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SAREENA'S EYES PRACTICALLY glazed over as the mayor droned on and on. She loved raising money for the battered women's shelter, but these charity dinners were beyond boring. The only thing that kept this one from being a total yawn fest was her seat assignment.
Eye candy at twelve o'clock sharp.
Officer Brogan Donahue had a polite smile on his face but it didn't reach those gorgeous blue eyes of his. They'd been working together on fund-raisers for months now and she hadn't wrangled so much as an invitation for a cup of coffee. He was unfailingly pleasant but distant.
That had to change.
They'd worked side by side remodeling the shelter and she'd flirted outrageously with him. A few times usually when she was covered in paint or drywall dust he'd let down his guard and flirted back. She'd thought she'd finally made some progress with him, only to have him slam those damn walls up as soon as they went their separate ways.
Every time she saw him she had to start from scratch, breaking down the barriers he placed between them. Boy, was he stubborn. But then again, so was she. If it was the last thing she did, she'd get him to take her out on a date.
A shiver of sexual hunger raced through her as she thought about how she'd like that date to end if she ever got the chance.
Better get those thoughts out of your head right now, girlie. Sareena glanced down to make sure her nipples weren't poking out under her emerald green silk sheath. She had to speak next and didn't need to put on a show for half of New York City's wealthiest citizens. With her luck there'd be a close-up of her "high beams" in the society section tomorrow morning. Or worse, a picture of her with a wet spot because she decided to forgo underwear tonight to avoid panty lines in the tight dress.
Being an heiress had its drawbacks.
"And now, it gives me great pleasure to introduce the woman of the hour, Ms. Sareena Wilton."
Sareena approached the podium as the polite applause died. After the mayor's never-ending speech the audience was probably more than ready to listen to someone who didn't say "as you well know" every other sentence.
"Thank you, Mr. Mayor. Good evening everyone. I hope you enjoyed your dinner and the entertainment provided by the Williams Jazz Ensemble. I promise I won't keep you much longer." It was already eleven-thirty and she really didn't want to be hanging around with the socialites come midnight. Then again, having a huge black cat stroll through the lobby of a five-star hotel would liven things up a little.
Now that would make the papers for sure.
"Domestic violence is one of the most vile of all societal ills. It doesn't discriminate by race, color or economics. Many women are at risk from murder by the very men who vowed to love and protect them. The city's shelters are in desperate need of provisions to help these women and their children find better, safer lives. Your contributions this evening will help make that possible. Mr. Stevenson, I'm thrilled to be able to present this check for twenty-five thousand dollars to the Phelps House of Brooklyn."
She paused and waited for the director of the Phelps House to make his way to the raised platform.
Sareena's ultra-sensitive hearing picked up a disturbance in the lobby, even over the enthusiastic applause. The double doors in the back of the ballroom crashed open.
"I want my wife back!"
A burly man pushed his way through the crowd and charged toward the podium. "It's my God-given right to show her who's boss!"
No one moved to stop the raging lunatic as he knocked over anything in his path. Murder was in his eyes and it was directed at her. Fear sent adrenaline shooting through her bloodstream. Her hackles rose at the threat and her muscles bunched in preparation to change.
She fought the pull of the moon and her survival instincts and managed to stay calm and upright at the podium. Barely.
The enraged man had made it halfway through the room before security caught up to him. Sareena relaxed slightly as they grabbed his arms and fought him to the floor. A flash of copper-bright hair snagged her attention and she realized Brogan had jumped into the fray as well. Her heart leapt into her throat as she watched him dodge a kick before he tackled the bull of a man.
"I don't care how much money you have! I'm gonna kill you! You have no right to keep a man from his wife. No right!"
The man continued to scream threats even as security dragged him out of the ballroom. Cameras flashed in her face and Sareena remembered she was still at the podium.
"Well, that wasn't part of tonight's festivities." A nervous twitter ran through the crowd. "As you can see, your continued support is desperately needed to prevent men such as him from continuing their abuse. Thank you all for your participation. Should you have any questions or wish to help further, Mr. Stevenson will be on hand to take additional donations. Thank you and good night."
Sareena's muscles trembled with the effort to hold back the change as she smiled brightly for the still snapping cameras. It was all she could do to walk calmly to the manager's office and not snarl at the microphones being shoved into her face.
"My secretary will have a statement for you all tomorrow. Right now I need to talk to the police. I'm sure you understand," she said as she walked through the mob of reporters surrounding her.
The media was a necessary evil. She needed them on her side to win additional support for the shelters, but right now she wanted them out of her face.
BROGAN WATCHED WITH a combination of lust and awe as Sareena Wilton crossed the lobby toward him. Not a sable hair was out of place and her long stride didn't show even the slightest of hitches.
Some wife-beating motherfucker just threatened to kill her and she waltzed across the hotel in shoes that cost more than a car like nothing happened. Did nothing faze her? He'd seen her deal with snot-nosed kids, hysterical women and now an enraged man. Nothing disturbed the calm façade she presented to the world. He wondered what it would take for Sareena to lose her cool for him to make her lose her cool.
Don't go there, Donahue. She ain't for you.
But damn, sometimes it was hard to remember that. He'd been attracted to her the first time he saw her playing peek-a-boo with a toddler at the shelter. She didn't look anything like the Wilton heiress with her hair in a ponytail and dressed in faded jeans and a denim work shirt.
Thank God he'd figured out who she was before he'd asked her out on a date. Wouldn't that have been a fucking joke? She'd have laughed her ass off at the idea of a cop asking her to the movies. Christ, didn't her family own a production company or something?
Not that he'd researched her or anything.
Her sultry fragrance reached him a second before she did and his cock twitched in his rented tux. Just because his head knew he didn't belong in the same room as her didn't mean his body agreed.
"Thank you, Brogan, for your timely intervention. I'd hate to think of what that man would have done if you hadn't stepped in."
"The hotel's security had him pretty much under control by the time I got there. I just made sure he wouldn't get up."
"Well, it was a lot more than any other man in there did, and don't think I didn't notice."
"I'm a cop, it's what I'm trained for." And those other idiots wouldn't know how to stop a cab, forget a pissed-off bastard like that.
A commotion in the foyer snapped the spell ensnaring Brogan's senses.
"I'll get you, bitch! You can't escape me!"
Security struggled to control the attacker and keep him away from Sareena. The man's eyes blazed with either extreme fury or insanity. It took two security guards and another cop to wrestle him out the door and away from Sareena.
"Ms. Wilton, do you want to press charges?" A beat cop stood off to the side as they finally hauled the handcuffed attacker out.
Brogan looked at Sareena to see if she was upset by the situation but she only glanced at her watch nervously.
"Is it something I can do tomorrow? I'm still a little shaken up now."
"Of course. Stop by the precinct house in the morning and we'll take care of it."
Brogan didn't think she looked shaken up at all. In fact, she looked more irritated than scared. His instinct said something was up, but he couldn't put a finger on what it was. Shouldn't she be a little more upset by all this? At least nervous for Christ's sake? She had amazing control over her emotions and once again he couldn't help but wonder what it would take to break that control.
Any other thoughts were sucked out of his brain along with the blood supply when Sareena pressed against him. That tempting perfume infused his senses as her silk-covered chest brushed his arm.Images of peeling that scrap of fabric off her inch by inch flashed in his brain as she reached up to give him a quick peck on the cheek.
"Thanks again, my hero. I'll have to come up with a suitable reward for your bravery."
Her smile reminded him of a cat with a bowl full of cream hungry and looking forward to every taste.
He could think of several ways she could reward him but somehow he didn't think she'd go for them. Despite her flirting, he knew she didn't have any intention of following up on the promise her eyes made.
"Just doing my job."
"I think tonight you went above and beyond the call of duty."
She shot him another sultry glance from those mysterious cat eyes before she walked out of the hotel and into her waiting limo.
He shoved his hands in his pockets to hide his growing erection. Sareena Wilton might not be the typical trust fund party girl, but she was still way out of his league. The only thing they had in common was the volunteer work they did for the shelter. He was bluecollar all the way and she was diamonds and limos.
She'd flirted with him every time they'd worked together but he didn't take it seriously. With any other socialite he'd think they'd want to try slumming or use him as a boy toy or something. Sareena was different. She worked damn hard for the shelter, not only raising money with gigs like this but also cleaning and hauling supplies to the building.
Hell, she'd even helped paint and drywall. No, she definitely wasn't a pampered princess. She put her heart and soul into the shelter, not just her money. He respected that, even if he didn't really understand it.
There had to be a story there somewhere but she'd never mentioned it and he was too polite to ask. Hell, polite had nothing to do with it. He didn't want her asking him why he worked so hard for the shelter, so he'd kept his mouth shut.
A disturbance on the sidewalk caught his attention and Brogan ran for the door. He hit the cement reaching for his gun, which wasn't holstered in his tux.
The squeal of brakes and a crunch of metal meeting metal echoed against the building. Two taxis were smashed together and several other cars were haphazardly scattered along the street.
"What the fuck happened?" Brogan asked the uniformed officer who dabbed at a cut on his mouth.
"Just as I was loading him into the back of the cruiser the bastard slammed his head into my face and took off."
"Didn't you have him cuffed?"
"Hell yeah, whatdaya think, I'm a rookie or something? His hands were cuffed behind his back. Shit, they still are. He took off across the street, scrambled over the cab and disappeared with the cuffs on tight."
"Why didn't you chase after him?"
"I was still picking myself up off the ground when he caused the two-car accident out there. Murphy was helping me get the bastard in the car. He almost got flattened by the cab when he ran after him."
"Well, call it in."
"No shit, Columbo."
Horns blared from all directions as the congestion spread up the block. Brogan didn't mind helping out but he was not directing traffic in a rented tux all night long. Good thing Sareena's limo pulled out before that bastard escaped.
Oh shit, Sareena!
This guy was after her in the first place. Brogan would bet his last dollar the jerk was heading uptown to finish what he started. Fuck. He cursed the tell-all book by a fading pop star that dished many of the city's celebrities' addresses. Including Sareena's. The guy shouldn't be able to get into her place but he shouldn't have been able to get away from two cops while handcuffed either.
He yanked his phone out and called dispatch to send a unit to cruise by her Central Park condo. But with this traffic snarl, if there wasn't a car in the neighborhood they'd never get there in time.
His conscience prodded him. Did he take the chance that a patrol car would get there before the sick bastard that was after her? Not when he could walk there in five minutes. His feet were moving before he even finished the thought. If he remembered correctly, she lived on Fifty-Seventh Street along Fifth and Sixth Avenue. He didn't know exactly which building was hers, but he could scope it out and keep his eyes peeled for an asshole wearing handcuffs.
Damn, he wished he had his gun with him. Central Park was freaking creepy at night. It always took him by surprise that there were so many trees in the middle of the city. When he was a kid he'd hide in there and pretend he was a jungle explorer. Right now he could almost believe there was a jungle hidden in the darkness out there.
The dress shoes pinched his toes something fierce. They weren't meant for walking five city blocks. Brogan leaned against a bench and considered taking the shoes off and going the rest of the way in his socks.
Probably not a good idea. If he had to take the assailant down he'd rather have a little protection, no matter how uncomfortable. He straightened as a limo ghosted by his spot on the bench. That couldn't be Sareena's limo, could it? She had to have made better time than that. He took a quick glance at his watch. It was midnight already.
Sure enough, Sareena stepped out of the back of the long black car with the help of the uniformed chauffer. He walked her to the front of the building where a doorman waited for her, then drove off.
Good, she'd be safe once she was in her building. These places were guarded better than Fort Knox.
He felt a little stupid for walking all the way here with some half-assed idea of protecting her. She had all the protection money could buy. Now he'd have to schlep all the way back to midtown just to get a cab. The chances of finding one on this street were slim to none.
With one last look at Sareena's sexy bod, Brogan prepared to head home.
A flash of movement caught his eye as he turned. Something rustled behind the decorative shrubbery. Before he could call out a warning, a man jumped out and attacked the doorman, knocking him to the ground with a sickening thud.
The wife beater had found Sareena!
Somehow he'd freed one hand from the cuffs and found a knife a knife he now held to Sareena's throat.
Brogan sprinted forward, cursing the slippery shoes that slowed him down. He was still a hundred yards away when a roar rent the night air.
He couldn't believe his eyes. A huge black cat stood where Sareena had been seconds before. The attacker couldn't believe it either but he wasn't as stunned. He took off across the street for Central Park. The cat a jaguar or something leapt after him with a growl. Where the hell had it come from? He swore a blue streak as he raced for the fence, intent on following the cat and the attacker, but a cry of distress stopped him.
"Sareena?" Brogan changed direction and ran back toward the building.
"Help me, please." The doorman lay on the sidewalk, blood dripping down his face from a gash on his temple.
Brogan growled in frustration. He wanted to go after the jaguar and the wife beater to make sure Sareena was safe, but he couldn't leave the doorman in this condition. He bit back another swear before yanking his cell phone out of his pocket yet again.
"Just hold on a little longer. Help is on the way." He searched the sidewalk for something he could use as a bandage to apply pressure to the wound but didn't see anything.
Except for a pile of glimmering green silk lying on the sidewalk next to a pair of skyscraper heels.
Copyright © 2009 by Ellora's Cave Publishing, Inc.