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by Kris Norris
Category: Erotica/Erotic Romance/Romance
Description: A Handcuffs and Lace Tale Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, but this time, they all spell betrayal. Photo journalist, Paige Sommers, is out to get digital proof to put longtime arms dealer, Jason Tate, away for good. After losing her fiancé, Brogan Johnson, during an undercover operation with the same dealer six months ago, she's finally ready to rejoin the world, and put an end to Jason's rule. But when her zoom lens brings a familiar face into view, she's not sure what to believe. Special Agent Brogan Johnson is just a night away from bringing down the largest weapon's dealer on the west coast. Having given up all connections from his previous life to go deep undercover, he's willing to do anything to see Jason Tate brought to justice... that is until his ex-fiancé enters the picture, literally. With photographic evidence of the deal, she's just placed her name at the top of Jason's hit list. If Brogan can only get her to trust him one last time, they may just have a chance at their elusive happily ever after.
eBook Publisher: Resplendence Publishing, LLC, 2010
eBookwise Release Date: October 2010
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [93 KB]
Reading time: 57-80 min.
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"Pier two, nine p.m. Watch your back."
The raspy tone of the man's voice cut off as the phone disconnected, an eerie silence taking its place. Paige pulled the cell away and stared at the smooth surface, catching a glimpse of her reflection in the glass. Tired, hollow eyes stared back at her and she shoved the phone in her pocket before she had too much time to think about it. She'd been waiting months for a break like this, and nothing was going to get in her way. Even if she had to camp out all night, she'd get the proof she needed to finally put that bastard, Jason Tate, where he belonged.
His name echoed through her empty heart, and she grabbed her helmet, hoping to quiet the sound. Six months, and she still couldn't move on. Couldn't forget.
The gravelly hum of her motorcycle filled the evening air, adding to the shivers racing down her spine. She checked her watch as she palmed the handles and revved the engine, matching it to the rapid beating of her heart. She had just enough time to get to the pier and set up her camera before the show began...and she wasn't about to miss a moment of it.
The setting sun glared against the water, lighting up the surface like sparkling bits of shattered glass. Ships passed in the distance, and flocks of seagulls cried out overhead as Paige wove her way through the winding streets, heading toward the outskirts of town. Most of the shoreline had been renovated over the last fifty years, but a small section of old warehouses still remained north of the city. Chipped paint and black graffiti covered the metal walls, displaying another side of Washington State--a side built on money and power where innocent people suffered at the hands of men like Tate.
The sharp taste of bile lingered in the back of her throat, fueling her determination, as she wedged her motorcycle behind a stack of large canisters. She'd pulled onto an adjacent pier, hoping Tate wouldn't have men patrolling this side of the dock. She couldn't afford to get caught before she'd unearthed enough evidence to put his sorry ass away for good. Maybe then, she'd find some peace.
Just the thought of the word ignited other memories, and she fought against the sudden rush of emotion. She still couldn't think about Brogan without the familiar sting of tears. She cursed as one pooled and slipped free, tracking determinedly down her cheek. Now wasn't the time to get reminiscent, not with Tate so close. Besides, Brogan was dead and no amount of crying was going to bring him back.
She swiped the back of her hand across her face, grabbed the small case strapped to her bike and darted across the pier, hiding behind every stray canister and chunk of rotting machinery before squeezing between a cluster of rusted metal drums. She'd managed to weave her way close to the ocean, where the jutting landscape gave her a clear view of the large, storage warehouse across the short expanse of water. Dusk shrouded the area in a patchwork of shadows, but that wouldn't help Tate hide...not this time.
Paige smiled as she opened the case, removing the long lens. She'd spent over ten thousand dollars on the magnificent piece of Canon ingenuity, and it looked as if it was finally going to pay off. This bad boy could take a picture of the creep's fillings if he opened his mouth wide enough. But she wasn't interested in his smile. She wanted proof that he wasn't the suave businessman he proclaimed, and that his money came from dealing weapons, even if it meant killing people who got in his way.
Her chest constricted around a sob as she thought about Brogan. She could still see the sexy tilt of his lips as he'd kissed her on the couch, promising to be back before midnight. She'd followed him to the door, an uneasy feeling shadowing her steps. There'd been something in the way he'd traced his finger along her jaw that had sent a chill down her spine. She'd pulled him back before he'd darted out the door and, for the first time in the eighteen months they'd been together, had asked him to stay.
A flash of pain had flickered in his eyes before he'd grabbed her wrists and pulled her tight to his chest, slamming the door shut before backing her into it, his lips crushed against hers. There'd been no seduction, no slow build up until they were both burning with need. He'd conquered her. Ripped off her pants and hoisted her up around his waist, using his weight to hold her captive against the door. She'd tried to remove his jeans, but he'd snagged both of her hands with one of his and had pinned them above her head. The harsh sound of his zipper had reverberated through the air as he'd freed his cock just enough to thrust it inside her. The rough denim had abraded the skin on her inner thighs, but it'd only added to the frenzied need she'd felt welling within her.
She'd come hard and fast as he'd pummeled into her, his thick shaft finally exploding, drenching her with his hot seed. She'd gasped for breath with her head nestled against his neck, his wispy hair fluttering against her cheek with every frantic exhale. She'd still been trying to ease the pounding in her chest when he'd gently lowered her to the floor and pulled his weakening erection free. She'd caught only a glimpse of his slick flesh covered in her cream before he'd tucked himself back inside his pants and zipped them shut. Emotions had collided in her heart, but when she'd tried to speak, he'd silenced her with a warm kiss. She'd just opened her eyes, when he pressed a single finger to her mouth, shifted her to the side and darted out the door, a whispered, "I love you," hanging in the air.
More tears threatened as the memory shuffled in her head, wavering his image in the growing darkness like a ghostly apparition. Brogan hadn't told her much about his assignment, but she'd known Tate was involved, and as she looked back, she realized that night had been his way of saying goodbye. But the only closure she'd received was when his partner, Doug, had rung the doorbell, his face white, his lips drawn into a pale pink line. He'd only mumbled, "I'm sorry," before she'd fallen to her knees, unable to speak.
She'd spent the next two months walking around in a daze, too broken to work, to eat. Then she'd caught a glimpse of Tate in the newspaper, and her determination had finally resurfaced. She'd called her editors and had accepted every controversial assignment involving the creep, hoping to build a network of contacts that would eventually lead her straight to the source. Now, as she peeked over the rim of one of the drums, she prayed the information was right.
Paige ducked back down, screwing the heavy lens into place. Just the zoom weighed eleven pounds, but the accuracy was worth it. She slipped the strap around her neck, took a deep breath and popped back up, looking through the eyepiece at the surrounding wharf. A quick twist brought the warehouse into view. It still looked deserted, with only a couple of lamps on the end of the pier casting any kind of glow. She fiddled with the settings, increasing the light sensitivity and changing the aperture and shutter speeds until she was confident the images would be clear.
She panned the area, finally spotting two armed guards walking the length of the pier. Large rifles led the way as they scanned the dock. She'd have to wait a few more minutes, until the last of the light faded into black before she'd feel confident shooting some pictures. She couldn't chance they'd catch a glare off the lens.
Minutes ticked by, increasing her anxiety until she felt as if her head was going to explode. She glanced up at the sky, watching the last strips of red vanish into the night. She smiled and raised her head, once again scanning the wharf.
The guards had gathered by the open doors. One of the men had his hand to his ear, and while she couldn't read his lips, it was obvious he was talking to someone. She tensed when a low rumble vibrated through the ground. She twisted to the left, cursing the stack of pallets obscuring her view. Brogan had taught her to be careful...to think through a plan before committing to it. But somehow, she'd managed to wedge herself inside the circle of drums without worrying about the pesky details. In the end, all she needed was a clear shot at Tate.
Fear gnawed at her gut as she waited, absently brushing strands of hair from her face. She'd already tied it back into two stubby pigtails at her neck, but some of the ends had slipped free and seemed intent on tickling her nose. She swatted at them when the front end of a car crept out from behind the pallets. She tensed and raised the camera to her eye, adjusting the lens as the car pulled up to the doors. A faint squeak filtered across the water as the breaks engaged and the vehicle shuddered to a stop. She tried to get a glimpse of the man seated in the back, but the tinted glass was too dark. She looked at the license, a smug smile tilting her lips. His personalized plate glared back at her and she knew he was in there...hiding.
She cursed when the rear doors remained shut and focused on the two men climbing out of the front, their large figures covered in dark leather jackets. They strutted forward, then stopped just inside the entrance, turning slightly toward her. Paige narrowed in on the guy to the left. His dark skin blended with the shadows, making him all the more wraith-like. He wore tinted shades and a hat twisted to the side. She panned to the other guy, curious what kind of bastard worked for a man like Tate, when a cold shiver crawled down her spine.
She pulled back and gave her head a shake. Was she completely crazy, or was there something in the way the guy tilted his lips when he smiled that seemed familiar? She sealed her eye to the viewer again, drinking in every detail of the man. His skin was lightly tanned, but darkened by a short dusting of stubble along the jaw line. His nose looked narrow, and in profile, she could just make out a slight bump near the top. The same kind of bump...
The sense of deja vu returned. She increased the magnification, determined to see the color of his eyes, but they were hidden behind a designer pair of sunglasses. She cursed and zoomed back, taking in his entire body. He looked muscular and fit, with shoulders to spare. He turned away from her for a moment, giving her a clear view of his nicely tapered waist and tight ass.
Unexpected heat gathered low in her belly, and she pulled the camera away to give herself a mental slap. What the fuck was wrong with her? Weapons dealers and arousal didn't mix. There was absolutely nothing sexy or alluring about a man who made his living working for a bastard like Tate.
Paige wiped the sweat from her brow with the cuff of her jacket. It must be the damn temperature. She should've taken the time to remove her leather jacket instead of sweltering in the late summer heat. She took a soothing breath and went back to work. She needed to photograph everything, so she could compile enough evidence on Tate to turn over to the Feds.
The camera felt strangely heavy as she lifted it back to her eye. She started snapping shots and found herself concentrating on the guy with the cropped, dirty blond hair and killer body. Surely, she just recognized him from a picture she'd seen in the newspaper. Tate made no reservations about walking around with security or women. But even as she tried to convince herself, inklings of doubt settled in her mind. She watched the guy's every move, clicking the limited angle he presented to her until a whine echoed across the wharf.
Paige shifted just as another car rolled into view, the dark color melding perfectly with the night. The glow from the headlights cast the men into harsh relief, blinding her for a second, before the car turned and parked beside the first. The engine shut off, leaving an eerie void in the air. She panned out a bit, wanting to get a shot of both cars when the passenger-side doors opened and two men stepped out of the back. They were dressed in expensive suits with distinctive bulges under their jackets, which shifted beneath the fabric as they made their way to the front of the car. Tate's men greeted them with a nod and a glare, their arms now crossed over their wide chests. She clicked a few photos of the new arrivals, waiting to see how long it'd take for Tate to slither from the car.
A few minutes passed before Tate's door opened and he stepped out, adjusting his jacket as he moved toward the gathering of men. He stopped slightly behind the front of the vehicle and cast a backwards glance her way. Her fingers trembled slightly as she stared at the man who'd taken her lover's life. Fear and anger bubbled inside her, and it was all she could do to snap his picture without screaming. He smirked as if he knew she was there before shifting his gaze to the other car. Slowly, the back door opened again, and another man stepped out. He was tall and thin, with ghostly pale skin that seemed to glow in the hallowed light. He carried a large briefcase in one hand as the other rested on his hip.
The thought rolled her stomach, but she kept hitting the button, documenting every step the guy took. He stopped the same distance away, keeping his men between him and Tate. Tate smiled, a sickly turn of his lips that made his entire face crinkle with lines. Though many would consider him handsome, with his salon-styled brown hair, designer clothes and gym-worthy body, all she saw was the darkness that never quite left his eyes.
She zoomed in as the men both rounded the cars, stepping inside the circle of men. Tate and the new guy moved forward, exchanging a handshake before Tate nodded at the briefcase. The guy scrutinized Tate's men, then turned so he could place the attache case on the hood of his car. Paige held her breath as his hands disappeared on the far side of the case before the lid hinged upward, further obscuring her view.
She cursed. "Turn the damn thing around."
The guy's fingers gripped the edge, and as if by her command, he rotated the briefcase, giving both her and Tate a clear view of the stacks of money layered inside.
Her breath left her lungs in a long exhalation as she watched Tate examine the cash. She panned back, catching his smug smile as he raised one bundle and flipped through it, nodding when the dark-skinned man moved forward and escorted the buyer to the back of Tate's car. The trunk levered open, exposing a large box. She kept shooting as the bodyguard removed a rifle and handed it to the other man.
A large ball of emotion filled her chest when she realized she'd done it...captured the bastard in the act. Sweat beaded her brow and she zoomed out so she could get a shot with Tate in the frame. She hadn't missed the way he'd remained at the front of the car. Whether it was to maintain some semblance of innocence or because he felt he was above the scum who purchased his weapons, she wasn't sure, but she wasn't going to let him escape.
She continued photographing as the buyer turned the weapon over before handing it back and nodding at the guard. The trunk slammed shut and the men rejoined Tate at the front. Paige watched as his lips moved and he motioned at the cash. She thought she picked up something about tomorrow night, but he stepped back just as she thought she'd get the rest of the sentence, hiding behind the guy she'd admired earlier.
Even now, he looked familiar and she wished he'd just turn toward her. He seemed to sense her urgency and did the opposite, presenting his ass again. Paige felt the same strange stirring in her groin, as if she were preparing to take him inside. But her heart only wanted one man, and unless she discovered a way to make love to a ghost, it wasn't going to happen.
"I'd settle for his ghost," she whispered feeling the truth of the statement seep into her soul.
He'd been more than her lover. He'd been the other half of her life.
The purr of an engine shook her from her thoughts and she looked back through the lens just as the second car backed up, and disappeared beyond the pallets. She shifted to the other vehicle, hoping to get a few last pictures before the group vanished into the night. She caught Tate ducking into the backseat, his face still twisted into an evil smile. More bile rose in her throat, but she swallowed it, knowing he'd soon be behind bars once she'd had a chance to download the images onto her laptop.
The car sprang to life, casting two cylinders of light across the warehouse. Boxes and more pallets shimmered into sight as the car idled in front of the large building, the rumble of the engine vibrating through the ground. She cursed, knowing she'd lost her one chance to catch a glimpse of the bodyguard when he walked out of the darkness and headed for the car. She sucked in a quick breath, taking the shot before she'd sealed the camera to her eye. What she saw stole her breath.
Colored dots flitted across her vision as the scenery took a sharp nose-dive. She braced a hand against the drums, glancing through the camera one last time. Surely she'd only imagined...
He'd made his way to the car and had stopped as he'd grabbed the handle, his gaze finally meeting hers across the distance. Her fingers pressed the button a moment before the camera slipped from her grasp and swung against her chest. Pain sparked through her ribs, but all she could do was sink back against the rusted metal. She'd wished for a ghost, and it looked as if she'd gotten far more than she'd bargained for.