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By Julie Miller
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Go home, Maddox. This case is washed up."
Special Agent Sean Maddox took the letter from his partner, Thomas Hall, and angrily crushed it in his fist. "Two months of an airtight investigation shot to hell because one state court judge can't keep it in his pants."
"Even the high mucky-mucks of society are entitled to a vacation now and then." Leave it to Thomas to try to reason this thing out.
"Is that what he called it? A vacation?" Sean spat out.
The whole case was slipping through his fingers, and Sean felt responsible. He'd promised Alicia Reyes he'd nail her kidnapper. She was just a kid-a sweet little thing the same age his sister had been when he'd started taking care of her all those years ago.
But the longer it took to get a judge's ruling on critical evidence, the less likely it was they'd make their case against Marquez stick. And if that sleazebag walked ... "Damn!" He wanted to say worse.
Special Agent Thomas Hall pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose, his reaction to the bad news as coolly reticent as Sean's had been hot-tempered. "There's no proof that Justice Rossini had an affair. His resignation letter states that the mere rumor of infidelity is enough to harm his family's reputation. He's resigning from the state bench effective immediately to keep the Rossini name out of the papers and go home to Roanoke to work on his marriage."
"Did he honestly think an island getaway with his secretary tagging along to take notes wouldn't raise a few eyebrows? We waited all last weekend for this guy to get back to Virginia. He's been stonewalling us since Monday." Sean shot the wad of paper onto the scattered files that littered his desktop. "He couldn't have given us a ruling on that forensic evidence before he went on permanent vacation?"
But the rumors sounded all too familiar. Sean knew firsthand how gossip and separations and rampant libidos could tear a family apart. He'd watched his parents' marriage go up in smoke when his British father's military career kept him away from home for months at a time. Not even the unexpected arrival of Sean's baby sister, Sabrina, could convince Admiral Roland Maddox to stay put in England.
Sean remembered encouraging his mother to move back across the Atlantic to her home in Nebraska-to be near her family while his father was abroad. He'd grown up thinking his mother was the one who was suffering. But Sean's sympathy faded the day he discovered her trips to town for a college class had been to see the professor himself. In a hotel room.
As if that wasn't enough, Sabrina had barely made it into third grade when a picture of the admiral with his female aide-de-camp had graced the London Times. Sean's father hadn't even bothered to deny the affair; the damage had been done. His mother had retaliated by announcing that she'd been discreet by comparison. The sparks flew. Sean had tucked Sabrina under his arm and faded into the background while their parents duked it out.
The divorce dragged on for two years. When those affairs ended, new partners quickly filled the empty spaces in their parents' lives, but commitment was never part of the scenario. And the children were never more than an afterthought.
With that stellar example to learn from, Sean planned to do better. He'd found his most enduring relationship to be with the Bureau. But women were another matter altogether. Other than his relationship with his sister, whom he still called once a week at college, his longest relationship with a woman had been eight months, two weeks and a day.
It had taken him that long to notice Elise's roving eye.
Elise had initially been turned on by the badge and the gun. She'd gotten a thrill from dating a real-life hero. But after the fun had worn off-about the time Sean was thinking about getting serious-he'd found her recent correspondence with her old college sweetheart. When he'd seen Elise and Frat Boy meet for dinner and had caught them kissing, Sean had known it was over with her.
Thank God he'd had the Bureau to return to the next morning. For eight years now, the job had never let him down.
Letting his shoulders expand and settle with a weary sigh, Sean picked up the goofy card that had come in the mail from his sister at Stanford University, and smiled. Sabrina might be the one woman he could count on in this world. Count on without question. Even if she did have the balls to razz him about his single status.
He had nothing against women, nothing against marriage.
He just wasn't going to put his faith in either one of them.
"Something you want to share?" Thomas's pointed question brought Sean back to the glassed-in confines of their tiny office.
"Nah. It's just a note from Bree." Sean smiled again, easily picturing Sabrina's long wavy curls and mischievous grin. "Checking on me before she leaves the country for her next graduate studies project."
Thomas adjusted his glasses. "You're okay with that?"
Sean shrugged. He'd had a lot of years to get used to taking care of his little sister. He hadn't had enough to get used to her being all grown up and gallivanting around the world to dig up buried treasures in pursuit of her Ph.D. in archaeology.
Another image, of a little girl with equally long hair-black instead of blond -filled his mind and pushed aside his sentimental thoughts. A simmering frustration tensed his muscles and pulled his mouth into a taut line. He tucked Sabrina's card into his top drawer and looked across the desks to Thomas. "One thing I know I'm not okay with is Alicia Reyes's kidnapper walking away because of a legal technicality."
Sean swiped a hand over his jaw and scratched at his scraggly beard. He hadn't shaved since yesterday morning. He and Thomas had been too busy piecing together the facts of the young girl's kidnapping. Alicia was home safe now, but her kidnapper would never stand trial if they couldn't come up with more than circumstantial evidence to warrant an arraignment.
"We were that close to nailing Marquez. So what if we entered that house without a warrant?" Sean thumped his finger on the desk. "We had the warrant in our hands before we opened the closet and found the ropes with the hair samples."
"You're preaching to the choir, Maddox." Thomas stood and straightened his tie. By this time of the afternoon, Sean had no idea where he'd discarded his. "But without Rossini to give us the go-ahead on using that rope, Marquez is just a creepy guy who lives in the neighborhood."
Thomas adjusted the holster he wore strapped around his shoulder, and picked up his suit coat from the rack beside their office door. Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small package. He tossed it to Sean. "Here. Do you even know it's May 29?"
With easy reflexes, Sean caught the package. Closer inspection showed it to be a present.
"Happy birthday," Thomas added.
Sabrina's card had come early, before she took off for parts unknown. Since then, Sean had lost track of the days. Thomas, of course, never missed such details. "You shouldn't have." Sean dredged up a sly grin and ripped into the ribbon and paper. "What's this supposed to be?" Thomas had given him a tiny, black, leather-bound book. He thumbed through the pages. Inside he found an assortment of names and phone numbers. "Noelle. Kris. Cassie. Sue. Sherry. Mary Ann."
"Since Elise left, you don't seem to have a little black book of your own, nor would you take the time to use one. So I thought I'd share some friends of mine." Thomas walked over and tapped the book. "I put the names of six very nice ladies in there. They're smart, they're sexy, they're available. And they're willing to meet you, which is no small accomplishment on my part, I might add. Why don't you call one of them and go celebrate your birthday tonight?" Thomas shoved aside a stack of files and sat on the corner of Sean's desk. "What are you now? Thirty?"
Excerpted from Carnal Innocence by Julie Miller Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.