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A ghost from his past had just walked right through his office door. Brodie McGuire shook his head, an instinctive response, because he could not be seeing that woman. There was no way she was standing there. No way.
Usually she only appeared in his dreams.
She couldn't have just walked into his office at McGuire Securities. She was far away, some place safe and no doubt with
"We have a walk-in appointment that I was hoping you could handle," Brodie's older brother, Grant, told him. "This is Jennifer"
"Wesley," Brodie finished, then cleared his throat because that one word had sounded like a growl.
Grant's brows climbed. "You two know each other?"
Yes, they did. Intimately.
"Well, that just makes things easier." Grant flashed a broad smile. "Ms. Wesley, I will leave you in my brother's capable hands."
Brodie realized that he'd leaped to his feet as soon as he'd gotten a look at Jennifer.
Grant glanced over at him, a faint frown on his face.
Brodie offered what he hoped was a reassuring smile as he hurried around his desk and toward Jennifer.
Grant hesitated a moment more; then he slipped from the office. The door shut quietly behind him, and, just like that, Brodie was alone with the woman who'd been in his dreams for far too long.
Brodie almost reached out and touched Jennifer, just to make sure she was really there, but then he remembered the way desire had burned so hot and wild between them before.
To play it safe, he tucked his hands in his pockets and just inclined his head toward her. "Been a long time, Ms. Wesley." He was impressed that his voice came out sounding so calm.
Her laughter sounded the way he'd thought it would. Sweet, light, musical. She hadn't laughed when they'd been together in the Middle East. She'd been far too afraid for laughter. He'd hated her fear, and he was damn glad to see her like this
"And here I was worried you wouldn't remember me," she murmured. Her smile flashed, a wide, slow smile that made her deep brown eyes light up. "But I really think you can drop the 'Ms. Wesley' part, don't you?"
Then she made a terrible mistake. She came forward and wrapped her arms around him. Her scent, a light lavender, drifted in the air as she hugged him. He probably shouldn't have wrapped his arms around her and hugged her so tightly. Probably shouldn't have inhaled her scent so greedily. But he did.
She fit against him, perfectly so. He'd thought that before, on that long-ago night.
Jennifer eased back and stared up at him. "You haven't changed. You look exactly the same, even after all this time."
He'd changed plenty. Most of those changes were on the inside, though, because he was good at keeping his mask in place. Brodie forced himself to let her go, when he wanted to hold on to her tightly.
That part hasn't changed, either.
After the night they'd shared together, he'd wanted to grab hold of her and never let go. But the mission had waited. Her life had waited.
He eased out a slow breath, and his gaze swept slowly over her face. Her eyes were big, dark, almond-shaped and framed by the longest lashes he'd ever seen. Her hair was a black curtain around her, and her skin was a warm, sun-kissed gold.
Her face was all high cheekbones and lush lips. Her forehead was high, and her chin was a little pointed, hinting at her stubborn nature.
He'd learned a lot about her in twenty-four hours, and he'd sure never been able to forget her. Six years
That was one hell of a long time for a woman's memory to haunt him. "You still look beautiful," he told her softly.
Her smile flashed again. "Still charming, huh?"
There was no accent to her voice, nothing to give away her roots, but he knew she'd been raised in the South. That bit had been in the dossier he'd been given on her.
He studied her a moment longer, cocking his head. "Why are you here, Jennifer?" He liked the way her name rolled off his tongue.
"I was looking for you."
His brows rose. You found me.
She wet her lips and threw a quick, almost nervous glance back at his closed office door. Then she focused on him once more. "I need your help."
Right. Because she hadn't searched for him out of any great, unrequited love.
One night. That's all it had been, for them both.
Besides, most people came to McGuire Securities because they needed helphelp getting justice. Help with problems that the police hadn't been able to solve.
He sat on the edge of his desk and motioned to the chair in front of him. "Why don't you sit down and tell me what's going on?"
Instead of sitting, Jennifer started to pace.
He almost smiled.
"I need protection."
The urge to smile vanished. "From what?"
"Not whata person." She stopped pacing. Swallowed. "Someone is stalking me. I need you to make sure that this person doesn't get close to me, not again."
Brodie sure as hell didn't like the sound of this situation. "Again?" he prompted. Meaning this person had already gotten to her before?
Jennifer gave a quick nod. For an instant, her expression wavered, and he saw the fear in her eyes. So it's not gone, after all. "Three months ago, a manhe attacked me in a New Orleans alley. He stabbed me." Her hand slipped to her right side. Lingered. "I was able to get away from him then."
As soon as she'd said the word attacked, Brodie had leaped off his desk.
Her breath sighed out. "But ever since that night, I've had the feeling that someone is watching me. Following me. And last week
my home in the French Quarter was torched."
"You need the cops," he said immediately, the words sharp. "This guy should be in jail."
"He would be, if the cops could find him." Jennifer shook her head and sent her dark hair sliding over her shoulders. "But they can't, and I'm afraid that he'll come for me again." Her fingers slid away from her side. "I'm scared." Her words shook.
He'd clenched his back teeth. With an effort, he managed to grit out, "Your father"
"Didn't you hear?" She glanced away from him to stare out the window at the city of Austin, Texas. "He died two years ago. A yachting accident."
Hell. "I'm so sorry." He'd lost his own parents in the years since he'd last seen Jennifer. Only their deaths hadn't been an accidenthis parents had been murdered.
Their murder was the whole reason that he and his brothers had opened McGuire Securities. The cops hadn't been able to find the killers, butWe will. He and his brothers had a new lead on the cold case, and they were finally getting close to delivering justice to the men who'd ripped apart their family.
"My father's company was nearing bankruptcy at the time of his death," Jennifer said as she lifted her chin. "But I promise I have money to pay you. I just
I need your help. You're the only person I can turn to now."
Louisiana's French Quarter and Austin weren't exactly close on the map. "You drove all the way here, just to talk with me?"
Her lashes flickered a bit. "You saved my life before. I was hoping that you could do it again."
He wanted to pull her into his arms. Because he wanted that so badly, Brodie didn't move. "If you need my help, of course I'll take your case."
Her shoulders sagged. "Thank you." Her relief was palpable.
Now he frowned at her. "Did you think I'd turn you away?"
"Three other private investigators have. I went to them right after the fire, but
they said there was nothing to link the two attacks. That it's just random. Really random, terrible luck." She eased closer to him. "But it's not. I know when I'm being hunted."
Brodie nodded. "I'm sure you do." She wasn't the first client he'd seen who'd been turned away by other PIs in the business. Her fear was real, and he'd spend some time investigating to find out just what was happening in her life.
Those words were too familiar. He'd never wanted her gratitude. On that hot, desperate night, he'd only wanted her. He should have known better than to touch her.
Desire had taken over. He'd never lost controlnot before or since that night. Only with her. There was just something about Jennifer Wesley that pushed him to the edge, then over that edge.
He glanced toward the clock. It was nearing 7:00 p.m. already. "We can go over the case tonight. You can tell me everything right now." He'd stay with her until midnight, if that was what it took. "Or we can start fresh first thing in the morning." That would give him time to go ahead and start pulling strings with the New Orleans Police Department so he could get their case files on her attack and the arson at her home.
"Tomorrow." She hesitated. "That's fine."
He frowned at her. "I can stay here all night if you want."
She flashed him a weak smile. "Tomorrow is fine. I'm actually close to being dead on my feet right now."
His gaze dropped to her feet. Sexy high heels. Delicate ankles. Bright red toenails.
"I drove straight from New Orleans today. After the last PI down there told me he wouldn't take the case, I knew I had to come see you."
How had she even known that he and his brothers had started a PI business? But that wasn't the question he asked, not yet. Instead, Brodie murmured, "You could've called."
Jennifer shook her head. "I thought you were less likely to turn me down in person. And."
"And I needed to get out of that town." Her voice lowered. "I told you, I felt hunted." Stalked.
But she drew in a bracing breath. "I think starting fresh tomorrow sounds great. When do you want me here?"
He didn't want her to leave him. Now that she was back, Brodie wanted to keep her close. "How about nine o'clock?"
"Perfect." She turned away. "I'll see you"
"Do you want to get a bite to eat?"
Her shoulders stiffened, and then she glanced back at him.
Hell. He'd done it again. Why was self-control such an issue with her? "You said you drove straight through, so you must be hungry." He hadn't eaten since lunch, so he was near famished himself. "How about I take you out for dinner, for old times' sake?"
Red filled her cheeks. "Our old times didn't exactly involve dinner."
No, they had involved danger and passion.
The danger was already happening again. As for the passion, well, a guy could dream. "Just dinner," he told her softly. "We both need to eat."
He shut off his computer and headed for the door. No, for Jennifer.
He'd thought about her plenty during the years. Thought that
things couldn't have been as good as he remembered.
He'd also thought that she would have gotten married over the years. In his jealous head, he'd seen her saddled with some rich society boy with more money than sense. Some guy handpicked by her father.
Only her father was dead. And he knew her mother had passed away when Jennifer was just a child.
As she stood before him, Jennifer seemed very much alone.
Not anymore. "You don't have a
"No." Her gaze met his. "There's no one like that in my life."
The relief he felt was wrong, and he knew it. So was the thought that he had
I'm here now.
In silence, they headed down to the main floor. The elevator ride was pretty close to torture. Mostly because the woman smelled better than sin.
"I heard about your parents." Her confession was hushed.
He lifted a brow.
"Okay, I found out when I did an internet search on you. Brodie, I'm sorry. So sorry for what happened to them."
Yeah, his family's attack had been splashed all over the press in Texas when the murders occurred, and he knew there was still plenty to read about the horror online.
did you ever find their killers?"
"We're close," he told her. Closer than they'd ever been before since they'd finally located the weapons used to kill his parents.
Surprise flashed in her eyes for just a moment. "That's great."
The elevator dinged. They stepped into the hallway and her high heels tapped against the gleaming tile. He nodded to the security guard as they left the building and the hot Texas night hit them. His SUV was parked right across the street. He caught her elbow in a light grip and headed for the vehicle.
Just as they hit the middle of that street, bright lights flashed on, locking them in a too-stark illumination. A car's engine revved and tires squealed.
In that instant, Brodie realized the driver of that car was heading straight for him and Jennifer. Aiming for them. Jennifer yanked at his arm, as if she was trying to pull him out of harm's way, even as Brodie grabbed tightly to her. They hurtled through the air, dodging that cara long black carby inches. The wind seemed to whip around them, and the acrid scent of burning rubber filled Brodie's nose right before he and Jennifer crashed into the asphalt.
The car didn't slow down. It raced to the edge of the street and swung a hard right. The damn thing vanished into the night.
That maniac just tried to kill us!
"See.?" Jennifer's husky voice yanked his stare back to her. She was sprawled right beside him on that asphalt. "I told you. Someone is hunting me."
Not just hunting her. Someone wanted her dead.
"You're staying here?"
Okay, so Brodie McGuire wasn't exactly impressed with her choice of lodgings. His tone of voice made that fact loud and clear. Jennifer headed out of the bathroom, a wet cloth pressed to her scratched elbow. That hard contact with the pavement had ripped her skin right off. "Well, seeing as how I had the key to the room and my things are here." She motioned toward the bed and her one bag. "I'd say that's a yes. I'm staying here." Jennifer tried to put a teasing note in her voice.
But Brodie glared at her. "I expected you to be in a five-star hotel. One with a guard downstairs, making sure that guests were escorted in and out of the place."
Ah, right. He still saw her as Jennifer Wesley, heiress.
That was very much the wrong image to have. "There was no money left when my father died." Her words were totally true. Jennifer hated lying to Brodie, so she was trying to stick to the truth as much as possible. "And when my home burned" burned, exploded into balls of fire "well, it wasn't like I had a whole lot of options available to me." Her luggage bag was filled with clothes that she'd bought during a fast and furious purchase in New Orleans. "I'm trying to save as much money as I can."
Because she was starting to think she might just need to vanish, and if that happenedcash would be vital for her survival.
"You're on the first floor," he said, a faint line between his dark brows. "The lock on that window is broken." He stabbed a finger toward the left.
The lock was broken? Unease tightened like a knot in her stomach. The lock hadn't been broken when she'd first checked in to the room. She knew because she had double-checked all the locks there.
Brodie's hand dropped back to his side. "Anyone could get in here."
She headed for the window. The lock was smashed all right. Maybe someone already has been in here. "I promise that lock was fine earlier."
She'd been aware of the furious energy surrounding him ever since that hit-and-run. There'd been no license plate on the car, at least not one that she'd seen, though Brodie had been able to easily identify the car as an older-model Mustang. He'd called the cops and spoken with a Detective Shayne Townsend. Brodie had told her that Shayne was a friend, someone he could count on to help him out with her case.