A deep reverberating thrum filled Jodi Tyler’s chest and stroked the back of her throat with its raw promise of latent power. The unmistakable growl of a Harley. The sound bounced off the highwalled estate hugging the shores of Lake Arlington, then abruptly stopped.
She lifted the night vision binoculars and peered through the tinted windows of the surveillance van. Nothing. Deciding there was no threat from the road, she swiveled her chair back to the monitors. Her fingers flicked the switches controlling the surveillance cameras aimed at the estate. Images flashed across the monitor in rapid succession. They all showed the same thing. Nothing.
“Must’ve turned off,” she muttered to herself. She grabbed the black T-shirt she’d discarded earlier and blotted the sweat trickling down her neck.
Maybe the pimply teenager three doors up drove a Harley. More likely his mid-life-crisis-aged father, she thought, wiping the perspiration pooled between her breasts. Being stuck in a stifling black van in Dallas during a heat wave was not her idea of excitement. Especially on her birthday. Which Mark had forgotten.
After hinting for weeks about how she wanted to spend the night, starting with a romantic dinner at their favorite restaurant, after teasing him about the sexy negligee she’d bought, even after that stupid list of all the sexual fantasies she’d written for him, he’d still gone ahead and arranged for her to penetrate the estate tonight. Tonight!
“If he expects me to be in any sort of romantic mood when I get home, he’s got rocks in his head.” She plopped down in the chair with a huff. “He can sleep in his own bed tonight. Alone.”
She switched the monitor back to the camera aimed at the Lexus parked in front of the five-car garage. If the assistant kept to her regular schedule—and that woman was punctual to a fault—the car would soon be cruising up the drive. Which meant Jodi’d be out of this Easy-Bake Oven and into the air-conditioned estate to finish this assignment. Then she could go home and shower. Alone.
An insidious thought slithered into her mind, puncturing her self-confidence with an icy-cold needle. That’s what he’s planned all along—he’s trying to dump you without actually having to say anything.
No, she thought, shaking her head. Mark doesn’t play games like that.
How do you know? the voice whispered. Why else would he arrange for the estate to be penetrated today of all days? He’s easing his way out of the affair by pissing you off, hoping you’ll dump him first. And don’t forget how he insisted either one of you could walk away at any point.
She leaned back in the chair, her arms folded across her chest. Easing out of a relationship had to be better than being dumped by text message the way Todd had done. “Let’s just be friends.”
Friends, my ass.
Would it hurt less than it had when she’d found another woman’s bra under Danny’s bed and been forced to endure his long, stumbling explanation? “She’s softer, less demanding, you know?”
Yeah, she knew.
Permanent scars etched her heart after Jace’s less-than-flattering comments about her lack of femininity when she’d graduated from the police academy. More fool her, she’d actually quit the force trying to please that asshole and he’d still dumped her.
Maybe Mark’s way of easing out of a relationship was better. Maybe it would hurt less. She rubbed the heel of her hand over the ache in her heart. Who was she kidding? Despite agreeing with Mark that the affair wouldn’t be long term, she’d fallen in love with him anyway. If he was breaking up with her, she was soon going to feel like her skin had been stripped off layer by layer.
When a branch snapped behind the van, interrupting her pity fest, she grabbed her gun from the console and headed to the driver’s seat. There was no way she was going to sit here as a witless target.
“Jodi? Open up, babe, it’s me,” Mark whispered through the back panel.
Excitement flared in her chest at the sound of his voice. When she realized her heart was racing just from hearing his voice, she silently cursed herself for acting like a bookworm with a serious crush on the quarterback.
“Jodi?” Mark said, a little louder this time. “You okay in there?”
She thumbed on the safety of the Glock and, after taking a deep breath, opened the door. A glance around showed no sign of his Humvee—he must have parked it farther down the road and walked up.
“You could have phoned to say you were coming in. I might have shot you.” In the groin.
The van dipped when he stepped up into it. His six-foot-two-inch frame filling the narrow confines, he gently closed the door so it wouldn’t give away their position. The dragon tattoo on his biceps flexed as he placed a knapsack on the console beside the surveillance equipment. Muscles rippled beneath the Celada Security logo emblazoned across the chest of his black T-shirt. Muscles she’d felt flex beneath her palms the night before.
Her fingers itched to run themselves through the thick crop of black hair in his Marine high-and-tight. Normally she didn’t go for guys with short hair, but that glistening four-inch-wide pelt reminded her of a mink coat she wanted wrapped around her body. Between her legs.
Get over that desire real fast, she told her fingers. “You’re late.”
“Got stuck at the lawyers’. There—” He stopped as his eyes adjusted to the gloom, reminding her of what she was—or rather, wasn’t—wearing.
Every cell in her body went on high alert, trembled with need and expectation as if he’d touched her wherever he looked.
His grin widened and his chocolate brown eyes glinted. “Is a sports bra and thong the latest fashion for surveillance?”
Jodi flipped him the bird while she searched for the T-shirt she’d discarded.
“It was hot. I stripped down. So bite me,” she said, though without the rancor she’d intended.
“Anything you say, babe.” He pulled her against him and nipped at her earlobe. “But I fully approve of your outfit. Think I should make it part of the dress code.”
“Yeah, that’ll go over real well.” She attempted to maintain her anger. And failed. “Everyone’s been dying to see Hector’s fat ass in a thong.”
When his hands cupped her breasts, Jodi melted into his touch. Magic fingers, she thought, as his thumbs brushed her taut nipples. Was this the last time he’d touch her like this? Or was it just her insecurity making her paranoid?
“Have I told you lately how beautiful you are?” he said, his breath hot on her neck.
The citrus fragrance of his aftershave, and the lack of his usual dark five-o’clock shadow told her he’d recently shaved. His fresh scent reminded her how grungy she felt having been cooped up in over one hundred degree heat all day. It took a charming—or incredibly obtuse—man to tell a woman whose hair clung in damp strands to her neck and probably smelled like the inside of a stable that she was beautiful.
Surely a man planning on dumping her wouldn’t be acting like this. Or was he overcompensating?
“The assistant leave yet?” His tongue brushed over her earlobe, sending a shiver down her spine.
“Um…” She struggled to think under the onslaught of sensation. His tongue trailed down her neck, teeth nipped at that spot that made her need him inside her. What was it about him that made her knees turn to jelly and her insides to liquid heat?
“Babe? Did Ms. Janssen leave?”
She barely heard him repeat the question when his hand released her breast and moved lower. She forced one eye open and peered over his shoulder at the monitor, verifying the car hadn’t moved.
“No, not yet. If she keeps to her usual schedule she should leave in ten minutes. I thought I heard an engine a few moments ago. You see anything on the way in?”
“Nope.” He turned her away from the monitor and pushed aside the thin strip of her thong. His fingers—those broad, callused, talented fingers—stroked her vulva, sending streaks of pleasure deep inside.
She struggled to maintain focus the way he could. “Must have been… Oh, Mark, yes, right there.”
Her legs opened wider under his murmured instructions, while her hands fumbled with the zipper in his blue jeans. Fingers were all very well, but when there was a cock willing and eager to penetrate her—and from the rock-hard erection beneath her palm, he was more than ready—there was no contest. She heard the rustle of canvas when he reached behind her, and she wondered what was in the knapsack that he needed at this precise moment.
“Got a present for you.” His mouth covered hers, swallowing her squeak of surprise when something hard and cold touched her labia and pressed inward. “Something to keep you on your toes.”
A moan left her when the object started vibrating inside her. He had to be kidding!
She reached down to remove the vibrating egg, only to have her wrist circled by his fingers, pulling her hand away.
“Oh no you don’t. Leave it in until I take it out myself.” An intense look filled his dark eyes, replacing the earlier amusement. He stepped back, all business, and picked up her black twill pants. “Better put these on. The assistant will be leaving soon. Don’t forget you have to get through the gate right after she leaves.”
“I know the plan.” She tugged on her pants, doing her best to ignore the overwhelming need the device was creating. “Do you seriously expect me to break into the house and crack a safe with this damned thing vibrating inside me?”
He flashed a six-megawatt grin. “Yup, I do.”
Jodi stuck her tongue out at him. Okay, it was childish, but she hated that he’d got her so hot and bothered and then wouldn’t let her come. Until she noticed the bulge in his pants. Proving that despite Mark’s business-like demeanor, he was just as horny.
“We’ve got a few minutes before Ms. Janssen leaves.” She trailed a finger down his chest, slid her hand between them and rubbed his erection, intent on torturing him and silencing her insecurities. “You must be aching as bad as I am. No use both of us being unfulfilled all night.”
His grin fading, Mark flipped a switch on the remote. The vibrations ceased within her, leaving her with a completely unsatisfied pussy. Damn it, she needed to finish what he’d started.
“Look, babe, I know you wanted to celebrate, but the owner insisted it be today. And since you’re our best at infiltration…” He tucked the remote into his shirt pocket then lifted her hands in his.
At least he’d remembered her birthday.
When he pressed his lips against her knuckles, her insecurity crawled back under its rock. Hopefully forever.
“I’d still rather have you inside me than this vibrator.”
He chuckled and kissed her fingers again. “I know. So would I. But we don’t have time.”
“So why are you insisting I keep it in?”
He let her hands drop and cradled her head to his shoulder briefly. “Just for fun. Besides, you’re always practicing cracking those safes wearing headphones, listening to loud music and street sounds. So think of my present as just another distraction, something to add to the challenge.”
She relented. A little. There were worse ways to be distracted—like having firecrackers or guns aimed at you—both of which had been done to her in the past. His professionalism had attracted her to him in the first place; it wasn’t right that she snark about it now, she supposed. Besides, what could be more exciting than breaking into a house, knowing you could get caught, a vibrator your lover had placed deep inside arousing every fiber of your being? By night’s end, she’d be so horny, so desperate for him, he could fuck her in the middle of Dealey Plaza at high noon and she wouldn’t deny him.
She bent over to pick up her T-shirt, making sure Mark had a really good look at her butt. Might as well give him something to think about while she was away.
“You got the letter I’m supposed to leave in the safe?” The shirt muffled her voice as she pulled it over her head.
He held up a sealed envelope. “Right here.”
She grabbed the envelope and shoved it in her pocket. “You sure the owner hasn’t upgraded the system? Or tipped the current security company off?”
“Nah, I have his word that if you crack the safe tonight, I’ll have a signature on a contract at our lunch tomorrow. And then I can concentrate on the merger.” Mark perched on the edge of the console and folded his arms. A smug look on his face told her he expected her to encounter no problems.
Yet for all his confidence in her, the envelope weighed a ton in her pocket. “Mark, are you sure you want to sell out? You’ve worked so hard making Celada the top security firm in Texas—you can’t just hand over the reins to some stranger, even if he was your old college buddy. You love running your own company too much to see it gobbled up by Hauberk Security.”
He grabbed her hand and tugged until she stood between his legs. “It’s just a merger, babe, not a complete takeover. I’ve told you I’ll continue to run ops this side of the Mississippi, and Sam will manage everything to the east from D.C. We’ll both have to agree on any major decision, each with an equal say.”
“And if you can’t agree?”
“It’ll work out. Trust me.” His hand cupped her buttock and squeezed as he glanced at the monitor behind her. “Time to move, babe. Ms. Janssen is driving toward the gate.”
He couldn’t have staged a better way to avoid the subject if he’d planned it.
After pulling on a pair of surgical gloves, Jodi picked up the two-way headset and tucked it around her ear. “Give me a sound check, will you?”
Mark flipped on the microphone to the radio, and whispered something in Spanish.
Shivers flared down her spine and sent a bolt of heat into her core. “One of these days I’m going to take Spanish lessons. What did you say this time?”
“I promised to tie your hands behind your back and make you get on your knees. Then I said I’m going to put my dick in your mouth until I spew come down your throat.”
Grabbing the back-door latch, Jodi pressed her knees together as her pussy clamped around the egg lodged high inside. “If you’d let Javier do this job the way I’d suggested, I’d be on my knees in a heartbeat. But since you didn’t, I guess you’ll have to keep dreaming.”
“Maybe. Maybe not.” He winked and tossed her a black knit cap. “Forget something?”
With a muttered curse about wool caps and Texas heat, Jodi tucked her hair beneath the cap’s edges. Once Mark had flicked off the van’s dome light, she eased the door open. As she squeezed through the narrow opening, branches scraped against the door’s paint job and tugged at her thin black cotton shirt.
Headlights slanted up the curving driveway, backlighting the ornate wrought-iron gates that creaked as they swung open.
“Right on time. Someone needs to teach you there’s safety in unpredictability, lady,” she murmured.
The sleek dark blue Lexus drove through the gates and turned right.
“Show time, babe,” Mark said over the headset.
Heart thumping, Jodi slid in through the gates as the motor whirred, jumping only slightly when the gate clicked shut behind her.
Keeping to the shadows cast by the half-moon, Jodi crept down the long driveway toward the sprawling three-story Tudor mansion. She skirted the massive garage, then followed the path around back and stopped by the first French door. Whatever security expert designed the current system hadn’t insisted that a deadbolt be installed on this one. Or the installers had missed it. And that was the reason she—no, she reminded herself, Mark’s company—was going to prove they were the best security firm in Texas.
She pulled out the thin strip of plastic she had tucked in the pouch on her belt and shoved it between the jamb and the latch. Seconds later, she straightened and opened door.
As she’d expected, a red light flashed in the security panel beside the door. She punched in the number she’d memorized and breathed a sigh of relief when the light turned a steady green. They hadn’t changed the security code since she’d reconnoitered. Another point for her report.
“I’m in,” she whispered, knowing Mark was listening in the van. She wiped the sweat from the back of her neck, angling her head to catch the cool breeze rushing through the air-conditioning vent.
“You never told me how you got the security code,” she heard Mark say in the earpiece as she headed through the empty room toward the center hallway.
“I have my secrets,” she taunted. That weekend she’d bribed to call in sick so she could fill in had paid off—even if it meant she’d had to scrub toilets. The work hadn’t really been hard—the new owner had only furnished four rooms so far, so there’d not been much to clean.
A smile tugging at her lips, Jodi paused at the door to the office, ensuring it was empty. Moonlight streamed between the heavy curtains that flanked the French doors and across the floor in a rectangular pattern, slanting up the bookcases lining the walls. The red power light on the cordless phone reflected in the brass base of the banker’s lamp on the desk. Assured she was alone, she walked confidently toward the desk.
“The safe’s in the floor behind the desk,” Mark reminded her. “Figure you’ve got less than an hour to crack the safe, leave the envelope and get out before the next patrol cruises by.”
She rolled her eyes. Cruise was right—that’s all the minimum-wage cop wannabees currently providing security did for their visual inspection. Her van had been parked in the area for a week now and they hadn’t slowed down enough to read her license plate or check why she was there.
She pushed the leather office chair aside and knelt on the hardwood floor, inhaling a whiff of lemon furniture polish. The very same polish she’d applied on the weekend. Reaching beneath the desk, her fingers found the latch that would free the panel hiding the safe. Her breath left her with a whoosh when she heard the audible click.
“Got it!” she whispered, pumping her fist in the air. Now the real fun began.
Still on her knees, she reached down and swung open the square section of floor concealing the safe. A chuckle escaped her. She’d never bothered to tell Mark that during her stint as a replacement maid, she’d been assigned to dust this room. Or that she’d discovered the safe’s combination on the flip side of the leather blotter.
“Hey, Mark, start the timer—I’ll bet I can have this baby cracked in under three minutes.”
Mark’s low chuckle reverberated in her ear. “Two. Loser gets tied up and spanked.”
Jodi’s butt tightened. Spanking usually meant Mark was in the mood for ass play. Maybe she should deliberately take four minutes. No, she thought with wicked delight as she glanced at her latex covered fingers, it was time Mark got a taste of his own medicine.
“Then drop your pants, big boy, and show me your sweet ass, ’cause you’re going to get a whoopin’ tonight.”
Clenching her penlight between her teeth, she leaned over the dial of the old-fashioned safe. Then jumped when the egg started to vibrate deep inside her.
Sonuvabitch. She stopped herself from screeching. She’d completely forgotten the damned thing. Her nipples hardened into swollen buds rubbing against her cotton T-shirt while her pussy throbbed in time with the vibrations.
No way was she going to let Mark win this bet. Ignoring the vibrator as best she could, she carefully turned the dial clockwise to the first number. Heard the click as the mechanism released. One-and-a-half-turns counterclockwise. Another click. Clockwise again. Click. Grinning, she checked her watch.
“Mark, your ass is going to be sore tomorrow,” she whispered.
A quick tug on the handle opened the safe. Her penlight’s thin beam of light illuminated a thick rope of gold with a massive ruby pendant resting upon a black velvet-covered board. A set of dangly earrings that matched the pendant and several diamond-encrusted bracelets winked back at her. A fortune in easily fenced gems and the idiot had left the combination to the safe where anyone could find it.
Shaking her head at the owner’s stupidity, she pulled out the envelope. Then froze when the sliver of light from the French door lengthened, slid beneath the desk and over the safe.
She peered beneath the knee space under the desk. The moonlight outlined the shape of a dark figure shutting the doors.
“Under two minutes, Mark, I win,” she announced as she crawled from beneath the desk. She straightened and smiled, expecting Mark to flash that sexy smile of his. She was so ready to fuck him, to have him ram his cock deep into her.
But her smile froze when the intruder took a step into the room and the moonlight gleamed off his head. His shaved head.
“Welcome to my parlor, said the spider to the fly.”