Undercover Operatives

February 2012

My naughty valentine…

Con artist Gabriel Black just got busted. By a babe. Drool-worthy (and clearly sneaky) FBI agent Danita Cruz is forcing Gabriel to choose between hard time and scamming his own family for an undercover sting. Now he has to present Danita to his family as his girlfriend.

And it’s the perfect opportunity to get wickedly even with her….

But Danita has some tricks of her own, and Gabriel’s control begins slipping away as raw sexual energy takes over. Their sham relationship starts feeling a lot like…well, the real deal. The Big Question is, will overwhelming desire be enough to make a liar go legit?

Lie with me…

ISBN-10: 0373796706 ¦ ISBN-13: 978-0373796700

 

Chapter One

Gabriel Black leaned back against the rich teak of the bar and smiled with satisfaction.  At his elbow was a glass of the finest aged scotch.  His suit was Armani, his shoes were Ferragamo and his shirt was silk.  In his pocket was the key to millions in internet stocks.

Not bad for a Thursday night.

A natural born gambler, he had a talent for winning.  And he had a feeling that tonight’s win was gonna be a big one.

“Buy me a drink?”

He glanced over and offered the pouty redhead with a set of dangerous curves a long look.  With a flick of his finger, he motioned to the bartender to bring her whatever she wanted.  As Moe placed a flute of champagne next to her, Gabriel offered a charming smile and tilted his head toward the men who’d just walked in the door.

“I’ve got a few things to take care of,” he told the redhead.  With one eye still on the mark, he leaned over and ran the back of his index finger along the shoulder left bare by her strapless glittery dress.  “Enjoy your champagne, keep my seat warm and when I’m finished we’ll take the rest of that bottle back to my hotel room.”

“I’ll look forward to that,” she purred, touching the tip of her tongue to the crystal flute before sliding onto the velvet covered barstool.

For just one second, Gabriel was distracted.  He leaned over and took the glass from her, twisted it to drink from the same place her lips had been, marked by a crimson smear of lipstick.  The champagne exploded on his tongue.  Just like he figured the sex would later.

“Tasty,” he murmured, handing back the glass.

With a quick wink, he turned away and scanned the room.  Instantly, his gaze found his mark and his partner settling into a booth in the corner.

Just like that, the redhead was as good as gone in his mind.  One of Gabriel’s strengths was his ability to ignore anything that stood between him and his goal.  And as much as he adored women, they had their place.  In his bed, against the wall, rising over his nude body.  Those were all good places.  But no woman had ever entered his mind when he was on a job.

After all, the job was everything.

A little something he’d learned from his old man.  But as amazing as Tobias Black was, he never had quite managed to master that one particular rule.  Gabriel’s father was king of the con, but he’d never let go of emotional ties.  That’d been his downfall, and the reason he was now out of the game.

Gabriel admired his old man’s skills.  But he was better.

But he’d wait to gloat until later.  After he’d relieved these gentleman of a cool mil.

He knew the affable smile on his face didn’t detract from the air of danger he wore like a second skin.  But, whether it was in a professional poker game or while pulling a con, the elegant suit and five-hundred-dollar haircut fooled people long enough for him to get the job done.

“Gentlemen,” he greeted when he reached their booth.  With a nod to each man, he pulled up a chair.

“Mr. Lane,” the first man greeted Gabriel’s false identity.  Hair slicked back from an unfortunate face, he was the kind of guy you just knew had been picked on all through high school.  The dateless kind who’d focused all that teenage sexual frustration on studying so he could make the kind of money that bought plenty of admiration.

“We’re glad you agreed to meet us,” the second guy said.  This one was more wary.  The accountant, he was here to make sure his friend didn’t get hosed.

Good.  Anything that came too easily was boring.  Gabriel believed working for his money.  And he hated to be bored.

“I appreciate you agreeing to meet here,” Gabriel said, nodding his head to the hotel’s private bar.  “I’ve been called away on a sudden trip to Europe.  If we couldn’t do this tonight, it would have to wait until I get back in two weeks.  I don’t mind waiting, of course.  This deal is only getting sweeter.  But you’re good guys and I hate to delay your buy in.”

“I’ve looked over your prospectus and the terms of the sale,” the accountant started to say.  Then his eyes widened and he seemed to lose track.  Gabriel followed his gaze and damn near swallowed his tongue.

Hello, baby.

The room faded.  The deal was a distant memory.

Like a laser, his focus honed on the blonde.

She was straight out of every man’s fantasy.  Big curls spiraled around a face that screamed hot sex.  Eyes so blue they were almost purple flashed, the long lush lashes and smudged makeup giving her the look of a very satisfied woman who’d just slipped out of a rumpled bed.  One where she’d left a very satisfied man smiling with exhaustion.

The curls teased shoulders, bare except for glitter and a tiny set of black straps.  Gabriel eyed those straps and his mouth went dry.  Her breasts were perfect.  Black fabric, as glittery as her skin, cupped the rounded globes like a lover’s hands.  His gaze followed the glitter to a waist small enough for him to span with both hands.  Black leather wrapped around her hips, giving way to long—oh, baby, they were so gloriously long—legs.  His gaze finished the tour at her feet and Gabriel hoped like hell he wasn’t drooling.

Her shoes were mostly ribbon, tied in a sassy bow at her ankle.  High, spiked and black, they were the kind of shoes meant to be worn with a light gloss of body lotion and nothing else.

He dragged his eyes back up to her face.

Her mouth was wet and glossy, the lower lip full and tempting.  A tiny dimple played out as she shot Gabriel an inviting look.

As her date, a guy who was just a blur to Gabriel, pulled out her chair, she seemed to melt into it in a single, sinuous move.  Her eyes still locked on his, she offered Gabriel a tiny wink and blew him a kiss.

Gabriel’s body went on high alert.  High passion alert, that was.  Muscles tense, his stomach clenched in anticipation.  His fingers itched to touch that skin.  To slide his fingers over the silky expanse of bare flesh.  Would she shiver?  If he took her against the wall, would she wrap those long legs around his waist and hold on tight?

Everything else in the room faded.

Unlike the redhead, this wasn’t a woman you put out of your mind.

Pure sex, with a dangerously sweet edge, she had a body meant to make men beg.

And she was with someone else.

Not that he cared.

Gabriel always got what he wanted.

And he wanted her.

The only question was, how long until he had her.

Someone cleared their throat.

“Mr. Lane?”

He watched the blonde thank the waiter for her glass of iced water.  Lifting it to her lips, her gaze met Gabriel’s again.

He watched her throat move as she swallowed.

His body hardened.

She lowered the glass.  Her eyes still locked on his, she licked one glistening drop of water off her lower lip.  Soft and pink, he imagined her tongue licking other things.

And damn near groaned.

“Mr. Lane?”

Shit.  He was here to do a job.

Playtime would have to come later.

Gabriel dragged his eyes off the gorgeous blonde and focused on the men in front of him.  He could still see the sexy distraction out of the corner of his eye as he listened to the accountant outline his concerns about the deal.  Jerry, the unfortunate faced mark, split his attention between staring over Gabriel’s shoulder and absently nodding along with his buddy.

Trying to stay focused on the game, Gabriel ignored the flash of color and light in the corner of the eye.  Then Jerry winced, a shocked look crossing his homely face.

Gabriel turned his head just in time to see blondie’s date grab her by the hair.

“What the…”

Gabriel was half out of his seat when the guy pulled her mouth to his.  She leaned in, like she was liking it.  No struggle, no sign that she was in trouble.  When he pulled away, she said something, patting the guy’s chest.  The smile she offered him was big and sweet.

His nerve endings raw from zig sagging between lust and the rescue-the-distressed-damsel adrenaline rush, Gabriel clenched his fist and sucked in a deep breath.

Settling in his chair, he shifted so he couldn’t watch the show any longer.

He had to focus, dammit.

The priority was the game.  The money.

Never a woman.

“I understand your concerns,” he told the men, focusing on Jerry.  He went on to outline why their thinking was wrong, and why his deal was the greatest thing invented since internet porn.  It only took a few seconds before both men were nodding along, big smiles on their faces.

Not because he was so damned good, either.  Nope, the guys’ attention was still split, half of it on the Gabriel’s pitch, the rest on the blonde show over his shoulder.

Hell, he thought as he pushed the contract toward Jerry to read and sign.  She was making this way too easy for him.  He was starting to feel like he should offer her up a pretty sparkle or two as a thank you for doing half his work for him here.

Offering Jerry his pen and a charming smile, Gabriel could almost feel the million dollars sliding into his pocket.

Then there was a loud crash of glass hitting the floor, a muffled cry of pain and a growl and the sound of flesh hitting flesh.  The room went silent for a heartbeat before the air was filled with gasps, protests.

Fury propelled Gabriel to his feet.  Before he could take a step, though, the blonde gave a quick, worried shake of her head.  Her face, one cheek glowing red from that asshole’s hand, looked terrified.

Stay out of it, her big blue eyes begged.

A man who strongly believed in people’s right to screw themselves up, Gabriel forced himself to sit back down.

He watched a busboy rush over to clean up the broken glass.  Two waiters scurried, one for the table, the other probably for the manager.

Let it go, Black.

It was being taken care of.  No reason for him to interfere.  Or worse, to blow this deal.

He watched the blonde assure the concerned waiter that she was okay.  Her date, the prick, just glared at the guy, his hand fisted around her slender arm.

Nope.  He wasn’t going to be able to ignore it.

Gabriel grimaced.  Then, unable to help himself, he held up one finger to stop the accountant’s pitch.

“Hang on,” he murmured.  He rose, his eyes locked on the asshole bullying the pretty blonde.  He stepped toward the booth, a charming warning was teetering on the tip of his tongue.

The guy’s beady rat-eyes met Gabriel’s for a brief second before he grabbed a handful of the blonde’s curls and yanked again.  “I’m paying you for a good time, I want a good time.  You do me, girly.  Here.  Now,” he growled.

Her quiet cry of pain was eclipsed by the red flush of humiliation warming those alabaster cheeks.  She didn’t look toward Gabriel any longer.  Instead she whispered something, tried to pull away.

“No party, no pay,” the asshole responded, not whispering.

She was a rental fantasy?

Didn’t matter.

Fury propelled him forward.  Before she could cry out again, Gabriel had his hand around the guy’s.

“Oh, no,” the blonde moaned, her fingers reaching and missing as Gabriel yanked the guy to his feet.  “Please.”

His fist cocked back, Gabriel made the mistake of looking at her.  Those big blue eyes, so sexy and afraid, pleaded.  “Please.  Let him go.”

His fingers itched.  His arm vibrated with the force of his fury.  He wanted to plow into the asshole’s face.  To make him pay for hurting her.  For humiliating her.

It was that last part, the humiliation, that made Gabriel swallow the edgy violence pounding through his system.  He glared into the asshole’s beady eyes and gave him a good shake before letting go.

“Out.”

The jerk looked like he was going to say something.  He shot the blonde a glare, then opened his mouth.  Gabriel flexed his fingers.  The guy ran.

“I have to…”  Her face on fire as she looked around at all the staring faces, the blonde pressed one hand against those ripe, glossy lips as if holding back a sob, then got to her feet and ran from the room, too.

Torn between ambition and a desperate need to protect, Gabriel wanted to howl with fury.  But, really, there was no choice.  Barely sparing a glance for his mark and the million he was kissing off, Gabriel followed.

He caught her just outside the hotel, near the garden entrance.

“Hold up,” he demanded, lengthening his stride to catch her before she rounded the corner.  How the hell did she move so fast on those heels?  Almost running now, Gabriel snagged her arm.

Her gasp was a watery protest.  She yanked away, but faced him.  “Don’t,” she said, tears pouring from those sultry blue eyes.  One of those girl things or the miracle of the paint manufactures, her makeup didn’t budge under all that wet.  So instead of looking bruised and messy, she glowed.

Gabriel cursed under his breath.  There shouldn’t be anything sexy about a bawling woman.

“You shouldn’t have followed me,” she murmured, brushing the tips of her fingers over her face as if that’d hide her tears.  She looked like she wanted to jump out of her own skin, her eyes skipping to the left, then right, before meeting his briefly then dropping somewhere in the vicinity of his shoulder.

She was even sexier close up.  Her hair glinted gold and bright in the reflection of the streetlight.  Despite her sexy outfit and wild look, she seemed delicate, almost fragile outside.

And still so freaking sexy his mouth watered for just one taste.  Of those lips, glistening and full.  That skin, so silky and tempting.  But most of all, those curves, barely hidden by the barely-there black fabric.

“I don’t rescue damsels then let them run off still distressed,” Gabriel told her with a charming, patient sort of smile.

“Why?”  She backed up a step, holding her hands over her breasts as if protecting her modesty.  Or herself.  “What do you want?”

“I’m not asking for anything,” he assured her.

Skepticism etched on her face, she gave him a long, searching look.

Gabriel tried to look as innocent and harmless as possible.  Not an easy task since he’d never been either.

Then she threw herself into his arms.

“Aww, sweetheart, don’t cry,” Gabriel murmured.  He wrapped his arm around her slender shoulder and hugged her to him.

Her body fit against his perfectly.  For all her delicate looks, she was tall enough to curve her cheek into his throat, her body shaking with sobs as she burrowed closer.

Damsel in distress, he reminded himself as his blood heated.  He’d been called a lot of things in his life, but the kind of guy who took advantage of abused, vulnerable women didn’t make the list.

Then she slid a foot along his calf.  A foot that was wrapped in those sexy ribbons she probably called shoes.

Gabriel swore he felt his brain stutter.  His body, already on high alert, funneled all his blood straight down to his dick.  A dick that was only too happy to have her press even closer, so her leather-clad hips made it clear where the party was.

“I needed that money,” she sniffed, looking up at him with the biggest, bluest eyes he’d ever seen.  Swimming in tears, the lushly lashed gaze was hypnotic, tugging at his soul.  “I can’t make rent without it.  I’m already two weeks overdue and going to be kicked out in the morning.”

All she needed was to throw in a sick gramma and an ailing cat.  But still, what’s a guy to do?

“Here,” he said, reaching into his pocket, then peeling four hundreds out of his wallet.  “This will cover your loss.  Now let’s go in and dry your tears.  I’ll buy you a drink, then get you a cab ride home.”

She gave a shuddering breath.  The kind that pressed those delicate breasts against his chest

“Thank you,” she whispered after a brief hesitation.  She gave him a look that was somewhere between gratitude and pure seduction.  Gabriel was pretty sure he heard a few of his brain cells explode in tiny little sexual pops.  “But I can’t take your money.  Not unless you let me thank you.  Properly.”

His brain fogged with an edgy, needy passion, Gabriel tried to find the words to tell her he didn’t need thanked.

Before he could, though, she slid her hands, palms flat, up his chest.  Smoothing, but not soothing.  Heating his skin through the layers of fabric as easily as if he’d been nude.

As she curled her hands around the back of his neck, she leaned in, her breasts amping that heat up to a fiery level.

Gabriel’s hands curved over her leather-slick hips, pulling her closer, tighter.

Her mouth met his.  Soft at first, just the brush of those glossy lips.  Once, then twice.

Sweet.

She slanted her head to the side.  Their lips fit together perfectly.  Too perfectly for his comfort, he realized.  Shifting, he prepared to pull back.  Then she slid her tongue along the seam of his mouth and what was left of his brains spontaneously combusted.

The kiss went wild.  Tongues slid over each outer.  No soft caress here, it was an intense duel for control.  Hot, intense.

Fabulous.

Before Gabriel could take it a little hotter, a little wilder, she pulled back.  Her eyes were huge.  Passion, and something that looked like a cross between fear and horror, swam in those blue depths.

Then she blinked and looked sultry again.

“That’s just a taste of my thank you,” she purred.

“I’m looking forward to another bite,” he murmured, lowering his head to try her again.

“Put your hands on your head,” a voice barked from behind Gabriel.

He could barely hear through the roaring in his head.  Everything he was, everything he had, was focused on the blonde and the sexual tension she was spinning in his body.

“You heard me.  Back away, mister,” the voice sounded again.

“What?”  His fingers still burning with the feel of her, delicately tempting, Gabriel curled them into her shoulders to shield her from the interruption.  The blonde, though, gave a shuddering sigh, then stepped back and made a show of slipping the cash into her bodice.

“Hands on your head.”  The voice, male and angry, was doing serious damage to the passion buzzing through his system.

Before Gabriel could decide what to do about it.  Hell, before he could reengage his brain, someone grabbed him.

“What the hell…”

The distinct rattle of handcuffs filled the air just before the metal slapped against Gabriel’s wrist.

“You’re under arrest for solicitation.”

“What the…”  Gabriel tried to wrench his arm free.  But even at six-three, he was no match for the hair gorilla with a badge glaring down at him.

His gaze cut to the blonde.

Her gaze didn’t glow with tears, or passion any longer.

Nope, she just looked satisfied.

Gabriel resisted the urge to cuss.

Because he was damned sure she was the only one of the two of them who’d be feeling any satisfaction tonight.

“We both know you don’t have a case against me.  Which means I’m here as a courtesy,” Gabriel stated in a bored tone as he leaned back in a surprisingly comfortable chair.  He stared at the guy who had to be a cop, even though he hadn’t introduced himself.  Nor had anyone trotted out the Miranda, yet.  So this was about something else.  “Why don’t you tell me what you want, and then I can be on my way.”

For all his cocky tone, a niggling of worry tickled the back of Gabriel’s neck.  But he brushed it aside.  His ID claimed him as Gavin Lane.  Even though he hadn’t planned to, he’d left the incriminating paperwork at the hotel with Jerry.  He wasn’t worried.  They had nothing on him.

Despite his lack of concern, the way the other guy—was he a cop?—was ignoring him was starting to get irritating.

“Entrapment never looks good to the brass, you know.  Add to that, I didn’t agree to pay the babe for sex.  So why don’t we do both ourselves a favor and call it a night.”

The guy didn’t respond.  He just kept on flipping through some fat file folder.

His jaw as tight as the muscles bunched in his shoulders, Gabriel was starting to get seriously pissed.

Being ignored had a way of doing that to him.

“So…”

Finally, the guy said something.

As he spoke, the cop—or whatever the hell he was—finished reading the file, then set it on the desk.  This was a guy who was into control, Gabriel decided.  Not the best adversary considering he also held most of the cards.  But Gabriel’s daddy had taught at a young age to keep an ace or two up his sleeve, so he was confident he’d get through this.  It was just another game.

“I’m Hunter,” introduced the man.  He didn’t offer to shake hands, though.  Just as well, since his name was ringing some bells.  Warning bells, that is.

There had been a guy by the name of Hunter who’d spent a good portion of his FBI career chasing Gabriel’s old man.  Narrowing his eyes, Gabe inspected the man in front of him.  Mid-thirties, at the most.  Local law, not federal, right?  He’d have flashed credentials if he was a feebie.

The name was just a coincidence.

Spend enough time committing crime, and sooner or later a guy had to start doubling up on names.  Law of averages and all that.

Relaxing into the chair again, Gabriel offered a cocky smile and said, “Nice to meet you, Hunter.  Now maybe you can explain what, exactly, is going on here.”

Hunter leaned back in his chair with a long, considering look.  But he didn’t say a word.

He didn’t have to.

His body language, the look on his face, the very air around him, they all said trouble.

Gabriel almost grinned.

This guy was good.

Anticipation zinged through him.  A nice rush of excitement that’d make the irritation of retrieving his deal all the sweeter.

His cover was rock solid.  A solicitation charge?

Brow arched, Gabriel leaned back in the chair, crossed his ankle over his knee and waited, too.

He loved this moment.  Those few seconds just before the win.  He could taste the victory.

A door opened behind him.  Gabriel didn’t take his gaze off Hunter’s though.  They were the real players in this game, nobody else mattered.

Perfume teased his senses.  Something fresh.  Light.  It shouldn’t have tapped into his desire, and yet his body stirred.

Then she came around, standing next to Hunter’s side of the desk.  Shoulders back, arms loose at her sides, she clearly stood at attention.

Shit.

Gabriel’s body warred with itself, passion punched him in the gut even as contemptuous irritation stirred.

Instead of teased out in wild curls, her blonde hair was slicked back in a tidy ponytail reminiscent of the Barbie Gabriel’s sister used to carry around.

He noted with regret that instead of barely covered in glitter and a few strips of shiny fabric, those tempting breasts were now demurely hidden by a crisp white blouse, the wide collar framing her face.  Paired with the gunmetal gray skirt that hugged her from hips to knees and a pair of pointy toed black heels, the look screamed business.

He missed the sexy business her other outfit had screamed.  Uptight do-gooders were irritating and unappealing.

So why did he find her as hot now as he had when she was all tarted up?

“I believe you’ve met Special Agent Danita Cruz,” Hunter introduced with the slightest inclination of his head.

Special Agent?

What the hell was going on?

The tiny hairs on the back of his neck stood on end.  That, and the warning buzz going off in his head, said this game had just taken a turn for the worse.

His worse.

As if reading his mind, Hunter’s lips twitched.  Then he inclined his head toward Gabriel as the blonde stationed herself on Hunter’s left.

She looked like the cat who was about to nibble on a canary.  Gabriel shifted so both feet were flat on the floor.  Defensive position, yes.  But the warning buzz was getting louder.  And women didn’t get that cocky without a really good reason.

Maybe he wasn’t going to wiggle out of everything quite as easily as he’d thought.

Then Hunter said, “Danita, this is Gabriel Black.”

He shot Gabriel a smug smile, just this side of cocky, and leaned back in his chair before adding, “He’s going to help us close the Black Oak case.”

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