By the time she enters the last seedy bar on Key West, Kira Douglass is desperate. She’s looking for the one man who can help her: Cole Sinclair, an ex-smuggler turned musician with a highly refined set of skills and a keen knowledge of the reefs and waterways of the Keys. But what she finds is a man whose dark eyes and powerful manner send a frisson of desire to her very core. Kira needs Cole’s help to recover the dolphin that was stolen from her charitable organization, but now she realizes that she needs his body and his soul, as well.
Cole Sinclair isn’t looking for a job. He has worked hard to isolate himself from the world, to be alone with his own tortured past and the pain left in its wake. But the attraction he feels simmering with Kira leaves him unsettled and uncertain. If he agrees to help this beguiling woman recover the stolen dolphin, he could be risking more than just his life. He could be risking his heart.
Includes a special message from the editor, as well as excerpts from these Loveswept titles: The Devil’s Thief, Paradise Café, and The Perfect Catch.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Random House|
|File size:||2 MB|
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Read an Excerpt
Cole Sinclair glanced up as the door opened. His hand stilled, the shot glass an inch from his lips. She looked about as out of place as a Sunday-school teacher at a bikers’ convention, he thought, then tossed back the shot of tequila. More from habit than interest, he quickly scanned her from head to toe as she squinted into the dim interior of Repo’s bar. His trained eye registered everything down to the tiniest detail, but her casual slacks, sensible flats, and yellow windbreaker only confirmed his first impression. And Repo’s was not the sort of place a lady patronized, unless she wanted an advanced education in how to get down and dirty.
He rolled his shoulders lightly to loosen them up and surveyed the room. It was a typical Friday night. Thick smoke hung over the pool tables, and the raw language was second only to that on the nearby shrimp docks. But if an attractive, unescorted woman had a thirst and chose to quench it in a dive with some of Key West’s more unsavory characters, it was no skin off his butt.
His break was almost over. He reached behind him for his mouthpiece and loosened the ligature. He slipped in a new reed and retightened the clamp, ignoring both the urge to see how the schoolteacher was handling invitations to “rack ’em up” with the boys and the fact that no one here gave a rat’s ass when, or if, he played the sax.
He was more successful at the latter.
Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to have another shot. He leaned back to lay the sax in the case at the edge of the stage. Only a slight pause in his movements belied his surprise when a soft voice called his name.
“Mr. Sinclair? Cole Sinclair?”
The voice was soft, cultured, and reached his ears easily over the raised voices and cracking ivory balls. The schoolteacher. Now what? He shoved the unwanted nudge of curiosity aside. Whatever she wanted, he didn’t have it.
He took his time before slowly turning to face her. “No.”
That caught her off guard. Good. He knew she wasn’t familiar with the joint. He’d also noticed how she’d deftly avoided graphic propositions from Two-Finger Tony and Iguana Man. And she’d done it without brass knuckles or firepower. Quite a feat at Repo’s. The lady was determined.
He absently wondered what would have stopped her. He also wondered what shade her eyes were, but didn’t care enough to find out. In fact, he was so uninterested, he tilted his chair back against the stage, then pinned her with a stare he knew would shake up Repo himself. He shot a glance at the potbellied Cuban behind the battle-scarred bar, picturing the sawed-off shotgun he kept hidden behind it. Crowd control, he called it. Repo served great tequila, but he could be one evil-tempered son of a bitch.
Cole turned his full attention on the schoolteacher. She didn’t look away as he purposely let his gaze drift over her. The slight shifting of her weight indicated she wasn’t quite as cool and calm as she let on, but she held her ground.
He started to tell her where the door was and what part of her anatomy he wanted on the other side of it, but she chose that moment to moisten her lips. He closed his mouth. It couldn’t hurt to indulge himself in the cheap thrill of watching those wet lips move.
“You have to be him,” she stated. “I could have sworn Miller specifically said—” She broke off as his chair slammed back down on all fours.
“Miller?” Cole didn’t have to search his mind for the name. He never forgot one and knew he’d never met anyone named Miller. He didn’t know who she was, either, but apparently at least two people knew who and where he was. In his old line of work those were bad odds. He couldn’t ignore the warning sensation that made the back of his neck prickle. He’d ignored it once before, a mistake he’d never make again. “Who are you, and what in the hell do you want?”
She started at the leashed violence in his tone. She broke eye contact, smoothing her hand over light brown hair that brushed her shoulders as she took a visible steadying breath. Squaring her shoulders, she looked at him again.
Cole had to concede her some admiration. It was a rare occasion when someone stood up to him.
“Are you or aren’t you Cole Sinclair?” she asked evenly.
“Why don’t you tell me what you want,” he said. “Then I’ll decide.”
He noticed her knuckles whiten as she gripped the backrest of the chair. Determination and intimidation. Interesting opponents. He wondered which part he was going to enjoy more: winning—or the battle itself.
“I have a proposition for Mr. Sinclair.”
Cole laughed. The sound was low and rough and spoke of too much bar smoke and too many tequilas. “Baby, you don’t have anything I want. But I’m sure you could get some interest over there at the bar.”
Now it was her turn to smile.
“So, you are Sinclair.”
Thinking back over his smart-ass answer, he had to chalk up one for the schoolteacher. “The answer is still no.”
“You haven’t even heard me out.” She hurried into her explanation before he could respond. “P.J., my, er … Well, the thing is he’s missing. Miller Jantzen told me you were the one who found Toby and brought him back to Marathon. I need your services, Mr. Sinclair, and I’m willing to pay.”
Someone had kicked the old jukebox, and the sudden blare of music muffled most of her words. Except for that last part. She’d shouted it so loud, he figured the whole bar heard. So, the lady wanted him so bad, she was willing to pay for it? Unbidden, images of those full lips drifting over his body burned hot and bright inside his head. He doubted she was looking for that particular service, but he had to admit the possibilities were almost tantalizing enough to pursue. Almost.
“Sweetheart, the only work I do for pay or play is done with this sax. You want to get serviced, see Repo at the bar. He’ll line the guys up.” A lazy smile curved his lips. “Even without the cash incentive, I doubt you’d have to do more than name your man and your position and get all the … ah, servicing you need.” He leaned forward, his gaze heated and predatory, victory in sight. “And if that isn’t enough, then you come back to me. But I’ll warn you, you take me on, and it won’t be over till I say it’s over.”
Cole dropped his gaze to the table and reached for the bottle of tequila. He knew from the shock and anger that had crossed her face that he’d gone further than necessary to prove his point. But he figured he’d done her a favor. He doubted she’d be frequenting Repo’s establishment anytime in the next century. Hell, she should thank him for it. He reached for the shot glass.
Slender fingers closed tightly around his wrist, trapping it against the table. He went completely, totally still. He instinctively drew into himself, searching for and eventually finding the control she’d neatly robbed him of with her surprise move. He barely registered the fact that she wasn’t all that soft; or weak, that part of her palm was callused, and her grip was fairly strong.
His muscles coiled into tight springs of tension. After the explosion two years ago, he’d dealt with the devastation and guilt by creating an impenetrable wall around him. It had taken a few broken bones and a pint or two of blood to get the point across, but he’d gotten what he needed. Space. A lot of it.
He stared at her hand on him. It had been a long, long time since anyone had touched him.
“Please.” Her voice was low and close enough that he could feel the intensity of her request.
The need to yank his arm away was sudden and overwhelming. Using considerable restraint, Cole kept his arm still, hoping he wouldn’t betray the cost by shattering the glass gripped tightly in his hand. He shifted his gaze from her hand on his arm to her face and received another blow.
Her eyes were gray. Not a flat, dull, uninteresting gray. Instead, they looked like shattered diamonds; as if hundreds of tiny shards of dark and light had been tossed up and fallen in a mosaic pattern that hinted of color, but no matter how deeply he searched, he found none. He couldn’t shake the feeling that he’d just looked into the eyes of his soul. “It must be the Cuervo,” he muttered.
He forced his gaze away, purposely letting it drift to her mouth. This he understood. Full, wet, inviting. He knew just what to do with lips like hers. He was barely a tongue’s length away from tasting them. They were slightly parted. His mouth watered. He needed another drink.