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Spike Moriarty raced down Park Avenue, legs pumping, arms swinging, black leather jacket flapping behind him in the night air. Big, in great shape and properly motivated, he was like an SUV tooling down the sidewalk. Oncoming pedestrians got out of the way.
Damn, he was late.
And this was no fifteen minute, margin-of-error kind of thing. This was a two-hour black hole of social impropriety.
Usually the rules and regulations of polite behavior weren't high on his priority list. He never went out of his way to offend people, but he wasn't in bed with Emily Post, either. But tonight was different. Two of his favorite people were getting married and this was their engagement party. He was supposed to be helping the host and giving a little speech.
Sean O'Banyon, master of ceremonies, was going to kill him. Good thing they were buddies. It might buy him a quick and easy end.
Although it wasn't as if he'd been dogging it on his couch. The drive from upstate New York to Manhattan had taken twice as long as it should have on account of a fiesta of automotive trouble.
The kickoff had been an eighteen wheeler jackknifing on the Northway right in front of him. Fortunately, no one had been injured, but the semi fell over onto its side and shut down the southbound lanes entirely. Like everyone else, he'd been diverted to Route 9 and had become tangled in rural traffic.
Tangled, that was, until he got nailed by an eighty-five-year-old man driving an ancient Pontiac. Then he'd been stopped dead in the road. Thank God only the Honda had been hurt, but then the real fun and games had begun.
Local cops showed up. The pair of them took one look at Spike's hair and his tattoos and ran everything but his jockey shorts through every criminal check they could find. They probably even called Interpol overseas. The two had seemed bitterly disappointed when they'd found no outstanding warrants or parole violations. And to work off the frustration at not getting to use the cuffs, they'd detained him at the side of the road for about two hours.
By the time Spike finally made it back onto a highway, he knew he could kiss off any hope of making it to the party before the speeches started. Hell, he'd be lucky if he made it before folks left. After dropping a voice mail message at Sean's, he'd had to resist the urge to red line the Honda's speedometer. What stopped him was knowing that the last thing he needed was another run in with some badges.
Once he'd made it to the city, he'd dumped the car in a lot and started hightailing it. For the middle of May, the night was blessedly cool and clear so at least he wasn't going to look like a total mess when he arrived.
Spike glanced at a street sign. Thank God. Only a couple more blocks to go. If he made good time, he figured he'd get to Sean's before Alex and Cass—
The taxi came out of nowhere. One minute Spike was shooting across 71st Street, the next he was looking the grill of a yellow Chevrolet right in the teeth. Years of physical conditioning gave him the reflexes and strength to yank his six-foot-four body out of the way. But he did bounce off the car before ending up on his ass in the street.
The taxi skidded to a halt, and evidently the driver didn't appreciate the assault on his hood ornament. He flipped the bird and hit the gas, kicking up some loose stones that pinged off Spike's biker jacket.
Much as he could have used a breather, he didn't hang around resting on his laurels. One: there was no time, not even to swear a little. Two: the asphalt was hard. Three, and most important of all: he had on black clothes, because that's all he ever wore, so he was indistinguishable from the street. He probably looked like an odd-shaped pothole.
He bolted up and kept running, figuring he'd find out soon enough if anything hurt. When nothing howled, he went faster, letting the motion of his body clean any debris off his slacks.
Finally, he saw Sean's building up ahead. He shot under the red and tan awning, peeled back the glass door and headed right for the elevators.
As he punched the Up button, a nasal voice cracked through the marble lobby. "Excuse me?"
Spike turned around toward the receiving desk. The doorman he knew wasn't on duty tonight. But Colonel Klink's evil twin was. The guy was a dead ringer for the Hogan's Heroes commandant, just without the monocle.
Wait, that was a double negative of sorts. Klink was a bad guy. So maybe this was his doppelganger?
Spike shook his head, wondering if he had brain fry. Between pants, he managed to get out, "I'm here for... O'Banyon's party. My name's...on the list."
Klink's eyebrows arched in a haughty rendition of Yeah, right, loser. "Bike messengers aren't allowed up in the building. You'll have to leave whatever you're delivering with me."
Sometime soon this night was going to end, Spike thought. One way or another, it was going to be over.
Madeline Maguire hung around the fringes of the engagement party, thinking that she didn't really have her land legs yet. Or her interpersonal ones, either. As a professional sailor, she spent most of her life battling the ocean and it was always hard to downshift into some semblance of normalcy whenever she took a break.
So this kind of social playing field felt like Mars. Part of the problem was a crushing lack of urgency. On a racing yacht, every word was significant, every creak a clue to be deciphered, every minute shift in direction an important event. As a result of years of experience and training, her instincts were finely tuned and hyperalert. And her capacity for multiprocessing what they told her was one of the reasons she was such a good navigator.
In this environment, however, there was absolutely nothing to respond to.
Which left her feeling flat.
The high point so far had been arriving and seeing Alex Moorehouse. Alex had been captain of the crew she'd belonged to and was not only her mentor but a friend. He and his fiancée, Cass, were two of the finest people Mad knew and seeing them was well worth the hassle of getting to Manhattan.
In fact, the whole crew had wanted to come tonight, but the rest of the boys were stuck in the Bahamas rehabbing a boat after a bad storm. Following an unanimous vote, Mad had been designated the official ambassador. It was a good choice and they all knew it. The boys didn't do the civilized world all that well and it was better for everyone that the representative from the crew be able to put up a good front.
Not that she was doing so well at the social stuff right now, Mad thought. She could make a wallflower look like a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader.
Except there was no one she really wanted to talk to. The fifty people in the penthouse were mostly from her half brother's world: powerful, edgy men with competition in their blood; willowy, beautiful women with hard eyes and harder smiles. Of course, not everyone was like that. Alex's family was warm and lovely and there were a few others who seemed approachable. But somehow, the players stood out and made her want to hang back.
Plus, she had a preoccupation.
Her eyes sifted through the party again, scanning faces and bodies, searching for a tall, broad-shouldered man with black hair that stood up in spikes.
Spike had to be coming tonight. Alex was one of his closest friends. And from what she'd heard, so was Sean.
He just had to be coming. "Looking for someone?" a deep voice asked from behind her.
Mad glanced over her shoulder. Sean O'Banyon, Wall Street genius, mostly reformed street thug and all-around good guy, was giving her one of his gotcha stares.
She smiled. And lied to one of her nearest and dearest. "I'm not looking for anyone. Not at all."
"Come on, Mad. Your eyes are playing floor hockey with every man in here. Except you're not finding the one you want, are you? So who do you wish you were seeing?"
Sean was the brother she wished she had instead of the one she'd gotten. But she didn't feel comfortable talking about Spike with him. The two were friends. And besides, given her history, nothing good was going to come of whatever interest she had in the man.
And unfortunately, she was interested in Spike. She'd met him when she'd headed up to Saranac Lake this winter to see Alex. The attraction had been instantaneous on her end, but she'd kept it to herself. Like most men, Spike didn't say much while he was around her and he didn't make a lot of eye contact. And no touching, not even casually.
So it was pretty much what she was used to. When you were six feet tall in your stocking feet and a professional athlete, most men didn't think of you as girlfriend material. Or even as a female. If they liked you, or respected you, you were one of the guys. If they didn't, they stared at you as if you were an alien or wrote you off as a lesbian.
Usually, either reaction was tolerable to her. More than tolerable, really, considering her few tragic attempts to make a connection with someone of the opposite sex. It was just... She wanted Spike to notice her, and not as an oddity, but as someone he might like to put his arm around. As somebody he might want to kiss, even just once.
She winced, trying to think of the last time she'd had a man's lips against hers. God, how long... Whoa, that was not a good number. Too high for someone her age, way too high.
And that would be years, not months. "Mad? Where've you gone?" Sean prompted.
She shook her head. "Sorry. So I like what you've done to the place."
The penthouse he'd bought last year was done up fit to kill in a sleek, masculine style. Clean lines everywhere, minimal clutter, a lot of leather and metal. The panoramic views of the park and city were phenomenal and unimpeded by fussy drapes.
Sean glanced around. "Thanks, I like it. Architectural Digest photographed everything for next month's issue. Blair Sanford did the interior."
"It suits you."
"You're all about hard edges."
Sean laughed, his harsh face softening a little. "In my business, soft gets you spread like paste."
Sean had been her family's investment banker for the last ten years and he'd helped turn Value Shop Supermarkets into a nationwide chain. Her relationship with him, though, wasn't based on what he could do for her portfolio. She loved and trusted him more than she did her immediate relatives.
It was ironic. Usually she avoided men who looked like him because they reminded her of her late father and very-much-alive half brother. Sean had a real slick, glossy image. Dolled up in his fancy Savile Row suit and his silk tie, he seemed like your typical Wall Street money man. Except he wasn't. He'd grown up in South Boston, in a tough neighborhood, and he'd never forgotten the lessons he'd learned on the street.
Which meant he was also a little scary. And gave her only more reason to love him.
"Listen, Mad, we need to talk."
She cringed. "I can tell by the sound of your voice—"
"It's about your half brother."
Her eyes left his. "I'm not going to see Richard, but you can give him a message for me. Tell him to stop calling. He's using up my voice mail space."
"Mad, this is important—"
Up ahead, the door to the penthouse opened.
And Mad flushed from her earlobes to her toenails. Spike was wearing a black leather jacket, a black button-down and a pair of black slacks. His jet-black hair was sticking straight up off his head in all directions, but instead of looking unkempt, the jagged peaks emphasized the hard lines of his beautiful face. His big body filled the doorway. The hall. The whole apartment as far as she was concerned.
Oh, God, his eyes... Those incredible, impossibly yellow eyes were still hidden under heavy lids and thick lashes. And the tattoos... On either side of his neck, two elegant, curving designs marked his skin. In his left ear, he had a thick, silver piercing.
Mad swallowed. It was not possible for a man to be sexier. Otherwise the laws of physics would collapse and the earth would implode into a black hole.
And no, she didn't think that scenario was an exaggeration.
"Holy Moses," Sean said under his breath. "You've been looking for Spike, haven't you! How long's this been going on? When did you meet him? And why the hell don't I know about this?"
Mad took a sip of her Chardonnay and tasted nothing whatsoever. "Shut up, Sean."