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Lincoln Williams knew two things to be true: he was damn good at his job and he was damn good at his job.
The rest well, the rest was a crapshoot.
As the only son of a single Caucasian mother and an African-American father he had never met, he'd been relegated to the fence separating each culture: not white enough to feel completely comfortable in his mother's world; not dark enough to belong in the unfamiliar black community.
So he'd learned early on that the only thing he could control were his actions. And it was those actions on which he insisted he be judged. Not by verbal agreement, but by tacit understanding. It wasn't until he'd become first a Marine, then was recruited into the FBI at Quantico, that he'd come into his own. Learned not only to embrace his preference to go unnoticed, but to use it to his advantage. Something he was damn good at, despite his height of six foot four and muscular two-hundred-and-fifty-pound build.
Of course, only he knew about his recurring dream of disappearing altogether. it was on the heels of just such a nightmare that he'd abruptly resigned his position with the Bureau ten months ago and signed on with fellow ex-Marines to establish Lazarus Security based in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Their most public success to date was assisting in the recovery of a missing seven-year-old girl in Florida.
But what Linc had to do now was in no way connected to Lazarus: a man he had helped put away for a thirty-year term of incarceration had just escaped. And he fully intended to return him to the six-by-eight-foot cell where he belonged.
If his reasons stretched beyond the fact that he'd been the one to capture the sadistic criminal two years ago while still with the Bureau well, that was between him and his target.
Thankfully, the Friday staff meeting at Lazarus didn't include anything that required his undivided attention.
He looked over the twenty recruits listening to two of the partners, Megan McGowan and Darius Folsom, as they went over ongoing assignments and upcoming contracts. Just before they drew the meeting to a close, Linc ducked out of the room, as was his M.O. at every meeting.
"Hey." Dari caught up with him afterward. "You good with contacting your sources on the James contact?"
His longtime friend, fellow Marine and now business partner grinned. "Didn't have to ask, did I?"
Linc glanced at him.
"Hey, why don't you drop by the Barracks later? We're putting together details on Jason's surprise birthday party next week."
"I'll see what I can do."
The Barracks was a bar and Linc was known to stop in from time to time, mostly to appease his friends who liked to unwind at the local establishment. He had other plans tonight, but figured it shouldn't take too long to toss a few bucks into the kitty for a gift for their fellow partner. Especially since it wasn't that long ago that Dari and Meganwho were as much partners outside Lazarus as insidenearly split because of something that went down with Jason.
It was reassuring to see things were back on track.
Besides, soon Dari would be reclassified as combat ready, following an injury he suffered a month ago, and redeployed overseas. He'd like to spend a little time with him before that happened.
Dari smacked a hand against his shoulder and said, "Hope to see you there."
They parted ways, Linc heading for a room designated as his office, although it was a space he spent very little time in. He had everything he needed on him, which was the way he preferred to work. But this afternoon he wanted to wrap up a few business-related items so he'd be free to pursue his personal agenda.
Namely, to apprehend one Billy "the Bank Robber" Johnson and return his ass to jail where he belonged.
And he knew exactly where to start: with Johnson's girlfriend, Regina Dodson.
"Come on, Regina! You act like you're sixty instead of twenty-six. I finally talked you into coming out with me. Is it too much to ask you to actually have fun?"
Regina Dodson thought it was more than an act; she felt sixty. And had for a good long time. Too long. It was one of the reasons she'd reluctantly agreed to come out with Vivienne tonight. The outgoing redhead was the first friend she'd made when she moved from Livermore Falls, Maine, to Colorado Springs a year and a half ago.
Moved? More like escaped. She'd packed up everything, changed her name and was making a new life for herself in the small city nestled against the Rocky Mountains south of Denver.
Still, there wasn't a day when she didn't wake up terrified this would be the day her past would catch up with her.
And for some odd reason, lately she couldn't help feeling she was being watched.
She absently rubbed her arm and then took in Vivi-enne's animated face over the rim of the margarita she'd been nursing for a good two hours. Club lights blinked, dance music pulsed and all she could think about was how much she wanted to go home and climb into bed with a good book. Funnily enough, it was through books she and her friend had originally met; more specifically, a library book club to which they both belonged. They were the only two unmarried women in the group that didn't have kids, and were under the age of a hundred, as her friend liked to say.
"You need a drink," Vivienne pronounced, waving for the bartender.
Regina held up her margarita. "I have a drink."
"No, you need one you can't pretend to sip for hours on end." The girl stepped in front of them. "Six shots of tequila. And don't forget the salt and lemon."
Regina stared at her. "I'm not drinking six shots of tequila."
"You're right, you're not." The woman behind the bar lined up six shot glasses and began filling them. "You're going to drink three," Vivienne added.
"I'm not drinking any," Regina said over the sound of the loud music, scanning the throng around them. Too many people.
She'd never been much of a drinker. One glass of wine with dinner every now and again was about as adventurous as she got.
Vivienne paid the bill and then edged one of the shot glasses in Regina's direction. She licked the back of her hand between index finger and thumb and then sprinkled salt there before pulling a bowl of sliced lemons closer, nodding for her to do the same.
"Come on. What's the worst that can happen? The ice wall around you might melt?"
Regina drew her head back. "There's no ice wall around me."
"No? I've watched you freeze out four great-looking guys in an hour. What would you call it?"
All four had reminded her of her ex in some way: the first in looks; the second in attitude; the third in his approach; and finally the fourth in his choice of clothing.
Of course, Santa Claus would probably remind her of her ex at this point.
Over recent months, Vivienne had ceaselessly invited her out and she'd ceaselessly resisted. It had only been in the past few weeks she'd finally stopped reading every word of every online newspaper searching for signs that shadows from the past were about to stretch over and suffocate her present.
Still she wasn't quite ready to go out and act like a carefree single woman just yet.
Viv laughed and nudged her shot glass even closer. "One. You can at least do that for me."
Regina stretched her neck. "One?"
Her friend smiled.
If that's what it was going to take to shut Viv up, Regina figured she could handle that.
So why did she have a feeling those were going to be her famous last words?
She followed Viv's lead, licked her hand and then sprinkled salt on it. On the count of three, they simultaneously licked the salt, downed the shots of tequila and then quickly took a lemon slice and sucked on it.
Viv hooted. Regina shuddered.
She should have known her friend wouldn't settle for stopping there. But rather than be upset, she found herself laughing. The seemingly harmless liquid was already beginning to warm her insides, as if it were, indeed, melting the ice wall to which Viv referred.
She shook salt onto the back of her hand and reached for the second shot. Viv cheered and counted to three. They both smacked the shot glasses onto the bar and then reached for the lemon.
Before she knew what she was doing, she was downing the third shot.
Regina smiled. She had to admit, the liquor was beginning to soften the world's hard edges. She leaned against the bar rather than standing ramrod straight. Thankfully, every guy no longer seemed a variation on her ex. The lights looked soothing instead of garish. The music wended around and around her, making her want to dance. Something she hadn't done in a long, long, long time.
Something she'd never expected to do again.
Vivienne raised her hand to wave the bartender back, but Regina caught her arm. "No more."
Her smile must have convinced her friend that she had, indeed, been cured, because Viv laughed and grabbed Regina's hand instead.
Suddenly, it seemed like the best idea she'd heard all night.
Ten stools down, Linc watched the scene between the two women. He'd have known Willa Nelson aka Regina Dodson anywhere, despite the lengths she'd gone to to change her appearance along with her name. Where once her hair had been wheat blond, long and straight, now it was a warm honey brown and curly, barely brushing her slender shoulders.
At one time he might have needed to physically trail someone in order to track their activities, but now he had but to plug their cell-phone number into a high-tech app in his own cell phone and their location popped up. When he'd seen Regina was at a downtown club, he'd immediately gone there, wondering if Johnson might try to contact her.
When he'd gotten word a couple of days ago on Johnson's escape, and he'd looked up Willa's whereabouts, he'd been surprised to find she'd moved into his own backyard. Of course, he hadn't lived in Colorado two years ago"home" had been little more than a standard-issue Bureau box of an apartment in D.C. then. But to discover they both lived in the same place seemed like more than coincidence; it appeared providential.
From his safe, invisible position down the bar, he'd watched Regina's friendhe knew her name was Vivienne Cruisecoax his target into doing tequila shots. He'd been slightly amused at Regina's open shudder at the first and surprised, then intrigued when she'd gone on to do the second and third.
The two women were now dancing. And he suspected that even if he didn't have to watch Regina, he would have anyway. There was something ultimately alluring about the hesitant yet intrinsically sexy way she moved her slender body, despite the shapeless green dress and low heels she wore, contrasting with her friend's fire-engine-red skirt and blouse and strappy black stilettos.
An odd couple if ever there was one.
The friend caught his gaze from across the room.
He turned back toward the bar, but caught sight of the woman in the mirror as she grabbed Regina's hand and started in his direction.
"Where are we going?" Regina asked, nearly stumbling trying to keep up with Vivienne's long strides toward a destination she couldn't see. Still, you weren't supposed to fight the hand leading you. And she was feeling good. Perhaps a little too good. "Well, hello there."
Regina realized they had stopped. She stepped up next to her friend to find her addressing the wide back of a guy seated at the bar.
At first Regina thought he wasn't going to respond. Then he slowly turned, looking her full in the face.
She caught her breath.
"My God!" Vivienne said. "You look just like that wrestler or actor. What's his name? The Rock."
Regina fairly gulped as she stared into the man's pitch-black eyes. While she understood the comparison her friend was making, this guy was different in significant ways from the actor. First of all, his features weren't as sharp, but more angular. Second, he was slimmer, his build more ropy than bulky.
She took in his simple black T-shirt and dark denim jeans and then blinked to look back up into his mesmerizing eyes. He had yet to acknowledge her friend.
"Hi," Viv said, obviously amused. "My name's Vivienne. And the one you're interested in is Regina. What's your name?"
Vivienne's smile widened. "Wanna dance, Linc?" His brows rose as he looked them over. "With both of you?"
"Uh-huh," Viv confirmed.
Regina glanced at her. She wanted all three of them to dance together? She raised a hand to her forehead, pushing her hair back, wondering if it had been a good idea to drink those shots.
Before she knew what was happening, she was back on the dance floor between Viv and Linc. She hadn't realized he was so tall when he was sitting on the stool, but now he towered over her by a good foot. Her friend put her hands on her hips from behind and swiveled her to stand face-to-face with Linc. She stumbled and he automatically reached to balance her.
"I've always wanted to do that dance from my favorite movie!" Vivienne said from behind her.
"What movie?" Regina asked.
"Dirty Dancing. You know, the one where Jennifer Grey dances with Patrick Swayze and his partner?" She reached for her right hand and then Linc's and put them together, then resumed her place behind Regina, complete with hands on her hips.
Regina slowly looked up into Linc's striking face. God, but he was handsome. And the way he looked at her melted away whatever might be left of her reserve. Her heart thudded loudly in her ears, nearly drowning out the music. Her skin tingled all over. And an ache she hadn't experienced in what seemed like forever took up residence between her thighs.
"Come on," Vivienne said. "Let's move."
Linc moved his right foot forward and she dropped her left one back as Vivienne did the same behind her, the hands on her hips guiding her into the next step.
There was something naughtily hot about the movement. Especially when Linc leaned in closer, points of his body making contact with hers. Mmm he smelled good. Like deep woods and fresh air and hot male. And his hand where it held hers was big and warm, sending little shocks of sensation up her arms and across her chest, hardening her nipples under her dress.
Much, much too much time had passed since she'd been this close to a man. Her senses didn't seem to know what to do with the overwhelming input washing over them. Of course, the alcohol probably heightened that effect.
Just then, Regina didn't care how or why she'd come to be in that particular spot at that particular time. She was merely enjoying that she was. And didn't want to be anywhere else.