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Bad girls had all the fun.
Julie Kent scowled with envy and slammed her book closed. She exhaled sharply as frustration swelled inside her until it felt as if it would burst through her skin. It was probably wrong that she wanted to be like the villainess in the Sex, Spies and Sapphires espionage series, even if the villainess was the main character. Sapphire was sexy, aggressive, kick-ass and daring. She was also a thief. Not to mention fictional.
Julie still wouldn't mind being a bit more like Sapphire and a little less.. Julie. She wanted to break the rules. Break a sweat. Take risks. Take on the world and a few men while she was at it. Sapphire managed to have sex with more men in this book than Julie had in her lifetime.
And this was just one book in a whole series. Julie sighed and dropped the paperback in her bottom desk drawer. She kicked the drawer shut and propped her chin on her hand. She wasn't asking to have lots of sex with lots of guys. Treating beds as merry-go-rounds wasn't for her, not that she had any opportunity to treat them as such. She just wanted lots of sex with one guy: Eric Ranger.
Julie turned her head and peered over her gray cubicle, staring at Eric's closed office door. She bit her bottom lip as she recalled every inch of the man's lean muscular build. Eric moved with a lethal grace that she found mesmerizing. She bet he could guide her through some of the steamy scenes she'd just read, and come up with a few imaginative positions that would give her maximum pleasure.
Julie stifled a shriek and whirled around in her chair. Her friend Asia was leaning on the cubicle wall. She smiled knowingly as she drummed her perfectly manicured nails on the cubicle frame. How long had she been standing there?
"We need to work on your observation skills," Asia teased.
"Sorry, I was daydreaming." Julie felt the blush heating her cheeks.
"Yeah, I have a pretty good idea who was starring in that dream." Asia slapped the cubicle with her hand. "One of these days you need to stop fantasizing and just go for it."
Julie simply nodded. Her friend always gave her this kind of well-meaning advice, but she didn't understand that they operated under different sets of rules. Asia was drop-dead gorgeous and had the confidence of an action hero. The two traits went hand in hand. The woman strutted through life, knowing she could get any man she wanted.
Julie, on the other hand, could strive for "pretty" on a good day. She was used to being overlooked by men, especially when she hung out with Asia. It was fine. Sometimes she liked to believe that the right guy would be instantly attracted to her without any work on her part, but who was she kidding? A man like Eric could be effortlessly sexy in jeans and a T-shirt, but a woman like herself needed all the help she could get.
"So, what brings you to my little cubicle?" Julie asked. She wasn't even peripherally involved with Asia's cases and their lunch break had just ended.
"The boss says Eric isn't answering his phone or IM. I thought you might like to see if he's in his office," Asia said, wagging her eyebrows suggestively. "Everyone is supposed to meet in the conference room in ten minutes."
"I'll get him." She was glad for any excuse to talk to Eric, and she appreciated her friend's help.
"Unless you're busy," Asia said as she strolled away.
Julie rolled her eyes. "That'll be the day." She stood up and headed for Eric's door. Busy. Right. She knew her hometown wasn't the center for international espionage or criminal activity. Close to Seattle, Redmond was a quiet, suburban city known for Microsoft and which claimed to be the bicycle capital of the northwest. Julie had more of a chance to bump into a computer nerd or cyclist than a crook. Yet when she joined Gunthrie Security & Investigations, she had dreams of high-speed chases, death-defying maneuvers and breathtaking excitement as she saved the world while earning an edgy, cool nickname.
She got a nickname all right. Uniform Girl. From eight to four-thirty Monday to Friday she kept track of the uniforms for their security guards assigned all around the Seattle area.
So much for her crime-fighting career. Perry Gunthrie was a sweet old man who truly felt her job was important. And it probably was to Gunthrie S&I. Times were tough and the investigation cases were not plentiful. The security contracts were barely keeping them afloat.
But Eric Ranger was going to change all that. Julie had no doubt that he would succeed, even if he was only going to be around for a few more weeks until his medical leave was up. Eric didn't talk a lot about his job, but Julie had learned that he worked for the Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Program under the Immigration and Custom Enforcement agency. ICE. She loved that acronym. It sounded very James Bond to her. Eric's job was to find stolen artwork and historical artifacts and return them to their rightful owners. Eric got injured while on an ICE assignment in Muscat, wherever that was. It sounded exotic and exciting to Julie. She would bet her paycheck that he'd gotten hurt from taking down a criminal mastermind.
Julie sighed. Some guys have all the fun.
Now he was helping Perry, his godfather, while on a leave of absence. When Julie had first heard that after meeting him, her tongue almost rolled out and landed on the floor. She couldn't get her last boyfriend to give up a Saturday to help her move, but Eric dropped everything and flew across the country from D.C. to Seattle to help out a friend of the family. There had to be something wrong with this guy that she hadn't figured out. However, if there were, she really didn't want to know.
Doing a favor for Perry hadn't been a vacation for Eric. For the past six weeks he had done everything he could to gain more clients. There had been lots of meetings with companies, lots of crunching numbers and lots of sleepless nights. Julie had never seen anyone work that hard. She had tried to show her support and unofficially looked after Eric behind the scenes. She didn't think she was much help, and she didn't get any tips on how to act like a special agent, either. But she still had a few more weeks to study Eric, inch by glorious inch, before he returned to Washington, D.C.
Julie paused in front of his small office and brushed her fingers through her straight brown hair. She lightly tapped on the door. "Eric?"
She knocked harder. "Eric? It's Julie." Hmm, he probably didn't remember her name, but she refused to call herself Uniform Girl.
Still no answer. He probably wasn't in his office. Eric might be out taking a million-mile jog or leaping tall buildings for a little cardio workout. She should try to emulate him if she wanted to be a kick-ass detective, but she could barely get through her aerobics class without wanting to die.
Julie tried the doorknob and it moved under her hand. She slowly opened the door and found the room dark. "Eric?"
She peered around the door and froze as her heart lurched. Eric Ranger was asleep, sprawled out on the tattered couch, wearing nothing but a pair of black boxer briefs.
Whoa. Julie's mind started to shut down as she stared at his masculine beauty. Her heart started to race. She studied each slope and angle of his sculpted chest and flat abdomen. Eric was lean and muscular. She felt his power even though he lay sprawled on the couch.
The jagged scar on his side caught her gaze. It was long, deep and an angry red. As she watched him sleep, Julie realized there were quite a few marks scoring his golden skin. On his hands, his legs and the bottom of his feet. Some of them looked decades old. This was the body of a warrior. This was a man who had seen the rough and brutal side of life.
Julie gripped the doorknob and hesitated. She knew the polite thing to do would be to close the door and pound on it until he woke up. But she wanted to stare and memorize every line. No, that wasn't quite true. She wanted to touch him. Stroke him. Curl up next to Eric and feel the power and strength of his body as she slowly woke him up.
But she would keep her hands to herself. Because she was too much of a good girl, damn it. She vaguely wondered what Sapphire would do in this situation.
Sapphire would probably tackle him. Okay, maybe not right away. First she would tie him down, tease and torment him until he begged for release. And then Sapphire would straddle Eric before licking every inch of him.
Julie swiped her tongue along her bottom lip as her mouth tingled with anticipation. Noooo Julie pressed her tongue firmly against the roof of her mouth. Why was she even thinking about it? She'd never do that in a million years, no matter how much she wanted to.
She heard the squeaky metal of a chair from behind her. Julie looked over her shoulder and noticed the other employees were heading toward the conference room. She needed to stop hanging back and wake up Eric before someone came looking for both of them.
She took a deep breath and stepped into Eric's tiny office, dodged a pile of clothes on the floor and firmly closed the door. Heat tingled along her skin, stung with awareness. She needed to control the excitement stirring deep in her belly.
Julie smoothed her hands against her turquoise blue wrap dress and nervously cleared her throat. She might not have the courage to sweep her tongue along Eric's golden skin, but she could act like she saw practically naked hot guys every day.
Just not ones who were that ripped.
"Eric," she said in a brisk I-am-so-not-looking-at-your-boxers tone. "You need to get up. The meeting is about to start."
Nothing. He didn't move.
"You know," she said a little louder, "the meeting you're supposed to lead. The one about our future at Gunthrie S and I."
She reached out and tentatively tapped his shoulder. Wow. The guy was muscular. His skin was warm and smooth. She reluctantly pulled her hand away. "Eric?"
He still didn't move. Julie frowned. That couldn't be good. Did he always sleep this soundly? Special agents were supposed to be light sleepers, ready to shoot and kill the moment they heard footsteps. Everyone who reads espionage novels knew that. If they didn't get up, they were dead, drugged or in a coma until the next book came out.
She studied Eric's sleeping form. He was motionless, his broad, sculpted chest barely moving with every breath. Hmm
Julie leaned over him, her face just above his, and checked for signs of breathing. "Eric?" she whispered.
Her world suddenly spun. One minute she was standing and the next moment her feet were in the air. Julie cried out as her spine collided against the bristly carpet. Her arms, stretched above her head, were pinned down. Her breath hitched in her throat as a heavy weight descended on her ribs.
She blinked at the sight of Eric's face inches away from hers. Her mouth went dry as she took it all in. His short blond hair was mussed and his dark blue eyes were still blurry with sleep. Whiskers shadowed his angular jaw and she itched to rub her cheek against his.
Eric squeezed his eyes shut, the lines in his face deepening. He opened his eyes again. "Julie?"
He knew her name, she thought dazedly. That was hopeful.
And he wasn't moving away from her. Eric kept her pinned to the floor. His knee was deeply, intimately, wedged between her thighs as his big, muscular, not to mention naked chest crushed her breasts.
"How'd you do that?" she asked in a breathless squeak. And could she use that move to flip him into her bed?
Eric jumped to his feet in one fluid movement. He reached for her, his hands surprisingly gentle. Eric set her on her wobbly feet before she could take her next breath.
"I'm sorry," he said. He pulled his hand away and rubbed the back of his neck. "I didn't mean to do that. Are you okay?"
"I'm fine. No harm done." Except for knowing how it felt to be pressed against his rock-hard body. "I'm supposed to get you for the meeting in the conference room."
"Damn." He looked at his watch. It was a sophisticated timepiece that looked as complicated as the dashboard of a race car. "I'll be right there."
"Take your time," Julie offered as she tugged her dress into place and hurriedly made her way to the door. She felt off balance, as if her world had been thrown off its axis.
She turned around and kept her eyes firmly above his bare shoulders. It didn't help. Her gaze wandered down to his snug boxer briefs and she started to blush.
"I didn't mean to scare you."
"Scare me?" She frowned. He thought one accidental tumble scared her? Seriously? What did he think she was made of? Julie thrust her chin out with injured pride. "Eric, the only one who seems freaked out is you."