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The Devil You Know
By Laurie Paige
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneVeronica Dalton glanced at her watch and wrinkled her nose in mock despair. "Gotta punch the time clock," she declared. She counted out enough money to cover her part of the check and tip.
Her best friend, Patricia Upjohn, rolled her eyes at the totally false statement. "Roni, Roni," she scolded. "Count your blessings. Others should be so lucky as to have your hours. And your boss."
With a degree in computer science, Roni worked at home, writing computer learning games for children. Her actual working hours were up to her.
And Patricia was right about the boss. Besides being nice, a great guy and all that, he was a hunk. A woman with any sense would go for him in a heartbeat.
Roni tried to look contrite. "I agree. You bankers pay the price for serving humanity."
"We do our best," Patricia said humbly.
This time it was Roni who rolled her eyes. "Same time next week?" she asked, standing.
She bid her friend goodbye and threaded her way through the luncheon crowd. The Friday crunch was getting worse, it seemed to her. They might have to select another day for their weekly lunch. Maybe she could talk her boss into changing their Friday morning meetings to Monday.
No, bad idea. People tended to be grouchy first thing on Mondays. Tuesdays would work, though. Or Wednesdays.
Contemplating what other day of the week would be better for Patricia, she detoured past a group who were still saying their farewells and blocking the narrow space around their table. At that moment, one of the departing men stepped backward without looking. He crashed into Roni, sending her careening to the right ... and facedown onto the next table.
At nose level - she wasn't quite lying prone on the white cloth - she observed as water glasses and coffee cups jostled wildly while dinner plates skidded dangerously near the edge. She had a split second to be grateful the plates were mostly empty and that she hadn't landed on one.
The larger and older of the two men took the brunt of the accident as hot and cold liquids sloshed onto his lap.
"I'm so sorry," she managed to say as the man leaped from his chair and gave her an indignant glare as he brushed droplets from his clothing. Luckily his napkin had absorbed most of the damage.
"Oh, sorry," muttered the coward who'd bumped her. He hurried away, leaving her to face the wrath of the drenched diner alone.
"Use this," a masculine baritone advised.
A clean napkin was thrust into her hand. She carefully blotted drops off the other man's tie. "Blot, don't swipe," she told the furious diner. "That way, you won't push the stain into the material."
Having grown up in an all male household - two older brothers, three older cousins, plus Uncle Nick, who'd raised all six orphans - she'd learned early how to manage most household tasks. Finished, she surveyed the man. "There, not a stain in sight," she said in relief.
"A good thing for you," the man snarled.
"It wasn't her fault," his companion said. "The other man knocked her off her feet. Are you okay?" he asked her.
Roni swung her head around in shock as recognition flashed through her. A jolt went all the way to her toes as she met the cool gray gaze of the man who'd handed her the napkin. "Adam!" she said, then couldn't think of another word, she was that surprised to see him.
Adam Smith was the very attractive but aloof brother of Honey Smith Dalton, who was married to Roni's cousin Zack. Neither had mentioned that Adam was expected in the area. Why was he in the city rather than at the ranch? And why was he dressed in a business suit? Was he working?
Along with the questions came the intense excitement and pure joy of seeing him, all mixed up with a welter of other emotions too confusing to be defined. So she stood there smiling at him, speechless but smiling radiantly in happy surprise.
"Hello, Little Bits," he said with casual amusement.
Before she could question him about his presence in Boise, Idaho, when she knew he worked in the southern California office of the FBI, he stood, gathered her close and kissed the startled "Oh!" off her mouth.
In this swirl of confusion, she felt herself being lifted off her feet and turned so that Adam's back was to his companion. He released her mouth and nibbled at her ear. "I'll explain later," he murmured for her hearing only.
She blinked, forced herself to breathe, then nodded as if she knew what he was talking about.
"Roni, this is Greg Williams," Adam continued, turning them to the other man. "Greg, Veronica Dalton. Call her Roni if you value your life."
Greg was poster handsome, but beginning to run to fat. Too many three-martini lunches, she surmised. He wasn't as old as she'd first thought, but was around the same age as Adam, who was thirty-six, ten years older than her own twenty-six years. Whenever they happened to be at the same place at the same time, he treated her as if she were a precocious six-year-old. Hence her shock at the kiss.
"I didn't realize you had friends here," Greg said to Adam, eyeing them both suspiciously.
"I've worked with her cousin on a couple of things," Adam replied with that same casual amusement. "We met at his wedding. Naturally I looked her up when I came to town."
Excerpted from The Devil You Know by Laurie Paige Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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