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Standing so close, he could smell the hot, sweet scent of her. Desire hit him like a hard kick to the chest. He told himself to get the hell out of there. He didn’t need the complication. Instead he reached out and touched her.
Her lips were full and meant for sin as they parted on a slow shivering inhalation that made her eyes widen ever so slightly. His hand slid around her waist, his gaze fastened on her mouth, and he pulled her close. He pressed his other palm to her thigh, heat racing through him, the shimmering material of her clinging dress gathering against his wrist as his hand moved higher. Then he kissed her. A brush of lips against her forehead, then trailing across to the delicate shell of her ear. But never her mouth.
If she noticed, she didn’t let on. Her body trembled. She wanted this. She wanted him in any way she could get him. She had told him as much when she took his hand and led him to the bedroom.
All he wanted was release.
He tugged the slip of a dress over her head, felt a low growl of appreciation deep in his chest at the sight of the gossamer-thin strip of panties. She wore no bra, her breasts were full, her nipples already taut peaks. Yes, she wanted him.
Pulling her to him, he wrapped her in his arms. Her murmur rumbled as she kissed his naked chest, her hands working his belt with ease. When she tugged his zipper down, there was no turning back.
He drove her back against the wall, their slow sultry dance changing to a panting tangle of need. In seconds, what remained of their clothes was gone. Lifting her, he wrapped her bare legs around his naked hips as he entered her in one hard thrust. She cried out and clung to him, arching to take more. Their bodies slammed together, demanding what they knew the other could provide. They gasped and thrust, she vocal and encouraging, he silent and forceful.
Their bodies came together, each lost, desire thundering through his veins until he felt her convulse. But just as his body sought satisfaction, craved that moment of shuddering oblivion, the world turned upside down when a gunshot exploded, overwhelming everything with light and fire.
The single word was wrenched from him, the sound echoing, yanking him out of a deep tormented sleep.
Ben Prescott jerked up in his bed, adrenaline cranking through him as he looked around the room. For the woman. For the gun.
His body was covered with sweat, his heart raced, his pulse pounded in his ears. There was no woman. There was no gun.
He’d been dreaming. Again. The same dream that had plagued him since his undercover partner had been shot and killed a little over a month ago. The only reprieve he’d had was for the two short weeks he had spent as a bodyguard of sorts for his brother Sterling’s crazy bachelor TV show—The Catch and His Dozen Texas Roses, which they had taped in Julia Boudreaux’s house.
Staying in her home had offered a refuge of sorts from the dreams, though only because Julia, despite her sexy, southern heat, was a bigger nightmare than the one in his head.
Just remembering the way she would look him in the eye and drawl his name made his body burn to touch her.
Rolling his legs over the side of the mattress, he planted his hands on his thighs. He tried to get a grip by concentrating on the cardboard boxes that lined the small room. Mentally, he listed the things he needed to do before he moved out at the end of the month. Put the deposit down in the morning to secure the new apartment or he’d lose it. Finish packing.
But the tension and impotent fury wouldn’t lessen. He still couldn’t believe Henry was dead. The final report listed that he had been shot in an alleyway while making an undercover drug bust. Ben knew he should have been there with him. But he hadn’t been.
As much as Ben wanted to, he couldn’t rewrite the past. He couldn’t turn back time. Though night after night that was just what he tried to do.
Muttering an oath, he glanced at the clock. Midnight. The alarm was set to go off in another thirty minutes. So he flipped the switch and got up, thankful for an excuse not to go back to sleep.
He dressed in jeans, high-polished boots, and a black leather jacket. As one of El Paso’s top undercover cops, he didn’t play the part of the typical small-time drug dealer. He posed as a major supplier, a man who had high-quality weight to move. Large quantities of cocaine and heroin. No chump change for him.
His street name was Benny the Slash—frequently shortened to Slash. With the exception of a select few people in his immediate family, no one knew he was a cop. No wife, kids, or aunts and uncles knew. Being deep undercover meant living that life. He couldn’t take a chance that some suspicious drug lord would have one of his lackeys start asking around. All he needed was for one unsuspecting friend, relative, or neighbor to say, Oh yeah, I hear he’s a cop, and he’d be more than undercover. He’d be six feet under, driving the big brass Buick.
When people asked, he told them he was in the import/export business. His immediate family knew to say the same thing. Drug dealers assumed it was a cover for importing and exporting drugs. Neighbors thought he made money buying trinkets in Mexico and selling them at inflated prices around the U.S. The cover story gave him an occupation and went a long way toward explaining his odd hours.
He retrieved his department-issued 9mm Glock from the lockbox in his dimly lit, cramped hallway. Normally when he went out on a job, he left all potential signs of being a cop at home. Tonight wasn’t a normal night. He shoved the Glock in the holster underneath his finely tooled leather jacket. Soft as butter. Expensive as hell. More evidence for a wary thug that he was successful at what he did. Savvy drug dealers didn’t do business with losers.
He went out into the late October night. The air cooled his overheated skin. For a second it felt like he could breathe. At least a little. He leaped into his black Range Rover—another piece of his cover—buzzed down the window, and started to drive.
He had been back on active duty for a week, following nearly a month on leave after Henry was shot. Ben had worked tirelessly—some said obsessively—to find any clue to his partner’s killer. He hadn’t found anything. Until yesterday. He had gotten the name of a cocky dealer who might have seen something. But he wasn’t talking to police.
Ben had found out where the guy was going to be at one in the morning. Benny the Slash planned to pay him an unexpected visit. The small building in south El Paso had already been bugged, and backup was staking the place out. All Ben had to do was get the guy to start talking. That required trust. Ben intended to get it.
The El Paso streets were deserted, the shops dark, the overreaching sky as black as velvet. The perfect order of streetlamps ran up the median and the flashing traffic signals blinked red and yellow like a string of Christmas lights on a mantel.
He pulled onto I-10 at the Mesa Street ramp, heading for downtown. If he hadn’t given up smoking a year ago, he would have shoved a Marlboro in his mouth and sucked hard. Instead he found a stick of gum and muttered about a man needing a few vices in his life.
Without so much as a single car or traffic signal to slow him down now, Ben sped along fast, too fast, one hand loose on the wheel, his elbow hooked over the open window. He blew past the University of Texas at El Paso on his left, carved into the rugged Franklin Mountains. Juárez was close on his right, so close that he could make out the darkened windows of sleepy Mexican homes on unpaved dirt roads. A little farther on, he saw the closed, boxy Mexican version of Wal-Mart, multicolored and flamboyant. During the day, loud mariachi music blared from 1960s-era speakers.
The only thing that stood between Texas and Mexico at this juncture was a thin strip of the Rio Grande that was frequently dry given all the dams that clogged the water flow miles upstream in New Mexico and Colorado. But unguarded borders weren’t his problem. Henry’s killer was.
In minutes, Ben pulled off the freeway at the downtown exit, turning right with a minimum of brake. He didn’t slow down appreciably until he got past city hall and the modern, roller-coaster-looking façade of the civic center. Once he was making his way along Santa Fe Street, his heart eased in tandem with the speedometer. His mind shifted into that place where his senses took over. He was looking. Sensing. Ready to pounce.
There were very few streetlamps this far south, and he crawled along the dark, ominous streets by the border-crossing bridge like a hooker in the night, looking for action.
He found it soon enough.
Ben saw the guy he was looking for walking down a side street, alone. No posse, no gang members. Which was exactly how Ben intended it.
A sizzle of satisfaction raced along Ben’s nerve endings.
From the Paperback edition.