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Special Agent Ryan Vail tossed the brochure on the bed. The amazingly comfortable-looking bed, which was a far cry from most of the rat holes he'd been stuck with on various FBI stings and stakeouts. The Color Canyon Resort and Spa was a decadent oasis in the middle of the Las Vegas desert built for people with cash to spend and a yen for excitement and being pampered.
Ryan settled against the headboard, the puffy comforter billowing around him. Straight ahead was a forty-two-inch flat-screen TV. There was a wing chair, a leather love seat, an extravagantly stocked minibar and, if he turned his head to the right, beyond the private patio was a view of a nice little courtyard with a pool and spa pool all in the shadow of the Spring Mountains. It might be February in the rest of the world, but in the Vegas desert it was a balmy seventy-two degrees with copious sunshine on the docket for the rest of the week.
He grinned, pulled out his cell phone and went right to speed dial text.
You're gonna die when you see the bathtub.
He hit Send, adjusted the pillow behind him and checked out his work stuff. Another email update on Delilah Bridges, one of the cotherapists in charge of this barbecue. Four people ran the Intimate At Last retreat weekends, all suspects in a major blackmail scheme. Unfortunately for them, they'd unwittingly targeted a friend of James Leonard, the Deputy Director of the FBI.
Ryan's phone rang, and he knew it was his partner without even looking. "Jeannie Foster. How's my favorite witness for the State?"
"Shut up, you bastard," she said, her voice echoey, as if she were speaking in a vast hall. Or a toilet stall.
Of course, he'd taken a picture of the bigenough-for-a-party whirlpool tub, which he promptly sent her. A moment later, the mother of two cursed him with her usual flair.
"I hate court. I hate lawyers. I hate judges. And don't even get me started on juries. Get me the hell out of here, Ryan."
"It should be over soon, right?"
"Probably around the time of the next ice age. Jesus, they love to hear themselves talk."
"In a few hours you'll forget all about them. This place is something else. If I'm going to be forced to sleep with you, I'm glad it's in this beauty of a bed. Which is actually more comfortable than mine at home."
Jeannie laughed. "It's not the bed, honey, it's all your extracurricular activity. I think you'd have to find a titanium mattress to keep up."
"Nothing is hilarious today," she said. "You get the new updates on Delilah?"
Her sigh was long and filled with frustration. "Interesting about her father and his criminal record, but dammit, still nothing usable. With all the data we've collected, you'd think we'd have uncovered something more viable."
"Everyone makes mistakes. But," he added, "I'm going to be such a perfect mark, they're gonna wet themselves waiting to get to me. We'll be out of here in a few days."
"I thought you said the accommodations were super deluxe?"
He grinned. This is why he liked his partner, despite the fact that she could be a stick in the mud, what with being married and a mom. She was quick and needed a vacation as badly as he did after the intensity of the past two months preparing for this sting. "Right. Maybe it'll take the whole week."
"There we go. I have to get back to the torture chamber. I hear they're planning on using the rack next."
"Hey, I'm gonna sign off on this phone, but Ryan Ebsen's cell and laptop haven't finished charging. If there's a God, I should be asleep when you arrive, so don't wake me."
"Coming off another late night, Romeo?"
"None of your business. Go be a witness."
"I'll talk to you in the morning," she said, and then she was gone, and he was faced with the prospect of what to do with the rest of the afternoon.
It would be more fun to play craps or hang out in one of the casino bars, but from the moment he'd checked in, FBI Special Agent Ryan Vail was locked in a vault for the duration of his stay, replaced by the fictitious Ryan Ebsen. Husband of the equally fictitious Jeannie Ebsen. Son of Felicia and Bob from Reseda, California.
Ryan sifted through the file, studying the cover story he already knew inside and out. But when you pretended to be someone else, there was no such thing as too much prep. Ebsen was a regional manager for a business software firm. His lovely bride of nineteen months didn't work because she didn't need to. Not because he brought in enough money to live their extravagant life, but because she had a trust fund. A very hefty trust fund.
But Mrs. Ebsen had been spending a little too much time at the club lately with a very handsome tennis coach, which made Ryan itchy. He doubted they were sleeping together, but there was always a risk that if she started to feel as if the honeymoon was over, she could find solace in the tennis pro's arms. It had been Ryan Ebsen's idea to attend this couple's retreat week, where they would "Learn how to transition to the deeper, more meaningful stage of a committed relationship."
Mr. Ebsen, the scoundrel, really, really wanted to make the marriage work. He'd grown attached to their Brentwood home, the Manhattan pied-a-terre, his Ferrari, the first-class travel. He'd even decided to break things off with Roxanne, the gorgeous receptionist at his office. He was nothing if not serious about this intimacy crap.
He continued to read the email from his team in White Collar Crimes back in L.A. The first report of blackmail had come shortly after a weekend Intimate At Last retreat in Los Angeles, and since it dealt with some historic artwork and blackmail, the L.A. team had taken point on the investigation and now this sting operation. The Vegas office was up to speed, of course. No one wanted a turf war, but there was a time limit on this gig, because in a matter of weeks, the suspects were moving their base of operation to Cancun, Mexico.
So he was on the clock. Since the missus wasn't here, he'd unpack, take a swim, order room service, charge his equipment and himself. Far from the carnal night Jeannie imagined, he'd been up till dawn talking the Long Beach P.D. out of putting his old man in jail. The stubborn idiot had been drunk off his ass again, trying to pick a fight with a halfdozen marines. It was like dealing with a rebellious teenager, only his father was in his fifties.
So sleep tonight, and tomorrow, he and Jeannie would be the very picture of a cookie-cutter couple: powdered sugar on the outside, but filled with lots and lots to lose if a certain trust-fund wife found out about her philandering hubby.
After he'd checked out the room service menu, and thank God there was an expense account because, Jesus, the prices, he opened up his suitcase while he found the sports channel on the TV. His thoughts weren't on the scoreboards, however, but on the reason he needed this operation to succeed beyond all expectations. Deputy Director Leonard was looking to fill a staff position in his Washington, D.C., office. Ryan was a contender in a very narrow pool of candidates. And now that he was in the spotlight, he was going to make damn sure he was a shining star.
Angie Wolf sighed when she heard the voices of the rest of the White Collar Crimes team coming in from their break on the outdoor patio. Damn, it seemed as if they'd left two minutes ago, not nearly enough time for her to breathe let alone hear herself think.
They were a great bunch: competent, dedicated and generally nice people with whom she got along well considering work colleagues were always a crapshoot. But the past two months had been brutal. She'd spent way too many hours in the office and right now she'd give anything to be alone, preferably on a ten-mile run with nothing more to worry about than beating her last record.
Even as she heard them close in on the bullpen, she stayed just as she was, legs stretched out in front of her, ankles crossed, one heel on her desk, leaning back in her chair as far as she could. The fresh air would've been nice, but two of the team members smoked and that she could do without.
"Hey, how come you didn't come out for the lifting of the Red Bulls?"
Angie smiled at Paula, another Special Agent who'd been in charge of the artwork aspect of the operation. The painting in question was a Reubens, stolen during World War II and recovered in the late 1990s. It was worth millions, and had been "gifted" to a New Mexico art gallery, which had then sold it to an anonymous private collector.
The transaction had been legal on the surface, but the granddaughter of the original owner was certain her grandfather had been blackmailed into giving away the family treasure. The Deputy Director of the FBI had been friends with the family since birth.
And now, if Angie's White Collar Crimes team had done their jobs right, the task force was days away from zeroing in on the blackmailers.
Angie realized Paula was still waiting for an answer. Break time was definitely over. "Haven't we spent enough quality time together? Two months of eighty- and ninety-hour weeks? I mean, come on."
Paula flopped into her chair and turned it so she faced Angie. "You can take a break when you're dead. Or tonight, when we go out for drinks. That one, you're not getting out of. We'll use force if necessary."
"You and what army?"
"Me, for one." It was Brad Pollinger, Angie's partner in the field. He was followed into the room by several other members of the group, all of whom cheerfully let her know that they weren't above using every dirty trick in the book to get her to join them.
"Fine. But I'm having exactly one beer." The bullpen was pretty full now, with only Fred MIA, but he was perennially late.
"Don't you have any fun?" Paula eyed Angie's sturdy low-heeled pumps propped on the desk. Comfort won over fashion every time for Angie. "Ever?"
"I have plenty," she said, although her definition of fun leaned more heavily toward achievement than clubbing. Whether it was cutting a few seconds off her morning run or working on side projects that could get her to the next stage of her ten-year plan, she wasn't much of a party gal.
She'd always been a big believer in setting short-term goals that fed directly into long-term strategies. Even though she'd stopped being a competitive runner, she still kept up the discipline and used the skills she'd picked up as a kid to keep herself on task.
From the beginning of this assignment, she'd realized the potential. With her computer programming skills and familiarity with investigation protocols she could make a significant contribution. And she had.
Angie's new program had led to the revelation about Delilah Bridges's father, that he'd been arrested under an alias for robbery on four separate occasions. It wasn't much as far as real leads went, but it was still a piece of an ever-expanding puzzle. The broader the picture, the more likely the pieces that didn't appear to connect would suddenly come together.
She'd worked damn hard on coding that sucker, a search engine with such a sexy algorithm it had given the guys in Cyber Crimes nerdgasms.
It had also been noteworthy enough to put her in the running for the position with the Deputy Director in Washington D.C. She wanted that job, badly. It would be a huge feather in her cap, the kind of promotion that would set her apart from the crowd. And it would put her squarely in the arena of real power, where she intended to not just stay, but thrive.
"Jeannie's the one having all the fun," came a voice from three desks down. "Can you imagine pretending to be Ryan Vail's wife all week?"
Angie stared at Sally Singer, a normally sedate forensic accountant, checking to see if she was serious.
"Um, yeah, I think Jeannie wins this round," Paula said, laughing, and God, looking a little envious.
Were they crazy? Ryan Vail was a hell of an agent, but he was a player of epic proportions. Everyone knew about his exploits. And while he kept his personal life separate from his work life, he hadn't even tried to keep his reputation from spreading. Legend had it that he'd "entertained" four different Victoria's Secret models, although no one was clear if that had been at the same time or not.
She had to give it to him. His technique was subtle and effective. To her own mortification, his charm had almost worked on her. Admittedly it had been at a party and they'd both had too much to drink, but it still embarrassed her to think about it. Nothing would have come of it, though, because the last thing she wanted was to be another notch on Vail's belt.
"I think you guys are nuts. This week isn't going to be easy for either of them," Brad said as he rolled a quarter over the backs of his fingers in what he called a dexterity exercise, but was in truth his way of coping without cigarettes. "Sharing a bed? Intimacy exercises? I mean, what the hell would intimacy exercises even be?"
"Oh, brother. If you have to ask I feel sorry for your wife," Angie said, and the rest of the crew laughed.
God, she hoped that cut the conversation short because she knew exactly what the exercises would entail. Lots of touching, kissing, maybe even getting naked and she absolutely could not think about Ryan in that context. At least not at work.
"I should have been the one to go undercover with him," Paula said. "Seriously. I would've appreciated the experience so much more than Jeannie."
Brad's laugh was more about disbelief than amusement. "You have a boyfriend."
Paula gave them an innocent smile. "It's not cheating if you're doing it for a case. That's like vacation sex but you still get paid."
"Like hell it's not cheating," he said to more laughter, which said more about their long hours and how punchy they all were than it did about the quality of the humor. "Angie should've been the one to go undercover with Vail. No offense to Jeannie but you two would've looked more like the Ebsens."
Angie snorted, and not with any grace. "Me and Vail? Yeah, right."
Paula shrugged. "You know I hate agreeing with Brad, but I see what he's saying." She tilted her head, glancing at Angie's shoes again. "The right clothes and hair and you two would look as if you'd stepped off the cover of In Style.'''
Angie chuckled. No one else did. Was it conceivable they were teasing her because they knew about her thing for Ryan? No, not possible. She barely glanced at him when he was in the office. Absolutely no one knew. Except for Liz, and Liz didn't count. As her closest friend who also happened to be an FBI agent in the San Diego office, she knew almost everything about Angie. But certainly no one at work had an inkling that Angie might have thought about Ryan in a sexual context. A few times. "Shut up. All of you. As if I'd ever volunteer for an assignment with Vail."
"You liar," Paula said, a little louder than was appropriate in the bullpen. "I've seen you check out that ass. Everyone with a pulse has checked out that ass."
"I've got a pulse," Brian said. "Trust me. I have never—"
"I meant people who were into that kind of guy."
"I have," Sally said, raising her hand without a bit of shame. "And Angie, my dear friend, as cool as you play it, I've seen you blush when he walks by."
"Probably because Vail had done something to blush about." Angie was terrified she'd start blushing right this minute. The subject needed to be changed, although it wouldn't hurt to make a definitive statement. "I mean, come on. To sleep in the same bed as him? To act like his wife? Palmer could've offered to pay off my car loan and no way in hell would I have—"
Posted January 2, 2013
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Posted February 9, 2013
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