Read an Excerpt
Washington, D.C. April
Where is she?
James nursed his beer as he kept one eye on the television mounted on the wall behind the bar. His spot at the corner table afforded him a view of the entire place, and although he wasn't a huge fan of golf, the highlight reel from the Masters Tournament was the most interesting thing going on at the moment.
He glanced at his watch as he set the bottle down and reached for a handful of peanuts. Kelly wasn't usually late, but maybe she'd had a long day or had gotten stuck in traffic. It was raining, and D.C. drivers tended to lose their minds when any kind of precipitation fell from the sky. Whatever the reason, if she didn't get there soon, he'd start drinking the beer he'd ordered for her. He'd be doing her a favor, he decided, as no one liked warm beer.
"Ready for another, James?" Danny called out, pausing in his obsessive wipe down of the already clean bar.
He shook his head. "Not yet, thanks. I'll work on Kelly's first."
"Shouldn't she be here by now?"
As if on cue, the door opened with a blast of humid air and Kelly dashed in, wearing a frown as she brushed the raindrops off her jacket. She waved at Danny as she walked over to the table, then sat with a sigh and reached for her beer. James raised a brow as she gulped down the brew, draining the bottle in one go. She set it on the table and turned to gesture for another, but Danny was already there, handing her a fresh one and wearing an expression of amused surprise.
"Want me to keep them coming?" Danny offered. Kelly nodded, and Danny shot James a meaningful look before he returned to the bar. Keep an eye on her tonight.
James nodded. I will.
They had been meeting at this bar every Friday night for the past six months, a tradition that had started after they'd met at a friend's party. She had looked strangely familiar to him, so he'd struck up a conversation. It turned out they had gone to the same college and had even shared some mutual friends, but by some quirk of fate they hadn't officially met back then. After finding out she lived in a nearby neighborhood, he had suggested they meet up for drinks sometime. She'd taken him up on the offer, and they'd quickly developed a solid friendship.
Normally, Kelly was fun and easygoing when they got together, having only one or two drinks each time. He'd never seen her drunk, but if her current mood was any indication, he would tonight.
She set the bottle down with a loud thunk, then wriggled out of her jacket and hung it on the back of her chair. Facing him again, she smoothed a hand over her auburn hair and tucked the stray strands behind her ear.
"You are not gonna believe the week I've had," she said, her hazel eyes flashing as she reached for the bottle. He opened his mouth to respond, but she continued, not missing a beat. "My boss is driving me crazy."
"I figured as much," he said, sensing a rant in his future. "What's he done now?"
Kelly rolled her eyes and took a sip. "What hasn't he done is the better question. Remember that project I was telling you about?"
He closed his eyes and tried to recall the conversation. "Vaguely," he said slowly as the details came back to him. "But I didn't really understand what you were saying. You got a little jargony on me there, and you know I didn't take any biology in college."
She grinned at him, amused as always by his lack of scientific knowledge. "Yeah, sorry about that. Anyway, I'm not getting the results he expected, so he pulled me into his office today and reamed me out. Said I was a bad scientist, and if I couldn't do the job he paid me to do, he'd find someone else."
"Can he do that?"
She bit her lower lip and nodded. "Yeah. Technically he'd have to show cause, but since his grant is paying my salary, the university won't really ask too many questions if he decides to fire me. It's his lab, and the investigators have total authority over their labs. But you know what the worst part is?" She leaned forward, and he caught a whiff of her honeysuckle perfume as she moved. "The data are correct, and he's wrong. He just won't admit it."
"What's he wrong about?" James was genuinely curious, but he didn't hold out hope that he'd understand her project or results. He'd never been very good at science in school. Philosophy and law fascinated him much more. He'd take a criminal over a lab report any day.
She launched into an explanation of her experiments, and to her credit, she did try to dumb it down for him. He listened intently, occasionally interjecting an "uh-huh" or a nod to encourage her. He loved watching her talk, the way she gestured and moved, her body language communicating just as much as her words. With her bright eyes and flushed cheeks, she was a sight to behold.
She finished her beer and signaled to Danny for another. "Anyway, it's a big mess and it all kind of came to a head today. Sorry to vent to you."
He reached across the table and placed his hand over hers. "It's no problemthat's what I'm here for."
She smiled at him as he pulled back, then cleared her throat. "Enough about me and my crappy day. How are you? What's new with you this week?"
"Not much to tell," he said, nodding at Danny as the bartender set down fresh bottles. "I'm still working on the pipe-bomb case, and Carmichael is breathing down my neck for results."
She winced in sympathy. "Any leads?"
"Yeah, a few." He shrugged, wanting to tell her more but knowing he shouldn't really talk about the details of the case. "I think it's going to turn out to be one of the kids."
Her eyes widened as she sipped her beer. "Why would a kid bring a pipe bomb to school?"
"To show off. To scare someone. Because they thought it would be cool. Why do teenage boys do anything?"
"I'm just glad it didn't explode," he said, running a hand through his hair. "The last thing we need right now is more tension, and you know an explosion at a local school would freak people out."
Kelly shook her head as she watched him. "Why did they bring you guys in on this in the first place? Shouldn't the D.C. cops have handled it?"
He sighed, suddenly tired. "It all comes down to appearances. The police don't want to be accused of not taking the threat seriously, so they ask the FBI to join the investigation, to make sure they're not missing anything. Since we don't want to be accused of the same thing, we conduct a full investigation, even though this really is a matter better left to the locals." He shook his head. "It's all very circular, and at the end of the day, I'm not sure it really makes a difference."
Kelly studied him a moment, her head cocked to the side. "Are you saying you're tired of working for the bureau?"
"No. Maybe. I don't know." He shrugged, raising his bottle to his lips for another swallow. "Some days I feel like I'm really making a difference, and then other days I feel like I'm just spinning my wheels."
"Not to be a Debbie Downer, but I'm pretty sure everybody feels that way at one point or another, regardless of their job. I know I do."
He nodded, picking at the label on his bottle. She was right, of course, but lately he'd had a string of bad days, making him question if he was really doing any good at all. He should probably take a vacation, get away for a few days and clear his head.
Kelly clapped her hands, jerking him out of his thoughts. "You know what we need? Irish car bombs."
He shuddered in mock horror. "Please don't say bomb too loudly."
She grinned back at him. "We're in a bar. I'm pretty sure Danny isn't going to call the police when I place this order."
A moment later, Danny appeared at the table with the requisite ingredients. James stifled a groan. Irish car bombs were a sneaky drinkthey tasted like a chocolate milk shake, and more than once he'd been seduced into drinking several of them. It was only after he stood up that he realized how much of a wallop they packed.
"Ready?" Kelly asked, holding up her shot and reaching across the table to clink glasses with him.
Her expectant grin had him smiling in return. One car bomb couldn't hurt, and it was a good way to celebrate the end of the week. "Ready."
The dual thump of the shot glasses hitting the bottom of the pint glasses signaled the start of the race, and they both chugged the frothy mixture. He set his glass down first, wiping the bubbly residue off his lip with the back of his hand. An instant later, Kelly set her glass down as well, saying that she'd let him win.
"Not likely, princess," he said, grinning at her. "I'm a car-bomb champion from way back."
She laughed, her tongue darting out to lick the foam off her lips. The action sent a zing of awareness through his system, and an unbidden thought popped into his mind: God, she's beautiful.
He'd found her attractive from the start, but since he'd been buried in work and she had been, too, he hadn't tried to strike up anything more than a friendship with her. By the time his schedule had cleared up, they'd been friends for so long he didn't think she'd be interested in anything more, and he wasn't willing to risk ruining that friendship by telling her he wanted to take things to the next level.
He wasn't pining for her, exactly, but he hadn't been on a date since they'd met. He probably should find someone in order to get over these less-than-platonic feelings. The trouble was, he wasn't interested in anyone else.
"I demand a rematch!" she said, her eyes shining and her heart-shaped face pink from laughter and alcohol. He smiled at the sight, enjoying the view. "Are you ready to take me on again?" she demanded with a giggle.
He shook his head. "Not tonight, I'm afraid. I don't want to risk losing my title."
"Next week, then," she declared with a regal nod. "You'd better be ready."
"Next week," he said, reaching out a hand to seal the deal. "It's on."
She grasped his hand and gave it a firm shake, then picked up her bottle and drained the last of her beer.
After signaling Danny for another round, she leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes.
"Don't tell me you're tuckered out already," he teased. "It's not that late yet."
She opened one eye and shot him a grin. "I'm oldI can't help it."
He snorted. "Yeah, right."
They fell into an easy conversation, teasing affection underlying their exchanges. James felt a flush of pleasure every time he made Kelly laugh, loving the uninhibited sound of her giggle. He always enjoyed their time together, the way he could let down his guard and talk about anything with her without fear of being judged. She made him laugh, she made him think, but most important, she made their time together fun, something that was in short supply in his life.
After two more drinks, she let out a loud sigh, reaching back for her purse and pulling out her wallet.
"It's been fun, as always, but I'm gonna head home." She dropped several bills on the table, then stood and grabbed her jacket.
James hurried to stand, as well. "Let me walk you to the Metro," he said, digging out his wallet and dropping some money on the table. He caught Danny's eye and gestured to the money on the table before hurrying to catch up with Kelly.
She stopped by the door and blew the bartender a kiss. "'Night, Danny. See you next week."
"Good night, Kelly." He waved at her. "You stay close to James, now, you hear?"
She whirled around, almost bumping into his chest, and reached out to link her arm through his. "Is this close enough?" she asked.
Danny nodded. "That'll work. You two be careful."
"We will," James said, escorting Kelly out the door.
The rain had stopped sometime earlier, and the streetlights reflected off the puddles, making the sidewalk glow. The air was clean and crisp with the scent of rain, and he hoped the walk combined with the fresh air would help sober her up.
She stumbled over a crack in the sidewalk, jerking on his arm to stay upright. "Guess I'm a little tipsier than I thought," she said with a giggle.
"That's what happens when you drink car bombs," he replied. "Here, let me help." He placed an arm over her shoulder to steady her, meaning to keep the gesture as platonic as possible. His good intentions flew out the window, though, when she snaked an arm around his waist, fitting her body snugly against his side and hooking a finger into his belt loop.
She was warm and soft, and he liked the feel of her pressed against him. Her fingers on the waistband of his pants had his thoughts going off in an entirely inappropriate direction, and he tried to rein them back in to safer territory.
He spent the rest of the walk mentally reciting FBI rules and regulations to keep from fantasizing about the woman under his arm. It wasn't a foolproof method, but it did prevent his thoughts from getting too far out of line. He nearly sighed with relief when the lighted Metro sign came into view, signaling an end to this most exquisite torture.
They paused at the top of the escalators, and she turned to smile up at him. "Well, James, I hope you have a good night." She stood on tiptoe to press a smacking kiss against his lips.
It was too much. He had behaved himself during the walk, but the feel of her lips against his caused him to lose his tenuous grip on self-control. Before he realized what he was doing, he grabbed her by the waist and lowered his mouth to hers.
She let out a little "Oh!" of surprise, and he had a split second of doubt before she relaxed against him. Her lips moved under his, and he felt her tongue swipe across his bottom lip; the sensation made his knees wobble.
He deepened the kiss, asting Guinness and whiskey, reveling in the silky smoothness of her mouth. She pressed closer and he tightened his hold, his hands traveling from her hips to her back, anchoring her into place.
Her hands skimmed down his back, one of them reaching around to squeeze his butt. His hips arched forward in response, and she made a purring sound low in her throat when she felt his erection.
A rude shove forward, accompanied by a muttered "Move!" had him pulling back. A steady stream of people was pouring out of the Metro station, darting around them with various degrees of success. Keeping his hand on her back, James stepped to the side, pulling Kelly with him to take them out of the pedestrian traffic. He had forgotten they were in public, and given her sound of protest and dazed eyes, he'd bet Kelly had forgotten, too.
"My place?" he said, the words flying out of his mouth like bullets from a gun, unstoppable and just as dangerous.
She nodded enthusiastically, with no hint of hesitation or reluctance. Her eyes were clear and bright, her mouth curved up in a sexy smile that made him want to lean in for another kiss.
His condo was about two miles awaytoo far to walk, especially given the state he was in. He grabbed her hand, leading her toward the curb, and flagged down a taxi.