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By Becky Barker
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
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Chapter OneIt had been too easy. Too damn easy, thought Kyle Tremont as he surveyed the elegant ballroom of Gregory Haroldson's estate. The plan to get him into the employ of the wealthy banker had come together without a hitch. It had all gone like a perfectly choreographed dance.
The ease of it only made him edgy and more vigilant.
Some unseen sharpshooter had taken a wild shot at Haroldson, and Kyle had been on hand to shield the other man with his body. Instant gratitude and a generous job offer. Kyle had wondered, several times, why he hadn't shoved Haroldson into the path of the bullet. Dead was a more sure-fire way to punish a man than the prospect of a jail term.
Only five days into the operation, and he wanted out. He'd cursed himself a thousand times over for letting Donald Sullivan coerce him into helping. The daily doses of Haroldson's arrogance were more than he could stomach. The urge to strangle the man with his bare hands grew stronger every time he laid eyes on him.
Undercover work had definitely lost its appeal. The innate hunger for a challenge that had motivated him in his younger days was nonexistent now. He had retired four years ago when the taste for intrigue died along with his partner.
Despite being on Haroldson's payroll, he'd yet to be contacted by the elusive agent with the code name Phantom. His assignment was to help the undercover FBI agent escape Haroldson's heavily guarded compound. Deputy Director Sullivan had lured him out of retirement with a promise that Phantom had gathered enough concrete evidence to make Haroldson pay for his crimes.
Kyle was tired of waiting and at risk of losing his patience altogether.
"She's a first-class babe, ain't she."
Kyle glanced at his fellow employee. Damon was young, cocky and a little dim-witted, but basically an okay guy. The two of them were usually paired as driver and bodyguard for high-ranking members of Haroldson's little empire.
Tonight, they were enjoying the annual staff appreciation dinner. Haroldson knew how to keep his people happy and loyal by pretending they were important to him. The ballroom's many chandeliers had been dimmed to a soft, intimate glow. Food was abundant, booze flowed freely and a small orchestra played music for dancing.
Damon's admiring gaze was fastened on their hostess for the evening.
"You mean Haroldson's fiancée?"
"She's a real knockout, and damn nice, too. Always doin' something for the staff and their families."
Nice wasn't exactly the word Kyle would use to describe Haroldson's very young, very blond girlfriend. Definitely a May-December relationship. Gossip had it that she'd moved in with him as soon as they'd announced their engagement. Apparently, he adored her and refused her nothing.
"I guess she can afford to be generous."
"Yeah, but I seen plenty of those rich bitches who turn their noses up at guys like us. "Fraid they'll get dirty if we touch 'em or somethin'. Samantha, she's not that way."
Kyle had never been introduced to the lady in question. Nor did he want to be. He couldn't summon much interest in a woman who'd sleep with a bastard like Haroldson.
"I don't figure I'll be getting up close and personal with the boss's woman."
The younger man laughed. "That's what you think. She's makin' her way toward us now. She and the boss, they have this little routine. When he hires a new employee, she's the one what gets up close and personal. The boss gets a kick out of watchin' the hired help drool. She'll have you pantin' after her in a few minutes."
Oh, hell, thought Kyle. Damon usually knew what he was talking about when it came to his boss's habits. He ground his teeth in frustration. The last thing he needed was attention drawn to him, especially for Haroldson's amusement.
Their hostess slowly made her way through the throng of partygoers, stopping to speak to several people as she crossed the room. Everyone wanted a word with the lady of the manor. He watched her graceful, unhurried progress and steeled himself to suffer her attention. It wouldn't do to make his distaste evident. Better to play the dumb but awed hired hand.
"Damn, but she looks hot in that red dress," muttered Damon. "Too bad she never strays for real. I'd be first in line to jump her delicate bones."
Haroldson's fiancée wasn't what he'd call petite - probably five foot seven or eight, with a slender but generously curved figure. As she drew closer, Kyle's gaze drifted down her elegant neck, across the bare, unblemished skin of her shoulders and chest to an enticing view of softly rounded breasts displayed by the strapless dress.
The full-length evening gown managed to look both tasteful and wickedly provocative. A man would have to be dead not to react. Her heavy mane of platinumblond hair parted in the middle and framed an ovalshaped face in feathery layers. Although not classically beautiful, her features were striking, attractive and enhanced to perfection.
The best money could buy. She had to be an unprincipled gold digger who'd sold her soul to the highest bidder. That alone should leave him cold, but his body wasn't listening to common sense. It was just reacting.
Wide-set, exotically highlighted blue eyes captured his attention and held his gaze as she came to a stop in front of him. He felt the impact of her gaze clear to his toes. Her expensive perfume teased his senses, and set his nerves alive with reaction. The sizzle of attraction hummed through his veins at the sultry challenge in those beautiful eyes.
"T. R. O. U. B. L. E." The lyrics to a countrywestern song popped into his mind. Haroldson's ladylove packed a sensual wallop that could mean nothing but trouble.
"Mr. Jackson." She greeted him by his alias and offered her hand. "I don't believe we've been introduced." Her voice was low and sexy, barely audible above the noise of the party. "I wanted to personally thank you for saving Gregory's life."
Kyle briefly grasped her hand, but kept his grip limp. She responded with a warm, firm grasp. Her touch made his skin sizzle with awareness.
She smiled, transforming her features to unexpected loveliness. It gave him another jolt. Not just because of the physical difference, but because of the genuine warmth and charm she emanated. No wonder she had the staff ready to jump her bones or jump through hoops for her. Warning himself to beware of wolves in sheeps' clothing, he briefly returned the smile.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, ma'am."
"There's no need to call me ma'am. We're all one big family here. My name is Samantha," she said, and then asked, "And your first name is Anthony?"
Excerpted from Undercover Virgin by Becky Barker Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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