Arms crossed and his shoulder propped against the wall outside the elaborate, corner high-rise office, Trace Rivers considered his options. Having an inside source would shorten his job. As a pseudobodyguard, he hadn't been given the opportunity to uncover shit yet, and he was getting antsy. But if he could turn someone who was privy to the info he needed, then he'd get somewhere.
Murray Coburn was dirty. Trace knew it. Hell, a lot of people knew it. But they couldn't or wouldn't touch the bastard without rock-solid evidence. The legal system had failed.
Trace would find the evidence eventually, though, and then he'd mete out his own form of justice.
Until then he had to contend with the odd assortment of disreputable punks and bullies working for Murray.
He also had to contend with Helene Schumer, better known as Hella name that suited her well. She never missed an opportunity to grope him, to boss him, to make his job more trying than necessary. But as Murray's current paramour, Hell had privileges denied to others.
If Murray uncovered her perfidy, he'd kill her without remorse. That thought didn't bother Trace at all, but Murray would also lose trust in him, and that couldn't happen.
The unsavory idea of using Hell didn't sit well with Trace, but it would be expedient, especially since the lady acted like a nymphomaniac around him.
As she approached now, her intent obvious in the slanting of her eyes and the curve of her painted mouth, Trace did his utmost to ignore her. Luckily he was saved from her assault when the timid receptionist, Alice, approached with a message.
Using the name he'd given for this cover, she said, "Mr. Miller?"
Trace kept his gaze on Hell, but replied, "What is it?"
"There's a woman downstairs asking to see Mr. Coburn. Your presence is requested to see what she wants."
In theatrical fanfare, Hell paused with her feet braced apart, her hands on her rounded hips, her chin at a haughty angle. "A woman? Who the hell is she?"
The receptionist ducked her head. "No idea, ma'am."
"Tell them to keep the woman there until I arrive." Though he could have communicated directly with the staff downstairs, Trace dismissed the young woman to do the chore, to remove her from Hell's wrath. Hell's viciousness was one of the things Murray seemed to enjoy most about her, so he never required her to curb her more cutthroat tendency of mauling the messenger.
"I don't want another woman seeing Murray."
Vicious and territorial. Of course, she had to know that Murray screwed anything in a skirt, with and without consent.
"He's out anyway." The bastard had left two hours ago, and though he'd been favoring Trace as his personal protection, this time he'd taken another man with him.
"Find out who she is and report back to me."
"I don't think so." Everyone in the organization feared Hell, almost as much as they feared Murray. except for Trace; he felt only contemptfor them both.
And maybe that accounted for Hell's constant pursuit, and Murray's apparent regard.
As he started toward the elevator, Hell stepped in his way. In her spiked heels, she stood eye-level to his six-foot height. Her long dark hair hung sleek down her back, her lips and nails painted shiny red. A sheer camisole, stretched tight over her enhanced boobs, was cut low enough to display not only her cleavage but damn near her navel and tucked into a pencil-thin skirt. she looked killer-gorgeous, as always.
Gorgeous, and evil. She stared at his crotch. "How convenient for you, that you're being called away."
God, Trace despised her. "Yeah? How's that?"
As daring as always, she reached out a hand and cupped his balls through his slacks. "I anticipated a private moment with you."
Far from enjoying her touch, Trace didn't trust her not to mutilate him. He grabbed her slender wrist and squeezed the delicate bones. Though he knew he caused her pain, her lips parted and her eyelids went heavy.
She licked her lips and searched his gaze. "If you were naked, I would have my nails in you right now."
Which was a damn good reason not to get naked with her. Trace smiled in triumph. "But not this time, Hell." He removed her arm by squeezing until she gasped and her fingers opened. He tossed her aside. "I have work to do."
On a sigh, he turned back to her. "What?"
"I want you to take me shopping."
"Not in my job description, doll."
"It isif Murray orders it." She rubbed her reddened wrist over her breasts. "And Murray will order anything I want."
Having nothing to say to that, Trace turned away from her and stepped into the elevator. When the doors closed, he let out a breath of relief.
Since he'd infiltrated the organization three weeks ago, posing as a bodyguard, Hell had been the toughest part of maintaining his cover. Eventually he'd have to deal with her. As a medicinal chemist, she supplied any and all drug persuasions that Murray might need for his human trafficking venture. Lackeys captured the women and Murray, the bastard, sold them to the highest bidderafter Hell ensured their compliance through risky drugs.
Trace looked forward to the moment when he'd deal with her.
When it came to annihilating the scourge, he didn't discriminate against women. Helene Schumer had to go; the world would be a better place without her.
Priscilla Patterson simpered and feigned distress as two hulking brutes tried to bully her toward a secluded conference room of the office building. What they intended to do to her there, she couldn't say.
They were not gentle, making her show of defenselessness difficult to maintain. Her arm got twisted; someone pulled at her ponytail, making her gasp.
And then suddenly, a quiet but stern voice spoke up. "Let her go."
Just that easily, she was free. She twisted to find a face to go with that deep voice, and froze. Wow.
Unlike the Neanderthals who'd taken pleasure in manhandling her so roughly, this man looked smooth and debonair and
He strode toward them with a frown that brooked no arguments. Standing easily six feet tall, he was muscular but not overly bulky, clean-cut but not in a too-polished GQ way. Very fair hair, straight and a little too long, contrasted sharply with the most piercing golden-brown eyes she'd ever seen. He wore khakis and an obviously expensive black T-shirt. She detected the bulk of a Kevlar vest beneath the shirt.
A black-leather shoulder holster held his gun. The belt around his waist carried two extra magazines, a stun gun, baton and mace. His black lace-up steel-toed boots could be deadly.
The man was ready for anything.
But maybe not ready for her.
That bright caramel gaze drifted over both of the hulks with contempt. "I'll handle her from here."
Grumbling, the men moved away.
He took her arm. "come with me."
Priss tried to resist, but he was far more physically persuasivewithout really hurting herthan the other men had been. "Where are we going?"
"Farther away for privacy."
"Oh. Okay." In her flat shoes, she hustled along beside him, feeling very short and suddenly unsure of herself. "You work here?"
He didn't reply but drew her around the corner, shielding her from prying eyes. He, on the other hand, stayed in view, and Priscilla assumed it was so he could keep an eye on the others.
Cautious and suspiciousqualities she appreciated.
He gave her a very slow perusal, from her dark reddish-brown hair in its high ponytail, to her crisp blue blouse and her over-the-knee, old-fashioned skirt, to her flat-heeled Mary Janes.and then back up again. "What are you doing here?"
"Oh." She pretended to be flustered by his direct stare. And truthfully
she was. But only a little. This was too important for her to fudge it.
She hugged her big satchel purse to her chest and said with just the right quaver, "I came to meet Murray Coburn."
She widened her eyes. "Well, that's actually private."
He stood there, waiting, his gaze unflinching, direct.
Ha. He didn't know her fortitude if he thought a little stare-down would discomfort her. Pasting on what she hoped was a winsome smile, Priscilla blinked her eyes at him. "Oh, I should introduce myself." She held out a hand. "I'm Priscilla Patterson."
He looked at her hand, and his left eye twitched.
He didn't touch her.
" She tucked her hand back in close to her body. "Will you please tell Mr. Coburn I'm here?"
"No." And then, striking an exasperated stance, he asked again, "Why do you want to see him?"
When she started to look away, he caught her chin and lifted her face. "I don't have time for this, so stop the coy act."
This time her eyes widened for real. He knew she was acting? But how?
Shaking his head, he released her. "Fine. I'll have the men show you out."
"No, wait." She caught his armand was stunned at the unyielding strength there. It was like grabbing thick rock. "Okay, I'll tell you. But please don't make me leave."
He crossed his arms, which effectively shook off her touch. "I'm listening."
"Murray is my father."
So still that he looked like a stone statue, the man stared at her. Only an infinitesimal narrowing of his eyes showed any reaction at all. "You're fucking with me."
Okay, so coarse language didn't really shock her, not anymore, not at twenty-four when much of her life had been spent on the sordid side of survival. She still gasped. "Sir, really." Fanning her face as if to alleviate a blush, Priscilla frowned at him. "I assure you that I'm serious."
A noise at the front of the lobby drew his attention, and after a quick look, he cursed low. Catching her arm, he dragged her farther out of view and bent close. "Listen up, lady. Whatever harebrained plan you have to cozy up with Coburn, forget it."
With complete honesty, she said, "Oh, but I can't."
He snarled, and then he shook her. "Trust me on this you don't belong here. You don't belong in this building, much less anywhere near Coburn. Be smart and take your pert little ass out the door and away from danger."
Pert little ass? Frowning, she looked behind herself. From what she could see, her asspert or otherwise looked nonexistent thanks to the shape of the skirt.
A deliberate choice.
But because he looked genuinely concerned, which was surely at odds with the duty that would be assigned to him, Priscilla shrugged. "Sorry. I didn't come this far just to walk away."
Footsteps sounded behind them. His jaw tightened. "There's a back exit. Go down the hall, hang a left, go through the"
So stubborn! "Excuse me." Priss stepped around him just as a behemoth rounded the corner, followed by the two men who'd bullied her earlier and another, equally disreputable-looking fellow.
She'd seen plenty of pictures, so she knew right away who stood before her.
Dark, slick, massive in build with an enormous neck and back, he looked exactly as she'd expected, right down to the trim goatee and calculating gaze.
"What's going on here?" Murray sized her up, and though she knew she wouldn't be to his liking, his gaze turned smarmy. "Who are you?"
Again Priss held out a hand. "Priscilla Patterson. I'm your daughter."
Trace swallowed down a curse. He wanted to toss the girl, in her ridiculous clothes with her ridiculous ponytail, over his shoulder to carry her out the front dooraway from harm.
He wanted, quite simply, to kill Murray in front of her, then kill the rest of them, too. Little Ms. Patterson might be traumatized for life, but damn it, she'd be alive.
Unfortunately he couldn't do a damn thing except stand there looking bored and mildly put out.
Murray's gaze swung to him, blue eyes as cold as the arctic zeroing in. "What the fuck is this, Trace?"
"A nuisance, that's all. I was just getting rid of her." Trace clamped a hard hand onto her arm.
With a flick of his hand, Murray stopped him from taking a single step. He dismissed the other men and after they'd walked away, he looked at her again. His brows were down in that fierce way that made most people quake in fear.
It was an affectation wasted on Trace.
Beneath his well-trimmed goatee, Murray's mouth was flat and hard. "Bring her up to my office."
And with that, he walked away to the private elevators.
Fuck, fuck, fuck. Glaring at the girl, Trace asked, "Happy now?"
She looked almost smug when she said, "Getting there." She gave a pointed look at his hand on her arm.
Ignoring that silent command, Trace high-stepped her toward an empty conference room on the lobby floor.
"Hey!" She tried to free herself, but couldn't.
Funny thing, though, Trace noticed that she moved in an expedient, stylized way that, against someone without his level of skill, might have gotten her free. "You're going to hurt yourself."
She worked up a few tears, letting them glisten on her long dark lashes. "You're hurting me."
"Not yet," Trace told her, unmoved by the false show of emotion. "But the idea of putting you over my knee gets more tempting by the second."
That left her tight-lipped and silentwith no remnant of tears to be seen.
Trace propelled her into a room and toward a conference table with chairs. "Sit." When she started to defy him, he filled his lungs and made a move toward her.
She dropped into a seat. "Why are you doing this?" Hands gripping the chair arms, she summoned up lost bravado and lifted her chin. "You heard what Mr. Coburn said. He wants you to take me to his office."
"Yeah. But I heard what he didn't say, too."
She shook her head. "What are you talking about?"
"I have to search you."
Aghast, she said, "I beg your pardon?"
"Beg all you want." He was so pissed right now, he might enjoy hearing it. "I'm still going to check you over. Everywhere."
Her eyes widened in alarm.
Too late, honey. Trace nodded at her, grim, but sort of anticipating it, too. "Every nook and hollow, honey, inside every piece of clothing."
She sputtered, and Trace noticed the flush blooming in her cheeks.
With her entire small body pulled tight in rebellion, she gasped, "You're insane!"
Trace propped his shoulders against the wall. "If you want to see Coburn, I have to ensure you aren't hiding a weapon, or a transmitter, of any kind."
"Fine." Perfect, in fact. "Then leave. Right now." She hesitated. "But
Again, Trace took his gaze over her. She tried to hide her body under the prim clothes, but he wasn't fooled. He'd bet his favorite knife that this particular babe was in no way innocent. Whether or not she was Murray's spawn, he couldn't say. There did seem to be something of a resemblance in the color of her hair, though hers was a shade or two lighter than Murray's. And when she connived, which she'd been doing from jump, she had a certain look about her that reminded him of Coburn.
Trace glanced at the chunky black watch on his wrist. "Make up your mind, but make it up fast. What's it to be? Do you want to leave, or do you want my hands all over you?"