Authors: Kerry Connor
Then Charlie stepped out onto the deck below, and Jess had no trouble
understanding why Felicity had arranged the office the way it was.
He was still wearing the apron, though not for long. As she watched,
he tugged the strings loose and pulled it off, tossing the square of
She wasn’t virtuous enough not to look when there was a naked
man in front of her. Her gaze automatically went downward. His thick
cock swung low between his thighs, shifting with each movement he
He stood there for a long moment, lifting his arms above his head and
stretching his torso, rolling his head back and forth from shoulder
to shoulder. The sun cast a benevolent glow over him. For some it
might have been unflattering having that uncompromising light shine
on every part of his body, exposing all of his flaws. But he didn’t
have any. All the sun shone down upon were highlights.
Did he know she was watching? He had to know she had a clear view of
the pool from the office. If she didn’t know better she’d
think he was taunting her with his little show, daring her to take as
long of a look as she wanted.
Hell, she didn’t know better. That was probably exactly what he
Part of her knew she should be annoyed. He was manipulating her, and
he’d done enough of that already. A tiny voice in the back of
her head told her to look away.
She didn’t move.
He turned his back to her, exposing his muscled back and firm butt.
Then he bent over, touching his toes with the tips of his fingers,
giving her a prime view of that backside. There was no break in his
tan. He was golden all over. Apparently bare-ass was his natural
state. No surprise there.
She could have stared all day.
She might have, too, except that he abruptly straightened. He got off
to a running start and launched himself into the pool with a smooth
dive that would have done an Olympic swimmer proud. It was a long
pool, and he began to do laps, churning through the water in smooth
strokes. First in one direction, then back again.
She stood there, mesmerized. She wondered if this was something he
did every morning, part of his routine. Naked swimming. While
Felicity watched, no doubt.
The thought returned the frown to her face.
She still couldn’t look away.
SHE WAS WATCHING HIM.
Caleb didn’t have to look to know. He could feel her eyes on
him, the heat of her gaze warmer than the sun hovering overhead. It
tracked him as he made his way the length of the pool, then back
again. He waited for the sense that she’d turned away. It never
He might have breathed a sigh of relief if it wouldn’t mean
inhaling a mouthful of chlorinated water.
He had her again.
His nudity hadn’t been a deliberate choice. He hadn’t
been lying. It appeared that Felicity did prefer to keep Charlie
wearing little to nothing at all times. The real Charlie’s
wardrobe seemed to be made up mainly of Speedos, thongs, and various
other garments destined to get lodged in a guy’s ass. The idea
of wearing somebody else’s underwear didn’t hold much
appeal. He wasn’t about to put his package in another man’s
gift wrap. Fortunately, going commando had paid off.
He’d miscalculated over breakfast. He’d intended nothing
more than a light flirtation to coax her into taking the very thing
she was resisting. She was a woman who liked a challenge. He
recognized the trait. It was one they shared. So he’d
And it had blown up in his face.
He was going to have to tread more carefully. He needed to get her to
open up to him, to trust him, to confide in him. Pissing her off and
making her run away wouldn’t help his cause.
He did a hundred laps before he sensed she’d turned away. A
brief check of the office window showed that she’d closed the
There was no need to continue the show, but he did an additional
hundred laps anyway. It was part of his daily routine. He normally
swam laps every morning when he could. Taking advantage of the pool
here would be no hardship. In addition to his other responsibilities
it appeared Charlie did an admirable job maintaining the water.
When he was done, he stepped from the pool and retreated to the
guesthouse. He hadn’t checked in with his contact at the
insurance company since Jess’s arrival. It was time to get
Frank up to speed.
“What do you have for me?” his old friend said, direct as
“Nothing yet. She arrived yesterday afternoon.”
“And you haven’t gotten her to confess everything to you
yet? I think you’re slipping.”
“She’s not going to be that easy. She’s smart, and
wary. It’s going to take some time.”
“We don’t have much of that. The da Silvas are pushing
for a check.”
“Give me a week. I’ll find out everything she knows. With
any luck, you should be handing the emerald over to the da Silvas
within seven days.”
“It would be an easier sell if you could give me something.”
“I know, but it’s too early. I went through everything
she brought with her, her notes and photos for the book, but there
wasn’t anything there. I’ll give her computer a crack
“Fine. Keep me informed.”
Caleb hung up the phone and tossed the receiver on the bed. The seven
days he’d asked for had been an overestimate. Despite what she
said, the look in Jess’s eye when she looked at him told him it
would take less to work his way into her confidences. He knew from
She would tell him what she’d done with the emerald.
It was only a matter of time.
Ian Thomason loved New York. He hadn’t had occasion to visit
the city in some time, and under normal conditions, he would be
making the most of his time there. Lunch at the Four Seasons.
Shopping in some of the finest shops anywhere in the world. Though it
had been a few years, he didn’t doubt there were more than a
few female acquaintances who would drop whatever they were doing if
he gave them a call. Some women would do anything to make time with a
wealthy man, and Thomason was certainly that.
Except that the one woman he was looking for in New York was nowhere
to be found.
From the moment he’d left Jessica Harper’s apartment,
he’d been waiting impatiently for word from his contact
regarding any trace of her. By the time his phone finally rang
shortly before three, his patience had long since expired.
The voice on the other end of the line knew better than to waste time
with pleasantries. “She rented a Jeep four days ago from a
rental agency in Manhattan. The desk clerk who handled the rental
wasn’t available, but she rented the Jeep for a full month.”
Thomason stifled an impatient growl. “Hell, she could be
anywhere by now.”
“According to her credit card records, she’s been heading
west. The only activity on the cards has been gas purchases with the
occasional food charge. The last charge to show up on her accounts is
in Nevada yesterday morning. Anything after that hasn’t come
“Does she know anyone on the West Coast she may be going to
“I’m working on a list.”
“I want it by tonight.”
There was a beat of silence. “That won’t be easy—”
“Which is why you’re paid so well. This can’t
Thomason hung up the phone without waiting to see if the other man
agreed. Roderick knew better than to argue. He knew the consequences
of failing to do the job required of him, the same way he knew the
rewards of a job well done. It was the cost of doing business with
Ian Thomason. Thomason wouldn’t be surprised if the other man
called back earlier.
And then Jessica Harper would be his.
JESS HOLED HERSELF UP IN THE OFFICE for the entire day, ignoring the
gentle tap that came on the door around lunchtime, pushing aside the
hunger pangs that made her wish she’d finished that omelet. She
didn’t have time to eat. She didn’t have time for
Charlie. She needed to write.
Nine hours later, she had her laptop on, her notebooks open and
arranged in tidy little piles, and her pens and pencils neatly laid
out on her desk.
She was also ready to chuck all of the above and dive headfirst out
the window. The office was only on the second floor, so the fall
wouldn’t put her out of her misery, but with any luck she’d
shatter a few bones in her hands and arms. Then, at least, she’d
have an excuse for the blank screen in front of her and her inability
to put any words on it.
The change in scenery hadn’t helped one damn bit. Now she was
simply staring blankly at a different set of walls instead of
writing. She was slowly becoming convinced her cursor was mocking her
with its constant prompt for her to enter words that just weren’t
She reread her notes and went over her outline several times. She
experienced the same problem she always did. The stories were
familiar, but even though she knew the memories were hers, it was
like reading about things that had happened to someone else. They may
as well have been someone else’s experiences. After spending a
dozen years telling the stories of millions of people, she just
couldn’t find the words to express her own.
She knew the reason why, too. But delving into that would mean
confronting everything that had happened with Trevor. She wasn’t
ready for that. She wasn’t sure if she ever would be.
The book had been a mistake. She should have seen this coming. But at
the time, what else could she do? Her career was in tatters. She had
to make a living. She had to do something.
Now here she was, a year later, was nothing to show for it but an
advance she couldn’t afford to pay back on a book that would
probably never be written.
Jumping out the window definitely seemed like the way to go.
Finally, the hunger pangs got to be too much. Shutting down her
laptop, she pushed herself out of the chair that seemed to have
molded itself to her body and left the office.
Stretching her arms as she walked, Jess padded down to the kitchen in
search of a snack. The refrigerator in the kitchen had been massive,
so hopefully she could find something to nibble on in there.
She frowned as she stepped off the staircase onto the ground level.
It was completely dark, without a light on in sight. Night had fallen
about an hour ago, and the only illumination came from the lights on
in the pool area outside the patio doors. She would have reached for
the wall switch, but she didn’t see one nearby.
She turned toward the kitchen. There seemed to be a dim glow
emanating from there at least. She followed it down the hallway,
curious in spite of herself. Charlie was up to something. No doubt
about that. A suspicion had already half-formed in her mind by the
time she reached the room.
She’d guessed correctly. Just as he’d done in the
bathroom last night, candles were set up on the kitchen table, along
the counter and the island. Most of them were burnt down about
halfway. He had been waiting for some time.
The man himself was sitting at the counter. The light above the
kitchen sink was the only one in the room that was turned on, and he
was using it to read a newspaper. Jess couldn’t help but smile
when she saw he’d done what she’d asked. He was fully
clothed, though far from covered up. The pale gray T-shirt fit like a
second skin over his chest and biceps, the faded jeans molded to his
thighs and everything in between. She wondered idly if he had any
clothes that didn’t show off his body. Then again, with a body
like that, why would he?
He looked up, his lips already forming that Cheshire grin. He
actually seemed pleased to see her. She almost shook her head. The
man was a great actor. She couldn’t imagine why he wasn’t
already a star.
“Good evening.” His voice was perfectly pleasant, with no
indication that he’d been waiting for her for some time.
Still, if he wanted to play the role, she could do the same. “Indeed.
Sorry to have kept you waiting.”
“I figured you’d show up eventually. We’re working
on your timetable, not mine.”
“I appreciate that. And all the trouble you’ve gone to,”
she added, motioning toward the table he’d set for two. “But
I told you, it’s really not necessary. I just came down for a
“You ate half a breakfast this morning and no lunch. Do you
really think a snack is going to satisfy you?”
The incredible aromas filling the room were already causing her
stomach to clench in anticipation. “Probably not,” she
admitted. “At this point I’m so hungry I’d probably
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
It hit her a second too late what she’d said. An amused twinkle
appeared in his eye. As much as she wanted to think it was a trick of
the light, the telltale twitch of his mouth said otherwise.
Before she had a chance to say anything, Charlie was already rising
from the stool and was waving her toward the table. “Sit. I’d
better get something in your stomach before you pass out.”
Jess glanced at his reading material. “What are you reading?”
,” he said, his voice muffled as he
reached into the oven. “It’s a newspaper for actors. Has
the latest casting notices, open calls, stuff like that.”
“No, but it never hurts to look.”
She sank into a chair at the table. “So you’re an actor?”
“Supposedly. Not that I have anything to show for it. Didn’t
Felicity tell you?”
“No. I kind of guessed, but I wasn’t sure.”
He eased a dish onto the counter. “You guessed?”
“Well, this is Hollywood. I figured, the way you look it would
kind of be a natural fit, wouldn’t it?”
“Makes sense to me,” he said agreeably. “I’m
guessing that kind of deductive reasoning made you a great reporter.”