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The Medusa Proposition

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The ATV pulled to a stop in front of the whitewashed stucco bungalow. A thick wall of trees blocked it from her neighbor’s view to the south, and a large rock outcropping separated her from the neighbor to the north. She and Wolf carried the bag around to her back porch without incident.

She opened the door and Wolf followed her inside. The kitchen abruptly felt tinier than it already was. Contained within walls like this, her impromptu companion suddenly lived up to his nickname. His eyes were dark and fierce with a predatory intensity that warned her off in no uncertain terms. Not that she was interested in making a play for the guy while a dead man was lying on her back porch.

He opened her refrigerator, a boxy 1970s model, briskly ordering, “Help me empty this out.”

He passed her what little food she had inside, some fresh fruit, a half pound of smooth Havarti cheese, a partial container of pâté and two bottles of wine. He stopped to read the labels of those. “Good choices. Although, that Merlot is too overpowering for a cheese as mild as the Havarti. You need an aged Stilton to hold up to a wine that robust.”

She wrinkled her nose. “I hate blue cheeses.”

He sighed, passing her a metal shelf he lifted out of the refrigerator. “Uneducated palate.”

She scowled. “I don’t need to be sledgehammered by the taste of my food. I appreciate subtle flavors. My palate is refined, thank you very much.”

He grinned at her as he pulled out the last shelf. “There. That should do it. Let’s get your boyfriend in here.”

Jerry’s dead face flashed through her mind. She snapped, “He’s not my boyfriend.”

Wolf threw up his hands. “I was just trying to lighten the mood a bit.”

Her anger subsided, leaving her chagrined. “Sorry. Touchy subject.”

“Why. Your boyfriend the kind who kicks butts and takes names?”

She snorted. “Like I’ve got time for a boyfriend with my work schedule?”

He closed the refrigerator door abruptly, leaving them standing face-to-face, no more than a foot apart. He was a lot more muscular than he looked at first glance. And lethal looking. Like her instructors back on the island. She thought she’d gotten over the whole fluttery female reaction to overwhelmingly alpha males in the past two years, but apparently not.

Belatedly, she realized she was staring at him. She turned abruptly on her heel and headed for the back porch. Wolf didn’t comment, but she felt him smiling at her back as clearly as if she’d been looking at him. When she reached the door, she tossed a quick glance over her shoulder, but his features were perfectly straight. The smile still danced in his smoking hot gaze, though.

She rolled her eyes. Alpha males. All the same. They knew their effect on women and had the gall to be entertained by it. Just because some instinct left over from the Stone Age drew her to him, that didn’t mean she had to act on it. Far from it. She’d learned long ago to run screaming from guys like him.

They lifted the bag and wrestled it through the kitchen door with a minimum of conversation. Getting the dead man into the refrigerator involved standing the bag upright and cramming it into the small space. But eventually the door closed and stayed shut on its own. They tied a rope around the unit to hold the door in place just in case, though.

“I wouldn’t open that until you’re ready to take him out.”

“Ya think?” she asked dryly.

Grinning that thousand-watt smile of his, Wolf slipped out the back door. The screen slammed shut behind him. “Thanks!” she called.

He touched a finger to his brow in a mock salute. And then he was gone. And her little cottage felt oddly empty—despite the fact there was now a dead man in her refrigerator. She headed for a hot shower to wash off the sweat of her run and the creepiness of handling a body bag.

Talk about two ships passing in the night. Too bad she was never going to see Wolf again. He was hot.

She finished her shower, got dressed and duly reported in to Viper. Vanessa told her that an American forensics team had already been dispatched to collect the body and perform an autopsy. They’d arrive on Beau Mer around midnight local time.

In the meantime, Vanessa told her to go on with her normal day and act like a reporter covering the upcoming summit.

Sure. No problem. Morning run. Check. Discover dead body. Check. Stow it in refrigerator. Check. Yep. Just another day at the office.

Paige gathered her laptop computer, a notebook and her car keys, and headed out for her nine o’clock interview with Thomas Rowe, the reclusive billionaire financial advisor to the American delegation at the summit. Apparently, he was some sort of genius regarding anything to do with money.

Getting this interview had been a coup. Rowe never gave interviews. He was barely ever photographed for that matter. As it was, he’d forbidden recordings of any kind during her interview with him. She got to do it the old-fashioned way. Shorthand. Good thing she could take dictation at well over one hundred words per minute and had nearly total audio recall. But what Rowe didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him. At least, not until she wrote her story.

She parked her rented MINI Cooper and walked into the plush Athenaeum Hotel at six minutes until nine. The past two years in the military had taught her that if she wasn’t five minutes early, she was late. She stepped up to the concierge’s desk.

“May I help you, mademoiselle?”

“I’m here to see Mr. Rowe. I have an appointment at nine.”

“I’ll ring his suite and buzz you into the elevator.”

She looked around the marble interior of the hotel. It was decorated like a Greek temple, with stone columns and carved wall friezes, which could have been incredibly cheesy. But the decor was so tastefully interspersed with plush Aubusson carpets and luxurious furnishings that the overall effect was impossibly elegant.

“Mr. Rowe is not quite ready for you, but his assistant says you may come up now.”

She stepped into the elevator the concierge indicated and pushed the button for the top floor. Of course Rowe had a penthouse suite. What else? She stepped out of the elevator into a small hallway and knocked on the last door on the right.

An obnoxiously gorgeous blonde wearing a tight business skirt and tailored silk blouse opened the door immediately. “Miss Ellis. Please come in. I’m Gretchen, Mr. Rowe’s personal assistant.”

Ha. She’d bet. With a body like that, it didn’t take a genius to guess just how personal Gretchen meant. Paige followed the woman into a sunken living room decorated in stark white, with lots of chrome and crystal. But then she caught sight of the view out the floor-to-ceiling windows. The Pacific stretched before her in brilliant shades of turquoise, cobalt and sapphire that stole her breath away. White sailboats bobbed on the waves, and a few brightly painted fishing boats added quaintness to the otherwise surreal picture.

“May I get you a cup of coffee or some juice?”

Paige wasn’t fond of the strong coffee favored in this part of the world. “I’d love a glass of water. No carbonation and with ice, if you have it.”

“Of course. If you’d like to sit down, Mr. Rowe will be out shortly. He was held up with a private matter earlier and is running a little behind.”

As Gretchen strolled away, Paige watched the woman’s impossibly long legs. Three guesses as to what—or who—that private matter was, and the first two didn’t count.

Instead of sitting, Paige went over to stand by the windows and gazed at the magnificent ocean below. She didn’t like to meet powerful people from a seated position. It gave them too much subliminal control of the interview from the start.

She’d stood there for maybe two minutes when a door opened behind her. Paige turned around and said, “Thanks for the water, Gretch—”

Not Gretchen.

Wolf. He was clean shaven now, his hair dry and styled—not slicked back from his face—and wearing a tailored business suit that must’ve cost thousands, but there was no mistaking him. If only she’d been able to find a picture of the reclusive billionaire to have recognized him on the beach! The casual surfer dude was gone, and in his place stood this formidable businessman. But the eyes … the eyes were the same. Intense. Smoky. Mysterious.

“You? You and the surfer are the same pers—”

Another door opened and Gretchen stepped out, carrying a tray with coffee, croissants and a pitcher of water.

Wolf held out his hand quickly. “I’m Thomas Rowe. Pleasure to meet you, Miss Ellis.”

Chapter 3 (#ulink_2e4882c2-ec57-5abd-9f5d-58a71598f1d0)

Tom watched his assistant impassively as she set down the tray on the coffee table in the living room. “That will be all, Gretchen.”

She nodded and turned silently to leave. Good assistant. Didn’t need or want pleasantries from him. Plus, she was the soul of discretion and scary efficient. He made a mental note to give her a raise. The door shut behind Gretchen and he turned to face the imminently less predictable woman still in the room with him. She’d moved again by the window and stood facing him, her posture defensive. Good. He liked reporters back on their heels. This one in particular after she’d shocked the hell out of him.
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