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Taken by the Con (Harlequin Romantic Suspense) Mass Market Paperback – February 3, 2015
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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."
- Item Weight : 4.8 ounces
- Mass Market Paperback : 288 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0373279086
- ISBN-13 : 978-0373279081
- Dimensions : 4.21 x 0.74 x 6.59 inches
- Publisher : Harlequin Romantic Suspense; Original edition (February 3, 2015)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #6,727,893 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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As an FBI agent, Lucia Huntington is always professional and follows every regulation. While there is an attraction for the man with whom she will be temporarily partnered, she knows it must be ignored. Though David Stone is not an agent and is actually a former criminal known as “Cash”, the agency wants his help in capturing an embezzler. He has been released from prison and may say he is ready to leave his illegal dealings behind, but Lucia has her doubts. Cash wants to prove he can be useful to the FBI, as he could then serve out the rest of his sentence by working with them instead of being locked up again.
Though they have trouble agreeing on almost anything, Lucia and Cash do want the case to show they can be counted on so their futures can be better. Being a woman and a FBI agent is not always a good mix, but Lucia aims to demonstrate she is capable of doing any assignment. Cash may have committed a crime, but his objective was to aid his son and he wants to stay out of prison so the two can reconnect. He knows gaining her trust is the only way he can remain free, but she does not have faith in him at first. When they are attacked, their responses afterward may provide them with not only answers but also build trust between them.
There are a large number of secrets in the story, and each one plays an important part in the final outcome. The mystery of where the embezzler is hiding and who might be working with him are slowly revealed with some unforeseen surprises. Suspense continues to build because of the many unknowns, and I often did not know in what direction the story was going to turn. Some of the happenings are very emotional, as genuine feelings are repeatedly conveyed. There are also moments that are enlightening since the behavior of different characters exposes their real natures.
C.J. Miller draws the reader into the dangerous world of embezzlement by showing its risky consequences on countless lives. Cash is a hero with whom you will sympathize, as his intentions are always for a good reason. His actions certainly confirm he is an honorable man, and I so wanted others to start believing he has changed his ways. Lucia may appear to have everything going well for her, but looks can be deceiving as she is not happy at work or in her private life. As this couple proceeds with the case, their personal feelings become involved and then quite a few tough choices must be made by each of them. Whether to have a sexual relationship is one big decision that must be reached, because the desire Cash and Lucia feel for the other cannot get much higher without becoming uncontrollable. TAKEN BY THE CON is another engaging romance from the imagination of C.J. Miller.
Received copy from author for a CataRomance review
Lucia is from a wealthy family, one she has never felt she fit into. She has always wanted to be an FBI agent. She was recently transferred from the violent crimes department to white collar crimes and is anxious to prove herself. Working with an ex-con is not her idea of how to do it. He's a criminal and she isn't sure that she can trust him. There's also a very inconvenient attraction that has a tendency to scramble her brain when she's around him.
Cash is the son of a con man, but he never wanted that life for himself. He stayed away from it, found a good woman to marry and had a son. When that son developed a rare cancer, the only thing that might help was an experimental treatment that was very expensive. The only way that he was able to raise the money was by running a con of his own. He was successful and the treatment worked, but Cash got caught and sent to prison. He hasn't seen his son in three years and is desperate to put his life back together and regain custody of his son. When the FBI offered to parole him from prison, on the condition he help them, he accepted. He has to succeed and behave himself, or he could end up back in prison. Working with Lucia is his ticket to freedom. That she is a beautiful and sexy woman is a definite bonus.
There were sparks between Lucia and Cash from the very beginning. Lucia tried hard to bury them, dismayed by the distraction Cash posed. She also can't believe she's attracted to someone like him, so different from the men she's been around before. Getting involved with any coworker is a bad idea, but this one would be wrong on many levels. Cash is also surprised by the attraction, but he's much more open to following up on it. He senses that there's a passionate woman under the layers of rules and regulations.
Working together allows them to combine their strengths and pretty soon they start to make headway in their investigation. A couple of attacks on them have Cash's protective instincts up in arms, and Lucia begins to see Cash as someone she can trust after all. She sees that in spite of past mistakes Cash is a honorable man, intent on doing what is right. Her fears cause her to make a couple of bad decisions regarding Cash, but she quickly sees the error of her ways and moves to correct it. Cash sees that under her surface confidence, Lucia also has vulnerabilities. He sees her need to be accepted for who she is and tries to show her that he does. I loved how her growing relationship with Cash gave her the courage to stand up to her family's attitudes. That was a great scene and I was rooting for her all the way.
The search for the embezzler and attempts to capture him have a building intensity. Cash and Lucia have to go through several layers to get to him. There's a personal link between him and Cash that adds an extra motivation to Cash's desire to catch him. The teamwork between Cash and Lucia was great, especially in their undercover work. I liked seeing how their attraction added authenticity to their roles. The final showdown was pretty intense with a couple very interesting twists to it. One of those twists I never saw coming, and I loved seeing how Lucia handled it.
The wrapup of the story was great. The scene in the FBI office was sweet between Cash and Lucia, and I loved their coworkers' reactions. The last part at Lucia's parents' house was wonderful. I loved seeing the changing relationships, and Cash's son was adorable.