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Photographer Gemma Laine is looking for arresting faces on the streets of Manhattan when her camera captures something shocking—a triple murder. In that moment, she becomes a target for the mob—and a top priority for a very determined, breathtakingly handsome, FBI special agent. With deadlines to meet and photo shoots on her calendar, Gemma chafes at the idea of protection, but every moment she spends under his watchful eye is a temptation to lose herself in his muscular arms . . .
With two of his men and one crucial witness dead, Special Agent Kyros Pappandreos can’t afford to be distracted. But Gemma is dazzling—and her connection to Kandy Laine’s high-profile cooking empire makes her an especially easy mark for some very bad people. Keeping her safe is much more pleasure than business, but as the heat between them starts to sizzle, Ky is set to investigate whether they have a shot at love . . .
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Special Agent Kyros Pappandreos scanned the midtown Manhattan street in front of him and swore.
"I want to see the cops who were first on scene right now," he demanded of the uniformed NYPD officer next to him. Ky turned to his partner. "How did this happen?"
"It looks like a blitz attack." Jon Winters squinted an eye at the midday sun. "They'd finished lunch, were walking back to the car."
"We didn't have eyes or ears on them?" Ky asked, surveying the gory scene. Two of his best agents were dead and his witness lay with his face kissing the curb, pooling blood drenching his inert form, arms bent back in unnatural angles at his sides.
"Neither," Winters said. "They were out of touch for an hour, tops. Our guys had their cell phones, but no communication since they left the hotel."
"This is unbelievable." Ky squeezed the bridge of his nose between his thumb and index finger and let out a heavy breath. Three years of work shot to hell in a matter of seconds.
"Agent Pappandreos? You wanted to speak with me?"
Ky turned to the metro officer who approached him, noting the name badge over the left breast pocket of his blue uniform shirt. "Officer Johnson, you got here first?"
"Yes, sir. My partner and I responded to a shots fired at one fifteen."
"I want details. Where were you when the call came?"
"Outside the deli between Madison and Fifth, two blocks over. Dispatch alerted us, we raced down, saw the victims on the sidewalk. Whole thing was done by the time we got here."
"Any ID on the shooters? Witnesses? Did anyone see anything?"
"It was pretty chaotic when we arrived. The area's packed this time of day with lunch business. Lotta banks and professional offices are headquartered around here. People heard shots, ran for cover." He referred to his notepad. "I got a few statements about a black van, dark blue, maybe. No one got a license or has been able to give an accurate description of the vehicle. It pulled up, shots were fired, it sped off. Matter of seconds it was all over and your three vics were on the ground."
"Johnson, I've got a witness," another metro uniform called as he sprinted up to the trio. Ky turned in the direction of the voice.
"This is my partner," Johnson said.
"Where's this witness?" Ky asked.
"I've got her isolated by my squad car." He shot his thumb in the direction behind him. "Says she saw everything, and — get this — she's a professional photographer. Filmed it all as it went down."
"Take me to her," Ky said. "Jon?"
"Yeah, Papps, I know. Go interview this witness. I'll coordinate from here."
"Let's go," Ky commanded the officer.
"That's her." The officer pointed to a police vehicle in the middle of the barricaded street a moment later. "Name's Gemma Laine."
A woman stood next to the vehicle, a cell phone at her ear, her back to him. Tall, maybe as tall as him, and slender, her back tapered down to a miniscule waist, her legs clad in tight, faded jeans. When she turned Ky almost stopped midstride, the questions he intended to grill her with jumping out of his head. His breath caught as he simply stared at the loveliest woman he'd ever seen.
Hair the color of midnight, straight as a board, fell to just below her shoulders, blowing back from her face in the gentle afternoon breeze. Blunt, chopped bangs fringed a pair of large, bright-blue eyes. Plump, coral-colored lips moved as she spoke into the phone and for a brief, hot second, Ky wondered if they'd taste as delicious as they looked.
Her gaze stayed on him as she spoke.
"I've gotta go," she said into the phone. "Yeah. I'll call when I'm done. Love you, too."
She tucked the phone into her back pocket.
"I'm Special Agent Pappandreos. I need to speak with you about what you saw."
"Special Agent?" Those delicate brows furrowed under her bangs. "Like, FBI?"
Jesus, where does a woman get a voice like that? Whiskey laced with honey and rolled into one smooth pitch.
"Yes. I understand you witnessed the shooting? You photographed it?"
She nodded. "I was working when it all started. I took a series of shots while it was happening."
His gaze flicked to the camera she held in one hand.
"I need to see those pictures."
His first impression of her height had been correct. She was maybe three or four inches shorter than his six-foot-one frame. As she moved closer, the hairs on the back of his neck stood straight at attention. She smelled as good as she looked and his nostrils flared from the scent of sweet cherries blended with some hot exotic spice.
"It all went down so fast," she said. "But I got some good shots." Handing him the camera, she added, "Press this button to advance."
The first few pictures showed his witness ambling along the sidewalk, hands in his pockets. There was a smug, satisfied smile on his face as he was flanked by the two agents assigned to protect him. Ky pressed the button a few times. Another series of pictures showed the impact of the bullets as they pierced one of his agents, the next detailing the second man as a single shot impaled the center of his forehead. Shock, horror and stark fear replaced the smile on his witness's face as he bent forward and appeared to run from the bullets. The next few photos showed him struck and then felled by several shots, all clustered in his chest. Ky depressed the advance button again. The photographer had moved to view a black van with no windows on the sides nor any identifiable markings on the body. He wanted to curse when he saw it, thinking the van would be a dead end, when he flipped the advance button again to see she'd zoomed in on the license plate.
Elated, he glanced up and found her eyes trained on him.
"I need you to come with me." He grabbed her arm.
"Where?" She stretched across him and tried to take back her camera. Ky held it up and away from her reach.
"My office. I need a written statement from you about what you saw. It's better to do it now, right away, so you don't forget any details, anything of importance."
"I never forget details," she said, reaching across him again. "Can I please have my camera? I don't like anyone carrying it but me."
"This piece of equipment is the only link to finding out who killed my men. It's not leaving my hands."
She stopped and tried to pull her arm out of his grip. Ky tightened his grasp.
"Look, Agent PappaJohn —"
"Pappandreos," he corrected. It was a common mistake, one he'd heard a number of times in his career, but hearing her say it, wrapping the syllables around those pouty lips with that husky voice, for some reason charmed him.
"Whatever." She swiped her free hand in the air. "I want my camera."
"You'll get it back, I assure you." He started walking, giving her no choice but to follow.
Before she could protest again, he stopped. "Jon?" His partner turned from the interview he was conducting with a restaurant waiter. "Can you have someone escort Miss Laine back to the office? She needs to have her statement written up."
"Wait a second," Gemma said, wrenching her arm from his grip. The smooth, natural warmth in her voice had turned to frosted ice. "I'll be happy to give you a statement, but I want my camera. Now."
"I won't break it, Miss Laine, if that's what you're worried about."
"Then stop holding it like it's a cheap piece of tin! Give it back to me. I'll hold it."
"This is digital, right?" Jon Winters stepped between them and asked.
"Yes, and it's very expensive," Gemma said, still trying to take it from Ky's hand.
"We really only need the SD card then, Papps, not the camera."
"True." Ky examined the device, found the button to expel the memory card and depressed it. He took the card and slipped it into his pocket. "Here." He handed the camera back to her.
"Wait a minute." She clutched it to her chest as if she were protecting a child from a threat. "You can't keep the card. All my work is on it."
"We won't erase anything you need," Ky told her. "Or let anything happen to it."
"This is ridiculous." Gemma blew at her bangs. "How do I know you won't keep it as some kind of evidence? I haven't uploaded the pictures I took today. I need those shots."
"I told you you'd get the card back," Ky said, his patience wavering. "Now we're wasting time. Jon?" Dismissing them, he walked away and over to the scene of the shooting.
Gemma paced the small room for the hundredth time, her arms folded across her chest, desperately wanting to hit something.
No, not something. Someone. Agent Pappa-pain, or whatever the heck his name was.
For over two hours she'd been confined to this cramped, windowless, and drab room. During the first hour she'd written, in full detail, everything she'd witnessed on the street corner. Agent Winters had guided her through the questions while she wrote the answers in her smooth, precise script. When they were finished, he'd left her, promising to return shortly.
Winters's definition of shortly was exceedingly different from hers.
With a heavy sigh, she plopped back down into a metal chair, arms still crossed, and thought about Winters' partner, Special Agent Moron. Reconsidering, she added, a hunky moron, but one nonetheless.
Gemma had been speaking on the phone when she'd turned and seen him approaching. Her first thought had been serious eye candy. Clad in a supremely well-fitted dark-blue suit, he simply tore up the pavement on his way to her, those long legs striding with purpose and determination in each step. His face was a contradiction in origins. Deep, milk-chocolate colored hair, cut just a bit too short for her liking, with soft, gold flecks framing his temples and the top of his head. His skin was a light golden brown, giving the impression he spent a great deal of time in the sun. Eyes the color of the sea at sunrise, so light green, they almost appeared crystal with the sun hitting them, were surrounded by jet-black eyelashes Gemma admitted she was jealous of. His face was angular, the jaw tapering into a rock solid V at its tip, a small crevice winking out right below his lower lip.
All-in-all it was a face she wanted to photograph, knowing just the way she'd capture it. The fact he'd yanked her along after him like an errant child got her dander up. Coupled with the way he'd carelessly held her camera, it made her want to kick some sense into him.
God, what a day.
All she'd planned on doing was spending a few hours walking along the city streets, shooting interesting faces. She was almost done when the dapper-looking gentleman alighted from the restaurant, a self-satisfied smile on his lips. Gemma recognized that smile. It was the same one she always had after treating herself to some well-deserved Cherry Garcia ice cream after a tough, demanding day. She knew without a doubt the man had just eaten a pleasant meal. Satisfaction like that came only from two things: good food or great sex. Since he was walking along with two testosterone hulks in conservative suits, she figured it was the food part of the equation dancing on his face.
In the blink of her camera shutter's eye, the scene had changed to one of horror. Professional instinct made her continue shooting the events as they unfolded, capturing the slaying of the three men. She turned her camera when she realized the direction the shots were coming from, and through her viewfinder found the van speeding off. Pointing her lens at its retreating back, she zoomed in on the license plate. Without even thinking about the composition of the shot, she snapped as fast as she could, trying to record as much information as possible.
After the van escaped, she ran to the victims to see if she could help in any way. It was too late for all three of them. The sound of sirens glued her to the spot. She'd located the first officers to arrive, told one of them she had footage of the incident, and then had been led away from the scene to wait. A quick call to her brother-in-law Josh was interrupted by the arrival of the arrogant FBI Agent.
Ky watched her pace the length of the room from the video camera mounted on the wall in the corner. "What do we know about her?"
"Aside from the obvious?" Jon's grin was quick. "She's awfully easy on the eyes."
"Aside from the obvious," Ky said, his own gaze never leaving the monitor.
"Twenty-eight, single, lives alone. Her professional rep is pretty impressive."
"Ever heard of chef Kandy Laine?"
His eyes widened. "My mom and YiaYia love her. They have all her books, used to watch her show every time it was on. Laine? Any relation?"
"Sister. One of seven. Owns her own photography business called GAL Photos. Pretty famous in her own right. Last month alone she shot three magazine covers. She's what's called in the entertainment biz 'the go-to' when you need a great headshot."
"So why was she in midtown today when our witness bought it?"
"Seems she's doing a coffee-table book of faces. Today she was walking around, looking for interesting ones, spotted Calafano and thought he'd make a good subject. She started snapping away and then the proverbial shit hit the fan."
"Here." Jon handed him a copy of her typed statement. "Read it for yourself."
Ky took it and within a few minutes had it committed to memory.
"You don't think there's anything more to this, do you?" Jon asked. "I mean, she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, right?" "Appears that way," Ky answered. "I have a few more questions before we let her go, though."
"She's still asking about the SD card. Wants it back, undamaged and unaltered. Now."
"She'll get it back when we're done with it," Ky said, buttoning his jacket.
When he entered the conference room a moment later, he thought he was prepared for the jolt seeing her in the flesh would cause again. He was wrong. The second he opened the door and saw her eyes tracking him like those of a caged animals, he realized just how wrong. A subtle, unmistakable, pang of unease sliced right into his midsection, cutting off all circulation except to his groin. With a mental and physical shake, he approached her.
Anger percolated through her from across the room.
"Miss Laine —"
"Why am I still here? I gave my statement. I want my memory card and I want to go home. I have a ton of work to do."
Ky reached down deep to curb his temper. "I need to clarify a few things first."
"What things?" She leaned back against the wall, leveling him with a hard stare. "I told your partner everything I remember. In vivid detail."
"Yes, I read your statement. Please." He motioned to a chair. "Have a seat."
"I'd rather stand."
He couldn't tell if she was being purposefully obnoxious when her chin tilted up defiantly at him or if it was a character trait. Regardless, he pulled the facing chair from the table and sat.
"You mentioned in your statement you were out walking when you noticed the shooting."
"No, that's not correct." She must have forgotten her reason for standing because she moved back to the chair and settled into it. "I said I was out working and noticed the trio of men coming out of the restaurant."
Ky knew that. He wanted to see if she'd change any of the details with time.
"The older man had an attention-grabbing face," she continued, resting her arms on the table. "I'm on the lookout for interesting faces."
"So you notice him, see his face and decide, what? To take his picture? Just like that?"
She nodded. "It's what I do. I'm working on a book called Faces of New York."
"What was so fascinating about his?"
"It wasn't so much his face as the expression on it," she said. "He'd just come out of Sam's. I figured he'd eaten lunch because he was patting his stomach and had a contented, gratified smile on his lips. So I took his picture. A series of them, in fact, as he continued walking."
"Why did you continue snapping away? You had your shot. Why take more?"
Gemma blew out a breath and leaned back in the chair, arms crossed over her chest again. "Do you know anything about photography?" "No, not really."
She sliced a finger through the side of her hair and tucked the strands behind her ears. It refused to settle and fell back across her cheeks the moment she removed her hand.
"There's more to getting the shot you want than merely pressing a button. You have to consider the lighting, the motion, or absence of it. A million different things go into capturing the perfect image. A person's face changes in a millisecond. You can go from an expression of rapture, to the simple turning up of the lips in the time it takes for a heart to beat just once. I wanted to make sure I got the look I wanted to convey. Taking several shots in a continuum ensures I will."
Excerpted from "A Shot At Love"
Copyright © 2017 Peggy Jaeger.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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