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Will McCabe had known retrieving Samantha Holmes by "whatever means necessary" was not going to be easy. He had been forewarned about the twenty-nine-year-old woman's stubbornness and feisty nature. However, he hadn't expected to have to pull her out of a war zone. But as he left the limo idling at the curb in one of New York City's more questionable neighborhoods, and found his way up the steep wooden steps to apartment 5E, a pitched battle was exactly what it sounded like.
"Okay, that's it!" a female voice shrieked from the other side of the door. The words were followed by heavy footsteps and a karate-style yell. "You ugly looking son of a rodent! I've had it with you making my life so darn miserable!" she shouted over a loud crash and resounding whack that even had Will jumping. "If you won't get out on your own volition, then I'm just going to have to kill you myself!"
Will's eyes widened at the blatant threat.
Howard Holmes had said his baby sister had bad taste in men, but letting a domestic dispute deteriorate to this level of violence was downright foolish. Determined to get her out of there before any more harm was done, Will pounded on the door with his fist. "Samantha! Open up!"
"I can't," she shouted back over the sound of glass shattering. "Seriously" He tried the door handle and to his frustration found the latch locked. "We need to talk!" He pounded on the door again.
"I don't think so," she retorted.
Will winced when he heard another loud crash. A neighbor from down below quickly opened his door, peered out, then slammed it shut.
"Samantha!" Will ordered. "Open up now!"
The woman inside muttered something he couldn't quite catch. Thenshe screamed in terror. To heck with waiting, Will thought, as he muttered an oath and kicked the door in. It swung open to reveal a studio apartment that had definitely seen better days.
Samantha Holmes whirled, looking every bit as beautiful in person as in the photos Will had seen. Her delicate face was dominated by long-lashed, dark brown eyes, a straight nose and luscious lips. Thick glossy hair, the color of dark cherrywood, tumbled in loose waves past her shoulders. She came nearly to his chinwhich made her about five foot eightand every inch of her was feminine, from her silky skin to her full breasts, trim hips and long, sexy legs. Eyes flashing, she brandished a broom, while the biggest mouseWill had ever seen raced across the floor.
"Don't just stand there gawking," she commanded, stepping over a pile of broken glass as the skinny gray tail disappeared beneath the sofa. "Shut the darn door and help me catch him!"
Relieved that it hadn't been a man Samantha Holmes was fighting with, Will complied. "You know, they have exterminators for jobs like this," he drawled, trying not to notice how great she looked in the cotton sleep jersey that fell halfway to her knees.
Another resentful glare came his way. "An exterminator would kill him," Samantha protested.
"Not necessarily." Will spied a flashlight on the coffee table. Glad this was one problem he could easily solve, he picked the light up and got down on his knees. He turned it on, illuminating the area beneath the sofa, and quickly located the quivering creature. Figuring "Mickey" wasn't going anywhere anytime soon now that it had found a place to hide, Will sat back on his haunches and looked up at Samantha. He was close enough to inhale the alluring fragrance of lavender clinging to her skin. "Besides," he teased, " you just threatened to do that yourself."
Flashing an apologetic smile, Samantha gestured to a metal cage on the floor of the kitchen. "I didn't mean it." She brought the contraption over to Will and set it down between him and the sofa. Hunkering down beside him, she bent to get a look at the frightened mouse, then gave a little shiver. "I just want him out." She rubbed her arms with her hands. "Preferably right now." Climbing to her feet once again, she added, " I was hoping if I scared him sufficiently he would take off and never return."
Aware he was at eye level with her thighs, Will stood up, too. Then he realized her arms weren't the only part of her that was cold. Resolutely, he pushed away the enticing vision and turned back to the task at handcapturing the mouse that was currently making Samantha Holmes's life miserable.
Will glanced around, sizing up the threadbare furniture, several wardrobe racks of clothing, well-organized, and an equally impressive tier of shoes and handbags. Obviously, when it came to work attire, Samantha Holmes spared no expense. "How long has your rodent buddy been here?, he asked.
"A week." She gnawed on her lower lip as she looked up at Will. "I've tried everything to capture him so I could take him to the park and set him free." She shrugged. "Cheese. Peanut butter."
Will eyed her kitchen and found it sparsely equipped. "Maybe that trap you set up doesn't look quite so humane to him. Besides" he nodded at the cereal boxes on the counter, their bottoms eaten out" why should he settle for a one-course meal when your kitchen cabinets provide a buffet?"
Samantha huffed, the action lifting the luscious curves of her breasts. "You sound like you know a lot about pests," she remarked.
Wishing he hadn't noticed what a great body she had beneath the lavender sleep shirt, and that she wasn't wearing a bra, Will met her eyes. "True, although I try not to live with any."
She made a face. "Very funny," she retorted dryly. Then she narrowed her dark eyes, as if suddenly realizing she shouldn't be trusting him. She tightened her grip on the broom. "Who the heck are you, anyway?"
"Will McCabe," he told her, bracing himself for the worst. She paused to process that information. "As in the McCabesof Texas?, she asked finally.
Proud of his family's stellar reputation throughout the Lone Star State and beyond, he nodded. "You got it."
Samantha, however, seemed unimpressed by his lineage. Her scowl deepened. "Owner of McCabe Charter Jet Service in Laramie, Texas?"
Will accepted the credit for all he had accomplished. He angled a thumb at his chest. "That would be me, all right."
"Then I know why you're here and what you want." Samantha glowered at him. "And my answer is no."
"I HAVEN'T ASKED YOU anything yet," Will McCabe stated lazily, his appreciative gaze drifting over her.
Samantha angled her head to study the ruggedly handsome man standing in front of her. She had guessed from the moment she heard his commanding Texas accent on the other side of her door just who had sent him. One look at the leather aviator jacket, Western-cut cotton shirt, worn jeans and boots had told the rest of the story. Her brother, Howard, had tired of her ignoring his phone messages, letters and e-mails, and had sent this good-looking stud to get her. Too bad said stud didn't yet know he was on a fool's errand. "Let me guess," she murmured, looking him up and down while trying not to be taken in by his broad shoulders, taut abs and six-foot-three frame. The mussed sable hair, smoky blue eyes and intractable jaw were a little harder to disregard. This was a man who was used to getting what he wanted, when he wanted it, and what he intended to retrieve now was her. Not that she planned to cooperate, she reminded herself.
"you're a bodyguard."
She studied the short hair and rigid posture. "Cop?"
"Ex-military." Will cast another look at the mouse. Satisfied all was status quoat least for the momenthe looked back at her. "The law enforcement officer in my family is my brother Kevin, who's a sheriff's deputy."
She really didn't want to know that. didn't want to get involved with anyone connected with her brother. Still, curious as ever, she had to ask, " What was your MOS in the service?"
Of course. "Branch?"
"United States Navy."
She sighed. Another link to Howard and the sea and a lot of things she didn't want to think about. She lifted a hand. "I see."
He eyed her skeptically. "You were supposed to know I was coming."
Shrugging, she tightened her hands on the broom. "My brother left a message on my answering machine that he was going to provide transportation to Texas for me."
Will flashed her a sexy smile. "And I'm the pilot of that private jet."
Samantha tore her gaze from the sensual shape of his lower lip and concentrated on the straight line of his nose. "Too bad you wasted a trip."
He didn't seem to think so. "We can talk about that later," he assured her, clamping a friendly hand on her shoulder. "Right now I suggest we work on capturing Mickey Mouse before he makes a run for it again."
Ignoring the warmth transmitting to her skin, Samantha studied the strong column of his throat and the soft hair visible in the open collar of his shirt. She stepped back, breaking their connection. "You've got an idea, I suppose?"
Will took his time surveying their surroundings. "That's right. But first we're going to need a deep containerlike that trash canto put him in."
Samantha walked over to the tall plastic container that had been with her since her college days. "It doesn't have a lid."
Will inspected the makeshift detention center. "We don't need a lid if it's empty. Mice can't jump more than a foot or so."
Will McCabe had an air of authoritySamantha gave him that. With effort, she suppressed a shudder at her next supposition. "you're sure he can't just run up the sides?"
Sheer male confidence radiated from the Texan. "No more than you or me."
Samantha wanted to trust Will McCabe. She couldn't. Not when just the idea of that mouse on the loose again had her contemplating a leap into his strong arms. "How do you know?, she challenged, looking deep into his blue eyes.
His lips took on a rueful tilt and he gestured vaguely. "Let's just say I, too, haven't always lived in the best places."
Good to know.
Preferring Will in the line of fire rather than herself, Samantha took out the plastic sack lining the trash can, and tied it shut. Her anxiety building once again, she carried the empty can to him.
Will took off his leather jacket and rolled up the sleeves of his cotton shirt. "You need to step back."
Samantha didn't know whether to laugh or run for cover, given how wily and agile the mouse had been thus far. "you're going to do this all by yourself, I suppose," she stated dryly.
He shifted his stance. "Yep."
Samantha positioned herself a safe distance away and folded her arms. "This I have to see."
Without missing a beat, Will swiftly moved the sofa from the wall, reached down and grabbed the exposed mouse by the tail, then dropped it into the garbage can. That quickly, the problem was resolved; the mouse that had terrorized her for a week was in rodent jail.
Feeling more than a little foolish for all her antics with the broom, Samantha stared at Will.
"Mind if I wash my hands?, he asked.
"Go right ahead," she murmured, peering into the trash can. The mouse was scampering about in a panic, but every time it tried to get up the sides, it fell back to the bottom. About three inches long, with its tail another four inches, it looked harmless enough.
Her heart still racing, Samantha glanced at Will. She sensed they weren't out of the woods yet. "Now what?, she demanded.
He sauntered to the kitchen sink and turned on the faucet. "You need to take the mouse at least a half mile away if you don't want him visiting you again. And you need to plug up any openings larger than a quarter inch if you want to avoid any more "company." "
After glancing again at the little critter, Samantha edged closer to Will. "Plug the holes with what?, She watched him pump a generous amount of antibacterial soap in his palm, then start scrubbing his large, square hands.
"A mixture of steel wool and caulking compound works best," he said with a grin. "Got either here?"
Flushing from the close quarters, Samantha knelt beside him to check beneath the sink. Too late, she remembered how scantily dressed she was. "Actually, both." She wondered if it would be too obvious if she went and put on a robe. Then again, he had already seen her in her nightshirt and hard-soled hiking boots.
He stepped slightly to one side and looked down at her, clearly oblivious to the reason behind her indecision. "Get "em out," he told her gently. "And I'll do it for you."
Trying not to think about his denim-covered thighs, Samantha stood. There was no reason solid male muscle should be such a turn-on. She swallowed to ease the parched feeling in her throat. "you're awfully nice." She handed over the items he requested.
He lifted a brow, bemused. "And that's a surprise because?, His voice dropped another notch.
Feeling her cheeks heat all the more, she pulled a spackling tool from a drawer. Their fingers collided as she handed it over, his warm hand brushing hers. "you're an associate of my brother's."
Will looked at her but made no comment. Inexplicably, Samantha was flooded with guilt. She pushed it away, prepared to stand her ground. "But just because I appreciate your assistance," she continued frankly, " does not mean I'm going to Laramie with you. Because I'm not."
He gazed at her another long moment.
She could have sworn he was disappointed. "Suit yourself," he said finally.