“This is a mistake,” Ali whispered right before her mouth surged up and pressed greedily against his.
“Oh, absolutely,” Jinx assured her in that low, deep, sexy rumble that pretty much just made her panties want to fall off. “Probably the worst mistake ever.” He kissed her again. A long, drugging kiss that had her rising onto her tiptoes so that she could get closer to him. “That’s why it is so much fun.”
Her hands curled around his broad shoulders. Her fingers bit into his skin. There were a million reasons why she should walk away from Jinx.
And one very big reason to stay.
I want him.
The case was over. She’d be disappearing come the morning. This night was going nowhere. It was just about hot sex. Incredible pleasure. About the insane attraction that she’d felt for Jinx from day one.
He was not her type. Okay, fine, Jinx was probably everyone’s type. He had a body that was sculpted to pure perfection. The man possessed the bluest eyes that she’d ever seen in her entire life…and his smile. Wow. He possessed the kind of slow, wicked smile that had her body tensing and quivering every single time she saw his lips curl.
Physically, the man was pure temptation.
But…He’s too reckless for me. Jinx didn’t take anything seriously, not even the danger that they had recently faced on a mission she’d been sure would fail. He mocked and he joked, and he didn’t seem to care about death. Or, well, anything else.
She liked reliable men. Steady men. Men who didn’t laugh when bullets went flying.
She liked those men, but in this particular instance, as desire flooded through her body…she wanted, no, craved Jinx. Jinx and his particular brand of madness.
The mission was over. They’d survived. Gotten the job done. Managed to not even get shot. Wins all around.
His tongue dipped in her mouth. His hands locked around her hips as he lifted her up and pinned her between his rock-hard body and the wall.
They were in some no-tell motel. They’d flown back in the country and paused in this little town for the night. Not like she’d ever be visiting this place again. She never came back after a mission was done. Her job was to fade away. To vanish. She was good at that job.
“God, you taste delicious,” Jinx growled as he pulled his mouth from hers. She stared up at him, aware that her heartbeat was pounding out of control. If possible, his eyes were even bluer as they burned down at her with the force of his fierce lust.
Jinx hadn’t hidden the fact that he’d wanted her. He’d been upfront about it from the beginning. And she’d told him it would never happen…
Never say never.
“I swear,” he added roughly, “I could eat you right up.”
Oh, the visual that popped into her head at that moment. Do it, yes, please. Go right ahead. Instead of saying those wild, desperate words, Ali squeaked, “Only once.”
He squinted those bright blues at her. “Once? Baby, it is gonna be a long night. I don’t see why on earth you’d limit a guy like me to just making you scream with pleasure only once. You are hurting yourself.”
She swallowed. “I meant…only one night.”
His lips curled.
Her body tensed. Quivered.
“Ah…” A sensual sigh. “So I can make you scream over and over?”
He was such a confident jerk. And, yes, she was pretty sure he’d be able to back up that confidence. God, she hoped he could back it up. Ali couldn’t remember the last time she’d had screaming-good sex.
Okay, wait, she could…it had been never. Sex had never been so good that she’d screamed, but she was more than ready to give it a shot.
“Maybe I’ll make you scream,” she said as her hands grabbed his shirt and shoved it up.
He tossed the shirt to the floor. “Full disclosure, I’m more of a roaring type. Or gutturally growling. You know, hardcore, sexy stuff.”
He couldn’t even be serious…now? Her hand went to the snap of his jeans. Yanked the snap open. Tugged down the zipper.
His fingers curled around hers. “I’ll give you one night, but what if you want more?”
Her mouth was dry. She licked her lips. “That confident you’re so good?”
His lips hitched into a half-smile that stole her breath. Not that she’d ever let him know the impact that any of his many smiles had on her. Jinx wasn’t serious. Not about missions. Certainly not about her. This was sex. Only sex. Physical.
“What if you go falling in love with me?” He still held her hands. “What if you just can’t get enough of me, and you can’t imagine your life without me in it?”
Ali sucked in a sharp breath. “Then we’d better make a rule. Good sex doesn’t equal love. So no falling in love.”
A nod. “Any other rules? I’ve noticed you tend to be very…rule follower-like.”
Guilty. She liked order. What was wrong with that? Just because Jinx had apparently lived his life rule free didn’t mean that everyone did. But if he was asking for rules… “We keep this secret.”
His thick, dark eyelashes lowered. “You want me to be your dirty little secret?” A rough edge entered his voice. An edge she’d never heard him use before. “Don’t want anyone else to know you jumped into bed with me?”
Yes, actually, she would prefer the others not know about this situation—thus the rule. “We may have to work on other missions in the future. If that’s the case, I don’t want the others on the team to know we got naked together. I’m not the kissing-and-telling type.”
His head bent. His mouth feathered over hers. His tongue teasingly swept inside. He took his time kissing her before murmuring, “Shocker, but…neither am I.” Another kiss.
So they had two rules. Rule one, no falling in love. Rule two, what they did had to remain a secret. She was good with those guidelines. Very good.
His lips lifted from hers. “I have rules, too.”
What? “Since when?” she blurted. Her hands were still caged by his. Caged and right above the straining erection that surged toward her. Jinx was built along very big and strong lines, everywhere.
“Since…you.” His mouth pressed to her throat. Kissed her skin.
Her whole body shuddered. “What are the rules? And could you hurry and say them quickly?”
A soft rumble of laughter. “What’s the rush?”
The rush was that she wanted to strip away the rest of their clothes and pounce on him. “Jinx!”
“You tell me everything you like. You tell me instantly if I do anything you don’t like. You come harder for me than you ever have for anyone else.” Another kiss to her neck. “I think that about covers it for me.”
Her knees were jelly. She was going to fall in a puddle right there, and she couldn’t even blame her weak knees on the two tequila shots she’d had before coming into the motel room with him. “I can handle that.”
“Good. Then time for you to handle me.” He let go of her hands.
She reached for his cock. Curled her fingers around him and pretty much ignored everything else. The real world could wait. She was going to forget everything else for a while and just enjoy herself. She stroked his cock. Caressed him. Loved the warm strength of him, and she wondered how he would taste. Ali began to slide down—
“Oh, no. Remember my rule? You have to come harder for me than anyone else. That means you don’t make me break my control until after I’ve driven you completely insane.” He scooped her into his arms. Headed for the bed. He lowered her onto the sagging mattress and proceeded to completely strip as she stared up at him.
Shoulders that were huge. Abs of steel. Corded strength in those powerful thighs. And his cock—
He quirked a brow at her. “You know this goes easier and faster if your clothes are off, too, right?”
Heat flushed her cheeks. She kicked off her shoes. Shimmied out of her jeans and tossed her shirt away. She kept her panties and bra on because tossing them aside seemed…she didn’t know what it seemed. Ali just left them on.
He didn’t move. Just stood statue still at the side of the bed.
What was he waiting for? “Um, I thought this would go faster when I stripped?” Her voice held a slightly nervous edge. Ali hoped he didn’t notice. She was trying to act like she did this sort of thing all the time.
She didn’t. This was, in fact, her first ever one-night stand.
Not her first time for sex, but usually, she dated a guy for a while before becoming intimate. Got into a relationship. Took it all slow and steady with her reliable boyfriends.
“I was admiring the view.” Jinx put one knee on the bed. His hand rose, and his knuckles slid along the curve of her hip. Then skated over to the crotch of her panties. She’d spread her legs for him, trying to be all helpful. “You’re wet.”
And he was hard. That should make things way easy for them. “Could we do this?” The words broke from her. So much for being cool. Fail. “I want this. I want you.” This intensity wouldn’t last. No way could it last.
His fingers crept under the edge of her panties. “What’s the rush?”
He dipped a finger into her.
Her breath caught as he pressed that finger of his knuckle deep into her.
“You’re tight. You will feel fucking fantastic.”
The lights were on. It would be so much easier if they were off. Why hadn’t she turned off the lamp? She’d just forgot about the damn thing.
He slid his finger out of her.
Ali’s breath huffed out, too. Okay, he was giving her a minute to—
He yanked the panties off her. Jumped onto the bed. Parted her thighs and stared down at her like he’d just found some kind of amazing prize.
Yes, fine, whatever, he could—
He put his mouth on her. Put his mouth right on her without any other preliminaries. And with the first lick of his tongue against her clit, Ali knew that Jinx was about to make good on his boastful words…
You come harder for me than you have for anyone else.
Her hands grabbed the sheets. Fisted them. Her whole body arched as he stroked her with his fingers and licked her with his tongue. There was no fumbling. No awkwardness. Just him lapping her up like she was the best treat he’d ever had, and Ali could feel her whole body tighten as an orgasm just swept right through her and—
She choked out his name. Maybe gave a muffled scream. She didn’t know. She didn’t care. She just felt awesome.
“Now, you’re ready.” He grabbed for a condom. He’d had one in his wallet. Of course, he had. This was Jinx. He probably did this all the time and—
“Hey.” His voice was low. Demanding. “Look at me.”
Her lashes lifted.
“Where did you just go?”
He was lodged at the entrance to her body. How could she possibly have gone anywhere? “I’m right here.”
His gaze wasn’t mocking or teasing. There was a new intensity there that she hadn’t seen before. He caught her hands. Pinned them on either side of her head, and then he was surging into her. Not fast and hard. Slow. Steady. As if he was testing to make sure he wasn’t hurting her. She was arching her hips against him because she wanted more. Wanted everything, but Jinx was taking his precious time and driving her absolutely crazy. “Jinx!”
“There it is.” A fast kiss. “Scream for me, baby.”
Seriously? He was—
He sank all the way inside. Then pulled out. Drove deep.
Now he was hard and fast. Now he was driving into her like a man obsessed, and she was moaning and arching and twisting against him because the ravenous need was back. Pleasure was surging again, and she wanted more and more and more.
He gave her more. He gave her everything. He pumped into her with fast and furious strokes until her whole body broke apart, and her orgasm sent wave after wave of pleasure surging through her. Did she scream? Maybe. Ali had no clue. She didn’t care. She was only feeling, and she felt incredible.
He was with her. His body hard and powerful. His face had locked into intense, almost possessive lines as he stared down at her. There was a greedy hunger in his gaze. Something she understood because in that moment, she wanted more, too. Wanted everything that she could get from him.
He came inside of her. A long, hard jerking of his body, and she tightened her inner muscles around him even more because she wanted to feel every single moment with him. Every single thing that he had to give. She wanted it. She wanted Jinx.
Over and over and—
Wow. Dangerous. Stop the thought.
Her breath heaved in and out. Her heart thundered. He was still in her, already getting hard again, and their hands were still intwined.
He stared at her. The lights were on. Everything was so bright. He’d seen her, every moment. She’d squeezed her eyes shut when the pleasure hit so she hadn’t been watching him. But she realized he’d never taken his gaze from her.
Ali felt vulnerable, far too exposed.
He’s still in me.
And he wasn’t smiling. Wasn’t flashing his killer grin. Instead, if possible, his face tightened even more.
“Jinx?” She started to wonder if she’d done something wrong. The sex had been helluva good for her. But maybe it hadn’t been that way for him?
He didn’t speak. Her hands flexed in his hold.
“You’re not getting away,” he rasped.
Then he smiled at her. His easy, carefree smile. “It’s going to be a long night.”
Oh. “Then…you weren’t disappointed?”
Again, his expression changed. But the change was so fleeting that she thought she’d imagined it. “Hell, no.”
She risked a smile of her own.
He stared at her mouth. “Why the fuck would you even ask that?”
“Because you looked so serious. So intent. Like something was wrong.”
“Everything is right. You’re right.” But he pulled out of her.
She gave a quick gasp because a little aftershock had hit her.
“Be right back,” he promised. “We’ll need another condom.” A pause. “Maybe a whole damn box. There’s a gas station across the street. I’ll go there and get some.”
He was planning to use a whole box of condoms with her? That was impressive.
He ditched the used condom in the bathroom. Dressed quickly. Then leaned over the bed. She’d shimmied under the covers while he took care of the condom-ditching business, and she held a sheet up to her chest.
He stared into her eyes. “Don’t move. I’ll be back in five minutes.” A quick kiss. Only…
This kiss felt different.
Jinx didn’t get possessive. She’d worked on several missions with him before. She’d technically known him for at least two years. He didn’t get possessive about anyone or anything.
The door closed softly behind him. Ali raked a hand through her hair. That had been—wow.
And he planned for more. A whole night more. Then they were going to put all of this amazing sexing behind them and work together as a team on future cases and—
And I will always be picturing him naked. I will always be remembering what it was like to have him inside of me.
No way would she ever be able to erase those memories.
Oh, she had majorly screwed up.
Her phone rang. A loud, jarring peal of sound that had her jerking and then reaching toward the nightstand. She’d put the phone on the worn nightstand earlier…before she’d given in to that reckless urge to kiss Jinx.
There was no picture on the screen to identify the caller, but she knew that number, and unease slithered through her. Ali lifted the phone to her ear. “Hello.”
“The car is waiting in front of your motel.”
Her heart slammed into her chest. “I just finished a mission.”
“And you’re starting another. You’re needed now. Deep cover.”
Ali didn’t move. She stayed in the bed—the bed that smelled of her and Jinx—and realized that she didn’t want to go anywhere. She wanted to be right there when Jinx came back. She wanted to spend the night with him. She wanted to get lost in him.
She didn’t want another case. Didn’t want to have to become someone else. She was tired of pretending. “Find someone else.” Words that she had never, ever expected to say. Not in a million years. The job was her life.
“There is no one else. A car is waiting, and it’s time to move.” Her handler’s voice was implacable. “You need to be gone before he gets back.”
Goosebumps rose onto her skin. “Were you…watching us?”
“Not us, you. I was watching you because I am here to take you to the next case. A case that can’t wait. So get your gear and move.” A direct order.
Because he was her boss.
“This is the last one.” She’d been feeling adrift for a while, and she hadn’t expected to say those words. They just kind of came out. But she wanted more. More than shadows. More than bullets raining down on her every time she turned around. “I do this, and I’m out.”
“There is no out.”
“There is for me.” She rose from the bed. Jerked on her clothes even as she kept talking to him. “Consider this my two weeks’ notice.”
“The case will last longer than two weeks. It’s deep cover. I told you—”
“And I just told you, I’m done. This is it. I want to be normal.” She’d never realized how much she longed for it until it was gone. Until it had been ripped away by the choices she’d made. But she’d paid her debt. More than paid it. “Put in the paperwork, do whatever you need to do, but erase me. I’m out of your files, and, after I finish this case, my number will disappear from your phone.”
She looked around. She had to leave a note for Jinx. She couldn’t just vanish.
How much time had passed?
“Fine,” he gritted, his voice rumbling in her ear. “But get your ass outside, now, before the boyfriend comes back.”
“He’s not my—” She stopped. She didn’t need to explain Jinx to him. He knew Jinx. They’d all worked together. “I’m on my way.” She hung up the phone. Found a motel room pen near an absolutely ancient-looking notepad. Ali bit her lip as she stared at the pad. According to mission protocol, once you received an assignment, you had to go dark. No texts. No calls. Nothing.
But she wasn’t just going to leave Jinx. And there was no rule about scribbling out a quick message the old-fashioned way. As long as that message didn’t give away any mission secrets…
What was she supposed to write?
Thanks for the best sex ever.
That would go straight to his already inflated ego.
Thanks for a night I’ll never forget.
But…it hadn’t been a night. More like an hour?
A horn sounded outside. Jeez. Impatient, much?
The pen flew over the notepad.
Then she was out the door. And five minutes hadn’t passed because Jinx wasn’t back.
Jinx knew something was off as soon as he opened the motel room door. He gripped the brown paper bag in one hand as his gaze swept the small area. “Ali?”
The covers were rumpled. Her discarded clothing gone from the floor.
He took a few fast steps inside. “Ali?” Sharper, harder.
No response. It took only seconds to realize she wasn’t in the bathroom. She was gone. She’d left him.
Holy hell, she’d left him. After what he thought was pretty fucking great sex, she’d left him. No woman had ever done that before.
He whirled toward the door. She couldn’t have gotten far. He surged forward, then stopped when he caught sight of the notepad. His jaw locked as he stalked closer to it, then read…
I got a call. You know the kinds of calls we get. There was no choice.
His nostrils flared.
If there’d been a choice, I would have stayed.
Well, fucking hell. Ali had always been incredibly honest.
Thank you for showing me the kind of incredible time that a woman will never forget.
His breath shuddered out. He’d intended to show her that incredible time over and over again. Like, not just for the night. But for the next week. Because while Ali might be honest, he was a world class liar. Always had been. He’d never intended to only have one night with her. Hell, no, he’d been playing a long game with Ali for a while.
His gaze lingered over the last line she’d written…
And I was wrong. It wasn’t a mistake.
Jinx swallowed. He hissed out a breath and dropped the paper bag on the old desk. Then he yanked out his phone. He sent a quick text to Ali.
I will see you again.
But then, he hadn’t expected one. When an operative went out on a mission, the order was to immediately go radio silent. That was why she hadn’t texted him before she’d left the motel room.
At least she’d left him a note.
He grabbed the note.
Fuck, he could still smell her on him. Her sweet, strawberry scent.
The mission wouldn’t last forever. He would see her again. He would have her again.
He tucked the note into his pocket.
He could wait. He could be patient. Patience was a virtue, after all. Granted, it had never been one of his virtues, but he could try. Unfortunately, he’d always found virtues to be rather boring. Jinx much preferred vices to virtues. And as soon as he had the chance, he couldn’t wait to lead Ali down the road into wicked temptation with him.
I will be seeing you again, my Ali. Count on it.
“Sex on the beach is incredible.”
At those low, rumbling words, Alison Carter whipped up in her beach chair. “Listen, buddy, I am not in the mood for—”
“The drink, of course. I am talking about the drink.” The tall, muscular, freaking Greek-god-looking guy beamed at her. His smile was absolutely killer as it revealed his perfectly even, white teeth, and the aviator glasses he wore hid what she knew to be almost astoundingly blue eyes.
Jinx. He’s here. Right in front of me. This could not be happening.
“It’s sinful. Designed to help you cast your inhibitions aside and just soak up the pure sensual pleasure that waits in the world.”
He didn’t have on a shirt. Just dark swim trunks. Trunks that stretched across his muscular thighs. If possible, he seemed even more muscular than he’d been the last time they’d been together. She wasn’t staring at a six pack. Had to be an eight pack. Maybe a ten? Was that a thing?
Stop staring. Her gaze snapped up to his face. Luckily, she was wearing sunglasses, too, so Ali didn’t think that he’d noticed her gaping at him. Hopefully. “What are you doing here?” she demanded.
He lowered his long body into the beach chair beside hers. Two women nearly fell as they peered back at him. They had been jogging down the beach until they caught sight of him. But when Jinx came into view, they did a quick about-face. It looked as if they might even come over for a chat.
Uh, obviously, he’s busy.
Ali shooed the women away with a flick of her hand.
“Why am I here? On the beach, you mean? I’m enjoying the sun. The waves. The beauty of the day.” A shrug of his powerful shoulders. “Same as you.”
No. This could not be happening. Of all the beaches in the world—and there were lots of beaches—what were the odds that her personal kryptonite just happened to be on the same one that she was? “Odin,” she gritted out.
“Hmmm…What about him?” Jinx shifted a bit on the chair, making himself more comfortable.
“Odin said this was a free vacation for me.” Odin Shaw. A guy she’d considered a friend. He’d told her that this trip was his way of paying her back for all of the favors that she’d done for him and War—Warren Channing. War owned Trouble for Hire Private Investigations, a fairly new venture. New and surprisingly successful. The PI biz was growing leaps and bounds for War and Odin. Former special ops guys, they had turned their talents to solving local crimes. And, so far, they’d had their names splashed plenty in the news because they’d helped nab two big killers.
Their names had been splashed in the news. She’d quietly helped on those cases, and because War and Odin knew how much she valued her privacy, they’d kept her in the background. As a thank you for her services, she’d been given an all-expense paid trip to the Emerald Coast of Florida.
At the time, the trip had sounded too good to be true. But she’d needed to get away, so she’d jumped at the opportunity to put her toes in the sand.
No one had mentioned to her that she’d be sharing her beach with Jinx. Jinx!
This could not be happening.
“Did you just growl?” Jinx wanted to know. Then, before she could sputter off a reply, he added, “Sexy.”
“Stop it.” She glared at him as her toes curled into the sand. Only they weren’t curling in some happy way. They were more digging into the sugary white sand of the beach. “I’m supposed to be relaxing. Not having to deal with you.”
He sucked in a pain-filled breath. “That hurts.” His hand went dramatically to his heart. “And here I thought we were friends.”
She shot to her feet. Grabbed her cover up and hauled it over her body. The last thing she felt like doing was parading around in front of him just wearing her bikini.
“The ocean is fucking that way,” Jinx suddenly snapped as he glared at a guy sitting nearby. Some guy in a red shirt with a ball cap pulled over his brows. “Stop looking at my girl’s ass.”
Not happening. She tugged the cover up down to her thighs and immediately moved to scoop up her oversized beach bag. She would go back to the condo. Lock herself inside. And forget about Jinx.
Not like it was the first time she’d had to work this routine.
But before she could race away from the scene, Jinx stood in front of her. “What’s the hurry? Why not sit down and catch up with an old friend on this beautiful day?”
Her lips thinned. With one hand, Ali made a quick, nervous adjustment to her sunglasses. “We are not friends. We worked on a few cases. That’s it. Not like we exchange Christmas cards or anything.”
“Right. I did notice that I’ve never gotten a Christmas card. Wondered about that omission. Thought it had gotten lost in the mail.” Her reflection stared back at her in his glasses. His arms crossed over his chest. “I can buy that we weren’t friends. Fine. But we were lovers.”
“Shhh!” Immediately, she glanced around. It had sounded as if Jinx had just shouted that last bit of info.
He shrugged. “We were. The kind of dirty, hot lovers that like to rip each other’s clothes off and fuck in cheap motel rooms.”
“No.” A hard shake of her head. “I refuse to do this with you. Not now. Not here.” Not on a public beach, for goodness’ sake. Ali sidestepped him and began stomping—or attempting to stomp because walking in the sand was always a major effort—her way past him.
But Jinx followed. “Where would you like to chat?” His voice trailed her just as he did. “Are you inviting me back to your place? Suggesting we take this somewhere nice and private?”
Ali spun toward him. Sand flew in her wake. “Why are you here?”
“Oh, don’t you know?” A wide, too gorgeous smile spread over his lips.
Her body tensed. Quivered. Dammit.
“I live here now,” Jinx casually revealed. Just dropped that bombshell. Boom. “And imagine my surprise when I walked onto my favorite beach in the area and saw…you.”
She sucked in a deep breath.
“The lovely lady who left me high and dry,” Jinx continued, “and holding a giant box of condoms.”
A very loud gasp came from the right. Ali did not even glance that way. Her cheeks burned, a burn that did not come from the sun because she had SPF’d the heck out of her skin. “I left you a note.”
He stepped closer. So close their bodies nearly touched. “And then you never called me when the mission was over.”
He actually sounded angry. And surely, surely that had not been a hint of hurt in his voice. No way, no day. “Not like you were mooning over me. You just found some big-breasted, fake red-haired, tight-jean wearing singer to hook up with and you didn’t look back. So spare me the weird scene, would you? We had a night. Not even a night. More like an hour. It was great. It’s also over. And we have both moved on.” Her chin lifted. “Now, excuse me, but I have to go wash sand out of my bathing suit.” Ali did another fast turn and resumed her sand-stomping routine.
She didn’t get far. Suddenly, Jinx was looming in her path.
She frowned at him. Her frowning reflection glared back at her from his mirrored glasses.
“That was awfully specific.” He’d turned musing.
“What was specific?”
“The big-breasted, fake red-haired, tight-jean wearing singer story.”
Uh, oh. “Was it?” Her voice rose a little too much.
“Um, yes, it was. As in…you saw me with someone like that.” He rocked forward onto the balls of his feet. “You came looking for me after the mission.”
Dang it. She had.
“Oh, Ali. Don’t hold back on me now. One of the things I always enjoyed about you most was your honesty.”
He’d enjoyed it? He wanted more? Her grip tightened on her beach bag. “I might have come back to catch up with you. Not like I had anything else big on my agenda. And, yes, I did happen to see you with the redhead. Not that it mattered. We weren’t involved. You were free. I was free. End of story.”
“Sonofabitch.” A low, vicious curse. The lethal edge in his voice caught her off guard. “All this time…and that was why you hid from me?”
Hid. That one word set off alarm bells. Yes, she was hiding, but not from Jinx. “I need to go.” Once more, she moved to step around him.
He stepped with her in the same instant, as if he’d anticipated her movement. “It was one dance. She danced with me, if you want to know the full story. And, yes, she offered to take me back to her place when the dance was done.”
“It doesn’t matter.” This whole insane conversation didn’t matter.
“Didn’t realize you’d seen that. How the hell did you even know where I was that night?”
She stared at a random point to the left of his face. “You know I’m good at finding people.” One of her gifts.
“Yeah, I do. That’s why I was sure you’d come back to me, only you never showed up, so I thought you were ditching me.”
The sun beat down on them. The waves slammed into the shore.
“If you were there, you should have seen me send her away.”
She hadn’t. She’d left after seeing them together because…it was Jinx. Jinx didn’t get involved with anyone seriously. Jinx didn’t take anything seriously. It was just who he was. Not like he was magically gonna change. Not for her or anyone else. She’d realized that as she stood in the doorway of that club.
Realized that I didn’t know what in the world I was doing. Realized that I didn’t want him to tell me—to my face—that we were one and done.
“Judging by your expression, I guess you missed the magic moment when I sent her on her merry way.”
Her gaze darted to his. “We…weren’t involved. You could—can—date or—or fuck—whoever you want.” Okay, she’d seriously stumbled over what should have been a casual, breezy, sophisticated, I-don’t-care statement.
“That really how you feel?”
No, at the time, she’d felt like clawing the redhead’s eyes out. And as for how she felt now…
“Because it’s not how I feel,” Jinx stunned her by saying.
Had she heard him correctly? The surf’s roar was awfully loud, and she was so tempted to ask him to repeat himself.
“It’s been months,” Jinx continued grimly, “but the idea of you fucking anybody else…” He lowered his mouth near her ear. “It makes me want to damn well destroy someone.”
What? No. No way. Jinx had not just said those words to her. She’d misunderstood.
He put his mouth to your ear so that you could hear perfectly. You know you didn’t misunderstand.
“Just so you know where I stand.” His breath teased the outer shell of her ear.
A shiver traveled through her body.
Jinx’s dark head lifted. “I’d like more.”
“More?” she repeated.
He just stared at her. If his glasses weren’t in the way, maybe she’d be able to read the emotions in his eyes. Then again, maybe not. She’d never been able to read him. As far as she knew, no one had.
“More of you.” He reached for her left hand—the hand not gripping her oversized bag. As soon as he touched her skin, a bolt of pure energy zipped up her arm. She gave a quick, little jerk, one that he had to notice.
It had always been that way for her. She’d had an instant attraction to Jinx. The man was walking sex appeal, so how could she not want him? And he was just too perfect. Perfectly symmetrical features. Perfectly sexy bit of stubble on his perfect, square jaw. Thick, dark hair that had just the lightest bit of curl. A voice that sounded like warm sin.
Jinx had always been able to attract anyone he wanted, and she’d certainly been no exception. There was a line to get in his bed.
She didn’t intend to stand in line any longer.
“No reason we can’t pick up where we left off,” Jinx continued in that warm-sex voice of his. “You’re here. I’m here. I’m sure there is a bed close by that you and I could wreck.”
She swallowed. When that didn’t help to clear the lump in her throat, Ali swallowed again. What he was offering was ever so tempting but… “No.”
“I get that most women probably don’t say this word to you, but I’m saying it…No. Or, rather, no, thank you.” Because she’d been taught to be polite.
His jaw seemed to drop.
“Now, I’m afraid that I have to run. I’ve got an important meeting tonight that I can’t miss.”
“You have a date?” Guttural. Not warm-sex any longer.
Ali pondered his question. A date? Not that she’d call it that, nope. “I have a meeting.” That was all she’d tell him.
His hand flew up and—
Snagged her sunglasses. Oh, no.
“Much better.” He stared into her eyes. His eyes were still shielded by the aviators, dammit. “Always liked staring into those pretty brown eyes of yours.”
She narrowed said eyes at him.
His head cocked. “You’re hiding something from me.”
“I want my sunglasses. The sun is bright.”
He took a step back. “Are you scared of me, Ali?”
She snatched back her glasses. Screw waiting for him to give them to her. “You don’t scare me.” With somewhat shaking fingers, she plopped the glasses back on her nose. “And believe me, it is most definitely in your best interest to stay the hell away from me.”
With that, she surged past him. She didn’t look back.
Her heart pounded, nearly bursting from her chest, as she left him in the sand.
It really is better this way. So much safer…Because Jinx had no idea just how dangerous her life had become.
“I thought I told you to stay the hell away from me,” the low, snarling words came from the man who sat at the end of the bar.
Big, tough, and supposedly the baddest bastard in the bar.
Jinx lifted his shot glass and saluted the fellow. It was, after all, Ramsey’s place, and if he didn’t at least act vaguely polite, he’d probably get thrown out the door. “Just wanted to check in on my favorite criminal.”
Ramsey slammed one tattooed fist onto the scarred bar top. Then he heaved to his feet and stalked toward Jinx. “I am not in the mood for your shit tonight.”
Jinx dropped his empty glass back onto the bar. As he did, the nearby saltshaker spilled over.
Oh, hell. Bad sign. As if he needed more of those. Jinx snagged some of the salt and tossed it over his left shoulder even as he whirled toward Ramsey. The guy was in full-on charge mode. You aren’t in the mood for me? “Oh, right, like I am in the mood to deal with your sorry—” He stopped. Put his hands on Ramsey’s shoulders.
“What in the hell are you doing?” Ramsey demanded in the tone that said don’t fuck with me.
But Jinx just tightened his hold and craned around the guy. “Oh, hell, no.” Horror hit him. I knew that salt was gonna lead to trouble.
“I want you out of this bar.” Ramsey’s words were low and cold. Icily furious. “I want you out of my sight. If you come near me again, I will kick your ass.”
“You and what army?” Jinx replied automatically.
Ramsey waved one hand vaguely in the air. Immediately, half a dozen chairs were shoved back in response to the small signal. The legs of the chairs groaned and creaked as men and women shot to their feet.
“Right.” Jinx nodded. “That army. Almost forgot they were here.” Total lie. He hadn’t forgotten. He just hadn’t cared. What he did care about…she was standing near the doorway. She should not be here. “I’ll leave, but I’m taking her with me.”
“Her?” What could have been vague curiosity filled Ramsey’s rough voice.
“Um, yes, the angel who just strolled in obviously looking for a bit of hell. She’s mine.” A total declaration of intent. “How about you let your little army know so that no one gets the dumb idea to so much as put a finger on her? Because if that happens, I’d have to stop being so nice.” He let go of Ramsey. Started for his angel.
Only Ramsey was now turning and staring at her, too. Shit. The last thing Jinx wanted was for Ramsey’s attention to wander to her. Not today, not freaking ever, thanks.
The angel was still in the doorway. Deep, thick brown hair spilled over her shoulders—brown hair shot with the faintest of blond highlights. Were the highlights natural? He didn’t know. Didn’t care. They were gorgeous. So was she…with her full lips, cute little nose, those high cheekbones, and the deep, dark eyes that could sometimes make him forget his own name.
Well, his real name, anyway.
She stood in the doorway, and her gaze darted around the shady bar as if she was looking for someone.
Lucky for her, she’d just found someone.
Jinx made his way right to her. Her head had been turned away as he approached, but as he closed in, her focus changed. Her head angled toward him, and her eyes locked on his. Stunned awareness flooded into her gaze. “You.”
“Me.” He smiled.
She did look worried.
The same way she’d looked worried on the beach. The faintest hint of fear slid into her eyes before she masked it. Damn odd. Once upon a time, he would have sworn that Alison Carter didn’t fear anything or anyone.
Apparently, he’d been wrong.
Not exactly the first time that situation had occurred.
“What are you doing here?” she said. Her breath caught. “Did you follow me?”
“Ah, yeah, sweets, I was here first.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “I was at the bar, enjoying shots…oh, wait, you enjoy them, too, from what I recall of our acquaintance.” Yes, he’d just gone there. “Want to have one with me, you know, for old time’s sake?”
Her adorable chin whipped up. “I am not here to drink.”
“Really. Huh. You’re in a bar, and you’re not here to drink.” He paused. “Now just call me curious but I am dying to know…why are you here? It’s definitely not the atmosphere. Don’t tell the owner…” Who was glowering at them. “But the place is a shithole.”
She didn’t immediately answer him. He waited. Jinx had a suspicion about why she was in the bar, and it wasn’t a good one. Ramsey’s wasn’t exactly the type of place to attract tourists. Quite the opposite. It attracted a much rougher, shadier element.
The people in Ramsey’s were usually either criminals or people looking to hire criminals. Since he didn’t know of any law that Ali had broken, that made him think she belonged in category number two…
People looking to hire criminals.
“Is this the meeting you couldn’t miss?” he asked.
Her gaze swept around the bar. “What I’m doing here is none of your business. Now, if you will excuse me…”
“No, I will not excuse you. See, it’s bad form to leave a friend in a dangerous situation. What kind of man do you think I am?”
“We covered this,” she hissed. “I am not a friend, and I can handle myself. I can—”
“Why the hell are you still here?”
Jinx didn’t stiffen at the thundering voice. He did sigh, though. Leave it to Ramsey to interrupt at a delicate moment. “I’m still here,” he tossed back without looking away from Ali, “because I happen to be talking to my friend.” He used that word deliberately.
And Jinx saw the mutinous set of Ali’s jaw.
“I told you,” she began, “I’m not—”
“Any friend of Jinx’s…” Ramsey’s voice boomed out. “Is not welcome here.”
Oh, how excellent. Ramsey had responded just as Jinx had hoped. He winked at Ali because he was feeling so pleased.
She gaped back at him. “What is going on?”
It was Ramsey who replied. He snapped. “You’re getting your ass tossed out. You and your boyfriend.” He put his hand on Jinx’s shoulder. Tightened his grip. Hard. Then he leaned in and whispered to Jinx, “I don’t want to be fucking saved. I won’t tell you again. Stay away.”
“Well, you don’t have to be rude about it,” Jinx huffed.
“Yes, with you, I do.” Ramsey let go of Jinx. Glared at a confused Ali. “Don’t know why he brought you here, but you won’t be getting through those doors again. I will make sure the bouncers know to never let you in.”
“But, but—” she sputtered.
“But nothing.” Jinx reached for her hand. “You heard the man, love. We’d better be going.” Then he let his own gaze sweep the crowd. He was conscious of all the eyes on him. “Don’t look like the friendly sort. Bet the bartender doesn’t ever offer Sex on the Beach to anyone.”
Ramsey pointed to the door. “Get the fuck out.”
Jinx tugged Ali with him. “Going.”
“But I was supposed to meet someone!” Ali was digging in her heels. “I had a meeting with Ram—”
Jinx lifted her up and tossed her over his shoulder. He was sure she’d be pissed as hell, but desperate times did call for desperate measures.
Catcalls and whistles burst into the air. Oh, yes, sure, now the crowd there responded to him. What the hell ever. He carried a squirming Ali past gawking bouncers and out into the night. He didn’t stop walking, didn’t ease up his grip on her, not until they were away from the bar and beside his motorcycle. Only then did he lower her to the ground.
She came up swinging. Luckily, he was fast at ducking. She missed him. When she swung again, he caught her fist. “Baby, your skills are with computers, not hand to hand.” Actually, he knew she had passable hand-to-hand skills.
He was just better at fighting than she was. Mostly because he loved to fight dirty.
Even as he had that thought, Ali kicked his shin. Hard enough to have him wincing.
“Fine,” Jinx growled. “I deserved that one. But I was actually being the hero tonight.”
“Heroes don’t toss women over their shoulders and carry them out of bars!”
“Sure, they do. If the bar in question happens to be a criminal cesspool and the woman is in serious danger—a true hero would totally help her get out of that situation.” He braced his legs, ignored the throbbing in his shin, and stared at her. “What the hell were you doing in a place like that?”
“Oh, come on. I’m hardly some innocent. You and I both know that.” She sniffed. “I’ve been in more hotspots in this world than most people can ever—”
“You’ve always been behind a well-trained team that watched your sexy ass.” He wasn’t playing. Not teasing. This shit was serious. “I didn’t see a team in there with you. I just saw you, walking straight into more trouble than you could possibly realize.”
“I knew exactly what I was walking into!”
“Really?” He could practically feel steam burning from his skin. “You knew you were walking into a bar filled with some of the roughest criminals in the area? Guys who would as soon stab you as look at you?”
Her mouth parted. Closed. “I—”
He edged even closer. It was all he could do to keep his hands off her. His fingers flexed and clenched. “What the hell was your plan? People go to a place like that if they want to hire someone for a job. For a theft, a smash and grab, or even a murder. Now you and I both know you can steal anything you want without someone else’s help.” That was part of her talent. A talent that he also possessed, and that was why they’d been teamed together before. “Smash and grabs have never been your game. That leaves our third choice.” A dark choice. “It makes me damn curious, baby, and I just have to know…who do you want killed?”