A Touch of the Beast
Linda Winstead Jones

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At some time during the evening he’d set a couple of boxes to one side. He’d probably been through those already. A few pages that had caught his interest had been set aside. It was a dismally short stack.

When she offered him the tea, he stood and stretched out a few muscles before taking the cold glass. Hmm. Donovan looked as if he’d just climbed out of bed in the morning and was working the kinks out of that incredibly fit body. Even when he stretched and turned, there was a sleekness about him, a masculine grace.

If he moved this way when he was working out the kinks in his muscles, then what might he be like when he—

Oh, dear. Her mind simply could not go there.

“I guess you want me to get out of here,” he said, casting one glance into the box he was currently sorting through. “I know it’s getting late.”

Yeah, she was such a sucker. Hawk Donovan was not the kind of man anyone took pity on. Ever. Was that almost-desperate expression a put-on? Did he know that no red-blooded female could say no to a face like that?

“You can stay awhile longer if you want,” she said softly. “I’m going on to bed. Lock up when you leave.”

He nodded, obviously grateful that she wasn’t going to kick him out, and then he took a long swig of the tea. He drained the glass quickly, then returned to his knees to continue sorting through the box in the center of the attic floor.

Sheryl watched Donovan as she carefully moved down the steps. He was already intent on the contents of that box again, as if she’d never been here, as if he had never been interrupted.

She hadn’t even offered to ship the documents to Texas and let him go through them there, at his leisure, away from her house and out of her hair. That would have made perfect sense. The files would be out of her possession and no longer her concern, and Hawk Donovan would be out of her life for good. The man was definitely trouble—even if he was on the up-and-up. Especially if he was on the up-and-up! Her life was settled now; it made sense. The last thing she needed was trouble.

Hawk woke up to a familiar sound and sensation. Baby was licking his face and saying good morning with a growl and a whine. But this morning Baby was not alone. Laverne was curled up on his stomach, and two other cats—one black and the other calico—had burrowed into the crook of his elbow. A Chihuahua who thought he was a rottweiler stood on Hawk’s chest, staring at his face and waiting for a response, and another dog—a black-and-white mixed breed with the homeliest face Hawk had ever seen—panted close by.

Hawk lifted his head from the attic floor, and the animals all perked up considerably. Even Laverne, who refused to be disturbed from her perch on his stomach, seemed to smile.

It was nothing compared to the smile he got from the woman standing above him.

“Coffee,” she said.

She was dressed for the day in sensible trousers and a cotton blouse that should have been plain but somehow looked sexy. Like the smile, and the way she pulled her hair away from her face, and the way her fingers wrapped around the white mug she carried.

Hawk closed his eyes and took a deep breath, breathing in the scent of coffee and old paper and animals. And her. She’d had a shower, and she smelled faintly of shampoo and soap. The soap was scented with a trace of lavender.

“I didn’t intend to stay the night,” he said, ignoring the way Sheryl smelled. He moved Howie from his chest and Laverne from his gut and sat, then stood slowly. When he reached out for the coffee cup Sheryl offered, her smile faded. Just a little. “I decided to rest my eyes for a few minutes and—”

“I know that feeling,” she interrupted. “It usually hits me when I’m trying to watch TV, even though I’m too tired, and I decide to close my eyes during the commercial. The next thing I know it’s three in the morning and I wake up to find that I’ve missed the end of my movie and some cheesy infomercial is on.” Her voice was too bright, too quick, as if she were trying to hide the fact that she was uncomfortable. Of course she was uncomfortable. He’d been here all night, sleeping above her head.

“Yeah.” He took a long sip of coffee and glanced down at the box he’d been going through when he’d decided to take a break. This chore was taking much too long, but an extended break was not an option. This was too important, and he didn’t have a day to waste. Not an hour or even a minute. A good night’s sleep was a luxury he could do without for a while. “I know you have to work, but if you don’t mind I’m going to—”

“I do mind,” she said sharply.

He was disappointed, but not surprised. It was more than he’d expected that she’d allowed him to spend all night up here, though that hadn’t been his intention. Or hers. Of course she wasn’t going to trust him to stay here in her house while she was at work.

She shook her head as if she could read his mind. “You’re exhausted. You spent way too much time going through those files last night, and I can tell just by looking at you that even if you came upon something important this morning you wouldn’t see it. Go back to the hotel, get a shower and a few more hours of sleep, and after lunch you can start again.” To his surprise, she handed him a single key on a simple key chain.

“Don’t look so shocked,” she said with a smile. “I don’t have anything worth stealing, unless you want to take Bruce with you when you go.”


“The parrot who called you meathead last night. Trust me, it could have been worse.”

Hawk wanted to argue with her, but like it or not she made a lot of sense. He probably needed to go through that last box all over again, just to make sure he hadn’t missed anything thanks to sheer exhaustion.

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