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Kinley Ford was after two things: Jordan Taylor and the truth. Tonight, she might finally get both.
If she didn't get killed first, that is.
Because if he did indeed know what was going on, he might take extreme measures to stop anyone from finding out.
Swallowing hard, she stepped inside the reception area of the Sentron Security Agency to find the Christmas party in full swing. The place sparkled, not just with some of the guests in their glittery dresses. There was also an angel ice sculpture on a center table, and it was flanked on each side with white roses in crystal vases and bottles of champagne angled into gleaming, silver ice buckets.
Kinley dismissed all of that and looked around. There he was, on the far side of the room next to the massive Christmas tree.
He looked lethal. And was. She'd studied every bit of information she could learn about him. Over the years, he'd killed three people. All in the line of duty, of course. But that still gave him a dangerous edge that she would be a fool to dismiss.
Kinley hated to think of him as her last resort, but she had exhausted her list of persons of interest. She'd exhausted her bank account. And herself. She wouldn't give up if she failed tonight—she would never give up—but she literally had no idea where to go next.
Beside her, her "date," Cody Guillory, took her coat, then her arm and led her not in Jordan's direction but toward a tall blond-haired man by the ten-foot-long table filled from corner to corner with party food.
"Anna," Cody said using the alias she'd given him, "this is Burke Dennison." Cody checked his watch. "In about three hours, he'll be my new boss."
Burke flashed a thousand-watt smile. With that sun-blond hair, blue eyes and tan, he looked every bit the golden boy he was. At thirty-one he was a self-made millionaire and about to take the reins of one of the most successful security agencies in the state.
Burke used his champagne glass to make a sweeping motion around the reception area at Sentron headquarters. "I bought the place," Burke let her know. "Isn't that a hoot? I'm a ranch hand's son from Dime Box, Texas, for Christ's sake. Who would have thought it?"
Jordan Taylor obviously had, since he was the present owner and about to relinquish control a mere three days before Christmas.
Kinley wanted to know why.
For fourteen months, she'd examined the lives of more than a hundred people and had looked for any changes in their lifestyles. This was a major change for Jordan. But the question was, did it have anything to do with Shelly's murder?
"Well, if I'd had the cash, I certainly would have bought the place," Cody remarked. He, too, looked around. Almost lovingly. "My life is here." He shrugged, then smiled. "And usually my body. Burke, don't you expect me to give you eighty hours a week the way I gave Jordan."
Both men laughed, but she didn't think it was her imagination that there was some tension beneath. Maybe Cody wasn't thrilled with gaining a new owner, or losing the old one.
When a tuxed waiter moved closer, Cody snagged two fluted glasses of champagne and handed her one so they could toast Burke. Kinley thanked him and pretended to have a sip while she pretended to be interested in the conversation Burke started about some changes he wanted to make.
She'd gotten good at pretending.
In fact, everything about her was a facade, starting with the red party dress she'd bought from a secondhand store. The symbolic necklace that she wore twenty-four/seven. Her dyed-blond hair. Her name. She was using the alias Anna Carlyle tonight, but she had three other IDs in her apartment. She'd lived a lie for so long. Too long.
"Excuse me a moment," Kinley said to Cody and Burke.
She stepped away and tried to be subtle. She mingled, introducing herself. She even sampled a spicy bacon-wrapped shrimp from the table, all the while making her way to Jordan.
There was an auburn-haired woman talking with him, but as if he'd known all along that Kinley was coming his way, he slid his gaze in her direction. He whispered something to the redhead and she stepped away, but not before giving Kinley a bit of the evil eye. Probably because she thought Kinley was her romantic competition. That couldn't be further from the truth.
"Nice party," she said, extending her hand. "I'm Anna Carlyle."
He kept his attention fastened to her face. Studying her with those intense brown eyes that were as dark and rich as espresso.
This was the first time she'd seen him up close, the first time she'd gotten a good look at him, and sadly, Kinley realized she wasn't immune to a hot guy. Funny, after what she'd been through she was surprised to feel any emotions other than grief and fear, but Jordan Taylor had an old-fashioned way of reminding her that beneath the facade, she was still a woman.
Simply put, he was the most physically attractive man she'd ever met.
He wasn't slick and golden like his Sentron successor, Burke. Jordan had a sinister edge that extended from his classically chiseled face to the casual way he wore his tux. The tie was loose. His left hand was crammed in his pocket. The other held not a glass of champagne but whiskey straight up.
It smelled as expensive and high-end as he did.
His hair was loose, a bit long, brushing against the bottom of his collar. It was also fashionably unstyled, as if he didn't have to spend much time to make it look as if he could have been posing on the cover of some rock magazine.
"Anna Carlyle, huh?" he asked. And it was definitely a question.
That pulled her from her female fantasy induced by his good looks and smell. "Yes. Cody was kind enough to invite me to the party. And you're…?"
The corner of his mouth lifted. Not a smile of humor though. It made Kinley want to take a step back. She didn't. She held her ground.
"Jordan Taylor," he finally said. "But you already know that, don't you?"
She was in the process of bringing the champagne glass to her mouth for a fake sip, but Kinley froze. Nearly panicked. Then he tamped down the fear that she was about to be exposed. She didn't mind being revealed as a liar, but exposure could be deadly.
"Yes, I did know you were Jordan Taylor," she admitted. "You're the host of this party. I must have seen your picture in the paper or something."
He eased his hand from his pocket. In his palm was a slim platinum-colored PDA. He held up the tiny screen for her to see.
She saw a picture of herself.
Specifically, a picture of her in the coffee shop across the street. Her worried eyes were fixed on the Sentron building. He flicked a button, and another photo appeared. Also of her. This time she was parked in a car on the street just up from his San Antonio estate.
Kinley glanced over her shoulder, looking for the quickest way out. There wasn't one. To get to the doors, she'd have to make her way through at least three dozen people, including twenty or so security specialists who among other things were trained to apprehend suspects. But Jordan likely wouldn't even let her get that far, because he was the most qualified security specialist in the room and was only a few inches from her.
She couldn't read his expression. He didn't seem angry. Or even curious. He just stood there, calmly, while he apparently waited for her to make the next move.
"I was thinking about hiring a bodyguard," she lied. "I wanted to check out Sentron first."
He made a hmm sound, slipped the PDA into his pocket, set both their drinks aside and grabbed her arm. "Let's take a walk, have a little chat."
Once again she held her ground. Fear shot through her, but Kinley couldn't go with him. She had to get out of there. "I should get back to my date. Cody will be wondering where I am."
"No, he won't."
Because Jordan said it so confidently, Kinley glanced over her shoulder again. Cody and Jordan exchanged a subtle glance, and Jordan's grip tightened on her arm.
"When I realized you were following me, I sent Cody to the coffee shop. His orders were to strike up a conversation with you and then to invite you to tonight's party—an invitation I figured you'd jump at." He paused, met her gaze. "Cody's very good at his job, isn't he?"
He was. Kinley hadn't suspected a thing. Maybe because she'd been so excited about the possibility of learning the truth of what'd happened fourteen months ago?
"I'm leaving," Kinley insisted.
"Yes. After we have that chat." Jordan didn't give her a choice. He practically dragged her in the direction of a hall.
"I have a gun," she warned.
"No, you don't. Before you stepped foot in this building, I scanned you—thoroughly." He tipped his head to a small camera-like device positioned over the front doors. "If you'd been carrying concealed, I would have already disarmed you."
That caused her heart to drop even further. What had she gotten herself into? And better yet, how could she get herself out of it?
He opened a door and maneuvered her inside. Even though she didn't stand a chance of overpowering him, Kinley got ready to fight back. She gripped her purse so she could use it to hit him.
But Jordan didn't attack her. He turned on the lights and shut the door. The room was filled with wall monitors, desks, computers and other equipment. No people though. She was very much alone with a man who might kill her.
"This is Sentron's command center," he explained. "Soundproof and secure. We won't be overheard here."
Which meant there'd be no one to hear her if she screamed.
He took out the PDA again and began to flick through more pictures. There was one from her college yearbook. Another of her in an airport terminal. Her passport photo. But the bulk was from newspaper articles when she'd been reported missing and presumed dead two years ago.
"There's about three million dollars' worth of equipment in this room, including facial recognition software. When I realized you had me under surveillance, I pulled up every image in every available databank." Jordan turned, aimed those eyes at her again. "I know who you are, Kinley Ford."
Since she didn't know how to respond to that, she didn't say anything.
"You're twenty-eight. Not a natural blonde. You have a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from University of Texas. Two years ago the research lab where you worked exploded, and everyone thought you were dead. You obviously weren't. You surfaced again fourteen months ago, only to disappear again. Now you're here." He outstretched his hands. "Why?"
Kinley chose her words carefully. "I knew Shelly."
He drew his arms back in, clicked off his PDA. "Did you have something to do with her murder?"
"No." But Kinley knew she didn't sound very convincing. "Did you?"
For the first time, she saw some emotion. For just a second, there was something in his eyes. Not pain, exactly. But some sentiment that he quickly reined in. "No." He didn't sound any more convincing than she had.
They stared at each other.
"You knew Shelly," Kinley accused.
He nodded. "She was a former business associate. I fired her because she was embezzling from me."
Yes. She'd read all about that. "And she was your lover. I saw a picture of you two in the newspaper." In the photo, Shelly hadn't been able to conceal the attraction she was feeling. It'd come through even in a grainy black-and-white image. Not for Jordan, though. In that photo, he was wearing the same poker face he had now.
"What do you want?" he asked.
"The truth. Among other things, I want to know who killed Shelly and why."
For just a second, his mouth froze around the syllable he'd been about to say. Then, he obviously rethought his response. "What other things?"
Kinley blinked, because that'd been a slip of the tongue. "I was her client. And her friend." She had to pause and take a deep breath. "I left something important with her."
Mercy, had she stuttered on the word important?
Her nerves were so raw now that she didn't know. "I tried to retrieve the item," she continued, "but then I learned her office was destroyed and that she was dead."
She didn't think for a minute that Jordan was just going to accept her explanation. No. The question came immediately. "What kind of item?"
"That's personal." And she'd had more than enough of this intimidation. Kinley straightened her shoulders, tucked her purse beneath her arm and started for the door.
She didn't make it far.
Jordan stepped in front of her, blocking her path and sending her straight into him. He was solid. She learned that the hard way when her breasts landed against his chest. If he had any reaction to the contact, he didn't show it. He merely stepped back so that he was right in front of the door.
"Who sent you here?" he demanded.
"No one." That was the first real truth she'd told tonight. "And I'm leaving."
"Not now, you're not." He blocked her again when she tried to go around him. When Kinley tried again, he caught her, whirled her around and pinned her against the door. "Who knows you're here?"
It wasn't a question she'd anticipated, and now it was her turn to study his eyes to see what had prompted him to bring up one of her biggest concerns. "Obviously your people know."
"Just Cody. And he doesn't know your real name. He thinks you came because I wanted to have sex with you. So, who knows you're here?"
"No one. I've been careful."
He gave a slight eye roll and tipped his head toward the PDA where he had pictures of her. "If I saw you, someone else could have, too."
True. And that terrified her. It had terrified her from day one, but even that wasn't enough to make her stop this search. She had to know if Jordan had the answers she needed.
Well, one answer in particular.
"What's this really all about?" she asked, hating that her voice was shaky. Heck, she was shaking. And the full-body contact he was giving her wasn't helping. She felt trapped. Threatened.
"I want to know the same thing," he countered. "What item did you leave with Shelly?"
She shook her head. "I can't say."
"You mean you won't."
"Can't," she insisted. She met his gaze. "What do you know about this?"
He stayed quiet a moment. "I figure if you take what I know and what you know, we'll have a complete picture. So, you show me yours, and I'll show you mine. You first."
Kinley considered that and then considered the alternative. She couldn't afford a stalemate. Nor could she afford the consequences of what would happen if she spilled all. So, she took it slowly. "I honestly don't know who killed Shelly."