Authors: Lori Foster
Harris didn’t bother to reply to that jab. Buck might still be going strong, but Harris hadn’t dated
lately. Rosie could rest easy on that score.
Now the woman in the picture... If he could look her up he just might be interested. Strolling over to lounge against the back wall of the alley, Harris held his helmet under his arm and rummaged through the shoebox. Unfortunately, he didn’t find any addresses, but he pulled out one folded sheet of paper. Confusion reigned around him, but he gave all his attention to the feminine script on the note.
I’m sorry for just leaving a note. I know you wanted me to call, but there’s no point. You’d just try to convince me to go with you, but it’s over. It’s not you, so please don’t think of this as an insult. You knew how I felt all along.
I’m hung up on Harris.
Harris’s eyes widened. Talk about coincidences. How many guys could there be with that name? It wasn’t like a Tom, Dick or Harry.
It’d be tough for any other guy to measure up to him. If being a firefighter isn’t heroic enough...
Harris nearly dropped the shoebox. Coincidence, hell! She was talking about
Suddenly feeling on display, he glanced around the surrounding area, but no one paid him any attention. The crowd had dispersed. Those who’d stopped to watch the firefighters work were now scuffling back into their homes. The other firefighters were chatting, bitching about the weather, generally just hanging around.
Harris swallowed hard and went back to reading.
...he’s also funny. He makes me laugh all the time. And he’s so generous. You don’t notice it at first, because Harris likes to clown around, but he’s really very sensitive to other people.
No shit? Harris blinked in disbelief. She thought he was sensitive?
He works hard and he’s proud and I love him.
Again, I’m sorry.
She loved him. Wow. Harris looked, but there was no signature, damn it. He turned the note over, but no, it was blank. Who had written it? The idea of a secret admirer tantalized him, made him feel warm and full and anxious. He lifted another photo, the one of her stepping into her panties, and smiled. Sweet. Very sweet.
“Slug. Shouldn’t you be helping out instead of snooping through the garbage?”
Startled by the verbal intrusion, Harris glanced up and got snared in Clair’s disapproving green gaze. Her hair was loose, parted on the side and hanging in blunt lines to just skim the tops of her shoulders. She had her head tipped forward a bit to look at him over the rim of her glasses. Her eyes were twinkling at the pleasure of insulting him. Obviously,
didn’t consider him sensitive.
“It’s not garbage,” he grumbled.
“No?” She went on tiptoe to peer over his shoulder.
Harris held the photo out of reach. “You don’t want to see this, Clair.”
“I do too.”
“I doubt that.” He grinned, imagining her reaction if he showed her. “They’re photos.”
“That’s private. You shouldn’t be looking either.”
“Someone threw them away.” He shrugged. “Free for the pickings.”
Hands on her hips, she demanded, “Let me see, Harris.”
Prodded by the devil in him, Harris decided
With a flourish, he handed her the photo.
Her face went beet-red and she gasped so hard she nearly strangled. “Harris!”
“Hey, I’m not the photographer.” He winked. “I just found it.”
“You really think so?” He took it back from her and stared some more before murmuring with great sincerity, “Nice ass.”
Laughing, Harris searched through the box. “Here’s another.” He handed her the one of the woman getting into the shower. In that pose, she had one shapely leg bent, one arm raised. Gorgeous.
Clair narrowed her eyes and accepted the photo. After several moments scrutinizing it, a small frown pulled down her brows. But at least this time she didn’t choke.
“And one more.” Harris gave her his favorite, the one of the woman reclined in bed. He thought she might be sleeping, she looked so boneless and relaxed. Her back was smooth and graceful, rising up to a plump rump, then tapering down again to long thighs and shapely calves.
Clair stared so long that Harris cleared his throat. “Anytime you’re done with it...”
“Oh, sorry.” She looked bothered about something, then glared. “I can dispose of those for you if you want.”
“Not on your life.” Harris held the photos protectively out of her reach. “I’m keeping them.”
Clair’s mouth fell open. “Keeping them? But that’s...lecherous! You don’t even know that woman.” And then in a smaller voice: “Do you?”
“Nope. But I know she has a major case for me.” He tapped the letter. “Says so right here.”
Clair went white. She tried to grab the note. “You just said you don’t know her.”
“I don’t. Yet. But she obviously knows me.” Harris opened the paper and pointed out his name. “Harris the firefighter. Gotta be me, right?” He folded it and put it back in the shoebox for safekeeping. “So actually, this pertains to me. I have a right to this stuff.”
“I’m in lust.” Harris touched her nose. “But then, you wouldn’t know about that, would you, Clair?”
Her back snapped straight. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“I’m just saying that you don’t date much. Now if you’ll excuse me, I gotta get to work.”
Smiling sweetly, Clair said, “Want me to hold that shoebox for you?”
“No.” Harris laughed at her fallen expression. “I’m going to run it over to my place and lock it inside, safe and sound.”
The way her jaw worked, Harris thought she might be grinding her teeth. “So you can stare at the photos and fantasize tonight?”
“Don’t sneer, Clair. It makes you look like a prude.” As he walked away, Harris heard Clair call him a choice name. He glanced around in time to witness her stomping toward her apartment. Too bad Clair didn’t understand about lust. If she ever turned all that emotion loose in the sack, she just might be magnificent.
Harris caught his train of thought and growled. He’d better find his mystery lady soon, because lack of nookie was making him crazed.
He needed a woman—his mystery woman. Sexy. Provocative. And she thought he was sensitive. What more could a guy ask for?
THANKS TO THE DUAL effects of worry and mortification, Clair suffered through an endlessly long, sleepless night and was dragging as she headed into work the next day.
Thank God Harris hadn’t recognized her.
Just thinking about his expression as he’d stared at her—Clair shuddered in agonizing horror. This was too unbelievable. If she ever found Kyle, the jerk she’d dated, the jerk who’d taken those pictures without her knowing, she’d strangle him.
During the darkest hours of the night, memories had flooded back on Clair, memories of Kyle begging her to let him photograph her, and the distinct recollection of her saying a firm, unequivocal
But she also recalled him showing off a teeny tiny camera, one he used to take photos without anyone knowing. At the time, he’d claimed it was to get candid, rather than posed shots of people for his gallery. And he had taken some, but to her knowledge, he’d never shown one without a signed permission slip and financial compensation.
At least he hadn’t put hers in the gallery. But to throw them away behind the building...had the idiot never heard of a paper shredder? And to include her notes with them! Clair pulled into the lot where she worked and took a moment to cover her face with her hands. The only saving grace was that she hadn’t signed any of the notes. If Harris had seen her signature at the end... Well, she honestly didn’t know what he’d do.
It had taken Clair a moment to realize she was the subject of the photos. Her hair had been longer then, and her face hidden. But she had recognized herself. Harris, however, had been utterly oblivious to that fact. He plain and simply didn’t see her as a sexual woman, which emphasized how little attention he paid to her femaleness.
That had been really frustrating over the past few months, but now she was more than a little grateful. She only hoped he never showed the photos to anyone. Even if no one ever guessed her identity, she couldn’t bear the thought of people seeing her in the raw.
Because moping wasn’t something she enjoyed, she shoved her car door open and stepped out into the blistering day. If the humidity had been bad before the storm, it was ten times worse now. Immediately her shirt stuck to her back, and even through her dressy, flat-heeled sandals, she could feel the scorching heat of the blacktop. As a concession to the weather, she wore a sleeveless cotton shirt and loose, flowing skirt. She slung a canvas bag over her arm and started in.
She’d use the day at work as a distraction to get her mind off nude photos, thickheaded men, and her jackass ex-boyfriend. At the moment, there wasn’t anything she could do about any of them, so it was best not to dwell on it.
Cool air-conditioning rolled over her the moment she entered the building. Though she was early, Dane and Alec, the P.I.s she worked for, already had a client in the inner office with them. They’d relocated from the city so they’d have more free time for their wives and kids. But it seemed their small town was rife with drama, and they often stayed busy. At least here, though, the cases were seldom all that threatening.
Clair could hear their quiet conversation, see the movement of male bodies through opaque glass. She put her purse away and turned her computer on, then went straight to the coffeepot.
She already had things underway when Dane stuck his head out the door. “Clair, would you mind bringing in some coffee?”
“Not at all. It’ll be done in two more minutes.”
“Thanks.” He ducked back inside.
Making coffee wasn’t in her job description, but small requests never offended Clair. It helped that Dane and Alec were consummate gentlemen and didn’t take her, or her talents, for granted. As often as not, they carried coffee to her.
A few minutes later, with sugar, powdered creamer and three mugs of steaming coffee on a tray, Clair used her foot to tap at the door. Alec opened it. He looked darker and more intense than usual, but then Alec could be a poster model for tall, dark and dangerous.
He gave her a nod. “Nothing like caffeine to kick off the day.”
Clair smiled. “Tough case?”
“Different, that’s for sure.” He took the tray from her and she started to exit the office.
At the sound of Harris’s voice, Clair froze in midstep.
Oh no. Please, no.
Slowly, wincing with dread, she pivoted stiffly to face him.
He was at Dane’s workstation—the cursed photos spread out on the surface.
Oh. Dear. God.
Heat rolled from her chest right up to her hairline, making her dizzy with the shock of it. For a single moment, Clair thought she might faint, especially when Dane picked up the shower shot for a closer look.
Alec rejoined the men, staring at
naked body with a frown. “Do you see any distinguishing marks? Moles or scars or anything?”
Clair’s knees trembled, threatening to buckle.
“No. No jewelry either.”
Did she have time to run out and get her ears pierced?
Dane shook his head. “Just lots of smooth skin. Maybe we should have these photos blown up.”
Clair staggered back against the door. Blow them up?
Blow them up!
As in, make them...bigger? Her throat closed and she couldn’t draw breath, couldn’t say a single word. She tried to get out a denial, to dissuade them from that horrendous plan, but all that emerged was an appalled squeak.
Harris glanced her way, did a double take, then rushed toward her. “Damn, Clair, you okay?” He caught her arms and physically forced her into a chair. Good thing too, because she was about ready to sink to the floor. Maybe
the floor if she got lucky.
Over his shoulder, Harris said to Alec, “I think she’s been in the heat too long this morning. You got a cold cloth or something?”
Alec was a man of action. Within seconds, he had a pad of paper towels, dripping with icy water from the rest room.
All three big men loomed around her, Harris trying to slap the wet towels against her face, Dane fanning her with a stack of papers, and Alec taking her pulse.
They’d seen her naked.
It wasn’t to be borne. Never in her life had she known such bone-deep humiliation, and it numbed her.
Harris reached for the top button of her blouse. “I’m going to loosen her clothes. She still looks too pale.”
That brought Clair around. She shot to her feet, staggered, got steadied by six big hands, and shoved away from them all. She waved a fist with credible intent. “Touch my clothes and I’ll brain you.”
Harris straightened. He still looked concerned. “You’re all right now?”
She wanted to die. “I, uh...you were right. It was just the heat. I’m fine.”
Dane cocked a brow. “You’re not pregnant, are you?”
Clair stared at him, aghast that he’d come to such a conclusion.
Alec nodded. “Celia stayed light-headed when she was pregnant. Especially when she got too warm.”
Laughing, Harris said, “Clair’s not even dating, so unless you can get pregnant from a toilet seat, I don’t think that’s the problem.” He again tried to reach for her top button.
Clair swatted at him. “I’m not preg—”