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The graceful young woman danced her way to the table and performed an indecent bump and grind right before his eyes. Slowly, in time to the hot beat of the driving music, the blonde slipped the first button from its hole on her whiter than white shirt and tossed her head. A thick cascade of pale wheat hair shimmered under the light.
"Hasn't anyone told these women sun worship is out?" Harrison Trent murmured softly.
Artie Van Wheeler chortled in response. "You have to admit that getup wouldn't look the same against bleached white skin."
While their friends cheered and egged the dancer on, the woman continued to strip, up close and personal. Harrison took a tentative swallow from his glass and let his gaze skim over the lavishly decorated room and the tacky signs that wished the groom-to-be a lot of things, most of them humorous, all of them wicked. Artie and Carter Hughes had gone to great lengths to decorate the party room. Helium-filled condoms hung from crepe paper festooned with naked body parts. Harrison didn't want to know where his friends had found that particular crepe paper. The ice sculptures on either end of the bar were also graphic and drew Harrison's gaze right to where it had no business returning.
Tall and slender enough to pass for a man in her black tuxedo, with a cap of short, dark, unruly hair and elfin features, the bartender had drawn his attention the moment he walked into the room. He was struck by the way she surveyed the crowd with an odd intensity. Her eyes were never still and he found himself wondering what color they were.
Now, there was a woman who might be worth watching disrobe, music optional. Unlike those of the mostly naked dancers circulating in the room, the form beneath that tuxedo made him think of a sleek predator.
He watched her bend to mix another drink. She moved with an economy of motion that was unconscious grace. Maybe she was a dancer after all. Unlike his much shorter bride-to-be, she was a woman he'd be able to dance cheek to cheek with if he wanted. And he shouldn't be thinking along those lines.
Harrison forced his attention back to the performers. There were some stunning women in the room, yet something about the bartender kept drawing his gaze back to her.
He found himself watching her from the corner of his eye. Her unruly hair was definitely in need of a good stylist. It looked as if she'd taken scissors to it herself. And from where he was sitting, it appeared as if she wasn't wearing an ounce of makeup. Not that her flawless skin needed any enhancement, but that in itself made her stand out. There was a subtle intensity about her, a hint of something dangerous. He was fascinated.
"I've got to say, she is gorgeous," Artie murmured. "And she certainly can move those hips."
Harrison yanked his attention back to the enthusiastic dancer who, even as he watched, reached for the zipper of those tight, white leather shorts that barely covered a thing. The button at her tiny waist was already undone. Smooth golden skin trailed suggestively downward, yet he couldn't summon any enthusiasm. He probably wouldn't have been able to even if she'd been the first dancer of the evening.
His temples were starting to throb in time to the music and his vision was beginning to blur. He would have blamed this on the alcohol, but he was still on his first glass despite repeated toasts.
Harrison lifted the heavy Waterford crystal and took a more generous swallow of the tepid liquid. Maybe if he finished the drink he could get up and find out if the bartender was as interesting up close as she was from a distance. He wondered what sort of voice went with that face and if her eyes were dark blue or brown like his own.
The flying shorts that whistled past his head and into the cheering crowd brought his attention back to the dancer. She was really up close now and a little too personal for his taste. She was also down to a miniscule G-string and a couple of tasseled pasties. The smile plastered on her too-red lips was directed right at him.
At Artie's nudge, Harrison pasted an answering smile on his own lips. After all, the groom and his best man were the center of attention tonight even if Harrison didn't want to think about the coming wedding. What would this roomful of well-meaning friends say if they knew the bride-to-be was showing signs of second thoughts and was pregnant with another man's child?
Were they making a mistake?
He forced the thought aside. From the start, Zoe had been more than a hired assistant. Liking and respect had quickly matured into the sort of friendship that generally took years to form. He trusted Zoe the way he trusted Artie and Carter. They were family to him, and family took care of their own.
It was bad enough that Zoe had watched her baby's father shot down in front of her, but now his killer wanted her dead as well. Harrison was not going to let that happen. By marrying Zoe, he could offer her the protection of his wealth and see to it that her child was not born a bastard as he had been. It was the right thing to do. The only thing to do.
The dancer reached out, lifted his glass from the table and turned it to place her lips exactly where his had been a moment before. She took a small sip and smiled seductively. The room cheered as she bent down, tassels shaking, and kissed his forehead.
He managed a wink and she giggled.
The other men called out suggestions. Even Carter unbent from his formidable lawyer persona to look mildly amused. Harrison kept his smile pasted in place and wished for a speedy end to the evening. The dancer turned her attention to Artie. He dutifully reached out to put more money in her G-string. In the process, her elbow caught Harrison's glass and it tipped. The liquid splashed across the table.
One of the scantily clad servers appeared to mop up the damage, fluttering eyelashes that nature had never designed. His gaze drifted to the bar. He had the distinct impression that his bartender was disgusted. Their gazes locked briefly in sympathetic accord before she turned away and handed a new drink to one of the servers. The woman promptly headed in his direction.
Harrison abruptly realized what he should have known from the start. The woman wasn't merely a bartender. He'd stake good money she was one of Artie's rent-a-cops for the evening. That explained her constant scrutiny of the crowd. The only way security could mingle was to pose as one of the bartenders, waiters or dancers. Of that group, only the bartenders and Artie's live-in housekeeper were fully clothed.
Harrison surveyed the room with a more jaundiced eye before gazing at his new drink with disfavor. What did Artie think was going to happen in here? With all his little security gadgets, his place was like Fort Knox.
A glance toward the bar found the dark-haired bartender intently focused on him with an expression he couldn't decipher. He picked up the drink, tipped it in her direction and pretended to take a sip. She inclined her head in acknowledgment and he immediately lowered the untouched glass to the table. When he looked back a few minutes later, she was gone.
Harrison straightened up. The blond dancer shook a tassel against his ear. Whatever had been holding the tassel in place lost the battle. He hoped he hadn't sighed out loud.
The trilling of his cell phone pulled Harrison from a dream he couldn't remember. More asleep than awake, he swiped at the insect biting his forearm as he tried to roll over to answer the summons. A muffled curse brought him all the way out of sleep.
An ominous shadow loomed over him, backlit by the light flooding in through the open bedroom door, which he clearly remembered closing. He had a second to make out an indistinct outline before a slim, firm hand clamped over his mouth.
"Be quiet," a silken voice urged. "I'mnot going to hurt you."
Harrison threw his weight against the body behind that hand even as his cell phone stopped its musical demand.
"Help me!" the feminine voice demanded.
A second person surged forward, cursing the cell phone and the person on the other end. There was a crunch followed by a harsh expletive as the other person grabbed for his legs. Together, they attempted to press him into the mattress.
"I stepped on the damn syringe and broke it!"
"Never mind. Hold him down."
A knot of fear spiked through him. A syringe, not an insect. Even as he registered that both of his attackers were women, he realized they were making no attempt at silence. Something was very wrong. Numbness was taking hold of his extremities. A dark cloud fogged the edges of his mind.
They'd drugged him!
Panic lent him strength despite the weakness flooding his body. He swung his hands at the shadowy shape nearest his head, feeling only momentary satisfaction as he connected. The woman inhaled sharply, but didn't release him. She fell across his torso, effectively blocking him from taking another swing.
Harrison bucked hard. His legs tangled in the thin blanket and sheet. Wooziness spread with devastating speed.
"Stop fighting!" the woman ordered. "We're not going to hurt you!"
"Yes. Give it a minute."
He swore, struggling all the harder, fighting the drunken feeling as much as his captivity.
"How long does this stuff take?" the second voice demanded.
"I don't know. Hold him still!"
The first woman sprawled across his bare chest as the sheet and blanket slipped lower. She was trying to use her weight to pin him to the bed. Her skin gave off the faintest scent of coconuts. He shook his muzzy head, bucking harder. One bare leg came free of the tangled sheets. The second woman let go as he managed to kick her in the face.
More curses filled the room as she swore viciously. Her light-colored hair swung about her face.
"That hurt! He'd better not have left a bruise. I've got a job on Monday."
"Will you hold him still!"
With the last of his fading strength, Harrison jerked his body hard to the side and rolled. He carried the first woman and the sheets and blanket to the floor with them. They bounced off the nightstand, sending the lamp and alarm clock crashing down on top of them. His head connected sharply with the corner of the nightstand. For just a second Harrison thought he was going to black out.
Neither moved for a stunned instant. He'd landed on top of the woman, one hand resting on a soft, firm breast beneath the thin material of her black jacket.
As their gazes locked he recognized herthe bartender from the party. She squirmed against his length. Unaccountably aroused, he squeezed the breast beneath his hand. She burst into motion, shoving at him with all her might. The second woman came around the bed and grabbed his shoulders from behind. He twisted to fight with her and the world blurred and faded away.
"Jamie! Are you okay?"
Jamie Bellman struggled out from under the very naked, partially aroused man and rubbed at the aching spot where the lamp had cracked her head. Her fingers came away dry. No blood, but it hurt like the dickens.
"Calm down, Trent," Elaine was saying, "or we'll have to hurt you."
Harrison Trent didn't answer.
"The drug kicked in," Jamie told her, taking in his vacant expression.
"Help me get him to his feet. We'll have to get some clothes on him."
"Yeah. Kind of a shame, though, huh?"
Embarrassed by the way Elaine was ogling his nudity, Jamie tried not to stare as well. Silently, she had to agree that Harrison Trent was an extremely attractive man, dressed or not. Even if he hadn't been the focus of tonight's assignment, she would have found it difficult not to watch him.
He swayed unsteadily when they got him to his feet. Jamie looked around for the clothing he'd worn earlier. The tailored suit and conservative hairstyle seemed like so much camouflage on a man she sensed kept a more primitive side reined in tightly.
An expensive-looking suitcase lay open on a stand near the wall. Elaine gathered up clothes while Jamie continued to support him. He swayed, features slack, eyes mostly shut. Even drugged the man was too good looking for comfort, and potentially dangerous.
She knocked Elaine's arm aside when the other woman dumped his clothes on the bed and ran a caressing hand down his bare chest.
"Knock it off. We're running late."
Angry, and ashamed of Elaine's actions, Jamie elbowed the woman out of the way.
Elaine merely laughed. "Prude. Can he dress himself?"
Jamie shrugged, wishing she was anywhere but here. "We'll find out."
He could, but his movements were sluggish and uncoordinated. He kept trying to lie back down or touch her.
"Soft," he murmured as his fingers brushed the side of her face.
"Yes. Hold still while I zip your pants." It was entirely too intimate and she hated that Elaine continued leering.
"Quiet drunk," Elaine commented. "Two of us, and mostly all he wants to do is sleep."
"Be grateful. Get his suit jacket," Jamie ordered.
"What for? Is this a formal kidnapping? It has to be eighty degrees outside."
"And the van and the house are air-conditioned and it's supposed to rain tomorrow. You want to stand around and waste time discussing this? We need to hurry. Van Wheeler could be back any minute."
Elaine scowled but headed for the closet. Thinking of Artie Van Wheeler added speed to Jamie's own actions. Neither of the large men was someone she wanted to tangle with. She should have listened to her instincts and refused to come.
Jamie found Trent's shoes and got him to sit on the edge of the bed without falling over. They should have been at the safe house by now. Instead they'd been caught flat by the host's unexpected late-night visitor.
The original plan had been to slip Trent the drug at the party. When he became aroused, Elaine would let him lead her from the room for what everyone would think was a private tryst. Unfortunately, their victim hadn't been in the mood to drink. Even after Elaine deliberately spilled the contents of the weak drink he'd been nursing all night, Trent hadn't taken more than a sip from the new glass Jamie had doctored.
As far as Jamie was concerned, it was just as well. She didn't like designer drugs. A person could never be sure how they would react, especially when alcohol was added to the mix. The last thing Jamie wanted was a dead man on her hands.
"You should have slipped Van Wheeler the mickey at the party like you were supposed to."