Authors: Kerry Connor
His warm smile only deepened at her confirmation. If she hadn’t
known better, she would have thought he was happy to see her.
“Felicity said you would be coming.”
Her eyebrows shot up. “That’s funny. She didn’t say
you would be waiting.”
He shrugged. “You know Felicity. Let me take your bag.”
Yes, she did know Felicity, Jess thought grimly, which was the one
reason she wasn’t walking away. Finding someone she didn’t
know in her godmother’s home might be cause for alarm under
normal circumstances. Jess had learned long ago never to be surprised
by anything Felicity threw her way. She’d bet a hundred bucks
that when she called Felicity to confirm his story—and she was
going to do that ASAP—Felicity would only trill, “Surprise,
She held up a hand before he could reach for the backpack. “That’s
okay. I think I can handle it. And you are...?”
She waited for him to elaborate. He didn’t, just standing there
She tamped down a burst of impatience. “That tells me your
name, not who you are.”
“I live in the guesthouse. I take care of all of Felicity’s
needs when she’s here.”
Jess eyed him with some unease, hoping against every instinct that
she’d misunderstood the clear innuendo. “And by ‘all,’
A dimple appeared in his left cheek, the mark giving his face an
almost innocent quality that was sharply at odds with the suddenly
salacious gleam that entered his eyes.
Of course he did. Jess couldn’t even feign surprise that
Felicity would have a gigolo on hand. Gigolo? Was that even the right
word? This wasn’t exactly Jess’s area of expertise.
Whatever he was, of course Felicity would have one. It was exactly
what Felicity would do.
A dark suspicion crept into her mind, and it was all Jess could do
not to groan. “I don’t suppose you’re going to be
staying somewhere else while I’m here?”
“Of course not. I’m here at your disposal to service
“You mean ‘serve.’”
He blinked guilelessly. “If you prefer.”
Jess narrowed her eyes on his smiling face. No way in hell that was a
slip of the tongue.
Her hand tightened on the strap of her pack until she thought she
felt a bone snap. “I think I need to give Felicity a call.”
SHE WASN’T WHAT HE’D EXPECTED.
The man calling himself Charlie propped a shoulder against the door
frame and leaned into it. His eyes tracked Jessica Harper as she
paced the patio beside the pool. He’d seen her picture, of
course, a grainy image taken when she was arrested in Brazil. All he
could tell from that tiny square was that the woman pictured looked
bewildered. She was a print and online reporter, so there hadn’t
been many other photographs easily available. For the most part, he’d
been forced to form his own image of her. From all appearances, he’d
He’d thought she would be big and mannish, the type of woman
who’d thrived in a predominantly male world because she was
almost one herself. The type of woman who’d been so deprived of
sexual contact she would be easy to get close to. The type of woman
so starved for male attention of a personal nature she’d fall
at his feet for every morsel he gave her.
That would teach him to give credence to stereotypes. Jess Harper
wasn’t a big woman, couldn’t have been more than five-six
with those boots giving her an extra inch or two. She was small and
slim, clearly no stranger to physical exertion, with her muscular
legs and lean, ropy arms. She had close-cropped brown hair that
barely brushed the nape of her neck, but there was no mistaking her
for a man. She had fine, almost delicate features, and her mouth...
He found himself watching it as she spoke to her aunt, the words
flying a mile a minute. Her lips were wide and full, just short of
pouty. It was a woman’s mouth, the kind practically begging to
She had small, high breasts that strained softly against the fabric
of her T-shirt. She turned to pace in the other direction, giving him
a prime view of her sweetly rounded behind in her shorts.
His gaze lingered longer than it should.
No, she was no man.
That didn’t change who she was or alter his mission one iota.
She was, at best, a thief. At worst, a murderer. She’d left
South America under a cloud of suspicion after the photographer she’d
been working with off and on the last few years was caught in the act
while stealing a priceless emerald from a prominent family in Rio.
Her partner had wound up dead, and the emerald was still at large.
She would still be sitting in a cell until she coughed up the gem if
not for the lack of evidence connecting her to the theft and the
powerful Stateside connections she had to pull strings for her.
She’d quietly slunk home. The case hadn’t been highly
publicized, but word had spread among law enforcement. There were few
countries willing to let her travel freely in them. Her career
effectively ended, she had no choice but to find another career. At
least until she could sell the emerald.
She had to still have it. Considering the number of thefts her
photographer had been connected to, they’d been at their scheme
for a while. She would know to sit on the gem for a while before
trying to sell it, and he would have heard if it, or any cut jewels
resembling it, had come onto the black market. She was biding her
time until it was safe. Years, if necessary.
Unless he took it from her first.
Some may have forgotten about the theft in the last year, but his
employer, the company that had insured the emerald, certainly hadn’t.
He would be well-compensated to get it back for them. It was what
Caleb Carpenter did best. After all, he’d done it so well for
them in the past. Jewels, priceless antiquities, lost artworks. It
didn’t matter what the object was. He could get it back.
By whatever means necessary.
She may not be what he’d expected, but he saw no reason for the
plan to change. She wouldn’t be the first woman he’d
seduced to get her to reveal all of her secrets. He doubted she would
be the last.
He could tell she would be a worthy adversary. Beneath the spark of
desire whenever she’d looked at him, there had been suspicion
as well. She didn’t trust him, and she was a smart woman. He
could see the shrewdness gleaming in her wary eyes.
Little did she know how right she was to be wary.
The real Charlie had been dispatched with ease. Considering what he
did for a living, it came as no surprise that the man would do
anything for a sum, including vacating the premises to allow another
to take his place. It was the perfect guise for Caleb’s
purposes, giving him the ultimate access to the woman.
He watched her pace the length of patio on the other side of the
glass doors. Agitation was written into the tense line of her posture
and every clipped step. He’d made her uncomfortable. He allowed
himself the small bit of satisfaction that knowledge gave him.
Now he only had to hope she didn’t take her bag and leave. He
doubted she would. From what he heard, she needed to work on the book
project she was struggling to finish in time for her deadline in
thirty days. She had no time to make alternate plans at this point.
From the defeated slump of her shoulders, she’d come to the
same conclusion. She wasn’t going anywhere.
He didn’t bother to keep the smile from his mouth.
She was all his.
I should have made that bet with Charlie
, Jess thought. Of
course, since he knew Felicity he would have known better than to
take it. Her godmother had reacted to the call exactly as predicted,
unable to contain her glee at having caught Jess off-guard.
Barely keeping her annoyance in check, Jess gritted her teeth and
said, “Why is he here?”
“He’s the houseboy,” Felicity proclaimed, as though
it was the most natural thing in the world.
Jess glanced back over her shoulder at Charlie. He stood on the other
side of the glass, watching her. “I don’t know if you’ve
noticed, Felicity, but there is nothing boyish about that guy.”
“Well, of course not, darling,” Felicity laughed. “I’m
not into that.”
“So you admit that he’s also your lover.”
“Oh, Jessica.” Felicity clucked her tongue in gentle
censure. “Don’t sound so disapproving. We are consenting
“One of whom is being paid by the other.”
“Nonsense. I don’t pay him. He’s an aspiring actor
who needs a place to live. He’s staying in the guesthouse.”
“And in exchange he ‘services’ you.”
“You make it sound so clinical.”
“Any less clinical and I wouldn’t be able to keep from
“Honestly, Jessica. Why is it that an older man can have a
younger companion, yet a woman can’t?”
“I didn’t say I approve of that either. All I know is
that I’m not interested in being serviced by your guest.”
“Did he offer? Oh, that dear boy,” Felicity chuckled in a
tone vaguely reminiscent of Joan Collins. The comparison didn’t
end there, especially since Felicity, like Madonna, had taken to
affecting an English accent. It made her feel more continental, she
said. It made her sound more ridiculous, in Jess’s opinion. “I
told him that he works for me, not for you, but that’s just how
he is. So giving.”
Jess had a feeling she knew all too well what it was he wanted to
She pressed a hand to her suddenly throbbing forehead. As a child
growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, Felicity’s occasional
presence in her life had been a window into a far different world
than her own, one exotic and completely foreign to her reality. Once
she’d grown up, she’d understood that Felicity’s
world bore no resemblance to reality as most people knew it. Jess
felt like she’d tumbled headfirst through the looking glass.
“Felicity, I don’t want to be judgmental about the way
you live your life—”
“Too late, dear. And you can’t say anything I haven’t
“But I have no interest in bedding your boy toy. I’m not
here for that. I’m here to work.”
“So? It’s not as though I’m forcing him on you. You
don’t have to take him to bed, though I think you’d be
crazy not to. The man is amazing—”
The older woman released a long-suffering sigh. “Fine. Work if
you want, though I think you’re crazy to. You won’t even
notice he’s there.”
“Felicity, I am neither blind nor dead. Of course I’m
going to notice him.”
That bawdy laugh trilled across the phone line. “Glad to know
you haven’t lost all your feminine instincts. He is quite the
dish, isn’t he?”
“He’s the whole damn place setting,” she grumbled.
“How am I supposed to get any work done with this half-naked
man wandering around the place?”
“Only half-naked? I’m surprised. He must be feeling
modest meeting you for the first time.”
Jess ground her teeth together so hard she was sure she heard one
“Perhaps he can help you. He can inspire you.” There was
a slapping sound, and Jess could picture her aunt clapping her hands
at her own genius. “Oh, that’s perfect. Let him be your
Jess slowly closed her eyes. That was Felicity. As far as she was
concerned, there was no problem in life that couldn’t be solved
with the addition of a man.
“You told me the house would be empty. I can’t believe
you lied to me.”
“I can’t imagine why not. I do it all the time. You know
The woman had a point.
“And this time I didn’t even lie. He lives in the
Jess looked over to where the structure in question sat on the other
side of the pool, a mere hundred meters from the main house. It was
hardly a comforting distance.
“It was a lie of omission.”
“My dear, that is surely the least of the many fibs I’ve
told in my life, and I did it out of love. Now enjoy yourself, dear.
Do everything I would do.”
Jess opened her mouth to respond that she would be doing no such
thing. There was no point. Felicity had already hung up.
Jess sucked in a huge breath and slowly exhaled. She had nobody to
blame for this but herself. She should have known better than to take
Felicity up on her offer. This was exactly the kind of stunt she
The only question was what Jess was going to do now.
If she had any sense, she’d pick up her bag and walk straight
out the front door. That man was a distraction she didn’t need.
She’d already wasted three days on a cross-country drive that
was supposed to have cleared her mind but instead had left her all
too much time to think about everything she didn’t want to. She
needed to get to work.
Which meant she didn’t have time to make a Plan B, let alone
the finances to pay for somewhere else to stay for the next month.
She stared at the pool’s shimmering waters. A gentle breeze
sent a ripple across the tranquil surface. The sun was already
beginning to sink below the treetops, its golden rays spilling across
the patio. God, it was peaceful here. She could feel that same
tranquility she’d experienced earlier falling over her again.
This was what she needed in order to work. This kind of peace.
Besides, she could ignore Charlie. Unlike Felicity, she wasn’t
a woman ruled by her libido. This place was big enough for the two of
them. All she needed to do was hole up somewhere with her laptop and
she’d never see him at all.
She’d just about managed to convince herself when she turned
back around. And started.
He was standing on the other side of the patio doors, leaning against
the wall with his arms crossed over that sculpted chest, watching
her. When their eyes met, he slowly slid the glass door open and