Read an Excerpt
Heat. Desire. Attraction.
He watched her from across the ritzy Hyatt Regency Hotel bar, his attention riveted by her every move. Her every nuance. The sultry beat of a slow song filtered through the smoke-filled bar, echoing the thrum of awareness dancing through his body. She shifted in her chair, her baby-blue skirt riding high exposing long, sexy legs.
Legs he'd love to have wrapped around his waist, her body pressed close.
His reaction to his target, the woman he'd been following for two days now, came as a surprise. He didn't normally find his work distracting. But a woman like this one could make a man forget that business and pleasure didn't mix. She could make a man debate the merits of crossing the line to do things he might later regret. A line he had no intention of crossing.
Nicole Ward sat among a group of people, all there to congratulate her sister, Brenda, for passing the bar exam. His target's sleek blond hair still in the prim-and-proper knot she wore at work. He wondered what it took to get her to set it free, to let the woman run wild.
The idea of finding out appealed to him far too much.
He suspected she allowed the world to see only certain parts of her life. To see the uptight federal-prosecutor persona who lived for her job.
Even there, amongst a crowd, with a celebration underway, she remained reserved and well in check. There had to be another side to her one she kept concealed. Perhaps too carefully. Perhaps hiding something she didn't want explored.
Which was why he was here.
He intended to find out what was beneath her exterior.
Constantine Vega knew everything that a file could tell him about Nicole Ward, down to hershoe size. Seven. Narrow. She took two creamers in her coffee and drank at least three cups each morning, in place of breakfast, but not until she completed an hour in the gym.
She'd come straight out of the University of Texas here in Austin to work for her father's law firma firm where decisions were made based on money, not justice. A job she'd excelled at.
Shortly after joining the law firm, she'd married her father's young protégé, Mike Parker. Divorced a year later, she took back her maiden name, and left the firm to join the U.S. Attorney's office, and now fought for people rather than power and wealth. From his observations, thus far, he thought that was true, but he had to know for sure.
After all, this blond beauty could very well hold his life in her hands. In just a few days, she'd know what few didthat he wasn't the drug lord Alvarez's right-hand man. What he was, was an undercover FBI agent who'd spent the past few years with Alvarez, preparing to take him down.
Alvarez could control people in high places; the mighty dollar, his weapon. Ironic, considering it was also the weapon of choice that Nicole's father and ex-husband had chosen. When money didn't work, Alvarez could find other ways to be persuasive. Constantine had to be sure Nicole couldn't be influenced by money, as she once had been.
Tomorrow his team would arrest another big player in the cartel, and with that takedown, Constantine's cover would be blown. Not a minute too soon, either. Just in time for him to testify against Alvarez. Although the cartel would see him dead before that happened if given the chance.
Constantine chugged his beer with that thought, images of some of the things he'd seen, some of the things he'd done, twisting his gut. Hating himself for the blind eye he'd turned to so many wrongs.
But it was all for the greater good, he reminded himself, setting his bottle down and swallowing the bile forming in his throat. He'd made choices he wasn't proud of in order to save thousands. A few sacrificed to save many. The problem was, he wasn't so sure he believed that what he did made a difference anymore.
He'd lost too much. Gambled too much. There was just too much.
The final cards would be played soon.
Glancing at Nicole Ward, he took in her innocent looks. Ah, but he'd seen devils who looked like angels. He had a way of getting people to share their secrets, of getting them to talk. A little sweet talk and a smile, and he'd either confirm her honesty or expose her nasty side.
He watched as she sipped from her second Tequila Sunrise. The "ice princess"as she'd been nicknamed by the federal investigators who couldn't score with herhad broken her own one-drink rule. Did this mean she was feeling good?
Ah but he didn't believe she was cold, this one. Not at all. Constantine had seen her ex-husband's file. The man had a thing for kinky sex clubs and a variety of women. A habit that dated back to his married days.
Either a naughty side lurked beneath Nicole Ward's conservative exterior, or she'd been burned badly when she'd learned of her ex's habits and gone into withdrawal. Constantine's gut said she had a well-concealed kinky side. And his gut had never steered him wrong before.
If ever he'd seen a woman in need of some loving, it was this one. She was wound tight and ready for release. He could tell by the way she crossed those gorgeous legs and let her shoe dangle from her foot. He bet that her toenails were painted red, not some soft pink-and-cream color. Red for seductress. A seductress who hadn't come out to play in a very long time.
An innocent game of flirtation would get him past her defenses. Too bad he'd have to stop at a bit of wordplay. Even at that, if Nicole was, indeed, innocent of wrongdoing, she'd be mad as hell when she met him again as her new witness. When she calmed down, she'd understand. She had to. He'd acted out of necessity, faced with what might be a decision of life or death his.
Constantine shoved off his bar stool, and started walking toward his target. A long time ago, he'd learned to never look back.
Tonight, he would play the game, consequences be damned.
"I shouldn't be here," Nicole said, raising her voice to be heard over the familiar pop tune the DJ played. "I have a trial starting in less than a week."
Brenda sipped from her straw. "This night is big for me, so you will just have to deal with it. Besides," she added, "it's about time you had fun." She waved two fingers at an all-American-looking, football type across the bar. "Oooh, he's cute."
"Enjoy him, now," Nicole said, wishing Brenda would take a different path. She'd been trying to convince her to rethink her plans for months. "Going to work for Daddy means you have no life."
Brenda snorted. "Unlike you, I'm not giving up sex. I don't need a relationship, but, honey, I need a good man and I need one often."
"Right," Nicole said with disbelief. Brenda really didn't get how their father's world would consume her. How it could destroy her individuality and steal her life. "You'll be so buried in work, you won't remember what goes where. Sex will be a distant memory."
"You and Mike seemed to find time for sex. I seem to remember a laundry list of places you 'did it.' The storage room, the elevat"
"Enough!" Nicole said, hating that subject. Even after three years, thinking about what she'd allowed herself to become still bothered her. "Don't remind me about Mike."
"Don't avoid the subject," Brenda retorted. "You and Mike might not have talked, but you had lots of sex, despite working at Daddy's firm. You found time and so will I. Admit it. You know it's true."
Nicole took another long sip from her straw, suddenly needing a drink. Yes, she'd had lots of sex with her ex. Too much. It had controlled her, just as money had. "Life is not about sex. That's my point." Silently she added, Or money, as Daddy would have you believe.
"Aha," Brenda said, crossing her arms in front of her chest and nodding as though in mock cross-examination of a witness. Her baby-blue eyes sparkled with mischief. "So you were having lots of sex."
"That's all I had with Mike," Nicole replied dryly.
"I see." Brenda pursed her lips as she reached for her Tequila Sunrise. "He was one of those. I figured as much."
Nicole's brows inched upward. "One of those?"
"You know," Brenda said. "The 'fuck you and roll over' types."
Running a finger over the rim of her glass, Nicole pondered her response, seeing no reason to hold back at that point. "Actually, he was the 'fuck me three times and roll over' kind of guy."
They shared a laugh and suddenly, having spoken the painfully true words out loud, Nicole felt better.
With a new, more relaxed mood, Nicole enjoyed a playful conversation with Brenda, even finding humor in her sister's ongoing flirtation with the jock guy.
Finally, when Brenda had teased the man enough, he sauntered over to the table. When the jock asked Brenda to dance, she accepted, and then cut Nicole a look. "I'll be back." She pinched the straw in Nicole's Tequila Sunrise and leaned close to her ear. "S-e-x. I need it and so do you. Find you some, honey."
Nicole cast a wry glance at the ceiling as Brenda scurried off to the dance floor, her hand in the jock's. A second later, as if he'd been beckoned by Brenda's naughty intentions on her sister's behalf, a stranger appeared.
And what a stranger he was. The man could heat an iceberg.
Shoulder-length raven hair, with a slight wave, framed a square jaw and high cheekbones. Chocolate-brown skin and a dark goatee spoke of a Hispanic heritage; the indentation in his chin and the small scar above his full top lip, of a renegade.
"Hello," he said, his voice hard to make out over the music.
But she didn't need to hear him. Her gaze locked with his, and the impact was nothing short of explosive. Awareness sent a rush of heat straight between her legs. Awareness that spoke of the kind of instant attraction rarely shared between strangers. Potent. Electric.
She swallowed hard, looking into deep, dark eyes. Dim light hid their exact color but, again, it didn't matter. They were soulful. Rich with mystery and seduction, perhaps a hint of danger.
Before she knew his intentions, he closed the distance between them, kneeling down beside her. With her legs crossed, her knee was angled toward him. His gaze dropped to the sandal dangling from her toes, and then did a slow glide up her calf, leaving goose bumps in its wake.
When his eyes lifted, his lips hinted at a smile and one right dimple. "Nice color," he said, glancing at her ruby-red toenail polish.
She uncrossed her legs, feeling amazingly aroused by something as silly as a man noticing her toenail polish. If he was this detailed in his observations out of bed, well, she couldn't help but wonder what detail he'd manage in bed.
Tugging on her slim blue dress, she pushed her knees together, despite an incredible yearning to simply spread them for this stranger. Compliments of the intense scrutiny she'd just endured from those seductive eyes of his, she could distinctly feel the gathering of wetness on her panties.
The man got her that ready, that fast.
It's what she called talent, because no one had done that to her in a very, very long time. So long she'd started to wonder if her sexuality switch had been flipped to a permanent off.
He inched forward, still kneeling, now so close he could lean in and be touching her. She wanted him, too. Almost as much as she wanted to reach out and feel the silky strands of his hair.
He offered her his palm, but the invitation of more sizzled in the air. "Dance?"
Her gaze dropped to his hand. A strong hand with long fingers. A hand that could be gentle and forceful. A hand that could deliver both pleasure and pain. And for the briefest of moments, she wondered what his hands would feel like on her body. Relax, she told herself. Enjoy this brief interlude. Enjoy.
"No name?" she asked, a playful note in her voice matching how she was feeling. "No introduction? Just straight to the dance floor?"
His hand settled on his leg and her gaze followed, a quick summation of his appearance in progress. Black boots, black slacks. Her eyes traveled, heart racing as her attention skimmed his midsection, his zipper. She swallowed hard and jerked her attention upward, away from the temptation, to his matching V-neck sweater that stretched snugly over a nice, broad chest. He was nothing like the men in her world in their conservative suits and ties, and she liked it. She liked it a lot.
Suddenly, his cheek was next to hers, the warmth of his body surrounding her. "The name is Constantine," he whispered seductively, drawing her attention back to his face. To the dimple in his chin and his dark, mesmerizing eyes. He offered his hand again. "Now we dance?"
She should say no. She didn't have time for sex games and drama. She'd seen what they did to her ex and had almost done to her. How they distorted perceptions, shifted priorities. But then, this was nothing more than a simple dance, a fun diversion that meant nothing. It was crazy to think she couldn't have a little enjoyment without losing touch with reality.
Nicole slid her palm against Constantine's, suppressing a shiver as he closed long, sensual fingers around hers. "Now we dance," she declared.
Nicole Ward made him hot. Plain and simple. Far more than he'd expected at a distance.
And with her soft curves pressed against his body, swaying to the rhythmic beat of a slow song, dangerously hot possibilities played in his mind. To say he was aroused would be an understatement. He was aroused all right, cock stiff, hands burning for exploration.
She was a petite little thing, and his chin easily rested on her head; he inhaled the floral scent of her hair. Jasmine, he decided, with just a hint of vanilla. Would her skin smell like that, too?
Suddenly, the dance floor was far too crowded. Bending at the knees, he nuzzled her neck and ear, and then whispered, "Let's go to the lobby bar where we can talk."
She flexed her fingers on his chest and then tilted her chin up to look at him, her eyes probing, intent. Finally, she eyed the table she'd been sharing with her sister. Following her lead, he eased her around for a better view, still working with the flow of the music.