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Red-Hot & Reckless
By Tori Carrington
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneNicole Bennett had two weaknesses: Tiffany jewelry and men. And both were about to get her into a whole heap of trouble. The jewelry, because it wasn't actually hers. And the man, because he'd called the cops on her five minutes ago.
Nicole rushed around the shabby one-bedroom apartment that belonged to Sebastian Pollock, the bit Broadway actor she'd been dating and basically living with over the past week. She alternately wiped prints from the surfaces that weren't already covered in dust and stared out the window for the police to arrive at the hovel in the south Bronx. After hurrying her black cat named Cat into his carrier, she slung the strap over her left shoulder, and her black leather backpack over her right shoulder. Then she grabbed a 9x12 padded mailing envelope and tucked inside the carefully wrapped sterling silver jewelry. All along she cursed herself for ever having accused Sebastian of being a one-minute man that morning.
Using a red handkerchief, she wiped the doorknob clean, then opened it so she could step out into the hall. She gasped when she found Sebastian leaning against the wall right outside, his arms crossed over his impressive chest.
"Going somewhere?" he asked, his right brow arched high on his handsome forehead.
"Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night," Nicole recited the famous Bette Davis quote, one of her favorites and definitely befitting her current circumstances.
Then again, the quote could pretty much apply to her entire life.
She made a face. What was it with her and tall, good-looking men who were about as deep as a mud puddle? Okay, so the type rarely asked questions - which was important given her line of work as a thief. But they also tended to get upset when they were offered a bit of objective criticism. In Sebastian's case, it was that the idea of sex with him was a far sight better than the real thing. Mostly because the idea lasted a whole lot longer.
Oh, well. Just another mistake in a long list of others.
Nicole thrust the heel of her hand into his solar plexus, watched as he doubled over and gasped for air, then checked his pockets for the missing piece of jewelry. There. In his right front jeans pocket. She took out the bracelet and looked at it. She grimaced at the irony of the words stamped on the smooth tag, then smiled at Sebastian as she added the piece to the contents of the mailer.
"Thanks for the memories," she said to him, quoting the sentiment on the tag.
She walked down the hall toward the back fire escape, not about to take the chance that by the time she climbed the four flights of stairs the police would be waiting for her outside. She thought about where she should go from there.
Baltimore. Definitely Baltimore.
Cat meowed and she looked down at him. "Looks like it's another visit with Auntie Danika for you, buddy," she said and picked up the pace.
Someone was following her.
Three days after the Sebastian episode, Nicole Bennett sat in a Baltimore, Maryland, bar called Flanagan's Pub. Not her original destination, but a spontaneous detour designed to flush out her tail.
She was pretty sure someone was watching her. Maybe had been since she'd arrived in the city the same day she'd left New York. And she was convinced that the sensation was more than residual uneasiness left over from what had happened three days ago. Still, it wasn't that she had actually spotted the person tailing her. Rather, it was more of a hunch that someone, somewhere was shadowing her moves. She could tell by the way her skin itched. How the tiny hairs on her arms stood on end. How the beer- and smoke-soaked air of the bar seemed to hum with a strange expectancy.
Her tail wasn't in the establishment. She was sure of that. It had taken her all of two seconds to catalog everything and everyone in the place. Two businessmen occupied a corner booth. When they weren't hitting on the ballsy barmaid well equipped to handle anything that came her way, they were deep in conversation, too doughy and pale to be members of any branch of law enforcement she had to be afraid of. Well, the IRS aside. But she had nothing to fear from the IRS. They wouldn't collect a percentage of what they couldn't prove she had. An elderly woman and her two middle-aged daughters bearing shopping bags occupied another booth - again, no threat, as they laughed over pints of dark Irish beer, then pulled comical faces when they tasted the bitter concoction.
Nicole looked back at the barmaid. Of course, she had initially presented a bit of concern. Her take-charge efficiency and razor-sharp wit made her the perfect candidate for either side of the legal fence. But the bar had been an unplanned stop and in Nicole's experience no branch of law enforcement was that organized.
She looked at the woman in question. She seemed distracted. More than likely a man, Nicole thought. Only a man could put a grimace like that on a woman's face. Just seeing it made her want to join in the grimacing.
"Probably moved on to the next willing female before my plane left the ground," the barmaid muttered as she wiped down the sticky surface of the bar.
But Nicole found very little comfort in the confirmation. Truth was, it stank to look at someone who felt pretty much the way you did.
Excerpted from Red-Hot & Reckless by Tori Carrington Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.