“Lady, do you have a damn death wish?” The robber shoved his gun toward the face of the woman who stood before him, her delicate shoulders squared and her spine perfectly straight.
“Not today, I don’t,” she assured him as the faintest trace of a British accent whispered beneath her words. The woman didn’t back down. In fact, her slightly angled chin shot up into the air.
Sonofabitch. Joel Landry hadn’t been looking for this shit. Truly. He’d just come in the bank to cash a check and be on his way. He’d wanted a nice, easy day. Was that too much to ask?
But…two minutes inside, and trouble had come calling.
He’d been standing behind the woman with the sleek black hair, the hair that fell in a thick curtain just below her shoulders. His gaze may have drifted over her body as he admired her long legs and curves, so perhaps that was why he’d been distracted. He hadn’t even realized the gunman was there until the bastard had knocked out the guard, then yelled for everyone to “Freaking freeze!”
Joel had frozen. The woman in front of him hadn’t.
Now he was about to have to do something incredibly stupid so she could keep on living. His typical luck. Joel sighed. Just when life had been getting back to normal. Semi-normal? Screw it. He—
“This won’t end like the other times,” the dark-haired woman announced.
The three bank tellers were cowering behind the counter. The bank manager was sobbing near his desk. Other than Joel and the crazy woman who didn’t seem to have the sense to be scared, there were only two other customers in there. A grandmotherly type who clutched her pearls as if her life depended on it, and a young, barely eighteen-looking fellow with eyes that darted around constantly. Buckets of sweat covered the kid.
The bank manager squeaked, “Other times?” His sobs momentarily paused.
The man with the gun narrowed his eyes on the woman who faced off against him. “Who the hell are you?”
“My friends call me Chloe.” A pause. “We won’t be friends.”
Oh, hell. Joel saw the robber’s hand tighten on the gun. The man was going to fire. Joel knew it. He lunged forward, slamming his body into the woman’s—
They hit the marble floor of the bank with a shuddering crash.
The gun didn’t fire.
Chloe blinked, narrowing her absolutely gorgeous blue eyes. Bright blue eyes. She stared at him for a moment, with no emotion registering on her face. It was almost like—like a robot was focusing on him. She blinked once, then twice. Click, click.
Her hands came up and clamped around his shoulders. Her touch sent an electric surge of heat spiraling right through him. What in the hell?
“You’re strong.” Her lips tightened. “And heavy. Now, please do me the courtesy of getting off my person.”
He’d just saved her lovely ass. Would a thank you be too much to ask? Joel didn’t—
The gun shoved into the back of his head. Immediately, his whole body tensed.
“Trying to play the hero, are you?” The robber grunted and added, “Can’t have that crap. Get up, both of you!”
Slowly, Joel lifted his body off Chloe. Don’t say anything, he mouthed the words at her.
She frowned at him.
The bank robber shouted, “Put your hands up!”
Just one guy. Joel figured he could probably take him, but he didn’t want to risk the gun going off and some innocent getting hurt.
Reluctantly, Joel lifted his hands.
Chloe lifted her hands, but she stared expectantly at Joel. As if she was waiting for him to do something. Jeez, what did the woman want, for him to take a bullet?
The robber swiped one hand over Joel’s body, taking his wallet and his phone, then the guy closed in on Chloe.
“I don’t have a phone on me. No ID, either,” she told him, voice seemingly pleasant and helpful.
The man ignored her and patted her down, but turned up no phone. Or ID.
Joel frowned at her. Why had she been in the bank if she didn’t even have her ID with her?
Her smile spread. She looked a bit smug. Sexy, yes, God, yes, he’d give her sexy points. With that dark hair, her perfect cream skin, and her red, plump lips, she was gorgeous.
But he was also starting to think the robber had been right about her. Did the woman have some kind of death wish?
The robber motioned with his gun. “Walk this way.”
Uh, okay. Joel walked that way, but he tried to angle his body so that he was between the gorgeous, potentially death-wish-having woman and the gun.
A few moments later, they were in front of what turned out to be a storage closet. A very narrow storage closet. The robber waved them inside. It was so tight in there that Chloe’s body pushed against Joel’s. Every lovely inch of her. And her scent—a light raspberry? Strawberry?—teased his nose.
The robber stood in the doorway, smirking. “Won’t cause any trouble in here, will you?”
Joel’s stare narrowed on him. The fellow was about average height, with drooping shoulders and a slight pudge in his stomach. A weak beard covered his equally weak chin, and his grip on the gun was far too tight.
The robber started to slam the door shut—
“Harry,” the woman sighed out the name. “You should’ve stopped while you were ahead. Had to be extra greedy, didn’t you?”
“Harry” widened his eyes. “How the hell do you know my name?”
“I know lots of things,” she replied demurely.
The gun was shaking in Harry’s hand. Joel figured they were both about to die. Getting shot in a smelly storage closet. That was his end?
Only instead of firing, Harry slammed the door shut. There was a distinct snick as the lock turned. Abso-fucking-lutely wonderful.
Darkness covered them, the only light coming in from beneath the door. Joel remembered another time. Being trapped in the dark. The stench of blood. The feel of the heat and dirt and sweat covering his body as—
Her body pressed against his. Her arm lifted and—
A light turned on.
“I pulled the cord,” she told him, again using what he was thinking of as her helpful voice. “You seemed to be suffering from some PTSD that was triggered by the dark or perhaps the close confines of the closet, so I wanted to calm you—”
“What. The. Fuck?” His heart pounded hard in his chest.
“PTSD?” Her dark brows arched. “Post-traumatic stress disorder. I can’t believe you aren’t familiar with the term.”
He sucked in a breath. Let it out slowly. Extra slowly. “I am familiar.”
A quick nod. “Oh, that’s good. I was afraid that you didn’t—”
“There is a bank robber out there with a gun.”
Did she almost smile? “I noticed him.”
“He could shoot us both at any moment.”
Those plump lips pursed for a moment. Then…“No, I don’t really think he could.”
His temples throbbed. “We’re lucky he didn’t lock us in the damn vault.” Talk about a blast straight from his nightmares. He didn’t do so well in closed spaces. Side effect of being buried alive. This closet smelled of turpentine and bleach. And strawberries—her. But at least it wasn’t some air-tight bank vault that would become his coffin.
A small laugh escaped her.
An actual laugh.
What in the hell? Who laughed after being locked up by a bank robber? Was the woman truly crazy? Such a total and complete waste. Why were the sexy ones so often also the crazy-as-hell ones?
Her hand—with the softest skin on the whole planet—patted against his cheek. “That’s so funny. You’re quite amusing.”
“Nothing about this situation is funny. Lady, are you off your meds?”
“I’m not on any medication.”
“Then why are you acting so crazy? Like this is a fun, freaking game instead of a life-and-death deal!”
“First…” A soft sigh from her. “Crazy is not a clinical term, and you shouldn’t just throw it out there like it is.”
His temples throbbed harder.
“Second. Take some breaths. I was laughing because you thought he was going to put us in the vault.”
“Yeah. How is that shit funny?”
“He’s a bank robber. That means he is here to rob the bank of its valuables. You do know that the most valuable things are kept in the vault? Why put us in there? We’d just be in his way.”
Breathe. He had to breathe. And not because she’d told him to take breaths.
“Harry is here for very specific items. He’ll get what he needs, and then dear Harry will think that he’s walking away free and clear.”
She’d done it again. Referred to the bank robber by name. As if they were old buddies. His heart rate sped up even more. “How do you know his name?”
“Uh, because I was hunting him?”
Joel shook his head.
Her hand fell away. She’d still been touching him. Part of Joel, dammit, had still been liking her touch.
“Say that again.” The pounding in his temples had gotten so loud that he must have misheard her.
“I was hunting him.” Again, that British accent of hers slithered through. Faint, but there. Perhaps a little more pronounced than it had been before because Joel thought she might be annoyed.
Join the club, sister.
“This isn’t the first bank Harry has hit,” Chloe informed him crisply. “It’s actually number four.”
Joel stared at her. Didn’t blink. Just stared.
“I was waiting for him to come in.” Her smile flashed. Her voice was low, though, and he realized it had been low the whole time that they’d been in the closet. She was all whispery. Her whispery voice was…sexy. Why was he finding everything about her to be hot?
He was so messed up. Was this what got him going now? Pretty women with delusions? Fuck me. “And what were you going to do…” Joel drawled as he tried to get his shit together, “when he came in the bank? Chat his ear off? Become his new BFF? Because I didn’t see you stopping him!”
“Well, I was about to stop him.” Her lips curled down. “Then you heaved your body at me. Threw us both to the floor. And got us locked in this coffin.”
He refused to look at the tiny walls again. Joel blew out a long breath. “I was saving your ass.”
Ah, obviously—“Because it needed saving?”
“It didn’t.” She shook her head. Her hair danced over her cheek.
“We aren’t friends. And you specifically said your friends called you that. Which probably means it’s not even your real name. You have some other name that you were legally born with, and Chloe is some weird-ass alias.” He’d just been making shit up because…hell, saying that stuff seemed fitting, with her. It also seems way possible that Chloe is not her name.
Her eyes widened. “You are interesting.”
“And you’re a straight-up psycho.” Breathe. Breathe. “Sorry. I know that’s not a clinical term, either. Sue me.” He was about to lose his mind. He had to get out of that closet. He couldn’t stay in that coffin another minute. “This is how things will go down. I’m going to get us out of here. I’m going to knock out the robber. And I’m going to make sure those people out there stay alive.”
“Oh.” She tilted back her head. Stared at him with that robotic look in her eyes again. Click. Click.
What was up with that?
“I didn’t realize you were a superhero.” She nodded. “My mistake. I guess I overlooked the cape and the awesome crime-fighting skills.”
She was making a joke? Then? With her absolute dead-pan voice?
She patted his cheek once more. Let her hand linger. “I don’t need saving. That will be point one.”
Point one? Why was she lecturing him? They weren’t in class. They were in a tiny closet. Coffin. They were in hell.
“As far as getting out of this coffin—”
“Don’t call it that,” he gritted out from between clenched teeth.
“Why not? It’s how you keep thinking of it.”
Shock rolled through him.
“As far as the coffin,” Chloe continued doggedly. “I can get us out anytime we want. That’s point two.”
He shouldn’t have come in the bank. He shouldn’t have admired her ass. Or her legs. Or anything about the woman.
“Point three…Chloe is my real name. Or one of them, anyway. My birth certificate says my name is Constance Catherine Chloe Hastings. Obviously, that’s just too many names, so I go with Chloe.”
“Great for you. Fantastic.”
“For point four, what makes you think all of those people out there need saving?” Her hand trailed down his cheek, sliding a little over the stubble he had there. So he hadn’t taken the time to shave that morning. So he was wearing battered jeans and old sneakers and a t-shirt that had seen better days.
She looked like a dream.
He looked like hell.
But she was the one saying—
“Accomplice.” Her hand dropped. “Obviously, one of the people out there is Harry’s accomplice.”
Oddly fascinated by her and this new, ever-so-unbelievable revelation, Joel had to ask, “Is that even his name? Or did you like, look at him and just think the bastard looked like a Harry?”
She smiled. A quick flash that lit her eyes. “Are you asking me if I guessed his name? I never guess.”
“But I do make educated deductions.”
Heaven help him.
Her body pressed ever closer. A certain part of Joel’s anatomy appreciated that closeness. She had to feel that appreciation, unfortunately.
“Who do you think the accomplice is?” Chloe asked.
“Ah…” He cleared his throat. Tried to stop greedily gulping her strawberry scent. “I’m…I’m not playing your game.”
“Why not? Talking to me obviously keeps you distracted so that you forget the fact you’re trapped in this tiny closet. You’re welcome, by the way.”
“Welcome? You expect me to thank you for trapping me?”
“No, but you can thank me for keeping you distracted.”
She…actually was. The throbbing in his temples and the fierce constriction in his chest had eased a little.
“You’re very strong. Though I did notice some of the scars on your arms. Knife wounds?”
He wasn’t replying.
Her sigh blew over him. “Fine. We’ll talk about the scars another time.”
No, they would not. There would not be another time for them. After he walked out of the bank, he planned to never, ever see her again.
“Who do you think the accomplice is?” Chloe pushed. “Come on, tell me.”
“The guy came in alone.”
“Because his partner was already here.”
Their gazes held.
Her eyes widened. “You have gold in your eyes. I thought your eyes were just brown, but they’re not. I don’t usually miss details like that on the first glance.”
“Don’t beat yourself up,” Joel muttered, “we all make mistakes.”
Her lips parted. Red and slick and why was he thinking about kissing her? No, no, very much no.
Her smile became smug. “You don’t know who the accomplice is.”
Because there wasn’t an accomplice—
“Fine. I’ll tell you. This time. But I expect you to do better in the future.”
They had no future together.
“It was the bank teller. The one with red hair. She dropped down too fast. I knew it had to be an inside man, so I was watching. As soon as Harry walked in the door, before he even flashed his gun, she was hitting the floor.”
Was that…right? Huh. It might just be. Joel tried to replay the scene in his head.
Her tone turned slightly musing as she continued, “I’ll have to get the cops to go back and talk to all the tellers involved in the previous robberies. I’m betting Harry gave a teller at each bank a slice of his haul as payment for services rendered. You know, they tell him the layout of the bank, the best time to come in, how to catch the security officer off-guard…”
“The redhead,” Joel heard himself say because this was making sense to him. “She called out to the security guard right before Harry knocked the guy out with his gun. She had ducked behind the counter, but she screamed for security.” And had he just called the robber Harry? Like it was a thing now? What was Chloe doing to him?
But he could have sworn her blue eyes were gleaming with approval.
“Exactly. Her scream distracted the guard so that Harry could have his perfect hit.” A nod. “And this is why I had to bust Harry in the act. So much easier for the cops to come in when he’s working with his latest partner…”
And this was why he was about to bust out of the closet. “The cops aren’t coming. No one had a chance to sound the alarm. If the redhead is working with him, you can bet she made sure the authorities weren’t alerted.”
Her hand curled around his neck. He felt her lean up against him. He bent toward her. Chloe’s lips feathered over his ear as she whispered, “I sounded the alarm. I called the cops.”
Why was her voice so much lower now? But, did it even matter why? Because he sure loved the feel of her mouth on his ear. So wrong. So right.
“They’ll be here in five, four, three…”
She was doing a countdown. That was why she’d gotten so quiet. The cops were about to burst in and she was—
He heard an explosion. His body hurtled against hers, and they slammed into one of the shelves in the closet. Cleaning solution hit the floor. Paper towels rained down on his head. And he held her as tightly as he could.
“You okay?” Joel demanded.
Of—jeez. He freed her. Spun away. Kicked at the lock on the closet door. The lock and doorknob shattered, and the door flew open. He ran out and headed straight for the chaos. At least half a dozen uniformed cops swarmed the scene.
Had they blown open the entrance to the bank? SWAT members were there, wearing their distinct tactical gear, and it sure as hell looked like they’d set off a mini-bomb at the entrance. Harry was on the floor, being cuffed as he snarled and shouted. The bank manager was still sobbing near his desk. The young kid was helping the older lady rise to her feet. And the bank tellers were all being ushered toward the door by concerned cops.
“Stop the redhead!” Chloe called out as she rushed to Joel’s side. “She’s his accomplice!”
At Chloe’s shout, the redhead whirled. She shoved the uniformed cop away from her. Fury tightened the woman’s face as her hand dove into her purse, and she came up holding—
Great. A gun.
The redhead pointed the gun straight at Chloe. That was twice in ten minutes. She’d had two guns pointed at her within ten minutes. And for the second time, Joel leapt in to save her ass. Only this time, the gun actually fired.
The bullet blasted across his arm as he tackled Chloe once again.