<!–[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 <![endif]–> A valet parked cars and the uniformed doorman offered a touch of elegance to the people as they arrived at the Carmody Yacht Club.

Ladies in chic gowns and gentlemen in fine evening attire gathered for the prestigious event, hosted by influential businesses in the community. The ball was an annual function designed to solicit money from well-to-do citizens while providing an enjoyable evening and exquisite dining. A polished dance floor provided the perfect atmosphere for people to step to the orchestra’s big band tunes.

White linen cloths draped tables while golden candelabras adorned with flowers and tapers cast a soft glow. There were ice sculptures and fountains spouting champagne to accent the ballroom’s lavender and blush rose decor. The best china and crystal were lavished with delectables.

Allison attended every year because her parents organized it and continued after their deaths because they’d enjoyed it so much. It made her feel a little closer to them. She and Kat sat with Sean O’Connor at a table close to the raised dais where the orchestra played. Despite the fact that she managed a leisurely bubble bath before preparing for the evening, Allison hadn’t been able to relax. The concentration that it took to suppress her abilities when around this many people robbed her strength to the point of exhaustion. Paul Kincaid had found her when he first arrived and had been wonderfully entertaining. She did her best to mingle.

Eventually, Allison managed to sneak away and headed for the fountain to refill her goblet, when her attention was drawn to a tall figure entering the ballroom. She concentrated hard so as not to trip over her own feet and kept her jaw tightly in place. Casually bringing the champagne to her lips, she advanced toward the door and an inevitable confrontation. Why did her pulse race and her heart drum so ferociously? How could she feel this way around Jake Austin?

The ribbed shirt he wore had crisp lines and gold cufflinks winked in the light. His dark hair stood out in contrast to the white collar it curled around. Tailored trousers hugged his muscular thighs and while her eye followed the satin stripe down the side, it show-cased his well-built physique. Her mouth watered and drooling was a definite possibility.

This had to be one of the most idiotic things he’d ever done. Surveillance meant observing, not interacting. He should have stayed away. To get up close and personal with Allison Brody drew him into unfamiliar territory.

It wasn’t hard to pick out the most beautiful woman in the room. A silky red off the shoulder gown allowed a tantalizing view of her tanned bosom. Her mahogany locks were fashioned off to one side and he followed the delicious line of her neck hungrily with his eyes. Gold flecks danced in her exotic eyes like fire, beckoning poor souls who dared to look deeply.

Jake straightened as Allison stopped a few inches from him. Her ruby red lips drew his gaze. “Good evening.”

“Good evening.” He bowed in gentlemanly fashion, keeping careful distance.

“What are you doing here?”


Her bottom lip stuck out in a small pout and he wanted to grab her and tease it with his tongue. “You’re following me?”

“Not exactly.”

“Then what are you doing, exactly?” She stepped back.

Conveniently, the orchestra played a waltz. Holding his right hand out, he asked, “Would you care to dance, Ms. Brody?”

Composing the surprised look on her face, she replied. “Certainly,” and set her glass on a nearby table.

With Allison in his arms, Jake glided across the floor in perfect time with the music. They pirouetted in sync like music box dancers. His eyes stayed glued to hers, oblivious to those around them including Paul Kincaid, who quietly watched.

The cool evening had suddenly grown hotter. Allison slipped out to the terrace when the song ended. Jake had gone to get them a drink.

“Deep breaths,” she whispered.

Moonlight spilled over the tended garden. She watched the hedges shadow dance in the night. Allison drew the crisp misty air into her lungs. Her controlled, peaceful life had been disrupted and not one, but two dangerous men fought for her attention.

She felt Jake approach, stealthy, much like a panther zoning in on its prey. The air around them charged with sensual energy.

“You feel it, don’t you?” Jake whispered close to her ear.

She didn’t respond. Should she answer that question?

“Your skin tingles, your heart races.” He moved closer still, his silky voice tense. “It’s chemistry.”

“It’s more,” she breathed through trembling lips unable to face the intensity of him. The jolt to her system nearly knocked her off her feet. What was he doing to her?

“Body chemistry, pheromones.” He handed her the flute of champagne. “We’re two consenting adults.”

His flippant, totally male attitude ticked her off, but he was right. Body chemistry was definitely at work here. “How do you know I haven’t put a hex on you with a magical potion brewed in my cauldron?”

“Not likely since I don’t believe in that stuff.”

“Do you have an explanation for everything?”

“Yes. Actually, I do. There’s always an answer. You just have to find it and accept it.”

Spinning around Allison slapped her free hand against Jake’s chest. “Very clinical, Agent Austin.” Her voice sharp. “It sounds as though you explain away everything you’re afraid of.” She curled her fingers in his shirt, her mouth a fraction of an inch from his. “Can you do that? Explain me away?”

Sweet Jesus. Jake knew he should walk away. His control slipped a notch. He yanked Allison flush against him. If he could be rough enough, scary enough, maybe she’d stay away from this case and him. Maybe he’d be able to fight the attraction toward her.

Too late. He kissed her. He gathered her thick hair and crushed his frantic, hungry mouth on those soft red lips. His tongue swept through her mouth that still tasted of sweet wine. Before she noticed his blatant hard-on, he pushed her away.

Scowling he said, “I don’t have time for this.”

At that moment, Paul Kincaid barged through the doors. “Oh, there you are, Allison.” He eyed Jake. “I thought you might like to dance.”

Kincaid couldn’t have missed her stunned, flushed appearance. She managed to find her voice. “I’d love to, Paul.” Allison placed her hand on his arm. “I was ready to come back in anyway.” She dismissed Jake without a glance.

Noninvolvement had always been a necessary condition in his line of work, a matter of survival. He cursed her for getting under his skin and clouding his focus, for giving him fantasies of another life. “Damn! What the f**k was I thinking?” Jake muttered, stuffing his hands in his pockets and trouncing down the stairs. The surety of it was her every word beckoned him to certain doom.


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