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Lucas Delancey eyed the shelf of DVDs next to the flat-screen TV in the French Quarter apartment's living room. The fake movie looked remarkably like all the others. As long as she didn't decide to watch Charade, she'd never know she was being watched.
He'd had to get creative in the tiny kitchen. He couldn't embed the state-of-the-art spy cam in the spine of a cookbook because they were stored in a cabinet. So he'd finally stuck it inside the smoke detector. Of course, that meant he'd had to deactivate it.
"Don't burn down the house, Ange," he muttered as he retrieved his screwdriver, wire stripper and pliers from the end table.
He glanced across the small living room toward the bedroom and bathroom, wondering if he was going to regret not setting up cameras in those two rooms, but it didn't matter. He would not spy on Angela Grayson in her bedroom, much less her bathroom.
No way. He was violating her privacy in too many ways already.
He looked at his watch. Fifteen minutes to spare before she was due to be home, according to her class schedule. He took a last look around. No sign he'd been there.
He was almost to the door when his cell phone rang. It was Dawson.
Damn it. The only reason Dawson would call was if he'd spotted Angela.
"Yeah?" he snapped. "Don't tell me—"
"Yep. You're lucky I took a stretch break and looked up the street. She just came out of the market. You've got two minutes."
"Great." He'd have been home free in four. Crap.
He ran out, slamming the door behind him, and bounded down the stairs four at a time. At street level, the back door of the building opened onto a quaintly decorated alley, with iron benches and Boston ferns. Rain sprinkled down on his head and shoulders as he glanced toward the Chartres Street entrance, then he turned the other way and loped down the alley to Deca-tur Street. He circled the block and emerged back onto Chartres below Angela's apartment building, prepared to sprint across the street.
Instead, he ran into her—literally. Something clattered to the pavement. He caught her arm to keep her from falling head over heels.
Son of a bitch! Why had she bypassed her building? For a split second, he considered bolting. But he'd never get away before she recognized him. He might as well face the music. "Are you okay?" he asked, grimacing inside.
Angela Grayson stiffened as a jolt of recognition hit her. That voice.
Her first thought couldn't be right. Lucas Delancey was a police detective in Dallas. He wouldn't be walking in the French Quarter in early June.
When she looked up, she caught the full impact of those familiar intense green eyes.
"Hi, Ange," he said, giving her a sheepish grin.
She jerked her arm out of his grasp. "What are you doing here?" Heat crawled up her neck to her cheeks. She couldn't believe it. Lucas Delancey. Literally the last person she'd ever expected to see. It had been twelve years since she'd last looked into those devilish eyes.
"Uh—" he looked down and then picked up the DVD she'd dropped. He met her gaze as he handed it to her. "How…how've you been?"
"Why aren't you in Dallas, detecting something?" Now that she'd come down from the initial shock of seeing him, she noticed how uncomfortable he seemed. She'd never seen him this ill at ease, except around his dad.
He was out of breath, as if he'd been running, and his hair was tousled, too. It really was Lucas. Hot and tanned and as handsome as she remembered, to her chagrin.
Still looking sheepish, he shrugged. "I'm taking some time off. A buddy lent me his apartment for a few days."
Angela frowned. He was lying. She'd always been able to tell when he was dishing out bull. Okay, truth to tell, she once could, back when they were kids. Nowadays, who knew?
"Your buddy's apartment. Please tell me it's not around here—" She gestured vaguely.
"No. No. I was just walking." He stepped backward. "What about you? Are you still living in Chef Voleur? "
"No way! I didn't want to stay in our hometown any more than you did."
"You and Brad gave up your mother's home?"
She shook her head. "We're renting it out." She took a half step backward. "I've got to go."
"You live around here?"
"That building back there, with the red shutters." She saw the faint puzzled look that arose in his eyes. "I was going down to the newsstand to get a magazine."
Something inside her twisted at his use of her nickname. "It's Angela," she said coldly. "I'm all grown up now."
He nodded, watching her intently. "I see that. You look good."
"Do I? And the punch line is—?"
His brow wrinkled slightly. "No punch line. Still can't take a compliment, I see."
She met his gaze and was surprised. The twinkle she remembered hadn't appeared in his eyes.
"Like you'd know," she shot back, suppressing a smile. They'd always been good at the banter.
"Things going okay with you?"
And there it was. Just what she'd wanted to avoid. She didn't want to try and make small talk with Lucas Delancey. Even twelve years later, she was too embarrassed.
"Things are fine." Defensiveness edged her tone. She cleared her throat softly and continued. "You?"
He nodded and smiled—with his lips. His eyes remained serious. Something wasn't right with Lucas—not that she cared. Or at least, not that she'd admit it.
"Okay, good. So—" She glanced around.
"We should get together sometime," he ventured. "Catch up."
"Sure. That would be—" Nice? No, it wouldn't.
"Let me give you my phone number."
"Listen Lucas, I don't—" She stopped. Suddenly, ir-ritatingly, having Lucas Delancey's number at her fingertips sounded like the best idea ever. Probably because of the paranoia that had been growing inside her over the past few days.
"Okay," she finished lamely. "That sounds great." She dug her cell phone out of her purse and entered the numbers as he recited them. She didn't offer him hers.
"Okay then," he said. His gaze flickered downward, toward his feet, for an instant. Then he looked at her from under his brows.
"Take care, Ange. I'll see you around." He turned and headed back toward downtown.
For a couple of seconds, she watched him. In some ways he hadn't changed since high school. That eyebrow still rose as if he knew a secret nobody else knew. And he still had that same cocky attitude.
No one would consider him skinny these days—cut was a better term. And his walk held more confidence than swagger. All things considered, he was still the best-looking guy she'd ever seen.
"Lucas," she called out, not sure why.
He stopped and turned.
"It was—you know—good to see you."
He nodded and smiled, as if he'd known she was going to say that, then kept walking.
Annoyed, she abandoned the notion of getting a magazine and turned on her heel, back toward her building. At the door, she glanced up the street, but he'd disappeared.
She frowned. What had he said? He was in town for a few days staying at a buddy's apartment.
That was a lie. She had no idea what he was doing in New Orleans, but it wasn't just a vacation. Her earlier thought had been right on the money.
Something was wrong. And whatever it was, Lucas was in the middle of it.
lucas entered his building through the rear door, still cursing himself. All he'd have had to do was pause for five seconds to make sure Angela had gone into her building, before heading across the street.
Now she knew he was here. It wouldn't take her long to figure out why. He'd seen how her eyes narrowed when he'd spun the vacation story. Those chocolate-colored eyes should be declared a lethal weapon.
Chocolate. The word conjured the scent he'd picked up when they'd collided. She'd been eating chocolate.
Chocolate and old movies. Her favorite guilty pleasures.
A thrill of lust slid through him as his mind flashed back twelve years to the night she'd kissed him. She'd been eating chocolate then, too. And ever since, he'd avoided it—tasting it was like tasting her lips.
He growled and forcibly shut down that part of his brain as he pushed open the door to the barren second-floor loft.
In front of the window across the room, his cousin Dawson was plugging a computer monitor into a black box. Four other screens were lined up on a long folding table.
"So, how's Angela?" Dawson said. "Leave it to you to go all the way around the block and still manage to run into her."
Lucas ignored the barb. "Are the cameras in her apartment working?"
"Of course. But you've got a problem."
Dawson nodded toward one of the monitors. "Look at her door."
Lucas looked at the monitor just as Angela came into view. The camera he'd set up over the transom opposite her apartment showed a perfect view of her entry door.
It was ajar.
"Ah, hell. I know I closed it. The lock should have caught."
He watched as Angela stopped and stared at it.
"Maybe it doesn't always catch," Dawson offered. "Maybe she's found it open before."
Lucas shook his head. "Nope. She hasn't. Look how rattled she is. And she'd never forget to lock it. Angela doesn't make mistakes like that."
He watched her glance around and knew exactly what she was thinking.
Do I go inside or find the building super and call the police?
"Damn it. Don't go inside. You know better than that." He tapped his fist against the table top. "She knows somebody's been in there, because she knows she locked the door this morning. But I hope to hell she doesn't call the police. If she does, we're sunk. They'll find the cameras."
She finally made her decision and pushed the door open.
"That's my Ange. Diving right into the middle of danger." He glanced toward the other monitors. "Which one's the living room?"
Dawson plugged the last monitor in and turned it on. "Right here."
"What's that?" He pointed at the box that all the cables ran to.
"A UPS. Uninterruptible power supply. Finest kind. It'll run the computer for four hours if the power goes out. Take a look."
The last monitor lit up. Lucas took in the array. The five monitors gave him a clear view of the street in front of her building, the front lobby, the hallway leading to her apartment, a wide-angle shot of her kitchen and her living room, where she was turning the lock on her door.
He watched as she scrutinized every inch of the room. She was looking for signs that someone had been in there.
"Only the kitchen and living room cameras pick up sound," Dawson commented. "Keep it turned low. They're powerful and sensitive."
The high-definition monitor clearly showed the tense line of her jaw and her white knuckles. She looked toward her bedroom, then toward the French doors that led out onto the balcony, her teeth scraping her lower lip.
"That's not the fearless bratty kid I remember. I don't think I've ever seen her this shaken by anything."
Except once, his brain was quick to remind him. Again, the memory of her soft lips and chocolate scent assaulted his senses. He immediately shut off those thoughts. He needed to concentrate on protecting her.
She tossed her purse, her leather tote and the DVD onto the couch and headed for the balcony.
Lucas turned his gaze from the monitor to the streaked, spotted window. Her balcony was almost directly across the street. She opened the balcony doors and peered out. Her face was pale, her mouth set.
After a quick look up and down the street, she closed the doors and flipped the latch.
When he looked back at the living room monitor, all he saw was her sexy backside disappearing into the bedroom.
"You should have put a camera in her bedroom," Dawson commented.
"What the hell is she thinking, living in a place like that?"
"You mean a place where someone can install cameras in her home without her knowledge?"
Lucas growled. "You know what I mean."
"Thousands of people live in New Orleans in perfect safety."
"Thousands of people don't have ruthless Chicago crime families out to kidnap and kill them."
"You can't blame her. She doesn't know she could be a target, right?"
"Right. But look at that place. I could fly a 747 through the holes in security. Anybody could climb up the balcony. Those French doors are an open invitation to burglars. And there's no security at all in the lobby. The doors are unlocked 24/7. I got in her front door with a credit card."
"A credit card? I thought her brother gave you a key."
"He did. But when I saw that lock—it's ancient. I mean, how long has it been since you unlocked a door with a credit card?"
"Let's see. Forever. Why would you even try to do that?"
"Because those locks are so old that—never mind. The point is, she needs deadbolts."
"If she had deadbolts, you wouldn't have been able to get in."
"Fine. I'll give you that. But at least I've got the surveillance system in place, thanks to you. And it looks good. I appreciate it."
"Yeah. Don't mention it. Seriously, don't. Particularly when you're arrested for breaking and entering, not to mention stalking. I've taken all the Delancey Security logos off the equipment."
"Thanks for the support."
"Why didn't your buddy Brad hire a private investigator to bodyguard his sister until he can put that crime boss behind bars? Or just make her move to Chicago, where he could keep an eye on her himself? Didn't you tell me that the police there have his family under an order of protection?"
"Two reasons. First, since Angela's last name is different from his, he figured she'd be safer if he didn't do anything formal. He didn't want to tip off Picone's goons that he has a sister. And the second is the same reason he doesn't want her to know she has a bodyguard. She'd have a tantrum and do her best to prove she doesn't need protecting. And if she knew it was me—" Lucas shook his head "—hell, she'd probably paint a bull's-eye on her back just to spite Brad and me."
"Which brings up another question." Dawson scrolled through several screens on the main monitor and nodded to himself. "Why is it you?"
"Brad asked me to find someone. I was available." Lucas heard the irony in his voice.
Dawson nodded. "Lucky you, getting suspended for excessive force at just the right time."
He grimaced. It rankled that his lieutenant hadn't gone to bat for him against Dallas P.D. Internal Affairs. The domestic dispute had gotten violent long before Lucas and his partner had shown up.