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Authors: Lori Foster

Unexpected

BOOK: Unexpected
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“IS THIS YOUR ROOM OR MINE?”

He didn't answer. The door swung open and Ray was pleasantly surprised to see the room wasn't ritzy at all. In fact, it was almost utilitarian with one full bed, a nightstand, and a dresser with a small television sitting on it. It was clean and neat, but not what she had expected after the first-class airfare.

“Well, you've managed to surprise me, Eli. But I thank you. The room is perfect.” She smiled.

He stepped inside with her and closed the door.

Ray's smile slipped. “Did I misunderstand?”

He shook his head, but leaned on the door as if he fully intended to stay.

“Is this your room and not mine?”

Eli crossed his arms over his chest. “It's your room.”

“Good, that's what I thought.” It wasn't necessary, but she added, “I couldn't imagine you willingly staying in a room this plain. I figured you'd get a suite or something.”

As if she hadn't spoken, he said, “It's also my room.”

More from Lori Foster

 

Too Much Temptation
Never Too Much
Say No to Joe?
The Secret Life of Bryan
When Bruce Met Cyn
Just a Hint—Clint
Jamie
Murphy's Law
Jude's Law
The Watson Brothers
Yule Be Mine

 

 

Anthologies

 

All Through the Night
I Brake for Bad Boys
Bad Boys on Board
I Love Bad Boys
Jingle Bell Rock
Bad Boys to Go
I'm Your Santa
A Very Merry Christmas
When Good Things Happen to Bad Boys
The Night Before Christmas
Star Quality
Perfect for the Beach
Bad Boys in Black Tie
Truth or Dare
Bad Boys of Summer
Delicious

 

 

Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation

UNEXPECTED
LORI FOSTER

ZEBRA BOOKS
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
http://www.kensingtonbooks.com

All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.

Chapter One

S
he'd already signed the contract.

Backing out now would blow her reputation with the agency, and besides, this mission would be a piece of cake. There was no reason to drag her feet. She needed the money, she was free at the moment, and it'd be a routine run, nothing more, nothing less. It'd be easier now than in the past. Everything had changed.

Herself included.

She shook her head at that errant thought. True, she was older now, wiser, more settled. But at the core, she was the same—unacceptable to most, invaluable to others. Her skills, an innate part of her, were still finely honed. She knew what she could do, and damn it, she'd do it. Hell, she'd
missed
doing it.

So why, when she pushed the door open and stared into the dim, smoky room of the bar, was her heart so heavy in her chest? It wasn't the depressing gray cloud that hung thick in the air, not only from cigarettes, but from disgust and ambivalence and antagonism. This was far from a happy place, but then, she'd known it wouldn't be. By necessity, it was an obscure hole in the Chicago slums where meetings like this one, with people like her, could be handled with discretion.

It was stupid to borrow trouble or dwell in indecision. Doing so undermined her credibility, so instead, she'd concentrate on getting this over with fast and easy, with no complications.

She had everything planned out.

Flipping her bangs off her forehead, she strode into the room, ready to get things started.

Several heads turned her way, scrutinizing her, making note of her appearance. Calculating. For much of her life, she'd gotten undue attention for one reason or another, most of the reasons uncomplimentary. She'd long since gotten used to the stares and the whispers. She ignored them all, and with luck, they'd show her the same courtesy.

Peering through the obscuring smoke, she scanned the tables and booths, searching out each darkened corner. Country music blasted through tinny speakers, vying with the boasting and bragging of drunken men. It was the typical atmosphere of a seedy bar. Without thinking, she rubbed her stomach, sick with a rush of vivid memories that never failed to surface.

Then her gaze locked onto his. Wow. The past faded away under the impact of the present—
his
impact. She felt . . . invaded.

Bright hazel eyes, radiant in the otherwise dismal interior, held her captive. She stared at him; he stared back.

Never before had she seen such intense emotion in a man's expression. For a moment, it knocked her off guard. Without moving, he appeared turbulent, frustrated, filled with determination and impatience.

Because of his situation, or because she'd arrived late?

She watched him a moment more, taking his measure. He was bigger than most of the men she knew or had worked with. And he had a more self-assured air. That he'd be trouble she didn't doubt—he pretty much screamed it with a capital T. But how much trouble, that's what she needed to know.

Lounging back in his chair, he allowed her perusal, and even took the time to look her over, too. But then, amazingly enough, he dismissed her by giving his attention back to the entrance of the bar.

Cynical amusement nudged away the lingering nervousness. He hadn't realized her identity? She wasn't what he'd been expecting? Typical. And for a second there, she'd thought he might be more astute than the others.

Anticipating his reaction when she introduced herself, she started toward him. He sat at a solitary table at the far end of the room, his back to the wall so he could face the bar, a rear exit to his right. It was a guarded position she would have chosen, but probably just a coincidence for him.

She wove her way around tables, drunks, and proffered drinks without once taking her eyes off him.

As was her usual habit at such meetings, she'd dressed in plain black clothes. It made it easier to disappear if necessary, and didn't draw added attention that more complimentary clothes might have.

Her long-sleeved tunic hung to midthigh, loosely fitted so it wouldn't impede her movements should she need to take physical control of the surroundings. Her jeans were slim, her low-heeled boots only ankle high. She never wore jewelry—in fact, she didn't own any—but she did carry a black briefcase. The case was an annoyance, but it usually proved necessary to have it handy.

When she stopped in front of him, his gaze came to her face, arrested for only a moment. Then slowly, very slowly, he looked her over again, his attention lingering in certain places like her chest, below her waist, her thighs. His look was so intimate, so personal that it brought on a mélange of sensations—outrage, disgust, and strangely enough, heat. Surely not embarrassment, she told herself. She was too old and far too jaded to be disconcerted by the likes of him.

His visual inspection was appreciative and felt like a tactile touch. Damn it, she didn't like being touched, not without permission.

Her eyes narrowed, prompting him to a softly uttered, reluctant rejection. “Sorry, honey. It's unfortunate, but I'm already busy tonight.”

The nerve. Despite her exceptional control, antagonism bristled to the surface. Her every movement rigid, Ray hooked a chair and drew it out. She seated herself, placing the briefcase at her feet for safekeeping.

He cocked one dark brow upward and braced his forearms on the rough, scarred table. The new position emphasized the width of his shoulders, the brawn of his arms. She'd expected another wimpy, slim
GQ
look-alike, but this man could be a barroom bouncer. He wasn't bulky, just big and hard and solid.

Added to the fine physique were the eyes of a predator, now filled with annoyance. He leaned toward her with a scowl.

“I'm Ray Vereker,” she drawled, stopping him in his tracks. She didn't say anything more, didn't offer her hand in polite greeting. She just waited for the usual signs of disbelief and disparagement.

They were slow in coming.

Rather than gape, he leaned back and studied her anew. If she'd thought his earlier perusal was intimate, it was nothing compared to how he looked at her now. For a lesser person, for someone without her skills and background, it might have been an unnerving process. His eyes were such an unusual shade of hazel, cat eyes, bright with intelligence, almost menacing. They went from heated notice to cool regard.

Deciding to mock his up-close and personal inspection with one of her own, Ray draped one elbow over the back of the chair and slouched down in the seat to get comfortable. Wearing an air of unconcern, she took in his appearance, from his dark brown hair cut in precise lines to his straight, masculine nose and high cheekbones to his mouth, now flattened with irritation at her boldness. He had a stubborn jaw, she noted, proving he'd be plenty of trouble, indeed.

The black tee he wore looked softer than heaven, fitted over that broad chest. Even his open jacket screamed wealth, made of fine leather and deliberately scuffed to appear fashionably worn. The watch on his thick wrist probably cost as much as her truck. Maybe more. And his nails were impeccably clean.

Thanks to the table, she couldn't see below his waist, but she'd be willing to bet the rest of him was as sturdy and strong as what she could see. Maybe it was a good thing half of him was hidden. Half was about all she could take at one time. The man made her heart race.

Though she doubted he'd ever been in such a ramshackle bar in his life,
he
didn't look the least bit ill at ease. Even her presence, which had to be a shocker, hadn't really rattled him.

To be honest with herself, she admitted he was very fine to look at. She appreciated strength and self-control. From what she could tell, he had both in spades.

Not that it mattered. He was still rich, and given what she'd seen so far, too arrogant for his own good. What fool came into such a place and advertised himself as an easy mark? By wearing the watch and the jacket, he'd done exactly that.

He was a fool, all right. And for the next few days, she owed him her service.

As the silence stretched on, Ray sighed and crossed her legs. She knew his tactic. He hoped to remain silent so long that she'd begin to babble nervously. He underestimated her. He could sit in strained silence as long as he wanted. Time was money,
his
money, and she didn't mind wasting it if he didn't.

He looked at her mouth, rubbed his own, then pinned her in place with a laser-sharp gaze. In a flat tone devoid of any telltale emotion, he said, “I requested the meanest son of a bitch they had.”

She gave a slow smile. “I know what you requested. I have your papers with me.”

“And?”

She lifted one shoulder, held up her hands to indicate her presence. “They complied.”

Eyes closed, he pinched the bridge of his nose, muttering under his breath. Ray noticed that his hands were large, sprinkled with brown hair. They looked like capable hands, not the pampered, smooth hands of a rich boy.

Catching herself, she jerked her attention back to his face. He scrutinized her, then asked with some disbelief, “Do you have any idea what it is I want from you?”

“Sure.”

With a touch of disbelief, his gaze slid all over her again, appraising, before both brows lifted. Ray never moved a muscle. He could look a dozen times if it made him feel better. She wouldn't be changing.

“I assumed ‘Ray' would be a man.”

“Assumptions are nasty things. They can get you into trouble.”

He waved that away. “What's your real name?”

“Ray is my real name.”

“Your whole name then.”

“Why does it matter?”

Ray could feel his growing tension deep inside herself. It was an odd sensation, one she'd never experienced before. She half expected an explosion at any minute and braced for it, making herself tense, too.

“I'm wondering,” he said slowly, his unnerving attention on her mouth again, “if there's some feminine nuance I'm missing.”

She smirked. “In me, or my name?”

His gaze snapped back to hers and he barked a laugh. “Honey, despite the hard attitude, your appearance is most definitely
un
manly.”

He said that with . . . interest? No, no way. She was lousy at judging men and their various moods in regard to the whole man/woman thing, but she understood reality very well, thank you. No man in his right mind would be thinking of anything but the mission. Not with her. Not now.

And most definitely not after the mission ended, when her special skills had been revealed.

During her ruminations, the silence grew, and finally, because she had no reason not to, she said, “Ray Jean Vereker. But I go by Ray and only Ray. You're given fair warning right now not to use my middle name, ever.”

Oddly enough, her warning evoked amusement. Oh, he didn't laugh, didn't even smile. But she saw the mischievous twinkle that entered those mysterious eyes. “Yeah? Or what?”

Done with the small talk, with the nonsense, Ray said, “Or I'll walk out and you'll be left to settle for the second meanest son of a bitch there is.”

A reluctant, slightly crooked grin tugged at his mouth, adding to his appeal. “You're really that good?”

Ray didn't hesitate. “I'm really that good.” She waited for his sarcasm, perhaps some outright derision.

Instead, he said, “Will you be offended if I ask for credentials?”

He wasn't dismissing her out of hand? Well . . . that surprised her. Bemused, Ray straightened in her seat. “ 'Course not.” She pulled the briefcase up to the tabletop and with quick, deft movements opened the lock. She extracted the topmost papers and slid them across the table. “I'd think you were an idiot as well as a fool if you didn't.”

He'd been reaching for the papers, but paused with her words. “You want to explain that?”

What the hell? He didn't sound particularly insulted, more like intrigued. They needed to start out on the right foot, and that meant making him understand that if he accepted her, she was the boss and her rules were to be followed.

Her first rule would be to get him out of his fancy clothes and into gear much more suited to their purpose. That thought roused an image of the process, and unfortunately, it stalled at the part where he was out of his clothes, rather than in them. She'd be willing to bet he looked real good naked.

And if she didn't stop thinking that way, things were going to get
way
too complicated.

Clearing her throat, Ray leaned on the table, making certain she had his undivided attention. “We'll be lucky if we get out of here without someone trying to take your wallet or watch or both. And the men in here wouldn't care if you got hurt in the bargain. Not that I'd let it happen,” she assured him. “When you're with me, you'll be safe. Part of my job is to protect you, and as I already said, I'm good at my job.”

“Like my own personal bodyguard, huh?”

His amusement stung. “An astute man adapts to his surroundings. An astute man knows it isn't always necessary to flaunt his position in life. We'll have our hands full without borrowing trouble for reasons of vanity.”

His expression sharpened as the amusement faded away. She'd made him mad. Very mad. It shone in every line of his taut face, the fire in his gaze.

Ray rolled her eyes. He wasted his time trying to intimidate her. Regardless of his good looks, she knew he'd be no different from any other wealthy man. Easy to take, and easier to leave. “Look, Mr. Connors . . .”

He snorted rudely. “You feel comfortable enough with me to throw out insults, so you may as well call me Eli.”

He'd surprised her again. She'd expected a blast of his anger, reciprocal insults, anything other than that calm, dry wit.

Ray didn't like surprises. They were dangerous and could easily lead to trouble. She had to stop thinking she had him figured out. Maybe, just maybe, he
was
unique from the rest.

BOOK: Unexpected
7.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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