Authors: Ednah Walters,E. B. Walters
Tags: #Romance, #Suspense, #Contemporary, #Adult
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copyright of this work.
This book is a work of fiction. The names characters, places,
and incidents are products of the author’s imagination
and are not to be construed as real.
Any resemblance to any actual events or persons, living or dead,
actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2011 Ednah Walters
All rights reserved.
Edited by Isabel McFarland and May Novack
Cover Design by the Romance Review (TRR) Cover Art Team.
All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced
in any manner whatsoever without permission, except in the case of
brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
publication: July 2011
This book is dedicated to my two sisters,
Joyce and Merab.
You guys are the best.
I love you, guys..
To my ladies at KWCritgroup—Dawn Brown, Teresa Bellow,
Katherine Warwick/Jennifer Laurens/
You guys are amazing. To my beta-readers, Mindy Janicke,
Jowanna Delong Kestner and Christine Warner.
Thanks for last minute tweaks.
To Mike and my wonderful children,
thank you for your unwavering love and support.
You inspire me always.
Love you, guys.
A whisper of a fabric, and a sudden tingling shot up Jade’s spine. Slowly, she turned toward the doorway. She didn’t want to stare, but…good Lord!
A man filled her doorframe, but his eyes, steely gray, fierce, reminiscent of a panther on the prowl, drew all of her attention.
She exhaled, dragged her gaze away from his and gave his large frame a once over. Wide chest, broad shoulders, black polo shirt under a leather jacket and well-worn black jeans—a body built for sin.
“I believe we have an appointment, Professor Fitzgerald.” The words rolled off his sculptured lips and a dimple winked at her from one lean cheek before it disappeared. Nice. Jade’s gaze connected with his narrowed ones and she realized he was waiting for a response.
“Vince Knight, right?” She flushed when his eyebrows shot up. Of course, he was Vince Knight. She’d listened to his voicemail several times today
yesterday. His sinful and sexy voice alone, deep and husky, was unforgettable. It brought to mind silk sheets, intertwined limbs and sweaty bodies.
“Come in, please.” She got off the corner of her desk, where she’d propped her butt.
Get your mind out of the gutter while you’re at it.
She indicated the chair across from hers. “Take a seat.”
Okay, so he was six feet plus of male poster material and she hadn’t had sex in a…year? No, a year and a half if she counted the six months her no-good, sorry-excuse of a husband, now her ex, had been busy taking care of his secretary’s needs rather than hers. Still, that was no excuse to drool.
Despite her pep talk, her gaze stayed on him as he stepped into her office, dwarfing it by his sheer presence. He exuded raw power so overwhelming, Jade decided to put some distance between them. Unfortunately, he chose that moment to run his steely gaze over her green and white, Bohemian-inspired, crinkled peasant skirt.
Jade cringed. Trust her to meet a gorgeous guy when she wasn’t her best. She should have worn one of her new suits and some heels, not her field-trip skirt and flats.
Still, her temperature shot up and her heart picked up tempo. She became conscious of her smaller stature, which was ridiculous. At five-seven, curvy and with parts of her body refusing to be toned down, she wasn’t tiny. When his gaze paused at the bare skin visible above the neckline of her black shirt, Jade’s chin shot up.
Pull yourself together before you send your heart into an overdrive and have an arrhythmia attack.
Her mind and body warred. Her mind, as usual, won. Jade took a deep breath, held it and exhaled slowly.
She made her way behind the desk, sat and crossed her legs. The gorgeous hunk remained standing, his gaze locked on her like a heat-seeking missile. What was he waiting for, and why couldn’t he stop staring?
“You, uh, have a problem with sitting down or is it the chair?” Her gaze shifted to her desk clock then back to him. She smiled to soften her next words. “You have five minutes, then I have to leave. There’s a roomful of art history students waiting for me down the hall.”
A hint of a smile flashed in his eyes as he pulled out the chair and sat. “You haven’t changed one little bit, Jade Fitzgerald.”
Jade frowned. “Have we met before?”
“Yes, we have,” he said, his voice neutral.
Jade tilted her head and contemplated his features. Arrogant arched eyebrows, bold nose and chiseled cheekbones created a face so full of raw determination it mesmerized. His black hair was cut short as though to tame it, but the style didn’t hide the defiant waves at the base of his neck. His eyes and the dimples softening the austere face were familiar. An elusive memory teased her, then disappeared.
“Was it at one of my mother’s parties?” she asked.
“No. We attended the same high school.”
Her worst nightmare.
“That was eons ago.” Her tone came out cool.
Vince nodded. “I know. I was there for a short period, so I’m sure I didn’t leave a lasting impression.”
A memory tickled her mind again. She fought to grasp it as she studied him. His face and intensity reminded her of …who?
“I’m sure that’s not the case. I’m just terrible with faces.” Even as she spoke, an image took hold. He couldn’t possibly be Vinny? The rumor then was he came straight from juvenile detention to her school. After he disappeared, everyone assumed he went right back to the juvee. His tough-guy attitude had made him a magnet for girls. Three months were all he spent in her school, and he scored with half the cheerleading squad. Could have been a rumor, but it had made him a rebel every hormone-driven boy in school wanted to emulate.
How could she have forgotten him? And how could he remember
? Their paths had collided on his first day at school, a humiliating moment she tried to erase from her mental Rolodex. Even worse, it never stopped her from weaving fantasies about him, envying the girls he supposedly seduced in the back seat of his black Trans Am.
Heat spread up Jade’s neck. She tried to cover it with a smile. “I remember you now, Vince. You were something else in high school. What happened? You just disappeared after a few months.”
Vince shrugged. “I needed a change.”
What a change. The rebellious youth was now a man with rippling muscles, a face of sharp angles and planes. His old cocky smile, hinting at dark secrets, was absent, but his eyes still had the power to tug at a heart and pierce a soul.
“So, what can I do for you?” Jade asked, uncrossing her legs and leaning forward.
Vince shifted closer too. “I’m in need of some information.”
“Oh.” She studied him, but the man had a poker face. “On what?”
“Who,” he corrected. “Estelle Fitzgerald.”
Jade stiffened. “My mother? Is she the brief consultation you mentioned in your message?”
“Yes. I’ve been trying to locate her. Left her numerous voice mail messages, but she hasn’t returned any of them. I was hoping you’d help me.”
Jade opened her mouth to answer, but bit her tongue. “What’s this about?”
“Nothing serious,” he said.
Her stomach hollowed out, the same sinking-in-the-stomach feeling she had the first
second time someone asked for her mother’s whereabouts. “Why would you seek me out if it isn’t serious?”
His eyebrow shot up at her steel-over-velvet tone. “I need her input on something. Can you tell me where she is and how I can contact her?”
“I’m sorry, I can’t.”
“Why not?” His eyes narrowed.
Those eyes and ruthlessly controlled expression belonged to a dangerous sort of man, an unpredictable man. She didn’t do unpredictable. “Because you’re the third person to ask about her in the last two weeks.”
“Who were the other two? What did they want?” Vince shifted, the heel of his hands coming to rest on her desk.
want to know?” she shot back, fighting the urge to lean back. “I may only be her daughter, but I’m tired of everyone being vague about why they want to see her.”
“Look here, Jade—”
look here.” She leaned forward. “I’m not going to tell you anything unless you come clean with me. And the more you hedge, the more I’m convinced I have every right to know what’s going on.” He glowered at her and a sliver of apprehension shot up her spine. The man was intimidating when riled, but she wasn’t backing down.
She lifted her brow. “So. Why are you looking for my mother?”
He shot the large sports watch on his wrist an impatient glance. “You don’t have time for a lengthy explanation.”
“Make it brief. I’m sure I can get the gist of—”
“Excuse me, Professor J,” a voice interrupted.
Jade smothered a groan and looked toward the doorway where a young man stood. Shaun Holton, her graduate student. “Yes, Shaun?”
“Sorry to interrupt, but the students are getting restless. Do you want me to cancel the class?”
She needed to know why Vince wanted to see her mother, especially since her mother’s behavior before she left for her trip had been so peculiar.
“No. Just a second.” She stood up and gave Shaun the photocopied revision notes. “Distribute these in class for me. Let them know I’m on my way.” As the grad student took off, Jade turned to find Vince on his feet. Didn’t the man ever smile? He didn’t say much and used movements economically, but he had a presence that was tangible. “I really need to know what’s going on.”
Vince studied her for a few seconds as though pondering his options, before nodding. “An important artifact is missing and your mother might know something about it.”
“What do you mean by ‘might know something about it’?”
“It could be in her possession.”
Could he be any vaguer? “My mother is an avid antique collector. If she has it, it was given to her.”
“Not when the owner has reported it missing.”
Jade blinked in confusion, then her jaw dropped as the implication sunk in. “If you’re implying my mother took it,” a sarcastic titter escaped her, “then you’re mistaken.”
“I don’t make mistakes.”
Her eyes widened. “That’s so arrogant.”
“Just stating a fact. About your mother’s—”
“Slow down, Vince. Do you know who my mother is?” That came out pompous and she was never one to flaunt her family’s wealth or connections, but something about Vince’s attitude rubbed her the wrong way. “Do you know
about my family?”
“Actually, I do.”
But I’m not impressed,
his voice seemed to say.
“Then you’d better get your facts straight, because our lawyers will drag you to court and sue you for slander so fast you’d wish you never walked through that door. Accusing my mother of stealing?” A snicker escaped her. “Please, leave.” She reached for her laptop and notes.
“I haven’t made any accusations…yet.” Jade’s head jerked up at his calm voice. He hadn’t moved an inch and something hot flashed in his eyes. “And who said they were groundless?”
Eyes narrowed, Jade gripped her laptop across her chest and started around the desk. She wanted to toss him out. After a few steps, she paused, her heart hammering, her breathing rapid. Vince Knight’s tough guy attitude might be irritating but the man was too huge and rock-hard to be tossed anywhere.
“I want you to leave,” she said firmly.
“I can’t. Not without getting what I came for.”
“If you’re not out of my office in five seconds, I’m calling the campus security,” she added, eyes narrowing. It would take them at least five minutes to get here, if she was lucky. Knowing how helpless she was only added to her ire. “And if I were you, I’d watch what I say and who—”
“But you’re not me, are you, professor?” Vince interrupted, ticked off with himself for letting her get to him. It wasn’t that bit about her family and lawyers or campus security that rankled. It was her. Everything about Jade Fitzgerald was designed to shock a man’s system. Her voice, low and husky, had the power to make his hair prickle and his gut clench. Her siren scent, subtle but sensual, was a blend of something exotic and flowery. Every time he inhaled, it punched through his defenses with the precision of a sniper.
He shot her a look and caught her smoldering eyes. He thought he had the whole situation figured out.
Meet Jade, get the info on her mother and leave.
Stating that her mother had the missing artifact was a stupid mistake. In his line of business he couldn’t afford stupid mistakes.
No, that wasn’t right. He couldn’t afford them when he used to be an investigative journalist. No more interviewing pompous dictators, traipsing through war-torn hell-holes or chasing drug lord. He’d slammed the door on that life, or so he’d thought. A call from his aunt and a plea for help changed all that. For her, the only blood relative to ever care about what became of him, he’d dropped everything and took the first flight out of Seattle for Los Angeles. Dealing with Jade Fitzgerald wasn’t part of the plan. It was a distraction he didn’t need.
But he knew the drill. Deal with it. Stay uninvolved. Move on.
“What’s it going to be, Vince?” Jade asked, interrupting his thoughts, daring him with her flashing eyes.
Short of keeping her in her office until he got what he wanted, he had no choice but to give in. Clenching his teeth, Vince stepped out of her office and turned to watch her. Her seductive, hip-swaying gait sent heat straight to his groin. He shifted his gaze away from her body.
“I’m not going anywhere without knowing your mother’s whereabouts, Jade.”
“Really?” She tossed her abundant mahogany hair and shot him a disdainful look. “How do you propose to get that information? What are you anyway? A cop? P.I.?” Without waiting for an answer, she turned her back to him and locked her office door. When she started down the hall, he fell in step with her.
It rankled she’d challenged him. Surprised him how she ignored him with such ease too. Women never ignored him. He slid a sideway glance her way. Her hazel eyes were fixed ahead, her lush lips set in an uncompromising pout, pert nose and determined chin stuck in the air.