Authors: Kat Attalla
Books We Love Ltd.
(Electronic Book Publishers)
192 Lakeside Greens Drive
Chestermere, Alberta, T1X 1C2
Copyright 2012 by Kat Attalla
Cover art by: Michelle Lee Copyright 2012
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
Erik Sanders tucked his ponytail under a baseball cap and leaned against the tile wall. The building shook, and the air rumbled as another 767 took off overhead. Travelers crowded the terminal, but only one interested him.
His vantage point afforded him a clear view of all the exits in the baggage claim area. Shortly after Flight 516 landed, the passengers advanced down the concourse and lined up around the baggage carousel. He waited. Patience was his strong suit. That and a gut instinct he relied on more than his partner. He rubbed his hand along his side, where scar tissue marred the flesh. Although the wound had healed, it still twinged with pain during cold weather. His captain ribbed him that he’d gotten old. Erik knew better. He’d gotten careless. He’d ignored the first rule of survival: trust no one, no matter how innocent she appears. Like the Belladonna flower, something beautiful could also be deadly.
As the horde of sun-tanned people circled around, he carefully scanned the mob. Anyone could easily disappear into the crowd. He wished he had a picture, but Becker never used the same courier twice. The surveillance photos from the Cancun airport didn’t help. Erik had to rely on the description called in by a colleague.
Tall, slender, with shoulder-length brown hair.
That could describe half the women returning from Mexico on this cold, November night. A few of them would regret wearing shorts, he thought with a grin.
He remained alert, his gaze sweeping the area before finally resting on one specific passenger. Her face wasn’t particularly striking; although, he supposed she would be attractive if she removed her wire-rimmed glasses. While the first wave of travelers grabbed their bags, she waited off to the side. Dressed conservatively in a knee length, floral print dress and a nondescript blue blazer, he might have missed her if not for the red Anthurium pinned to her jacket lapel. The flower, just unusual enough to stand out, was the signal to Becker.
A well-dressed man at the opposite end of the baggage area began to make his way towards her. Erik drummed his fingers against the wall. Inhaling deeply, he willed his body to remain calm. He waited for the couple to make an exchange before moving in for the arrest. His muscles tensed; the adrenaline rose with his anticipation. Six months of investigating this scumbag would finally pay off. Just a few more steps.
Ten feet away from the woman, Becker stopped, made a sharp about-face, and strode out an exit door. Shit. What happened?
His partner, Agent Daniels, joined him. “What do we do?”
“Nothing for now.” What choice did they have? They couldn’t arrest the man for visiting an airport. Unless they nabbed Becker with the disc in his possession, they didn’t have a case.
“Should we pick up the woman? She might be able to give us something on him.”
Erik’s gaze rested on the lady in question. Full red lips curved downward in an expression of displeasure as she glanced around the baggage area. Did she realize her contact left the terminal?
“If he suspected a set up that would only tip him off. You know how he works. She probably doesn’t even know what he looks like. That’s how he’s escaped arrest for so long. Eventually he’ll go after his disc. All we have to do is keep an eye on her until he shows up again.”
She bent over to lift a suitcase off the carousel. Nice ass, he thought, and one he wouldn’t mind having a piece of in different circumstances. The rest of her body wasn’t bad either. Delicate shoulders, a narrow waist … and those legs. Long, shapely legs that could wrap around a man and draw him in. He loosened his collar. Now, why hadn’t she come off the plane in a pair of short-shorts? The temperature rose despite the cold drafts running through the Vermont airport.
Get a grip, man. She’s involved herself in corporate spying.
Industrial espionage proved a lucrative business in a world of high-tech economies. Why spend millions on Research and Development when greedy or disgruntled employees gave it up for a fraction of the cost?
He returned his attention to the suspect in question. In her modest outfit, she looked more like a librarian than a courier, but he’d learned the hard way that the more beautiful the rose, the sharper the thorn. He could take her in for questioning now. No doubt she would spill her guts to save her rather delectable rear-end. That wouldn’t get them Becker.
“Keep an eye on her. I’ll check in with headquarters and see how they want to proceed.”
* * * *
Victoria Jansen grabbed her last suitcase from the carousel and deposited it on the floor. After a long, crowded flight, she was happy to be on solid ground again. Tight shoes pinched her feet, and jetlag left her physically exhausted. Obviously, she wasn’t going to find a porter or a luggage cart in the crowded airport.
Announcements for outbound flights blared over the scratchy speakers. Her temples throbbed.
What possessed her to return home the Sunday before Thanksgiving? The electronic doors swung open and a blast of cold air rushed in, so she buttoned her jacket. At least she’d enjoyed the warm weather for a few wonderful days. Winter came early and left late in New England.
Victoria glanced up at the blonde in the nurse’s uniform. It took her a few seconds to recognize the woman as the same brunette she’d shared brunch with in Cancun. Although they’d dined together a few times, more often than not, Victoria ended up returning to the hotel alone when Elaine would invariably take off for a local nightclub with an irresistible man.
“I didn’t know you were a nurse,” Victoria said.
“I’m not. My boyfriend, Eddie, likes to play hide the thermometer with Nurse Betty, so I figured I’d give him a surprise when I get home.”
Victoria’s cheeks flamed. Elaine lacked any inhibitions, a personality trait Victoria admired. “Whatever makes him happy.”
“All he needs to get happy is consent. He’s a man. Enough said on that subject.” Elaine smiled. “You keep in touch now. Maybe you’ll introduce me to that brother you told me about.”
“You have my card,” Victoria said, although she believed the woman only promised to keep in touch out of politeness. “Oh, and thanks for the flower.”
“No problem. The darned thing makes me sneeze anyway. See ya.” Elaine grabbed her one carry-on bag and disappeared out the door.
Victoria gathered her luggage and moved towards the exit, hoping to find a cab on the pre-holiday weekend. She should have arranged for a limo. She’d planned to until Roger told her to. In fact, she chose the Club Med resort because her condescending colleague, Dr. Roger Canton, remarked that she would probably go on a bird watching expedition for vacation.
Apparently, her coworkers considered her a stodgy, dried-up spinster at thirty-three. So instead of the guided tour she’d planned to take, she booked a single’s weekend at a place notorious for its swinging lifestyle. She got quite an education during her exciting trip. Still, she was glad to be home. Or nearly home, she thought and headed towards the exit.
She took three awkward steps before the heel on her shoe gave way. She teetered forward, over-compensated, and wound up on her backside in a most unladylike position. A groan rumbled in her throat. Great. Just great.
Several people stopped to help, making her embarrassing accident that much more obvious to anyone who might have missed it. Normally, her clumsy mishaps only occurred in the presence of a good looking man. Not that she felt any less foolish now. She dusted herself off and limped outside into the chilly evening air.
Welcome back, Victoria.
* * * *
Erik choked back a roar of laughter. Christ. The woman was a walking disaster. She hobbled along the sidewalk on one broken shoe while she tried to hail a cab. Her dusty clothes and disheveled hair complemented the frustrated expression on her face. When she finally got a yellow taxi to stop, she turned to gather up her things and tripped over her suitcase, spilling the contents of her purse all over the ground. Erik watched the thin, willowy, and totally uncoordinated woman in amusement. Yet, her awkwardness made her so damned appealing. He could almost believe he had the wrong woman. Almost.
“Kind of kills the image of an industrial spy,” Daniels commented with a chuckle. He leaned against the door of the rented Chevy.
“Or one hell of a good cover,” Erik grumbled. He didn’t buy the act. If Becker sensed a set-up at the airport, she might have too.
“Oh, come on, Sanders. Look at her. Do you know any woman who would willingly humiliate herself in public?”
In his experience, women would do just about anything to get what they wanted. Some merely proved more creative than others. Playing the hapless and harried tourist might have fooled him if Becker hadn’t singled her out himself before aborting the mission.
What tipped them off?
“What did the captain say?” Daniels asked.
“Follow her. Find out who she is, where she lives. Johnson and Diggs are on Becker.” He reached for the door and slid into the driver’s seat.
“Maybe they’ll meet up tonight and we can head back to Boston by morning.”
“Not bloody likely.” Erik wanted to get back to Boston more than his partner but he didn’t count on it. Becker wasn’t stupid. He wouldn’t make a move until he knew the lay of the land. Erik shoved his hands into his pockets and reined in his disappointment. He’d hoped to wrap up this case today and begin a much needed vacation.
* * * *
Elaine McMillan strutted into the studio apartment with a bottle of Cristal champagne tucked under her arm. She yanked off the blonde wig and shoved it into the outside compartment of her overnight bag. With a shake of her head, her brown hair settled on her shoulders. Eventually she would get used to the blunt style, or better yet, she would take herself to the best salon in New York City for a makeover. She could afford it soon. Sliding her hand into her uniform pocket, she pulled out the compact disc and grinned at her ticket out of this crappy neighborhood. What were the contents worth to the elusive Mr. Becker? She took all the risk; she deserved more than a lousy grand for her trouble.
She dropped her case on the floor and kicked off her shoes. Mission accomplished. For once, Eddie called it right. He wasn’t good for much … well, except incredible sex. This time, his surprisingly ingenious plan worked. Of course, her ass would be hauled off to the slammer if she got caught, but since he knew the contacts, they were financial partners. If she made enough to leave this hellhole, she didn’t care if she partnered with Satan himself.
Eddie, sprawled across the daybed when she entered, didn’t bother to get up to greet her. He’d taken her for granted one too many times. When their business concluded, he would be history. “How did it go?” he asked.
“Piece of cake,” she said, snapping her fingers. “Champagne?”
“Toss me a brew.”
She shook her head. The man had no class and even less ambition.
“I take it you had no trouble finding a sucker?” he asked.
“Nope.” She popped the top of the champagne and sucked down a long gulp from the bottle. “No trouble at all.”
Easy. Too damned easy. She attributed the queasy feeling in her stomach to jetlag rather than guilt. Victoria Jansen made the perfect pawn. A college professor without an ounce of street smarts. The woman was too naïve to live. Certain people just begged to be victims. Elaine took another swig of the cool bubbly liquid. She finally got a shot at real money. She didn’t need to discover her conscience now.
Someone bought her a ticket to paradise and paid her a grand to return with the disc. It must contain valuable information.
“Hey, babe. You done good.” Eddie rose from the bed, naked and fully erect. Easy money turned him on even more than hot sex. He probably figured he would get both tonight. He took her hand in his, kissed the back, and then lowered it to his rock solid shaft. “We’ve missed you.”
She wasn’t surprised he thought of his penis as a separate person, since it did all the thinking for them. As she fondled the brains of the dynamic duo, she tried to rid herself of the nagging doubts eating away at her.