KIMBERLY DEAN Courting Suspicion
A division of HarperCollinsPublishers
This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.
An imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers
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An eBook Original 2016
Copyright © Kimberly Dean
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Ebook Edition © 2016 ISBN: 9780008181055
Version date: 2016-03-02
Table of Contents
She never should have agreed to this. She was enjoying herself too much.
Nina looked around Nationals Park and took it all in: the smell of freshly cut grass, the feel of dirt under her Prada sneakers, the sound of the crack of a bat, and the sight of the ruggedly handsome man at the batting cage. Her date for the game was actively chatting up the Nationals’ batting coach, an All Star himself back in his playing days.
She’d known the detective was a baseball guy. He just had that hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet thing about him. Plus, that sexy, loose-hipped walk was a signature of a natural athlete.
Whatever she thought of the man, she’d noticed that. She was used to seeing him in suits, ties and a badge, but it was even more apparent with the jeans and Nationals T-shirt he was wearing. It was a good look on him.
Not that she was looking …
‘Hey, Niña,’ the centre fielder said as he stepped into the batting cage for some practice swings. ‘How’s it goin’?’
‘Can’t complain, Andre.’
She felt the detective’s gaze slide over her and land on the Nationals’ star player. She could practically hear the gears in his head start clicking, but she refused to react.
‘Good luck out there,’ she said.
The switch-hitter turned on an inside pitch and laced it down the right field line. Nina was aware she was one of only a handful of people in the world who knew he switch-hit off the field, too.
He threw her a grin when the ball rattled around in the corner of the stadium. ‘Luck from a pretty lady always works.’
The game was scheduled for under the lights. It was still early enough in the season for there to be a nip in the air, yet Nina felt nothing but heat along her entire right side when Detective Morgan moved a step closer.
‘Niña?’ he muttered under his breath.
‘It’s just his accent.’
‘It means “baby girl”.’
She met his look, even though she had to tilt back her head to do it. ‘It also causes powerful storms.’
His dark gaze sparked. ‘He got that right.’
The low rumble stroked over her skin, and Nina fought not to shiver. The goosebumps popping up on her skin had nothing to do with a chill. She watched as Morgan folded his arms on a metal bar of the batting cage and leaned in to watch the superstar take more warm-up cuts.
‘Are you having a good time, Detective?’
He clicked his tongue.
‘Josh,’ she quickly amended.
She was rewarded with a quick grin, one of those rare flashes that made her knees nearly buckle. She wrapped her hands more securely around the metal bar and focused on the instructions the batting coach was calling to the next player who stepped up to the plate.
She was supposed to call him Josh tonight. It was one of a handful of stipulations he’d put on accepting her gift of tickets to the game. She was to call him Josh – no mention of his job title allowed; she was to let him drive her to the game – no security detail permitted; and she was to escort him to the game.
Between his choice of words and his list of conditions, she’d spent the last two weeks worrying that he knew more of her secrets than he should.
More, certainly, than was safe …
Still leaning against the cage, he turned to face her. His dark gaze was too observant as it swept over her whitened grip. ‘It’s been fascinating so far.’
Which was the last thing she wanted. Engaging his curious mind was like waving a red flag in front of a bull.
She carefully unclenched her fingers and slipped her hands into the pockets of her Nationals jacket. ‘I think it’s time we found our seats.’
The opposing team had already left the field, and the grounds crew was gathering around home plate, getting ready to clear out the pre-game equipment and put fresh chalk down on the base lines.
‘Lead the way. I’ll follow.’
That’s what she was worried about.
They headed off the field and worked their way up into the stands. With every step, Nina was aware of the man at her side, and it wasn’t just his size. There was an intensity about him, an alertness. He saw too much, he liked to push and he didn’t give up. Those had been good qualities when she’d needed his help for her assistant Rielle. Now they were dangerous to her, her company and her people.
‘Ms Lockwood.’ A silver-haired man nodded politely as they crossed paths in the aisle.
‘Mr Bayles,’ she replied to the banker with just as much graciousness.
She stiffened when she felt the detective’s hand settle against her waist. Oh, no. She hadn’t just given away Luxxor’s accounting –
‘Careful,’ he said as he pulled her out of the way of a peanut salesman.
Her breath caught when her body pressed solidly against the detective’s larger, harder form, but he still had to catch the corner of the vendor’s tray before it hit her.
‘Oh, sorry, man,’ the freckled peanut guy said, but then his gaze lifted to her face and his fair skin flushed. He adjusted the harness over his shoulders as he gaped at her. ‘Ma’am.’
The detective ushered her around the poor seller as his ears turned red. ‘Don’t worry, she has that effect on most men.’
Nina’s head whipped around.
The detective simply lifted an eyebrow. ‘I’m surprised he didn’t know you too.’
She began to protest, but just then she heard her name coming from the next section.
It was the choreographer from the Washington Ballet, another frequent client. She forced a smile and waved.
‘Finally, a woman,’ her date mused.
Oh, no. She wasn’t going to let him chew on that bone.
Without thinking, she caught his hand and led him down the steps. Their seats were only feet from the cursive W chalked into the grass behind home plate. The section gave a prime view of not only the game but DC’s relatively new ballpark. The LED scoreboard looked crystal sharp in right-centre, and from the upper deck the Capitol should be visible in left. They’d already indulged in a few of the perks that came with the Presidential Club seats. The all-access pass had gotten them onto the field for pre-game activities and unlimited food and drink in the indoor lounge. Of course, with all the gourmet food around, Morgan had insisted they have hot dogs and beer – which, admittedly, had been delicious.
Nine innings. She just needed to get through nine innings with him.
He followed her into their row, but, when they took their seats, Nina was flummoxed to find him still holding her hand.
He rubbed his thumb across her knuckles. ‘You’ve got a lot of friends.’
‘They’re not my friends.’
His eyebrows rose, and she flinched. It had just slipped out. None of the people she’d run into tonight were clients she actually liked, except Andre.
‘Who is?’ the detective asked, his question low amongst the rustling of the crowd.
She went still. He’d taken the conversation in a direction she hadn’t anticipated.
‘Who do you trust, Nina?’
‘Rielle, Sienna and a few others.’
She was aware that her friends were also her employees. She was a social butterfly who only let a small number of people close. Not many people saw that, though. It unsettled her that he had.
But it didn’t surprise her.
‘So there’s room for one more,’ he said as he settled their joined hands on his thigh.
She looked at him, wide-eyed, unable to help herself.
The announcer called for the national anthem. Morgan stood, tugging her up with him. Nina rose too, but pulled her hand away from his warm grip. She put it over her heart to keep it from hopping outside her ribcage.
Her thoughts whirled as the organist played. They weren’t even close to being friends. They were adversaries, at best. Adversaries conducting a momentary truce.
Although he had come to her rescue when she’d needed help for Rielle … And she’d repaid him with tickets to this game – the highest priced seats in the stadium – because she’d wanted to thank him.
No, friends they were not. She doubted they could ever be. There was too much standing between them, not to mention the … spark. She didn’t know what else to call it. Whenever they got close, she felt the energy running along the edges of her skin like static electricity.
No, she didn’t want him as a friend.
When they sat back down, she busied herself opening her programme and digging in her purse for a pen. Morgan made himself comfortable beside her. The seats behind home plate were wider and cushier than those throughout the rest of the stadium, and the size was needed to accommodate his tall form. It didn’t stop his knee from brushing against hers.
She crossed her legs, and her Prada sneaker bounced up and down as she waited for the first batter to step up to the plate. The shoes weren’t her customary heels, but they had a blue hibiscus print that was fun enough to make her give up the extra inches. Right now, though, she wished for that extra boost of power. She cast a quick glance at Morgan, but he was focused on the game too.
It let her relax.
She began tracking the game in the blank scorecard in the programme, writing details like F-7, 6-3, and moving Andre to first base with his hit.
The detective looked over her hieroglyphics. ‘You know how to keep score.’
‘I know a lot of things.’
He chuckled. ‘I don’t doubt that.’
She retraced Andre’s path from home plate to first base, making the line bold. He was always pushing, this one, looking for a way in. ‘I like it. It calms my thoughts and lets me focus.’
‘Baseball as Zen? What’s got you so stressed?’
Her pen stalled. She’d slipped. Again. By trying to avoid the subject that made him so curious, she’d opened up.
‘You played, didn’t you?’ she asked.
And scored, point-blank.
His curious expression turned suspicious. ‘You looked me up.’
‘What? No. Well, not your past.’ She’d had her investigators look into who he was when he’d started poking around Luxxor during that whole Jason Sloan affair. She’d needed to know how big of a threat he was to her company.
She needed to remember the outcome of that report.
‘I can see it,’ she confessed. ‘It’s in the way you walk.’
Not that she was watching …
‘You were in your element down on that field. I could hear it in how you talked to the players and coaches.’ She shrugged. ‘I knew you were a baseball guy before I bought the tickets.’
He sat back in his seat, and their shoulders brushed. ‘What position did I play?’
She nibbled at her lip and looked at the field. ‘First base?’
‘How do you know that?’
He had the body of a power hitter, but she didn’t want to say that out loud. ‘You clean up after others.’
He smirked. There was no other way to describe the expression on his face. It made her stomach flip. She wasn’t trying to intrigue him.
But it didn’t look as if she was putting him off at all.
‘You read people, don’t you?’ he said.
‘So do you,’ she replied softly.
Their gazes locked, and her foot stopped bobbing. She was scared to think of what he saw when he read her. Scared, defensive and maybe just a bit wistful. He saw inside her too easily – or he liked making her think he did. She was a strong woman, but the mind games were getting to her.
Because the one thing she couldn’t forget tonight was that he was a cop – and she was DC’s top madam.
She toyed with her earring, and it jingled a little warning. How much did he really know? How much did he suspect? He’d been hanging around Luxxor for way too long now, no doubt picking up details and puzzle pieces. She couldn’t let any more slip around him. Not only was it uncharacteristic, it was dangerous.
‘I played first base and batted fourth in the lineup in college,’ he said.
She twirled her pen. She couldn’t let him say what he saw in her. She couldn’t hear it.
A beer vendor was making his way up the aisle, and she waved him down. ‘Two, please.’
‘Running scared, Nina?’
‘I’m not scared, I’m thirsty.’
He watched her steadily, not buying it. She passed him a beer and took a quick sip of her own.
He drank more deeply before turning his attention back to the game. ‘How’s Rielle doing?’ he asked.
Thank God, a mutually safe topic. ‘She’s stronger than I realised, in a lot of ways.’
He cocked his head and frowned. ‘You don’t do Muay Thai, do you?’
The tension left his big body. ‘Good, the heels are hazardous enough.’
She might do a little Tai Chi every now and then, but the martial arts weren’t her thing, especially the brutal, sweaty, close-contact ones. She shifted in her seat. Although hot sweaty close contact wasn’t totally out of her realm.
Her ears turned hot. ‘I didn’t even know she practised that.’
‘You tried to protect her.’
She had, but her efforts hadn’t been good enough – not on their own. ‘You locked her stalker up, and you gathered the evidence to keep him there.’
‘It was the only way to keep Scott away from the guy.’
Darien Scott was Rielle’s boyfriend. They didn’t come any more dangerous than that one, except for maybe the man sitting next to her.
What was she doing here with a cop?
‘Darien’s getting back on his feet,’ she said. ‘He’s not a very patient patient.’
‘I know. We grabbed a beer the other night.’
Her eyebrows rose. She really didn’t like the sound of that. ‘When did you two become best buds?’
‘When you and your assistant came sashaying into our lives.’
Nina tapped her pen against the programme. She did not sashay.
‘Nice shoes, by the way.’
Her jaw set. ‘I like them.’
‘So do I.’
Again, his low tone stroked over her skin in a way that made her distinctly uncomfortable. ‘Drink your beer, Josh.’
He didn’t grin, but it was close.
They stayed that way, talking and sparring, as the game moved on, inning by inning. He was a tricky one, though. It was probably from all the interrogation training he undoubtedly had – or because he’d figured out a way under her skin. Nina found herself answering honestly more often than not, and it unsettled her. She was usually more careful than that … had more control. She’d taught herself to keep her opinions and personal matters private around clients. It was only around those closest to her that she allowed more of her true self to show.
The man was neither a client nor a friend.
Why was she letting him get to her?
‘F-8,’ he said, pointing at her scorecard.
She’d fallen behind again. The man was distracting, to say the least.
‘So what big scandal is going to pull me out to Luxxor next?’ he asked. The crack of the bat against a ball reverberated around the park as the Phillies’ catcher smoked a line drive down the third base line. The action stopped just as suddenly when the ball smacked into the third baseman’s glove.
‘Nothing.’ Nina could feel the detective’s gaze on her rather than the action on the field.
She diligently wrote the out in her scorecard. On paper, all the fuss seemed like nothing. A simple out, the end of the inning – no sign of a close call.
‘There’s always something going on over there,’ Morgan said, not letting the subject drop. ‘Why is that?’
She felt that sizzle of danger again, riding along her nerve endings.
‘I couldn’t say, but we’ve appreciated your diligence. There’s no reason you should have to visit us again.’
‘So give me one.’
Her pen stopped, frozen on the paper.
‘Go to dinner with me tomorrow,’ he said softly. ‘My treat this time.’
Her brain stalled out, too.
The invitation was unexpected. It shouldn’t have been tempting … but it was. The plan tonight was to thank him for his efforts and then walk away. He was too close already. He’d seen more than he should.
But the words just wouldn’t come.
She could feel his gaze on her like a heavy weight. She knew she couldn’t see him again, inside her office or out of it. Yet, with every inning that passed, she was dreading the end of the night more and more.
Silence loomed between them. He wasn’t letting her off the hook. She felt like everyone in the park was looking at them and began to imagine murmurs. People in the stands close to them even turned to watch.
Suddenly, Nina realised she wasn’t imagining it. Looking up, she caught their reflection on the scoreboard. She and Josh were posted in stunning clarity on the big screen.
Her stomach dropped. Oh, dear Lord, no.
The Kiss Cam.
Hoots and hollers rang up loud around them, and she did the only thing she could think of doing. She lifted her programme in front of her face and hid.
She was a self-assured, sophisticated woman who didn’t need the attention the selfies crowd seemed to crave these days. Luxxor was known for being discreet. She didn’t advertise her company. The last thing she needed was her face plastered on a fifty-foot-high LED screen.
But then the detective moved in his seat.
He caught her wrist and slowly pushed the programme down. His hand slipped into her hair, and he cupped the back of her head. Their gazes caught as he leaned in.
Nina couldn’t move. Couldn’t think. Could barely breathe. She heard the commotion around them surge as his lips covered hers.
But then all she could do was feel.
She closed her eyes as sensation bombarded her. The kiss he planted on her was slow, intimate and thorough. The heat built slowly, sexily, until her resistance melted into thin air. Her programme slipped out of her hand. She leaned into him, and a sound left the back of his throat. He sealed their mouths together as his other hand caught her waist. She reached for him and her hand settled on his jawline. The crisp feel of his five o’clock shadow couldn’t have contrasted more with the soft strands of his hair brushing against her fingertips. She wanted to touch more. She wanted to feel more.
He pulled her closer, and the armrest dug into her stomach. If not for it, he would have had her on his lap, and she wouldn’t have minded.
He felt so good.
He made her feel good. Aroused. Safe. Connected. Awakened.
Around them, the joking laughs turned to embarrassed gasps. The hoots and catcalls became wolf-whistles, but it was the collective sigh that ran throughout the whole of Nationals Park that finally got through Nina’s clouded head.
She wasn’t safe. This was foolish, risky … dangerous.
She pulled back sharply, but his hold on her tightened.
‘Don’t.’ He lifted the programme again to hide both of them.
Her breath came hard as she looked into his dark eyes. She could feel his own against her face and her lips. She licked them to stop the tingling, but his gaze dropped with the motion. He kissed her again, hard and fast.
Hoots rose in volume again, and, even with the programme hiding them, the Kiss Cam operator finally realised he’d focused on a kiss unsuitable for a family-friendly audience.
Nina pushed away and found her hand against Morgan’s chest. He was warm and hard. The strength beneath her fingertips could have scared her, but it lured her even more.
She yanked her hand away and turned her head. His lips brushed against her temple. His hand was still tangled in her hair, but she felt his hold gentle. He was slow in letting her go, and his fingertips almost seemed to caress the back of her head and then the tight muscles of her neck, but then she was free.
Nina’s heart beat in her chest so hard, she could hear it in her ears. Her breaths raked her throat, but she forced them to shorten. She sat up straighter and smoothed her rumpled jacket.
This wouldn’t do. This wouldn’t do at all.
She swept her fingers over her mouth to tidy up any smudged lipstick, but discovered she had none left. She uncrossed her legs and put both feet square on the ground.
‘Nina,’ Morgan said in warning.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said politely, ‘but it’s getting late, and I have an early morning.’
‘Come on, Nina. That’s been coming for a long time, and we both know it.’
She zipped up her purse and tucked her hair behind her ear. He was still leaning towards her, getting in her space. She could feel the people seated around them leaning in, too, trying to hear.
‘I really need to go.’
His eyes narrowed. ‘The deal was for a game.’
She glanced at the scoreboard. Her scorecard was way behind now. ‘It’s the seventh inning. The game is official.’
‘You agreed to ride with me.’
‘To the game. Mr Howard can pick me up.’ She pulled her phone from the side pocket of her purse and began to text her security night detail. Her fingers were steady as a surgeon’s, but her forearms were clenched so tight they ached. ‘Please, stay and enjoy the rest of the game. Your ticket will get you into the post-game media interviews, too.’
‘Nina.’ Morgan’s voice like a rock against slate. His hand was in her hair again as he made her look him in the eye.
He could see right to the heart of her.
‘You don’t want to run from me.’
No, one should never turn their back on a predator.
‘I appreciate what you did for Rielle.’ She stood smoothly. ‘Thank you for inviting me, Detective.’
The low sound that emerged from his chest was practically a growl.
‘Josh,’ she said, her voice breaking. ‘I can’t do this.’
‘Yes, we can.’
‘No. We can’t.’
He let her past him, and disappointed sounds emerged from the crowd who’d witnessed it all.
Nina felt the weight of their stares as she walked confidently but quickly to the exit. She could feel the disappointment of all the strangers around her, but it didn’t come close to the regret she felt deep inside her chest.
Her body ached with arousal. Her lips felt puffy, and her fingers craved more than the brief touches they’d stolen. This had been it, her one little bit of self-indulgence. She swallowed hard and lifted her chin.
After tonight, she’d never see him again.
She’d been trying to push Josh Morgan off her trail for a long time now. She was pretty sure she’d finally accomplished her goal. And it was for the best. For everybody.
No matter how much it hurt.
Josh rode the elevator up to the seventh floor of the Emissary Hotel, glaring at the numbers as they ticked off with a merry chime. It had been one o’clock in the morning when his phone had started ringing.
One stinking o’clock.
He rarely did ‘merry’, and never at this hour.
He twisted his neck to the side and heard a satisfying crack. This is what he got for being a nice guy – although others might argue with that assessment. He hadn’t been in a good mood for a while now, with good cause. He ran a hand over his face and straightened from the railing against which he’d been leaning. He didn’t work the night shift, but he’d been called in. Whatever it was, it better be worth his time.
The happy elevator finally arrived at its destination, and he glowered at the uniformed officer waiting in the elevator lobby.
The cop’s spine stiffened, making him stand up at least an inch taller. ‘Room 740, Detective.’
‘What are we looking at? Assault? Theft? Murder?’
He needed to get his brain in the right place before he walked in there.
The uniform’s Adam’s apple bobbed. ‘Solicitation, sir, and breaking and entering.’
Well, that was a combination.
Josh muttered a curse and swiped a hand through his mussed hair. He hadn’t taken the time to primp before he’d driven over here. ‘Sounds like something you guys could handle. Why am I here?’
The cop swallowed hard again and shrugged.
The tired ache in Josh’s head pressed harder. He turned on his heel and strode down the hallway. The place was swanky. The carpeting was a deep emerald green. There were skinny wooden tables with spindly legs holding vases of flowers. The wall sconces looked to be brass, with frosted glass shades. The staff downstairs had all been clad in uniforms that matched the green carpeting, and just the air of the place said money.
It definitely wasn’t the kind of place that rented by the hour.
That didn’t mean that all the wealthy patrons didn’t have their eyes pressed against their doors’ peepholes right now, watching everything that was going on. They were probably just as pleased as he was at having been awakened in the wee hours, although the Emissary would no doubt be making it right with them.
He might get a handshake out of the deal.
With a grunt, he focused on the spectacle ahead of him. Police swarmed the end of the hallway, a lot for a solicitation charge. There were uniformed cops, a hotel manager, and some guy in a suit on a phone.
He frowned. What had happened? Had the john gotten rough? Was it a freaking orgy in there?
The young officer who’d called him stepped into the hallway, writing feverishly in his notebook. Simons was a good cop, and the son of the guy who’d mentored Josh. Blue ran in the family’s blood. The kid wouldn’t have called him here if he wasn’t needed.
‘Simons,’ Josh said.
The cop looked up and a relieved expression settled onto his face. ‘Detective Morgan. Thanks for coming.’
Josh crossed his arms over his chest. He felt a bit better for having been rolled out of bed. ‘You need an assist?’
‘Yeah.’ Simons blew out a breath and looked over his shoulder towards the hotel room. ‘I’m in over my head.’
So he’d called in someone he trusted enough to admit that to. Josh nodded in understanding. Usually, in cases like this, the patrol units handled the onsite arrests, and the case was handed off to the detective division for further follow-up. Something must be hinky for Simons to call in the detective unit early.
‘Solicitation, huh? You guys running a sting?’
‘No, we were called in because of the B&E.’
Josh frowned. ‘Who broke in? The pimp?’
Simons looked at his notebook. ‘TMI News. They’re one of those paparazzi news shows.’
The dull ache in Josh’s head intensified. He was starting to catch on now. It wasn’t what had happened that was causing the uproar. ‘Who is it?’
Someone he knew? Someone from one of his other cases trying to make a bad situation worse?
‘Senator Gunderson. The news guys swear he’s here with a prostitute.’
Ah, hell. That explained the extra personnel. Whenever you brought a political player into a case, things got messy. Like sewer-system messy. He knew. He was DC Metro PD. He’d had interactions with the Capitol Hill types before, but it had been a while. He didn’t want to get within a hundred feet of a stinker case like this.
But the kid was even less well equipped to deal with it.
Josh sighed. ‘You did good calling me.’
Everything needed to be handled by the book. All I’s needed to be dotted, and all T’s crossed. Not only did they have a political player, the press was already on the scene.
‘Walk me through it.’
Simons nodded feverishly. Colour was starting to come back to his cheeks. He flipped his notes through several pages. ‘The senator and his … date … rented the room around midnight. Not much later they were interrupted in the middle of … you know … doing the deed by two guys with a camera.’
Josh glanced at the door and doorframe for Room 740. They didn’t seem to be damaged. ‘How did they get in?’
‘I don’t know. I haven’t gotten that far yet.’
‘Who called it in?’
‘A few of the other guests on the floor. Apparently the news guys weren’t quiet.’ Simons jerked his thumb at the man in the hotel uniform. ‘Hotel management then called us.’
‘Did they tell you the guy was a senator?’
The cop confirmed with a nod. ‘Gunderson checked in under his own name. I don’t know much more than that. We just got the groups separated.’
‘All right.’ Josh rubbed the back of his neck. It was awfully strange for a politician to check in under his own name if he was with a prostitute – unless he was well known and knew people could identify him anyway.
Personally, he’d never heard of the guy. He must be doing a bang-up job on Capitol Hill.
Weren’t they all?
‘Oh, and one more thing,’ Simons said. ‘The senator is running for re-election.’
Shit. There went Josh’s hope of getting back to bed any time tonight.
‘Let’s see what everyone has to say.’ Political prima donna or not, the crime scene process was the same. Josh shook off his tiredness as he started to look over everything. Simons was on his heels, but they both stopped to take a better gander at the door. There weren’t any signs of impact or tampering, just normal wear and tear.
‘Hey, you,’ somebody inside the room called. ‘You in charge here?’
Josh’s eyes narrowed on the scruffy-looking duo. They had to be the so-called reporters. One was wearing a ragged old George Washington University hoodie, ripped jeans and rundown tennis shoes. The other had floppy hair and a bad neck twitch. He kept jerking it around to get his hair out of his eyes. Hoodie carried a GoPro camera in his hand. It didn’t give the duo the appearance of ‘real’ reporters, but the camera was cheaper and probably more portable than the larger units professional news crews carried.
‘I’m Detective Morgan. I’ll be handling the investigation.’
‘Finally! Lance Durquist from TMI News. We caught them on film – dead to rights – the senator and his lady of the night.’ The reporter lifted his camera and started shooting again. ‘What can you tell us, Detective? When will the senator be hauled in front of a judge to pay for his crime?’
‘Turn that thing off,’ Josh growled.
He didn’t have to ask twice.
Hoodie looked nervous. ‘Arrest them, and we’ll get it on the morning web news.’
Like that was an incentive.
The reporter thrust out the camera. ‘Just watch it. It explains everything.’
Josh accepted the camera that was being offered to him, handling it carefully. He looked over the buttons and dials and hit rewind. The video came with audio, and more than one head turned when it started playing again. Grunts and sexy little feminine cries fill the airspace. ‘Sorry,’ he muttered.
He hit rewind again to take the video all the way back to the beginning.
‘I want that video burned.’ A deep baritone voice rang out from the next room. ‘They broke in here. That’s private.’
Josh wasn’t interested in the porn show. He’d get to that in a minute. For the time being, he wanted to see how Hoodie and Bieber had gotten access to the room. It didn’t take long to find out. They’d begun recording out in the hallway. He passed the camera to Simons when he got the information he needed. ‘Bag that.’
‘Yeah.’ The guy in the hoodie nodded and high-fived his floppy-haired friend. ‘All right.’
The two were grinning as if they’d just caught the next Watergate scandal on tape.
The guy who’d been on the phone in the hallway didn’t find it as funny. He was now inside the room. ‘You can’t use that. It was obtained illegally. My client will fight it.’
The lawyers were already on the scene, too. Fantastic.
‘And – as I was about to say,’ Josh said pointedly, ‘arrest them.’
‘What?’ Hoodie squeaked.
‘Ah, man.’ Bieber jerked his head to try to see as the cuffs were put on. When that didn’t work, he had to reach up with both hands to get his hair out of his eyes.
Simons read the duo their rights. ‘You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney …’
Hoodie’s face turned red with outrage, and he talked right over the cop. ‘You can’t stop the flow of information, man. This guy is running to represent the American people. They have a right to know that he’s not only screwing the system, but whores, too.’
Josh heard the gasp from the next room.
‘Watch it.’ The guy in the suit stepped forward menacingly.
Josh stopped him with a bar arm and eyed him more closely. The guy was pretty in that Sunday sales ads sort of way, but underneath the polish there was a street kind of toughness. The flintiness in his eyes betrayed it.
‘Were you involved here?’ he asked. ‘Why are you in my crime scene?’
The man smoothed his suit and backed off, but the cold fire was still in his eyes. ‘I was called here by my client in the next room.’
Josh couldn’t fight that. The senator had a right to legal representation. ‘Then let me do my work and don’t interfere with police actions.’
‘What? You’re taking their side?’ Bieber finally caught on to what was happening, and his eyes filled with fear.
At least Josh assumed there were tears in both his eyes. One of them was covered by that raggedy hair again.
And … head flip.
There it was again. Yup, the intrepid reporter was crying.
Josh honed in on the weak link. ‘How did you know the senator was here? And who he was with?’
‘An anonymous tip.’ Beiber forgot all about his right to remain silent. ‘We got a call that said Gunderson was here with a high-priced callgirl. The caller even had a room number – and he was right.’
As if that made everything OK.
‘Who did you pay for the room card?’
‘The – ow!’ Bieber stopped when Hoodie kicked him in the calf.
‘Shut up, dude.’
The two brainiacs finally pieced together their mistake. At least one of them.
It didn’t matter. Josh would find out who had given them the key card. If the senator had just stopped to put the chain on the door, his unwanted visitors might not have made it any further.
Josh gestured at Simons. ‘Have someone take them down to the station for processing.’
It was an open and shut case. No pun intended. Josh ran a hand through his hair. It was too late for puns, but the two dimwits were right about the tape showing everything. They’d documented their own crime.
He rolled his shoulders and braced himself. Now for the tough part.
He crossed the living room to the bedroom. It was more of a suite than a hotel room, pretty expensive for a one-night stand, if the TMI boys were right. The bedroom itself was lit up bright as a dentist’s office, and the atmosphere inside was about as comfortable. Josh’s gaze swept the room as he stepped inside and acquainted himself with the scene. There were two Metro officers, one male and one female, and another couple who were dressed more casually.
A lot more casually.
They were both in white robes with the Emissary’s insignia on the chest. They weren’t wearing much more, if the clothes strewn about on the floor and furniture were any indication.
The senator was one of those silver-haired fox types. His age was indeterminate, but he was fit … probably from working with a trainer in a high-priced gym. There wasn’t a ring on his finger, thank God. Things were going to be messy enough without that.
And the woman … Josh’s gaze instinctively went to her hands first to check for weapons. There weren’t any – but she packed a punch. She was sitting in the armchair in the corner of the room, toying with the belt of her snow-white robe. The big terrycloth robe should have drowned her, but instead of covering her it gaped open, showing tantalising cleavage.
Josh was a red-blooded guy. He saw her curves, but his attention was caught by her hair. She was a redhead, a real one from the tone of her skin. It was the kind of deep auburn that attracted attention and stuck in a person’s memory.
His gaze snapped up to her face. He recognised her, and it didn’t take him long to remember from where. Their gazes locked, right along with his jaw. Damn it. She was one of Nina’s employees, the one who’d covered as Luxxor’s receptionist when Rielle had been out. What was her name? Jessica? Joanne?
Her green eyes widened when she recognised him in return.
She pulled the neckline of her robe together and focused on the landscape picture on the far wall.
Josh’s thoughts went in a thousand different directions. It took effort to pull even a few back into alignment.
He cleared his throat. ‘I’m Detective Morgan. Let’s start at the beginning. Is everyone here OK?’
He was still watching the redhead and was relieved when she nodded.
‘No,’ her date snapped. ‘We are not OK.’
And here they went.
Josh turned towards the man at the centre of all the hubbub. ‘Sir?’
‘Samuel Gunderson, US Senator.’ The man’s jaw was clenched so hard, it jutted out a like a barracuda. ‘And this is my girlfriend, Genieve Hart.’
‘Senator,’ his lawyer hissed.
Josh planted his hands on his hips. Beautiful. The senator was the chatty type, too. It made things so much easier when he had so little probable cause.
They had nothing on these two. Nothing. A couple had paid for a hotel room and had used it as a lot of couples did. There was nothing that said any laws had been broken, other than what the reporters had implied. The senator had called Genieve his girlfriend. They’d go with that, even though Josh’s thoughts were still barrelling down too many tracks. He suddenly had an intense interest in what was going on here.
‘Are you physically harmed?’ he asked.
‘I –’ The politician’s words broke off, and he frowned. He took stock before pulling back on a sleeve of the robe. He seemed surprised by the red mark slashing across his forearm. ‘Those two men broke in, and I tried to push them out. I didn’t know what was going on. I thought we were under attack.’
‘Get a photo of that,’ Josh instructed Simons.
The lawyer stuck out his hand. He’d remained quiet in the room up until that point. Quiet, but coiled. ‘Just the arm.’
What, the shark didn’t want his client photographed naked in a robe with his hair mussed from sex and his face still red from exertion?
‘Document the evidence,’ Josh said.
As the camera snapped, he went over to check the door between the rooms. The mark on the senator’s arm was straight as a ruler, much like a door’s edge. Sure enough, there was a scuff mark across it. He peeked around to the other side and saw the footprint of a shoe along the base. He called the forensics guy with the camera over to get some shots of it, too. ‘Dust for fingerprints,’ he instructed.
He faced the bedroom again. The evidence here was pretty clear. The bed sheets were rumpled, and pillows were strewn across the floor. There were signs of vigorous activity in and out of the bed.
The senator puffed up when he saw where the attention was now. ‘I want those two charged to the full extent of the law. Breaking and entering … Invasion of privacy … People should be as safe in a hotel room as they are in their own homes.’
The guy sounded like he was back on the campaign trail now.
‘You’ve got your pictures and a statement. We’re leaving now.’ Gunderson’s lawyer was chill as ice, but Josh still sensed a hard, angry energy radiating from him.
But the man was right. They couldn’t detain these two.
Even if he still had a gazillion questions …
The lawyer picked up the senator’s shirt and thrust it into his hands. ‘Get dressed. Sir.’
The senator had opened his mouth to say something more, but he closed it with a snap.
Josh watched Genieve out of the corner of his eye as she raked a hand through that waterfall of red hair and swept it aside. Her gaze kept flicking cautiously to the guy in the suit. She was harder to read. Impossible, really. She must have taken some clues from her boss, although he could read some of Nina’s tells now. He’d been studying her long enough.
Nina. Damn. She was going to flip when she heard about this.
He swept up the senator’s pants from the floor. They looked as if they’d been taken off in a hurry. He patted the pockets. The lawyer sputtered, but he simply handed the pants to the senator. ‘Just needed to check for weapons before I let him go in the bathroom alone to get dressed. Standard procedure.’
Simons caught on fast. He turned the light on in the attached bathroom and checked to make sure it was clear. They were doing this by the book – dotting all I’s and crossing all T’s – but picking up all the information they could.
‘Can I have my dress?’ the redhead asked quietly.
Everyone in the room snapped to attention to search for it. The little black number was on the floor, practically under the bed. Josh dug it out. It didn’t have pockets, and there wasn’t much she could hide in it. Dressed or not. He handed it to her and went down on his haunches before her. Her wary gaze met his.
‘All you all right?’
She was a true beauty, and he knew she had a personality to match that bright-red hair. It was all subdued now. She was funny, he remembered that. He didn’t do ‘funny’ any more than he did ‘merry’. She was a stunner, but he preferred tough-nosed, blonde prima donnas.
‘I’m OK, just shaken.’ She ran a red-tipped fingernail over her bottom lip, and it curled upward in a tentative smile. ‘They came in at a really bad time, if you know what I mean.’
Her gaze sparked, and the hint of humour told him she’d been a willing participant in the senator’s bed. Maybe the two were seeing one other. Nina ran in some hoity-toity crowds. Genieve could have been introduced to the senator through her.
‘Is there anything else you can tell me? Did you notice those men following you tonight? How long have you been seeing the senator?’
She glanced at the lawyer. He didn’t say a word, but communication passed between them. Her spark faded, and she shifted uncomfortably in the overstuffed chair. ‘I didn’t notice anything – and we’ve been exclusive for a month or so.’
She went quiet again, and Josh knew he couldn’t press any harder. Tension was vibrating between her and the senator’s representative like a piano wire, even though they were on opposite sides of the room. They couldn’t have been further apart but still in the same room if they’d tried.
Genieve wrapped her robe more tightly around her legs. Red-painted toenails stuck out from the bottom of the terrycloth. If the lawyer had his way, those would have been covered, too. It was clear in his eyes.
‘Do you feel safe with these two?’ Josh asked low enough so only she could hear.
Her green eyes narrowed in confusion.
OK, the tension wasn’t about fear.
The door to the bathroom opened, and the senator came out. He was older than his lover by a long shot, but the hours in the gym probably helped him keep up to speed.
Josh rose to his feet. He wouldn’t have them around for much longer. It was worth one more shot. ‘Is there anything else you can tell us about the encounter, sir? Has this TMI News contacted you or your office before?’
‘I’ve never heard of them,’ the senator said as he put on his cufflinks.
Cufflinks. In the dead of the night. Josh counted off in his head. Some people had their priorities. He didn’t like the guy. He was too slick, too Ken-doll-like in his outrage. Although Josh had to admit he’d be pissed off, too, if somebody broke in to take pictures of him having sex. Hell, he’d probably shoot first and ask questions later.
Unless it was Nina.
She’d have the gun out first.
He ran his hand over his head. Where the hell had that thought come from?
‘Is there anything else you want to tell me before you go?’ he asked.
‘It’s enough, isn’t it?’ Gunderson snapped.
Josh’s eyes narrowed. Not if there was something to the prostitution claim Hoodie and Bieber had made … But one little claim wasn’t enough to stick, not without proof. And proof of prostitution was notoriously hard to get.
The lawyer cleared his throat, and the senator lifted his chin. Clothed in his armour again, he seemed to remember the face he was supposed to present to the public. He stuck out his hand. ‘Thank you for your efforts here tonight, Detective. I appreciate the work our peace officers do.’
Josh thought fast. ‘How can I contact you if I have more questions?’
‘Call his office.’ The lawyer’s voice was like ice. The guy obviously wasn’t having a good night. How often did he have to clean up after his client?
Gunderson nodded. ‘I’ll get you my card.’
The lawyer pushed away from the wall, but the senator was already pulling his wallet out of his jacket, which was draped over a chair. He slowed his movements when all the cops in the room tensed.
‘They can get the number,’ the lawyer repeated.
‘I’ve got it, Brody.’
The lawyer’s teeth gritted, and Genieve covered her mouth with her hand.
Gotcha, Josh thought. It hadn’t escaped his attention that the man hadn’t volunteered his name. Hello, Brody.
The senator opened his wallet, and Josh watched closely. The leather billfold wasn’t bulging with cash, which turned his dial down a bit. That was what he’d wanted to see.
The senator pulled out a business card and passed it to him, but something else fell to the floor. Josh knelt to pick it up, but he was slow in standing back up. It was another business card, only this one was made from heavy black paper with gold trim. The writing was in a fancy gold font, but its message wasn’t elaborate. It simply said, ‘Luxxor Limited’.
Luxxor Limited. Nina’s company.
His headache came back with a vengeance. He flipped the card over as he held it out to the man. There was only a phone number on the back.
‘You dropped something,’ he said. Gravel had somehow found its way into his throat.
No names, no website and no business slogan. Luxxor Limited, secretive as always. Even their business cards could hide in the shadows.
A dark, bad feeling settled in his gut.
Genieve had been moving towards the bathroom to take her turn getting dressed, but she stopped when she saw the exchange. The lawyer reached for her, but she smoothly avoided him.
‘May I have my purse?’ Her voice had a lilt that seemed to pull right at a guy’s balls. Again, the officers in the room snapped to do her bidding.
The female police officer rolled her eyes, but she was the one who found the leather bag. She carried it to Josh.
‘Sorry,’ he said as he opened it. ‘Just a quick check.’
He had just as much right to search through her things before she went in that room alone.
‘Here, allow me.’ Taking the purse from his hands, the redhead upended the contents on the bed.
‘Jenny,’ the lawyer said softly. His tone was different with her, less stern but there was still a warning in it.
She didn’t flinch. Instead, she opened her pocketbook and showed its contents to Josh. Smart. It was all he could think as she flipped through the bills in her possession. Looked like about seventeen dollars. If she was a callgirl like the TMI guys insisted, she’d be worth a hell of a lot more than that. This woman was definitely high-end and no dummy.
‘Oh, there it is,’ she said sweetly. She picked up a tube of lipstick. ‘This is all I needed.’
She swished to the bathroom in the over-large robe. She bent along the way to sweep up her bra, but she left all her things out on display as if she had nothing to hide.
Josh grunted. Really smart.
She’d just shown him that no money had been exchanged. At least not here.
That didn’t stop his brain from churning like a lopsided wheel … faster at points and screechingly painful at others. Call girl … Luxxor … their night security detail … the way they’d always given him the bum’s rush out of there …
The way Nina had shut down all contact with him after that epic kiss – the one that had nearly set his hair on fire …
He rubbed the back of his neck. He’d always been curious about her work. When it came to Nina Lockwood, he was curious about everything. She hadn’t liked him around, so of course that had made him want to stay. She hadn’t wanted to talk about her work, so obviously he’d looked for clues in everything from what was on their desks to the terminology they used when they talked. He’d tried to guess at the clients that had come through their door. He hadn’t seen much of a common denominator, other than they were all rich and untalkative. Other than Erin Foster.
His off-balance brain clunked when he thought of the bright, friendly blonde. Innocent as a peach. She’d said she was a client.
No, there was no way.
He’d gotten the wrong idea. He’d made too big of a leap. He had to have.
Genieve stepped back into the room. The little black dress could have been conservative, if not for her curves and that tussle of red hair. The woman had a look that was constantly sultry and sensuous, right down to her painted red toenails. She didn’t look like a prostitute, though. She looked like a fashion model.
‘Here, darling.’ The senator passed along her shoes.
She held the top of the dresser for balance as she stepped into the heels, and once again the simple act held the attention of all the men in the room. She stuffed her things back into her purse as the senator put on his jacket. The couple wouldn’t be staying in this hotel again, that was clear.
‘Let’s go,’ Gunderson told his man.
Brody wasn’t ready. His face was hard as he stepped to the bed and lifted the covers.
‘Hey,’ Josh said.
The man found what he was looking for under the nightstand. Black silk. Genieve’s panties. He thrust them into his pocket, his face stoic but his eyes burning.
The guy was smart, too. He wasn’t leaving any evidence of the couple’s activities behind – other than what was probably on the bed sheets.
‘That video,’ he said, his voice as cold as his eyes were hot. ‘Anything beyond the breaking and entering portion is not to be used.’
Josh cocked his head. He didn’t envy the guy’s job, but there was only so far his reign of authority extended.
And it didn’t cover him.
‘I just collect the evidence. It’s up to the DA how to use it.’
Their gazes locked. Neither of them was satisfied with the night’s outcome, but it was hard to say who was more pissed.
‘Ms Hart,’ Josh said, not breaking eye contact. ‘Do you need a ride home?’
The vein in Mr Brody’s neck bulged. ‘I’ll get her to safety.’
Josh’s eyebrows rose. Oh, so that’s how it was. The gritty lawyer, not the senator. Interesting.
Without another word, the party of three exited. Josh followed, watching their interplay. The senator walked down the hallway towards the elevator with his arm wrapped around the curvy redhead’s waist. Brody walked at her other side, his back ramrod straight.
The lawyer stopped to talk to the hotel manager. The man in the green jacket wrung his hands and nodded anxiously. Josh wasn’t surprised when Brody reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. This time the exchange of money was clear and out in the open. Josh knew it was to keep the hotel quiet about the senator’s activities.
Although they’d both call it a tip.
The hotel wasn’t going to talk about this incident anyway. It would jeopardise their rating. Guests wouldn’t want to fork over money to stay here if they were worried about camera crews breaking in to tape them.
Josh flexed his hand, unconscious that he’d curled it into a fist. Maybe it was all on the up-and-up. Maybe the senator had just been caught with his much younger, much sexier girlfriend. It would make things so much simpler.
But he and Nina didn’t do simple, did they?
Luxxor. Son of a bitch.
He’d wondered what scandal would pull them together next. He’d been counting on one.
Just not this.
A phone call awakened Nina from one of the most erotic dreams she’d ever had. She jerked awake to find the covers kicked off and sweat coating her skin. She was breathing as if she’d just run a hundred-yard dash, but the ache deep between her legs told her she hadn’t won the prize.
‘Ohhh,’ she groaned as she pressed her hands to her face.
So close. She’d been so close.
Heat flared inside her, and she pulled her knees up towards her chest. Then again, these dreams never ended happily, did they? In them she usually did something stupid like roll off the detective or push him away.
Her ringtone went off again, this time waking her fully. Her scrambled thoughts coalesced, and she pounced on her phone on the nightstand. Her sweat-drenched body cooled. It was never good when one of her escorts called her in the middle of the night.
She swiped her finger across the screen and sat up. ‘Genieve, what’s wrong? Are you all right?’
‘I’m fine,’ the woman rushed to assure her. ‘I’m sorry to wake you, but something went down tonight. You need to know.’
Nina clicked on the light by her bed and tucked her pillow behind her. As long as everyone was all right, that was what was important. She could figure out how to handle the rest. ‘What happened?’
‘The senator and I were … inconveniently interrupted.’
Nina blew out a breath. Her heart was still pounding loud enough that she could hear it.
The senator. Gunderson. She pinched the bridge of her nose. He wasn’t one of her favourite people. All show and no substance. He spent more time working on his appearance than on his platforms, but the three-hundred-dollar haircut and hours in the gym had gotten him elected now, hadn’t they?
But wait … He was up for election again, she remembered and winced silently. A scandal involving a candidate and one of her escorts was not good. His money spent just as well as anyone’s, but in her business politicians came with more risk.
‘Where were you caught, and by whom?’ she asked.
‘At the hotel by paparazzi.’
The press was involved. A bit more worry started to niggle at her. ‘You two have been seen together at events. He’s single.’
How bad could it be? They’d been very careful with the story they’d created for the pair.
‘I’m not talking in the lobby, Nina. They broke into our hotel room with cameras running. Again, at a very inconvenient time.’
Nina went still. Not much surprised her any more, but that did. ‘My God. That’s horrible. What were they thinking?’
An uncomfortable shudder went through her. Overheated or not, she pulled the covers over her legs and looked from her clinging negligée to the door. It made her want to check her security system. Genieve must have been terrified … and horrified. She couldn’t imagine Josh letting anyone do that and get away standing.
If she didn’t get to his gun first …
The blue glass butterfly on her bedstand almost seemed to flutter, and Nina closed her eyes. What was she thinking? The man wasn’t her lover and never would be. She was still too close to that steamy dream.
She shook it off and tried to concentrate.
‘I can’t believe this happened at the Emissary.’ She was surprised Henri hadn’t called her already to beg her forgiveness. He knew his four-star rating would be in jeopardy now.
She’d make sure of it.
‘Samuel went after them. He managed to push them out of the room, but not before they got video of the two of us.’
‘How bad was it?’
‘Nothing kinky, but bad.’
Nina rubbed her temple. The magnitude of the situation was starting to press down upon her. ‘Why would they do that?’ she asked. ‘What led them to you? Why be so brazen?’
‘They’re from a website. I don’t think they knew the press’s limitations or the law.’
That was one of the first things Nina trained her new employees on.
‘Nina, they knew I was an escort.’
Nina went still. ‘What? How?’
‘Somebody called in a tip. They were trying to get the scoop.’
As tired as she was, Nina’s thoughts finally became razor-sharp. She’d known the risks she was taking when she’d entered this field. She’d planned for this contingency since Day One, and she had precautions in place. Whatever the press had, it couldn’t be solid evidence. Only those escorts under exclusive contracts knew just how far Luxxor went to please its clients.
‘What’s the name of this news organisation?’ she asked, her words clipped. She had contacts. She had influence. She might be able to plug this leak, whatever it was. ‘Where is that video now?’
Genieve let out a puff of air. ‘Well … the good news and the bad news are the same on that. The police have it.’
Oh, good Lord. Was Genieve calling from the police station? Did she need bail money? Nina threw back the covers and swung her legs over the side of the bed.
‘Were you arrested?’ What could the police possibly have on her other than some thugs’ purported intel?
‘No, but the reporters were. The senator and I just gave statements.’
Nina stopped and dragged a hand through her hair. It was damp, too. This just kept getting better and better.
She stared at her slippers on the floor as her thoughts turned inward, calculating fast. The police had the video. At least it wouldn’t be going viral. But the police had it.
Had the reporters told them what they thought they’d captured? Of course they had. Yet Genieve and the senator’s relationship had been established. The police didn’t know there was a contract behind it. That contract was locked up and secure.
At least Luxxor’s copy of it was.
She’d need to get on that.
‘Where are you?’ she asked. ‘Are you safe? I’ll have Mr Howard come pick you up. What do you need, Genieve? Just tell me.’
‘I’m OK. I’m with … Brody.’
Nina’s chin popped up. Brody Haynes was a fixer. He cleaned up politicians’ messes and made problems go away. The man was a behind-the-scenes force, and not someone you wanted to get on the wrong side of. For all his pretty-boy looks, he had the instincts of a rattlesnake. He knew things about people. He collected it for use at a later time. She’d done her best to steer clear of him or align herself with him, when she could.
That better be paying off now.
‘Did he get you out of the hotel?’
‘Yes. He wants me to lie low for a while. He said he’d handle things.’
Oh, did he now? Nina’s lips flattened. ‘What do you think, Genieve? Forget Haynes. Don’t worry about me or Luxxor. What do you want to do? Tell me, and I’ll make it happen.’
The escort paused. ‘I think he may be right.’
Nina thought through the options. ‘Is he there now?’
‘Let me talk to him.’
She glanced at the alarm clock beside her bed. It was nearly three o’clock in the morning. She’d been jolted out of a dead sleep – although a very active dream. Adrenalin was pumping through her system, and it honed her thoughts. She needed to think strategically.
Two syllables was all it took for her to measure the man’s mood. Scary.
‘Brody. What’s the situation?’
‘Not good. The reporters were pretty loud with their accusations, but the police knew they didn’t have anything solid. The detective on the scene seemed suspicious, though. You have to destroy that contract.’
She shook her head. As much as she wanted to, she couldn’t. ‘I need to hear it from one of the parties involved.’
‘Are you serious?’ There were sounds of footsteps. ‘Jenny, tell her to burn the thing.’
Genieve’s voice came on the line. For as upbeat as she usually was, she sounded worried and tired. ‘Nina, you’ve got to get rid of it.’
‘Does the senator know?’
Brody was back on the line. ‘He will. He’ll do whatever I tell him if he wants to keep his job.’
‘He won’t be happy.’
‘I’ll deal with it.’
It wasn’t the best way to conduct business, but they needed to get rid of that damning evidence as quickly as possible. ‘I’ll handle it myself,’ Nina promised. ‘The video the reporters took. Have you seen it?’
When Brody cleared his throat, it sounded suspiciously like a growl. ‘Enough of it.’
She rubbed her forehead. ‘Can we get it?’
‘Not legally. They took that as evidence for the B&E charge. Those reporters have to be pissing their pants right now. I should be able to handle them. Our bigger problem is the anonymous tip.’
Nina hadn’t missed that part. She just needed to focus on the most important things first. ‘I can take care of Genieve.’
‘I’ll do it.’
‘She’s my employee.’
‘And the senator is my problem.’ Haynes let out an uncharacteristic sigh. ‘Nina, this is my turf. I handle clean-up better than anyone, including you, and this is a crucial time in the campaign process. I’m not going to jeopardise the senator’s seat.’
She’d give him that, but she knew the lengths the man went to when he swept issues under the rug. ‘I won’t have Genieve hurt or thrown to the wolves.’
‘I’ll protect her.’ He paused again. ‘I promise.’
Nina slowly rested back against her pillow. For all his games, she’d never seen Brody Haynes outright lie. He spun things, twisted them or fluffed them up.
‘It would be best for everyone if we separated your attachment to her,’ he argued. ‘You’re simply her employer, like a waitress at a coffee shop or an account manager at a media firm.’
Good point. ‘Did the reporters use Luxxor’s name?’
‘No. It never came up.’ There was rustling on the other end of the line and then Genieve’s voice in the background. ‘What?’
Nina heard murmurs as the two talked, but the phone was too muffled for her to hear. When the voices cleared, Genieve had control of the phone again.
‘Nina, that’s the bad part.’
Nina let an eyebrow lift. They hadn’t gotten to the bad part yet?
‘Your detective was there. He recognised me.’
‘Morgan?’ Nina’s heart kicked into overdrive again. She was so surprised, she didn’t even argue that he was her detective. ‘What was he doing there?’
‘Working? It looked like he was in charge.’
Nina came right off the bed and started to pace. Of all the cases for him to catch. Nothing that Genieve had told her should have brought the authorities’ attention to Luxxor. They had plenty of other things to be concerned about. Luxxor should have flown right under the radar.
But with Morgan on the case?
A dog with a bone.
She rubbed her forehead as she turned to pace in the other direction. Her thoughts were flying low and fast. ‘Stay with Brody. You’ll be paid for your time. Do whatever he says.’
‘OK. But Nina? He was good to me. Morgan, that is.’
Yes, he had that sweet side that came out on occasion just to mess with a woman’s head.
Nina turned her back on the rumpled bed. She couldn’t look at it any more. ‘I’m glad you’re safe, Genieve. Call me if you need anything.’
‘I will. And Nina? I’m sorry.’
‘It’s not your fault. Be safe.’
Nina hung up from the call, and the silence in the room was heavy. Under the lamp on the bedside table, her blue butterfly glowed.
She turned on her heel and headed for the walk-in closet. She slipped her arms into the sleeves of her satin dressing robe and belted it tightly. From being so overheated, she suddenly had a chill.
He’d come for her soon.
He might not have any proof, but he’d come.
She had to be ready.
She swept up her phone again and hit speed dial for her security team. ‘Mr Howard, we have a situation.’
She moved through her penthouse apartment, turning on lights as she headed to the kitchen. She needed tea. She needed to remain calm. ‘Genieve ran into a bad spot with the press tonight. I don’t know if they’ve connected her to Luxxor yet, but you might have some unexpected visitors setting up shop outside. Do not engage, but make sure our people get home safely without being harassed.’
Hosts picked up and dropped off their escorts at the security office on the first floor of their building. It was a good safety procedure. Nobody ever knew where an escort lived. The only clients who might avoid that requirement were the ones with exclusive contracts – like the one Genieve had with Gunderson.
‘Wasn’t she out with the senator tonight?’ Mr Howard asked.
Her security man let out a grumble that reflected her opinion pretty accurately.
Nina looked at the clock over the stove. It really was late. Most of the escorts should be done with their engagements by now. She’d have to decide what to do about tomorrow. She hated to cancel appointments so late, and that would only arouse suspicion.
Her brain flipped through her options like a Vegas dealer shuffling a deck. She could change pick-up and drop-off to an alternate site. Rielle could handle that in the morning.
‘The police were also involved.’
Howard got over his disdain for the senator fast. ‘Understood, ma’am.’
She knew Howard was already going through their procedures. She’d trained her people well on the law. They knew when to ask for a search warrant. They knew their rights. ‘If Detective Morgan drops by, let him in, as usual.’
Brody was right. They needed to act as normally as possible. One of her employees had had a scare. She should be aware of it, but not overly involved.
She briefly closed her eyes. If she’d thought Morgan had watched her closely before, she was sure it was nothing compared to how he’d watch her now.
Why had he drawn the case? Was he still sore over the way she’d left him at the ballpark a few weeks ago? She remembered the angry, disappointed look that had been in his onyx eyes.
She flinched when the teapot started whistling.
She pulled the kettle off the burner and poured the hot water into a cup. Steam rose. She was in hot water, all right.
She braced her hands on the counter and hung her head. Everything inside her was screaming to run to the office and lock everything down, but she couldn’t. Everything was secure. They had procedures that they followed to make sure of it. Their records were clean. Their computers were protected – Rielle had made Darien guarantee that. The only thing dangerous was that contract. All of Luxxor’s exclusive contracts. They were in a different locale and, while it might make her feel better to destroy the senator’s right now, driving across town in the middle of the night would draw attention. Morgan might be watching.
She glanced at the floor-to-ceiling windows of her penthouse. He knew where she lived. He’d been here.
What if he dropped by her home?
Instead of a shiver, heat flared inside her once again.
She picked up her cup of tea and turned all the lights back off, but she didn’t return to her bedroom. She couldn’t. Instead, she curled up in a recliner in her darkened living room. It was the dead of the night. The curtains were all closed, except for a slit that allowed a shard of light to sweep across the room. In the penthouse she had no neighbours, but she could feel the city sleeping all around her. There was no way she could rest.
She put the cup of tea aside and leaned back against the oversized leather cushions.
She needed to hold tight and let everything blow over. The detective was like that light slashing into her room, trying to peer into the darkness. She just needed to stay back, hidden amongst the shadows. She needed to make sure no more cracks were showing.
But this was Morgan.
And the last time she’d seen him, she’d given him a kiss-off.
She pulled her phone out of her pocket again. It was time she called her lawyer. It was time for her to start protecting herself from the protector.
Things weren’t over between them yet.
* * *
Josh still hadn’t been to bed when he stopped by Luxxor’s offices the next morning. He always felt like a bull in a china shop when he came to this place, but, tired and rumpled, he felt even more out of place. He supposed he could have gone home first, showered and shaved. But if he’d gone home, he would have crashed.
But probably not slept.
He had to see her. He had to look into her eyes. If he didn’t, the questions would drive him nuts.
He stopped in front of the door to Luxxor’s suite. The gilded letters of the company’s name matched the font he’d seen on that business card. He dragged a hand through his hair and straightened his jacket. When he stepped inside, the look on Rielle’s face told him it hadn’t helped.
‘Oh, Detective. Can I get you some coffee? Aspirin?’
He looked that rough, huh? He shook his head. ‘I just came by to see if Nina had an opening in her schedule.’
The office manager looked at him dubiously. ‘You’re asking?’
He shrugged. Typically, he didn’t. He just went in to see her. He liked catching her unaware. He liked shaking her up. Today, it felt like he should follow the rules.
‘She’s not with anybody right now.’ Rielle reached for the phone on her desk. ‘Let me check if she can see you.’
‘I have time.’
The soft words came from around the corner. When Nina entered the room, Josh felt the jolt like he always did. She looked like a million bucks. She was wearing a fitted blue suit with a necklace that dangled low in the V between her breasts. Her heels were the serious ones this time. No flower-patterned designer sneakers. The four inches of additional height told him just how ready she was for battle.
He felt the tiredness overtake him. He didn’t want to fight with her. He didn’t want to know if they were on the opposite sides of the law. All he wanted to do was take her home to his place, to the soft bed that awaited. It was more than big enough to fit both of them. They could pull the covers over their heads and forget about the world outside. All their problems.
And everything that stood between them.
Fuck. They were back to that?
‘Ms Lockwood.’ His voice sounded like sandpaper.
Just … fuck.
‘I won’t take much of your time,’ he said. ‘I need to ask you a few questions about one of your employees, Genieve Hart.’
Rielle’s chair squeaked as she spun away and became interested in her computer.
Nina folded her arms around the folders she carried. ‘Genieve’s not here. She’s still shaken from what happened last night.’
‘She called you.’
‘Yes, she asked for the day off. I gave it to her, of course, with pay.’
‘How kind of you.’
Her brown eyes flared. Finally. There was the reaction he was used to.
She tapped her fingers against the folders and reined it in. ‘Thank you for helping her. She told me you came to her aid.’
‘No problem. It’s my job.’
The silence became uncomfortable.
‘So,’ she finally said, ‘you’re here because …?’
‘Just doing some follow-up work. Your employee was the victim of a pretty bold crime last night. I’m trying to figure out why she might have been targeted.’
‘Her boyfriend obviously was the target, Senator Gunderson.’
Josh cocked his head. ‘Maybe. I still need to check all the angles. You know that about me by now, Nina.’
Her eyes widened. She set the files on Rielle’s desk and gestured to the hallway. ‘Come to my office. We can talk there.’
His gaze swept down her form as he followed her. It was beyond habit now; it was a compulsion. Her skirt cupped her backside like it had been custom made, and the slit up the back gave him glimpses of sleek legs. She thought those sky-high heels of hers could help her kick ass.
Come to think of it, they did. The first time he’d seen her, he’d been knocked on his.
They hadn’t kicked him out the door, though, and he’d kept coming back.
He looked around the familiar office. It screamed sophistication with plush grey carpeting and lighter grey walls. Pops of royal blue were sprinkled around from the pillows on the sofa to the decanter on the wet bar. He’d guessed long ago it was her favourite colour. He sat down in the chair in front of her desk – the normal one, not the funky blue one. You couldn’t pay him to sit in that thing. Yet when he sat, he felt all of her menagerie staring at him. Blue glass figurines flashed at him in disapproval from the shelves on the walls. The elephant on the corner of her desk even flailed its trunk in outrage.
I know, buddy, Josh thought. I know.
He didn’t know why he felt guilty. He’d had inklings all along about Luxxor’s mysterious line of work. Inklings that, in truth, had been big, glaring red neon signs. He just hadn’t looked too hard at them.
He’d been looking somewhere else.
He watched Nina as she moved behind the big oak desk and sat in that oversized leather chair of hers. ‘Now, what is this about, Detective?’ she asked.
‘I thought you might be able to help with our investigation.’
‘Into the break-in at the Emissary Hotel? How?’
‘I’m looking for a motive.’ He held up his hands. ‘You don’t have to answer anything you don’t want to. This isn’t an interrogation.’
She arched an eyebrow at him. ‘So if I ask you to go away, you really will this time?’
He lowered his hands and wrapped them around the arms of the chair. ‘I wasn’t the one who ran away, Nina. You were.’
Colour lit her cheeks, and she fussed with her pen. They both knew that, the last time they’d seen each other, they’d been in a lip-lock that had lit up a 40,000-seat stadium.
She tucked her hair behind her ear. ‘I apologise. That was rude of me.’
He didn’t mind so much. He intimidated most women. He didn’t mean to, but he couldn’t help his size. OK, maybe he could fix his attitude, but when he was working he focused. He’d focused hard on her, and she hadn’t flinched. He liked the way she stood up to him, itty-bitty thing that she was.
He looked at her more closely. He hadn’t seen her for a couple of weeks. Her ash-blonde hair looked soft and shiny. Her lips were a soft pink to match the colour on her fingernails. She looked put together, but with enough femininity to balance the seriousness of that suit. With the morning sun coming through the windows behind her, though, he could see the tiredness written across her face.
He frowned. When had Genieve called her? He’d bet his lucky nickel it had been before she’d made it down to the car. Which meant that Nina had been up nearly as long as he had … Unlike him, she’d tried to hide her fatigue with the magic of makeup, but he could see it.
She sat behind that huge desk looking tired and way too calm, and he just couldn’t take it. The behemoth desk had stood between them more than once. Not this time.
‘Where’s that coffee Rielle talked about?’
Nina’s eyebrows rose. ‘In the breakroom. Would you like her to bring you some?’
She reached for her phone.
‘No, let’s go down there.’
‘What? Detective Morgan?’ he heard her sputter when he stood and left the room.
She followed him, like he knew she would.
He caught Rielle’s eye when he stepped back into the lobby. Her head was bent close to Sienna Blakely’s, Luxxor’s communications manager. Wonder what they were talking about?
‘Breakroom?’ he asked.
Rielle quickly unfolded her long legs and started to rise.
He held up his hand to stop her. ‘Which way?’
She pointed, and he found it just one door down. The office lunchroom area was like a gourmet kitchen compared to the breakroom down at the police station. The refrigerator was stainless steel, as was the dishwasher. At the station, they used paper cups and plastic silverware. Here, a bowl of fresh fruit sat on the counter, along with a basket of power bars. He headed for the coffeemaker and found real coffee mugs. He poured himself a cup and had one waiting for Nina when she marched into the room.
‘What are you doing?’ she demanded.
‘You look about as good as I feel.’ He pointed at the coffee cup already on the table.
Her chin came up at that, and her hand lifted self-consciously to her face.
‘Oh, don’t give me that. You’re a knockout and you know it, but I can see how tired you are.’
She glared at him. ‘You’re such a sweet-talker, Detective.’
Wordlessly, he passed her a packet of creamer and two sugars – just how she took her coffee. He knew. He’d been paying attention. He gave her a spoon, too, a real one from a fancy silverware set in the first drawer he opened. No plastic stir straws for this place.
The stiffness in her jaw softened. At last, she took a chair, prepared her coffee and took an appreciative sip. ‘Thank you,’ she said.
‘You’re welcome.’ He sat down in the ladder-back chair at the end of the table. It put him right next to her, and he much preferred this set-up. There was no desk between them, no zoo of glass figurines watching. They were still on her turf, but not in her fortress. They could talk now.
‘So …’ he began. ‘Genieve dates a senator.’
‘How long has that been going on?’
‘I’m not sure. A month or so? I don’t follow my employees’ love lives that closely.’
‘Really?’ He grunted. ‘It seems we’ve had a front-row view of some of them.’
She considered that for a moment and shrugged.
Josh ran a hand through his hair. Even when she shrugged she was graceful. How could he ask the questions he needed to ask? What he’d seen in that hotel room hadn’t been nice and proper. If Luxxor really was what he worried it was, and Nina was its president, that also made her …
No. One step at a time. He couldn’t get ahead of himself.
‘How did they meet?’
‘Your company’s business?’
Her gaze met his over her coffee cup. ‘Yes. I introduced them. What does that have to do with the invasion of their hotel room?’
It took him a moment before he decided to answer truthfully. He had to see her reaction. He had to know. ‘The reporters claimed she was a prostitute. They thought the American people should know what their elected officials are doing. Or should I say, “whom”?’
Nina flinched hard enough to make her hair sway, and the fight came into her eyes. ‘So that gives them the right to break the law? They can enter a hotel room by force and film a couple during a moment of intimacy based on hearsay?’
‘No. That’s why I arrested them.’
The tension in the room ebbed.
‘Yes. Right. Thank you for doing that.’ She stared down into her coffee. ‘The video … can the part after the break-in be erased?’
‘No. That would be tampering with the evidence.’ And he wouldn’t do that – not even if she asked him to. His shoulders pulled tight as he waited to see if she would.
‘Even if it’s a terrible invasion of privacy?’ she asked.
‘The judge could rule that portion impermissible – for this crime.’
Her lips thinned, and she folded her hands tightly. ‘The accusation is offensive. Genieve’s been seeing the senator exclusively for a while. Do your homework, Morgan.’
Exclusive. There was that word again. It hit Josh’s ear wrong. He’d heard it before … from Genieve …
‘Interesting you should say that.’ He took a drink of his own coffee. It was the good stuff, but he’d long since passed the need for caffeine. When he set it on the table, he leaned in towards her. He gave her credit. He felt the electricity between them jump, but she didn’t pull back. ‘I did a quick Internet search on the senator. He seems to show up in lifestyle stories more than political ones.’
‘There were photos of him at events with Genieve on his arm.’
Nina lifted her coffee cup and an eyebrow. ‘Don’t make me say I told you so.’
‘There were even more photos of her doing the same with other men. Rich men.’
She took her time sipping her coffee. When she set it back down, the cup didn’t even clink against the table. ‘She dates. That’s not a crime.’
‘Maybe. Not usually, but the senator had your business card in his pocket.’
He watched as her pretty eyes narrowed. ‘Probably because his girlfriend works here.’
‘And what, exactly, is it that Luxxor does, Nina? You’ve never really shared that with me.’
The muscle in her temple pulsed. ‘I don’t know what you’re implying, Detective, but Luxxor will not tolerate slander. From reporters or you. I thought this discussion was supposed to be about the crime that was committed – the break-in. Do I need to call my lawyer?’
Josh sat back in his chair and stretched out his legs. Their feet bumped, and she shifted. They were back to the magnetic push/pull dance they liked to do. Skirting around the subject … and each other … He’d always wondered at the cause behind it. Serious attraction had always been the pull, but the push had always been a mystery.
Was her job the reason why she’d told him they couldn’t be together?
He drummed his fingers against the table top. ‘Have you noticed anyone hanging around the place? Has this TMI website reached out to you in any way?’
‘Does Genieve have any enemies?’
‘Everyone likes her.’
Yeah, he’d seen proof of that. The boys in blue at the hotel room had liked her a lot. ‘How about the senator?’
She rolled her eyes. ‘He’s a politician – and he’s running for office.’
Point taken. Dumb question.
‘How about you?’ he asked.
She reached up to touch her earring. It was a little thing, but the question unsettled her more than he liked. ‘Not that I know of.’
‘Would you tell me if you did?’
She didn’t answer.
Suddenly the tension in the room pissed Josh off.
‘Nina, the reporters got an anonymous tip.’
‘From someone obviously very hurtful.’
‘That’s what worries me.’ The energy he’d been missing for most of the night returned with a surge. He turned in his seat and leaned towards her until he was in her space and in her way. ‘Just tell me, is there anything I need to know?’
She concentrated on her coffee, but the pulse at her temple fluttered wildly. ‘No.’
‘Do you trust me?’ he asked.
The tip of her tongue darted out to run across her lips, but she kept her silence.
Apparently, not enough.
The spurt of energy left him, and the weight of the night jumped on Josh’s back. If she’d just shared a little, he might have been able to let it go. But now? Now he had to keep digging, and in places she might not like.
Wearily, he pushed himself to his feet. She looked up at him, her beautiful face pale.
He wanted to touch her so badly, his fingers ached. To stop himself, he planted his hands on his hips. ‘I knew some new scandal would eventually bring me back here. I just wasn’t expecting this.’
He shook his head. ‘Get some rest, Nina.’
He had a feeling they both were going to need it.
Nina wasn’t ready when her employees flew into the breakroom seconds after the main office door clicked shut. It was such a quiet sound after all that energy Josh had been giving off – and somehow so much worse than if he’d yelled or broken something. She set down her coffee cup. Her hand was trembling so badly, some of it sloshed onto the cherrywood table.
‘What just happened?’ Rielle asked. Her hair streamed out behind her as she spun around the corner.
Sienna was hot on her heels. ‘Are you OK? What did he want?’
‘More importantly, what does he know?’ Rielle asked.
Nina carefully mopped up her spill with a napkin from the holder on the table. ‘He suspects too much. He just has no proof.’
‘That’s good, isn’t it?’ Sienna asked.
‘Mmmm,’ Rielle hummed worriedly. She was involved with a man who worked in the shadows. She knew better than anyone that it wasn’t good to arouse that kind of person’s curiosity.
Josh wasn’t that different from Darien, in a lot of ways. He was just more conscious of what was right and what was wrong. Did he even see the shades of grey between the two?
Nina felt her coffee settling in her gut like a witch’s brew. She’d disappointed him; she knew she had. It had been a long time since she’d cared what anybody else thought, but this? It hurt.
She brushed her hand across her cheek. He’d called her a knockout.
Images from her dream returned. It seemed as if it had been ages ago rather than hours, but the ache was even more intense after seeing him … and feeling that snap in the air between them … She crossed her legs and bit her lip. He’d looked so tired. There had been dark circles beneath his eyes, and his five o’clock shadow had been rough and sexy. When she’d first seen him, her immediate impulse had been to take him home and take care of him. In every way possible …
In every way a madam could …
She closed her eyes. She couldn’t let him find out the worst, no matter how much guilt pulled at her. That would only seal his opinion of her and put her in an even worse spot. She needed to protect Genieve, Sienna, Rielle, Mr Howard and the rest of her staff. ‘It’s war room time.’
They needed to develop a strategy. They needed to get on top of this early.
Her cheeks heated. Pun strictly unintended.
She gathered up the sopping napkin and threw it away in the trashcan under the sink. She rinsed her hands and patted them dry. ‘Rielle, please lock the door to the offices and have Security let us know if any visitors arrive.’
There shouldn’t be any – at least none she wanted to see. She’d already cleared her schedule for the day.
‘Sienna, could you please turn on the television and check if the local channels are reporting anything yet?’ There had been nothing on the national morning news shows. She’d missed the early news because she’d been out, taking care of an important task.
Sienna crossed the room and turned on the flatscreen TV that hung on the wall. The tall blonde flipped through channels and muted the sound when she found nothing pertinent to their situation. ‘I haven’t seen anything about the senator. I can’t believe they’re not reporting the hotel break-in yet.’
Haynes had gotten on it early.
‘It’s inevitable,’ Nina said, her voice steady.
They just needed to be ready to react when it did.
With a sigh, Sienna took an orange from the fruit basket and a plate from the cupboard. She sat in the seat where Josh had just been and began to peel the fruit. ‘I’ve changed the pick-up and drop-off points to the back-up location tonight, as you requested. If anyone arrives here, Security will redirect them.’
‘Good.’ Nina glanced out the window at the DC skyline. The morning was bright and sunny, much too pretty for the ugly machinations they were going through. But that was DC now, wasn’t it? All the grit and grime of the city were hidden behind the pomp and circumstance. ‘Hopefully nobody will be followed.’
Rielle returned and poured herself a glass of water from the filtered pitcher in the refrigerator. ‘Security says they haven’t seen any reporters.’
The office manager’s expression turned rueful. ‘Your detective has been the only cop.’
She’d told him it couldn’t work between them.
‘Let’s keep it that way.’ Nina hooked her hair behind her ear. Her hand was steadier. She needed to keep busy. She needed to stay one step ahead. ‘Other than Morgan’s curiosity, Genieve’s place of work should be just a footnote to this whole story.’
‘Unless the reporters’ claims about her being a callgirl get out,’ Sienna warned.
Nina’s back teeth ground. To call those two reporters was being generous. She’d looked into them. They were GWU dropouts trying to make a go of it as an Internet company. ‘She’s not a callgirl. She’s an escort. There’s a difference.’
Rielle lifted an eyebrow. ‘In this case, there isn’t.’
‘Not any more.’ Despite what the detective had implied, it wasn’t illegal for people to pay others to spend time with them. It was only when sex entered the picture that things got murky. Things between Senator Gunderson and Genieve had definitely been murky, but that exclusive contract she’d had under lock and key was now a pile of ashes fertilising the fern in the lobby.
It had taken all of her willpower not to destroy the rest of the company’s exclusive contracts along with it, but those contracts were the lifeblood of Luxxor. They provided money, power, and – most importantly – leverage. She’d built her business on them. She couldn’t throw it all away now.
She looked at Rielle. ‘Have you contacted all our exclusive clients?’
‘There are only a few I haven’t been able to reach yet. I’ve reminded them all of the requirement to keep the agreements in a safe location.’
‘And Gunderson’s copy?’
‘Brody’s already gotten rid of it.’ Rielle swept her long hair over her shoulder. ‘It seemed like he and Genieve were fighting about that, though.’
‘Why?’ Nina’s antenna rose. They needed that contract to be gone, and they couldn’t jeopardise that relationship. Without Haynes, they would be in a much worse situation than they already were.
‘He wants to know where other exclusive contracts might be so he can take care of them, too. Genieve won’t tell him.’
The escort only knew of a handful, but Brody wouldn’t know that.
‘Hm. Good girl,’ Nina murmured. She’d never seen the cheery redhead fight with anyone. She usually cajoled and charmed her way out of situations. If this had to happen, Genieve was probably the best escort she had to handle the situation. If the woman could keep Haynes in check, too, that would be ideal.
Nina returned to her chair and stroked her finger along the coffee mug’s handle. ‘All right. I’m comfortable that we’ve done everything we can do for the company’s current needs. What we need to focus on is that tip that was phoned in to the pretend reporters.’
She didn’t even dare think of what might have happened if the whistleblower had called one of the big stations or newspapers. Why hadn’t they done that? Had they thought they wouldn’t be treated seriously? Did they think it wouldn’t have created as big of a bang as video of the couple in flagrante delicto?
Her brow furrowed. Or was it because they hadn’t wanted to be traced or double-checked? Real reporters sought out multiple sources – or they used to when journalism was respectable.
‘We need to make a list of anybody who might have made that call.’ Morgan had been right about that.
Rielle picked up her pen. She had her trusty memo pad at the ready. ‘Like who?’
‘Disgruntled clients, for one.’
Sienna stopped in the middle of splitting orange slices. ‘We have those?’
‘Well … Widow Hawkins wasn’t happy when Dane left for his new job,’ Nina said.
Sienna frowned. ‘I thought she liked Casey.’
Rielle twiddled her pen. ‘He’s nice, but he’s no Dane.’
Nina sighed right along with the other girls. No, Dane was in a class all his own. She’d hated losing him, but she’d do anything she could to help him in his new career – although why anyone with morals and decency would want to go into politics was beyond her.
‘That’s a good point, though,’ she said. ‘Contact Dane. Have him put an ear to the ground to see if anyone has a grudge against Senator Gunderson.’
‘The silver fox?’ Sienna lifted an eyebrow. ‘Say it isn’t so.’
Rielle was still tapping her pen. ‘Not all our clients know about our exclusive contracts. That narrows down the list, doesn’t it?’
‘As long as everyone has toed the line and not spoken to others.’ Nina glanced at the television where a talking head was still silenced. That was her Achilles heel, the people aspect of confidentiality. Some people just couldn’t keep their mouths shut.
‘We’ve had a few clients who’ve requested special services that we’ve turned down,’ she said, thinking aloud. They’d been shots in the dark, really, by patrons who’d become infatuated with the escorts who’d spent time with them. She’d evaluated the requests and the individuals involved. When an escort didn’t express similar interest, she typically let the request go with a mild rebuke to the client. There had been a handful that she’d rejected outright without even asking.
She ran a tight ship. There was more to be concerned about than money. She only put together exclusive contracts when all parties were onboard and she’d concluded the partnership would be safe and mutually satisfying.
‘Has anyone requested Genieve’s time and been turned down?’ Sienna asked.
Rielle nodded. The woman had a memory like a computer chip. ‘She’s in high demand – even as just an escort.’
And why not? Genieve was beautiful, smart and good-natured.
Nina’s grip tightened on her mug when she thought about Josh catching the sultry redhead in the act. Had he watched the video?
How had he reacted? Had he been aroused?
‘Put them on the list,’ she said tightly. ‘We’ll pare it down later.’
Really, anyone with knowledge of Luxxor’s extracurricular activities should be on that list.
Nina lifted her head slowly. That would include the two women sitting across from her.
‘Wait. What about both of you?’ she asked. Her office staff weren’t required to act as escorts. She’d never demand that of anyone, yet both of the women closest to her had met their significant others through Luxxor’s special pairings. ‘Have you put your own contracts under lock and key?’
‘I destroyed mine with Jason a while ago,’ Sienna said. A blush settled onto her fair skin. ‘We made a special night of it.’
Nina could only imagine. That contract had been a major factor in the couple’s romance – both good and bad. Jason Sloan would be just as happy to destroy her as he would that piece of paper. She paused momentarily, but let the thought go. Sloan would never do that with Sienna working here. Besides, an anonymous phone call wasn’t his style.
Sienna looked just as worried, but for a different reason. ‘Luxxor’s copy was destroyed, too, right?’
Nina nodded. ‘There’s no evidence of it left.’
Evidence. An image of Morgan popped back into her head. Sitting next to her, his shoulders a mile wide … leaning in until she could feel his heat … his hair mussed and his gaze too knowing …
She turned away. ‘Rielle?’
‘Mine’s gone, too.’
Sienna dropped an orange peel. ‘Erin framed hers and hung it on a wall in her house.’
Nina’s head whipped around. ‘She did what?’
‘She thought it was a sign of her and Colton’s love.’ Sienna waved her hand. ‘Don’t worry. Colton talked her into getting rid of it.’
‘How?’ Nina demanded. Her nerves were too frayed to deal with something like this. Erin was sweet, but she’d thought Sienna’s best friend was smarter than that.
Unless she’d been using it as leverage …
‘Did he get her a ring?’
Sienna smiled. ‘A puppy. Joint ownership.’
‘Aww,’ Rielle said.
‘I think it will be a while before she goes down the marriage trail again.’
Nina didn’t care what road they went down, as long as the paperwork that had initiated the woman’s relationship with the lawyer was handled. Nina could only imagine Colton King, the big DC lawyer, wanting that document gone as much as she did.
Rielle perked up. ‘Maybe that’s the answer.’
‘What’s the answer?’ Sienna asked.
‘Nina should sign Detective Morgan to an exclusive contract with her. Then he couldn’t talk.’
Nina’s jaw dropped, and an unladylike gasp escaped her.
‘It was a joke.’ Rielle sat back in her chair. Her confidence really had risen since she’d been dating Darien. ‘But it’s not a bad idea. Think about it. He’s interested.’
Nina felt her employees both staring at her, but the words just wouldn’t come.
Her and the detective? In an exclusive contract?
Her belly squeezed, and she pointed the toe of her stiletto hard. She was a madam. She took good care of her escorts, but she’d never gotten into the game herself. She’d never wanted to.
But hadn’t she been dreaming about that very thing?
‘Oh, no.’ Sienna suddenly reached for the remote and restored the sound. ‘Here it is.’
Nina looked at the television in confusion. It took her a moment to catch up, but, when she did, her pulse rate took off even faster. The news media – the real ones – had caught scent of the story. The morning news anchor was seated behind her desk, but a picture of the senator and Genieve was posted on the right side of the screen.
‘Where is that?’ she asked as she looked at the background.
‘That’s the dress Genieve wore to the Italian ambassador’s birthday party,’ Rielle said.
‘Turn it up,’ Nina said.
The still picture on the screen turned into a live shot of a reporter, and her heart sank.
‘This is Randall Cummings. I’m standing here outside the Emissary Hotel where, just after midnight last night, Metro Police arrested two reporters from TMI News for allegedly breaking into a room reserved by none other than Senator Samuel Gunderson. Witnesses were awakened by a loud exchange between the senator and the two reporters. Hotel security contacted the police, and the perpetrators were apprehended on the scene. The two, Lance Durquist and Jimmy Schmidt, are scheduled for arraignment today. I caught up with the senator earlier this morning, and here’s what he had to say about the incident.’
The report cut to film of the senator arriving on Capitol Hill. The distinguished-looking politician was climbing the mass of white steps, carrying a briefcase. Behind him were the picturesque Capitol Reflecting Pool and the Ulysses S. Grant memorial. The senator looked confident as he approached the reporter, but his staff looked nervous. One assistant kept toying with his bowtie, and the woman in the prim suit was staring too hard. As the senator stopped to talk, it became apparent he’d had a rough night. His hand was wrapped in a white dressing and a flesh-coloured bandage graced his forehead above his left eye.
‘Good move, Brody,’ Nina whispered.
‘Senator, can you tell us what happened last night?’ the reporter asked.
Gunderson nodded gravely. ‘Two men I’d never seen before broke into my hotel room. Frankly, it was terrifying.’
The reporter gestured to the senator’s bandages. ‘You were obviously hurt. Was there an altercation?’
‘Yes.’ The senator pulled back his sleeve to show the bandage going all the way up his forearm. ‘I didn’t know what was happening. I thought it might be a terrorist attack or an assassination attempt. I did what any able-bodied American man would do. I fought to protect myself and my girlfriend.’
It was a bit over the top, but Nina held very still. Girlfriend. Keep going. Keep going.
The reporter looked at his notes. ‘That would be Ms Genieve Hart?’
‘Yes, I never thought we’d be in danger staying in a hotel in our nation’s own capital.’
The senator looked directly into the camera. ‘I want to thank the police for arriving so quickly on the scene and arresting the individuals who did this.’
‘That would be the reporters from TMI News?’
‘If that’s what you want to call them. I’ve never seen reporters behave in such a manner.’
‘Did they give any reason for the invasion, sir?’
The senator lifted his chin defensively, and a breeze ruffled his silver hair. ‘There isn’t one good enough, is there, Randall?’
He tapped the reporter appreciatively on the shoulder. ‘I appreciate you approaching me in broad daylight, out in public, sir.’
The reporter was obviously caught off-guard. His chest puffed up, and colour dotted his cheeks. ‘Of course, sir. You’re welcome.’
‘Truly, I want to thank everyone for their concern, but I need to be off.’ The senator gave the camera another steely-eyed look. ‘I will not allow this cowardly attack to stop me from doing the work my constituents have elected me to do.’
The senator nodded and then was on his way again. The shot panned, following him and his staffers up the steps. The dome of the Capitol Building came into the wide-angle shot.
The news switched seamlessly back to the live picture of the reporter, who was clearly still starstruck. ‘This is Randall Cummings, reporting live from the Emissary Hotel.’
The anchor back at the news station had a serious look on her face when the video cut back to her. ‘Randall, this is quite a disturbing story. Did you reach out to TMI News for comment?’
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