool?”

He chuckled again, undaunted by her wrath. “Why not indeed?” But before Donna could respond, she found herself lifted into strong arms and secured against his broad chest, and held with no more effort than he might expend on a feather as his long stride took them down the street.

“Wait…” Donna protested feebly. “I have to find a man—”

“You’ll find lots of men if you keep this up.”

“Damn it! I mean—”

He started to laugh. “Calm down—just for a few minutes. You’re not going to do anything in the state you ARE in so listen to me and be agreeable. Didn’t anyone ever tell you that the ‘meekshall inherit’?”

“No—and they obviously forgot to tell you!”

He inclined his head slightly, his too-sensual lips curving subtly. Then he ignored her comment. “You can explain what the hell you think you’re doing, and then maybe I can help you. You’re definitely not going anywhere on your own power with that ankle,” he said matter-of-factly.

Donna’s arms had instinctively wound around his neck when he had lifted her. She sighed softly, biting back further reply. It wasn’t the most normal feeling in the world to want to throttle a priest, and she had to admit that, thanks to him, she was in fairly good health and still in possession of her shoulder bag. And she hadn’t even thanked him. Of course, he wasn’t the type to draw out profuse gratitude. She relaxed suddenly, closing her eyes, aware—not without a certain resentment—that he was right. If he had left her, she would have truly been in trouble: lost in the ghetto and unable to walk.

And maybe—just maybe—this man could help her. He obviously knew the neighborhood. If she didn’t accept his help now, she really would be an idiot. She was still shaking from her encounter with the youthful assailant. At this particular moment, it was pure relief to forget her quest, to lean on his masculine strength.

Her eyes flew open. His masculine strength! The man was a priest! Oh, dear Lord! she thought dismally. What were you thinking when you made this man a priest?

He was almost a foot taller than she, and built solidly. He wasn’t heavy, but touching him she knew he was all muscle. His scent was light but pleasantly masculine, the hair her fingers brushed at his nape was decidedly, satanically dark. The jaw she stared up at was determinedly strong and square, and the eyes that occasionally glanced down to hers were the most wickedly compelling and…seductive…she had ever seen.

Donna lowered her eyes uncomfortably, flushing suddenly with acute and painful embarrassment. She didn’t remember ever being so affected by a man—not even the one man she had, however briefly, called her husband. Even the touch of his jacket against her cheek seemed to send shivers racing along her spine. Guilt riddled her along with the shivers. She’d spent half her life in Catholic schools, and there she was reacting physically to a man of the cloth.

No! It was only an aftereffect, she told herself staunchly. And for a priest, he was terribly rude and abusive. He had called her an idiot, and she was not an idiot!

Still, she gritted her teeth as he turned one corner and then another. They hadn’t come far at all, but suddenly they were out of the ghetto, facing Central Park.

“I—I’m sure I can get a cab here,” she stuttered.

“I’ll get a cab,” he said curtly.

It seemed he had no sooner said the words than a taxi was pulling up beside them. She was placed inside it, and then he was sliding next to her. He gave the driver an address that meant nothing to her.

“Really,” Donna began, feeling as if her nerves were pulled like a guitar string, “I’m sorry I’ve troubled you. I’ll just go to my hotel room.”

“No way, lady.” The priest chuckled. “I don’t want to spend all my days walking the streets. Let’s solve your problem tonight so that I don’t have to worry about picking you up in pieces some night.”

Donna clamped her lips tightly together. “I am not an idiot,” she said quietly. “I ran into a bit of bad luck, that’s all.”

He didn’t respond. The cab came to a halt on a pretty, tree-lined street with ivy-covered brownstones.

“I’ll pay for the cab,” Donna said quickly, scrambling in her purse for the fare.

“I think I can handle it,” the priest said dryly, handing the driver a number of bills.

The cabbie smiled in return. “Thanks, Father Luke.”

“Have a good night, Jonas,” he said briefly, and then he was reaching for Donna again, lifting her from the cab before she could protest.

“I really do think I could hobble along,” Donna said awkwardly as he walked her up a flight of immaculately clean steps and pressed a buzzer. She flushed as his gaze fell on her. There was something about his subtle smile and the devilish gleam in his magnetic gold and green eyes that told her quite blatantly he was fully aware of her discomfort from his touch—and very amused by it.

The door suddenly swung inward and they were greeted with startled surprise by a squat little woman who barely reached the priest’s broad shoulders. “Luke! My goodness! What has happened? Bring the poor girl in right away and I’ll get some tea on. There’s a fire in your office, Father. Oh, my, my! Should I call the doctor?”

“I don’t think that will be necessary, Mary. I believe the lady merely has a slight sprain.”

“I’ll get a tub of hot water and epsom salts then, Father.”

“Thank you, Mary.”

“Oh, please!” Donna protested, feeling truly absurd as she nestled in the priest’s strong arms and stared into the warm brown eyes of the kindly and concerned housekeeper. “Please don’t put yourself to any trouble! I’m sure I’ll be fine.”

“No trouble at all, young lady,” Mary said firmly. “Come along now, Luke—let’s get that sprain taken care of!”

Father Luke followed his housekeeper meekly down a hall attractively furnished with a dark crimson rug and an antique deacon’s bench to a door just past the bannistered stairway.

“Whatever happened?” Mary queried again as she pushed the door inward and stood aside so that the priest could set Donna in a large plush sofa.

“Our young friend stumbled upon one of our more dangerous streets,” the priest offered wryly, leaving Donna as he stood casually against the corner of a massive oak desk.

“Oh, no! You were mugged! Poor dear!”

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