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His building should have been empty. It was after 7:00 p.m. and McGuire Securities should have been shut down for the night.
Grant McGuire was heading out of the place, more than ready to go meet his brothers at a local bar in Austin, Texas. It had been one hell of a week, and he needed to let off some steam.
So when he opened his office door and stepped into the lobby, he thought the place would be deserted.
A woman was there. She stood just two feet away, as if she'd just entered the lobby and had been making her way directly to see him. Her blond hair was pulled away from her face, secured in a little twist at her nape. Her eyesdark, wide, deepflared when she saw him.
And the world seemed to stop for Grant.
Scarlett? Scarlett Stone?
Without speaking, he drank her in. His gaze swept over her face. The soft curve of her cheeks, the delicate jaw, the light sprinkling of freckles across her nose. Scarlett had always hated those freckles, but he'd loved them. Had wanted to kiss every single
"Grant? Um, do you
do you remember me?" Her voice was halting.
As if he could ever forget her. The woman starred in pretty much every fantasy he'd ever had.
She'd changed over the years. She wasn't wearing dusty jeans and a loose T-shirt like she'd favored back in her high school days. She was dressed in blackexpensively cut pants and a close-fitting turtleneck. Her feet were encased in high heelsred heels that made him think of sex.
Sex with Scarlett.
" Pink flashed across her cheeks as she seemed to decide that no, he didn't remember her. "I'm Scarlett
A growl built in his throat. "I damn well know who you are." Had he really just been staring at her like a lovesick fool? But
Scarlett shouldn't be here. She should be far away from him. Safely away.
He'd made the sacrifice before. Done the right thing by her. So why was she back? In his office?
He glanced over her shoulder, his focus shifting to the McGuire Securities entrance. "How did you get in here?" He'd thought the place was locked up.
"Your assistant met me. She was leaving when I was arriving. She told me that you were still here." Scarlett's hands clenched around the small black bag that she carried. "Can we
can we go inside your office to talk?"
The tremble in her voice pierced right through him. Scarlett's voice had shaken like that before. When she was scared, it was a dead giveaway to her emotions. Grant backed into his office, holding the door open for her. When she passed by him, he caught her scentvanilla.
Did she know that he couldn't smell vanilla without thinking of her?
No. Don't let her see
He pulled in a deep breath, took in more of her delectable scent, and made sure his mask was in place. The mask he'd always tried to wear around her.
He should have gotten over her by now.
"Have a seat," he told her as he turned on more lights and then shut the door.
Scarlett slowly settled into a chair across from his desk. She looked so polished and perfect. Not like the young girl who'd always had her hair streaming over her shoulders and a smile on her face. A smile for him, anyway. A smile that had lit her dark eyes and made
"Do you recall what you told me? The last time we werewere together?" She fumbled a bit over those words.
He didn't sit behind the desk. He leaned in front of it, positioning his body a few feet from Scarlett. "I'm afraid you're going to have to be more specific for me." He kept his voice controlled. "It's been ten years." Ten years, and wasn't she supposed to be married? His gaze darted to her left hand. No ring.
But she'd been scheduled to get married two months ago. He knew she had. To a lawyer named Eric Turner.
Grant might not be in Scarlett's life, but he kept tabs on her.
Like that doesn't sound crazy.
But he'd been out of town for the past few weeks working on a case. He'd just gotten back to Austin last night, and he didn't know if he was staring at a married woman
or a single one.
"More specific?" Her fingers were white around that black bag. "Right." She cleared her throat. "Okay, you said that if I ever needed you, you'd be there for me." Her gaze held his, and was full of hope. "Now do you remember?"
He'd always been afraid that her eyes could see into his soul. See straight into the darkness that lurked there. "Yes, I remember." He remembered that he'd always been willing to do anything for her.
Scarlett's breath whispered out. "Good. Because, Grant, I'm going to have to call you on that promise."
He frowned at her.
"I need you," she told him as she wet her lips. "I'm desperate, and without your help
I don't know what's going to happen." She glanced over her shoulder, her nervous stare darting to the door.
"Scarlett?" Her fear was palpable, and it made his muscles tense.
"They'll be coming for me soon. I only have a few minutes, and please, please stick to your promise. No matter what they say."
He shot away from his desk, his relaxed pose forgotten as he realized that Scarlett wasn't just afraid. She was terrified. "Who's coming?"
"I didn't do it." She rose, too, and dropped her bag into her chair. "It will look like I did, all the evidence says so
but I didn't do it."
He stepped toward her, touched her and felt the jolt slide all the way through him. Ten years
and it was still there. The awareness. The need.
Did she feel it, too?
Focus. "Slow down," Grant told her, trying to keep his voice level and calm. "Just take it easy. You're safe here." With me.
But that wasn't exactly true. She was in the most danger when she was with him. Only Scarlett had never realized that fact.
"Say you'll help me," she pleaded. Her tone was desperate. She had a soft voice, one that was perfect for whispering in the dark. A voice that had tempted a boy
and sure as hell made the man he'd become think sinful thoughts.
"I'll help you," Grant heard himself say instantly. So he still had the same problemhe couldn't deny her anything.
Her shoulders sagged in apparent relief. "You've changed." Then her hand rose. Her fingers skimmed over his jaw, rasping against the five o'clock shadow that roughened his face. They were so close right then. And memories collided between them.
When she'd been eighteen, he'd always been so careful with her. He'd had to maintain his control at every moment. But that control had broken one summer night, weeks after her eighteenth birthday.
I can still feel her around me.
She wasn't eighteen any longer. And his control
He heard voices then, coming from the lobby. "Keep your promise," Scarlett said.
What the hell?
He pulled away from her and walked toward the door. Those voices were louder now. Because they were. shouting for Scarlett?
"They were behind me." Her words rushed out. "I knew they were closing in, but I wanted to get to you."
He hated the fear in her voice. "You're safe."
"No, I'm not." She sounded so certain.
Grant opened his office door. Two men were in the lobby. One wore a suitexpensive, well cut. The other was wearing a faded leather jacket and had a badge clipped to his belt.
Why is a cop looking for Scarlett? And it wasn't just any cop. Grant recognized Shayne Townsend because he and the detective had worked a few cases in the past.
"What's happening here?" Grant demanded.
The guy in the suit narrowed his eyes on him. "Who are you?"
Grant's brows rose. He sure didn't like that arrogant, demanding tone. "Grant McGuire. This is my business you're in."
Shayne looked over Grant's shoulder. His eyes narrowed and Grant knew he had spied Scarlett. "Ms. Stone," the detective murmured, his face determined. "You need to come with us."
Us? Was the other guy a cop, too? Because Grant didn't recognize him.
But when the suit advanced, Grant braced his legs apart and gave the guy a go-to-hell stare. "She doesn't need to go anyplace. But you two
unless you have some sort of reason for being on my property, a warrant"
"We're here for Scarlett," the suit said. His blue eyes were blazing with fury. "You can't run anymore, Scarlett."
She had been running.
Shayne pulled out a pair of handcuffs. "Scarlett Stone
" His voice was heavy, emotionless. Grant knew the detective tried to never let emotion influence him on the job. "You're under arrest."
"What?" Grant roared.
Scarlett walked past him then, heading right toward the cop. She'd known the officer was hunting her? That Shayne Townsend was tracking her to Grant's office?
A cuff snicked around one delicate wrist.
"Are those necessary?" Grant demanded. Sure, he'd seen plenty of criminals get cuffed, but Scarlett was no criminal. She was
"You can bet they're necessary!" the suit all but shouted back at him.
The guy was getting on Grant's last nerve.
"You're under arrest for the murder of Eric Turner," Shayne told her, as the other cuff slid into place. "You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to an attorney"
Grant shook his head. This wasn't happening. "Scarlett?"
"I didn't do it," she said, glancing over at him with tears in her eyes.
"Yes, you did," the suit snarled. "You killed my brother!"
Scarlett was still looking at Grant. "I need you," she said.
And he nodded.
I need you, too. When Shayne started to lead her from the lobby, Grant made damn sure he left with them.
She couldn't stop shaking. Scarlett had been fingerprinted, searched, caged
the nightmare wouldn't end.
She was in a cell, a small nine-by-ten-foot space that smelled of antiseptic and waste. She was afraid to move. Afraid to speak.
Grant has to keep his promise. Right then, he was her only hope.
She'd known that the cops were after her. She'd pulled into her condo's parking lot, seen Detective Shayne Townsend waiting
and she'd panicked. She'd driven away as fast as she could, and gone to the only man who could help her.
If he would help her.
She'd been back in Austin for only about a year. She'd deliberately stayed away from Grant during that time, but she'd known he was in the city. He and his brothers had all come home five years before.
When their parents had been murdered.
And now here I am
in a cell, accused of murder.
He was probably rethinking his promise to help her. Probably getting ready to turn his back on her and just walk away. If he hadn't already.
Her head sagged forward. This couldn't be happening to her. It was a nightmare.
A door opened, metal scraping over the floor. It was the door that led back to the holding area where she was currently secured. She heard footsteps approaching, but Scarlett didn't look up. She didn't want the guards to see her fear.
The fear that was consuming her.
"Did you do it?"
That wasn't a guard's voice. It was his voice. Grant's.
Her head shot up even as she surged to her feet and leaped toward the bars. Grant stood on the other side of them, looking grim, dangerous.
Same old Grant. Time had sure been kind to him.
"I told you
I didn't." Her fingers curled around the bars. They were cold to the touch. "I'm being set up. I could never kill anyone!"
"I talked to Detective Townsend. Shayne and I
we know each other."
Because Shayne Townsend had worked on the murder case involving Grant's parents? Oh, this was not going well at all.
"Your fingerprints were on the knife that killed the victim, Scarlett."
"Because I'd used the knife before. Used it for making a meal
not to kill Eric. I would never do something like that. Never!"
Grant's jaw locked. "You were seen arguing with your
Her hold tightened on the bars. "He wasn't my fiancé anymore. That's why we were arguing." She shook her head. "I know it looks bad"
"His blood was on your clothes!"
She flinched. Grant had definitely had a long talk with the detective. "Because I found him. I thought he might still be alive, and I was trying to save Eric." But he'd already been gone and so cold. Blood had soaked his shirt and pooled beneath him. She closed her eyes, wishing she could shut out that sight, but it was burned into her memory. "I know the evidence is pointing to me, but I didn't do it."
Grant's fingers brushed over hers.
Scarlett's eyes flew open. He had aged so well over the years. The innocence of his youth was gone, replaced by an appearance of rugged power. His face was leaner, but still as handsome. Always handsome
Sculpted lipslips that some thought held a cruel edge, but she'd always thought his mouth was sexy. Always thought he was sexy. A faint scar curved over his square jaw, a silent testimony to the battles he'd fought over the years.
that green was harder now, too. He stared out at the worldat herwith suspicion.
The boy she'd loved was gone.
The man who'd taken his place was a stranger.
"I used to be able to tell when you were lying to me." His voice was low, measuring.
Her breath had stilled in her lungs. "I'm not lying," she forced herself to say. I'm just desperate. So afraid.
His fingers curled fully around hers as her right hand fisted around the bar. "Why weren't you engaged any longer?"
That was the question he asked her? Her gaze shifted to his throat. She didn't want to look him in the eyes then. She couldn't. "Because I couldn't marry a man I didn't love."
Stare into his eyes. Do it! She lifted her gaze. "You're a private detective now. You have your own agency, and I'veI've read stories about you and your brothers. How successful you are." Not just there in Austin, but all over Texas. Heck, all over the South and up the East Coast. They weren't just some local branch of PIs. They were a force to be reckoned with.
Once upon a time, folks in the area had whispered about the five McGuire boys
boys who'd been wild and reckless. Who'd had a reputation for trouble.
Then those boys had all joined the military.
Grant had been a ranger. Davis and Brodie, the twins, had become SEALs. Mac had been in Delta Force and the youngest brother, Sullivan, had morphed into a marine with a brutal edge.
They'd all been serving their country. They'd been steadfast in their duty. Until their parents had been murdered.
And now I've brought Grant into another murder investigation.