Authors: Cerise Deland
Tags: #Romance, #Military
“I’ve had three jobs since college and hated them all. Actually, I hated my supervisors. I want to work at what I’m good at. Finding liars and jerks. But I don’t take direction well and I’m cranky. Fact is, I don’t play well with most others.”
“No sandbox for you, then,” he said with sympathy in his tone. “Maybe you need a few months off. Take time to think about your future.”
“I wish I could. But no rest for the salary-woman.” Her father’s imprisonment for mishandling campaign funds and bribery had eaten through most of the family’s assets. Her mother’s confinement to a mental institution had taken the rest. Becka had had a golden childhood filled with upper class Washingtonian privileges, and from them, she’d gained her education, her social network and her
. But no wealth. She had nothing to fall back on but her own talents. “I have to work. Need to. For money and my pride.”
She sensed him behind her. The warmth of his body shut off the cool draft from the air conditioner. She stiffened, yearning for his embrace and ridiculing herself for her weakness.
“You can do this.” He wrapped his arms around her waist and pressed her back against his huge hot chest. He thrust one of his legs between hers and settled her totally against him. He nestled his lips against her ear. With tender care, he slipped his hands beneath the white linen of her suit jacket. “I’m going to help you.”
The implications flew through her mind, searing her with desire for him and what he offered. “For a night? A day?”
He stroked the bare skin of her midriff “As long as you need me, I’m here.”
She tilted her hips backward against the erection he sported. Her insides were swimming with want. “That’s the problem.”
“What?” he asked on a breath of sound. His hands were too warm, too busy stroking upward into dangerous territory.
“I’m your assignment. Your job.” She said the last word like it was venom.
He froze. “Don’t be insulted.”
“Well, I am. You have to be assigned to me for me to see the whites of your eyes.”
“I should have called. Even when I was in the hospital, I wanted to.”
She listened, hard, struck by so raw an admission.
“Becka, give me the chance to correct that.” He kissed his way down her nape, one of his hands tangling in her hair and pulling her head to one side while he licked her skin. “Please, let me.”
If she let him, where would her pride go? Because if he left her holding nothing again, she’d wind up wounded. Angry at herself. “Like I have a choice.”
“The client wants you safe. You’re too alone on this.”
Her body warred with her mind as she shut her eyes to the temptation to give in to the reassurance of his hands and his lips. She sagged against him.
“It’s true. I’ve been a jerk.” He traced the swell of her hips and twirled her around to face him. “So many times. Especially last summer. I need to make it up to you.”
Her heart did a somersault.
“You’ve got that look on your face,” he said with sweet laughter in his tone as he thumbed her cheeks.
“What look is that?”
“The ‘I can’t help but want you, Lyons’ look. Don’t deny it.” He brushed his lips over hers, seduction in the lack of his kiss. “I want you, too. Badly.”
Wanting now was not the same as having forever. And since last summer, she had schooled herself to deny she’d ever wanted him.
The phone buzzed.
Her vision cleared. “Saved by the bell,” she said slowly.
His blue eyes held regret and compassion. “We’ll come back to this.”
Not if I can help it.
“Answer your phone.”
He steadied her on her feet and picked up his cell. “Yeah, Grey. What do you have?”
Her head whirring, she watched Mike for a few minutes as he said, “Yes,” and “No” and “Okay then.”
By the time he clicked off, she had her breathing and most of her libido back in harness.
“What did he say?”
Mike winced. “Can’t open your files. He’ll try again with another program, but right now? We have no liftoff.”
“Does he see any indication that the encryption software will tell Vince if I jimmied with his files?”
Jumpy with that uncertainty, she told herself she had little time to close this investigation. She had to act quickly. How?
She ran a hand through her hair and swung around to consider the climbing roses in Lucille Lyons’ garden. She knew what she had to do now to gain the evidence she needed that Vince was fencing forgeries. And she had to get it done because she had worked too long and hard to simply walk away from the problem. Besides, she wanted to part with Coldwell on best of terms, no matter what she decided to do after she resigned. Whatever that was….
She rubbed her hands together. She’d find something she loved. Other people did. And to get there quickly, she needed to end this job—and this unscheduled interlude with the man she should never even give the time of day to.
She spun to face Mike who had this goofy look on his face of…what? Longing?
No, Becka, don’t lie to yourself.
“What are you thinking?” he asked her, blinking and replacing his expression with one of concern.
“Vince has another computer in the back storage room of the shop. It’s older and slower, but he uses it. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen some of these same files on that machine. So my big question is, do you think this encryption software would work on a machine that’s maybe five or ten years old?”
“I doubt it, Becka. This stuff is fancy and requires memory up the yang.”
“Hmm. So if this fails, I could get the files off the computer in the back room. ” She was ready now with a way to escape this house and ready as she’d ever be to quash her raging need to have him naked in the nearest bed. “Tomorrow is another day, Lyons. And as for tonight—“
She had to keep herself centered. Breathe deeply. Take one step and another to get this job done. Not dwell on mistakes. “Do you keep a set of clothes here, sailor boy?”
“Like a sport jacket, trousers. Something a guy wears to a classy dinner party overlooking the Potomac in August.”
“Yeah. I clean up nice and pretty. Why?”
She waggled a finger at him. “We’re dining tonight.”
“Exactly.” She breezed from the back room, down the grand staircase.
“Info. Proximity. Opportunity.” In the kitchen her phone was vibrating on the island. “I need to solve this quickly now that you’ve raised red flags on my case.”
“We can win Oscars for our performances.”
“And our lies?” she asked with heartache lurking in her words.
Mike was right behind her. “Stop that.”
It was tough not to punish Mike for not loving her the way she did him.
Hell. Get over yourself.
“It’s Vince,” she told him, reading the screen of her phone. She didn’t answer, waiting instead to see if he’d leave a voicemail. He did. She listened to his brief message. “Sure enough. He’s worried about me.”
Mike rolled his eyes.
“Too bad.” She hit the shop’s number, tapping a toe in impatience. “Hi, Vince. I just missed your call. Sorry about that…. Yes, I know. But I wanted you to know too that I am so sorry about my friend’s gorilla tactics.”
Mike pulled a face.
“Yep. I know it didn’t look wonderful with the senator there, but hey, there wasn’t much I could do. You saw my friend. He’s rather…yeah, he is.”
Mike bared his teeth at her.
“Yep. Used to getting his way. I hadn’t seen him in more than a year and he thought he could just grab me up and run off. Old high school prank that he never outgrew. I know. I’ve chewed him out. He won’t do it again. Yes. He is in town for a long time.”
Mike spread his fingers, all eight of them.
And she clutched. She hadn’t seen him since two were amputated. The ones missing were his pinky and ring finger on his left hand. He was right-handed so these were not a huge loss, but he’d suffered. He’d had a terrible bout of pneumonia and lost his spleen to surgery. Worst of all were the burns that had required extensive treatment. And the PTSD, all of which his grandmother had told her about in detail. He was a wounded vet and she must treat him with more consideration. She’d be kinder.
“Um. What?” she asked Vince, trying to get back on track. “How long is he in town? Ahh—”
Mike lifted his shoulders.
She glared at him. “In town. Hmm. Not sure. Two weeks maybe. And tonight? Absolutely. Yes. I am still planning on coming.”
Mike grabbed her hand and mouthed
, Me, too
But she smiled like a cat and said, “Thank you. And of course, I hope you don’t mind if I bring my friend.”
“Friend,” Mike grumbled. Then he turned and trudged to the refrigerator and fished out a bottle of bubble water.
“Of course, I’ll bring him. That way, he’ll be able to apologize to you in person. Yes, yes, if there’s still commotion at the corner of M and Wisconsin—”
Mike looked up at her, pausing as he poured himself a tall glass of water.
“D.C. police got a shooter? Terrific. Any word on who it was? No, no TV here. My jungle friend doesn’t believe in modern technology.” Chuckling at her own bad joke, she winked at Mike and snickered. She had to break out of here, focus on work to distract herself from falling into an erotic afternoon with Lyons. “Hmm. A teenager. Okay. Good to know. What happened with the senator? He bought the piece? Fabulous. Well, no, if you don’t mind, I don’t think I’ll return to work. We might not have a lot of walk-ins what with all the commotion from the shooting and traffic is probably at a standstill. It is? Makes sense. The police will take their time with marking the crime scene. Yes. How do I know? Oh, you know. I watch a lot of crime investigation shows. Call me an armchair forensic scientist. Right.”
Mike gave her the thumbs up on that.
“Thanks, Vince. Yep. Of course, looking forward to it. See you at eight. Bye.” She grinned at Mike and clapped her hands. “We’re in.”
“Maybe. If we can get an all-clear from Grey, then yeah.”
“Mike, get real. The police have the kid. We’re done with that deterrent.”
“Becka, we know nothing about him yet. He may have friends. A mission.”
“Possible. But if he were on the prowl for me, he would have gone to the shop or his friends would have, don’t you think? Hmm?”
He wiggled his nose on that one. “Don’t know that one hundred percent. I’m calling Holden for the latest.”
She stared at the ceiling. “Okay. See if he has news about this kid in custody.”
She put one hand on her hip. “Before you do though, know this. I cannot stay home tonight. With the unknown capabilities of Vince’s encryption software at question, I have little time to solve this case before he might become aware that I copied his hard drive. Whatever Holden says, if I can’t get into Vince’s files from the shop’s main computer, then tonight is the perfect and maybe only time for me to check out his home machine. Tonight is on, Lyons. I go with you or without you. Your choice.”
He took a swig of his water. “Watergate, huh?”
“Exactly. Probably best just to hail a cab from here. No need for you to drive. Did you drive? Do you keep a car in your garage?”
“Yes, I drove. No, I don’t have a car here. I have, rather I
, a rental.” He screwed up his face, concentrating on the floor tiles. “But I should check on it.”
“Where is it?”
“Watergate. Party? Hell.” He ran a hand through his hair. “Car.”
“Hello-o? What are you talking about?”
“My rental.” He pointed toward the street.
His phone rang again and he cursed beneath his breath. She listened while he talked obviously with Holden. All of it was very terse and in a minute Mike hung up.
“Seems we do have a police report that this perp is a fifteen-year-old who lives in Anacostia. He jumped out of a car on M, tried to rob a pedestrian and when the guy froze, he shot him and six others. Then he ran.”
She inhaled. There had been too many shootings in the past years. Too many gun deaths all over the country. Mike had turned sour, silently gazing out the window at his mother’s roses.
She’d turn the conversation. “Okay. Let’s go. There’s someone at home you need to meet.”
He stood taller and stared at her. “Who?”
Mike swallowed hard on his water. “Roger. Roger
“God.” He hung his head. “Deliver me from sin.”
“You’ll love him.” She gave him the rev it up sign with her hand. “Chop, chop.”
“I have never loved anyone named Roger. And you shouldn’t either. I have visions of a guy in plaid suspenders with a bowl haircut.”
“A cute picture. But not accurate.”