Arms crossed and his shoulder propped against the wall outside the elaborate, corner high-rise office, Trace Rivers considered his options. Having an inside source would shorten his job. As a pseudobodyguard, he hadn't been given the opportunity to uncover shit yet, and he was getting antsy. But if he could turn someone who was privy to the info he needed, then he'd get somewhere.
Murray Coburn was dirty. Trace knew it. Hell, a lot of people knew it. But they couldn't or wouldn't touch the bastard without rock-solid evidence. The legal system had failed.
Trace would find the evidence eventually, though, and then he'd mete out his own form of justice.
Until then he had to contend with the odd assortment of disreputable punks and bullies working for Murray.
He also had to contend with Helene Schumer, better known as Hella name that suited her well. She never missed an opportunity to grope him, to boss him, to make his job more trying than necessary. But as Murray's current paramour, Hell had privileges denied to others.
If Murray uncovered her perfidy, he'd kill her without remorse. That thought didn't bother Trace at all, but Murray would also lose trust in him, and that couldn't happen.
The unsavory idea of using Hell didn't sit well with Trace, but it would be expedient, especially since the lady acted like a nymphomaniac around him.
As she approached now, her intent obvious in the slanting of her eyes and the curve of her painted mouth, Trace did his utmost to ignore her. Luckily he was saved from her assault when the timid receptionist, Alice, approached with a message.
Using the name he'd given for this cover, she said, "Mr. Miller?"
Trace kept his gaze on Hell, but replied, "What is it?"
"There's a woman downstairs asking to see Mr. Coburn. Your presence is requested to see what she wants."
In theatrical fanfare, Hell paused with her feet braced apart, her hands on her rounded hips, her chin at a haughty angle. "A woman? Who the hell is she?"
The receptionist ducked her head. "No idea, ma'am."
"Tell them to keep the woman there until I arrive." Though he could have communicated directly with the staff downstairs, Trace dismissed the young woman to do the chore, to remove her from Hell's wrath. Hell's viciousness was one of the things Murray seemed to enjoy most about her, so he never required her to curb her more cutthroat tendency of mauling the messenger.
"I don't want another woman seeing Murray."
Vicious and territorial. Of course, she had to know that Murray screwed anything in a skirt, with and without consent.
"He's out anyway." The bastard had left two hours ago, and though he'd been favoring Trace as his personal protection, this time he'd taken another man with him.
"Find out who she is and report back to me."
"I don't think so." Everyone in the organization feared Hell, almost as much as they feared Murray. except for Trace; he felt only contemptfor them both.
And maybe that accounted for Hell's constant pursuit, and Murray's apparent regard.
As he started toward the elevator, Hell stepped in his way. In her spiked heels, she stood eye-level to his six-foot height. Her long dark hair hung sleek down her back, her lips and nails painted shiny red. A sheer camisole, stretched tight over her enhanced boobs, was cut low enough to display not only her cleavage but damn near her navel and tucked into a pencil-thin skirt. she looked killer-gorgeous, as always.
Gorgeous, and evil. She stared at his crotch. "How convenient for you, that you're being called away."
God, Trace despised her. "Yeah? How's that?"
As daring as always, she reached out a hand and cupped his balls through his slacks. "I anticipated a private moment with you."
Far from enjoying her touch, Trace didn't trust her not to mutilate him. He grabbed her slender wrist and squeezed the delicate bones. Though he knew he caused her pain, her lips parted and her eyelids went heavy.
She licked her lips and searched his gaze. "If you were naked, I would have my nails in you right now."
Which was a damn good reason not to get naked with her. Trace smiled in triumph. "But not this time, Hell." He removed her arm by squeezing until she gasped and her fingers opened. He tossed her aside. "I have work to do."
On a sigh, he turned back to her. "What?"
"I want you to take me shopping."
"Not in my job description, doll."
"It isif Murray orders it." She rubbed her reddened wrist over her breasts. "And Murray will order anything I want."
Having nothing to say to that, Trace turned away from her and stepped into the elevator. When the doors closed, he let out a breath of relief.
Since he'd infiltrated the organization three weeks ago, posing as a bodyguard, Hell had been the toughest part of maintaining his cover. Eventually he'd have to deal with her. As a medicinal chemist, she supplied any and all drug persuasions that Murray might need for his human trafficking venture. Lackeys captured the women and Murray, the bastard, sold them to the highest bidderafter Hell ensured their compliance through risky drugs.
Trace looked forward to the moment when he'd deal with her.
When it came to annihilating the scourge, he didn't discriminate against women. Helene Schumer had to go; the world would be a better place without her.
Priscilla Patterson simpered and feigned distress as two hulking brutes tried to bully her toward a secluded conference room of the office building. What they intended to do to her there, she couldn't say.
They were not gentle, making her show of defenselessness difficult to maintain. Her arm got twisted; someone pulled at her ponytail, making her gasp.
And then suddenly, a quiet but stern voice spoke up. "Let her go."
Just that easily, she was free. She twisted to find a face to go with that deep voice, and froze. Wow.
Unlike the Neanderthals who'd taken pleasure in manhandling her so roughly, this man looked smooth and debonair and
He strode toward them with a frown that brooked no arguments. Standing easily six feet tall, he was muscular but not overly bulky, clean-cut but not in a too-polished GQ
way. Very fair hair, straight and a little too long, contrasted sharply with the most piercing golden-brown eyes she'd ever seen. He wore khakis and an obviously expensive black T-shirt. She detected the bulk of a Kevlar vest beneath the shirt.
A black-leather shoulder holster held his gun. The belt around his waist carried two extra magazines, a stun gun, baton and mace. His black lace-up steel-toed boots could be deadly.
The man was ready for anything.
But maybe not ready for her.
That bright caramel gaze drifted over both of the hulks with contempt. "I'll handle her from here."
Grumbling, the men moved away.
He took her arm. "come with me."
Priss tried to resist, but he was far more physically persuasivewithout really hurting herthan the other men had been. "Where are we going?"
"Farther away for privacy."
"Oh. Okay." In her flat shoes, she hustled along beside him, feeling very short and suddenly unsure of herself. "You work here?"
He didn't reply but drew her around the corner, shielding her from prying eyes. He, on the other hand, stayed in view, and Priscilla assumed it was so he could keep an eye on the others.
Cautious and suspiciousqualities she appreciated.
He gave her a very slow perusal, from her dark reddish-brown hair in its high ponytail, to her crisp blue blouse and her over-the-knee, old-fashioned skirt, to her flat-heeled Mary Janes.and then back up again. "What are you doing here?"
"Oh." She pretended to be flustered by his direct stare. And truthfully
she was. But only a little. This was too important for her to fudge it.
She hugged her big satchel purse to her chest and said with just the right quaver, "I came to meet Murray Coburn."
She widened her eyes. "Well, that's actually private."
He stood there, waiting, his gaze unflinching, direct.
Ha. He didn't know her fortitude if he thought a little stare-down would discomfort her. Pasting on what she hoped was a winsome smile, Priscilla blinked her eyes at him. "Oh, I should introduce myself." She held out a hand. "I'm Priscilla Patterson."
He looked at her hand, and his left eye twitched.
He didn't touch her.
" She tucked her hand back in close to her body. "Will you please tell Mr. Coburn I'm here?"
"No." And then, striking an exasperated stance, he asked again, "Why do you want to see him?"
When she started to look away, he caught her chin and lifted her face. "I don't have time for this, so stop the coy act."
This time her eyes widened for real. He knew she was acting? But how?
Shaking his head, he released her. "Fine. I'll have the men show you out."
"No, wait." She caught his armand was stunned at the unyielding strength there. It was like grabbing thick rock. "Okay, I'll tell you. But please don't make me leave."
He crossed his arms, which effectively shook off her touch. "I'm listening."
"Murray is my father."
So still that he looked like a stone statue, the man stared at her. Only an infinitesimal narrowing of his eyes showed any reaction at all. "You're fucking with me."
Okay, so coarse language didn't really shock her, not anymore, not at twenty-four when much of her life had been spent on the sordid side of survival. She still gasped. ...