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By Kate Welsh
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFrom the shadow of an abandoned warehouse Major Patricia Streeter aimed her camera. Through her telephoto lens she saw the pilot she'd been following hand over an oversize duffel bag to a dark, swarthy man, then take a briefcase in exchange. The transaction took only as long as it took to shoot five quick images of the two men - evidence in her current investigation.
Captain Taylor, one of seven pilots who called themselves the Buccaneers, opened the briefcase and shook his head, his blond hair glinting in a sliver of sunlight that cut through the alley. "This isn't nearly enough. What are you trying to pull?" she heard him shout.
The second man turned a bit more away from her. Tricia strained to hear him but she could only see him gesture in a way that said "Calm down." Then he shrugged as he said something else that was as equally indiscernible.
"Fine," Taylor snapped. "You're just a messenger. So message this, pal. You tell your boss he'd better get in touch with mine. He has as much, if not more, to lose than the rest of us. It wouldn't be a good thing if people found out he isn't the good guy they all think he is. You tell him this waiting for full payment is making El Patron mighty angry." The taller of the two men by far, Taylor grabbed the other man's jacket. "We're sick of dealing with his threats! We're your boss's bread and butter. He'd be smart to take better care of us. Without the Bucs he has no pipeline, and it takes more than he's giving to keep that pipeline open. El Patron wants a show of faith. A bigger one than this."
The man now in possession of the duffel bag nodded and backed away with another muttered word that scudded through the alley. Patricia snapped a full-frontal picture of this newest subject's dusky face when he turned toward her.
As the conversation played in her mind, she thought, It was drugs that got you killed, Ian, wasn't it? Once again Tricia promised her absent friend that she wouldn't rest until his wife and daughters had justice - until he had justice. Since the meeting was obviously a drop, she decided to change locations and move back to the street where she could see the license plate on the car the dark-complected man drove. Maybe, if she got lucky, she'd even be able to follow him to his boss.
She pivoted, doubled back around the crates and up the side alley. Hunkering down and watching the ground so she wouldn't trip, Tricia ran swiftly toward the street. And smacked headlong into a wall.
The grunt she heard before the impact sent reverberations down her spine and told her the wall wasn't built of brick, mortar or steel. It was fashioned of all-too-alive flesh and bones. Ready to take down her opponent, she looked up and into the glittering green eyes of the only man she'd ever loved. The man who'd betrayed her by caring more for his needs than hers. The man who'd turned away from her and married her roommate within weeks of her refusing his proposal. She dropped her gaze to his jaw and found it was as rock solid as that annoyingly stubborn chin of his.
Which meant he was furious.
Furious? What did he have to be furious about? And what was he doing there - in the middle of her investigation? "Travis," she hissed, "what are -"
Travis Vance's gaze flicked away toward her quarry, his eyes widening. Then he ground out a low curse, dragged her against him and whirled her around, pressing her back into the cold steel of the warehouse wall. Instantly she became aware of his body heat through her heavy black turtleneck sweater. It disturbed her to be so close to him. Then her vision blurred as his lips descended to hers - lips that were no less furious than the look in his eyes had been.
She grabbed at the fabric of his jacket to shove him away but heard a man's chuckle. "Get a room, amigo," the same man said in a heavy Hispanic accent. Then his footsteps receded, followed by yet another set moving off in the opposite direction. Her pilot was headed back to his car.
Angry at being manhandled, Tricia balled the hand not gripping his jacket into a fist and drove it into Travis Vance's solar plexis.
"Oomph," he huffed, and stepped back in a hurry, his hand replacing her fist as she shoved him back yet another step.
She stared at him in silence - a silence she couldn't seem to break - her mind having short-circuited the second her gaze locked with his. How could all the feelings she'd thought had long ago faded be so alive and vital after well over a decade?
He wasn't even the same person she'd loved so helplessly in college. In Travis's intense green gaze, where once there had been only vitality and generosity, there was such overwhelming emptiness and bitterness. Oh, his hair still looked as ruffled as ever, but his brow was furrowed from too many years of frowning. Her fingers itched to trace his square jaw and see if that slow grin still pulled his full bottom lip into an expression that could only be described as cocky. But she had an idea his mouth rarely smiled in any way these days and the black hair at his temples was finely threaded with gray. Still, it was clear that time had been kinder to his looks than his soul.
"What did you hit me for?" he asked, still gasping and rubbing his stomach.
It was easy to retrieve her anger. "Don't try to act so amazed or as if you didn't deserve it! What did you think you were doing?" she demanded, flexing her hand behind her back. His six-pack abs were certainly as well developed as ever.
"Did I offend you?" He raised his left eyebrow and his lips did the exact thing she'd wished for moments earlier. That cocky grin emerged from the shadow of the past years. "You've changed, sweet cakes. Time was you'd have thanked me for saving your cute little -"
"Don't say it!" she cut in, silencing what she was sure was a word she'd rather not hear. On top of calling her sweet cakes, she'd probably shoot him. The oaf! The creep! The snake! "Believe me, Travis, I understand that the kiss was nothing but a diversionary tactic. I wasn't born yesterday. I meant, what are you doing here?"
His eyes narrowed. "Where exactly is here?"
Excerpted from Redeeming Travis by Kate Welsh Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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