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"I need you to find my husband's killer."
Dominic Cordasic stared at the shapely blonde behind the polished oak desk. Was she crazy? It had been seven years since he'd last seen her, seven years since she'd dumped him for Evan Adair, and this was why she'd asked to see him?
"No," he told her, taking pleasure in the way she narrowed her cat-like blue eyes. "I can't."
"Can't? Or won't?" Rachel Everhart Adair crossed her arms, multiple bracelets jangling. "I'm offering you the opportunity of a lifetime. Media exposure galore. You'll be the most popular private investigator in Las Vegas if you succeed." Despite having spent the last eight years in Vegas, she hadn't lost her Texas drawl.
"And if I fail?" He couldn't resist taunting her, though part of him knew he also jeered at himself.
"You won't." The quiet confidence in her voice stunned him. Was she deliberately reminding him of happier times, when they'd believed in each others' dreams?
No doubt she knew how badly he needed the work.
Still, this was Rachel. The woman with whom he'd left Texas to settle in Vegas, where she could pursue her dream of becoming a dancer. Rachel. The woman who'd broken his heart.
Continuing to study her, he considered. Evan Adair had died six days ago. He'd keeled over in a strip club, cause of death, poison. Like everyone else, Dominic had learned the tawdry details from the television news. The media made everything seem cut-and-dried. Dead man, younger wife, a lot of money at stake. Of course she'd killed him. Suppositions of her guilt were made obliquely, with smug certainty, though the police hadn't charged her with the crime.
"You don't appear too grief-stricken."
She lifted her chin. "I didn't kill my husband. I can promise you that."
No stuttering. The Rachel he'd known since college always stuttered when she liedwas it possible she was now telling the truth? He scratched his chin, holding her gaze. Either that, or she'd finally taught herself to enunciate when lying.
"I'll pay you fifty thousand dollars," she said, her beautiful eyes flashing.
Damn. To distract himself, Dom glanced around her office. Plush patterned carpet, expensive furniture, fancy artwork on the walls. Even her view was top-notch, providing a panoramic look at the strip. From here he could see the distinctive mock Eiffel Tower of the Paris, the glittery Bellagio, and New YorkNew York's eccentric skyline. Her surroundings showed all the trappings of a wealthy, successful life. Exactly the sort of life he'd left behind when he and Rachel moved to Las Vegas. The sort of life Rachel had never had.
She made a sound of impatience and he focused again on her, ignoring the tug at his heart. She was just as lovely as always, though now she looked a lot more pampered than the young woman who'd once agreed to become his wife. Of course, he'd seen her on TV, but the cameras hadn't conveyed the impact she made in person. Even in her severe black suit she exuded innocence and sensuality, though she acted as though she were completely unaware of that impact.
Dom would bet his last dime that Rachel Adair knew the exact value of using her charms. After all, she'd married one of the wealthiest men in Vegas.
Who had just been murdered.
"Why me?" he asked. "There are lots of other more established private-investigation firms in town."
She bit her lip, and for a moment he thought she wouldn't answer. Then, "Because you're the only one I can trust."
Since her husband had been one of the most influential people on the strip, her words made no sense. "You don't even know me anymore."
"You haven't changed." She held up one perfectly manicured hand, stopping him from speaking. "Oh, I know there have been some problems in your life. I know you've had a few setbacks. But inside, you're still the same man I knew. Rock solid."
Leaning forward, she gave him a close-up view of her ample cleavage. Deliberate or not, the move caused him to start to sweat.
"Knew." He emphasized the word. "You knew me. You don't know jack about me now."
"People don't change that much. No matter what's happened to you, I believe that. That's why I need you."
Her choice of words had to be deliberate. She probably could guess how often she'd haunted his dreams over the years. But she'd never know how much her leaving had hurt him. That he'd vowed seven long years ago.
When he didn't respond, Rachel sighed and shook her head. Her long blond hair moved in a silky swirl around her shoulders. "Dom, either you want the job or you don't."
Oh, he wanted it. Hell, he needed it. His piece-of-crap private-detective agency was barely making it. He'd just finished up his lone case this month, and he was still working out of his apartment with no staff. At this rate, it'd be years before he could prove to his family that he'd climbed out of the pit he'd dug after Rachel left him. Fifty thousand dollars would go a long way toward achieving that goal.
But more than the money, the benefits he'd reap if he could actually find Evan Adair's killer That is, if there really was another killer.
Personally, Dom had always taken pride in shooting from the hip, being up-front and real. No matter how much trouble telling the truth caused. He'd always believed his honesty had been what made him a hell of a hostage negotiatoruntil he'd failed, with devastating results. Still, he saw no reason to pussyfoot around now. "Give me a reason to believe you didn't kill him."
"I'm not a murderer."
He smiled. Still no stuttering. "You'll need to do better than that."
"Fine." She got up, walked to the door and closed it. Returning to her leather chair and taking a seat, she took a deep breath. "Evan had some sort of list. I'm not sure whose names are on it, but everyone wants it. The FBI has been investigating"
He snapped his head up. "The FBI?" His former employer. "Why?"
"They think Evan might have been involved in terrorist activities."
Terrorist activities. He felt like he was standing in the eye of a hurricane, with the worst yet to come. "This list. Tell me about it."
"Evan first mentioned the list when he told me he'd received death threats. He didn't seem too worried, said 'they' were after the list. At the time, he claimed it was simply a list of his business partners. But if he was engaged in illegal activities, especially terrorist activities, revealing these people would be explosive. And now Evan's dead."
"You told this to the police?"
"Yes. But they acted like they thought I made up a story to try and get away with the murder." She swallowed, the movement of her slender throat drawing his eye. "Since Evan died, I've been getting threatening calls. The police tried to trace them at first, but they're too short, too random. And I believe they think I've hired someone to make them so that I seem less guilty." She paused, seeming to assess his reaction. "Whoever is making the calls wants the list. I don't have it. I don't even know where it is."
A list. Dom could only imagine what kind of names might be on it. The careers such a list would ruin, the marriages it would destroy if it could tie those named to terrorist activities. A list like that would be very valuable.
"These threats, how specific were they?"
She shrugged, the nonchalant gesture at war with the worry in her blue eyes. "Against me, not specific at all. But lately, the caller has been threatening my son."
Her son. Hearing her say it brought up another old ache. She and Evan had a five-year-old child together.
Pretending he hadn't felt her words like a knife, he clenched his teeth. "Why?"
"Blackmail. He wants the list." Clearly agitated now, she ran a hand through her hair. "Obviously, this must be the same person who killed Evan."
"Why me?" he asked again.
"I told you, I trust you. I don't trust anyone else, not anymore. We've got to find this list before anyone else does. Only once I have it can I protect my son. Will you help me?"
Instead of answering, he crossed to the window, staring sightlessly at the traffic below. "These threats against your son does the kid know?"
"Absolutely not. I don't want him to be constantly afraid."
"Don't you think you should warn him? Help him prepare, so he can protect himself?"
"He's only five, Dom. Everything has been difficult enough for him, with his father dying. I don't want to make things worse."
The love and worry in her voice brought an ache to his chest. As though doing so could protect him, he crossed his arms and turned to face her. "He'll have to be told."
For one heartbeat she looked as though she might argue, but then she nodded. "You're a professional," she said. "If you think knowing will help protect him, then I'll tell him." She set her jaw. "You'd better not be wrong."
"I'm not." He studied her, deliberately letting his gaze roam over her lush chest, as though he were immune.
"Have you told me everything now?"
A shadow came and went in her impossibly blue eyes.
"Y-y-yes," she stuttered.
Some things never changed.
And a fool was born every day.
"I'll take the job," he said.
"Good." She stuck out her hand. "Welcome to the Lone Star family."
Feeling as though he were stepping into an abyss, he reached out his hand. When their fingers connected, he felt his entire world crumble.
Stupid. He gave himself a mental shake. "When do you want me to start?"
Her lips curved. "How about now?"
When she smiled, he felt it like a punch to the gut. Though a lot of what they'd shared still haunted him, he'd somehow managed to forget about the power of that smile.
Throat dry, he stood dumbstruck and tried to collect his thoughts. Finally, he gave a curt nod. "Works for me." He sounded like he'd swallowed a mouthful of rusty nails.
"Great," she continued as though she hadn't noticed.
"I'll have a room prepared for you."
"No." Though the blood was returning to his brain, he still felt incapable of stringing a completely rational sentence together. "No room. I'll drive in."
She nodded, though a shadow darkened her eyes to the color of sapphires. "I'd really rather you stay here."
Color staining her cheeks, she held his gaze. "Several reasons. You can search for the list 24–7. And you'll be here the next time someone makes a threat."
Dragging his hand through his hair, he gave her a hard stare. "Why here at the hotel rather than at your house? Wouldn't it be safer there?"
"Lately, we've been staying here." Though she kept her head up, she dropped her eyes.
She'd succeeded in surprising him, something that happened rarely these days. "Why?"
Now, she met his gaze. "I was leaving Evan. Right before he was murdered, I asked him for a divorce. I moved in here rather than stay at the house with him."
He groaned. "Talk about motive. "
"You're wrong. Why would I bother to ask for a divorce if I was planning to kill him? We had an airtight prenup."
She had a point. Still "And you relayed this info to the police, too?"
"Of course. I have nothing to hide."
Though she didn't stutter, he wondered. But talking to him appeared to have exhausted her. The hollows of her cheekbones seemed more pronounced and there were faint dark circles under her shocking blue eyes.
"Today you're moving out. Back to your house. It'll be easier to keep an eye on you and your son there. We can come back here and look for this list after we finish searching your house."
"I'll go, but only if you stay there, too."
Dangerous. Yet, if he were to be entirely truthful with himself, he'd never purge this woman from his system without a trial by fire.
He could feel his capitulation even as he spoke. "Fine. Why don't you go get packed. On the way to your house, I'll need to swing by my apartment to pick up a few things."
Unsmiling, she nodded. "I'll need some time. I have to get Cole's things ready, too."
Once again, she'd surprised him. "Your son is still here? I'd have thought you'd have sent him off somewhere safe so he couldn't be used against you."
"No," she said. "I'll be back in a few minutes." She started to leave, then paused. "Dom?"
He forced his suddenly tense shoulders to relax. "Yeah?"
"I think you should come up and meet Cole before we go."
Reluctantly, he nodded. He wasn't good around kids, his sheer size seemed to intimidate them. Plus he and Rachel had talked about having children, and meeting the child she'd had with another man didn't rank high on his list of desires.
Still, if he wanted the job, he had no choice. "Are you ready?" Gazing at him expectantly, she didn't seem to notice his lack of enthusiasm.
"Sure. Lead on." He fell into step behind her.
The exotic scent she wore lingered in his nose as they strode down the hall. Rachel seemed unimpeded by her high heels, even on the thick carpet. Some women couldn't wear the thingsthey limped around as though every step was torturebut Rachel appeared completely at ease in hers. Without them, she'd be tiny. He remembered how the top of her head used to tuck right under his chin.
She'd never worn heels when he'd known her, claiming they ruined a dancer's feet. She'd changed. Money did that to people, he supposed. While he'd be the first to admit he knew nothing about fashion, even he could tell her clothes were expensive and well made.
During their time together, she'd preferred jeans and soft, well-worn T-shirts. Damn. He had to stop thinking about the past. Or he'd never survive this job.