Dani Madison was determined to make a fresh start. To cast off her princess persona forever. To be independent from any man.
Too bad Teague McCauley lived down the hall.
Enigmatic FBI agent Teague's closest relationships were with the cases he toiled on day and night. After ending up on the wrong end of an arrest gone awry, the last thing Teague expected was for Dani to nurse him back to healthor awaken feelings in him that he could swear were long gone. But something about his beautiful but distant "friend" was cause for further investigation perhaps even into love?
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Teague McCauley was so tired his steps dragged as he made his way from the parking lot to his apartment. It was actually an effort to place one foot in front of the other. He could feel his shoulders drooping. Even his dark hair felt limp around his face.
Though he usually took the stairs, he rode the elevator up to his third-floor apartment. He was the only occupant, since most of the other residents had already left for their jobs at eight-forty-five on this Tuesday morning. It would probably be quiet during the day as he got some sleep for the first time in more than forty-eight hours. Not that it would matter. He felt as though he could sleep in a blasting zone right now.
The elevator stopped and he pushed himself away from the wall he'd been leaning against. A few more steps, he reminded himself as the doors began to slide open, and then he could
At the sight of the woman waiting for the elevator, he snapped instinctively to attention. He pulled his shoulders back, lifted his head and tightened his face into what he hoped was a pleasantly bland expression, nodding as he moved out of her way. "Good morning."
She looked as fresh as a fall chrysanthemum in a bright orange top and crisp brown slacks, her long, glossy brown hair shining around her pretty oval face, her navy-blue eyes cool when she returned the greeting perfunctorily. "Good morning."
"Have a nice day," he said over his shoulder as he strolled away, his steps brisk.
"You, too," she murmured, her reply as meaningless as the clichéd phrase that was all that had popped into his exhaustion-hazed mind.
He heard the elevator doors swish closed behind him, and his back sagged again, his feet almost stumbling the rest of the way to his apartment door. Yeah, he thought, fumbling with the key, you really wowed her with your witty conversation, McCauley.
Not that it would have mattered if he had come up with even the most clever line. His down-the-hall neighbor had made it very clear during the past few months that she wasn't interested in getting to know him better. Something about the way she practically glowered at him every time she saw him, not to mention the ice that dripped from her tone every time he manipulated her into speaking to him, as he had just then, had given him a clue.
As an FBI agent, he liked to think he was pretty good at reading between the lines that way.
It was a shame, really, he thought, already stripping out of his black T-shirt as he headed straight toward his bedroom without even bothering to turn on lights in the spartanly furnished living room. She certainly was a looker. Face of an angel, body of a goddess. And all the warmth of a snow queen.
Totally out of clichés, he kicked his jeans into a corner, stripped off his socks and fell facedown onto his bed, wearing nothing but navy boxers. He didn't have time for a relationship, anyway, he thought as consciousness began to fade.
Still a shame, though
Dani Madison waited until she was certain the elevator doors were closed before she released the long breath she'd been holding. It was the same every time she ran into the man who lived in the apartment down the hall. Her breath caught, her pulse tripped, little nerve endings all over her body woke up and started tingling. Very annoying.
Fortunately, she rarely saw him. Maybe a half dozen times total, in the approximately four months since he'd moved in. He wasn't home much, being gone sometimes for more than a week at a time, from what she'd observed. When he was home, it was at strange hours. Like today, just coming in when most people were leaving for work. Looking so tired she'd thought it was a wonder he was standing upright, even though he'd made an obvious, macho effort to hide his exhaustion.
He worked for the FBI. She knew that because he occasionally wore T-shirts with the letters stenciled across his chest. Sometimes he wore suits, and she thought she'd caught a glimpse of a holster beneath his jacket. Maybe that was part of the reason she found him so intriguing.
Well, that and the fact that he was absolutely, positively, heart-stoppingly attractive. Black hair worn a bit shaggy. Gray eyes that looked almost silver at times. Straight, dark eyebrows, neat, midlength sideburns, a jawline that could have been chiseled from granite, but with just a hint of a dimple in his right cheek to add a touch of softness. When he was unshaven, as he had been this morning, he had the look of a pirate or an Old West lawman. A little wild, a little danger-ousa whole boatload of sexy.
All added together, those things were enough to make her feel the need to run very hard in the opposite direction every time she saw him.
Not that he would bother to pursue her if she did, she thought, shifting her leather tote bag on her shoulder as she stepped off the elevator. Other than greeting her politely each time they passed in the hallway, he'd shown no particular interest in her. Mrs. Parsons, the nosy little old lady who lived in the apartment next door to hers, directly across from the man in question, showed more curiosity about her. Agent Double-O Gorgeous had barely even noticed her.
Exactly the way she wanted things to remain, she assured herself. She had spent the past fourteen months avoiding any complicated entanglements with men, most especially the dangerous-looking ones. And her FBI neighbor sat firmly at the very top of that list.
It had taken her more than twenty-seven years and a long, humiliating list of mistakes, but she had finally learned her lesson, she thought with a sense of accomplishment. Dani Madison was on her own, independent, self-sufficient, cautious and wisely cynical. It was going to take more than a rolling swagger and a pair of gleaming silver eyes to change her back into the naive and affection-hungry girl she had been before.
Dani hadn't particularly wanted her date to walk her to her door the next Friday night, but he insisted on doing the gentlemanly thing and seeing her safely inside. Maybe he hoped she'd have a last-minute urge to invite him in, but that wasn't going to happen, she thought as they stepped off the elevator.
Anthony was a nice guy, in an accountant-next-door sort of way, but he set off no sparks in her at all.
Not that she was looking for sparks, really. A pleasant dinner with conversation that ranked somewhere above the entertainment level of the average television program was all she wanted from her escorts these days. Anthony had certainly provided the former, treating her to a meal in a very nice Italian restaurant. As for the latterwell, their dinnertime discussion had been only marginally more interesting than the latest episode of the medical drama she'd have watched had she stayed at home alone that evening.
Agent Sexy stepped out of his apartment down the hall just as she and Anthony reached her door. Too aware of her neighbor strolling toward the elevators, she smiled up at her companion and said briskly, "Thank you again for the meal, Anthony. I had a very nice time."
He glanced wistfully at the doorknob in her hand. "I've had a good time, too. I hate for the evening to end so soon."
"Yes, well, I have an early class in the morning and I have some preparation to do for it."
The apartment door next to Dani's opened a crack and a curious face peered out past the security chain. Dani knew old Mrs. Parsons had heard noises and was checking to see what was going on. The elderly woman was pleasant enough, but boredom made her intensely interested in everything that went on in the apartments around her. Seeing Dani looking back at her, she smiled sheepishly and closed the door again.
FBI guy had pushed the elevator button and was waiting patiently for it to arrive. If he was even aware of Dani and Anthony standing only a few yards away, he'd given no sign of it. Nor did Anthony seem to notice the other man as he nodded resignedly in response to Dani's excuse for not inviting him in. "I understand. Maybe we can get together sometime next weekend? Go to a movie or something?"
"I'm not sure of my plans for next weekend. Why don't you give me a call later in the week."
Anthony's expression fell even more. Maybe he'd read the lack of enthusiasm in her expression a bit too well. "Okay. So, uh, see you, okay?"
She tried to add a bit of warmth to her smile. She didn't want to hurt the guy's feelings. She just didn't want to lead him on, either. "Good night, Anthony."
He leaned over to give her a somewhat awkward kiss on the lips, which she allowed to last only long enough for courtesy's sake. And then she drew away and opened her door. "Good night," she said again.
"Good night, Dani."
The elevator doors opened just as she stepped inside her apartment. She heard Anthony call out, "Hold the car, please."
She closed her door without waiting to see if her neighbor had complied with the request.
High maintenance. Definitely the type who expected men to cater to her wishes. Exactly the kind of woman Teague preferred to avoid, even if they happened to be beautifulwhich that sort generally was.
Having ridden the elevator down with his attractive neigh-bor's latest dejected suitor only the night before, Teague was even more convinced now that asking her out would be a bad idea, despite the temptation to do so every time he passed her in the hallway.
He wasn't proud of the fact that he'd chosen to wait for the elevator rather than take the stairs only because he'd been curious about how her evening with her hopeful escort would end. Or that he'd found some satisfaction in watching her send the other guy on his way.
Physical attraction, he assured himself, strolling into his office at FBI headquarters in western Little Rock Saturday morning. That was all there was to it. Any red-blooded male would be interested in Danielle Madisonfor he'd learned that was her name. Apparently, she answered to the nickname of Dani, which was what her date had called her when he'd told her good-night.
He'd only bothered to find out her name for the sake of idle curiosity, of course. It was wise for a man in his line of work to have general information about those who lived close to him. So, while making an effort to discover Dani's name, he'd learned those of the others nearest to him, as well.
There were four apartments on either side of the bank of elevators in the center of the apartment building, two apartments on each side of the hallway. His place was across from Edna Parsons, a widow who rarely left her apartment. The apartment next to his had been occupied for the past couple of months by a studious-looking woman in her midtwenties who seemed pleasant enough but wasn't home much more than he was. The few times he'd seen her, she'd carried a heavy-looking backpack, so he assumed she was a student. Her name was Hannah Ross.
Directly across from Hannah lived Danielle Madison, the striking brunette he had mentally dubbed "The Princess" when he'd moved in and spotted her for the first time.
Hanging his jacket on the back of his chair, he settled at his desk and booted up his computer. He had a lot to do that day, entirely too much to waste any more time thinking about Danielle.
Maybe he should call one of his casual women friends this weekend. He'd been working too hard lately, hadn't even had a dinner date in a couple of months. Like now, doing paperwork on a Saturday after being in on a sting operation until just after midnight the night before.
That probably explained why he'd spent so much time thinking about his neighbor. A simple matter of hormones too long ignored.
He couldn't help chuckling, though, when he remembered how doleful that guy in the elevator had looked after being literally kissed off by Danielle. What a schmuck.
"So, what's so funny? You're the only guy I know who'd spend a Saturday in the office grinning over his paperwork."
Looking up in response to the lazy drawl, Teague watched as his friend and associate Mike Ferguson slouched into the room. Slouching was pretty much Mike's primary posture choice. Tall and lanky with a mop of curly hair that couldn't decide whether it was brown or blond, he leaned, slumped, sprawled or flopped, but rarely stood at full attention. He claimed it was a lingering rebellion from his years in the military.
Teague shrugged in response to Mike's question. "Oh, I was just thinking about this girl I know. Well, sort of know. Actually, I don't know her at all."
"But she still makes you smile over paperwork?" Mike dropped into a straight-backed chairthe only place to sit in the minuscule office other than Teague's desk chairand grinned quizzically at him. "Sounds like someone you'll want to get to know."
"Nah. High maintenance. Only dates drooling lap dogs."
Mike shuddered. "Spare me from the princesses."
"Yeah. That's what I call her. To myself, of course."
"Let's just say that sprinkler systems go off when she walks down the hall."
"Yeah. Real waste."
"Maybe just one date?"
Teague chuckled and shook his head. "Not worth it. She might look hot, but she's cold as ice. And she glares at me as if I might carry Ebola or something. I'll just settle for looking."
Mike tsked sympathetically. "You want to go to Snuffy's tonight? Might find someone there who'd let you do more than look."
After giving it a moment's thought, Teague shrugged. Hadn't he just been telling himself he needed to get out more? Do a little opposite-gender socializing? "Sure, why not? I've just got to wade through this paperwork first."
"How long's that going to take?"
"Four, five hours," he replied glumly.