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"Are you sure you don't want me to stay?" Ian Macintosh asked, hesitating in the doorway of Cole Donovan's isolated house.
"Go back to Chicago," Cole answered with a sigh. He held up his hand before his assistant could object. "I'll be fine, Ian. Worst thing the sheriff will do is arrest me."
Ian's face went cloudy. "I don't know how you're so calm about this, boss. If I were being wrongfully accused of something, I'd lash out at the entire damned department." He flushed. "Don't tell my mum I said that. She's spent twenty-five years trying to instill good manners in me."
Uh-oh, Ian must really be worried about him, if his British accent was flaring up. Cole had hired the kid on a business trip to London, during which Ian had pulled him aside at a conference and told him he wanted nothing more than to be a part of Donovan Enterprises. Cole had his reservations at firstthe kid was barely out of collegebut over the past five years, Ian had proven to be invaluable.
Which was why Cole needed him back in Chicago, overseeing everything at the company's headquarters while Cole tried to put an end to this mess he'd found himself in.
Damn Teresa. Although a part of him was still reeling over the fact that his ex-wife was dead, there was also a small part that thought good riddance. That woman had caused him nothing but trouble over the past two years. She'd hurt him, humiliated him, cost him not only money, but pride.
And now she was gone, and Sheriff Finnegan lurked in the shadows with a pair of handcuffs, just waiting for the moment he could arrest Cole.
He stifled a groan, resisting the urge to pull out his own hair. He needed to squash this situation before it got completely out of hand. The papers had already gotten a whiff of the story, and the last thing he needed right now was negative publicity. Donovan Enterprises had taken a hit in the market thanks to the recession, and he couldn't afford to have prospective developments fall through because Serenade's sheriff had decided he was a killer.
"Make sure you contact Kurt Hanson when you get in," Cole said as he followed Ian out onto the wraparound porch of the house. "Take him to dinner, pump him with wine and confidence. We can't have him backing out of the waterfront deal."
Ian busily keyed the instructions into his BlackBerry, efficient as always. He glanced up, his brown eyes grave. "And what about the Warner hotel? Kendra Warner decided to double the price on the property. Are we going to meet the new figure?"
Cole rubbed his chin, mulling over the question as the two men walked toward Ian's rental car. "No," he finally said.
"The property isn't worth it. Add a million to the bid, and if she puts up a fight, tell Margo to look for another location."
Ian's fingers flew over the BlackBerry's keyboard. "Okay. I'll call you when I get in." The younger man opened the driver's door of the rented sedan, sending a concerned glance over his shoulder. "I could stay," he said again.
"Go," Cole said firmly. "I can handle this mess by myself."
With a resigned smile, Ian slid into the driver's seat and started the engine. Cole drifted back to the porch, waved stiffly as Ian drove off, then headed back inside. The moment the door closed behind him, his shoulders sagged, heavy with the stress and shock of the past two weeks.
Teresa was dead.
The woman he'd been married to for two years was dead.
So why didn't he feel anything but relief?
He keyed in the code on the panel by the door to set the security alarm, then walked into the living room and made his way to the wet bar in the corner of the room. His hands were annoyingly shaky as he grabbed a glass and dumped a few ice cubes into it, followed by a hefty amount of bourbon. He glanced at the intricate wooden grandfather clock across the spacious room. Four o'clock. Wonderful. He'd resorted to drinking in the middle of the afternoon. To drinking, period. He never indulged in alcohol, not since his college graduation, which he'd left early in order to drive his mother to rehab.
Cole's legs grew as heavy as his shoulders. He moved toward one of the two black leather couches and sank down, lifting his glass to his lips. The alcohol stung his throat as it slid down to his gut, where it burned his insides.
He drank in silence, wishing, and not for the first time, that he'd never laid eyes on Teresa Matthews. One night, that's all it had taken for him to fall for the woman. Six months later they were married.
A year after that, filing for divorce.
He was just draining his drink when the sound of a car engine drifted in from the open window. Ian was the only other person who had the codes for the steel gate at the end of the driveway, which meant his assistant was coming back. Probably left something behind.
Sighing, Cole set his glass on the coffee table and stood up, frowning when a flash of black crossed his peripheral vision. He turned to the window, and his eyes narrowed as he spotted an unfamiliar SUV emerging from the long dirt driveway on the property.
Damn Ian. This was the second time his assistant had forgotten to arm the gate on his way out. What was the point in paying for an overly expensive security system when his own staff couldn't lock a damn gate?
The SUV's windows were tinted, so he couldn't see the driver, but whoever it was drove up and parked right beside his pickup. The engine shut off, and then the driver's-side door opened and an exceptionally attractive redhead stepped out. She wore a fitted black business suit that showed off her tall, willowy form, complete with slacks that hugged her long legs and a jacket left unbuttoned to reveal the crisp white-collared shirt beneath it. Very professional, save for the auburn-colored hair casually cascading over her shoulders and resting well below her breasts.
Cole's breath hitched slightly when the woman started to walk. She had a long, confident gait. She moved with her shoulders straight, her chin high, as if she had no care in the world and should she have a care, she'd just kick its ass.
She disappeared from view as she approached the porch, and Cole immediately banished the brief spark of lust from his groin. He marched to the front hall, ducking into a small room to the right where he swiftly punched in the code to close and lock the front gate, then glanced at the dozen security monitors that displayed various parts of the property. There was nothing out of the ordinary on the screens, save for the gorgeous redhead standing on his porch.
When the doorbell rang, he was back to his current state of wary and pissed off. Chances were, this woman was just another reporter, following in the footsteps of her predecessors and trying to get a juicy interview.
Well, screw that. He was tired of strangers demanding answers, prying into his business.
Back stiff, he yanked open the front door and fixed a deadly scowl at the redhead. "No comment," he snapped.
She blinked in surprise. Then she smiled. "Did I ask for a comment?"
Cole was momentarily taken aback. That smile damn, it lit up her whole face. Not only that, but it contained only warmth and sincerity, and none of the smug self-interest most reporters tended to exude.
"Oh, you think I'm a reporter," she said knowingly. The smile widened, and then her full red lips parted to release a melodic laugh. "Sorry to disappoint. And I apologize for not pressing that little intercom button at the gate. It was open, so I figured it was okay to drive in."
He opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. He was too mesmerized by her eyes, which he now noticed were a dark shade of violet. She was beautiful, but in an unconventional way. Her eyes were tilted up at the corners, making her seem exotic, but her straight, aristocratic nose and perfectly shaped mouth brought elegance to her features. The sprinkling of freckles on her cheeks made her seem wholesome. Exotic, elegant and wholesome. Definitely a peculiar trio. Add to that the long, smoking hot body and this woman, whoever she was, made for a stunning and interesting package.
"Who are you?" he asked, finally finding his voice.
She flashed another smile. "Jamie Crawford." Reaching into her jacket pocket, she pulled out a small leather ID case and flipped it open. "FBI."
Well, he didn't look like a killer, Jamie thought ruefully as she forced herself not to drool over the incredible man standing in front of her. Man? Movie star was more like it. He had olive-toned skin, dark, almost black, eyes, and chocolate-brown hair that curled slightly under his ears. And the blue T-shirt and faded jeans that hung low on his trim hips revealed a lean, muscular body that didn't seem to suit a powerful real estate mogul.
She'd expected Donald Trump and got Johnny Depp instead.
Along with a spark of unwanted awareness, which she quickly tamped down.
This wasn't a blind date, for Pete's sake. She was here to interview a suspect. A murder suspect, to boot.
The reminder only strengthened when the eyes of the man in front of her darkened to an angry charcoal. "FBI," he echoed. "Wonderful. So the sheriff is siccing the Feds on me."
Jamie ignored the rude retort and said, "I'd like to come in and ask you a few questions, if you have some time."
"I already gave my statement to Finnegan," Cole said, his perfectly formed jaw tightening. "I have nothing more to add."
She didn't feel insulted by the rejection. Finn had warned her that Cole might not be cooperative. Nevertheless, Jamie was determined to win the guy's trust. When Finn had called her last night and asked if she would be willing to come to Serenade to help him out on a case, she hadn't hesitated. She had some vacation time coming up anywaymandatory, since her supervisor believed in what he called "rejuvenating one's mind." She'd been dreading the time off, unsure of what she'd do with herself for three whole weeks, so Finn's phone call had been a godsend.
And even if she had been looking forward to the vacation, she wouldn't have been able to say no to Finn. They'd been friends for four years, ever since he'd attended a law enforcement conference in Raleigh where Jamie was giving a lecture about the art of profiling. Finn had pulled her aside after she'd left the podium, impressed by her talk and surprised by how young she'd looked. She'd shocked him even more when she'd revealed her agetwenty-eight at the time, and already with the FBI for six years. They'd ended up sharing a cup of coffee in the hotel restaurant, which sparked a friendship that had lasted all this time.
There was nothing romantic between her and Finn, never had been. They were like brother and sister, and she considered him her best friend, which was why she'd offered to help him out. Besides, she couldn't deny that this case was extremely intriguing. Heck, any case that warranted the headline Real Estate Mogul Implicated in Death of Ex-Wife! in the Raleigh Tribune was bound to be juicy. It had an exclamation mark and everything.
"I wish you'd reconsider, Mr. Donovan." She gave him a wry look. "I have a feeling you'll find me a lot easier to talk to than Sheriff Finnegan."
She could swear the corner of his mouth lifted in a brief half smile. "You've got that right."
"Please," Jamie added, an imploring note to her voice. "Just give me a half hour. Unlike many of my colleagues, I'm able to keep an open mind. I'm not here to railroad you. I just want to hear your side of the story."
He shifted, looking hesitant, but she knew she'd reeled him in. And she hadn't been lying, either. She did have an open mind, unlike Finn, who was pretty much convinced of Donovan's guilt. But Jamie wasn't so sure. What she knew of Cole Donovan didn't point to him being a murderer. He was only thirty-four, and already a multimillionaire. Although he'd been an heir to his father's very successful software empire, Cole had apparently chosen to donate his entire inheritance to charity and build his own empire from the ground up. Admirable, some might say.
And sure, wealthy and important men committed crimes all the time, but Jamie wasn't getting the killer vibe from Cole Donovan.
She hid a smile as he finally capitulated. Opening the door wider, he gestured for her to come inside. She took a moment to admire the interior of the house, which was made up of exposed wood and limestone, with natural wood beams and high ceilings that made her feel tiny in comparison. She sneaked a peek into a doorway to the left and saw a massive living area with a huge bay window overlooking the front yard. Oh yeah, this man was definitely wealthy. On Jamie's salary, it would take several lifetimes to afford a place like this.
"I wasn't aware the police department is working with the Feds," Cole said as he led her down a wide, wood-paneled hallway.
Jamie was momentarily startled when they entered a large, country-style kitchen. She took in the cedar counters, mahogany cupboards and sunny yellow walls, then found herself smiling at the green-and-yellow checkered curtains hanging at the window that faced the backyard. Somehow she'd expected a more sterile environment, seeing as this man was richer than King Midas.
"This is really cozy," she remarked, not bothering to hide her surprise. "And the appliances actually look like they've been used."
"I like to cook," he said gruffly. He nodded toward the oval cedar table across the room. "Sit down. Would you like some coffee?"
"Sure," she said as she made herself comfortable on one of the tall-backed chairs. "Cream and sugar?"
"Black." She paused. "And to answer your question, I'm not here in an official capacity."
She neglected to mention that she wasn't technically a field agent, either. Her main purpose here was to come up with a profile of the person who'd killed Teresa Donovan, but she got the feeling Cole wouldn't appreciate having his psyche poked at by a trained psychologist.