Authors: Kerry Connor
. “The same as ever.”
Jess sighed. “Fine. You can stay.”
A trace of amusement flickered across his face. “I never
thought leaving was an option.”
Jess grimaced. She was being rude. It wasn’t his fault Felicity
hadn’t told her he would be there. It was his fault he was a
kept man, but not that she hadn’t had any advanced warning.
He’d probably more than paid for his keep by now. “You’re
right. I’m sorry. This is your home, not mine. I’ll stay
out of your way, and I hope you’ll do the same in return.”
He appeared distinctly amused. “That doesn’t sound very
“I’m afraid I didn’t come here to socialize. I
don’t know how much Felicity told you, but I’m here to
work. I’m working on a book and I only have a month left to
finish it. I’m going to need every day of that.”
“And I am here to help you in whatever way I can.”
“I’m really not interested—”
“Do you really want to cook for yourself? Worry about shopping?
Take care of the mundane aspects of day-to-day life? The dishes? The
Jess frowned at his words. She hadn’t even thought about any of
that, she’d been so intent on getting here and starting on the
manuscript right away. He was right. She didn’t want to have to
deal with any of that. If she got consumed in her work, chances were
she’d even forget to eat, and given the state she’d left
her apartment in New York in, housekeeping wasn’t high on her
to-do list either. Was it possible Felicity’s surprise wasn’t
such a bad one after all?
“I do everything. I’m here to wait on you.”
“Let me guess. Hand and foot?”
He gave her a flash of those brilliant teeth. “And everywhere
She tried not to notice how the dimple carved in his left cheek made
him look even more impossibly sexy. “Let’s get one thing
straight, Charlie. No funny business.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” he said, utterly serious.
As though someone had taken an eraser to it, his face was wiped clean
of every trace of humor and innuendo. The eyes that stared back were
solemn. Her reaction to them was no less devastating.
“I’m here to give you want, not what you don’t.”
And suddenly Jess wasn’t at all sure she knew the difference.
He knew within seconds of opening the front door that the apartment
was empty. An utter stillness hung over the flat, a sense of
abandonment. No one had been here for days.
She wasn’t home.
Thomason returned his weapon to the shoulder holster inside his
jacket before stepping into the apartment. He wouldn’t be
needing it. Not now. Not yet.
A quick check of the apartment’s rooms verified what he already
knew. There were signs that she had left in a hurry. The drawers in
her bedroom dresser were only half-shut. Clothes were strewn
haphazardly across her bed. A few dishes remained in the sink. He
sensed she was not the most diligent housekeeper under normal
circumstances, but there was a particular quality about this chaos
that indicated a hasty departure.
He briefly considered the possibility that she knew he was coming,
then dismissed the idea as unlikely. Not that it mattered either way.
She could not escape him.
The papers on her desk were in a similar state of disarray as the
rest of the flat. He found nothing among them to indicate where she
had gone. The rest of the room proved similarly unrevealing. Whether
or not she had tried to cover her tracks, she had done a thorough job
of it. Fortunately, there were other ways of locating her. No one
could completely disappear, especially if, as he suspected, she
wasn’t trying to. There would be a trail somewhere.
Transportation tickets. Credit card charges. He had the resources to
track her down wherever she had gone.
He felt the anger simmering within him and held it at bay. He’d
been so certain his quest would come to an end here, this night. Only
to find the woman had eluded him.
He swallowed his rage, used it to fuel his determination as it had
for the last long year. Her exodus had granted her a brief reprieve,
nothing more. It would not be long now.
He would find her. She would give him what he wanted.
And then she would die.
“YOUR GODMOTHER IS GREAT.”
The connection on her cell phone wasn’t strong, and Jess heard
some crackling on the line. Miranda’s laughter came across loud
“She’s devious, is what she is.”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing. Cinderella should
have been so lucky.”
“Believe me, this is no fairy tale. Although it is as bizarre
“So tell me about him. Is he gorgeous?”
Jess might have rolled her eyes, but it was impossible to keep her
eyelids open when she was sitting up to her neck in a tub full of
blissfully hot water and fragrant bath oils. She was having a hard
enough time holding onto the phone and keeping her head above water.
She settled for a smile. “No, he’s the world’s
first fat and balding gigolo.”
In spite of herself, a crystal clear image of the man in question
rose in her mind. That face. That incredible body. That smile. “He
makes Brad Pitt look like the elephant man,” she admitted.
“Hmmm…Brad’s never really been my style.”
“Missing the point. Of course he’s gorgeous. Given his
occupation, what would you expect?” She frowned to herself.
“Does it really count as an occupation?”
“I’m sure he earns every penny.”
Jess grimaced. “Not for the next few weeks, he won’t.”
Miranda’s sigh came through despite the crackling. “Not
for the first time, a good man is completely wasted on you.”
“Somehow I don’t think ‘good’ is the right
word to describe Charlie.”
“Great. Bad is even better.”
“Mir, the guy is a distraction I don’t need.”
Her friend snorted. “Oh, poor you. I’m working on the
most boring story ever conceived and am getting absolutely nowhere
finding anyone to talk to me about it. I also can’t remember
the last time I had a date, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t
in this decade. If you expect me to feel sorry for you because you’re
sitting in a mansion with a half-naked man wanting to jump your
bones, you’re talking to the wrong person.”
“It’s not really a mansion.”
“Oh, then of course I feel sorry for you.”
Jess had to smile. “Point taken.”
“What’s the big deal? I’ve known you a long time,
Jess. I’ve never known you to act like a nun, unless you’ve
made some unfortunate lifestyle changes since I saw you last.”
“Not quite.” She had been living a little too much like a
nun for the last year, mostly because she’d been sequestered in
her apartment for much of that time. Heck, under any other
circumstances, she might be desperate enough to take advantage of
what Charlie had to offer. “But that doesn’t mean I’m
going to resort to sleeping with my sixty-year-old godmother’s
“You’re not related by blood, right? So it’s not
“It’s plenty creepy. Sleeping with a guy who’s been
in Felicity’s bed, let alone one she keeps on retainer to be
there, is the very definition of creepy. Besides, I love Felicity,
but there’s something really impersonal and soulless about
having sex with some guy who’s really not into you.”
“I thought you said he was flirting with you. How do you know
he’s not into you?”
“Please. It’s his job. He can probably turn on the charm
as easily as flipping a switch.”
Miranda groaned. “I give up. Fine. Don’t sleep with the
gorgeous man. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the
aesthetic value of having him around. Enjoy the view, get rid of some
of those nerves that are holding you back from writing the book.
Whatever. Just stop rubbing it in for those of us who barely remember
what a naked man looks like anymore.”
“They still look pretty damn good where I’m sitting.”
“OK, that’s it. I officially hate you. Thankfully, I have
to get back to work now.”
Jess could hear the excited buzz of the newsroom in the background,
the atmosphere typically charged with energy and a frantic pace. She
could picture the scene in her head, and felt an unexpected pang of
longing. She wasn’t used to luxurious bubble baths and
half-naked manservants or inactivity of any kind. What she wouldn’t
give to be back in the thick of things, right in the heart of the
action, covering a story on the far side of the world. Miranda was
only in D.C., but even that would be good enough at the moment.
She knew what Miranda would say if Jess told her she wished they
could exchange places. She really must be out of her mind.
“I’ll let you go then,” she said on a sigh.
“Good. And stop calling me to gloat. Just kick back, enjoy the
eye candy, and finish that book. I can’t wait to read it.”
You’re not the only one
, Jess thought as she ended the
There are a lot of people on that list. Me most of all
She let the phone fall from her fingers onto the bathmat beside the
tub. Closing her eyes, she sank back and immersed herself completely
in the water, leaving only her nose poking above the surface. The tub
was big enough for four people, a fact Jess was choosing to ignore.
She didn’t even want to think about what might have taken place
in it. But the size made it easy to stretch out and lose herself in
Her body felt weightless, the sensation a welcome one. She couldn’t
hear anything, couldn’t feel anything but the undulations of
the water washing over her body. It was so easy to block out the rest
of the world and forget everything she was dealing with. Her
memories. The book. Felicity’s ridiculous scheme. She let it
all go and just let herself float. Her body went limp, and for the
first time in a very long while, she felt herself relax.
The sound of her name was muffled through the bathwater. It was still
shockingly loud in the silence. Her eyes snapped open. She let out a
little shriek that sounded like gurgling in her ears.
Charlie loomed over the tub, staring down at her with a quizzical
look on his face.
She lurched forward in a seated position, sputtering water. All too
aware that she was completely naked, she grasped for some of the
bubbles to gather around herself. Unaccustomed to the bath salts and
oils, she’d poured them in with a heavy hand, resulting in a
mountain of suds. It was unlikely he could see anything, but she
still felt painfully exposed.
She glared up at him in outrage. “What the hell are you doing?”
He blinked back at her guilelessly, as if unaware he’d done
anything to offend. Only a certain twinkle she caught in his eye told
her he knew otherwise. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to
“Of course you did. Haven’t you heard of knocking?”
“I’ve heard of it. I might even try it one day. Not that
you would have heard me if I had. I was afraid you’d drowned.”
“Well, I haven’t. Goodbye.”
He didn’t take the hint. She should have known better. A smile
touched his lips. “Actually, I thought you might be hungry
after your drive. I brought you some food.”
Only then did she notice the tray he held in his left hand. It bore
an impressive spread of various cheeses and sliced fruit.
“I’m not hungry,” she said automatically, even as
her stomach gave a rumble that echoed in the bathwater.
His mouth twitched in a smile. “Really?”
“Really,” she sighed. “Thank you though. I just
want to crawl into bed and get a good night’s sleep.”
Before tackling the albatross that her book had become.
Frustrated just thinking about it, she settled back in the tub and
waited for him to leave.
“Would you like me to bathe you?”
Her eyes flew open again. A vivid image materialized in her mind of
this man’s hands on her body, soaping up every inch of bare
skin. For a moment, she could see it so clearly it was almost as if
she could feel him touching her.
A jolt of electricity shot through her. She did her best to shake it
off as a sudden chill.
“You don’t lie very well.”
She laughed out loud at his bald-faced lie. “I know a few
government bureaucrats, tribal leaders, embassy personnel and various
disreputable types who’d beg to differ with you.”
He’d set tray aside and had braced his elbows on the rim of the
tub. It was all she could do not to slide to the far corner away from
him. The tub was so big that he wasn’t all that close, but it
still felt as though he was crowding her. His presence was that
He watched her, his expression inscrutable. “They didn’t
know what to look for.”
“And you do?”
He dipped his head in a solemn nod. “I do,” he said
without modesty. “I know women.”
If that was supposed to help his case, it failed dismally. She
wouldn’t have minded having a lover’s hands working over
her body. But the reminder of exactly who this man was and why he was
here only strengthened her defenses.
“It’s really not necessary.”
“If you only do what’s necessary you’ll never
experience any pleasure or joy at all. Haven’t you ever done
anything unnecessary, Jess? For the pleasure?”
“Who are you, Confucius?” She narrowed her eyes. “I
thought I told you no funny business.”
“I’m not laughing.” He arched a brow. “And
unless I’m mistaken, neither are you.”
It was unlike her, but she didn’t have a comeback for that.
She could feel the warmth emanating from his body and the
unmistakably male scent wafting from his bare skin. It had to be
wreaking havoc with her synapses, because all she could do was stare
dumbly into his remarkably blue eyes. She’d never seen eyes
that color before, like the sky after a storm passed and the sun
broke through. They were that rich, that deep. They were rimmed with
thick lashes that most women would kill for yet looked so masculine