Authors: Shayla Black
Tags: #Embezzlement Investigation, #Kidnapping, #Brothers, #Contemporary, #General, #Romance, #Erotic Stories, #Erotic Fiction, #Erotica, #Fiction
“Anything.” He shrugged. “Money laundering, I guess. Not certain for what purpose, exactly. But I have an idea how to get some answers.”
“What?” Kerry nodded, biting her kiss-swollen lower lip. “Something tells me you and ideas are dangerous together.”
“Why would you think that?” He frowned.
Her cheeky smile made him laugh. “Well, I
you and ideas are dangerous. I have the experience to prove it. Maybe we should try it my way this time.”
Kerry hesitated. “I’ve already asked far too much of you. You don’t owe me a thing. In the morning, our bargain ends and we’re even.”
She said the words he’d wanted to hear since waking up hungover Saturday morning. He could hardly believe the anger they engendered now.
“We’re not fucking even.” He stood, chair scraping across the flagstones, and pounded a fist on the table. “You can’t drag me ass deep into your crap, then dismiss me like some naughty little boy when you’re through.”
Shock widened her mossy green eyes. She leaned forward, providing a shadowy glimpse of her downy-soft cleavage. Even when she tossed him on his ass, he wanted her.
“I can’t demand that you stay and help me, either,” she countered. “It’s not your problem. I knew that all along and I was so desperate to do something,
that I overlooked that fact, broke laws . . . did things I’m not proud of.”
“Like fucking me?” Rafe heard the sharp note in his voice. “Gee, thanks for the orgasms but I really shouldn’t have—”
“Stop putting words in my mouth!” She rose to her feet, fists clenched at her sides. “What is wrong with you? Would I love for you to stay and help me through this for the days, weeks, hell, months it might take to free Mark? Yes. But I can’t ask you to do that. I don’t expect you to stay. You’ve done everything I’ve asked and more. It didn’t work, so I’m trying to thank you for your help and let you get back to your life. And you yell at me,” she muttered, then went to the door leading back to the cottage. Then she turned. “And for the record, you may think differently, but I never
The conversation ended when she slammed the door.
Her blistering words rang in his ears. Was Kerry trying to say their time together had meant something besides sex? Or just protesting his language, which he knew needed improvement?
Heaving a huge sigh, Rafe sat and stared at his laptop. Smooth. Real smooth. Either way, the only person he knew for a fact who had worse relationship skills than he did was Jack the Ripper.
Leaving would be best, no matter how much he wanted to stay. The fact he’d managed to infuriate and insult her when she’d apparently been trying to do the right thing, at least in her eyes, only underscored the fact that he was severely relationship-challenged.
Humans made mistakes, yes, but only idiots made the same mistake twice in one day. He’d opened his mouth for the second time in about eight hours and inserted both feet—while wearing cement shoes. Very smooth.
At this point, his choices to help her were limited. The idea circulating in his head . . . he ought to be committed for even thinking it, much less seriously contemplating it. Not only did the notion circle his brain, it dive-bombed.
Opening a new Internet browser, Rafe ploughed around various sites until he found the information he needed. He made a phone call. It was way after hours, so Rafe wasn’t surprised he had to leave a message. He could only hope it was enough of an explanation.
Grabbing his laptop, Rafe skulked inside. Kerry lay in the bed with the blankets bundled up to her chin. She did not look up at him as he entered.
“Sorry,” he mumbled, setting the laptop down on the dresser and turning to face her. “I’m not good at saying what’s in my head sometimes. I have a crappy temper.”
“Apology accepted,” she said stiffly.
“Are you trying to release me to let me get back on with my life? Or just wanting to get rid of me?” He pierced her with an insistent gray stare. “Shoot straight with me.”
Kerry sat up, and her golden curls tumbled to her shoulders as she held the sheet up to her chest. “Trying to let you get on with your life. I thought that was clear.”
Rafe shrugged. “I took it as a dismissal. I . . . ah, I got mad before I asked if you wanted me to stay and help before my plane leaves. It’s only another eighteen hours or so, but I thought I’d offer.”
Her green eyes widened with wonder. Tears pooled at the
bottom edge, threatening to spill down her apple cheeks. His offer had made her cry? Damn if that little bit of man-made saltwater didn’t rip out his guts.
“Look, if you want me gone, fine. I can pack and be out of here—”
Kerry launched herself into his arms, cutting off his sentence. “You’d actually stay a little longer?”
“It’s either that or sit around and watch boring-ass reruns until my plane leaves.”
She backed away, onto the bed again. “I guess embezzlement is more interesting than reruns.”
Rafe sighed. He was fucking this up, too. “I meant to say that I want to help you, not that embezzlement is more entertaining than
in syndication. You’ve got a big job in front of you and not much help. You’ve tried hard, and we can find the answer, I think. You shouldn’t have to do everything alone.”
The uncharacteristic tightening of her mouth told him that little speech hadn’t helped either.
“What?” he demanded. “I can’t be helpful now?”
“I don’t need your pity.”
“This has nothing to do with pity. You—you deserve help, and I think I can help you. Okay? When I leave, I’d like to know you’re going to be all right.”
Somewhat mollified, she nodded. “Thanks. You said earlier that you had an idea?”
“Yeah.” He nodded and cleared this throat.
Time to jump off the bridge. Was he ready? Sure about this?
The hope on Kerry’s face punched him in the gut. What if, when he left, he could do so knowing her brother, her anchor in life, was going to be with her again, taking care of her? Mark would make sure Kerry’s future worked out. He’d already forbidden Jason to ask her out, so Rafe figured her brother had some sense.
But the risk of this scheme . . .
Might be worth it if Rafe could turn that tentative hope on her face to true happiness.
“Those deposits I showed you out on the patio, remember?” At her nod, he went on. “They add up to nearly half a million dollars. I’ll bet someone in the bank, our thief, is
watching that money and waiting for the opportunity to take it or transfer it elsewhere. I’m going to beat them to it.”
“What?” Kerry frowned. “It sounds like you’re saying that you want to steal the money.”
Rafe did his best to smile. “Bingo.”
erry felt her jaw drop somewhere in the vicinity of Miami. “You’re going to steal the money? But—but that’s illegal.” Her mind whirled. She gasped. “And after what you did to the FBI—”
“CIA,” he corrected.
“Whatever. The point is, you said yourself they’d put you away for good if you ever used your hacking illegally again. Rafe, no. It’s too risky. Why would you even suggest it?”
The fact he would even bring up such a scheme appalled her . . . and touched her. Was he seriously willing to go that far out on a limb for her?
“Not steal, exactly,” he clarified. “I put a call in to D’Nanza and told him that I’d opened an account in my name at another bank and would be transferring the money there. I offered to sign the money over to the Feds, if they want. Anyway, the point is, one of our three suspects will realize the money is missing and start looking for it, probably sooner rather than later. If they’re clever enough to frame Mark, they’ll be clever enough to see that I’ve taken it. They’ll come looking for me and tip their hand trying to get the money back.”
“But you’ll be gone as of this afternoon.”
“I have a feeling this will all play out before then. If not, I might be able to change my flight and stay one more day. But I’m pretty sure that by sunset, we’ll know who our culprit is.”
Kerry gnawed on her bottom lip. “Won’t it look like a trap?”
He shrugged. “Maybe they’ll think I’m a thief. If not . . . doesn’t change the fact someone
want that money bad.”
“But if you put the bank account in my name—”
Rafe shook his head. “No dice. That person is likely to come looking for you, and that’s far too dangerous.”
Kerry blinked, staring absently at the blanket pooled in her lap. He was planning to set himself directly between her and the thief? Himself and the Feds? Why?
She raised a gaze to him that tumbled with emotions: hope, amazement, fear, uncertainty. Everything she felt showed on her face, no doubt.
“It’s dangerous for you, too. You’d be risking a lot just to help me.”
Rafe winced, pulled at the back of his neck with his palm. “No big deal. Look, if you don’t like the plan—”
“It could work,” she conceded. “But all the risk stops at your door. You might be arrested if D’Nanza decides to be difficult. This crook might be violent. You’re putting your fingerprints all over this, so that someone twisted enough to break the law repeatedly and frame an innocent man will come find you. Why?”
He shifted from one foot to the other and looked away. “Do I have to have a reason? Do we have to analyze this to death?”
His actions said that he cared, at least a little, and she wanted to believe that more than anything. But his words indicated that his caring for her made him uncomfortable. Rafe’s suggestion was awfully big-hearted; interrogating him about it just wasn’t smart.
“I can’t let you do this,” she said finally. “It’s too dangerous. I appreciate you wanting to join the fight, but I’ll find some other way that doesn’t risk you—”
Rafe turned back to the dresser, pressed a few keys on his laptop. Something flashed on the screen. Deposit records with lots of zeros suddenly disappeared. A few more strokes, and the deposits appeared again elsewhere. “Too late. It’s done.”
The enormity of the risk Rafe had just taken for her dropped her stomach to her knees. He’d stolen a whole lot of money just to help her. He might be arrested. Their robber might have a murderous streak. And he knew it—his face told her that. He’d done it anyway. If he’d merely wanted to see an innocent man released from sure prison time, he would have set the new account with the embezzled money up in her name. But no. He’d insisted on establishing the accounts with his name, assuming all the risks—to his freedom, his reputation as a businessman, his very safety.
Kerry felt fresh tears sting her eyes. If she’d been lying to herself before, she could no longer pretend that Denial was a river in Egypt.
She loved Rafe.
And she was equally sure that, despite his sacrifice, he didn’t want to hear it. After all, he’d offered to stay a day or two, not a lifetime.
Thrusting away that reality, Kerry left the sanctuary of the bed and walked on silent feet toward him. He watched, eyes wary, hungry.
Pausing a foot away from Rafe, Kerry wordlessly tugged her shirt over her head, leaving her bare from the hips up. Surprise and lust darkened his stormy gray eyes. As his gaze roved over her shoulders and her bare breasts with their tight, swollen nipples, those same mesmerizing eyes burned.
She stretched her mouth up to his and kissed him with the bittersweet joy churning in her heart. Yes, she loved someone who would never love her. He was sophisticated city, rich, used to privilege, well educated; she . . . hopelessly unpolished, barely halfway through college, scraping by as a waitress in a greasy diner. He’d never want her beyond this adventure, and she didn’t blame him.
But she had this moment, right now.
Swelling with a need to touch Rafe, Kerry kissed him, coaxing him to part his lips. In true Rafe fashion, he not only opened, but took over. He swept inside her mouth, connecting them together. She leaned into him, feeling fused to him by the pleasure his kiss gave her, by the need swirling in her heart.
The kiss seared her, every stroke of his tongue ramping up the arousal tightening her belly.
Rafe lifted his head, panting. He stared, the question hovering in his eyes.
To answer it, Kerry plucked at the ribbons holding her small lace panties in place. With the tug of the last bow, the scrap of black seduction fell to her feet. She smiled in welcome.
His eyes widened like big, shiny quarters.
“Kerry?” he whispered thickly.
Her heart gonged in her chest, reverberating with both adrenaline and love.
In answer, she caressed his cheek. “You’re an amazing man. I’m lucky you didn’t keep me tied to the bed and call the
police when you had the chance. I’m lucky you didn’t flay me alive with that sarcastic tongue when I confessed I’d kidnapped you. I’m lucky you turned out to be both brilliant and fantastic in bed.” She smiled and lay a simple kiss on his lips. “Mostly, I’m lucky to have met you.”
Before Rafe could react, Kerry pressed her naked body against his sleek, tightly muscled form and layered her mouth over his again. He stiffened, his body going taut. For a wild moment, Kerry feared rejection, or more specifically, that he’d realized she loved him and do a twelve-hundred-mile dash all the way back to New York.
Unless groaning “Gotta have you now” and possessing her mouth with a single devastating kiss was a new form of rejection, she need not have worried.
Even more, something in Rafe’s kiss was different. Softer. The demand was still there, but a new mood tempered it. The sensation was like gentle persuasion, silent pleading, desperation. She’d felt hints of these from him before. But this . . . it was overwhelming. Reverence flowed from him to her with every touch.
His mouth seemed to worship her. With his kiss alone, he told her that he wanted her, cared enough to help her through some tough times, wanted to offer her succor in his touch.
With a smooth hand, he caressed his way down the bare skin of her sensitive neck, traced the line of her spine, feathered his palm over a hip, her buttocks. She tingled everywhere he touched with such slow certainty. She shivered when he urged her back and down to the soft welcome of the bed.