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Cassie Miller's low-heeled pumps clicked rhythmically against the tile floor of the hallway that led to her boss's office. For a special agent with the FBI, a summons to Director Forbes's office usually brought with it both an edge of excitement and a faint flutter of dread.
Cassie's excitement far outweighed any dread, for she couldn't imagine anything she'd done that might have gotten her in trouble. In fact, for the nearly year she'd been assigned to the Kansas City, Missouri, field office she'd never come close to being reprimanded. Cassie made it a point to play by the rules.
She was more than ready for a new assignment. It had been months since she'd done anything more than push papers and read through cold case files for a fresh perspective. She was definitely chomping at the bit for some action.
She paused and straightened her white blouse collar beneath the lightweight navy blue jacket, then selfconsciously ran a hand down her pencil-thin navy skirt to make sure it was wrinkle-free. She liked to put her best foot forward when going in front of her boss.
As she began to walk again, her steps faltered slightly. She saw the man approaching the office from the opposite direction. He was clad in tight blue jeans and a navy T-shirt that stretched across his broad shoulders. He carried himself with a loose-hipped gait that instantly spoke of self-confidence and perhaps a touch of arrogance.
There were three things in Cassie's life that she disliked: chaos, spontaneity and the slamming-hot man approaching in her direction, Special Agent Mick McCane.
As he cast her the lazy, sexy grin that danced lightly in the depths of his green eyes and had over half the women in the building in complete lust with him, her stomach muscles kinked into a tight knot.
Please don't be going where I'm going, she thought.
She had spent the past six months of her life trying to avoid being anywhere near Mick. She'd spent the past six months trying to forget the one night when control had slipped away from her and she'd allowed spontaneity a night of freedom.
Her heart clunked to her feet as Mick pulled open the door that led to the director's office. "Afternoon, Cassie." He said her name like it was something exceedingly pleasant on his lips.
"Agent McCane," she replied stiffly. She swept through the door, acutely aware of him following right behind her.
Adrianne Warsaw, the secretary to the director, looked up and smiled. "Ah, good, you're both here. He's waiting for you." She gestured toward the closed door that led to the inner sanctum.
Once again it was Mick who opened the door to usher Cassie inside. She gritted her teeth, smelling his familiar cologne, a spice scent that whispered of something slightly wild and wonderful.
"Agent Miller, Agent McCane." Director Forbes gestured them into the two chairs in front of his massive mahogany desk. "Black Creek, Arkansas," he said when both of them were seated.
Cassie frowned, trying to keep her focus solely on the steel-gray-haired man in front of her instead of the sexy dark-haired man seated far too close to her. "Never heard of it," she replied.
"It's west of Hot Springs, Arkansas, in the Ouachita Mountains. Five years ago it wasn't even a dot on the map, now the mayor is working to have it renamed Honeymoon Haven, the honeymoon capital of this region." Director Forbes leaned forward. "Over the last couple of years the town has exploded with cute little cabins and bed-and-breakfast places, restaurants and shops that cater to the newly wed. It's become a fairly profitable tourist town, and the mayor wants to keep it that way."
"So, what's the problem?" Mick asked. He leaned back in his chair, looking as relaxed as if he were sunning himself on the beach.
"Two honeymooning couples murdered in the last month." Forbes leaned back in his chair, his frown cutting a vertical slash in the center of his broad forehead. "We've been contacted by the local sheriff, Edward Lambert, along with Mayor John Jamison, requesting help with the situation."
A ripple of relief swept through Cassie. It was always easier to work a case when you had the blessings of the locals. Although she didn't want to believe that she'd be working this case with Mick, there was nothing else for her to think with him sitting right next to her and hearing the same information that she was hearing.
"They've managed to keep the murders quiet for the time being, but there's no question that if word of this gets into the media their main source of income from the tourism trade will dry up. Naturally they're both concerned about the murders as well and don't want any more taking place, but because of the similarities of the crime scenes, they don't believe the unsub is finished there."
"Couples murdered does that mean we're looking at a team of killers?" Mick asked as he sat up straighter in his chair.
"Sheriff Lambert is sure that both couples were murdered by the same person or persons. But at this point it's unclear if we're looking at one or more than one person committing the crimes."
Forbes patted two manila folders in the center of his desk. "I have all of the reports and crime-scene photos here, a copy for each of you. The sheriff faxed me over everything he had on the two cases."
Cassie tried not to think about the victims. Hon-eymooners, just beginning their lives together. If she allowed herself to think about them in that way then emotions would emerge, and she preferred to remain as objective as possible when working a case. She'd long ago mastered the art of compartmentalization, and it was that skill that made her an efficient and productive agent.
"This killer or killers are particularly nasty pieces of work," Forbes continued. "Each of the couples was killed between eight and midnight while in their cabins. In both cases the men were shot execution style in the back of their heads and the women were gagged and bound on the bed and stabbed to death."
"Sexual assault?" Mick asked, no hint now of his legendary charm in his deep voice.
"Negative," Forbes replied. "Neither woman was sexually assaulted. The coroner report indicates he believes that the men died first and the woman died minutes after, but he admits the timing is so close it could be the other way around."
She felt Mick's gaze on her. Despite her effort to the contrary, Cassie's heart cringed for the victims although she kept her features carefully schooled to show no emotion.
It was obvious she would be working with Mick, and that in and of itself would be a hair-pulling study in frustration, but she would work with the devil himself if it meant stopping a killer.
"Were they killed in the same establishment?" Mick asked.
"No. The first couple was killed at a place called the Wedding Tree Motel. They were staying in unit seven, a secluded little cabin that caters to the needs of a honeymooning couple. They were killed on their fourth night. The second couple had rented a cabin for two weeks at the Bridal Bouquet Honeymoon Cabins. They were murdered on their seventh night there."
"Different time schedules and different locations. Probably a local." Mick frowned thoughtfully as Cassie pulled a small notepad and pen from her pocket.
Mick never took notes. It was one of the things that drove her crazy about him. Within hours of him getting any file of material it would be coffee-stained, probably have pizza sauce dripped on it and the pages would be tossed out of order. Mick McCane was chaos on two long, lean legs.
As Director Forbes shared with them some of the other particulars of the crimes, Cassie took copious notes in the spiral notebook that was as much a part of her wardrobe as her sensible cotton underwear.
On the last case they'd worked together Cassie had asked Mick why he didn't take notes and he'd tapped his temple and stated that all the pertinent information that was needed was carefully stored in his brain. The aggravating part was that he was right. He seemed to have the memory of a computer.
"When do we leave?" Cassie asked, always eager to get away from the quiet, neat apartment where she lived and into the action of a hunt for a killer.
"Tomorrow morning," Daniel Forbes replied. "It's been two weeks since the killer struck, so Sheriff Lambert feels another murder is imminent."
"I'll bet we can find us some amazing moonshine in that part of the country," Mick said. "How does a little firewater sound, Cassie?" Forbes shot him a look of indulgent patience while Cassie gave him a cold, caustic stare.
It hadn't been moonshine that had caused her to completely lose her mind and self-control six months ago. It had been a bottle of Dom Perignon that had made her crazy for Mick, and she'd never forgive herself for that lapse in judgment.
Because she'd liked it.
She'd liked the wild abandon she'd found in his arms, but he was the last man on earth she'd ever want to be with in any kind of a real relationship. She had a feeling that within a month of spending time with him she'd want to take out her service revolver and shoot him or shoot herself.
"So, I'm assuming the plan is to meet with Sheriff Lambert the minute we hit town," Mick said.
"Actually, Sheriff Lambert and I have agreed to approach this in another way," Forbes replied. "You are to meet the sheriff in a small town called Cobb's Corners about thirty miles outside of Black Creek."
Cassie frowned. "I don't understand." Normally they went in with guns on hips, flashing badges, and dug straight into the investigation.
"Approach things in a different way how?" Mick asked, voicing Cassie's next question.
Director Forbes leaned forward once again, his gaze lingering long and hard on Mick, and then he turned to stare at Cassie. "You two worked quite well together on the Samuel case," he said.
Cassie compressed her lips together to hold back the protest she wanted to voice. No, they hadn't worked well together. Mick had driven her crazy with his laid-back ways, outrageous flirting and disregard for schedules.
Still, she had to admit that when it came to the actual work process their two different styles had melded together well for success.
"In both of these cases," Forbes continued, "the victims appear to be a specific physical type. The men were dark-haired, in good shape, and the women were small in stature and blonde."
Cassie felt a sinking sensation in the middle of her stomach. Surely she was misunderstanding what Forbes had in mind.
"Exactly what is our assignment?" she asked.
"Bait," Forbes replied.
"Bait?" Cassie parroted and slowly turned to look at Mick.
The corners of his sensual lips turned upward as he gazed at her. "Looks like we're going to be new-lyweds."