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Throughout the excitement of the past week, Bridget Donahue had managed to keep a happy expression on her face. It hadn't been easy. Because while she was genuinely happy that her cousin Izzie had landed the guy she'd loved for years, Bridget had two big worries on her mind almost constantly.
First, she had to testify in a criminal trial against her former boss in two days. And second, her own experience with love had left her a little sour.
Not love, she reminded herself. She hadn't been in love with the guy who'd broken her heart. Damn it, she hadn't. She hadn't even gone on a real date with him.
But they'd kissed. Oh, that one day last August, they'd kissed wildly, passionately, right in her own office. And his kisses had left her weak in the knees. So, she supposed she had cared about him, maybe even more than she wanted to acknowledge. Dean Willis had snuck into her heart back when she'd thought him a simple used car salesman. That he'd done it intentionally was what made it so hard now.
Done it as part of his job. The bastard.
"Whatcha thinkin' about?" asked her cousin Gloria, Izzie's oldest sister. Though they sat at a table with the other bridesmaids, surrounded by the loud patrons of a trendy Chicago bar, Gloria had obviously noticed Bridget's pensive mood. "Sweating the trial?"
"A little. I've been dreading it. It looks like the defense has run out of motions and I have to testify this week."
The petite brunette, a mother of three who managed to pull off sexy and maternal, waved an airy hand. "They've got this guy cold. He was slime, laundering drug money through the car lot while pretending to be so nice." She frowned. "To think I liked his 'Come down to themost honest guy in town' commercials."
"Which just proves you have questionable taste," said the black-haired woman to Gloria's right, a slight grin on her lips.
Gloria smirked at her sister, Mia, who was the middle Natale sister. Wagging her left hand in the younger woman's face, she quipped, "A married woman with bad taste." Mia's single status was apparently especially rankling now that both her sisters had tied the knot.
"It's a good thing you're doing," Gloria said to Bridget. "More people need to get involved, step up and do what's right."
Mia jumped in. "I wish there were more people like you. Would sure have made my last job easier." Mia had, until recently, been a prosecutor in Pittsburgh. Now she was back in Chicago, though honestly, Bridget didn't see her cousin much more than she had before. Mia was a private one.
Bridget didn't doubt she was doing the right thing in testifying against Marty, her former boss at Honest Marty's Used Cars. But the trial, which started Monday, could also bring her face-to-face with him. Dean Willis. The FBI agent who'd used Bridget to get the evidence he needed against her boss.
"That doesn't look like an 'I'm nervous,' expression. Looks more like a 'who was that guy who knocked me on my ass' one." This came from Vanessa McKee, a friend of Izzie's from her days with the Rockettes. The striking woman wagged her eyebrows. "Come on, we've been sharing man tales."
"Not Mia," said Gloria, her tone saccharine sweet.
Her sister made a rude gesture, which Gloria ignored.
The last of their group, Leah, a sweet-faced young woman who worked with Izzie at a local strip club, tapped her fingers on the table and frowned. She was so cute, trying to look fierce when she resembled, more than anything, a Kewpie doll, with her blond curls, pink cheeks and full lips. "Ignore them. You don't have to tell us anything you don't want to, Bridget."
The others appeared to follow her lead and fell silent. Good. Bridget truly didn't want to talk about it. Only Izzie knew the full detailsthe way Dean Willis had feigned interest in her, then backed off the minute he'd realized she was not involved in her boss's illegal activities.
He'd made a fool of her. And there was no way Bridget was going to talk about that. Especially not to a bunch of tipsy bridesmaids who'd just come from a gloriously romantic wedding.
Fortunately, the subject quickly changed, everyone distracted from Bridget's problems by the sight of a tall, rock-solid hottie walking by their table. The distraction was a good time for her to take her leave. "I really am tired. I think I'll head out now. I'll send the car right back for the rest of you."
A chorus of nos followed, but she didn't relent. She'd had a long few weeks. As Izzie's maid of honor, she'd been planning showers and bachelorette parties. All while worrying herself to almost physical sickness over the trial.
Besides, she'd never been into the bar scene. She preferred quiet evenings with someone special. Not that there'd been anyone special in a long time. And considering how hard it had been to get over Dean, she didn't see that changing soon.
To her surprise, Leah rose, as well. "I have to nap off those mai tais in case I decide to go in to work tonight," she said with a yawn.
After hugs good-night, Bridget led the way to the exit. The place was packed and she and Leah got a lot of looks. It was probably due to their lovely red gowns though, Leah, at least, was sexy in a girlish way, with a body to die for.
Bridget, on the other hand, was no inspiration for lust. She was a bookkeeper, with boring, straight brown hair and an average figure. Still, the looks she got said the men in this place were too far gone on twenty-dollar martinis to notice.
Once outside, Bridget spied their stretch limousine. Then she saw another one, very similar, parked just beyond it. "Which one is ours?" she mumbled with a frown.
Hoping Gloria would know, she decided to give her cousin a call rather than go back through the club. But when she opened her tiny purse, she realized she couldn't. "Oh, no. I lost my cell phone." While in the ladies' room earlier, she'd dropped her bag, spilling its contents. She must have lost the phone then.
Leah, a few steps ahead, swung around. Bridget waved her on. "Go on. No sense in both of us going back."
Without waiting to see if Leah obeyed, she hurried inside. The bouncer offered her a smile. "Back so soon?"
"I think I lost my cell phone in the ladies' room."
The guy took pity on her, obviously seeing her distress. "There's a back way, if you don't want to go through the club." He opened a door marked Employees Only. "Go to the end of this hallway. The last door on the right comes out by the bathrooms."
Smiling her thanks, she followed his directions. The long, narrow passageway seemed far removed from the bright neon beer signs and loud patrons next door. Her own footsteps echoed loudly, reiterating with every tap that she was entirely alone.
Following the directions, she found the ladies' room easily. "Oh, please be here," she whispered as she went inside.
As far as public restrooms went, this one wasn't too nasty. Still, she hid a grimace as she bent down and felt around on the dingy, tiled floor where she'd dropped the purse. Her fingers touched moisture. Ick. Then
"Yes!" Pay dirt. Tucking the phone into her purse, she hurried out, heading back into the dark, private hallway.
It was so dark that Bridget didn't even see the man until she almost ran right into him. He stood in the shadows, silent and still, tall and broad. Maybe even dangerous. Why she should think that, she didn't know. He could very well be hanging around outside the ladies' room waiting for his date.
The Employees Only side of the empty ladies' room.
Uh-huh. Bridget's breath sped up. Her entire body went on instant fight-or-flight alert.
Don't be ridiculous, you're in a public place.
Right. There were a hundred people in the next room. So why was her heart racing just because she'd almost walked right into a very tall, very broad, black-clothed man who emanated heat and hinted of danger? One who seemed to be intentionally clinging to the shadows. One who smelled like
"Oh, God," she whispered, instinctively reacting to that warm aftershave she'd only ever smelled on one other man before.
The heart that had been racing before stopped for a full second before bursting into a rapid thud hard enough to be heard in the next room. Her thoughts racing, she strove for calm but could find none. Anger, fear, regret, they all fought for control of her emotions.
She tried to spin around, to hurry back the way she'd come. But his firm hand on her arm stopped her, squeezing and keeping her still. "Stay here."
"Let go of me."
"You have to come with me. Now."
"I'm not going anywhere with you," she snapped. "Get your hands off me."
"We don't have time for this." He pulled her tightly against him, though, judging by the way he kept his attention fixed on the distant end of the hallway, where Bridget had come past the bouncer, that was where his true interest lay.
Good. Because toward the big, burly bouncer was exactly where Bridget intended to go. He could deal with this over-bearing man whose distraction had caused him to finally loosen his grip. She took advantage of it, trying to spin away. Seeing a sliver of light emerge as the door at that end of the hallway opened, she prepared to shout for help.
But she couldn't. Because before she could make a sound, she was hauled up against a big, rock-hard body. And a firm, hot mouth was descending onto hers. Gasping, she inadvertently parted her lips and he took full advantage, plunging his tongue against hers, stealing her breath and every bit of her brainpower. Bridget just hung there like a rag doll, too shocked to pull away and punch his face off.
To be honest, she also didn't pull away because she was starting to like it. But as she began to mentally admit thatand to contemplate fully participating in the kisshe let her go.
He was cold, determined, not at all breathless or shaky the way Bridget felt. Which infuriated her further. She opened her mouth to tell him that, but before she could, his strong hand came up to cover it. "Don't make a sound."
Her intelligence had returned, along with her anger and she was done taking orders or being distracted. She tried to scream, biting at his fingers.
"Damn it," he muttered, lifting her off the floor as if she weighed nothing. He reached for a fire alarm on the wall.
"I'll explain later. Right now, we just have to get out of here."
Without another word, he yanked the handle down. A piercing siren wailed overhead. And before Bridget had even had time to acknowledge the fact that he really had set off the fire alarm in this crowded club, she found herself tossed completely over his shoulder. She emitted an oomph as her stomach hit those flexing muscles. Scorching heat enveloped her, every inch of her body curled against the man, touching himthough not in a typical man-woman position.
With his hand cupping her bottom and her palms pressed flat against his back, she could hardly process everything that had happened in the last few minutes. It didn't help that the achingly sensual scent of his skin filled her head and rattled her thoughts. Or that she could feel his warm breath against her hip, through her coat and dress.
From the sound of it, loud patrons of the club were heading for the front door. But she couldn't focus on that. Couldn't focus on anything except the feel of him. And without saying another word, he pushed through a rear emergency door and carried her out into the cold night.
It was really happening. Bridget was being kidnapped, right out of a public place.
By Dean Willis. The FBI agent she'd spent the past several months loathing.
Special agent Dean Willis had been following Bridget Donahue for three days. Long, painful days during which he'd mentally kicked himself a hundred times for ever letting this happen. Any of it.
He regretted getting involved with her. Taking advantage of her. Using her.
Falling for her. Hard.
Oh, she'd never believe it, especially because of the way she'd found out that he was working undercover. She'd known him as nice, solid, boring car salesman Dean Willis, with the ill-fitting suits, the shaggy hair and the crooked glasses.
He'd wanted her to know him like that. To like him, to trust him.And he'd played on that like and trust, needing to knowto be surethat Bridget had not been involved with her employer's financial games. Her boss had been cleaning up some filthy money for a couple of local drug-dealing thugs.
Bridget Donahue had been his bookkeeper.
Everyoneincluding Dean, at firsthad assumed she was an accomplice. It was only after he'd met her that he'd begun to suspect everyone was wrong. He'd become determined to prove it, and he hadbut only after he'd gotten close to her. Close enough to make her trust him. Close enough to make her care about him.
Close enough to care too much himself.
She had beenstill wasthe loveliest woman he'd ever met. Sweet and funny. Good-natured and intelligent. Everything he'd always wanted in a woman but he'd had to use her.
So she had a right to hate him when the truth came out, when she'd walked into the dealership one morning and found him there, with his team, tearing the place apart and taking Honest Marty into custody. She hadn't wanted to hear a thing he had to say. She'd brushed him off, not sparing him a second thought,
She wouldn't have trusted him now if he'd come to her to tell her she was in danger.
So he hadn't come to her. He'd stayed out of sight, certain she hadn't spotted him. But oh, he'd definitely kept his eyes glued to her. Sometimes walking close enough behind her to breathe in the remnants of her soft, flowery perfume lingering in the air after she'd passed through it. He'd kept his hawkish gaze on her slim, vulnerable back, the long, light brown hair falling in a curtain over her shoulders. He'd caught tantalizing glimpses of her creamy cheek and her full lips when she smiled and heard the echo of her laughter more than once as she'd participated in her cousin's wedding.
All the while knowing someone wanted to kill her. "Damn it, put me down," she snapped.
He complied, lowering her to stand on her own feet, though he kept one arm around her waist to prevent her from making a run for it. With the other, he unlocked the door of his SUV. It was parked out back, behind a Dumpster, near a few cars in private employee spaces. Unimpeded by the crowd probably gathering out front with easy access to a rear alley. He'd left it here when he'd followed Bridget's limo earlier this evening, anticipating the possible need for a fast getaway.
"Let me go!"
"Shut up, Bridget, we're getting out of here. I'll explain everything later."
She wriggled and kicked, seeming to suddenly have eight arms and legs, all of which were battering at him, demanding her freedom. "I swear I'll scream."
"Nobody'll hear you over the emergency alarm," he replied, not a bit fazed by her threat. "Now get in and stay down This is serious." He pushed her into the backseat. Knowing he couldn't trust her not to make a break for it the moment he moved to the driver's seat, he took her chin in his hands. Staring into her blazing eyes, he said, "Someone's been following you."
"You," she spat.
"No," he replied, crouching down behind the open door.
"Someone doesn't want you to testify next week and they're going to try to make sure that you don't."
Her mouth opened, then quickly snapped closed. Bridget's eyes narrowed and her brow scrunched as she tried to make sense of his words. To process the idea that someone might actually want to hurt her.
He still hadn't quite processed it. Because since the moment he'd found outafter being called in by the Bureau chief three days agohe'd been operating on pure anger and adrenaline.