The Soldier's Secret Daughter
She wasn’t sure what made her dizzy. It could have been the swooping, turning flight he took her on around the dance floor, or maybe it was the way he smiled down at her—as if she were the only person in the entire world and the two of them were alone at their own private ball. Either way, it was pretty sensational.
The dance ended, and he walked her off the floor, steering her toward the bar and a cool drink as if he could read her mind. She sipped at the gin and tonic he brought her. She never drank under normal circumstances. But in the past ten minutes, she’d already established that tonight was anything but normal.
“How come I haven’t seen you around here before?” she asked curiously. Which was to say, how on earth had she missed spotting or at least hearing about a hunk like him if they worked in the same building?
He laughed easily. “I was just thinking the very same thing about you.”
“Ah, well. I work in my little cubicle most of the time. They hardly let me come up for air, let alone poke my nose outside of the Special Cargo Department.”
His gaze flickered, but his smile never faltered. He murmured, “Let’s not talk about work tonight, shall we? Tell me more about you.”
She rolled her eyes. “I guarantee you, I have led the most boring life in the history of mankind.”
“A woman who wears shoes like those? I find that very hard to believe.”
She laughed. “Busted. I never wear shoes like this. They were an impulse buy. Pure foolishness.”
“I like the impulse.”
His eyes sparkled with laughter, but his voice slid across her skin like forbidden sex. It sent a shudder through her that bordered on orgasmic. This wasn’t happening to her! She looked up at him, perplexed.
“What?” he asked, immediately serious.
“Are you for real?”
One eyebrow lifted and the devil-may-care grin was back. “Does it matter? Or shall we both just lose ourselves in the moment and see where it leads us?”
A very James Bond-like response. No wonder the Bond girls never held out for a long-term commitment from him. He was so attractive they were willing to settle for a night or two with him rather than never be with him at all. Of course, the possibility of something more than a one-night stand wasn’t off the table between her and Jagger yet, either. Heck, she was thrilled that the prospect of a one-night stand was even on the table!
Which was to say, the world had definitely gone mad this New Year’s Eve.
She sipped her drink and smiled back at him coyly. “The night is young, isn’t it? Let’s see where it goes, indeed.”
Jagger was staggered by Emily Grainger. Not in his wildest dreams would he have guessed that a parka could unwrap to reveal this jewel. She was perfect. And scary as hell. He didn’t go for real women, the hearth-and-home kind a guy could envision having his babies and keeping a home with. Oh, no. She was not his type at all.
So why, then, was he so attracted to her he could hardly keep his hands off her?
Not good. Not good at all.
The first thing he noticed about her was her flawless, translucent skin. Contrasted against her lush brunette hair, the combination was beyond striking. Her eyes were big and dark, her lips ripe for the kissing. He preferred her rosy mouth after the first gin and tonic lifted away that pale pink lipstick. She looked eminently more kissable now.
But what absolutely blew him away was the look of delighted wonder in her eyes. Her gaze was so innocent, so guileless, so … pure, he almost felt inappropriate touching her. In his world, the people were hard. Cynical. Out to stab you in the back before you stabbed them. All the playfulness, all the innocence had been burned out of men like him—of him—long ago. But she had both. In spades. And they drew him in as effortlessly as a spider coaxing a fly into its web. The world’s most innocent spider.
He’d accuse her of being childlike if it weren’t for the intelligence lurking just below the surface of that warm chocolate gaze. He could all but hear the wheels turning as she processed and analyzed everything and everyone around her. It was a strange dichotomy. But no doubt about it, he sensed a first-class mind at work. Thankfully, she seemed in total ignorance of men like him, however.
His mouth turned down cynically. He was a user. He took what he needed from the people around him and then threw them away like so much discarded trash. A girl like Emily certainly deserved better than that. But as sure as God made little green apples, he was going to use her anyway. It was who he was. He didn’t know how to do anything else.
But a warning vibrated deep in his gut. This woman might leave an indelible mark on him. She was a permanent kind of woman who could shake the very foundation of his impermanent world.
He yanked his mind back to the job at hand. If and when the AbaCo security team finally relaxed a little, he’d sneak off and make his way up an elevator and into the offices above. He’d break into the company’s computers and download everything he could find on the company’s shipping operations. And hopefully, somewhere in there, they’d find a lead on his missing fellow agents. If he was really lucky, his colleagues would find something criminal with which to charge AbaCo and launch a wider investigation of the secretive company’s practices.
But until that moment when he had to bail out on her, he could make this a night to remember for Emily Grainger. It was the least he owed her for her unwitting help. Not to mention, he seemed compelled to flirt with the danger this woman represented to him. He fed her compliments, laughed with her and did his very best Prince Charming imitation for her.
As she continued to dance and talk with him, he plied her with equal parts alcohol and enticement until her eyes blazed with utter infatuation. And somewhere along the way, his plan of attack changed. Why ditch Emily after a few hours to take a one-shot stab at breaking in tonight when he could play out this thing between them and potentially turn her into a long-term infiltrator of AbaCo from the inside?
Hypocrite. He just wanted an excuse to spend more time with the girl.
No, dammit, that wasn’t all this was about. It was good business to turn the girl.
Nonetheless, his gut twinged. Did he have it in him to make a pawn out of sweet, trusting Emily? Hell, a woman like her should never look twice at a man like him. He really should warn her off. But he couldn’t bring himself to do it. God, he was a jerk. He didn’t deserve Emily Grainger.
“Are you okay?” A soft hand rested on his chest, jolting him back to the present. Damn, she was perceptive.
He grinned bleakly at her. “Yeah, sure. I was just pondering what New Year’s resolution I should make this year.”
“Hmm. That’s a good question.” Laughter twinkled in her warm gaze. “Mine is going to be to wear more red shoes.”
“Gonna take more chances, huh? Gonna try living on the edge?” he teased. The thought of her existing in a world like his was ludicrous. But he couldn’t begrudge her the dream, he supposed. The reality was so much darker than a woman like her could ever imagine.
She nodded firmly. “Yup. That’s me. Danger Girl.”
He laughed, genuinely amused. She had no idea just how dangerous to him she was. He commented lightly, “Well, then, my resolution is to help you make your resolution come true.”
Her gaze snapped to his. Not slow on the uptake, his Emily. She hadn’t for a minute missed the implications of that. He was talking about continuing to see her after tonight. He looked her in the eyes, losing himself in their sweet depths. To have a woman like this for himself, to bathe himself in all that goodness, to soak up her innocence and generosity, to be loved forever by someone like her—
He cut the fantasy off cold. Danger Girl, indeed.
“Wanna take a walk?” she murmured. “Get a little fresh air?”
He grinned. “I think that’s supposed to be my line. Then comes the part where I drag you into some dark corner and try to make out with you.”
She grinned back. “Who says I’m not trying to drag you into the corner to make out with you?”
He nodded his amused acquiescence. “Lead on. My body is yours to ravage.”
He was shocked when she led him over to the elevators and punched the up button. She wasn’t going to take him up to her office—in the Special Cargo Department, no less—was she? Surely this op wouldn’t be that easy.
He leaned down to murmur in her ear, “Are you planning to throw me down on your desk and have your way with me?”
A fiery blush leaped to her cheeks. “Good Lord, my cubicle will never be the same now that you’ve planted that image in my mind!”
“Think how much fun work’s going to be on Monday morning,” he teased.
“I was thinking that we could go out to the water garden and stroll around.”
Ah. The building’s tenth floor was not a floor at all. Rather it was an open-air terrace sporting massive columns and housing an elaborate outdoor modern art collection interspersed with, as she’d already alluded to, a bunch of fountains. All the good stuff in the firm was above that. It was the reason he’d come in through the roof—or at least tried to until that plan went completely to hell.