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By Kylie Brant
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe lady was a thief.
Sam Tremaine watched the woman waltzing around the large ballroom, passing laughingly from one man's arms to another. Even among the glitz and glitter of the Parisian consulate party, she stood out in a way guaranteed to draw the men's eyes and the women's envy.
He stroked his index finger absently along the stem of the crystal flute in his hand, the expensive champagne forgotten for the moment. He wasn't surprised to find her at ease in the elegant social circle. He imagined she'd accepted the invitation he'd arranged on her behalf as her due. Beautiful, unattached women were sought after by hostesses looking to attract wealthy, powerful men to their parties. There would be no reason for any of the guests to see beyond her glamorous laughing surface. No reason to suspect that her beautiful, passionate face hid a soul as black as sin.
Her pictures hadn't done her justice. The errant thought occurred, and he considered it objectively. He had a file bulging with photos of her, taken by telephoto lens when she was unaware. The flat, two-dimensional likenesses hadn't captured the energy that crackled around her, the incredible vivacity. In contrast to the heap of pictures was pitifully little background information. Juliette Morrow was shrouded in mystery. Most created identities were.
Sam set his half-full glass on a tray carried by a white-jacketed server and declined a replacement. He preferred to keep all his wits about him for the next step in this game. For it was a game; a contest in wits, bravado and cunning. And as in all games, it was one he intended to win.
He'd been watching her since she'd entered the room and he'd made certain she knew it. But far from the welcoming smile with which she graced her dance partners, she made a point of not looking in his direction too often. Perhaps she sensed a threat from him. If so, she had excellent instincts.
Purposefully, he began cutting through the dancing couples with deliberate strides. He noted the exact instant she saw him coming for her. That polite mask slipped a little, giving him a glimpse of ... not fear. Wariness, maybe. And then her glance flicked away as if making note of the nearest exits.
"Excusez-moi. Est-ce que je peux emprunter cette belle dame?"
The portly, balding man dancing with Juliette shrugged good-naturedly at his request and stepped back. Sam barely missed a beat before taking her in his arms and whirling her away. Because he was watching her so closely, he could see the struggle taking place in her expression, before she smoothed it with almost imperceptible effort.
"Monsieur Tremaine, the American lawyer. What brings you to our city?"
The flirtatious tone couldn't disguise the very real interest behind the question. He'd shaken her by his unswerving regard this evening, just as he'd intended. The quiet sense of satisfaction that filled him at the realization was derived as much from the personal as the professional. "You know my name. Should I be flattered?"
"I doubt it. You don't look like a man susceptible to flattery."
Sam almost smiled. Her observation was right on the mark. Instincts hummed to life as adrenaline spiked through him. Without a worthy opponent, even the most noble games lacked challenge.
"With you, I may make an exception." There was a painful twinge in his thigh, reminding him that the damaged muscle there hadn't completely healed. To take some of the strain off his leg, he adjusted his movements until they were barely swaying to the music. She followed him effortlessly, but he could feel the rigidity in her spine beneath his palm.
"I know your name, too. Juliette Morrow." He waited a beat before adding, "Or do you prefer the nickname the French press has for you? Le petit voleur. The little thief."
He watched her reaction to his words with interest. There was a flicker of something in her wide dark eyes, there and gone too quickly to be identified.
Then she tipped her head back and gurgled out an infectious laugh that had heads turning toward them.
"Do all Americans have such an offbeat sense of humor?" she inquired, once she'd recovered. There was real amusement in her voice. If he hadn't been so certain he was right, he might have doubted the conclusions he'd drawn. But he didn't doubt them. Which made her a liar, as well as a thief.
"I've been told I have a dry sense of humor, but I'm not joking now. And I think you know it. That's why your pulse is racing." He lifted her hand and pressed his lips to her pulse, felt it gallop beneath his touch.
"It isn't often I find myself in the arms of such an attractive man. What a pity to find that you're demented, as well." Her voice was cool, her gaze direct. "They say that mental illness is on the rise in your country. Perhaps in your line of work you find that quality an asset."
Despite himself, Sam grinned. Her English was flawless, as was her aim. "Lawyer jokes ... the bond that unites cultures. I'm too used to them to take exception." Deliberately, he brushed his hand along the silky line of her back, left bare by her gown. He was gratified to feel her shiver in response, then used her reaction as an excuse to pull her closer.
She pressed both her hands against his chest, maintaining a small distance between them. "I've heard that Americans often romanticize criminals. Is your joke supposed to serve as some sort of compliment? A word of warning - few women find it flattering to be called thieves. If that's your idea of flirtation, you really need to get out more."
Sam didn't try to keep the smile from his lips. God help him, but he was enjoying this. He didn't want to consider what that said about him. "You prefer flirtation of another sort, don't you? Flirting with danger, with the police." He lowered his head to the side of her throat, distracted for a moment by the scent that lingered there. "What do you enjoy most, I wonder?" He breathed the words in her ear, even as he filled his lungs with her perfume. "The research, the planning ... or the actual theft? Does the prize ever really measure up to the anticipation? Does the risk-taking get in your blood, driving you to dare even more? A good psychiatrist would have a field day with those questions."
"A good psychiatrist is exactly what you need. I'll leave you to make an appointment." She pressed harder on his chest, attempting to free herself, but his arms only tightened.
"You'll find I'm a little more difficult to escape than the German police were last month." She didn't gasp at his words; she didn't seem to breathe at all.
"The Riemenschneider was an exquisite pick, by the way. Intricate but balanced style, without the emotionalism of the period. But then I assume you had a buyer lined up before the job. A private collector?"
Juliette had given up the pretense of dancing, so Sam followed suit. His thigh screamed its appreciation.
Her voice, when it came, dripped disdain. "You'll have to excuse me. I have a low tolerance for boredom, and this conversation is growing tedious."
Excerpted from Entrapment by Kylie Brant Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
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