The Medusa Proposition
“You’re Paige Ellis?” he demanded. “How in the hell do you know Vanessa Blake?”
“Gee, I was just about to ask you the same thing,” she snapped.
He answered evasively, “We’re old friends. You?”
Riigghhtt. The obvious answer was that the woman in front of him was part of Vanessa’s secret team—
He discarded the idea out of hand. No way was a well-known journalist like Paige Ellis part of the Medusa Project. It was laughable to even think about. Except she’d answered to the code name Fire Ant on the beach. A biting insect … hadn’t Vanessa’s husband said something a while back about the new Medusa team going for dangerous bugs instead of snakes for their names?
Surely not. She was a civilian for God’s sake. A pampered media princess. No way did she have the stamina, the fortitude, the sheer guts to be a Medusa.
“So, tell me, Mr. Rowe. What is an important guy like you doing out at the crack of dawn surfing alone?”
“I like to surf. And I like my privacy.”
“But it’s dangerous. Too dangerous for a man of your stature.”
He raised an amused brow. “What’s wrong with my stature? Aren’t I tall enough to surf?” She rolled her eyes at him.
He studied her as she moved from the window to stand across the coffee table from him. Tension vibrated through her entire body, and something deep in his gut responded in kind. Damn her. He didn’t like being off balance like this.
Although she was an attractive woman overall, the first thing a person noticed when they looked at her were those incredible electric blue eyes of hers. Bright and inquisitive, they looked right through a guy and made him feel a little naked in front of her. He jumped in before she could ask the next question burning in her glorious gaze. “And what were you doing on the beach at the crack of dawn, Miss Ellis?”
“Hauling dead men out of the surf, of course.”
“Do you do that on a regular basis?” he asked dryly.
“At least twice a week. It’s great aerobic exercise,” she snapped.
Touchy, touchy. He asked more seriously, “What do you know about Takashi-san’s death? His family will be devastated.”
“You know the family?” she asked softly. Careful to keep his expression smooth and give nothing away, he nodded. “His first wife died of cancer years ago. Wife number two is a former high-fashion model and quite the wild child. But he seems—seemed—happy with her. He’s got a couple of grown kids from the first marriage.”
“Any idea who’d want to kill him and then dispose of his body in such a fashion?”
“You’re the reporter. You tell me.” She shrugged. “The North Koreans and the Russians have every reason to sabotage this summit and properly provoked, they’re both capable of murder. Of course, it could be some business or personal enemy of Ando’s, maybe the Yakuza—the Japanese mob is still pretty powerful. And then there’s always the ubiquitous child who wants to collect an inheritance sooner rather than later.”
Tom jerked, offended. “Not Ando’s sons. They’re both honorable men.”
Paige shrugged. “Then we’re left with enemies or politics.”
“Who’s coming to collect the body?” Paige pursed her lips and looked prepared to be stubborn about answering. He added gently, “I can always call the local police and tip them off to check out your house. In this part of the world, they’d throw you in jail first and maybe get around to investigating the murder later. Or maybe they’d just lock you up and throw away the key.”
She did an odd thing. Her eyes became preternaturally intense, and she became very still. Like she was readying herself to do violence. It was something he’d expect to see in a soldier, not a girly-girl TV journalist. For make no mistake about it, Paige Ellis was all girl. She wasn’t a big thing, maybe five-foot-five. And slender. Not skinny, by any stretch, though. She looked fit. But feminine. And those eyes of hers … he was having trouble looking away from them. They were even brighter and bluer in person than on television.
She spoke quietly. “I don’t take well to being threatened, Mr. Rowe.”
That was more like it. Now she was the one on the defensive. He grinned and picked up a plate of croissants. “Snack, Miss Ellis?”
“No, thank you,” she bit out.
He sat down on the couch facing the magnificent ocean view and poured himself a cup of coffee. Since he never took anything but coffee and croissants before noon, he assumed the water on the tray was for her. He poured some into a crystal glass already filled with ice. He set it on the low table in front of her without bothering to ask. She struck him as the kind of woman who’d answer no to anything he asked of her just to be obstinate.
He enjoyed watching her struggle to corral her temper as she sat down stiffly across from him. Slowly, she pulled out a notepad and a pen. And when she finally looked up at him, her face was calm. Pleasant even.
“So, Mr. Rowe. How did you get involved with this summit? Were you approached by our government, or did you approach them?”
Ah. Retreating into her reporter persona, was she? Surely she was aware of his reputation with journalists. He was known as the worst interview in America. He made no secret of the fact that he despised anyone poking into his personal life. He was even known for finding questions about his business matters offensive. But suddenly, he was finding it damned hard to be offended when he could hardly tear his gaze away from Paige’s tanned and toned legs.
She asked him the usual questions about the global business climate, the outlook for the future, what recommendations he was planning to make at this summit of world business and political leaders. In return, he fed her his usual dodges. He was the master of answering a question with a question, sidetracking the conversation into clarifications of exactly what questions meant and, when she finally nailed him down with a direct question, blatantly not answering it and straying into vague politician-speak about hope for the future.
After about ten minutes of cat and mouse, she sighed and laid down her pad and pen. “Mr. Rowe. If you’re not going to cooperate at all with this interview, why did you agree to it in the first place?”
He leaned back, grinning openly. “I give an uncooperative interview every few years just to make the point that I still don’t talk to reporters. And when I heard you were coming back to television, I thought you’d enjoy the welcome back gift.”
Chagrin flitted across her face. Uh-huh. She thought she’d landed the big catch that would launch her comeback. Sorry. He was nobody’s trophy fish.
A cute little frown wrinkled her brow as she pressed. “Seriously. Why me?”
Now there was a loaded question. With more loaded answers to it than he cared to examine closely. His gaze narrowed. Two could play that game. “I wanted to see if your eyes were as blue in person as they are on TV.”
Only the barest flutter of her eyelashes gave away that she was flustered by the innuendo in his voice. She was really very good at what she did. It was just that he knew her reporter’s game all too well and had no intention of playing along. Women tried to use sex as a weapon against him all the time. He was rich, single, reasonably good looking and still in his thirties, which was to say, he was the Holy Grail to women like her.
“And are they?”
“Are they what, Miss Ellis?”
“As blue in person?”
It was his turn to hide his surprise. He got the distinct impression that was a personal question. Purely off the record. Was she flirting with him?
He studied her, letting his gaze range from head to toe and back until she squirmed once, ever so slightly. Then he answered casually, “Actually, I was more curious whether they’re that blue in bed.”
“In your bed?” she asked shortly.
He shrugged, a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth.
“That is something you’ll never find out, Mr. Rowe. This interview is over. I shall, of course, be happy to make it known to my colleagues that you are still as stubborn and arrogant and obnoxious as ever.”
His grin broke free. She was magnificent with her eyes snapping cobalt fire like that and her cheeks bright with color. She leaped to her feet in agitation as he rose casually to his. So. She’d turned down his fairly unusual offer to bed her, had she? A fascinating first.
“Give me a call the next time you find a dead guy on a beach and need help,” he drawled at her ramrod stiff back.
She paused deliberately at the door and looked slowly over her shoulder. She said pleasantly, “Good Lord willing, Mr. Rowe, the next dead body I find on a beach will be yours.”