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A martini at lunch. Preferably alone. Classified files on everyone. Tabs on women he slept with. Dark navy business suit and black tie. A briefcase of papers. And the careful suspicion of everyone working under him.
Ricardo Harden had become what he hated most in life -- A bureaucrat. Worse, a bureaucrat who followed the rules, shoved all the right papers, dotted his i's and crossed his t's. He was getting gray from just the drabness of his existence, and if he would just take that final step, he'd stop jogging five miles every other morning and let his body turn into what he was in real life.
And now, despite walking the straight and narrow line of red tape, he had become the object of suspicion. Again. Internal Investigations, the self-governing arm of covert activities in the government, had all but officially put him in the crosshairs. It wasn't stated in the front page article in today's newspaper, but he could read between the lines.
Rick stepped out of the shower, wiped the excess water from his wet body, and threw the towel into the hamper. He strode nude out of the bathroom, picking up the newspaper and small plastic bag on the antique stand. His body ached happily because he had forced another three miles on it this morning. His legs, toned from years of running, felt bulkier and heavier as each group of muscles came into play when he climbed the small staircase that led into his bedroom in the tri-level apartment.
There were two rooms up the short flight of steps. One was the master bedroom. The other was his office, which was always locked. And as he had every day in his life for the past ten years, Rick checked his office door, making sure nothing was touched. Satisfied that the safeguards were still there, untampered with, he turned to his room.
It was still silken dark inside, the other occupant in his bed fast asleep. He walked over to the window and drew the shades open, letting in the morning light. His companion from the night before frowned and turned away from the source, giving him a view of her naked back.
Rick stood over the bed and watched her for a long moment. He must have been in a strange mood last night. He hadn't had sex four times in a night in Lord knew how many years, but he had been hard all night. Hard and wanting, and needing something. His companion had loved it, but he felt empty. Because what he was looking for didn't come with sex.
He blamed it on work. His lips twisted. Well, not work exactly, since he couldn't work with the Big Scandal getting bigger every day. David Gorman, the deputy director of Task Force Two, had been caught selling classified information to the enemy and Rick knew it wouldn't be long before Internal Investigations came after him. He was Gorman's operations chief after all, though no one would have ever guessed that Gorman was his enemy, that he had been living a lie the past ten years.
Last night Rick had gone out to relax, to celebrate having an old enemy finally out of his hair, and who did he spy sitting in the best seats of the opera house but reminders of what a failure he had been. Steve McMillan and Cameron Candeloro, the two heroes of the department, the ones who had taken down Gorman. Rick couldn't help but feel a twinge of envy at the happiness radiating from the two men sitting down with their female companions, so satisfied with life and what it had to offer.
Of course, they had to be attending an opera called Turandot, about a cold-hearted princess who schemed to put her men to death. The happy ending was so obviously manufactured that Rick didn't even bother to consider it part of the story. In true life, he knew, Princess Turandot wouldn't have succumbed to love. She would happily send that suitor to his death for being so stupid and generous with his heart.
But he saw Steve McMillan caressing Marlena Maxwell's back as they walked off in the lobby, saw the way she smiled up at him when he pressed a kiss on her forehead. He saw how Cameron danced attendance on his girlfriend. Rick had smiled bitterly. What love could do to a man.
Something dark and needy had risen inside him then. Something forbidden. He had crushed it down with ruthless practice, but knew he needed to give it an outlet.
The pale flesh of the woman on his bed caught his attention. Sex. Hard, calculating sex. The kind that was all taking and not giving.
He had taken his companion here to his place and given in to that part of him that was always locked up. She hadn't protested, and he would have kept going all night long if he hadn't run out of condoms. No, he was more careful than that. Animal desire was one thing. Getting carried away was another. And he never, ever, got carried away. Not anymore.
He sat down on the bed, contemplating whether to wake his sleeping companion. He shrugged, then slid a hand down her bare back, under the covers, and between her legs. She was still sticky wet from the night before.
She moaned and turned around, squinting against the morning light. "Richard?" she murmured sleepily, then smiled. Rick knew she thought it was something to do with her, this sudden insatiable side of him. "Hmm, no more condoms, remember? I can't believe you're ready again."
He didn't bother to tell her that it wasn't she, that after this, he probably wouldn't ask her out again. She knew his reputation when they had started down this road -- they all did ...Facing Fear. Copyright © by Gennita Low. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.