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Danielle Holloway pranced into her kitchen wearing a pink thong adorned along the waistband with tiny rhinestones, and not much else. She pulled open the camel-colored wood cabinet above the sink and took out two plates. Cooking really wasn't her thing, but for Nick she was willing to make the efforthopefully she wouldn't kill him in the process.
She opened the freezer and took out a box of Aunt Jemima frozen waffles and a box of frozen Jimmy Dean turkey sausage. She was pretty sure she had some syrup around somewhere.
"Need some help?" came the rough-textured voice behind her.
Slowly she turned around, her size-C breasts standing at attention.
Nick's dark blue, almost black, eyes rolled over her from head to toe. Dani watched his throat work up and down as his gaze caressed every inch of her, reminding her quite vividly of the night and half the morning they'd spent together.
What she felt for Nick Mateo scared herbadly. Sometimes when she was around him, she couldn't breathe, her thoughts would get scrambled and her heart would beat so fast she thought she'd faint. She thought about him when she should have been concentrating on a photo shoot or developing film. He made her laugh, and thoughts of being without him made her want to cry. She was in love for the first time in her adult life, and she was scared as hell. And to compound it all, Nick Mateo was whiteat least legally. Well, kinda white. His mom was black, his dad Italian. She was half black and half Hispanic, which accounted for her waist-length, raven-black hair and honey-brown complexion. Both of them had to check "other" on all those applications. She had enough cultural issues to deal with on her ownand now his as well.
Nonetheless, together, Nick and Dani made a stunning couple. He, a subtle look-alike for a young Alec Baldwin, dark short hair, a sexy five-o'clock shadow and a body to die for. She, a striking beauty whose face could easily grace the pages of fashion magazines.
He sauntered toward her with a pearl-gray towel wrapped around his narrow hips and slid his muscular arms around her waist. He nuzzled her neck, and Dani's body warmed all over.
"I was going to fix us something to eat," she said on a breath, inhaling his cool, clean scent from his recent shower. She tilted her head back to give him better access to that spot that made her weak in the knees.
He held her a little tighter. "I already have something to eat." He nibbled her neck and ran his hands along the curve of her spine. Dani moaned. "God, I can't get enough of you," he groaned. He drew in a long, hot breath and reluctantly stepped back. He looked deep into her eyes, down into her soul. "I'm in love with youyou better know that."
Dani's heart banged in her chest. "Me, too." It was as close as she had come to saying the L word.
"I'll settle for that," he said, knowing the emotional struggle Dani was having wrestling with her feelings. Admitting that she could be vulnerable enough to turn her heart and soul over to someone else was something she wasn't ready to handle. He was willing to give her as much time as she needed. He knew what was in her heart. He could see it when she looked at him, when she moaned his name as he made love to her, when she laughed at his stupid jokes and told him about her life and her deepest fears. They had no secrets between them, and that was why he knew this relationship was going to work, whether or not she ever said the L word.
Danielle kissed him on the lips, tasting the minty toothpaste. "So are you going to be a help or a hindrance in the kitchen?"
He peeked over her shoulder to see what was on the menu. He turned up his nose. "How 'bout I fix us breakfast?"
A sunshiny smile bloomed across her face. "Sure."
Nick shook his head and chuckled. "You didn't have to give in so quickly, ya know. Let me put on some clothespickings are kinda thin in the fridge, if I remember correctly." He kissed her on the tip of her nose, turned and went into the bedroom to get dressed.
"Whataman," she murmured.
Savannah Fields woke up on Sunday morning and barely made it to the bathroom. She was only in her first trimester, and morning sickness was kicking her butt day and night.
"You okay, baby?" Blake called from the other side of the bathroom door.
Savannah splashed cold water on her face, leanedover the sink and drew in long, slow breaths in the hopes of controlling the rocking and rolling going on in her stomach. How could something that would ultimately be so precious make you feel like you wanted to die?
"I'm fine," she was finally able to say. "Be out in a minute."
Slowly she raised her head and gazed at her reflection in the mirror. The doctor assured her that the morning sickness would stop after three months. She still had one to go. She gripped the side of the sink as another wave of nausea swept through her belly and made her head spin.
Savannah moaned. How was she going to be able to fulfill her latest undercover assignment if she could barely hold her head up? She was going to need help.
Jean Armstrong, the head of The Ladies Cartelaffectionately known as TLChad called her into the Cartel offices at the brownstone on 135th Street in Harlem three weeks earlier to congratulate her on the successful completion of her last assignment, which was to uncover a suspected land fraud deal in downtown Brooklyn. What Savannah had uncovered was not only a major scam but also the fact that the development was going to be built on top of an ancient African burial ground. It had been a difficult assignment, and not so much because it was her first but because her husband, Blake, was the contractor on the deal and she was bound by her oath to the Cartel not to reveal what she was doing to anyoneand that included her husband.
Her investigation had also led her to believe that her husband, her soul mate, was not only involved in the unscrupulous land deal but also was having an affair with the woman who was behind it all, millionaire heiress Tristan Montgomery. Savannah needed the help of her two best friends, Danielle Holloway and Mia Turner, to prove otherwise, and they did.
Unfortunately, Savannah had broken a major rule of The Ladies Cartel by involving anyone who was not a sworn member. Fortunately for her, it had turned out well, and Jean reminded her how lucky she was when she gave her this latest assignment.
Savannah flushed the toilet and rinsed out her mouth. At least her head had stopped spinning.
One thing she knew for certain was that she was going to have to break some more rules if she was to get the next job accomplished. She could certainly use the skills of the Cartel members, but she knew she could trust Dani and Mia more than any other two people on earth.
Blake knocked on the door. "Savannah, are you okay?"
"Coming." Gingerly she made her way to the door and opened it.
Blake was standing on the other side with a distraught look on his ruggedly handsome face. She smiled wanly.
He put his arm around her shoulder. "Can I get you anything?"
"Yeah, a time machine. Speed this process up by about seven months."
Blake grinned and kissed the top of her head, and led her back to the bed. "If I could, you know I would, baby."
She waved off the bed. "I think I need to move around. I want to meet the girls for a late lunch."
"You sure you're up to it?"
She nodded. "Yeah, some ginger ale and a few crackers, and I'll be good as new." She left his embrace and went into the kitchen. Moments later she could hear the blare and roar of a basketball game coming from the living-room television set.
Must be Sunday, she mused, smiling as she popped open a can of ice-cold ginger ale and took a long, refreshing swallow. Sunday was game day in the Fields' household. Blake carved out his position on the couch and watched games all day long, nonstop, even if they were on videotape, which gave Savannah the perfect opportunity to hang out with the girls. And today they needed an emergency meeting.
While Nick was at the local grocer, Dani took a quick shower and straightened up the bedroom. As she sat on the edge of the bed, applying the Victoria's Secret brand of lotion that Nick loved, her phone rang.
She turned behind her, reached across the bed and picked up the phone from the nightstand. Lying on her stomach, she answered.
"Hey, Dani, it's me, Savannah."
"Hey, girl, how ya feeling?"
"You're a better woman than me."
"Listen, I was hoping the three of us could get together this afternoon."
"Hmm, what time? Me and Nick were getting ready to fix something to eat."
"You mean, Nick is fixing something to eat."
Dani giggled. "Don't hate."
"How about four at The Shop? Maybe by then my stomach will have settled down to a quiet roar."
The digital clock on the nightstand illuminated eleven.
"Sounds good. Did you call Mia?"
"No, not yet. Would you mind? It's going to take me a while to get myself together as it is, and I don't need Mia slowing me down by needing all the details of a simple late lunch."
The friends laughed. Of the trio, Mia Turner was the organizerto a fault. As head of her own events management business, she was a stickler for planning each and every move. Although it was an outrageously annoying habit, her obsession with order and detail always ultimately paid off.
"Sure. I'll do that as soon as we finish. What's up, anyway? Just need to get out?"
"Actually it's a little more than that." She lowered her voice and got off the side of the bed to make sure Blake was still parked securely in front of the television. She closed the bedroom door. "I have another assignment, and I need yours and Mia's help."
Mia Turner had been up since daybreak. She fixed a spectacular breakfast for her and Stevehomemade Belgian waffles; egg-white omelets filled with mushrooms, tomatoes, green peppers and cheddar cheese; fresh orange juice and an incredible Turkish coffee that she'd received from one of her corporate clients as a thank-you gift.
Of the trio it had always been efficient Mia who hadn't had a man in her life. Savannah had Blake and before Danielle finally starting playing house with Nick, she always had men to keep her warm and well tuned.
Mia had always known about Steve Long: she'd seen him from a distance from time to time, since he and Savannah's husband, Blake, were tight buddies and business partners. But they'd never spent any time together, and it had never occurred to Mia to do so. It wasn't until she'd planned a get-together, with Steve being an invited guest, that they both realized what they'd been missing. They'd been an item ever since, and Mia couldn't have been happier.
Steve left shortly after breakfast for a game of tennis, and Mia decided to get a jump start on the week. She went into her immaculate office, where not a paper clip was out of place, and settled down for a few hours of planning. She had several corporate clients that were planning major conferences as well as restaurant locations that she needed to set up for more intimate meetings.
She turned on her seventeen-inch flat-screen computer and quickly clicked on her color-coded spreadsheet program; then she opened up another program window, this one with a grid of Manhattan.
Just as she started plugging in information, her phone rang. It was Dani.
"Hey, girl, what's up?" Mia kept her attention on the screen while she talked to Dani on speaker.
"I hate that damned speakerphone! Makes me sound like I'm underwater."
"Oh, don't be silly."
"Can you please just stop doing what you're doing and pay attention to me for a minute?"
"You know, you sound like a whiny five-year-old," Mia said, taking the call off speaker. "Better now?"
"Much," Dani said with a huff.
"So what is it? You're breaking my flow."
"Savannah just called. She wants us to get together around four at The Shop."
Mia frowned. That was not on her agenda for the day. She'd have to rearrange things to make that happen. If there was one thing that worked Mia's nerves more than anything, it was surprises that knocked off her schedule and her plans.
"Well, okay. I'll have to shift around a few things. Why today? Did she say what it was about? Our get-togethers are always planned in advance "
"Dang, Mia. This is the best advance notice we can give. Five damned hours. Now do whatever it is that you do to get yourself in gear, and we'll see you there at four."
Mia huffed with indignation. "You don't have to be nasty I was just saying "
She almost sounded hurt, Dani thought. "I'm sorry. Didn't mean to snap. You know my mouth sometimes. Anyway, Savannah said it was important." She paused. "She needs our help."
Mia knew exactly what that meant.