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A deep reverberating thrum filled Jodi Tyler's chest and stroked the back of her throat with its raw promise of latent power. The unmistakable growl of a Harley. The sound bounced off the highwalled estate hugging the shores of Lake Arlington, then abruptly stopped.
She lifted the night vision binoculars and peered through the tinted windows of the surveillance van. Nothing. Deciding there was no threat from the road, she swiveled her chair back to the monitors. Her fingers flicked the switches controlling the surveillance cameras aimed at the estate. Images flashed across the monitor in rapid succession. They all showed the same thing. Nothing.
So where had the motorcycle gone?
"Must've turned off," she muttered to herself. She grabbed the black T-shirt she'd discarded earlier and blotted the sweat trickling down her neck.
Maybe the pimply teenager three doors up drove a Harley. More likely his mid-life-crisis-aged father, she thought, wiping the perspiration pooled between her breasts.
Being stuck in a stifling black van in Dallas during a heat wave was not her idea of excitement. Especially on her birthday. Which Mark had forgotten.
After hinting for weeks about how she wanted to spend the night, starting with a romantic dinner at their favorite restaurant, after teasing him about the sexy negligee she'd bought, even after that stupid list of all the sexual fantasies she'd written for him, he'd still gone ahead and arranged for her to penetrate the estate tonight. Tonight!
"If he expects me to be in any sort of romantic mood when I get home, he's got rocks in his head." She plopped down in the chair with a huff."He can sleep in his own bed tonight. Alone."
She switched the monitor back to the camera aimed at the Lexus parked in front of the five-car garage. If the assistant kept to her regular schedule--and that woman was punctual to a fault--the car would soon be cruising up the drive. Which meant Jodi'd be out of this Easy-Bake Oven and into the air-conditioned estate to finish this assignment. Then she could go home and shower. Alone.
An insidious thought slithered into her mind, puncturing her self-confidence with an icy-cold needle. That's what he's planned all along--he's trying to dump you without actually having to say anything.
No, she thought, shaking her head. Mark doesn't play games like that.
How do you know? the voice whispered. Why else would he arrange for the estate to be penetrated today of all days? He's easing his way out of the affair by pissing you off, hoping you'll dump him first. And don't forget how he insisted either one of you could walk away at any point.
She leaned back in the chair, her arms folded across her chest. Easing out of a relationship had to be better than being dumped by text message the way Todd had done. "Let's just be friends."
Friends, my ass.
Would it hurt less than it had when she'd found another woman's bra under Danny's bed and been forced to endure his long, stumbling explanation? "She's softer, less demanding, you know?"
Yeah, she knew.
Permanent scars etched her heart after Jace's less-than-flattering comments about her lack of femininity when she'd graduated from the police academy. More fool her, she'd actually quit the force trying to please that asshole and he'd still dumped her.
Maybe Mark's way of easing out of a relationship was better. Maybe it would hurt less. She rubbed the heel of her hand over the ache in her heart. Who was she kidding? Despite agreeing with Mark that the affair wouldn't be long term, she'd fallen in love with him anyway. If he was breaking up with her, she was soon going to feel like her skin had been stripped off layer by layer.
When a branch snapped behind the van, interrupting her pity fest, she grabbed her gun from the console and headed to the driver's seat. There was no way she was going to sit here as a witless target.
"Jodi? Open up, babe, it's me," Mark whispered through the back panel.
Excitement flared in her chest at the sound of his voice. When she realized her heart was racing just from hearing his voice, she silently cursed herself for acting like a bookworm with a serious crush on the quarterback.
"Jodi?" Mark said, a little louder this time. "You okay in there?"
She thumbed on the safety of the Glock and, after taking a deep breath, opened the door. A glance around showed no sign of his Humvee--he must have parked it farther down the road and walked up.
"You could have phoned to say you were coming in. I might have shot you." In the groin.
The van dipped when he stepped up into it. His six-foot-two-inch frame filling the narrow confines, he gently closed the door so it wouldn't give away their position. The dragon tattoo on his biceps flexed as he placed a knapsack on the console beside the surveillance equipment. Muscles rippled beneath the Celada Security logo emblazoned across the chest of his black T-shirt. Muscles she'd felt flex beneath her palms the night before.
Her fingers itched to run themselves through the thick crop of black hair in his Marine high-and-tight. Normally she didn't go for guys with short hair, but that glistening four-inch-wide pelt reminded her of a mink coat she wanted wrapped around her body. Between her legs.
Get over that desire real fast, she told her fingers. "You're late."
"Got stuck at the lawyers'. There--" He stopped as his eyes adjusted to the gloom, reminding her of what she was--or rather, wasn't--wearing.
Every cell in her body went on high alert, trembled with need and expectation as if he'd touched her wherever he looked.
His grin widened and his chocolate brown eyes glinted. "Is a sports bra and thong the latest fashion for surveillance?"
Jodi flipped him the bird while she searched for the T-shirt she'd discarded.
"It was hot. I stripped down. So bite me," she said, though without the rancor she'd intended.
"Anything you say, babe." He pulled her against him and nipped at her earlobe. "But I fully approve of your outfit. Think I should make it part of the dress code."
"Yeah, that'll go over real well." She attempted to maintain her anger. And failed. "Everyone's been dying to see Hector's fat ass in a thong."
When his hands cupped her breasts, Jodi melted into his touch. Magic fingers, she thought, as his thumbs brushed her taut nipples. Was this the last time he'd touch her like this? Or was it just her insecurity making her paranoid?
"Have I told you lately how beautiful you are?" he said, his breath hot on her neck.
The citrus fragrance of his aftershave, and the lack of his usual dark five-o'clock shadow told her he'd recently shaved. His fresh scent reminded her how grungy she felt having been cooped up in over one hundred degree heat all day. It took a charming--or incredibly obtuse--man to tell a woman whose hair clung in damp strands to her neck and probably smelled like the inside of a stable that she was beautiful.
Surely a man planning on dumping her wouldn't be acting like this. Or was he overcompensating?
"The assistant leave yet?" His tongue brushed over her earlobe, sending a shiver down her spine.
"Um..." She struggled to think under the onslaught of sensation. His tongue trailed down her neck, teeth nipped at that spot that made her need him inside her. What was it about him that made her knees turn to jelly and her insides to liquid heat?