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IT WAS a temptation she couldn't resist.
Heat slid over her skin, igniting every nerve ending, making her hyper-aware of each breath she drew in. Tension. Anticipation. Longing. All combined in her muscles, clamored for release. Demanded she unleash the more primal part of herself kept under wraps for far too long.
It was July, it was hot and Seline Sanborn sat alone in her leased glossy-black Audi TT roadster convertible with the top down, her Dior shades parked on her nose, tendrils of blond hair stuck to her chin and lips. Yearning, pure and strong, shuddered through her. How long it had been since she'd allowed herself the indulgence of taking off her mask? One month? No, it was closer to two. Two months since she'd taken on the identity of conservative Carol Lambert, senior account executive moved to New York City from Seattle, Washington. Eight weeks in which she'd gained the confidence of the higher-ups at Blackwell & Blackwell Industries. Sixty days since she'd traded a lifestyle with few boundaries for long twelve-hour days, and nights spent reviewing carefully laid out plans rather than enjoying romantic sunsets with a special someone.
Then again, it had been time immeasurable since she'd spent a romantic anything with anyone.
Which probably explained why she'd decided to take the sporty rental car to her uptown lunch meeting rather than a taxi. And why she'd let the top—and her hair—down afterward.
Of course, the success of the meeting had also contributed to her desire to cut loose. If all corporate endeavors could be as powerfully engaging, she'd seriously consider hanging up her hat and going legit. The problem was that there was muchmore paperwork and tedium involved in the life of a corporate exec than big-ticket deals like the one she'd just brokered on behalf of Blackwell & Blackwell.
Or rather, just brokered on behalf of herself using a shell company she'd anonymously staffed through a temporary employment agency. A company that would cease to exist by this time tomorrow, guaranteeing her rush would survive at least as long…and the security the funds from she'd make off with even longer.
Which was why she much preferred the title of con artist. Forget that the job was the only one she knew. What other position would give her quick access to the type of money she needed? Not even Carol Lambert's nice salary could cover an overhead that went beyond the expensive leased cars and designer duds she needed for her cons. Well beyond.
Of course, the impulsiveness of her current actions went against one of her top rules, developed out of necessity: do not, under any circumstances, let your guard down until the con is over. And seeing as only a day and a half—thirty-six short hours—remained in her current job…well, her uncharacteristic recklessness was spotlighted all the more.
"It's a car ride, that's all," she said quietly.
"What harm can come out of a car ride?" She pressed the power button for the high-end CD player. The guitar riffs of "Radar Love" by Golden Earring instantly drowned out the cautionary voice that whispered in her ear, along with the sound of the purring engine now idling at a stoplight.
Until the rumble of another equally impressive engine turned her attention to her left.
She smiled with deliberate pleasure.
It didn't take a car lover to appreciate the sleek lines of the XK Jaguar. But seeing as she knew the 12-cylinder engine that growled beneath the attractive hood inside and out, her interest quotient notched upward.
Too bad all she could make out through the heavily tinted windows was her own reflection. Which looked damned good, if you asked her.
She tilted her head and made a play at nudging her sunglasses halfway down her nose to get a better look at the driver even though she couldn't see him.
The response was a revving of the potent engine.
Seline righted her glasses and looked forward. Having been raised in New York, despite the fact that she could no longer live there unless she was on the job, she knew times were few and far between when traffic opened in front of you. And this appeared to be one of those rare occasions when the big city and her many denizens offered up a precious gift of space and opportunity. She had every intention of greedily taking advantage of both.
She put the car into first gear, easing up on the clutch even as she floored the gas pedal. The car's back end immediately jerked as the back tires spun against hot asphalt. The Jag's engine revved louder in answer.
She watched the opposing traffic light. A moment after it turned red, and a split second before hers turned green, Seline released the brake and the Audi shot forward in a cloud of white smoke and burning rubber. She was no fool. She knew the Jag could do cartwheels around her car…if the driver was equal to her and if she played fair.
But she wasn't known for fair. For survival's sake, she'd learned to take full advantage of any opportunity to get ahead. In this case, literally.
She switched gears into third, then quickly into fourth, watching as the speedometer needle leapt upward.
The Jag easily caught up, staying even with her. Ahead, a taxi seemed to be at a dead stop in the middle of the road. She veered right even as the Jag swerved left, within moments the two of them running side by side again.
Seline shivered at the feel of her hair whipping around her face, the sound of the engine and electric guitar filling her ears, and the sights and smells of midtown Manhattan around her.
Damn, but this felt good. And it had been a long time since she'd felt good. Much longer than two months.
She and the Jag ran like that for another four blocks before the other driver blew his horn. She shot him a look, having noticed two lights back the white-and-blue NYPD cruiser parked at the next intersection. What she didn't know was if the other driver would have the guts to continue the street race or if he would drop back.
To her surprise, he kept up with her, even upping the ante as he blew past her.
The stopped squad car immediately turned right and gave chase after the Jag.
Seline thrust the gear into Neutral and made a squealing right-hand turn, then another, until neither the Jaguar nor the cops were any longer visible.
Seline relished the rush even as she turned the music down, slowed to the speed limit, then headed back to the offices of Blackwell & Blackwell where she would have to play Little Miss Manners for the next four hours before knocking off work…with nothing but a saucy little smile to remind her of her brief excursion.
"THANK YOU, officer."
Ryder Blackwell accepted the speeding ticket from the unsmiling NYPD officer then leaned back in his dormant Jaguar and watched the patrol car drive away.
He'd purposely raced by the hot babe in the Audi, hoping to place her squarely in the patrol's crosshairs rather than him.
Then she'd turned off and rather than following her, the police officer had targeted him instead.
He grinned and shook his head, thinking of the provocative blonde in the black car—the personification of every teenage boy's dream. And, apparently, a grown man's, as well.
"Can I take that for you, Mr. Blackwell?" He'd only been a block up from the Blackwell & Blackwell building when he'd been pulled over, so the red-haired, freckled-face valet who usually parked his car had sprinted over to meet him.
Ryder got out of the XK and tossed him his keys. "Sure, O'Malley. But why don't you take her through the car wash before parking her back in the garage."
"Yes, sir, Mr. Blackwell."
Ryder chuckled quietly as he retrieved his briefcase from the back of the Jag. He knew the nineteen-year-old valet would take the car for a spin first. But that's what hot July days were meant for. If you couldn't have a little fun in a kick-ass car on a day like this, what was the point? He would have loved the opportunity when he was O'Malley's age.
He straightened his tie and was crossing the parking-garage driveway when he was nearly hit by the woman he'd never expected to see again. Ryder squinted at her. At least he thought it was her. Gone were the trendy sunglasses. Up were the Audi's top and her wild blond hair. And if he didn't know better, he'd think she'd exchanged scarlet lipstick for neutral beige.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Blackwell," she said, looking everything like yet nothing like the woman who'd tempted him into a ticket. "I didn't see you."
"So, is that going to be the story?" he asked with a grin.
She looked confused.
He nodded toward where O'Malley was taking off his black hat and getting into the Jag. The tires squealed as he pulled away from the curb.
When she looked back at him, he saw a definite shimmer of challenge in her green eyes.
"I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about, Mr. Blackwell."
A car pulled up behind her and the driver lay on the horn. Ryder stepped aside to let both into the parking garage, shaking his head as he went.
Carol…Carol…he repeated her name in his mind. Lambert. That's right. Her name was Carol Lambert. Coleman had hired her a couple months back.
It wasn't all that surprising that he'd had trouble remembering her name. Although she'd been present in meetings, she usually sat back from the table in a way that guaranteed he barely noticed her, rarely contributing anything, although he understood from Coleman that she was doing a hell of a job since signing on.
He stepped inside the lobby and went straight to the elevator dedicated to his topfloor offices.
Perhaps he'd have to invite the wild Ms. Lambert into his office to see how hot her personal engine ran.