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It was a lazy day in late spring. Nick Reed was feeling restless again. Working for Dane Lassiter's Houston detective agency had been exciting at first, and he'd enjoyed the work. But wanderlust called to him through the open window from the park across the way.
He watched a particularly trim young woman strolling along with a small furry dog and he smiled, because her pert figure reminded him of Tabby.
Tabitha Harvey. Shades of the past, he mused, leaning back in his chair. He'd deliberately avoided thinking about her over the past few months, because of what had happened when he and his sister, Helen, had flown back to their childhood home in Washington, D.C., on business. The trip had been right before New Year's, and Tabby had been around. That was natural, because she and Helen had been friends forever. They'd all been invited to a party together.
Nick had noticed that Tabby was watching him with unusual interest that night. She'd gone back to the punch bowl several times, as he had himself. But the punch had been spiked and Tabby hadn't known. She'd cornered Nick in a deserted room and started kissing him.
He could still feel her fervent, if untutored, mouth trembling under his lips. For a few seconds, he'd returned her kisses with everything in him. But he'd stopped her then, and demanded an explanation.
Fuzzily she'd explained that she knew he'd come all that way just to see her, that she knew he was finally ready to settle down. They'd be so happy, she said dreamily, smiling through an alcoholic haze.
Nick had no idea where she'd come up with those wild statements. If he'd ever thought of Tabby romantically, it had been years ago. Her remarks had come right out of the blue, and he'd reacted with shocked anger. He'd said some cutting and sarcastic things about her confession, which had sent her running. He'd gone back to the house with Helen and packed to leave D.C. He'd never told Helen exactly what happened, but he imagined Tabby had. He and Tabby hadn't had any contact since. Not that he wasn't sorry for the things he'd said; apologies were just hard for him.
He was scowling over the memories when Helen tapped at his office door and let herself in.
"Have you thought it over?" she asked eagerly.
He glowered at her, swinging his chair back around with a long, powerful leg. His blond hair gleamed like gold in the light from the window. His eyes, as dark as her own, had a hard glitter. "Yes."
"You'll do it?" she asked with a grin, pushing her long hair back from her elfin face.
"Yes, I've thought about it, and no, I won't do it," he clarified.
Her face fell. "Nick! Please!"
"I won't," Nick said firmly. "You'll have to get your information some other way."
"Blood is thicker than water, remember," Helen Reed persisted hopefully. "I'm the only sister you have. There's only the two of us. Oh, Nick, you've got to!"
"Not really," he said with maddening indifference and a grin.
There were times, she thought, when he'd look really good hanging from a long rope. But then she'd be alone in the world except for Harold, to whom she was engaged.
"You're the only ex-FBI agent we've got at the Las-siter Detective Agency," she reminded him. "You've got contacts in all the right places. All you have to do is make one little-bitty telephone call," she persisted.
And she fixed her big brown eyes on him in their thin elfin face in its frame of long, straight brown hair. Except for his blond hair, they looked very much alike. Same stubborn chin, same elegant nose, same spirited dark eyes. But Nick was much more introverted and secretive than she was. He'd been that way all their lives, since they'd grown up in Washington, D.C.where she attended college and he worked for the FBI.
Over the years, he'd done a lot of traveling, and she hadn't seen him for months, sometimes years at a time, until he'd received the offer of work from Richard Dane Lassiter. He'd met Dane on a case just before the Texas Ranger had been shot to pieces. When Lassiter began his own private detective agency, he coaxed Nick away from the FBI and Nick volunteered Helen as a paralegal, with her two years of business college giving her an edge over the competition. She'd come hotfoot from Washington to be with her brother. Their parents had been dead for some time, and she'd liked the idea of being near the last of her kin.
She did miss Tabitha Harvey very much at first, because she and Tabby had been friends since they were children. They still corresponded, although Tabby was very careful not to ask how Nick was. Obviously her memories of Helen's brother were painful ones.
"No," he said again. "I won't call the FBI for you."
She grinned at him, her slender hands together. "I'll tell."
"You'll tell what?"
"That you were out with that gorgeous blonde when you were supposed to be on stakeout for Dane," she said.
"Go ahead and tell him. She was my contact. I don't play around on the job."
"You do play around, though," Helen said, suddenly serious. "You never take women seriously."
He shrugged. "I don't dare. I'm not made for a pipe and slippers and kids. I like traveling and dangerous work, and the occasional pretty blonde when I'm not on stakeout."
"Pity," she sighed, smiling up at him. "You'd look nice covered in confetti."
"Who'd have me?" He grinned.
She had to bite her tongue to keep from mentioning Tabby's name. She'd done that once, and he'd gone right through the ceiling. He hadn't seen Tabby since New Year's Eve, when he'd gone with Helen to see about their parents' house in a small Washington suburb called Torrington. Tabby's father had died two years before, but she was still living in his house. It was next door to the Reeds. Nick had never discussed what happened when he and Tabby had talked one night while they were in Torrington, but it had caused him to bristle at the mention of her name ever since.
"The renters have moved out of Dad's house, you know," she said suddenly. "I can't fly back there and take care of it this time. Can you?"
His face hardened. "Why can't you?"
"Because I'm engaged, Nick," she said, exasperated. "You aren't. You're due for a vacation anyway, aren't you? You could kill two birds with one stone."
"I suppose I could," he said reluctantly, and his eyes darkened for an instant. Then he looked over his sister's head and his brows shot up. "Here comes the boss. Better vanish, before you become another statistic on the unemployment rolls."
"I wish you were on a roll. Filleted!" She chuckled.
He sauntered off, leaving her to Dane.
"Problems?" Dane asked, his eyes going from Nick back to Helen.
"Not a single one, boss," she assured him. "Nick and I were only discussing food."
"Okay. How about the Smart investigation?"
She grimaced. "I need one piece of information I can't dig out," she said miserably. "I can't get anybody to talk to me about Kerry Smart's brief stint with the FBI."
"Didn't you ask your brother? He has contacts over at the FBI office."
"That's why I'd like him filleted on a roll," she said sweetly. "He won't call anybody."
"Well, I can't order him to," he reminded her. "Nick's very secretive about his FBI days. He never talks about that period of his life. Perhaps he doesn't want any contact with the agency."
"I guess. Well, I'll trudge over to see Adams. He used to have one or two confidants."
"How's our Tess, and the baby?"
"She's great, and the baby never sleeps. The doctor says he will one day," he added wistfully. "Meanwhile, it's just one more thing we can do togethersitting up with baby."
"You know you love it," she reminded him.
"Indeed I do. I could live without breathing much easier than I could live without my family."
"And there you were, a confirmed bachelor." She shook her head. "How are the mighty fallen!"
"Watch it," he threatened, "before you become redundant."
"Not me, boss. I intend to be even more valuable than Nick, if you'll just give me a few days off to work for the FBI so that I HAVE SOME CONTACTS I CAN USE WHEN I NEED THEM!" she said loudly, so that Nick heard her. But it didn't work. He made her a mocking bow and went out the door.
"One day, he'll deck you, Reed," Dane mused. "Sister or not, he's all for woman's lib. Equal opportunity, even in brawls, was how he put it."
"That's how I trained him," she said, tongue-in-cheek, and got a laugh for her pains.
"I'll tell him you said so."
"God forbid!" she said with a mock shudder. "You can't imagine what he told Harold the other day about what I did when I was two."
"You'll have to make sure he and Harold don't meet too often."
"That's what Harold says!" she confided mischievously.
She got her things together and wished she had the time to go and see Tess and the baby. But now that Tess had married Dane and they had a child of their own, it had put some distance between the two women. They still had lunch together occasionally, but Tess was closer to her friend Kit than she was to Helen.
Helen went to see Adams, who actually did have a contact in the FBI office. He made one telephone call and got her the information she needed.
"Quick work! Thanks!" she said enthusiastically.
He cleared his throat. "If Harold isn't treating you to pizza I'll buy you a beer," Adams offered. "Just casual, you know. I know you're engaged."
She smiled. He was nice. Big and burly and a little potbellied, but nice. "Thanks, Adams," she said sincerely. "Rain check?"
"Sure," he said easily. He grinned and went out the door. He always seemed to be by himself. Helen felt a bit sorry for him, but he was the kind of man who got attached to people and couldn't let go. She was afraid of that kind of involvement. Well, with anyone except Harold.
"So, what did you talk to Adams about?" Nick asked from behind her as she went out the door.
She gasped and then laughed. "I didn't hear you!"
"Of course you didn't," he said pleasantly. "I'm a private detective. We're trained to sneak up on people without being noticed."
"Really?" she asked, smiling. "I didn't know that."
He glared at her. "Nice to know you love me. What were you doing over there," he gestured toward Adams's now-deserted desk. "Warding off Adams?"
"No! I like Adams."
"Sure. I do, too, but he's a tick. If you ever get him attached to you, you'll have to stick a lighted match to his head to make him let go."
She burst out laughing. "You animal!" she gasped.
"You know I'm right. He's not a bad dude, all the same."
"Neither are you, once in a while."
"Get what you needed?"
She nodded. "No thanks to you," she said.
He shrugged indifferently. "It's no bad thing to teach you to be self-sufficient. I won't always be around."
The way he said that worried her. "Nick
" she began.
"I'm not dying of something," he said when he saw her expression, and he smiled. "I mean I'm getting restless. I may be moving on sometime soon."
"Wanderlust again?" she asked gently.
He nodded. "I get bored in the same place."
"Go home," she said. "Take a vacation. Relax."
"In Washington?" His eyes widened. "Funny girl!"
"You'll find a way. It's a quiet street. No drug dealers, no shoot-outs. Just peace and quiet."
"And your friend Tabby right next door," he said icily.
"Tabby's dating a very nice historian at her college," she told him, enjoying the way his eyelids flickered. "I think it may be serious. So you won't have to hide from her while you're there."
"She wasn't dating anybody when we were there earlier in the year," he said. He sounded as if he thought she'd betrayed him.
"That was then," she reminded him. "A lot can happen in a few months. Tabby's twenty-five. It's time she married and had kids. She's settled and has a good job."
He didn't answer her. He looked hunted. He felt hunted. So he changed the subject without appearing to be evasive. "Did you get your information from Adams?" he asked her again.
"Yes. I had to have it to finish my case," she said. "Dane was just asking me how far I'd gotten earlier. The client needs the background information. He hopes it may help him avert a court case."
"I see." His fingers traced a teasing line down her nose. "I don't suppose it occurred to you that I might have a damned good reason for not wanting to talk to people I used to know at the agency?"
Her dark eyes searched his curiously. Her handsome brother had bone structure an artist would lovefrom his high cheekbones to his straight nose and perfectly chiseled masculine mouth.
"You're staring. And you haven't answered me," he said.
"I was just thinking what a dish you are," she said with a grin. "You look just like Dad. No wonder women threaten to leap off buildings when you throw them over. You never talk about the time you spent with the FBI, and I never knew why. I thought maybe you missed it."
"Sometimes I do," he confessed. "Not often. But it's never a good idea to open up old wounds. Sometimes they bleed."
"Yes," she said absently, "I suppose so."
"All right. Have a sandwich with me and we'll talk about what we're going to do with the house. I'm tired of renting it out. Too much hassle. I want to talk to you about selling it."
"Sell our legacy?" she burst out.
He sighed. "I figured you'd react that way. Come on. Let's eat. We can fight over dessert."
He took her to a nice seafood restaurant. She'd been expecting a hamburger, and she paused self-consciously at the door, nervous in her old black skirt and black-and-white checked blouse, her hair loose and unkempt.
"Now what's the matter?" he asked impatiently.
"Nick, I'm not dressed for a place like this," she said earnestly. "Can't we go someplace less expensive?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"A fast-food place," she explained. "Plastic cartons? Paper sacks? Foam cups?"
"Nonbiodegradable litter." He frowned. "No way. Come on." He took her arm and forcibly led her inside. He chuckled as he seated her, very elegantly, at a table. "I hope you aren't really that mad for pizza. They don't serve it here."