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'Hey, Mitch, was there anything on kid in Demarest's file? About five-two or -three, hundred and ten pounds?'
Zane Montoya squinted into the shadows of the motel parking lot, trying to make out any other usable details. But whoever the kid was, he was being real careful not to stray into the pools of light cast by the streetlamps, making the fine hairs on Zane's neck prickle. He'd been staking out Brad Demarest's motel room for five hourstaking over right after Mitch had called in with the fluand Montoya Investigations had been on the guy's tail for six months now. Getting the tip that this by-the-hour motel on the outskirts of Morro Bay was Demarest's latest bolt hole had been their first break in weeks. And his gut was telling him the kid was casing the joint. And he didn't like it, because if Demarest showed up the last thing Zane needed was some little troublemaker alerting the guy to their presenceor, worse, spooking him before they could do a citizen's arrest.
'Is this kid a girl or a boy?' Mitch's voice croaked.
'Don't you think I would have ?' Zane's frustrated whisper cut off as the kid stepped back and the yellow glow of the streetlamp illuminated a sprinkle of freckles, vivid red-and-gold curls springing out from under a low-riding ball cap and the curve of a full breast beneath the skintight black tank she wore over camo trousers and boots. 'It's a girl.'
A girl who had to be up to no good. Why else would she be dressed up like GI Jane?
'Make that a young womaneighteen to twenty-five Caucasian with red shoulder-length hair.'
The girl melted into the shadows as he tried to picture the intriguing features he'd glimpsed on a mugshot.
'She doesn't look familiar,' he murmured, more to himself than Mitch.
He'd reread Demarest's file while gorging himself on the endless supply of junk food Mitch had stashed in the glove compartment, but he couldn't remember any of Demarest's known associates fitting her description.
Mitch gave a weighty sigh. 'If she's hanging round his motel room, she's probably another mark.'
'I don't think soshe's too young,' Zane replied. And way too cute. He cut off the thought. If she was mixed up with Demarest, she couldn't be that cute. A one-time B-movie producer who'd taken a brief detour into porn before finding a more lucrative income duping rich women by promising to make them movie stars, Demarest was a typical LA parasite. But this kid with her pale skin, her freckles, her silicone-free breasts and her furtive activities looked anything but his typical mark.
'Don't be too sure,' Mitch replied. 'The guy cast a wide net and he wasn't choosy.'
'Oh, hell,' Zane muttered as the girl approached the door to Demarest's room. 'Call Jim for back-up,' he added sharply. 'And get him over here now.'
'Has Demarest showed up?' Mitch's croak rippled with excitement.
'No.' Thank God. 'But Jim'll have to take over the surveillance. We've got trouble.' He glared across the lot, his irritation levels rising as his stomach sank. 'Because whoever the heck she is, she's just broken into his motel room.'
He shoved the cell into his back pocket as he lurched out of the car and headed across the parking lot.
Just what he needed after five hours sitting in a damn carA GI Jane lookalike with freckles on her nose screwing up a six-month-operation.
Iona MacCabe eased the door open, and clutched a sweaty palm around the skeleton key she'd spent a week doing the job from hell to get hold of. The tiny strip of light coming through the curtains was alive with dust motes, but didn't give her much of an idea of the room's contents bar the two queen-size beds.
Her heart pounded into her throat at the footstep behind her, but as she whipped round to slam the door a tall figure blocked the doorway.
Her stomach hit her tonsils as the apparition shot out a hand and wedged the door open.
'I don't think so,' came the gruff voicetight with anger.
The knee-watering shaft of relief was quickly quashed as an arm banded round her waist. Her back hit a chest like a brick wall, knocking the wind out of her, as he lifted her off her feet.
'Let go,' she squeaked, her reflexes engaging as the shadow man hefted her backwards.
'What the hell do you think you're doing?' she yelped as he kicked the motel door shut and carted her across the parking lot to who knew where.
The muscular arm tightened under her breasts and her lungs seized as she figured out that getting abducted might actually be worse than being caught by Bradthe thieving love rat.
'I'm stopping a felony in progress,' the disembodied voice growled. 'Now shut up, because this'll go a lot worse for you if someone spots us.'
She grabbed his arm and tried to prise it loose, but he was holding her too tightly for her to get any leverage. The tensile strength under her fingertips made the panic kick up a notch. She heard the heavy clunk of a car door opening and began to struggle in earnest. He was kidnapping her.
She'd come five thousand miles, lived on her wits for a fortnight, been cleaning toilets for a week in the grottiest motel in the world and hadn't had a decent meal since the day before yesterday, only to get murdered by a nutjob in a motel car park a few feet from her goal.
Fury overtook the panic. 'If you don't put me down this instant I'll yell my head off,' she whispered, then wondered why she was whisperingand why she was giving him a warning.
She drew in a breath and a callused palm slapped over her mouth. The ear-splitting scream choked off into an ineffectual grunt.
She kicked furiously, but only connected with air, as the scent of something clean and intensely male cut through the aroma of rotting garbage that hung in the night air.
He doesn't smell like a low life.
The thought disconcerted her long enough for him to twist round and dump her into the passenger seat of the car.
With his hand no longer cutting off her air supply, she hitched in a shaky breathonly to have the palm cover her mouth again. His forearm held her immobile.
She tried to bite him, but her jaws were wedged shut. His dark head loomed over her, the features still disguised by the shadowsand her heart battered her ribs with the force of a sledgehammer.
The enticing scent enveloped her as he hissed next to her ear. 'You let out a single sound and I'm going to arrest you on the spot.'
Her mind grabbed hold of the word. He's a cop. He won't kill me.
But while her heart stopped pummelling, the panic still crawled across her skin and made sweat trickle between her breasts.
Not being murdered thousands of miles from home was good. But getting caught by a cop breaking into Brad's room was definitely bad. The temporary work visa she'd spent two months getting a hold of would be revoked. She could get deported and then she'd have no chance of getting even a fraction of the twenty-five thousand pounds of her dad's money Brad had absconded with.
'Nod if you understand me?' he said again, low and apparently seriously pissed off.
She nodded, her fingers curling around the key she'd used to get into Brad's room. She slid the key under her bottom.
He lifted his hand and she sucked in a deep breath.
'Why didn't you identify yourself as a cop sooner?' she demanded in a furious whisper, deciding attack was the best form of defenceand a good way to distract him until she could get away from him. 'You scared ten years off my life.'
'I'm not a cop, I'm a private investigator.' He tugged something out of his back pocket and flipped it open. She guessed the card he was showing her was some form of ID, not that she could see it any better than she could see him in the darkness.
'Now put your seatbelt on, we're leaving.'
Outrage welled up her throat as he shut the car door, skirted the bonnet, climbed into the driver's seat and turned on the ignition.
He's not even a proper cop?
She grasped the dash as the car reversed out of its slot. 'Hang on a minutewhere are you taking me?' Maybe she'd been a bit hasty assuming he wasn't a kidnapper.
'Put the seatbelt on now or I'll put it on for you.'
'No, I will not,' she announced as he drove down the block of doorways and braked in front of the motel office. 'I have a room and a job here. I'm not going anywhere. And if you're only a fake cop you can't make me.'
She reached for the door handle, intending to dive out. But he leaned across her, the roped muscle of his arm skimming her breast, and clamped his hand over hers on the door handle.
'You're not staying here any more.' The menacing growl was so full of suppressed anger she flinched. 'And I can make you. Just try me.'
She tried to flex her fingers, the iron-hard grip merely tightened.
'Let go now,' he murmured, his minty breath feathering her earlobe and making her nape tingle. 'Or so help me, I'm calling this in and to hell with the investigation.'
'I can't,' she snapped back, her anger not quite as controlled as his. 'You're holding on too tightly.'
He released her hand and she let go of the handle, shaking her numb fingers in a bid to restore the blood supply before she got gangrene. 'That hurt. I think you may have crushed a finger.'
The huff of breath suggested he didn't care if he had.
A large, square open palm appeared under her nose. 'Now hand over the key.'
'What key?' she squeaked, struggling to sound innocent while the key burned into her left bum cheek.
'The key that's under your butt.' He snapped his fingers, making her jump despite her best efforts to remain aloof. 'You've got ten seconds or I'm going to get it myself.'
And then he started to count. Her nipples tingled at the memory of his forearm wedged under her breasts.
She retrieved the key and slapped it into his palm, conceding defeat at the unpleasant thought of those long, strong fingers delving under her bottom.
'There, fine, are you satisfied now?' she asked, disgusted with herself as well as him. 'I had to scrub fifty toilets to get that. And believe me, the toilets in this dump need more than their fair share of elbow grease.'
The scoffing sound sent another inappropriate prickle of reaction shooting up her spine.
What the heck was wrong with her? This guy was the opposite of sexy. Clearly a fortnight spent living on a shoestring budget doing deadend jobs in an alien, unfriendly country had melted her brain cells.
'Don't go anywhere,' he said, getting out of the car. 'You won't like me if I have to come get you.'
She folded her arms across her chest, tense with indignation. 'I don't like you now.'
He gave a humourless chuckle.
Iona glared at his back as he walked into the motel office and indulged in a brief fantasy of running off into the night. But as his tall frame stepped into the officeand the lean athletic build rippling under a tan polo shirt and dark trousers became apparent under the harsh strip lightingshe let the fantasy go.
After a ten-minute conversation with Greg, the night clerk, he strolled back towards her, silhouetted by moonlight again. As he approached she became painfully aware of the mile-wide shoulders, narrow hips, long legs and the predatory stride.
Whoever this guy was, he was a lot stronger and bigger than she wasand she already knew he didn't mind using his physical advantage. Which meant she was going to have to wait to make a clean getaway.
He paused next to the car and pulled out a smart-phone. As he talked into the device, the blue light from the neon Vacancy sign hit his face.
Iona gasped. Her abductor could make a living as a male supermodel.
A bubble of hysteria built under her breastbone as she stared at the firm sensual lips, the aquiline nose with a slight bump at the bridge, the sculpted angular cheekbones, the olive-toned skin and the shadow of stubble on his jaw. He glanced towards her and her lungs stopped as she absorbed the deep sapphire-blue of his eyes and the unusual dark blue rim around the irises. Was that a trick of the light? Even Daniel Craig's eyes weren't that blue. Surely?
He finished the callnot a word of which she'd managed to catch due to the loud buzzing in her ears from a lack of oxygenand slipped the smartphone back into his pocket.
He settled into the driver's seat, thankfully casting his stunning face into darkness again.
She looked away and concentrated on breathing. So what if he was better looking than Adonis? He was still a bullying jerk.
She repeated the mantra in her head as he drove off without acknowledging her.
'If it's not too much to ask,' she said as they left the motel's lot, 'where exactly are you taking me? Because my purse, my passport and all my worldly goods happen to be in room 108. And I don't want someone to nick them.'
Not that she had a great deal of money in her purse, or many worldly goods, but her credit card was kind of important, and her passport if she was ever going to get out of this Godforsaken country.
'That's cute, coming from you,' he said as he flipped the indicator and turned onto Morro Bay's main street.
She bristled. 'I'm not a thief, if that's what you're implying.'
'Uh-huh. So what were you doing in Demarest's room? Planning to scrub his john after hours?'
The mention of Brad's name had her bristling even more. So he knew Demarest? Or knew of him? She tried to decide whether this was good or bad.
'This is the way it's gonna work,' he said, his voice domineeringand deadly calm. 'Either I report you to the Morro Bay PD and they put you in a cell to keep you out of my way or you do what I say and tell me everything you know about Demarest.'
His thumb tapped rhythmically against the steering wheel as the car drifted out of the small towntaking her farther away from her goal, and her passport.
'It's not stealing if someone's already stolen from you,' she offered, after considering her options. She didn't plan to tell this arrogant stranger anything but she didn't want to end up in a cell either.
His thumb tapped three more times. 'No, actually, technically it's still stealing.'
Great, the man wasn't just a bullying jerk, he was a self-righteous bullying jerkwith eyes bluer than Daniel Craig. Her pulse spiked.
Get over the eyes. Looks can be deceivingyou know that.
'How much what?' she asked, confused by the question.
'How much did Demarest take you for?'
The toneless enquiry had all the pain and humiliation charging up her throat and threatening to gag her. She swallowed down the bitter taste. So she'd made a mistake. A stupid, selfish mistake by believing in a guy who had never been what he seemed. But she'd spent the last two weeks trying to put that mistake rightthat had to count for something.
'Not me, my father.' She stared out of the window into the darkness. The car had reached the bluff over Morro Bay and even though she couldn't see the ocean, she could sense it.