‘Dammit, let me go. He’s got my belongings.’
‘Calm yourself. You won’t catch him. He’s long gone by now,’ he replied, attempting to keep hold of the wriggling creature.
‘Only because you’re letting him get away. For God’s sake, let me go.’ She stopped suddenly. ‘Hell, you’re his accomplice, aren’t you?’ she accused.
Gael reeled back in amused shock. ‘Perdón? You think I’m a thief?’
‘I don’t know what the heck you are. All I know is you’re stopping me from going after that piece of scum who’s just stolen my purse. What am I supposed to think?’
She pulled at his hold. Gael thought it was probably wise to let her go, but his hands wouldn’t co-operate.
‘You’re supposed to thank a person who has just come to your aid,’ he suggested.
Eyes of an indeterminate colour widened in disbelief. ‘He got my stuff before you arrived. You let him get away—and you think I should be grateful?’ she spat with quiet fury.
She had fire—he granted her that. But it was the shaking in her voice that drew his attention.
Gael gripped her arms in a firmer hold, careful not to spook her further. Although he was still mildly amused she thought him a thief, her agitation meant she might take flight if he let her go. ‘I’m not a thief, Miss Beckett. I assure you.’
She froze. And in the darkness he was beginning to become acclimatised to her gaze searched his with growing suspicion.
‘How do you know my name?’ she demanded, her voice husky with a different kind of emotion.
That didn’t sit well with him. He let her go and stepped back, although he made sure to keep himself between her and the exit. Now he had her before him he wasn’t in the mood to go searching for her again should she bolt.
‘You have nothing to fear from me.’
She laughed mockingly, but her trepidation didn’t abate. ‘Says the man who’s keeping from leaving. Don’t think I didn’t notice the body-block. I’m warning you—I know Krav Maga.’
Again a tendril of amusement twitched at a corner of his lips. ‘So do I, pequeña. Perhaps we can spar some other time, when we’re both in the mood.’
‘I don’t spar just for the fun of it. I fight to defend myself. Now, either tell me why you’re here wasting my time, and how you know my name, or get out of my way.’
‘Your assailant is long gone. If you wish to report the incident I’m willing to lend you my phone.’
‘No, thanks. If you want to do something useful will yourself into getting out of my way instead, why don’t you?’
Gael shook his head. ‘Not until we’ve talked.’
‘I don’t know who you are or what you could possibly have to talk to me about that involves us standing in a dark, smelly alley.’
She started to skirt him. He let her go until she faced the exit and her perceived freedom.
‘I’m here because you’re of interest to me.’
‘I highly doubt that.’ She took a few steps backwards. Stumbled. Her breath caught as she righted herself. ‘I don’t know what your problem is, but I assure you I’m not worth stalking, if that’s your thing. And the sum total of my worth—which was eighty dollars—is now headed for the other side of the city, thanks to you. Anything else you want won’t be given willingly.’
She retreated a couple more steps, until she stood beneath the single lit bulb gracing the mouth of the alley.
Gael inhaled sharply. He’d thought her performance captivating across the wide expanse of an auditorium. At the time he hadn’t paid much attention to the woman herself. But he was looking now. And up close Goldie Beckett was...something else. Her dark honey-toned skin, even under the poor lighting, was vibrant and silky-smooth, her high cheekbones, velvety pouting lips and determined chin, a perfect enough combination to make his breath snag somewhere in his chest.
He wasn’t by any means new to the art of appreciating beautiful women. His electronic contact lists were filled with more than his fair share of phone numbers from past and possible future conquests. But there was something uniquely enthralling about Goldie Beckett’s face that riveted his attention.
Perhaps it was her eyes. Gael wasn’t sure whether they were blue, or the violet he suspected, but the big, alluring pools, even though they currently glared at him, were nevertheless absorbing enough to keep him staring.
As for her body... She couldn’t be more than five foot five, but even her lack of height—he preferred his women taller—didn’t detract from her attraction. Nor did it diminish the curvy frame currently wrapped in a black sweater and denim skirt in any way.
A torn black sweater, which gaped wide enough at the shoulder to reveal the strap of a lilac-coloured bra and the top of one voluptuous breast.
A thick silence ensued, during which she noticed where his gaze had landed. He admonished himself to get control in the few seconds before her hand snapped up to cover herself.
Her glare intensified even as her other hand crept around her neck and patted in a puzzled search. ‘Oh, great!’ she muttered eventually.
‘Something wrong?’ Gael asked, forcing his gaze from the hand covering her breast.
‘Don’t you mean something else wrong?’ she snapped. ‘Yes, something else is wrong. That...that lowlife didn’t just take my purse, he took my scarf too.’
Again there was a thin tremble in her voice that struck him the wrong way.
She was probably no longer apprehensive of his presence, but she’d been attacked and robbed. A closer scrutiny of her showed another rip in her tights and muddy scuff marks on her skirt and boots.
‘Are you hurt?’
Her mouth pursed and her eyes darkened. She regarded him, debating whether to furnish him with an answer. Slowly her free hand opened to reveal a bloodied deep welt across her palm.
A quiet fury rolled to life in his belly.
He balled his fist in his pocket to stop himself from reaching out to examine the wound more closely. He was absolutely sure she wouldn’t welcome the move. ‘My car is parked over there.’ He indicated with a jerk of chin. ‘If you come with me I’ll get you cleaned up. Before we talk.’
Her laughter mocked again, deeper this time. ‘I’m from New Jersey, Mr...whatever your name is, not Narnia. I don’t step through cupboards or into limos, however flash they look, out of naive curiosity.’
Gael gritted his teeth, reached into his pocket and brought out his business card. ‘My name is Gael Aguilar. I’m working on a project I think you might be interested in. I saw your...performance this afternoon and came back to look for you. The receptionist mentioned you’d just left. I came in this direction in the hope of finding you. Need I go on?’
She eyed him warily. ‘You hesitated before you said “performance”. Why?’
Gael was a little surprised that she hadn’t immediately jumped at the mention of his name, and that she wasn’t preening at the thought of being pursued as he’d pursued her. Most women would find that a compliment. But what shocked him more was that she’d cut through everything he’d said and singled out the slight trip in his voice triggered by what he’d witnessed after her audition that afternoon.
It wasn’t a flaw he wanted to dwell on. This wasn’t personal. It was business.
The reminder, and the fact that he’d been in this alley too long, tautened his voice. ‘It’s not productive to dwell on the cadence of my speech, Miss Beckett. You have my word that I mean you no harm.’ His gaze dropped to her hand. ‘My advice, though, would be to see to that wound before it gets infected. I can help. Then we can talk. I don’t want anything more from you.’
A slight frown marred her forehead before she looked over his shoulder at the limo. His driver stood to attention next to the back door and inclined his head at her. Her frown cleared.
Pressing home the advantage the sight his burly bodyguard and driver provided, Gael continued. ‘Unless I’m mistaken, you now have no means of reaching your destination tonight or contacting anyone for help?’
‘I’m far from as helpless are you’re making me sound, Mr Aguilar,’ she muttered, although her voice lacked conviction.