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Gabriel Black leaned back against the rich teak of the bar and smiled with satisfaction. At his elbow was a glass of the finest aged Scotch. His suit was Armani, his shoes were Fer-ragamo and his shirt was silk. In his pocket was the key to millions in internet stocks. Not bad for a Thursday night.
A natural born gambler, he had a talent for winning. And he had a feeling that tonight's win was gonna be a big one. "Buy me a drink?"
He glanced over and offered the pouty redhead with a set of dangerous curves a long look. With a flick of his finger, he motioned to the bartender to bring her whatever she wanted. As Moe placed a flute of champagne next to her, Gabriel offered a charming smile and tilted his head toward the men who'd just walked in the door.
"I've got a few things to take care of," he told the redhead. With one eye still on the mark, he leaned over and ran the back of his index finger along the shoulder left bare by her strapless glittery dress. "Enjoy your champagne, keep my seat warm and when I'm finished we'll take the rest of that bottle back to my room."
"I'll look forward to that," she purred, touching the tip of her tongue to the crystal flute before sliding onto the velvet covered barstool.
For just one second, Gabriel was distracted. He leaned over and took the glass from her, twisted it to drink from the same place her lips had been, marked by a crimson smear of lipstick. The champagne exploded on his tongue. Just like he figured the sex would later.
"Tasty," he murmured, handing back the glass.
With a quick wink, he turned away and scanned the room. Instantly, his gaze found his mark and his partner settling into a booth in the corner.
Just like that, the redhead was as good as gone in his mind. One of Gabriel's strengths was his ability to ignore anything that stood between him and his goal. And as much as he adored women, they had their place. In his bed, against the wall, rising over his nude body. Those were all good places. But no woman had ever entered his mind when he was on a job.
After all, the job was everything.
A little something he'd learned from his old man. But as amazing as Tobias Black was, he had never quite managed to master that one particular rule. Gabriel's father was king of the con, but he'd never let go of emotional ties. That'd been his downfall, and the reason he was now out of the game.
Gabriel admired his old man's skills. But he was better.
But he'd wait to gloat until later. After he'd relieved these gentleman of a cool mil.
He knew the affable smile on his face didn't detract from the air of danger he wore like a second skin. But, whether it was in a professional poker game or while pulling a con, the elegant suit and five-hundred-dollar haircut fooled people long enough for him to get the job done.
"Gentlemen," he greeted when he reached their booth. With a nod to each man, he pulled up a chair.
"Mr. Lane," the first man greeted, using Gabriel's false identity. Hair slicked back from an unfortunate face, he was the kind of guy you just knew had been picked on all through high school. The dateless kind who'd focused all that teenage sexual frustration on studying so he could make the kind of money that bought plenty of admiration.
"We're glad you agreed to meet us," the second guy said. This one was more wary. The accountant, he was here to make sure his friend didn't get hosed.
Good. Anything that came too easily was boring. Gabriel believed in working for his money. And he hated to be bored.
"I appreciate you agreeing to meet here," Gabriel said, nodding his head to the hotel's private bar. "I've been called away on a sudden trip to Europe. If we couldn't do this tonight, it would have to wait until I get back in two weeks. I don't mind waiting, of course. This deal is only getting sweeter. But you're good guys and I hate to delay your buy in."
"I've looked over your prospectus and the terms of the sale," the accountant started to say. Then his eyes widened and he seemed to lose track. Gabriel followed his gaze and damn near swallowed his tongue.
The room faded. The deal was a distant memory.
Like a laser, his focus honed in on the blonde.
She was straight out of every man's fantasy. Big curls spi-raled around a face that screamed hot sex. Eyes so blue they were almost purple flashed, the long lush lashes and smudged makeup giving her the look of a very satisfied woman who'd just slipped out of a rumpled bed. One where she'd left a very satisfied man smiling with exhaustion.
The curls teased shoulders, bare except for glitter and a tiny set of black straps. Gabriel eyed those straps and his mouth went dry. Her breasts were perfect. Black fabric, as glittery as her skin, cupped the rounded globes like a lover's hands. His gaze followed the glitter to a waist small enough for him to span with both hands. Black leather wrapped around her hips, giving way to longoh, baby, they were so gloriously longlegs. His gaze finished the tour at her feet and Gabriel hoped like hell he wasn't drooling.
Her shoes were mostly ribbon, tied in a sassy bow at her ankle. High, spiked and black, they were the kind of shoes meant to be worn with a light gloss of body lotion and nothing else.
He dragged his eyes back up to her face.
Her mouth was wet and glossy, the lower lip full and tempting. A tiny dimple played out as she shot Gabriel an inviting look.
As her date, a guy who was just a blur to Gabriel, pulled out her chair, she seemed to melt into it in a single, sinuous move. Her eyes still locked on his, she offered Gabriel a tiny wink and blew him a kiss.
Gabriel's body went on high alert. High passion alert, that was. Muscles tense, his stomach clenched in anticipation. His fingers itched to touch that skin. To slide his fingers over the silky expanse of bare flesh. Would she shiver? If he took her against the wall, would she wrap those long legs around his waist and hold on tight?
Everything else in the room faded.
Unlike the redhead, this wasn't a woman you put out of your mind.
Pure sex, with a dangerously sweet edge, she had a body meant to make men beg.
And she was with someone else. Not that he cared. Gabriel always got what he wanted. And he wanted her.
The only question was, how long until he had her?
Someone cleared his throat. "Mr. Lane?"
He watched the blonde thank the waiter for her glass of iced water. Lifting it to her lips, her gaze met Gabriel's again. He watched her throat move as she swallowed. His body hardened.
She lowered the glass. Her eyes still locked on his, she licked one glistening drop of water off her lower lip. Soft and pink, he imagined her tongue licking other things.
And damn near groaned.
Shit. He was here to do a job.
Playtime would have to come later.
Gabriel dragged his eyes off the gorgeous blonde and focused on the men in front of him. He could still see the sexy distraction out of the corner of his eye as he listened to the accountant outline his concerns about the deal. Jerry, the unfortunate-faced mark, split his attention between staring over Gabriel's shoulder and absently nodding along with his buddy.
Trying to stay focused on the game, Gabriel ignored the flash of color and light in the corner of the eye. Then Jerry winced, a shocked look crossing his homely face.
Gabriel turned his head just in time to see Blondie's date grab her by the hair.
"What the "
Gabriel was half out of his seat when the guy pulled her mouth to his. She leaned in, like she was liking it. No struggle, no sign that she was in trouble. When he pulled away, she said something, patting the guy's chest. The smile she offered him was big and sweet.
His nerve endings raw from zigzagging between lust and the rescue-the-distressed-damsel adrenaline rush, Gabriel clenched his fist and sucked in a deep breath.
Settling in his chair, he shifted so he couldn't watch the show any longer.
He had to focus, dammit.
The priority was the game. The money.
Never a woman.
"I understand your concerns," he told the men, focusing on Jerry. He went on to outline why their thinking was wrong, and why his deal was the greatest thing invented since internet porn. It only took a few seconds before both men were nodding along, big smiles on their faces.
Not because he was so damned good, either. Nope, the guys' attention was still split, half of it on the Gabriel's pitch, the rest on the blonde over his shoulder.
Hell, he thought as he pushed the contract toward Jerry to read and sign. She was making this way too easy for him. He was starting to feel like he should offer her up a pretty sparkle or two as a thank-you for doing half his work for him.
Offering Jerry his pen and a charming smile, Gabriel could almost feel the million dollars sliding into his pocket.
Then there was a loud crash of glass hitting the floor, a muffled cry of pain and a growl and the sound of flesh hitting flesh. The room went silent for a heartbeat before the air was filled with gasps and protests.
Fury propelled Gabriel to his feet. Before he could take a step, though, the blonde gave a quick, worried shake of her head. Her face, one cheek glowing red from that asshole's hand, looked terrified.
Stay out of it, her big blue eyes begged.
A man who strongly believed in people's right to screw themselves up, Gabriel forced himself to sit back down.
He watched a busboy rush over to clean up the broken glass. Two waiters scurried, one for the table, the other probably for the manager.
Let it go, Black.
It was being taken care of. No reason for him to interfere. Or worse, to blow this deal.
He watched the blonde assure the concerned waiter that she was okay. Her date, the prick, just glared at the guy, his hand fisted around her slender arm.
Nope. He wasn't going to be able to ignore it.
Gabriel grimaced. Then, unable to help himself, he held up one finger to stop the accountant's pitch.
"Hang on," he murmured. He rose, his eyes locked on the guy bullying the pretty blonde. He stepped toward the booth, a charming warning teetering on the tip of his tongue.
The guy's beady rat eyes met Gabriel's for a brief second before he grabbed a handful of the blonde's curls and yanked again. "I'm paying you for a good time, I want a good time. You do me, girly. Here. Now," he growled.
Her quiet cry of pain was eclipsed by the red flush of humiliation warming those alabaster cheeks. She didn't look toward Gabriel any longer. Instead she whispered something, tried to pull away.
"No party, no pay," the guy responded, not whispering.
She was a rental fantasy?
Fury propelled him forward. Before she could cry out again, Gabriel had his hand around the guy's neck.
"Oh, no," the blonde moaned, her fingers reaching and missing as Gabriel yanked the guy to his feet. "Please."
His fist cocked back, Gabriel made the mistake of looking at her. Those big blue eyes, so sexy and afraid, pleaded. "Please. Let him go."
His fingers itched. His arm vibrated with the force of his fury. He wanted to plow into the man's face. To make him pay for hurting her. For humiliating her.
It was that last part, the humiliation, that made Gabriel swallow the edgy violence pounding through his system. He glared into the asshole's beady eyes and gave him a good shake before letting go. "Out."
The jerk looked like he was going to say something. He shot the blonde a glare, then opened his mouth. Gabriel flexed his fingers. The guy ran.
"I have to." Her face on fire as she looked around at all the staring faces, the blonde pressed one hand against those ripe, glossy lips as if holding back a sob, then got to her feet and ran from the room, too.
Torn between ambition and a desperate need to protect, Gabriel wanted to howl with fury. But, really, there was no choice. Barely sparing a glance for his mark and the million he was kissing off, Gabriel followed.
He caught her just outside the hotel, near the garden entrance.
"Hold up," he demanded, lengthening his stride to catch her before she rounded the corner. How the hell did she move so fast on those heels? Almost running now, Gabriel snagged her arm.
Her gasp was a watery protest. She yanked away, but faced him. "Don't," she said, tears pouring from those sultry blue eyes. One of those girl things or the miracle of the paint manufactures, her makeup didn't budge under all that wet. So instead of looking bruised and messy, she glowed.
Gabriel cursed under his breath. There shouldn't be anything appealing about a bawling woman.
"You shouldn't have followed me," she murmured, brushing the tips of her fingers over her face as if that'd hide her tears. She looked like she wanted to jump out of her own skin, her eyes skipping to the left, then right, before meeting his briefly then dropping somewhere in the vicinity of his shoulder.