Authors: Shayla Black
Tags: #Embezzlement Investigation, #Kidnapping, #Brothers, #Contemporary, #General, #Romance, #Erotic Stories, #Erotic Fiction, #Erotica, #Fiction
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s Imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
The Penguin Putnam Inc. World Wide Web site address is
To Deidre Knight, for always standing by me as an agent and a friend . . . and for the cyber-hankie, good laugh, or swift kick when I needed them. I’ve said it a hundred times—you’re the best!
To Louisa Edwards. Thank you for taking a chance on a book that means so much to me, as well as giving me both your guidance and support along the way. You are a great editor and advocate, and I couldn’t be more thrilled!
woman thought of just one thing when she looked at a man like Rafael Dawson—and it had nothing to do with firewalls and passwords.
Kerry Sullivan watched him prowl into the baggage claim at Tampa’s International Airport with a restless, sexual grace. He looked good enough to eat . . . or at least nibble on for prolonged periods.
Not the most intelligent way to regard the man she had to abduct in the next two minutes.
Grimacing, she tugged down the little black miniskirt Jason had insisted would distract Dawson. Looking at her prey, Kerry feared she would be the one hard-pressed to focus. He was far more devastating than his little black-and-white picture—or his annoyed voice on the phone telling her to seek professional help—had implied. “Nerdy” was the last word she’d use to describe him, not with that wide, sensual mouth and cheekbones that could have been chiseled from a work of art. Damn it, he was supposed to be a techno-geek. Unfortunately for her, she didn’t see a pair of thick glasses or a pocket protector anywhere.
Kerry watched as Dawson retrieved his black hanging bag
from the serpentine carousel and slung it over one wide shoulder. He gripped his laptop case with his other hand and scanned the signs the chauffeurs around her held up.
Now it’s up to me.
The bank hadn’t sent a driver. Kerry had invented one for her purposes and made a sign to lure her quarry. All she had to do was raise it—when she found her nerve.
I am woman. I am strong . . . I am way outta my league!
going to coax a major melt-in-your-mouth hottie like Rafe Dawson, especially if he recognized her voice from their previous . . . misunderstandings? Even if he suspected nothing, she doubted he’d give her a first glance, much less a second. And if he knew she had absolutely no experience with men, she would have two chances of interesting him: slim and none. Already, Slim was packing its bags.
A virgin at twenty-three, she felt like a freak.
Even if he did look at her, couldn’t place her voice, and fell for her plans, what then?
Her brother Mark and the possible prison term in his future forced her to ignore the vise of self-doubt and fear cramping her stomach. Screw what the FBI and her brother’s boss, that tyrant, Mr. Smikins, thought. Mark was innocent. She owed it to him to persuade Dawson to help her prove it. The good news was that she was much more articulate face-to-face than she ever could have been over the phone. The bad news: Rafe was already one pissed-off puppy.
No, she had to put some positive energy into her thoughts. Her plan would enable her to get Dawson’s undivided attention. Then he would understand she’d been right about Mark and not press charges. She hoped. Damn, she was breaking something like ten laws here.
Kerry sighed. Her first instinct had been right: This was a stupid, stupid plan.
But Rafael Dawson had refused to listen to her pleadings during any of her calls. Mr. I-Only-Take-Corporate-Clients had blocked her number, too. Since then, the brainstorm fairy hadn’t gifted her with a brilliant plan, and time was slipping away. This was it.
In a way, Dawson’s abduction was his own fault. If he’d only listened when she called, they could have worked
out! Well, okay . . . a teeny, tiny bit was her fault, too. Being less rattled would have helped, but still . . . His personal assistant screened his calls so thoroughly, Kerry wondered if the woman was a talking Doberman.
The first time he had answered the phone himself, presumably after the rabid canine’s departure for the day, had been the most successful. Of course, he’d accepted the job to shore up Standard National Bank’s electronic security some weeks prior and had assumed she was a bank representative. Once she’d corrected him . . . well, he’d disconnected the call. The next time she called, he’d barely listened. Her coworker’s four-year-old with ADHD stayed tuned in longer. The third time, she’d been smarter. She’d pretended to be calling from another company and asked him if he did any investigative work. He’d covered his list of impressive credentials and client list—FBI and tons of Fortune 500 companies. She had no doubt he could prove her big brother innocent of embezzlement. Dawson definitely played in the big leagues. The price per hour he’d quoted her confirmed it. Kerry had nearly dropped the phone and started crying. Trial attorneys were less compensated. Much less.
She sighed. But the fourth conversation . . . That one had gone
badly. Even now, she could hear his deep growl . . .
“Consider me a fan.” She’d done her best to put a smile in her voice.
“As often as you call, you’ve fallen into the obsessive groupie category. Should I worry that you’re going to show up at my apartment angry and armed? Or are you the other kind of psycho who stalks a guy completely naked?”
Kerry paused, considering. “Those are strategies I hadn’t thought of.”
“Forget I said anything. I didn’t mean to give you ideas. You don’t work for Standard National Bank or eBay, do you?”
“No, but I can explain.”
“At this point, I don’t care who you are or what you want.”
“Seriously, don’t tell me. I’m better off not knowing.”
She’d gripped the phone tightly, feeling opportunity slipping away. Mark had practically raised her. She had to make this work.
“Just listen to me, please. I need help in the worst way.”
“Oh, I figured that out a while back. But since I don’t wear a white coat, I don’t think I’m the right choice. Stop hounding me.”
“Don’t hang up. Please! I’m desperate. Our lawyer is awful, the FBI won’t listen . . .”
She’d tried to keep it together, truly. But the date for her brother’s trial had just been set, and the enormity of their problem had made her . . . well, emotional. Which was why she’d rambled. And cried. At the same time.
“No one will listen, and he’s never even had a speeding ticket. If the pain of chemotherapy didn’t make him a criminal, why would anyone assume getting married would?”
“I have no idea, nor do I want to.” A brief pause later, Dawson added, “Don’t call again.”
He’d hung up, leaving her to plot something far more forceful and devious. Kerry really wasn’t good at either. So here she was, in the frigid airport, determined to tie the man down—literally—to enlist his help.
With a resolute breath, Kerry raised the sign with Rafe Dawson’s name printed in permanent black ink. Perspiration broke out under her hairline. Her hands shook. Would he recognize her voice? Or guess that she was up to no good?
He saw the sign and moved closer, luggage in tow. Then Dawson shifted his gaze to her. And didn’t look away. She swallowed as he discreetly took her in, his gaze brushing her curve-hugging red halter, skimming her bare midriff, grazing her microscopic miniskirt and almost-bare thighs.
Kerry was sorely tempted to make sure her siren red lipstick hadn’t smudged, that the Florida humidity hadn’t detonated her sleek style into its usual curly tumble, and that she still showed signs of cleavage above her indecently tight top.
As his focus returned to her face, a bad-boy smile curled the edges of his mouth. The heat in his to-die-for gray eyes was ferocious enough to liquefy her knees in world-record
time. Despite his unfriendly demeanor on the phone, Kerry was stunned that she had no trouble imagining herself running her hands across the yummy width of his chest . . .
Down, girl, down!
Dawson came closer, now a breath shy of infringing on her personal space. His heat pulsed at her in a palpable wave. She drew in a deep breath, and his killer scent enveloped her. It wasn’t manufactured. The man simply smelled like black silk midnight wrapped in velvet sin. The scent totally matched his voice.
Yikes, she was in major trouble here—for so many reasons.
“Mr. Dawson,” she greeted, keeping her voice breathy to disguise it.
He nodded, his gaze glued to her. Nothing in his face hinted that her voice seemed familiar. Yeah! So far, the goddess of bad and illegal plans was smiling on her.
But Rafe wore a hint of a smile, too.
Staring at him sent her pulse into a circus-like frenzy. She could make an obsession out of wondering how well muscled he was beneath his pricey linen shirt, considering the amount of hair dusting his broad chest, pondering whether he wore boxers or briefs. Or went commando altogether.
Kerry chastised herself. Being attracted to the jerk wasn’t a good idea, but apparently she had no control over that. Still, distracting the man so she could successfully abduct him would be impossible if she was too busy drooling. Nor would he find it alluring.
She had to get ahold of herself. Mark’s fate rested in her hands.
Why couldn’t Mark have another sister, one who wasn’t curvier than current fashion dictated? One with more confidence? A sister who didn’t have to persuade a man she’d already irritated to help her?
“Welcome to Tampa,” she forced out in her best Marilyn Monroe voice, fidgeting with the sign.
He raised a surprised brow. “You’re my driver?”
Kerry hesitated, biting her lip again. Could she say this? When she had conceived this plan, the words had sounded so simple. But Dawson didn’t look like an idiot. In fact, he
looked more like a shrewd sex god, put on this earth to make her mind mush. Worse, what if he figured out who she was before she had him bound? Kerry pushed aside the fear that her plan had less than zero chance of succeeding.
she reminded herself.
“Your driver is in the car. Think of me as a . . . hostess.”
Kerry had no idea if his tone indicated disbelief or intrigue, but she pushed on. “I understand this is your first trip to Tampa. We—that is, everyone at Standard National Bank—thought you might appreciate a tour guide of sorts.”
Did he recognize her voice? Believe her? Impossible to tell. Instead, Dawson watched her, adjusting his burgundy silk tie with dark, elegant fingers. Her gaze climbed to the sharp angle of his jaw, the sculpted temptation of his lips. She’d bet last week’s tips the man knew how to do fantastic things with that mouth. Not that she would ever find out.
He screamed New York polish in his thousand-dollar suit. The scent of money wafted from him like a subtle cologne. She, on the other hand, probably still smelled like today’s lunch special of a double cheeseburger and onion rings.
“Lead the way.” He gestured her before him.
A new battalion of nerves attacked her with the force of a blitzkrieg. For her plan to work, she needed to get him comfortable, at least. Hot and bothered wasn’t necessary. In fact, it wasn’t even likely if he really listened to her—or looked at her hips. But comfortable she could do.
“It’s pretty hot today. Humid, too. You might want to lose the coat or you’ll swelter.”
With a shrug, he rested his hanging bag over the back of a nearby chair and removed his suit coat. Beneath, his crisp white shirt, comfortably creased from his travel, strained to encompass a pair of shoulders so broad, Kerry would have been hard-pressed to pry her gaze away with a crowbar. Mr. Unpleasant sure was easy on the eyes.
He retrieved his garment bag, gaze discreetly scanning her. Then he paused. Looking as if he was suppressing a grin, he handed her his suit coat. She took it with numb fingers. Lord, it smelled like him—musky, mysterious, manly.