Pawn

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Julie McAdams reluctantly agrees to let Declan Poe protect her. She doesn’t really believe she’s in danger just because terrorists are pursuing her father, a CIA agent. Julie decides to put her time to use seducing Declan. He’s sexy, charming, and everything she always thought he would be. He would be absolutely perfect—except he’s also lying to her…

Excerpt

Julie entered the foyer of her apartment building, struggling to juggle the box in her arms while digging for her key ring in the disaster that was her handbag. The day couldn’t get any worse, what with finding her first gray hair that morning, and then losing her job that afternoon. Preoccupied, she walked toward the stairs, bypassing the broken elevator. Attention focused on the task of finding her keys, she didn’t realize she was on a collision course until hands grasped her arms, keeping her from running into the man standing in front of her.

 Surprised, she looked up, her heart stuttering with reaction. Her nostrils flared at the spicy, masculine scent of his cologne when it wafted to her—a subtle fragrance hinting at nights spent on silk sheets.

 Blinking away the erotically disturbing thought, she assessed the man who had prevented her from stumbling into him, a frown marring her forehead. He looked familiar, though she couldn’t place from where. In his mid- to late-forties, creases mapped his face in such a way as to give him an air of sexy ruggedness, with blondish- brown hair falling forward onto his forehead. She shouldn’t have been able to forget him if they had met. His green eyes, as brilliant as emeralds, should have made it impossible to not recall where they had met. Fringed by thick brown lashes, they studied her intently, seeming to size her up.

 “Julie?”

 Her stomach rolled at the confirmation that they had met before. Racking her brain to try to remember where, she forced a smile. “Hello.”

 “Wow.” His eyes widened appreciatively as they raked over her, lingering a shade longer than necessary at her breasts, though they weren’t displayed to best advantage in the modest white dress she had worn to work. “You’ve certainly changed.”

 “And you’re…exactly the same.” Please let that be the right thing to say.

 A laugh escaped him, parting his firm lips to reveal sparkling white teeth. “Not really, but I wouldn’t expect you to remember. The last time I saw you was when you were thirteen.”

 “Fifteen years ago?” Brow furrowed, Julie tried to remember him from that long ago, but drew a blank. “I’m sorry, but I don’t remember you.”

 “That’s fine.”

 It wasn’t until he released his grip on her arms to offer his hand that she realized he had been holding her the entire time. She shifted the box to free a hand to accept his, shivering at the darts racing from his skin to hers at the light contact.

 “I’m Declan Poe. Your father and I worked together.” His voice had dropped to a low whisper, and his eyes scanned the foyer almost constantly.

 A genuine smile crossed her mouth, and she shook his hand enthusiastically. “Of course, Mr. Poe. I remember you now.” He had been her father’s partner long ago, though she hadn’t known what business they engaged in back then. Julie remembered him as a younger version of himself—one of her first crushes— a man who had never been rude to her or treated her like a child when she hovered around him. Usually, it had fallen to her father to shoo her away when Declan was over.

 “Declan, please.” Once again, he examined the foyer. “May we speak in private?” “Of course. Could you…?” She passed off the box to Declan so she could find her

 keys, having them in hand in seconds. “My roommate is in London this week, so we’ll be undisturbed.” Casting a rueful glance at the elevator, she added, “I hope you don’t mind stairs.”

 “Of course not.”

 When she tried to take back the box, he shook his head. With a shrug, Julie walked to the stairs, climbing quickly even in the chunky heels encasing her feet. The hairs on the back of her neck stood up in reaction to his scrutiny—she could practically feel his eyes boring into her as he ascended behind her. It was a relief to reach the third floor and be able to walk beside him instead of in front. His gaze disturbed her for a reason she couldn’t, or wouldn’t, define.

 At her apartment, she unlocked the door and indicated he should precede her. Immediately Clovis came to investigate, his feline nose twitching as he glared up at the interloper. When Declan set down the box beside the entertainment center, the cat hissed at him.

 With a shushing sound, Julie scooped up Clovis, grimacing at the black hair he would leave behind on her white dress. “Have a seat, please.” She gestured to the couch while walking to the recliner, sitting as gracefully as she could manage while maintaining an iron grip on the cat to keep him from assaulting their guest.

 Declan settled on the corner closest to her, his spine incredibly straight. Her eyes skimmed his body in the expertly tailored charcoal suit, finding nothing to complain about. In fact, his narrow waist and broad shoulders were more likely to make her drool.

 Embarrassed by her thoughts and reactions, she looked up quickly, still feeling like the gauche thirteen-year-old who followed him around. She did her best to meet his eyes, trying to ignore the speculative gleam in them. “What can I do for you, Declan?”

 “Have you spoken to your father lately?” The rich timbre of his voice betrayed a hint of concern.

 A sharp laugh escaped her, one she cut off abruptly. “No. I haven’t spoken to him in three years, and it’s been even longer since I’ve seen him.” She couldn’t remember the last time her father had sought her out—not since her mother had divorced him when she was fifteen. They had moved just across town, but it might as well have been across the country as infrequently as she had seen him after that. Not that he had been around much when her parents were still married.

 “He’s in trouble.” Declan tapped his fingers lightly on the arm of the couch. “I don’t know how much you know about your father’s work.”

 “He’s an operative with the CIA.” Seeing his surprised look, Julie shrugged. “My mother told me a long time ago. The funny thing is, I thought she was just making it up to spare my feelings because he never came to visit me. I didn’t believe it until he told me himself a few years ago.”

 Declan arched a brow. “Did he tell you anything about what he does?”

 She shook her head, glad he had left her in the dark about his work for the most part. While she wasn’t close to her father, she still worried about him, and having him provide too many details would have given her that much more to fear.

 “Lee does most of his work in Europe. Once upon a time he was involved with Cold War policies, but when the dynamics shifted he took up a new assignment.” Declan seemed reluctant to share the information but must have decided he didn’t have a choice, for whatever reason. “Antiterrorism to be specific.”

 Her chest seized, making it difficult to draw in a deep breath for a long second.

 When the spell passed she somehow managed a calm tone. “What’s happened?” “He’s had to go underground to protect something.”

 “What?”

 With a shake of his head, he said, “That’s classified. The pertinent information for you is that this is highly sought after. The people he took it from want it back badly and they’ll use any means necessary to force him out of hiding.”

 A dart of apprehension shot through Julie when she got an inkling of why Declan was here. “You don’t think I’m in danger?” At his nod, she said, “It’s impossible. We aren’t close, so why would anyone try to use me to get to my father? That makes no sense.”

 Leaning forward, Declan put his hand on hers, brushing off Clovis’ perturbed reaction. “You’re still his child. Regardless of the state of your relationship, we don’t believe he would ignore the situation if you were in danger.” A long sigh escaped him. “What he’s guarding can’t fall back into enemy hands, Julie. The best thing to do is protect you, just to be on the safe side.”

 Julie wanted to resist, dreading the idea of agents taking over her life, milling about her small apartment and controlling her every move. On the other hand, she didn’t want to endanger herself, her father, or national security. “I don’t think it’s necessary, but I guess you could give me an operative for protection.”

 “I had something else in mind.”

 Her mouth firmed. “If we do this, it’s my way. I don’t want a troop of people tearing apart my house, interfering with my life.”

 “Agreed.” Declan inclined his head. “This should be a subtle operation. That’s why I want you to come stay with me for a while.”

 “What? I can’t do that.”

 His thumb began rubbing lightly across the back of her hand. “I know it’s inconvenient, but I really think it’s the best way.”

 “I—” Was it getting hot in the apartment? Julie resisted the urge to fan herself even as heat spread through her body, emanating from where he was stroking her hand. Knowing he was doing it to manipulate her didn’t lessen the impact of the light caress, which shouldn’t have affected her at all.

 “Please, for me? I don’t want you hurt.”

 His soft, coaxing tone penetrated into her marrow, igniting her senses. When he increased the pace of his strokes just slightly, her heart rate sped up and her nipples hardened in the confines of her cotton bra. Although she wanted to protest, Julie found herself crumbling. “I…guess it couldn’t hurt.”

 Declan nodded just once, appearing satisfied. “Excellent. There’s a car downstairs to take us to McCarran.”

 Julie blinked. “The airport? Why?”

 He withdrew his hand from hers to look at his watch. “There’s a private jet waiting to fly us to D.C.” Looking up, he said, “That’s where I live.”

 She shook her head. “I can’t go to D.C. for however long. My life is here in Vegas.” Arms crossed over her chest, she kept her tone firm. “I appreciate your concern but this is just too much. I’m sure I’ll be fine.”

 Declan’s mouth tightened. “I understand it’s an inconvenience, but you can’t allow yourself to be used to manipulate your father into turning over the weapon to these people. You must come with me.”

 “What about—” She broke off, casting a glance at the box of possessions accrued during her three-year tenure as head of the HR department at her company. Her job was the only thing she couldn’t have abandoned for any length of time, but that wasn’t a problem now thanks to downsizing due to the economy. Her roommate, a flight attendant, wouldn’t miss her presence for the next few days and she hadn’t been to the nation’s capital since she was a little girl.

 “Okay.” The corners of her mouth turned up as she cast a glance at Clovis. “Of course, I can’t go without my cat.”

 He quickly concealed his pained expression but hadn’t entirely hidden his reaction, making it difficult for her not to grin. “Of course. He’ll be welcome.”

 Clovis’ hiss was as unfriendly as Declan’s grudging tone, indicating he wasn’t any happier about the idea. As Julie rose to pack, a surprising sense of well-being filled her and a spark of excitement lightened her step. She was looking forward to this, she realized. Why? Was it the idea of going to D.C. or was it merely the thought of being close to Declan for a few days? Maybe she’d finally get that kiss she’d fantasized about as a girl.

 Casting a look over her shoulder before entering her bedroom, she sized him up, watching each muscle flex as he paced the confines of the small living area. Maybe she would get a lot more than a kiss—things she hadn’t dared dream about as a teenager. Her stomach clenched at the thought, and she hurried to enter her room, closing the door behind her to conceal the flush on her face.

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