He presents dangerous new territory. She can't deny the talents of his hands and mouth. Melting the day's work tensions each night is a guiltyif deliciouspleasure. Yet he sidesteps boundaries, while Jade wrote the rule book. No, it will never work out.
But there is an easy solution: catch the bad guy, save her client's life then say goodbye. Too bad Remy's secrets might change Jade's mind. The question is, will it be for better or worse?
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"WHERE'S MY PILE of money?"
Pissed off after an excruciatingly frustrating morning at the Atlanta airport, Jade Broussard glared at her cousin across his desk.
Rising from his black leather chair, Lucas grinnedthe man was too charming for his own good. "Did I mention money?"
"Mmm. I suppose I did." He extended his arm toward one of the plush chairs in front of his desk. "You look ex-hausted. Coffee?"
Jade shook her head and instead prowled the room. His sleek yet posh office with its stunning view of Midtown was impres-sive. But then, she expected nothing less from Lucas. Everything he touched turned to gold, even though these days he was doing more pro bono work than litigating multi-million-dollar cases.
Instead of contemplating his attack of conscience, she recalled the phone conversation they'd had the night before.
"What do I have to do for this pile of money?"
"What you usually doprovide protection, investigate the crime."
"The police investigate crimes," she'd said, though he had her attention, a fact he no doubt realized. "Just come. Please."
She'd come. What else could she do? He was the only family she had left.
"I'm not exhausted," she said finally.
"I should hope not. I sent a limo."
"I'm furious. Do you have any idea how crazy that airport is? Landing delays. Terminal changes. People ambling every-where talking on cell phones. Security is a mess."
"They frisked you, didn't they?"
As if he'd expected her travel woes, Lucas had the nerve to smirk.
"I'm walking through the airport, minding my own busi-ness, when some overly paranoid, jerk-face citizen spots my Beretta beneath my jacket. All hell breaks loose, people ducking, diving and screaming." She stalked toward him.
"I'm a professional. I have a permit."
"Of course you do."
"I didn't draw the damn thing, you know."
"Though I imagine you were tempted."
She planted her hands on her hips, rememberingwith renewed furythe humiliation of being escorted to airport security. "You're damn right I was tempted. Freakin' terror-ists. They're ruining this country."
"No doubt their goal. Perhaps if you'd waited until you got in the limo to retrieve your gun from your carry-on bag, "
She shrugged. "Yeah." She didn't feel whole without a side piece, though. She felt vulnerable. Exposed. Alone.
Shaking off the thread of irritation, she finally dropped into the chair in front of Lucas's desk and crossed her booted ankles. "What's this case about?" For double her usual fee, there had to be more to it than "provide protection, investi-gate the crime."
"A favor for a friend."
"The friendly kind."
She smirked. "Cute. Where did you meet this friend?" Lucas grinned, and his green eyes lit with an obviously fa-vorable memory. "A bar. Yours, in fact."
"You own another bar?"
She frowned, ignoring the pang of grief that had never fully fadedeven more than a decade after her parents' murders. Beau and Katy Broussard had been a staple of the bluesy French Quarter. Their deaths had completely changed the course of Jade's life. She'd inherited the bar, and eventually gotten vengeance on their killer, but she didn't have themtheir laughter, their touch or their guidance. Revenge had been a hollow victory, just as she'd been warned it would be.
Normally she liked verbal sparring with her cousin, but if this case was somehow connected to her personallythrough Beau's or her pastshe didn't intend to waste time with chitchat.
"Who's the friend, Lucas?" she asked, her tone hard.
Jade fought a flinch, but apparently didn't quite pull it off, since Lucas nodded.
"He said you'd know him."
Her mouth had gone dry, but she forced herself to think fast. Tremaine was not someone she wanted anywhere near her cousin. Dangerous didn't even begin to describe the man.
"How long ago did you meet him?" "Three years ago. We bonded over a glass or two of Southern Comfort, and he's been a client ever since. His family has old San Francisco money, mostly from real estate and vineyards, but Remy loves art."
No doubt stolen. "I've arranged for the sale of some beautiful and rare pieces over the past few years," Lucas continued.
While Lucas watched closely for her reaction, Jade simply nodded. Though she knew her cousin had a not-so-stellar past with the law, he'd long ago gone straight. These sales were legit.
Of course they are. Who'd suspect a genteel, handsome-as-sin art collector of anything more serious than spending more on wine than a car?
And wasn't that precisely the point? "What happened to Tremaine?" she asked. "He was shot outside a restaurant here in Midtown two nights ago."
A thousand thoughts rushed her brain instantly, and she fought to find one question she could ask. "How bad?"
"The bullet grazed his arm. He's fine."
Jade finally managed to shake off the shock of hearing Tremaine's name. "Plush?"
"A happening place for the idle rich and semifamous."
"Naturally." The bastard would fit right in.
"You'll be able to see for yourself. The whole thing is on videotape."
Jade raised her eyebrows. "You have a videotape of the shooting?"
"The police do." "And how did you find that out?"
"Not from the cops. The restaurant manager told Remy."
"Convenient. What about press coverage?"
"Light. Unfortunately, a shooting isn't big news in Atlanta rant insisted the cops keep everything quiet and had the pull to make it happen. "A local diner was shot last night' was as much as the media got."
Something positive in this mess, and yet the most impor-tant question was as yet unanswered. They might as well get to it. "Who suggested hiring meyou or him?"
"You know him from, before, don't you?"
Jade shook her head. Her past was something Lucas knew she didn'tcouldn'tdiscuss.
Eyeing her, he stroked his chin. "He asked me to hire you. He called from the hospital emergency room, in fact."
"You're that close?"
Her cousin was a smart man. Brilliant, in fact. He'd sensed way more than was wise for him. He had a nice life and a beautiful new wife. He didn't need the complications Tremaine had laid at his doorstep.
Some friend. "He's not really an art dealer, is he?" Lucas asked into the charged silence.
No. No, he certainly wasn't.
Remington Tremaine was many thingsarrogant and bold high among them. He was sneaky and obsessively private. He flouted rules and codes, and seemed to operate by a morality that made no sense to anyone but him. He was obscenely handsome and knew it. He was a dark mystery, the kind that inspired feminine sighs of longing and male snorts of envy. The kind whispered about by the very few who knew his true history.
The two most important things Jade knew about him, however, were the two things she absolutely couldn't share with Lucas. One, Remington Tremaine was a former interna-tional art and jewel thief. And two, he currently was an under-cover agent with the National Security Agency.
In this day of dedicated searches for terrorists, some of the "softer" crimes went unnoticed. Thieves were pushed aside in favor of tracking whispers about major terrorist attacks. But a small portion of NSA bosses suspected the spoils of certain burglaries were being funneled into terrorist groups, so there was still a group of agents who focused their talents on inves-tigating that connection. Tremaine was part of that group, and the one most speculated about.
None of the other agents knew how the NSA had lured him away from his cushy life of crime to the side of law and order, but he'd apparently done enough to keep the directors from prosecuting him for his previous transgressions. She'd always thought he was one of those forgive-you-to-get-the-bigger-bad-guy deals that were made with criminals all the time.
What the hell had the NSA been thinking giving him a cover as an art dealer? That was like giving the drunk the keys to the bar.
"Dammit, Jade," Lucas said as he stood, "I have a right to know what's going on."
Bracing her hands against the wooden arms of her chair, Jade rose slowly.At only thirty-three, she suddenly felt old and tired. But she was also furious. How dare Tremaine bring the NSA and God only knew what kind of criminals from his past to her doorstep? To Lucas's doorstephis supposed friend?
The past never really leaves us, her business partner and mentor, Frank Williams, had once said. How right he was.
"No, you don't have a right," she said, her gaze burning into his. "As of now, this is my problem. I want you to go back to work, back to helping people who actually need it. I want you arranged the sale of some artwork for him, and that's it. You know nothing else. Got it?"
Green eyes so like her own flashed back at her. "I won't sit by and let you do this by yourself."
Though she appreciated his blind support, she didn't soften her gaze. "Where is he?"
"Dammit, Lucas, I don't have time for games." She leaned over his desk. "Where is he?"
"You're not cutting me out."
"Oh, yes, I am."
"Then I have no idea where he is." He turned his back on her. She'd kill Tremaine for this, for involving her family in their sordid world of intrigue. Whoever was after him didn't need to worry. She'd eliminate the problem and relish the act. Mr. Tremaine should look up her records. After reading the file about what had happened to the last idiot who'd messed with her family, he'd undoubtedly change his mind about getting to her through Lucas.
She hated herself for scaring her cousin, but she did it anyway. Lucas had no training and belonged nowhere near the danger surrounding Tremaine. "What about Vanessa?" she whispered to Lucas's back.
Predictably, he spun to face her. He didn't look so confi-dent anymore.
This is what you do, girl. Find a weakness. Exploit it. Get the mission done.
"What about her?" he asked, his gaze hard and furious. And anxious.
"Your wife isn't part of this."
"Of course not."
"But she will be if you persist." Lucas's hands fisted at his sides. "Are you threatening me?"
"No." She walked around his desk and stopped just inches from him. She looked up into his handsome, trusted, beloved face. "But they will."
Whatever scum from her old life that seemed determined to follow her into this one. Why had Tremaine contacted her? If he'd been shot on the job, why hadn't he gone to the NSA? Had his cover been blown? Had he lost faith in the agency?
Or was this shooting personal? Was that why he'd involved Lucas? To scare or intimidate her into taking his case?
Once upon a time she'd been an NSA agent, as well, so she could understand the disastrous implications of any of those scenarios. But she'd retiredand not on the best of terms. Even though she now owned a security and investigations company, and could protect the average John Q. Citizen, she didn't have the power or contacts of the agency.
So why did Tremaine want her?