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Authors: Candace Havens

She Who Dares, Wins

BOOK: She Who Dares, Wins
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“Would you happen to know a Dr. Douglas?”

“He's a scientist who works at the university. I'm supposed to meet him here, but I don't know what he looks like. I assume he's an older guy, probably with glasses.” Katie glanced around, searching for the man, hoping maybe she'd catch his eye and he'd introduce himself.

A man turned to face Katie. The only thing she saw was the devastating smile, and his azure eyes. For a moment she couldn't breathe. Her heart stopped and heat spread through her lower extremities.

He's freakin' gorgeous.

“He was around earlier this evening, but I think he may have left.” The man smiled at her again then glanced around the pub. “I don't see him. Why did you need him?”

Holy hell on a biscuit. If he smiles one more time like that I might have to jump him right here in the middle of the bar.

Katie was no prude, but it had been a long time since her body responded like this to a man, especially one she didn't know.

If he can do that with a look, imagine what it would be like if he touched me…

Dear Reader,

Have you ever been burned by love so badly that you thought you'd never have another relationship? Most of us have at some point in our lives and that's what I wanted to explore in
She Who Dares, Wins.
We have Katie McClure, a private detective who hasn't had a lot of luck in love. She finds herself falling hard for her client, Professor Macon Douglas, who is a deadly combination of smart, funny and incredibly hot. It's her job to find out who's behind the mysterious incidents that have put Mac's life in danger.

Mac wants Katie, the sexiest bodyguard he's ever seen, and he doesn't care what he has to do to get her. His refusal to take the threats against him seriously drives Katie crazy. Can she save his life before it's too late? Can he convince Katie that he's worth putting all of her past troubles behind her? You'll have to wait and see if she takes him up on his dare to love again.

Please email me at [email protected] and tell me what you think about the book. You can also find me on twitter.com/candacehavens and MySpace, Facebook and Live Journal. I look forward to hearing from you.

Enjoy!

Candace Havens

Candace Havens

SHE WHO DARES, WINS

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Award-winning author and columnist Candace “Candy” Havens lives in Texas with her mostly understanding husband, two children and two dogs, Scoobie and Gizmo. Candy is a nationally syndicated entertainment columnist for FYI Television. She has interviewed just about everyone in Hollywood from George Clooney and Orlando Bloom to Nicole Kidman and Kate Beckinsale. You can hear Candy weekly on The Big 96.3 in the Dallas–Fort Worth Area. Her popular online writer's workshop has more than thirteen hundred students and provides free classes to professional and aspiring writers.

Books by Candace Havens Books by Candace Havens

HARLEQUIN BLAZE

523—TAKE ME IF YOU DARE

I'd like to dedicate this book to Shannon Canard and Rosemary Clement Moore, who are the best friends a girl ever had and share my love for the world of romance.

Prologue

M
ACON BLINKED
several times as the road blurred before him. “I shouldn't have had a pint at the pub,” he whispered as he rubbed the bridge of his nose. But one lager didn't explain the tiredness blanketing him, making it difficult to keep his eyes open.

The dark, curvy road was barely large enough for one car to pass, and for the third time in an hour he wondered about his sanity choosing to drive from London to the country so late at night to visit a greenhouse. The incessant rain didn't help a damn thing. Macon reached to adjust his glasses but only managed to knock them off his nose.

Oh, hell.

Checking the rearview, he made sure no one was behind him before he reached down to grab the glasses.

Slamming them on his face, he glanced back at the road in time to see lights from an oncoming vehicle flash before him. He had no choice but to swerve.

His car raced over the embankment and into the trees, screeching tires and air bag powder in his eyes the last things he remembered.

1

K
ATIE'S STOMACH FLUTTERED
with nervous energy as her fist tightened around her cell phone. This happened when she opened a new case. The excitement was heightened by her first transatlantic job for the agency, and the fact that she had no idea what lay ahead. The London taxi zipped away from the curb at Heathrow and into traffic. If she hadn't been holding the handle she would have been tossed to the other side of the seat.

Eventually they reached the city center and the driver called out, “Piccadilly Square” in an accent so heavy she could barely understand him. She nodded and stared down at her phone. Her boss and best friend at Stonegate Investigative Agency, Mariska, had emailed several files about their new client.

Unfortunately just as she'd been about to download case notes, Katie's phone had died midflight and she hadn't been able to recharge it thanks to checking the charger in with her bags. She had no idea what the man looked like, or any other information except where she was supposed to meet him.

And I'm already a half hour late.

The professor had been involved in an incident, which was why Katie was in London. Dr. Douglas, an environmental scientist, claimed he'd been run off the road and into a tree. Paint scrapes on his car were the only proof. While there had been alcohol in his system, it had been minimal. The police were tracking the paint, but they didn't have the whole story. The dean at the university where the professor worked wanted to keep the matter quiet, so the accident was being treated as a one-time event.

That wasn't the truth. It was the second time something life-threatening had happened to the professor in the past two weeks.

There had also been some odd phone calls to the dean intimating Douglas should stop his research, and the professor had been mugged the night before the last accident. The dean worried that they were dealing with a radical or worse, a terrorist group, but he didn't want to involve the police unless absolutely necessary.

“That's the high court.” The driver interrupted her thoughts. “Fancy place for fancy folk. There is the museum.” The cabbie continued his tour-guide duties and Katie wondered if it would be rude to pay him to stop talking.

Stop it. It's not his fault you're having a crappy day.

She glanced out the window so it at least looked as if she were interested, and tried to gather her thoughts.

It seemed from what information Katie had that the dean was concerned about protecting the university's reputation, rather than the safety of Dr. Douglas. Katie felt a little sorry for the old man.

The professor's research was classified by the British
government, which meant Stonegate couldn't come up with much in that regard. Even the dean had refused to discuss it on the phone, telling them Katie would need special clearance once she arrived in London.

Whatever the project might be didn't really matter. Katie's job was to determine if there was a real threat, eliminate it and look after the dotty professor. This whole thing was a personal favor to the dean, who had been a dear friend of the mother of Katie's boss and best friend, Mariska.

If Katie had had her way, she would have avoided the trip and sent the case straight to Scotland Yard where it belonged, but the decision wasn't hers.

The taxi stopped on a brick-lined street in front of a pub straight out of a Dickens tale. Katie glanced at the meter and was shocked to see how much it was. Didn't matter where in the world you were, cabs were expensive. She tossed some pound notes to the driver and stepped out with her small rolling suitcase and laptop bag.

The Seven Stars, the pub where she was to meet the professor, looked exactly like what she thought an English pub would from the outside—dark wood with brass. It had an old-world feel. Rolling her case through the door, with her laptop bag on her shoulder, she stood there for a moment allowing her eyes to adjust. The smell of beer and food was comforting in a way, and she let herself relax for a few seconds while she surveyed the room.

She was a detective—she should be able to spot one dotty old professor.

It was seven-thirty and the place was crowded with people. She had wanted to meet the professor and the
dean at the university, but Dr. Douglas had insisted on the pub. The place did have a familiarity about it, reminding her of her mom and dad's bar back in the Bronx.

The only things missing were her were nosy, boisterous brothers and her adorable Grandpa Joe behind the bar telling his stories about walking the beat years ago. He was the family member she missed most. GJ, as she called him, was the only sane one in the bunch, and he insisted Katie follow her dreams no matter where they led her.

GJ, a former cop, had been the one to help her get into the academy back in the Bronx. He'd pushed her to be a detective, even when everyone else in her family thought it was a ludicrous idea. They believed she should settle down and have babies with Jay Spiloli.

Ugh.
Remembering Jay made her gut churn with nastiness. She'd dated him for a couple of weeks, only to learn he'd been cheating on her the whole time with Missy Ringovitz. The night she found out, she made her brothers lock her in her room so she couldn't kill Jay. Her only satisfaction came the next day when she saw his face had taken a beating, probably due to her brothers' fists. Though they would never tell her the truth about it.

It didn't matter. Having babies with Jay was so not in the cards for her. She'd followed her grandpa's advice, and three years as a detective had prepared her for this job of a lifetime working at Stonegate, where she traveled the world solving cases.

She glanced around the room, but didn't see any dotty-looking prof types. Most of the people there were in their mid-thirties and wore three-piece suits. Even the
women had donned heels with suits. A bunch of Wall Street types, only she was on the wrong continent.

Bartenders tend to know everything going on in their establishments. I might as well start there.

Katie headed for the intricately carved bar, which wasn't easy in the crowd with her laptop and suitcase in tow.

“Hey, would you happen to know a Dr. Douglas?” Katie maneuvered her suitcase between the bar stools. The bartender delivered a pint to the man next to her and looked up.

“I know a few, lass. It's a common name 'round here.”

Well, hell.

“He's a scientist and works at the university. I'm supposed to meet him here, but I don't know what he looks like. I assume he's an older guy, probably with glasses.” She glanced around searching for the man, hoping maybe she'd catch his eye and he'd introduce himself.

The bartender nodded. “Ah, I see.” He moved in front of the man with the pint. “Don't suppose you've seen the doc?”

The man turned to face Katie. The only thing she saw for a few seconds was the devastating smile and his azure eyes. She couldn't breathe. Her heart stopped and heat spread through her lower extremities.

He's freakin' gorgeous.

“He was around earlier this evening, but I think he may have left.” The hunk of hotness smiled at her again, then glanced around the pub. “I don't see him. Why did you need him?”

Holy hell on a biscuit. If he smiles like that again
I might have to jump him right here in the middle of the bar.

Katie was no prude, but it had been a long time since her body had responded like that to a man, especially one she didn't know.

If he can do that with a look, imagine what it would be like if he touched me.

Her body quivered with the very thought of it.

When his right eyebrow rose, she realized she was supposed to say something. His words finally penetrated her sex-addled brain. “Wh-what? Oh—I…” she stammered. “I was only—” she checked her watch “—a half hour late. It took me forever to get through customs. So you know the professor?”

The hottie leaned an elbow against the bar. “I know of him.”

Katie chewed on her lip. “Hmm. Well, I guess I'll have to find him at the university.”

“I wouldn't bother. I'm sure he's headed home to bed. It is almost eight,” he said as he looked at his watch.

The bartender grunted at that.

Katie deflated as she sat down on the stool next to the man. “I'm not surprised. It's been that kind of day for me.” She'd almost missed her flight because of car trouble, her phone wasn't working right and she'd missed the meeting with the professor.

“Sounds to me like you could use one of these.” The bartender set a pint in front of her.

“He's right, you know.” The handsome man waved a hand toward the beer. “Nothing like a good pint to set the world right again.”

Katie worried about the professor's safety, but she didn't have any private contact info for him or the dean.
All she had were the numbers for the university. Hopefully the old man had made it home safely.

She might as well have a drink and then head to the hotel so she could start fresh in the morning. She was already feeling the jet lag Mariska had warned her about. Her boss had insisted Katie try to sleep on the plane, but she could never get comfortable. A beer would help her relax and then she could get a good night's rest.

“What the heck.” She held up her glass. “Cheers.”

 

T
HE SMOKY VOICE
and New York accent were at odds with the petite brunette at Macon's side. He had a difficult time believing this woman was Katie McClure, the bodyguard sent to protect him. He was an ass for not confessing his identity, but he wanted to have a little fun. If she were as good at her job as the dean said, she'd figure it out eventually.

“I must be tired.” She laughed. “I just realized you're American. I'd say somewhere on the West Coast.”

He liked the deep throaty laugh, and she had the most beautiful chocolate eyes framed by long lashes. There was something in those eyes, a slight hardness, that told him she'd seen more than most people, but she looked far too young for that.

“You're right. That's quite an ear you have,” he said.

“I don't know about that. I'm having the toughest time understanding people here, which makes me feel like an idiot, since we speak the same language.”

Macon laughed. “You get used to it eventually. I'm a surfer boy from Laguna, and I even picked up a few of the phrases. Caught myself saying ‘bloody hell' the
other day. And like America there are different types of accents. Some are easier to understand than others.”

“The Bronx where I grew up is a melting pot of accents and you never know what you might get when you say hello to someone.”

He liked this woman. Beyond the fact that she was gorgeous, her no-nonsense attitude and directness were refreshing.

“Well, fellow American. Don't suppose you'd let me buy you dinner?” Macon surprised himself with the question. The words had burst out of his mouth before he could stop them. He couldn't remember the last time he'd asked a woman out.

Her eyes flashed with surprise, and he expected a quick no.

She gave him the once-over. “I could eat.” She sniffed the air. “And if the food is half as good as it smells, I'm in.”

“Timothy, looks like we'll need some menus. And perhaps a table,” Macon told the bartender.

Mac had rolled up his sleeves earlier in the evening, and when Katie put a hand on his arm, the skin-to-skin contact sent his libido into overdrive.

“Nah, I'm good sitting here at the bar.” She gave him a quick smile. “Done it most of my life.”

“Oh, really. I didn't take you for the AA type.”

“You're a funny one.” She smirked. “GJ, my grandpa, and my parents own a pub in the Bronx populated by their friends who are all cops. So I spent a lot of time there doing my homework at the bar or at one of the tables in the back.”

That explained why she'd gone into law enforcement. She still didn't fit the big Amazon image he had in his
head of the security agent sent to protect him. She was more ballerina than bodyguard.

Timothy handed them each a menu. Macon didn't need to look at it, as he'd been eating there most nights for the past four years. It was close to his apartment and he was a big fan of the food.

She slipped off her jacket and he glimpsed her nearly perfect figure—a petite goddess in one amazing package. His body tightened with need and he had to think of nice cold showers in order to avoid her seeing just how happy he was to meet her.

He watched as she perused the menu. “If you like a good steak, they know how to do it right and the Caesar salad is one of my favorites,” he offered.

“That'll work for me.” She handed the menu back to the bartender as he took their order.

“This place was pretty crowded earlier. Where did everyone go?” She twirled around on the bar stool, their knees rubbing together for a second, and again his body reacted. What was it about her? The scientist in him wondered about pheromones, but he forced himself to push those thoughts aside so he could answer her questions.

“Most of them work at the high court—barristers and clerks, and maybe a few judges. Everybody will have gone home to their families. In about an hour there will be an influx of partiers out for a good time. The crowd changes and it gets louder as the night goes on.”

She shook her head. “It really does feel like home—almost makes me miss it.”

“Almost?” From the way she said it, he could tell she had mixed feelings.

“Like most people, I have some family baggage.” She
blew out a breath. “I'm Katie, by the way.” She stuck out a hand for him to shake.

“I'm M—” He'd almost said Macon. “Mac, that's what my friends call me.”

The bartender grunted again as he put their salads on the bar.

“Wow! Now, that's a salad.” She laughed at the sight of the large bowl filled to the brim with vegetables. The sound of her laugh was like a warm blanket wrapped around him—a warm sexy blanket.

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