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Hot Intent
Cindy Dees

CHAPTER ONE (#ulink_76423de8-42e7-57d7-bdab-8a3dcbca51ec)

KATIE MCCLOUD STARTED as the front door’s elaborate electronic locks buzzed to indicate they were disengaging. Her heart leaped in eager anticipation. He was home. Finally. After nearly a year away.

She’d been head over heels for Alex Peters when he was sucked into some supersecret CIA training program last year. He’d been yanked away from her just as they were really getting to know each other. But now he was back, and their life together could resume where it left off.

Their relationship had been forged in danger as they’d fled forces intent on killing them and the infant girl they’d rescued together. Alex, a trauma surgeon by training, had been in the remote central Asian country of Zaghastan illegally delivering babies, and she’d been there as his translator and babysitter. Although who’d watched whom was still open to debate.

His CIA handler, André Fortinay, had briefed her not to assume anything about her relationship with him when he got home. To let Alex set the tone and pace of the reunion. Almost as if they’d broken him in some way while he was gone. What exactly had they done to him in his training, anyway?

Alex stepped into the living room, and her heart gave a lurch. God, he was more beautiful than she remembered. Tall. Dark. And even more dangerous than before. His coffee-dark hair was a little lighter, his skin darkly bronzed. He was leaner through the waist and bigger across the shoulders. But those changes weren’t what really arrested her.

Something intangible had changed about him. His natural confidence had been replaced by something else, something more...powerful. Now it came across as utter belief in himself. He’d always had a lethal quality to him, but it had a new focus about it now, a cold reserve that oozed don’t-screw-with-me-in-a-dark-alley.

She realized she’d risen to her feet after the fact. Crud. She’d planned to stay seated, arranged sexily on his white leather sofa. Oh, well. So much for pretending to be calm, cool and sophisticated. She was a hot mess and would always be a hot mess. To heck with André Fortinay’s do’s and don’ts for Alex’s homecoming.

“Alex!” she cried joyfully. She started forward and managed to catch the edge of the flokati area rug with her heel, slam her shin into the glass coffee table and pitch headlong into Alex’s arms as he dived forward to catch her.

“Been working on your coordination in my absence?” he murmured as he drew her up against his body. His mouth closed on hers and the wild magic exploded between them like it always did. His lips slashed across hers as her mouth opened eagerly. Their tongues collided, and he inhaled her like he couldn’t get enough of her. At least that hadn’t changed about him. Relief crept through her nervousness.

Her arms slid around his waist. He was more muscular, harder, than before. But then, so was she. She’d been working out like crazy while he was gone. Some of it had been boredom, and some frankly had been a remedy for horniness. And a little of it had been insecurity over how a girl like her was ever going to hold the attention of a man like him. He was James Bond, and she was the girl next door.

He came up for air long enough to murmur, “Where’s Dawn?”

“Asleep. Would you like to peek into her room and see her, though?”

He smiled and the warmth reached all the way to his eyes. “Yes.”

Keeping her plastered against his side, he strode across the sleek living room of his penthouse condo and down the hall to the nursery where their adopted daughter, who recently turned one year old, slept.

He cracked the door open and crossed the floor to the crib. “My God, she’s grown so much,” he breathed.

A wedge of light from the doorway fell upon her blond curls and chubby cheeks. She slept on her tummy, her knees tucked up under herself and her diaper poking up under the pink blanket. Adorable didn’t begin to cover her angelic cuteness.

“I thought they taught you in medical school that growing is what babies do.”

He snorted without taking his gaze off the sleeping baby. “She’s gorgeous.”

“Did you ever get a good look at her birth mother before she died? The girl was stunning. Our Dawn’s going to keep you hopping in about thirteen years when the boys start sniffing around.”

“There will be no sniffing,” he said firmly.

She laughed under her breath. “Good luck with that.”

He backed out of the doorway and headed toward the white quartz bar in the corner of the living room. He poured himself a shot of expensive Russian vodka neat and tossed it down. He made a sound of appreciation.

“Missed the good stuff?” she asked.

“You have no idea.”

“Tell me about it. What was your training like?” André had told her not to ask any questions, but he could get over it. Alex would think something weird was up if she didn’t display at least a little curiosity.

His eyes shuttered instantly and completely. “Rough.” And that was obviously all he planned to say about it. Great. He was back to minimal communication punctuated by long silences.

“Fair enough. Glad to be home?”

He looked around the condo, his sharp gaze probing the corners carefully. “Thanks for house-sitting.”

She laughed. “It was a real hardship, living in all this luxury for free.” She added more seriously, “Actually, it helped me feel a little closer to you while you were gone. I missed you.”

He bit out grimly, “I missed you, too.”

She knew him well enough not to take it personally that he sounded supremely unhappy about that development. He’d been raised by his spy father to believe that all human emotions were weaknesses in need of expunging from his heart and mind.

“André said you might want some time by yourself to decompress after your training. I’ve talked with my parents, and they’ve invited Dawn and me to come hang out at their place for a while and give you some space.”

“No,” he replied sharply. “Stay.”

“Are you sure?”

“You’re safest here.”

He wasn’t kidding. She’d spent the past year learning the security features of his fortresslike home and they were daunting. Like him. The place was elegant and gorgeous on the inside, hard and impenetrable on the outside.

“You haven’t lived with a toddler before. Dawn will totally destroy your grand solitude. Chaos is the normal state of affairs around here,” she warned him in all seriousness. Not to mention, she was concerned about his reflexive responses to a baby. Who knew what knee-jerk reactions had been hardwired into him this year? Were she and Dawn even safe around him? After seeing the icy detachment in his eyes, she wasn’t a hundred percent sure.

“I insist.”

Big words. Still, she worried about how he would react to Dawn and her. He’d lived alone basically his entire life, and the transition to having an overnight family was not going to be easy for him. No way would she even consider staying here like this were it not for the threat his father posed to them all.

“I had an intercom system installed while you were away, Alex. I hope you don’t mind. It’s just that the apartment’s so big I can’t hear Dawn if she’s in her room and I’m in—” She broke off. How to describe the master bedroom? Was it still just his room? Their room? It had been her room for the past year.

“Good call on an intercom,” he remarked.

“Are you hungry? Tired? It’s late. Have you traveled a long way to get here? Oops. Strike that last one. But you do look tired.”

He actually looked more than tired. Up close, she spied lavender shadows beneath his eyes, and a certain haggard quality clung to him. He looked bone-deep exhausted. She could imagine the kind of stuff the CIA trained its field operatives to do, and he probably had good cause to look wiped out.

She murmured, “Let me check on Dawn, and then I’ll be back to welcome you home more thoroughly.”

His gray, intelligent gaze went alert and predatory. Her tummy fluttered excitedly in response. Who’d have guessed she was still such an adrenaline junkie after a year of sedate parenthood?

“I’ll be waiting,” he murmured.

Now why did that sound like a threat? Was it just his habitual economy of expression, or was it more? Either way, her heart leaped in anticipation.

Hah. And André had hinted broadly that Alex might not want to have a romantic relationship with her when he got home. He’d been home five minutes and already laid a smoking-hot kiss on her and was now moving things to the bedroom. Along with her triumph, a dose of abject gratitude flowed through her.

He was still hers. Brilliant, tortured Alex Peters—genius, surgeon and now spy—still wanted her. Part of her—okay, a scarily big part of her—worried that it was too good to be true. That he was going through the motions now because he thought she expected him to. That the past year’s worth of training had forced him to revert to form and shut down emotionally. That he would ultimately push her out of his life.
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