Authors: Samantha Hunter
She wasn’t sure where she was, but it smelled nice. And it was warm. And solid. Sexy, almost. She snuggled in closer, feeling safe and—
She sat up sharply in the bed, looking around the strange room. Glancing down, she saw the source of the warm comfort she’d awakened to. EJ.
Her hand flew to her chest—only to find it stalled halfway. He’d cuffed her, the other link attached to his wrist. She knew without feeling that she was naked beneath the covers—her silky dress was long gone.
“Are you okay?” EJ murmured.
“I’m naked.” The bald statement escaped before she could think. “And I’m in handcuffs.”
“I didn’t want to take any chances you’d run off again.”
She looked at him, his eyes sleepy but filled with concern for her. He held out his hand and she took it, the metal of the cuffs clinking together.
“C’mere, darling. Let me hold you for a while.”
Her heart beat faster, and she kept the blanket hitched up as she scooted closer to him. Images of making love flashed in front of her eyes. It felt like a dream, but her body was dampening in response to the memory and his nearness….
It’s both exciting and a little sad to have finished writing
the third and final book in my HOTWIRES miniseries. But writing EJ and Charlotte’s story was such a pleasure and so much fun that I didn’t have much time to be sad, really.
I was intrigued with EJ from the moment he appeared on the page for the first time in book one,
I hope I did him justice now, having finally found him the perfect—although the most unlikely—woman, who’ll make him retire his wild ways!
I hope you enjoy this final book of the miniseries. This book, like
is also set on the beautiful Chesapeake Bay; as such, a percentage of the sales from this series will be donated to conservation projects in that area. Please stop by my Web site at www.samanthahunter.com to share your comments and see what’s new.
173—ABOUT LAST NIGHT
To Lori Borill, who helped me get many of the details right, and who will be a Harlequin Blaze babe one of these days herself. Soon, I hope.
To my sister Harlequin writers at ThePlotThickens—you guys keep me sane. Well, you try. To all the readers who send kind and enthusiastic comments, thank you! And to my friends at eHarlequin.com and ADWOFF.com (hi Ani! Euri! Nonnie! Teresa!
And…everyone I don’t have room to list!) This one’s for you!
from his sex-induced slumber, feeling a soft hand curl around his morning erection, stroking him into further wakefulness. He groaned and stretched, not opening his eyes, but moving into the hand that held him, fueling the caress. Finally, he spoke, his voice hoarse and good-humored.
“I’m dead, Jo. You did me in last night.”
“You don’t feel dead to me.”
There was an unmistakable smile in her voice, and a clear promise of more sensual adventures. But he really was exhausted.
He’d met Jo a little less than twenty-four hours ago; she’d been the instructor for his sky-jumping lesson the day before. He’d never parachuted before, but he’d decided to do something special for his thirty-fifth birthday. So first he’d jumped out of the plane. Then, exhilarated by the adrenaline rush and ready to go out and celebrate, he’d ended up jumping Jo, as well. Or maybe she’d jumped him. The end result was the same.
He’d had to put the family celebration off until the
weekend, which hadn’t pleased his mother one bit. But all in all, it had been a good birthday, he thought with a grin, feeling the pleasure of Jo’s practiced touch course through him.
“That feels wonderful, darlin’, but I have to get to work.”
“Won’t take long,
’,” Jo laughed. She loved making fun of his Southern accent, and he didn’t mind one bit. He was the product of four generations of Virginian tradition and she was pure Connecticut Yankee. But when a woman was as warm and passionate in bed as Jo was, he could care less about geographical differences.
EJ loved all kinds of women. As evidence of the fact, he’d dated as many as time and opportunity allowed in the past few years, since he’d ended his romance with his childhood friend, Millie Stewart. EJ had broken their engagement, left his job with the family shipbuilding business, and basically thrown the seriousness and responsibility of his old life to the wind. He loved his freedom, he loved his job and he loved women. Life was good.
EJ sometimes wondered what had driven him to want to get married and have kids in the first place. Well, he knew the answer to that: family pressure. Being Ethan Jared Beaumont the Fourth came with a set of expectations, especially after his father had died unexpectedly of a heart attack five years ago.
EJ had quit his job with the Department of Justice,
where he’d worked as a fraud investigator, and filled the seat left empty by his dad—Ethan Jared Beaumont the Third. EJ had done his duty. And he’d been miserable. He just hadn’t known it. Then his friend Ian Chandler had offered him the job of a lifetime with a specialized computer crime unit, known as the “HotWires” team. They worked in conjunction with the Norfolk Police Department, and EJ had never regretted for one moment accepting Ian’s offer.
That was almost three years ago. And now, his life was better than he ever could have imagined.
“Maybe I can breathe a little life into you?” Jo smiled, her tone hushed and suggestive as she slid down his body under the covers intending to replace her hand with her mouth, but he reached out, stopping her.
“I’m sorry, honey, I really do have to get to work. I have a meeting in less than an hour.”
Jo settled back, sighing. “Well, okay then. I suppose I should get going, too.” She smiled in a friendly way, as if they were simply having a casual chat on the sidewalk instead of crawling out of bed after hours of vigorous sex. “I had a great time, thanks.”
She slid off the bed and walked around the room in totally unselfconscious nudity, picking up her clothes. EJ sat up, too, wondering why he was suddenly disgruntled and out of sorts. He was tired, and he’d passed up an award-winning blow job, for sure, but Jo didn’t seem to be all that concerned about his
refusal. There was no problem with rejection, no pouting, no argument.
She walked over to him, smiling, and kissed him goodbye. A friendly peck. For some reason, it pissed him off.
“Can I pop in your shower for a minute?” She looked him in the eye, no trace of any hidden agenda. Not an iota of disappointment. He shook his head, erasing his errant thoughts, and hauled her up against him. Bending to kiss her soft breast, he pushed aside whatever was bothering him.
“Sure. Maybe I’ll join you for a quick one.”
CHARLEY: You’re very expressive. You enjoy it when someone tells you what they want in bed, where to touch them, how to kiss you….
EJB: I do like that—how did you know?
CHARLEY: Your cards show your strong need for communication and sensuality in a relationship. You need to be with someone who can excite your mind as well as your body—with what they say, how they eat or cook, the music they appreciate.
EJB: Would you tell me where to touch you? How to kiss you?
CHARLEY: I’m a very verbal person, yes.
EJB: I get turned on by a woman telling me
what she wants to do, and what she wants me to do to her.
CHARLEY: I know….
“Sheesh, EJ—pouring it on a little thick, weren’t you?”
EJ slid his glasses off and rubbed his eyes, tired from being up too late and getting in just under the wire to pour over the transcripts of his last dialogue with the suspect he was currently investigating. Not that his quickie in the shower with Jo hadn’t been worth it, but he wasn’t in the habit of being late to work because of sex. Work was first on his list, and he took it seriously.
Sarah Jessup, one of his partners on the team, was skimming over the transcript as well, looking at him in mock disgust.
“I mean, really. Do women fall for this
He grinned, loving the Yiddish words Sarah always threw into the conversation that he’d never be able to pull off with his southern drawl. But Sarah was born and raised near New York City, and she’d spent almost a decade in Brooklyn before moving to Norfolk, Virginia, to be one of the team, so she could definitely talk the talk. Her three years living below the Mason-Dixon Line hadn’t changed her hard-edged New York attitude one bit. EJ loved it.
“They fall right into bed, darlin’. All except for you, of course.”
“Yeah, I’m immune to your flirting, thank God.”
“I didn’t really try all that hard, us working together and all.”
“Yuh-huh. You keep telling yourself that.”
“Ah, now. No need to be bitter. All this reading here is all playacting. Couldn’t blame you one bit if it makes you wonder what you missed out on.”
He grinned, watching her gorgeous blue eyes narrow—there was nothing romantic between them and never had been, but he loved teasing her about her “missed opportunity.” He’d made a pass at Sarah once, years ago, before she’d met the man she was currently engaged to, Logan Sullivan. Logan was a former cop who was currently starting his own kayak sales and service business.
EJ knew he’d been out of line propositioning Sarah in the first place, but they’d been alone, out having a few drinks after finishing a case, and they were both single and lonely. At the time, he’d just broken his engagement and wasn’t sure what was in store for him. And Sarah had been available, and he liked her. He’d figured, why not?
Sarah had put EJ in his place. She wasn’t interested in falling into bed with anyone, period, but especially not with someone at the office. Of course, six months ago Logan had come along and changed all that, seducing Sarah when they met on a vacation fling, and then becoming her ad hoc partner while solving a missing person case that had cracked open
one of the largest Internet pornography operations on the east coast. Sarah was all work, all the time, even when she’d been on vacation. Logan had mellowed her a bit, but not much.
The bust had been a huge feather in Sarah’s cap professionally, but meeting Logan and putting some of her own ghosts to rest while doing so had made Sarah a happier person, in general. She was still intense, but she just was more peaceful overall, more settled. Well, settled might be overstating it.
EJ was always grateful that she hadn’t taken him up on his offer that night, though he sure enjoyed teasing her about it. They had a solid friendship and a perfect working relationship, and that was all. That was enough. In many ways, he was closer to Sarah than he was with any of the women he slept with.
Sarah quirked an eyebrow. “You’re looking a little tired this morning, EJ. Worn out. Was last night’s birthday conquest a little too athletic for you, old man?” She grinned. “Many happy returns, but the way.”
He winced, hating that she’d hit on the source of his tiredness spot-on, but aimed a no-nonsense look in her direction instead. “Thanks. When do you leave again?”
Sarah didn’t miss his sarcasm, but broke into a huge grin. The change in topic was obviously a happy one for her.
“Damn. I thought it was sooner.”
EJ watched her shape her fingers into a gun and
shoot him point-blank. He loved messing with Sarah, and he loved it that she gave as good as she got. She was a breath of fresh air, a whole different species than the well-heeled, upper-class Southern women he’d grown up with.
He glanced at his e-mail, skimming the subject lines of incoming mail that already had piled up in his inbox, realizing the room had become very quiet. He looked over and smiled more sincerely, finding her lost in thought as she gazed at the huge diamond on her left hand.
“It’s a helluva rock. Logan really wants you to have the best.”
She blushed furiously and then glared at him—if Sarah hated anything, it was being caught acting girly. She was tough as nails, a great cop, and a brilliant computer hacker. But Logan had also brought out her softer side in a big way. The glare morphed into a cheeky smile as she flitted her fingers in the air.
amazing, but it’s just a ring. Having Logan is what counts. And in two weeks, I will be on an amazing honeymoon with an amazing man having amazing sex all day on our own amazing private beach.”
EJ sighed exaggeratedly. “Another one gone to the other side.”
“Yeah, just wait. Your turn is coming.”
“Thanks, but no thanks. I’m happy just the way I am.”
She just gave him a look of doubt—or maybe it was something else. Concern? It was often annoying now that he’d discovered the wilder side of life, that all of his friends were settling down with spouses and babies. And the more that happened, the more they believed it should happen to him, too.
Maybe someday he would find someone special. Fill his empty family home and grow old with grandchildren on his knee. There would be a time when the singles life wouldn’t appeal quite as much, and he didn’t want to get old alone. But that time wasn’t now.
Shaking his head, he silently thanked the heavens when their boss—and his old friend—Ian Chandler walked into the office, putting an end to the discussion and turning matters to business. Ian was a few minutes late, and looking even more exhausted than EJ, but that was bound to happen when his wife was expecting twins at any moment.
Ian had met his wife, Sage, at the same time the HotWires team had been forming. It had been a bumpy courtship to say the least, but all was well that ended well. EJ thought the world of them both, and was happy to be included in their little family by being asked to be future godfather to the babies. For EJ, it was the best of all possible worlds—he got to enjoy things like babies and friends, weddings and family, but he also had his independence.
“Hey, Daddy. How’re my goddaughters?”
EJ watched pride replace the exhaustion as Ian sat down to start their meeting.
“Ready to come out and driving their mama crazy already, kicking and keeping her up at night. Sage is big as a house, and still trying to work, even though the doctor has her on partial bed rest. I have no idea what to do to make that woman slow down.”
EJ laughed. “Neither one of you will be slowing down for a while, I suspect. But at least you got her to marry you.”
EJ watched his friend’s eyes warm as he glanced at the gold band on his finger that had been placed there four months before. Busy with their lives and with Sage starting a new business, Ian and Sage had ended up pregnant before they’d talked about marriage. Both of them had been happy enough with the new development. Though Sage had been hesitant to have a shotgun wedding, in the end Ian had won her over and it had been a beautiful event, made even richer by the knowledge that they would soon be a family.
The sentimental look vanished as Ian turned to business.
“So you’ve made contact?”
EJ nodded. “Last night was our second meeting.”
“Here’s the transcript.” He ignored Sarah’s
chuckle as he shoved a file folder in Ian’s direction. “But no, not much. Yet. It’s early.”
“It may take a little while. They could be feeling you out.”
EJ agreed, but he was still hoping to crack this case sooner than later. If nothing else, he was getting tired of online sex talk—he liked his sex real and in person.
They’d been working on the paper trail for weeks, tracing scattered evidence regarding large thefts that had no seeming connection, but after sifting through piles of notes and paperwork, one commonality finally appeared: all of the victims had been subscribers to an online psychic service called SexyTarot.com.
Finally, EJ was closing in. That single, real thread of evidence had led them right to their own backyard: Norfolk, Virginia. Said service was owned by a single player: Charlotte Gerard. That was the common denominator among all the people who had lost money—at one time or another, she’d read for the victims.
He focused back on the file. A background check had revealed zip in the way of a criminal past, though Ms. Gerard had experienced a less than stellar childhood. Raised an orphan up north in New Hampshire, she went the usual route and lived in several foster homes until she’d moved to Norfolk three years ago. She didn’t own a car and had no priors, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t a late bloomer to a life of crime.
Ms. Gerard was twenty-nine, single, and eighteen months ago she’d started running SexyTarot.com, which offered psychic readings focusing specifically on clients’ love lives.