Her new partner in crime-fighting makes Lucia Huntington uncomfortably hot. To catch an embezzler, the beautiful FBI agent must work with ex-con Cash Stone although they couldn't be more different. Career-driven Lucia lives by the rules, while devilishly charming Cash gleefully bends them.
Unbeknownst to Lucia, Cash once did wrong for the right reasonhis ailing son. Now he claims he's working for the FBI to go on the straight and narrow. But as the case turns dangerous with deadly attacks, Lucia questions her trust in Cash. He's reliable and protective, making her yearn for the passionate bond that's always eluded her. But is their entire relationship one big con?
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Lucia Huntington peeled off her blue-and-white-pinstriped blouse and dropped it in her dry-cleaning bag. She'd spilled coffee down the front of her shirt at her morning meeting, the first in a series of bungles that had lined her day.
At least the day was over, paperwork filed and everyone's notes reviewed and approved. After she returned her mother's phone call, she'd have a few hours to sleep before she did it all again tomorrow.
A knock sounded on her door. Lucia hadn't buzzed anyone into the building, but her neighbor Audrey from across the hall periodically stopped by before she went out for the night. Audrey had a great sense of humor and would provide some comic relief after Lucia's dreadful day. On her way to the door, Lucia took another sip from the glass of wine she had been drinking.
Looking through the peephole and seeing David "Cash" Stone's face stirred several emotions, primary among them anxiety. Ever since he strode into her morning meeting with his cocky swagger and dark hair, captivating sapphire eyes and buff shoulders, Lucia had been controlling her libido's overreaction. Sexy with a hint of danger, everything about him screamed warnings. He was a take-no-prisoners kind of man. If she gave him an inch, he would take a mile.
Her workday was over and that meant she didn't have to deal with him. This was her turf.
Another tap sounded on the door. "Come on, Lucia. I know you're home."
Not willing to hide in her condo like a coward and wait for him to leave, Lucia grabbed a coat off the coat-rack and pulled it on over her bra. She wasn't a love-struck teenager and she was in control of her hormones. Composing herself, she pulled open the door and met Cash's steely stare. It was as if he was seeing right through her cool facade to the part of her that was panting and restless just looking at him.
"Can I help you?" she asked. She had other questions, like "How do you know where I live?" and "How did you get past my building's security?" but she'd stick with the one that would get rid of him fast. The less time she had to spend with Cash Stone the better.
He leaned against the doorjamb. "Aren't you going to ask me in?"
His visit was inappropriate at best, but Cash played by his own rules. He radiated charisma and self-assurance on top of his playboy good looks, and most women found the combination irresistible. Lucia wasn't most women. She had hard-won, carefully exercised control.
Since knowing about his criminal past didn't put a damper on her lust, she needed to find something physically wrong with him and latch on to it. The one physical flaw she could find was that his secondhand clothes lacked style. She needed to mentally harp on that point and banish any sensual ideas of him. He wasn't someone she was planning to date. He wasn't part of her personal life. He was the con man skilled in fraud, counterfeiting and high-tech crimes, brought in to help in an important investigation. He had an abundance of confidence and he was an untrustworthy criminal, a dangerous combination.
"I am not asking you in," she said. "I don't fraternize with my coworkers in my home."
He laughed. The gun at her hip tingled against her skin. Were her instincts sending her a warning? Cash was remarkably bold and she was tempted to close the door in his face. She clamped down on the urge. She wouldn't have an emotional outburst and let him know he'd gotten to her. Unacceptable.
"Benjamin wants us to make nice," Cash said.
Lucia gritted her teeth. She didn't want to make nice with Cash Stone. She wanted him gone. "Benjamin has not advised me of that." She was out of the loop on matters concerning her team. With Cash joining today, she was the second newest member, but she was supposed to be Benjamin's right hand. As the assistant special agent in charge, or ASAC, she should be consulted on matters affecting the team. In reality, her new job duties were paperwork and spending extralong hours at the office.
"Check your phone," Cash said.
Lucia left the door and grabbed her phone from the counter. Sure enough, there was a text from her boss: Cash on his way over. Make it work. We need him.
Annoyance caused a rush of heat to flame up her neck. Lucia set the phone on the counter and shook the irritation off her face. When she turned around, she smiled. "We don't have a problem. As long as you don't break the law or run a con on me, we'll be fine."
"I think you're forgetting that Benjamin hired me because I can read people and I know you're lying. I piss you off and I need to know why." Cash was darkly good-looking and maybe he was accustomed to every woman falling at his feet. He'd have to learn she wasn't every woman and she didn't throw herself at men.
"Benjamin cut a deal with you because you have connections to a criminal we're hunting, and catching that criminal will make him look good for a promotion he wants." There. That should set Cash straight. He had skills they could use, but she wasn't giving his ego a boost by acknowledging them.
Broad shoulders lifted. "He hired me for both reasons. Tell me why you can't stand me. No one else on the team has a problem with me."
That her team had welcomed and embraced him added to her agitation. They hadn't been nearly as warm with her. Lucia shouldn't have a problem with Cash. She didn't know why he got under her skin. She dealt with criminals on a weekly basis. She'd been on stakeouts and watched scumbags commit crimes. She'd been undercover and lived with the lowest of the low. It hadn't taken a personal toll.
But Cash Stone grated on her. "You shouldn't have been released from prison. You need to serve your time.
With you at my back, I'll be waiting for you to put a bullet in it."
What she'd said was blunt, but that was how she rolled these days.
His eyes sparkled with amusement. Was he enjoying this? If she'd hoped to get a rise out of him, she'd failed.
"I am serving my time. For the remaining three years of my sentence, I'll be chained to you." He lifted his pant leg to show her the ankle monitor. "You can trust me to do my job. If I don't, I'll earn myself seven more years in prison."
"Unless you skip town before you've worked your three years," she said.
"Won't happen," he said. "I want you to give me a real chance and treat me like everyone else on the team."
Lucia rolled her eyes. He would run the first chance he had. Men like Cash didn't change. He was a con man and a felon. He was probably conning her now, saying what he thought she'd want to hear. She wouldn't mince words with a known liar. "You can count on me to behave professionally."
"I don't know what it's like at the FBI, but in my world, professionally doesn't include showing your colleagues you hit the gym six days a week."
"What are you"
He gestured at her and she looked down. In her anger, she'd set her hands on her hips, which had opened her jacket and given him a view of her white lace bra and bare stomach. Fantastic. She'd flashed a convict.
She refused to show remorse or embarrassment. "You came to my home. Deal with it."
His eyes were wide and a smirk played across his lips. "Gladly."
Lucia pulled together the jacket. He was infuriating. "How did you get in here, anyway?"
Cash tipped his head to the side. "Do you want me to point out the security weaknesses in your building? It won't help you sleep better at night."
"I sleep fine at night next to my gun," Lucia said. The words weren't intended as a threat. They were the truth. Lucia worked hard to practice constant vigilance. In her line of work, she made enemies. She wouldn't be someone's victim.
"Benjamin wants us to move past the hostility."
It wouldn't happen. At least, not until she'd had time to figure how to get Cash kicked off the team. They didn't need him to crack this case. She could find Clifton Anderson and the hundreds of millions he'd embezzled. She'd return the money to the people it belonged to, people who were counting on that money. She didn't need a felon to help her.
"Stay out of my way in the field and we won't have a problem," she said.
"Then you won't mind if I join you for happy hour tomorrow after work?"
Lucia felt the familiar sting of rejection. Someone had already invited him to the weekly happy hour. Lucia hadn't been invited to it, although she'd overheard others talking about it. She was an outsider on her own team. Again.
Cash was too charming for his own good, but she pegged his laid-back, easy demeanor as hiding something dark and dangerous. "You should do whatever you want," Lucia said.
"What's that scent?" he asked.
She didn't smell anything, but her condo was over that of a gourmet chef and she had grown accustomed to the tantalizing smells that wafted to her place. "Maybe it's trash." She might as well dump on the conversation. She didn't want to have a gourmet-food discussion with Cash.
"It's not trash. It's something delicious. Earthy. Sexy." He leaned forward and inhaled. "There it is."
Outrage jolted her at the same time her legs tightened and heat pooled between them. "You cannot speak to me like that." Boundaries. They desperately needed boundaries.
Cash frowned at her. "I can't pay you a compliment?"
"You won't win me over with flattery."
"Flattery implies I'm lying."
He had moved closer to her. He smelled like a fresh shower and spices, a scent she enjoyed but ignored. The kitchen breakfast bar was at her back and Cash was standing a few inches from her. He was six inches taller, but when he looked at her she felt as if they were eye to eye. "Aren't you always?" She wasn't threatened by the closeness, but he'd view it as weakness if she asked him to back away. She would stand her ground and make him move first.
"I wasn't lying," he said. "You know you're gorgeous. Every man and woman on the team thinks so. I'm the only one bold enough to say it to your face."
She scoffed. "You can't possibly know what everyone else is thinking about me." If Cash didn't already know it, she wouldn't point out that most people thought first about her family's wealth, not how she looked. Or, if they weren't thinking about her family money, they were wondering about her time with the violent-crime division and why she'd been transferred.
"Again, I have a talent for reading people. When people look at you, they have the same interest in their eyes that I have. You're so beautiful they need to look for an extra few seconds to take it all in. But unlike most of the people on our team, I plan to do something about it."
"What is it you're planning to do?" she asked, unable to help herself.
"I'll win you over and make you forget how much you dislike me. Once that's out of the way, you'll see that I have a great many talents you may enjoy." Sexual innuendo laced every syllable.
She had never been spoken to this way and it turned her blood hot. She had no doubt some of Cash's talents related to his bedroom activities. Heat rushed low in her belly and her thighs tingled. "Does anyone buy that crap you're selling?"
Cash smiled. He had to know it was his ace card with most women, but it didn't work with her. Seeing a handsome man didn't make Lucia giggly and weak in the knees. Considering his past, he was front and center on her "men to avoid" list.
"I can read you. You're turned on. You want to kiss me and you hate that."
Lucia inhaled slowly to calm herself. Lust was quickly overtaking the anger she'd felt. Interrogation techniques. Hiding her emotions. She called on the skills she'd learned as a special agent, but felt them failing. Cash was rattling her and Lucia didn't rattle easily. She fought for composure and clear thinking. Was something in her face or posture giving away that she was attracted to him?
He was tall, handsome and confident. She could acknowledge he had certain attractive traits. That didn't mean she wanted him in her bed. "You can't read me as well as you think."
"Kiss me and prove it."
She laughed. He was contemptible. "I'm not kissing you."
"I'll go on believing the reason is that you're afraid of what might happen."
Afraid? Never. She feared nothing. Not even a player with thick brown hair that skimmed the tops of his ears. A strand had fallen over his forehead as if he'd styled it to draw her attention to his too-perfect face.
A surface-level attraction held no sway over her. It would pass. A kiss would change nothing, but a kiss would happen on her terms.
One hand cinching her coat together, Lucia grabbed the back of his head with her free hand and brought his mouth to hers in a hot, fierce kiss. She was unaffected by anything he could dish out. She could take it and not let it break her stride.
Except the kiss was like none she'd ever had. It sizzled and scorched her. She should stop it and throw him out, but her libido urged her for a few more seconds to taste him, a little more, a little longer. His tongue moved in sync with hers, his mouth brushing over hers with the right pressure and the right speed. The man had skills. She wondered what he was like in bed.
"How much have you had to drink?" he asked in breathless pants between kisses.
He must have tasted the wine on her lips. His question gave her a moment to think. She'd drunk half a glass of wine, but more importantly, she was standing in her condo kissing Cash Stone.
He had manipulated her so easily. Her guard hitched up and she broke away. She slid to the right, away from the counter and straightened her coat around her, ensuring everything was covered. He wasn't getting another peep show.
She folded her arms. "See? Nothing between us but air. Now write this down as a rule so you don't forget it. None of my other colleagues come to my home uninvited and unannounced. If you need something, you can tell me at work. Or better yet, don't tell me. Tell Benjamin and he'll pass it along to me."
Cash studied her and Lucia refused to shift under his blue-eyed gaze. She tipped her chin up proudly. The master of reading people wouldn't know how much he'd excited her. Thrills of pleasure still danced over her. Her knees felt weak and her thighs were quivering. She blamed the length of time she'd been alone.
"Benjamin will ask how our meeting went," Cash said.
Would Cash tell him about the kiss? Would it matter? How her boss and colleagues saw her was important to her. Her reputation had been tarnished when she was moved from the high-profile violent-crime division to the lower visibility of the white-collar division. She had so much riding on this case. She had to prove she was a good agent. A great agent. "I'll tell him it went fine and we won't have any issues working together."
"I think we might have an issue," Cash said. "You'll have to keep your hands off me."