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Standing on the Cook County Federal Courthouse steps, special agent Russ Voight decided Penny Hennings deserved a star on the Perfect Posteriors of America wall of fame.
Maybe that was sexist, but since his meeting with Penny had been put on ice while she and Gerald Henningsher legendary defense-attorney fatherheld an impromptu press conference, Russ needed a way to distract himself. And Penny's rear provided a great distraction.
Months ago, his coworkers at the Chicago FBI field office had dubbed her Killer Cupcake for her aggressive cross-examination skills, but to Russ's way of thinking, she might be Killer Cupcake for other reasons. Those reasons having nothing to do with a courtroom and everything to do with her, his bedroom and lots of free time.
Ah, distractions. How he loved them.
Bang. A gunshot cracked the air.
Gerald ducked. Penny didn't. Blood roared to the front of Russ's brain. He snatched his sidearm from his holster, pushed off the iron railing he'd been leaning on and spotted Pennynot ten feet awayfrozen on the steps as the reporter in front of her crumpled. Hit.
Loud, ear-blasting screams erupted. Pedestrians dived to the grounddead-last thing they should door ran like hell, exactly what they should do. Russ sprinted toward Penny, still glued to her spot, and did a quick recon. Where's the shooter? Bang.
Across the street. High up. "Run!" Russ shouted.
But Penny didn't move. She just stood there in the streaming sunshine while her red power suit made one hell of an amazing target. One step below, her father had dropped. Whether he'd been hit or not, Russ couldn't tell. Get there. Three more steps. He latched on to Penny's arm, dragging her behind him. Gerald Hennings lifted his head. Alive. "Move!"
Penny turned back to her father. "Dad."
"You've got to move," Russ yelled. But Penny dug in, yanking free to go to her father. "I can't leave him." Bang.
Another shot pierced the step next to Gerald and a hunk of cement flew.
Penny's perfect porcelain skin went white. Game over. If he didn't do something, she'd be dead on the next shot.
His brain in full overload, he plowed into her, wrapping his hand around the back of her head to break the landing. They hit the cement and a rush of air exploded from his lungs.
"Oofff," Penny said.
Right side. Find the shooter. With Penny trapped under him, he lifted his head an inch and glanced across the street. Parking garage.
The shooter had to be on one of the top floors of the parking garage.
Onlookers continued to scatter, their shouts clanging together. From the courthouse doors, armed guards charged out, weapons drawn. Pedestrians on the sidewalk had either fled or taken cover. Some huddled behind trees or garbage cans or any other solid object.
Gerald was still sprawled beside them. He faced Russ and Penny, and his blue eyes were loaded with fear that Russ had seen too many times. We've got to move.
Suddenly, the air went still and Russ lifted his head another inch. A slight wind rustled leaves and the bright blue of a May sky taunted him, because some psycho decided today would be the day to go stone-cold crazy on a bunch of civilians.
Under him, Penny moved. Now she wanted to move? "Stay down."
Keeping low, she reached for her father's hand. "Daddy?"
"I'm okay," he said.
She shifted again and Russ pressed his body weight into her. On the middle of the expansive and now-empty courthouse steps, right beside a wounded reporter, they were a beautifully open target.
He swung his head, searching for anything that would provide cover. Nothing. Not one damn thing. Run. They'd have to risk it and hope one of them didn't get popped. Below them, the woman who'd been hit whimpered. He needed to get her out, too.
"Hang in there," he yelled. "We'll get you to a hospital."
Having no idea how badly she was injured, he didn't know if she could even understand him.
Sirens blared as Chicago P.D. cruisers stormed the area. "Parking garage!" he hollered at what looked like a detective jumping out of an unmarked car. "High floor. Right side." He went back to Penny still under him. "Are you hit?"
She lifted her head. "I don't think so. But something is poking my butt."
A punch of relief ripped into him. Damn, she'd scared him by freezing up like that. He eased her head back to the ground, hoping she'd forget about the thing poking her.
An armored BearCat screamed to the curb and SWAT guys funneled out, loaded with combat gear, ready for battle. "Shooter in the garage!" Russ yelled.
Someone save us. Someone save us. Someone save us.
Penny's pounding head would not let up. Over and over the screams and the crack of shots and the sirens replayed in her mind, the sounds pummeling her, making fear a ripe sting against her body. She closed her eyes. One second. To focus.
Now that she knew her father was alive, they'd figure out a way to safety. With an FBI agent on top of her, they'd manage a plan.
The pounding eased a fraction and she opened her eyes. Just below her, Dad stared at her, his face stacked with terror she didn't know her warrior father could feel.
"Russell, we need to move."
"No kidding, Penny. Give me a sec."
She rolled her eyes. Alphas. Always needing to be in charge.
"What's what's poking me? Could I have gotten hit?"
"The parking garage," he hollered at the SWAT team.
He waved his right arm and the bit of movement increased the pressure on her butt. What the heck? "Russell, I think I'm hit."
"I don't think you're hit."
"Then what's that damned poking?"
"Uh, sorry," he said. "That's, uh ah, cripes it's me. It happens sometimes. Adrenaline."
What? She focused on Russ's body, the weight of it, the location of their various body parts andOh, stop it.
"You have an erection?'" she muttered, hoping her father wouldn't hear. "Now?" "Hey, it's involuntary."
Some nut was shooting at them and the FBI agent, the one who had just saved her life, had an erection. Unbelievable. "Well, get. It. Off?"
"Penny," her father said, "quiet."
She'd never understand men. Never. She didn't understand a lot of things right now. All she and her father were doing was talking to reporters, trying to get a sound bite for their client, and suddenly everything exploded. Instead of herding her father to safety, she'd stood there, lost in the paralyzing fear of her thoughts, a wimpy girl, not knowing what to do. Pathetic. Truly pathetic.
And Russell Voight, a man who normally sparked all kinds of fantasies in her mind, on top of her with a giantreally gianterection, wasn't helping her current state of confusion.
"It's okay," Russ said to her father. "She's scared. People babble."
"I don't babble."
"Yeah, you do. On three, we're all bolting to the building. Stay low. And get rid of those heels. You need to haul."
She nodded, kicked off her spiked heels and touched her father's shoulder. "Are you ready?"
"We're good, then," Russ said. "One, two, three."
He jumped up and the sight of all that quick movement stunned her. He squeezed her hand with enough force that a knuckle popped, and then he dragged her to her feet and sprinted toward the building. Wait. Dad. Penny glanced behind her, spotted her father a foot behind and reached back for him.
"Go, Penny. I'm fine."
The safety of the lobby was just ahead and Penny stared at the back of Russ's head, focused on all that thick dark hair because the man had amazing hair and it was so much better than thinking about gunfire.
He swung open the lobby door and shoved her through. "Find an interior room and stay there. I'll find you."
"Go. I'll find you. I have to help out here."
Three hours later, after helping secure the crime scene, Russ rode the elevator to the tenth floor of the swanky downtown building where Hennings & Solomon was housed. Penny had already been questioned by investigators at the scene, but for some reasonwho was he kidding? he knew the reasonhe needed to put eyes on her. The woman's aggressive defense-lawyer attitude and sharp tongue drove him insane, but deep down, when confronted with his baser needs, he had an itch for her.
So, yeah, apparently he was a sick, demented freak, because Penny Hennings was a viper. Five months ago, she'd murdered him on a cross-examination that left him exhausted, frustrated and with a battered ego. Thus, the Killer Cupcake moniker. Without a doubt, she was a looker. Blond hair, blue eyes and a face so perfect he wanted to run his fingers over it just to say he'd done it. Easy, boy. At first look, her petite size fooled people, but that mouth made up for anything she lacked in stature. Russ watched the numbers on the elevator blink off and he laughed.
Sick, demented man.
The elevator door slid open and he was greeted by a thickly carpeted waiting area, where the typical hot, young receptionist cooed into her headset, "Hennings and Solomon, how may I help you?"
You can get off the phone and point me to Penny. Russ waited. It was well after five, but the receptionist remained at her post fielding calls, probably press people wanting a statement about the shooting. Everyone wanted a statement.
Already tired of waiting, he badged the receptionist, who put her calls on hold to direct him to Penny. Nothing like an FBI badge to get someone's attention.
Having never been at this office, Russ counted down the doors and glanced at nameplates as he strode by. Most of the doors were closed, but a few remained open. The occupants glanced up at him, noting his rumpled navy suit and the unbuttoned shirt collar. After the day he'd had, the FBI would have to deal with his loose tie.
Two open doors stood at the end of the long corridor. Penny's, the receptionist had told him, would be the second one from the end, and as he drew closer, the long hallway suddenly echoed with the sound of her voice.
"No," she said. "I'll bring him in. I'm not letting you guys parade my client in front of a bunch of news cameras. He's a businessman, for crying out loud. Get over it."
Even after getting shot at, she continued to do her job. Viper status aside, he admired that. Sick, demented man. He wasn't the only one, because the poor schmuck on the other end of Penny's phone call obviously didn't realize he wouldn't win.
Russ paused outside the half-open door. Not to listen, but to get his head together and organize his thoughts and emotions. To shake off the exhaustion sitting on him like solid cement. What a damned day.
Penny had almost gotten blown away. If one of those rounds had connected, that pretty head of hers would have disintegrated. Poof!
Incinerating heat zinged up the back of his neck. He couldn't be emotional about her. Not when it might give her, the lawyer defending a woman who could be a key witness in his multimillion-dollar fraud case, the upper hand.
"Fine," Penny said. "Get back to me. I can have him down there tomorrow. No perp walk. He'll just quietly turn himself in."
A smackthe phone hitting the basecame from inside the office.
"Idiot," she muttered.
He knocked lightly and pushed open the door. "Hey, I saved your life today. Don't call me an idiot."
Shockingly enough, those perfect bow lips eased into a smile. "Not you. Idiot."
Russ grinned and stepped inside the office. She sat back, rested her head against the cushion. Her perfume, something light and fresh, not flowery or overpowering, hung in the air and he tried to place it. No idea. He liked it, though. Reminded him how much he loved a woman's scent.
Her red suit jacketthat blazing target that almost got her killedhung on the back of the chair and she'd pushed up the sleeves of her white blouse. A few strands of long blond hair had busted free of her hair clip and hung down the sides of her drawn face. The look suited her, gave her an edgy, just-rolled-out-of-bed appearance, and Russ decided thinking about Penny and a bed at the same time could get a man in trouble.
He dropped into the fancy leather guest chair in front of her desk. "You okay? Relatively speaking."
"I'm not in the morgue, so I guess I'm okay."
"Scary as hell."
She rolled her lips together and breathed deep. "I froze. How ridiculous."
After what she'd been through, she questioned her reaction? Killer Cupcake didn't just shred witnessesshe shredded herself. "You were terrified. I've seen seasoned agents react like that. Don't think too hard on it."
"How's the reporter?"
"Still in surgery."
"That poor woman. And the shooter? Did they find him yet?"
Russ shook his head. "No. The crime-scene guys are on it. We'll find him."
"You think so?"
"I'd be a crummy FBI agent if I didn't." She shrugged. "How's your dad?"
"Rattled, but fine. My brother came by and we double-teamed him. Forced him out the door."
She stared straight ahead, blinked a couple of timesuh-ohand slapped one hand across her eyes. Damn, he didn't want to see Killer Cupcake cry. He resented the hell out of it that some psycho reduced this fiery woman to tears. "Penny"
She held her other hand up and Russ stopped talking. Finally, she slid her hand away and focused on him with an intensity that had him shifting in his seat. He'd seen that look five months ago from the witness stand.
"I'm sorry, Russell. I almost got you killed today."
Not what he'd expected. Score one for her on the surprise attack. "That's not on you. You were standing on the steps. How is it your fault some nut decided shooting innocent civilians would solve his problems? Whatever the hell they are."
She closed her mouth. No. Really? If he'd known it was that easy to keep her quiet, he'd have done it months ago.
She threw her hands up. "Russell, I was trying to take responsibility for my actions."
There we go. Much better. Killer Cupcake returns. "I don't want to hear you apologize. Not for this." He grinned, shifted forward and focused on those hot blue eyes of hers.
"If you want to apologize for something, apologize for beating the hell out of me in court five months ago. My ego still hasn't recovered."
She scoffed, "Never. Besides, that was an excellent cross. Probably my best work."
"Congratulations. I was the victim."
She scooted forward in her chair, her smile drifting wide. "You held your own. As I recall, you rather enjoyed the battle."
Some truth there. Maybe he would have enjoyed it more had he not been the guy in the witness box, but in a seriously twisted way, he got off watching her stalk around the courtroom, hurling impossible, well-developed questions at him.
"You're tough, Penny, but I'm not afraid of you."
"Too bad. I suppose."
He cracked upcouldn't help it. Wanting this woman was a death wish. Simple as that. Also a damned shame, because he couldn't have her. Not when her job required her to dismantle monthssometimes yearsof work that guys like him busted their tails on. He wholeheartedly believed every American deserved a fair trial, but at the end of some seriously rotten days, he wondered how defense lawyers justified getting murderers off.
"Anyway," she said. "Why are you here? More questions?"
"No. We never had our meeting from this afternoon."
Before the shooting, they were scheduled to meet after her court appearance to discuss a deal for a witness Russ needed on a stock-fraud case.