Lured in by a bad ex-boyfriend and the moonlight of Miami, Meg O’Hara is trapped in a nightmare situation, waiting tables for a crime boss and fearing for her life. When undercover FBI agent Christopher Shaunessy offers her a way out, she seizes it. Getting the goods on Salazar Moreno might not be easy, but she’ll do anything to be freed from her servitude and Moreno’s sexual advances, even if it means moving in with the charismatic agent.
Chris Shaunessy pretends to be Meg’s lover in order to keep her safe, but he steels his heart against further involvement. Passion has no place in the sordid world of organized crime. And yet, the closer they get to cracking the case, the stronger his feelings for the spirited waitress shine. It’s a dangerous game he’s playing, and taking Meg in his arms for real could prove a fatal misstep . . .
“Wild Card Undercover will capture your heart. Kudos to Lemor.” —RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars
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Wild Card Undercover
By Kari Lemor
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Kari Lemor
All rights reserved.
"Does that man never have a day off?" Margaret Kathleen O'Hara grumbled, grabbing her tote bag and sarong to move surreptitiously along the chairs by the pool. If the hotel manager saw her here again she'd be toast. He'd more than toss her out. Threats to call the police had been thrown at her for months now. Although in her case, that might be a better deal.
With her eyes trained on his location and the Miami sun beating down on her exposed skin, Meg backed along the water's edge attempting to leave the area before he spotted her. She needed to shower the chlorine out of her tangled hair and change for work soon. He looked in her direction and she rushed behind the closest object. It was six-foot-plus of blond-haired gorgeousness. The man's eyes were glued to something on the upper deck. Her boss was sitting there with one of his expensive bimbos. Did Blondie like that type? Maybe he wouldn't notice her little game of Hide and Seek.
She leaned around him, ducking back when she saw the Pool Nazi still present. Getting caught was not an option. She already owed more than she could ever repay.
"Are you okay?" Forest green eyes stared down at her, puzzled. Would he buy that she was simply looking for shade? He was big enough to provide it.
With strong hands, he reached for her shoulders and Meg reflexively batted them away. She got enough of people groping her at work. Scorching curses froze before erupting from her mouth as the hotel manager moved, staring in their direction. Her mind kicked into overdrive, scrambling for a way to hide in plain sight.
"Sorry," she squeaked. Grabbing the man's head, she planted her mouth solidly on his. Short, thick strands of hair tickled her fingers. Firm lips yielded no resistance to the increased pressure of her mouth. Better make this look good.
An electric current skittered over her skin causing her heart to race. Maybe too good? Slowly he pulled her closer with his muscular arms. Her eyes flew open and she broke the connection. His hair-covered chest was too close for comfort. And much too tempting. Distance, she needed distance.
Her eyes darted around, seeing no signs of the manager. A sigh escaped. Time to make her exit as well.
"Sorry," she mumbled again, looking up. Big mistake. The stranger's curious eyes captivated her. They were soft and tender and filled with something she could ... trust? If she still had any of that left in her. His hands were gentle as they held her. A tiny smile played about the full lips she'd brazenly kissed. She couldn't believe she'd done it. Her mother would be appalled. But it had worked.
The chlorine scent from the pool faded into the background as sweat and suntan lotion wafted off the man's damp skin. Her stomach did cartwheels followed by a few back flips. Dangerous.
"Let me go," she hissed as reality returned. She gave a swift shove at his well-defined pectorals, rushing to get past, to escape from this distraction and the possibility of being caught. Her head whipped around at the sound of a splash and water droplets from behind. Gorgeous was just breaking the surface of the pool. Had she pushed him that hard?
"Oops." No time for apologies. He looked like the forgiving type. She had to blow this joint before the Pool Nazi came back. Grabbing her fallen sarong, she ran across the deck to hustle inside the luxury hotel.
The manager stood sentry near the front door. A crowd appeared at her back making that way impossible. The stairwell to the left would have to do. She'd go up a few floors then down to the side entrance. She wrapped her sarong around her as she carried out her plan to avoid being seen ... and caught.
Meg should stop coming here to use the pool: this proved it. Sneaking in was adding to her already hellish life but swimming always helped work out the stress and the pool here was more accessible than any other on the strip. Pretending she had money to stay in a place like this, rubbing elbows with all the beautiful people, yeah, that got her through too. She'd learned the best times to come and not be seen. Well, for the most part. It was well worth the risk to get away from her dump of a room and its enchanting neighborhood. She'd leave this all behind her soon. She kept telling herself that. Had to believe it for her own sanity.
Footsteps behind her pushed those thoughts away. Her bare feet padded silently along the lushly carpeted hallway. Heart racing, she ducked into the ice machine alcove, her sigh echoing in the silence. She glanced down. Her bag? She must have dropped it as she rushed off. How had she not realized? It couldn't have been the threat of being arrested. Or the crooked smile of the handsome stranger she'd kissed. The one with the kind eyes and gentle hands. No, she couldn't allow herself to be led astray by a pretty face. Not again.
She continued down the hall, her trip cut short when someone grabbed her by the arm and spun her around.
* * *
Christopher Martin Shaunessy broke the surface of the pool and shook the water from his hair, spluttering, "What the hell ...?"
The thin, shapely brunette sprinted out of the pool area, and he narrowed his eyes at her strange game of Peek-a-Boo. She'd kissed him passionately one second, yelled at him the next, then shoved him in the pool. The kissing part he'd liked, but he usually preferred to take a woman out on a date, or at the very least know her name, before he kissed her. Although technically she had kissed him.
Her bag floated nearby as he sloshed through the water to get out. Picking it up, he let it drip on the way to his deck chair. He dried himself off with a fluffy hotel towel then used it to prevent any more leakage from the bag. Now which way had she gone? Her room key was most likely in her bag so no need to hurry.
He glanced in the direction of Salazar Moreno, the reason he'd come to this hotel. It seemed Moreno had concluded his business. More reason to follow the brunette.
When he entered the lobby she was disappearing into the stairwell. Javier, the day manager was following, a frown on his face. What was his problem with the pretty lady? Had she pushed him in the pool, too?
The sound of the third floor door opening above him echoed through the stairwell. Nice. His suite was on that floor. She'd be a sweet-looking distraction while he was here ... or would she? She'd almost made him forget his goal by the pool.
When shouts echoed down the hallway, he increased his pace. The little spitfire struggled against Javier's tight grip as he growled at her.
"That's it, young lady, you've been warned before. The pool and other amenities of this hotel are only for paying guests. This time I'm calling the police. You'll be charged with trespassing."
Long hair whipped around her head as she resisted. A look of panic crossed her face at the threat. "Let me go! Please." She yanked frantically, trying to break his hold on her as the manager dragged her down the hall away from Chris.
It wasn't any of his business, still curiosity gnawed at him. Manhandling women was high on his list of things he hated. He'd been raised to always respect and assist a lady, had it drilled into him. Plus, if she was taken away he might never find out why she kissed him. He never could resist a damsel in distress--and right now she looked quite distressed.
He picked up the pace, nearly reaching them as the woman gave one good yank, launching herself right into his path. He reached up to steady her shoulders.
"There you are, sweetheart," he crooned, noting the desperation in her eyes. "Did you forget your key again? You left your bag by the pool."
Javier's protest died when he noticed who was holding her.
"Oh, Mr. Martin, I didn't know ... uh, didn't realize ... This young lady ... she's uh ..."
Chris gently pulled her to his shoulder, smirking. "Yes, she is feisty. Thanks for bringing her back to our room."
"Of course, of course." The manager practically drooled, but his face tightened. He wouldn't argue with a VIP customer even if he didn't buy their act. "If there's anything else I can do for you, let me know."
"Sure thing." Chris guided the now grinning young lady the few steps to his door. She pulled back slightly, her eyes wide. When she glanced back at the glaring manager, who hadn't moved a foot, she threw him an innocent look, sighed then went in with Chris. As soon as the door closed behind them she pulled away.
Walking across the room, her eyes lit up. Yeah, this place rocked--no denying it. Top-dollar suite. Good thing he wasn't paying for it, especially for the amount of time he expected to stay here.
"Nice." She stuck her head past the sliding door to the living room balcony. "This must have cost a chunk of change."
He stared at her. His expression probably gave away his amusement as well as his confusion. She half rolled her eyes and said, "By the way, thanks."
He gave a small shrug. "You looked like a damsel in distress. Couldn't resist."
Her eyes rose as her lip curled up on one side. "I guess you're wondering what that was all about, huh?"
"Well." She moved around the room, running her hand over the expensive furniture, brazenly checking things out, checking him out. "I work around the corner, so sometimes I come by to use the pool. Unfortunately, management takes a dim view of freeloaders."
She passed through the kitchen area, opened the fridge, an expression of longing crossing her face. Reading the clock on the microwave she whipped around to face him again. "Damn, I didn't realize it was this late. There's no way I can get back, take a shower, and get to work on time. My boss is going to dock my pay for sure."
She picked up her drenched bag, peering inside. "And I don't even have anything to wear. I can hardly go prancing around the streets in just my bathing suit."
Chris didn't mind women prancing in bathing suits but now she was partially covered by some fabric thing. He recalled her suit was modest, boy-cut shorts and a tank-like top. A little of the stretchy blue fabric covering her nice figure peeked out. Conservative compared to some of the skimpy stuff he'd seen since he'd been here. Was she uncomfortable walking around with it on? He'd seen plenty of women in less material openly welcoming others to look. Was she like that? She had kissed him by the pool so she wasn't shy.
Her lips turned down as she pulled a pair of flip flops out of her soggy bag and tossed them on the floor. Sliding her feet inside, she slung her bag on her shoulder then walked toward the door. As she passed by the wall mirror she caught sight of herself in it and stopped. She raised a hand to her unruly, sun-kissed locks and gave a cry of horror.
"Oh, man, I'll be lucky if I get paid at all tonight with the way I look." She turned to face him. He'd never complain about her appearance. She was hot. Should he tell her she looked fine? He was about to when she gave him a genuine smile. "Thanks again. Sorry I bothered you."
"Hey," he called out as she approached the door to the hall. "Why don't you take a shower here, or at least straighten up in the bathroom? It would give more credit to our story."
He wasn't sure if he made the offer because she seemed lost or because there was something else, something about her that stirred his interest. He wanted to know more and if she walked out now, he never would. Never could resist a puzzle.
"He's going to know anyway with what I'm wearing." She glanced down at the thin sarong draped diagonally across her torso.
"Can you use that as a skirt? I can come up with something for a shirt. Why don't you head into the bathroom, and I'll see what I can find."
Her eyes were leery so he added, "It's the least I can do for a damsel. And you can lock yourself in."
She looked around the room, crossed to the door and checked through the peephole, sighing. Was Javier still hanging around out in the hallway? Her gaze darted around, flashed to the clock again, then she sized him up quite thoroughly. He threw her one of his most charming smiles. She placed her hand on her throat and lowered her eyes.
"My boss'll kill me if I get there late," she mumbled. Pressing her lips together she nodded. She grabbed a large brush from her bag and followed his finger pointing to the bathroom through the bedroom. Blushing, she dropped her sarong on the bed as she walked past. "It's still a little damp from being splashed by the pool."
She disappeared into the bathroom, the lock clicked then the sound of water started. He dug through his drawers coming up with a faded, red t-shirt he knew was snug on him. It might be big for her slim figure, but it wasn't something he had a deep attachment to.
He picked up the sarong and walked to the balcony to shake it out, hoping it would dry in the warm, Miami air. The crowded beach and the endless blue expanse of the Atlantic Ocean caught his attention. His time should be spent on the other balcony watching for Salazar Moreno.
Moreno was in charge of a lot in this city. High-priced prostitutes and drugs, even though he still gave the illusion of a successful businessman to the public eye. But new whispers suggested he was getting into guns as well. Guns that had been used to kill cops and federal agents. Chris's priority was to get close to Moreno, finagle his way into a business relationship and get more information on the man. Many of Moreno's business associates stayed at The Ocean Terrace Resort, so this is where Chris needed to be. And it was across the street from the strip where the glitziest nightclubs and restaurants were. Word was that Moreno had his finger in several of them. Clubbing and that crowd could be fun. Enjoy drinks, get his face seen and recognized, potentially have an in with Moreno.
Hearing the bathroom door open, he walked back into the bedroom and the woman poked her head out, chewing on her bottom lip. She looked younger, all cleaned and scrubbed with her hair brushed and secured in a ponytail, but she was hardly a teenager.
"Is that dry?" she asked pointing to the fabric in his hands.
"Yeah, just needed a few minutes in the sun. Here's a t-shirt for you. Hope that's good enough."
Her small voice was surprising considering her brazen actions earlier with both him and the manager. Was she suspicious of him? Helping her was hardly a big deal. His army buddies loved to kid him about his hero complex. He'd admit he had a weakness for the underdog. Unfortunately it sometimes got him in trouble. Would she be trouble?
"I used one of the new hotel toothbrushes," she confessed. "I hope you don't mind." She reached for the two garments and moved back inside the bathroom door.
"Whatever you need."
As the door shut, he grabbed a pair of khaki pants, boxer briefs, and a button-down shirt to slide into while she was busy. It didn't take her long, and she exited the bathroom, the skirt and knotted t-shirt looking like a regular outfit. Her golden-streaked, chestnut hair slid like silk down her back almost to her waist, even in its upswept position.
"Thank you, again." She nodded shyly at him, moving to the door to leave. He quickly followed, stopping her, curious about her ping pong attitude; cheeky one minute, sweet the next?
"Wait. If we're living together, the least you can do is tell me your name," he teased.
She paused, appearing nervous. Did she have a reason to hide her name? Like he did.
Her answer took a moment. "Kate. Kate Harrington."
He stuck out his hand, enclosing hers inside. "Christopher Martin," he said using his alias. "You can call me Chris."
He opened the door catching her surprised look as he followed her into the hallway. "Thought I'd walk you to work. Make sure you don't get into any more trouble."
Her mouth opened and she shook her head. He cut her off before the words could come. "If we leave together, it'll seem like we're just going out for the night. The manager will buy it and you can get a few more free days in the pool."
"Okay." Her words were slow and drawn out. She'd been happy to use him earlier for her own needs but now couldn't wait to get rid of him. Really?
They took the elevator down, and as the doors opened, he slid his arm around her waist. She stiffened, her eyes shooting daggers at him. "Showtime," he whispered and her body relaxed.
The manager, strolling through the expansive lobby, paused and stared as they walked by. They kept their heads together, as if they were only interested in each other. Once outside, Chris was reluctant to let go. Her soft body fit nicely next to his. It had been a while since he'd held something this sweet.
Excerpted from Wild Card Undercover by Kari Lemor. Copyright © 2016 Kari Lemor. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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