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Authors: Christina Dodd

Thigh High

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“Dodd delivers a high-octane blowout finale…. This romantic suspense novel is a delicious concoction that readers will be hard-pressed not to consume in one gulp.”

—
Publishers Weekly

“Dodd's latest sparkling romantic suspense novel is another of her superbly sexy literary confections, expertly spiced with sassy wit and featuring a beguiling cast of wonderfully entertaining characters.”

—
Booklist

“Sure to heat up the night.”

—Romance Junkies

“Dodd brings her unique sense of plotting, character, humor, and surprise to this wonderful tale. You'll relish every word, cherish each poignant moment and ingenious plot twist, sigh deeply, and eagerly await the sequel. Dodd is clever, witty, and sexy.”

—
Romantic Times

“Dodd adds humor, sizzling sensuality, and a cast of truly delightful secondary characters to produce a story that will not disappoint.”

—
Library Journal

“Strong and likable characters make this an enjoyable read. Ms. Dodd peppers the story with interesting secondary personalities, which add to the reading pleasure.”

—The Best Reviews

“Sexy and witty, daring and delightful.”

—Teresa Medeiros,
New York Times
bestselling author of
The Vampire Who Loved Me

“A master romantic storyteller.”

—Kristin Hannah,
New York Times
bestselling author of
The Magic Hour

“Christina Dodd keeps getting better and better.”

—Debbie Macomber,
New York Times
bestselling author of
Susannah's Garden

“Treat yourself to a fabulous book—anything by Christina Dodd!”

—Jill Barnett,
New York Times
bestselling author of
The Days of Summer

Christina Dodd's romantic suspense

Trouble in High Heels

Tongue in Chic

Christina Dodd's
Darkness Chosen
series

Scent of Darkness

Touch of Darkness

Christina Dodd
Thigh High

A SIGNET BOOK

SIGNET
Published by New American Library, a division of
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street,
New York, New York 10014, USA
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England Penguin Ireland, 25 St. Stephen's Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.) Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.) Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110 017, India Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.) Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices:
80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

First published by Signet, an imprint of New American Library,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Copyright © Christina Dodd, 2008
All rights reserved

ISBN: 1-101-15865-4

 
REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REGISTRADA

Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

PUBLISHER'S NOTE
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
     The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.

The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author's rights is appreciated.

On August 27, 2005, I had a plane reservation for New
Orleans. There I intended to do research for the book I was
writing, a book filled with the eccentricities, the
joy, the larceny, the pleasures, and the madness of the Big Easy.

The flight was cancelled. On August 29, Hurricane
Katrina made landfall, changing the face of the city forever.

This is my book, a little later than planned, but dedicated
with affection and admiration to the resilient people of
New Orleans and to the city itself.

Here's to the Big Easy. Long may she reign!

Acknowledgments

With thanks to Connie Brockway.

A great idea delayed is still a great idea,

And this one was brilliant.

 

Thank you to the people who keep me honest:

my editor, Kara Cesare, and the whole gang at NAL;

my agent, Mel Berger;

my family; and my friends.

One

Seventy-sixth Floor
Premier Central Bank Building
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Mrs. Bertha Freytag, as imposing and efficient an executive assistant as Mac MacNaught could find, opened his office door and stepped inside, using her broad body to guard his privacy. “Mr. Reed is here, sir.”

“Send him in.” MacNaught stood, remote in hand, before a bank of video screens that marched like soldiers across his wall. Each featured a live feed of Japanese bankers, men and women like him, intent on victory over the world of finance—and they all worked for him.

“Come in, please.” Mrs. Freytag gestured Reed into the room.

The private investigator was a scrawny guy with a nondescript face, a droopy, graying mustache, and a fringe of hair around his ears. He blended into his surroundings, took no discernable pleasure in human company, and was incredibly patient. That made him the best at what he did, and that was why Mac used him.

Looking back to the screens, Mac spoke in quick, crisp Japanese. Heads bobbed. MacNaught bowed. With one click, he cut off their farewells.

“Good to see you.” Reed stepped forward to shake MacNaught's hand.

MacNaught shook, then gestured. “Sit down. Give your report.”

Reed sat, as instructed, in the uncomfortably hard chair positioned in front of MacNaught's steel and glass desk. “As you instructed, I went to New Orleans to investigate the Beaded Bandits.”

“Who?” Mac scrutinized Reed. He looked different somehow. Tanned. Relaxed.

“The guys who have been robbing your banks. That's what they call them down there.” Reed got a foolish half smile on his face. “The Beaded Bandits.”

“Why would they call them that?” Reed had gained weight, too. And come to think of it, instead of his usual shuffle, he walked with a spring in his step.

“Because they dress in such elaborate costumes, write those quaint little demand notes, and they don't shoot anyone or take too much money. And they only do it once a year during Mardi Gras. They're not seen as a threat.”

“So…I…gathered.” MacNaught walked behind the desk and lowered himself into the well-padded, adjustable leather chair. With elaborate sarcasm, he asked, “Why would four bank robberies committed during Mardi Gras by the same perpetrators be taken seriously?”

Reed lost the smile, started talking, and talking fast. “As you instructed, I focused my investigation on Miss Dahl. I followed her to work, watched her with her friends, interviewed a couple of the boarders living in the Dahl House.”

“Excuse me? The
Dahl House
?” Mac tapped his pen on the desk and stared, heavy-lidded, at his formerly invulnerable investigator.

“That's what they called it in New Orleans. The Dahl House. Because the Dahls have lived there for, um, generations.” Reed was smiling again.

Mac was not.

Reed swallowed loudly.

Good. He retained enough sense to realize the interview was not going well.

“Anyway, Miss Dahl participated in no suspicious activity. She works hard, she goes out for coffee and drinks. She likes jazz, and she's a good dancer.”

The pen stopped. “You danced with her?”

“Only in the line of duty. Really! In New Orleans, things are different. If you
don't
dance, you'll stand out, and I wanted to blend in.” Like a damn statue, Reed lifted one finger.
“Laissez le bon temps rouler!”

“What the hell does that mean?” Mac snapped.

“Let the good times roll! Surely you've heard the saying.”

“No.” Mac got back to business. “Who are her friends?”

“One's a cop, Miss Georgia Able. Nessa—”

“Nessa?” Mac's eyes narrowed.

“That's what everyone calls her. Nessa.” Reed fidgeted with the crease in his trousers. “Anyway, Nessa gets along well with the tellers, but she's not close to any of them, I think because it's not good policy.”

“Who else?”

“Everyone likes her. Everyone speaks highly of her. She has a
lot
of friends.”

Slowly, with a patently false tolerance, Mac asked, “Are any of them of interest as conspirators?”

“There's this Pootie person. She's one of the boarders at the Dahl House.” Reed pulled a long face. “Man, is that one weird woman.”

“We decided the perps were men dressing in women's costumes.”

“I'm not sure Pootie's not a guy,” Reed said thoughtfully. “She's from New York, and I don't know why she hangs around New Orleans, because she sticks out like a sore thumb. She works in the attic, doing God knows what. She doesn't like anybody. No one ever visits her.”

Mac made a note. “Pootie who?”

“Pootie DiStefano. I did a fast Internet search on her and came up with no trace. Fake name.”

“Or a hacker who's wiped her record clean. Who else?”

“There are a couple of musicians living in the Dahl House. Incredible losers, Ryan Wright and Skeeter Graves.” Reed watched as Mac wrote down their names, too. “They both have the hots for Nessa, but in my considered judgment, neither of them is smart enough to pull off these robberies.”

“Is either of them smart enough to do it if she told them how?”

“Yes, but I don't think she…” Reed's voice dwindled as he remembered that it wasn't his job to decide whether Ionessa was guilty, only to gather information about her. “Anyway, you said the Beaded Bandits were accomplished cross-dressers. Wright and Graves couldn't fake it in a million years.”

“Are any of her friends accomplished cross-dressers?”

“Maybe, um, Daniel Friendly.” Reed shifted uncomfortably in his chair.

“What about him?”

“He's an entertainer known as Dana, and he is really good. If I hadn't known better, I would have been convinced.” Reed's papery skin flushed, and Mac knew he
had
been convinced.

“Could this Dana be one of the sonsabitches who is robbing my banks?”

“He's not tall enough.”

“How nimble is he in heels?” Mac's voice rasped as it always did when he was irritated.

Reed inclined his head. “Okay, so it's possible.”

“Did you speak directly to Miss Dahl?”

“Actually,
she
spoke to
me
,” Reed said sheepishly.

“Well, now, isn't that a coincidence?” Mac drawled with heavy sarcasm. “I send a private investigator down to look into the possible involvement of one of my assistant managers in the annual Mardi Gras robberies, and she picks him out of a crowd to talk to.”

“It wasn't like that. Down there, hospitality is a way of life, and I was hanging around a lot.”

Staring at Ionessa, Mac would bet.

Reed continued, “She noticed and invited me over, and I thought it was a good way to, you know, get her confidence. So we went out a couple of times—”

“You
dated
her?” Mac could barely keep a lid on his simmering outrage.

“No, not like that!” Reed looked horrified—and pleased. “I mean she welcomed me into her group. I went out to dinner with them, dined at the Dahl House, met her great-aunts—what a kooky couple of old ladies they are!—and I really got to know Nessa.”

“You mean you compromised your investigation.”

Reed stiffened. “Not at all. You wanted to know the dirt on Miss Dahl, and I've got it. She's frustrated with her job, hates her manager. She doesn't like having the boarders live in the house and she wants them out, but the family needs the income. She's the most charming person I ever met, but underneath, she's restless, looking for something more….” Reed stared over Mac's shoulder, lost in his dream of Ionessa Dahl.

“All right.” Mac came to his feet, decision made. “That's it. You're discharged. Pick up your check from Mrs. Freytag. And Reed—don't you dare screw this up.” He spoke clearly and slowly, letting his true meaning bleed through his speech.

Reed paled, and Mac knew he comprehended perfectly.

If Reed let Ionessa know about Mac's suspicions, Mac would ruin him and his business.

Reed got out of the office in one hell of a hurry, leaving Mac staring at the closed door, fighting the urge that overcame him so often lately.

He didn't understand it. He was a self-made man, a man who enjoyed the brutality of corporate takeover, a cold, unfeeling bastard. He dressed in expensive, conservative suits. He kept his black hair severely trimmed. He wore his broken nose and the scars on his head and throat proudly, never considering plastic surgery to soften the impact.

His office provided him with a fitting background. The floor was polished concrete. What artwork hung there was stark, modern, splashes of black and red. No flowers or plants softened the industrial feel of the large room. The hum of his three computers was the only music he needed. Behind him, outside the giant window, the view showed a city of concrete and steel, while down below, snow covered the sidewalks and turned to slush on the streets.

So what was it about
her
that made him watch her, over and over again?

The same thing that made poor, stupid Reed fall in love. The same thing that lured other men into Ionessa Dahl's web.

Almost without his volition, he reached for the remote and flipped on a single video screen.

An overhead camera showed him what he'd seen so many times before: a traditional bank lobby, rich with marble and polished wood, customers standing in line, tellers conversing as they accepted deposit slips and counted out money. A problem developed, the customer argued vehemently, and into the picture stepped a young woman, tall, slender, leggy, calm. She wore the conservative blue jacket and skirt of a woman in charge. Her hair was black and styled back from her face.

MacNaught caught her in the crosshairs and zoomed in.

She was pale, with a hint of pink on her lips and cheeks, but she wore large, glittering sapphires in her ears—and she didn't look like the type to wear fakes.

When Mac adjusted the focus, her down-turned head filled the monitor. She looked up, and he froze the frame.

Leaning forward, his elbows on his knees, he stared compulsively.

The long-distance shot didn't do her justice. She wasn't more than pretty, with stark cheekbones, a dramatic chin, and smooth, smiling lips. But the corners of her wide blue eyes slanted up (Mac believed the sooty lashes were real), and the way she gazed at that customer, as if his every word was gold, made the poor sucker stammer and falter and finally wriggle like a puppy.

She was Ionessa Dahl. Graduate of the Goizueta Business School at Emory University in Atlanta, summa cum laude.

She was the woman Mac suspected had planned and executed the robberies in his banks.

She was his obsession.

BOOK: Thigh High
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