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His Wicked Ways

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«His Wicked Ways» - Джоанна Рок

NYPD Police Report Re Messina Case1900 Hrs: Subject Alec Messina (going by the name of Al Perez–no priors under either) detained by Detective Vanessa Torres. Subject alleged to have embezzled funds. Charges possible pending investigation.2100 Hrs: Subject and officer en route to subject's place of residence to examine evidence when assailed by two men DUI. Shots fired; subject and officer sustain non-life-threatening injuries. All-points bulletin out on perps. Subject claims incident proof someone's out to silence him.2300 Hrs: Subject debriefed at length at his place of residence, during which time officer deems him to be impressively armed and very dangerous. Subject ready to deal. Will expose his highly secret activities…but only if Detective Torres agrees to extended undercover ops with him!
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Alec took pleasure in the sure movement of her fingers up and down his spine

Alec took pleasure in the sure movement of her fingers up and down his spine

His sides. His hips.

He’d never met a woman so certain of herself and ready to claim what she wanted. When her fingers strayed below his belt line, his satisfaction increased tenfold.

That is, until she reached even lower. And lower.

What the hell?

Thrusting her away, he gripped her shoulders with both hands, his anger back with a vengeance.

“If you’re trying to frisk me now, woman, let me spare you the trouble.” Yanking her wrist forward, he steered her palm to rest on the only weapon he carried.

“Thanks to you, I’m damn well armed.”

Dear Reader,

Brace yourselves! I took a dive into darker terrain for the second book in my WEST SIDE CONFIDENTIAL series, as detective Vanessa Torres (remember her from Silk Confessions, Harlequin Blaze #171?) takes center stage. Who knew the tough-talking detective had so many secrets up her sleeve? I hope you enjoy my most suspenseful—and possibly hottest—Harlequin Blaze release yet. I fell for Alec right along with Vanessa, even though he’s hardly a charmer. What is it about those brooding alpha males that can turn a girl’s head? Even Vanessa had to pay attention…once she brought him down a notch or two!

There’s more to come in WEST SIDE CONFIDENTIAL, which will be an ongoing Harlequin Blaze miniseries. You can look for the next release in the series at eHarlequin.com, or visit me at www.JoanneRock.com to learn more. Until then, please keep an eye out for Love Me Tender, an anthology of Elvis-themed stories with offerings from Stephanie Bond, Jo Leigh and me, coming to Harlequin Signature Select in August 2005.

Happy reading,

Joanne Rock

His Wicked Ways

Joanne Rock


So many hands touch a writer’s work before it finds its way to a reader. I owe great thanks to the people in my life who bolster me and inspire me to take new creative risks. This book is dedicated to Wanda Ottewell, whose expert advice and encouragement have helped me remain focused and enthused about the creative process over the past four years through sixteen releases for Harlequin Blaze, Harlequin Temptation and special projects. Wanda, thank you so much for all your thoughtful insights and helping me make each story the best it can be!


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15


VANESSA TORRES didn’t need to click the heels of her ruby slippers together to remember there was no place like home.

Nope, her shoes—size ten black leather Converse sneakers that had seen better days—beat the streets of the South Bronx with the same mixture of wariness and attitude that had carried her through twelve years of public school in New York’s toughest borough. So what if the neighborhood had undergone some revitalization? The sun might be shining on an old men’s chess game in front of a new antique shop on 172nd, and the girls skipping double Dutch looked harmless enough, but Vanessa would lay odds the geezers were packing heat beneath their game board and the preteen jump ropers had probably already been recruited by local gangs who still haunted the playgrounds.

Damn straight there was no place like home when you grew up in the Bronx.

Scavenging what peace of mind she could from the 9 mm tucked in the waistband of her jeans, Vanessa gladly endured the late spring heat through the extra layer of a linen blazer since it covered the NYPD-issued weapon. Five years of training in kendo had given her confidence in her ability to fight hand to hand, but sometimes it took a gun to even up unfair odds—a lesson she’d once learned the hard way on this very same street corner.

Shrugging off old ghosts, she studied the buildings around one of the housing projects and searched for the address an informant had given her. God knows she wouldn’t be walking this block if she weren’t here on business, even if this particular piece of police business was still on the q.t.

“Hey baby, you new in town?” The male shout emanated from a construction-worker type wearing an orange fluorescent vest and a hard hat. The guy lounged on the tailgate of an oversize truck while a fire hydrant leaked copious amounts of water two feet from his toolbox.

Why was it so many men possessed all the right equipment and not a clue how to use it? But then, it had been a long time since she’d had a positive disposition in regard to the male species.

Squinting at the guy’s features, Vanessa placed his face. “Hell no, I’m not new here, Tony. Don’t you have anything better to do than toss out tired old pickup lines?”

She stared pointedly at the leaking fire hydrant.

“Damn, Vanessa. I didn’t recognize you.” Lifting a paper cup from a fast-food joint, he toasted her. “Looking good, girl.”

“You bet your pipe wrench.” Having grown up with the world’s biggest buckteeth and hand-me-down Coke-bottle glasses, she now considered her hard-won good looks as much a part of her personal armor as the Smith & Wesson.

Her life now at twenty-seven was a carefully erected facade, a slick exterior to hide an inside long grown cold. “Do you know where there’s a new rec center down here?”

None of the buildings around her looked like what her informant had described and she was getting anxious to get off the streets so she could head home before dark.

“Two blocks up.” Tony pointed a negligent thumb before mopping his forehead with his shirt cuff. “Some city guy with a platinum card thinks he can bring urban renewal to the neighborhood with a few new basketball hoops.”

“Yeah?” Could be her man. “I hope he thought to spring for some extra security.”

The local precinct was taxed enough without having to babysit the new wave of cosmo-sipping bohos who moved into urban hell for the sake of low rents and a short commute. She’d taken the express train out of the Bronx five years ago and hadn’t looked back since.

“You should come around more often, Vanessa,” Tony shouted as she started toward the Old School Recreation Center.

“Maybe I would if the public utilities weren’t so damn pitiful,” she called over her shoulder, careful to protect the cool exterior she’d adopted in her career as a detective. “Didn’t they teach you how to use one of those wrenches?”

Tony surely would have stood around and argued that point with her, but Vanessa wasted no time closing the distance between her and the center.

Alec Messina, her current quarry, maintained organized crime connections that went deeper than the Harlem River and he’d been missing for months. His business associates claimed he’d pilfered money out of a real-estate development project and they’d contacted the NYPD for help locating him, making Messina a wanted man.

Or—considering his background—a dead man.

Vanessa didn’t much care which. She only wanted to close this case so she could haul her butt back to Manhattan and leave the Bronx—along with her old hopes and dreams—firmly in the past.

ALEC MESSINA STARED into his uncle Sergio’s face and knocked the older guy clear into last year with an uppercut.

Okay, so it wasn’t really Uncle Sergio but a heavy bag in the rec center gym. Alec seemed to throw his best punches when he envisioned the family wiseguy’s mug tattooed across the red leather.

Alec’s Thursday afternoon self-defense students seemed appropriately impressed with the swing as they whistled and cheered until some punk in the back gave a loud snort.

“C’mon, Perez.” The local kid shouted to Alec using the assumed name he’d adopted during his weeks at the center. A cynical teen with an attention span almost as short as his fuse, the youth was one of many troublemakers Alec had roped into the class. “What good does it do to throw a punch when every kid on the block is armed? Shit, even my grandma packs heat.”

Alec willed away the memory of Uncle Sergio trying to wheedle kickbacks out of his own flesh and blood and concentrated on the task at hand. Alec might not be fielding the big business deals that gave him an adrenaline high lately since he’d been keeping a low profile, but he could damn well teach a bunch of hard-living kids how to throw a punch. Growing up in Bensonhurst had taught Alec to hold his head high. The faster you looked like a force to be reckoned with, the quicker you earned respect.

And if there was one message universally understood in rough neighborhoods, it was Don’t Mess with Me.

“Yeah? Too bad grandma will never have time to draw her weapon if she’s facing an opponent with quicker reflexes.” Alec was only too happy to mix it up with the punk in the back. If he could win over the biggest cynic in the crowd, he’d have the whole gymnasium eating out of his hand. “How about a volunteer to help me demonstrate?”

Purposely making eye contact with the guy—a short-tempered wing nut whose friends called him Easy— Alec willed the kid to step up to plate. He wasn’t real happy when a throaty feminine voice piped up instead.

“I’m game.”

Knowing there were only five women signed up for a class with nearly twenty guys, Alec couldn’t imagine which one of the females made the offer. The two toughest ladies in the group were rumored to have already been recruited by the neighborhood’s most deadly gang, but neither of them had the same tonal inflection as the soft-spoken voice from the back.

A pathway cleared through his students as they stood aside to give him a clear view of the speaker.

Tall, lean and dressed head to toe in black, the woman was new to the class. New to Alec’s eyes. And holy hell, what a visual treat she made. Long, dark hair twined into a neat braid that trailed over her shoulder in a silky-looking rope. A total lack of makeup gave her an all-business air while emphasizing the smooth perfection of her creamy skin. Utterly straight posture and a kind of catlike grace in her bearing made Alec think some sort of comic-book superheroine had swooped into his rec center to test his skills.

“By all means.” He gestured to the mat alongside him, curious what she could want with his workshop. “Thanks for offering, Ms.—”

“Torres. Vanessa Torres.

” She walked toward him with smooth efficiency and none of the rump-shaking strut some women employed to distract men. “My pleasure.”

Something was off. She looked entirely too sure of herself to be enrolled in a self-defense course. Even his advanced students didn’t have this much confidence. Oh, they talked a good game, but there was a difference between women who said they could kick ass and women who could actually follow through. Alec suspected Ms. Torres fell into the latter category.

And although the idea of her as a comic-book superheroine might appeal to latent teenage fantasies, chances were good she wasn’t some Lara Croft knockoff sent here just to make him drool. That made him a hell of a lot more worried about her purpose.

“I’m sure the pleasure is mutual.” He eyed her across the two feet of distance she left between them. Even close up, she looked too damn sure of herself. He tried to catch her scent and failed, which only made him want to get closer. Much closer. “Care to tell me what you’re doing in this class?”

He couldn’t afford to let one of Uncle Sergio’s underlings discover him here in the heart of the Bronx, doling out free lessons in a rec center he’d cobbled together on a shoestring budget. Not only did it serve a purpose in the community, it gave renegade enemies of the mob a great place to hide.

“Just trying to fill some gaps in my knowledge.” She smiled as she rolled up her sleeves. “That okay with you, Mr.—?”

“Perez.” The name barely stuck in his throat after six months of living anonymously. Damn, but he wanted to reclaim his life. He had a thriving real-estate business to oversee. Clients with big projects and deep pockets who would pay well for his brand of expertise. And beyond that, he’d like to spend a little time indulging more personal wants.

A very particular hunger sprang to mind as he stared at Ms. Torres and her cool-as-you-please dark gaze.

A snort of laughter from Easy made Alec realize he’d probably stared too long. Damn it. Time to get back to work and hope this newcomer wasn’t on his uncle’s payroll. He had enough on his plate here without dealing with mob types bent on revenge.

“Why don’t we make like you’re going for your gun to take me out,” he explained, lining himself up with Vanessa. “And we’ll demonstrate how quick reflexes can even the odds.”

Nodding, Vanessa swept her long braid behind her back and reached into her jacket as if pulling a weapon from inside.

Alec gripped the arm in motion, stabilizing the hand an attacker might have used to draw a weapon. Unfortunately, that left her other hand free, which she promptly used to jab him in the gut.

What the hell?

Morphing out of exhibition mode and into street mindset, Alec refused to let this woman—a hard-hitting new breed of Mafia princess?—get the drop on him. Lowering his shoulder, he used sheer brute force to lift her off her feet and plow her to the mat.

His next view of her was looking down at her flat on her back. A damn fine position for her, if he did say so himself.

Too bad he couldn’t enjoy it nearly long enough. Before he could talk through the finer points of his victory to his class, Vanessa kicked his legs out from underneath him, toppling him to the mat.

“Shit.” His curses ran to the far more colorful in his head, but he was pretty sure that was the only one that managed to escape his mouth. If he hadn’t possessed lightning quick reflexes, Ms. Torres probably would have ended up with his shoulder planted painfully between her breasts when he fell.

Lucky for her, he got his hands out just in time to keep him from smashing into her. Bracketing her arms with his palms to the mat, Alec held his weight off her as he stared down into assessing brown eyes.

“Lesson number one, don’t expect your opponent to fight fair.” Vanessa huffed the words into the mixture of panting breaths between them, but Alec had no doubt the whole class heard.

He’d bet his personal jet that the demonstrations had never been this interesting before.

He held himself there, taking in the soft wash of color on Vanessa’s cheeks, the lone strand of displaced dark hair twining over her neck. At last he caught her scent—a classic, simple tea rose completely unsuited for a woman who probably ate purse snatchers for lunch.

Clearing his throat, he lowered his voice. “And lesson number two, self-defense is more fun than it looks.”

The comment hadn’t really been intended for the rest of the class. But somehow, stretched out over top of her, it was easy to forget they had an audience.

“Oh, it’s looking pretty fun,” some wiseass bystander felt compelled to remark.

Low laughter rumbled through the onlookers.

Damn. This butt-kicking phenomenon—Vanessa— didn’t deserve that. She’d neatly beaten his ass, fair and square, so it seemed sort of tacky to undermine the accomplishment with cheap sexual innuendo.

Propelling himself up, he shoved away from her and found his feet. Time to get his class under control and find out exactly what Vanessa Torres wanted here. Outsiders didn’t just stumble on the Old School Rec Center by accident. Since she didn’t need self-defense lessons, chances were good she’d come here looking for him.

That spelled trouble any way he read it.

“I think that’s enough of a demonstration for tonight.” He extended a hand to his visitor but she ignored it, rolling to her side before pushing to her feet. “Class dismissed.”

His students shuffled out with their usual too-cool posturing, but there was a definite energy in the air as they chattered about class and compared stories of street fights they’d seen.

Far too many considering most of them were half his thirty years.

“You’ve got some nice moves, Messina.” The woman’s throaty voice called to mind barroom hookups and all-night sex.

“Yeah?” He allowed his gaze to roam over her thoroughly, taking in every last detail of her skinny black jeans and formfitting T-shirt beneath her jacket, concentrating on the way the stark fabric possessed no embellishment beyond her lean curves. “There’s more where they came from, but I’ll bet you get that all the time.”

She lifted one arched eyebrow, her expression betraying nothing about who she was or what she wanted from him. He wasn’t worried about her, per se, but he knew better than to underestimate her twice in one afternoon. Especially since he’d discovered an interesting little secret about her when they’d been romping around the mat.

“Let me rephrase that. Your moves are pretty good for a Manhattanite.” She picked up a fallen leaflet about his class that one of his students must have left behind.

“Are you trying to call me uptown?” Damned if he knew why that offended him so much. Truth be told, he’d spent most of his adult life in midtown ever since he’d made his first million. “I grew up in Bensonhurst.”

A fact that she would know if she were some up-and-coming Mafia chick sent by Sergio. But wasn’t the mob too chauvinist to send a woman to do their dirty work? Alec didn’t have a clue anymore.

“You may have been born there, but you don’t fight like Brooklyn.”

“And you’re such an expert on hand-to-hand combat?” He’d always prided himself on shunning the chauvinistic leanings of his family, but he had to admit the only thing that soothed his frustrations right now was to picture Ms. Torres beneath him again.

Only this time, she was naked.

“I’m hardly an authority, but it doesn’t take much imagination to see that you’ve been away from street fighting for a long time. Your technique is more textbook than passion.”

Had he thought she’d annoyed him before? Apparently her capacity to piss him off had been just warming up.

“Any street fighter worthy of his brass knuckles would take the lack of passion remark as a challenge.” He stepped closer, prepared to intimidate. He’d be too glad to show this woman some serious heat.

“Take it for what it’s worth.” Shrugging, she didn’t exactly look intimidated. She had world-weariness down to an art form. “All I’m saying is that no street scrapper would have let me get in those kind of sucker-punch moves. Those types expect the dirty moves before wasting energy on the best technical defense.”

“Let’s not forget who came out of our little wrestling match on top.” Aggravated with all the verbal dancing around, he decided to get to the heart of the matter. And this time, he’d use some passion, damn it. Snaking a hand around her wrist, he held tight. “Care to tell me why you’re here and why you came to my class toting a piece?”

Stiffening in his grasp, she couldn’t mask the rapid heartbeat pulsing through her veins just beneath his thumb. Her soft skin and slender arm were more delicate than he’d expected.

“Care to keep your hands to yourself?” Her voice was steady and even, so cool and controlled he would never have guessed what turmoil lurked beneath the surface if not for the proof of that fiery throbbing against his skin.

Slowly, he released her, alert to her every move. Did her pulse race because she was nervous and had something to hide? What if she’d come here to conduct a hit—a trained assassin with great tits and a heart that fired as fast as her trigger finger? He tensed, waiting.

“As long as you keep your hands where I can see them, Ms. Torres, I’m happy to keep mine to myself.” Forcing his arms to relax at his side, he calculated the distance to his own gun tucked in a desk drawer inside his office a few feet away. He could take her easily without the help of his weapon, but it didn’t hurt to have a backup plan. Especially since she might have her own backup nearby, ready to take him out if she failed.

“Oh, but I think I have something else you’re going to want to see.” Her grin showed off straight white teeth, and he couldn’t remember ever thinking a woman’s incisors were sexy.

And how screwed up did it make him to drool over a probable hit woman? He wondered how many other saps were getting a hard-on for this chick even in the last moments before she popped them.

“I’m sure there are a lot of guys who would love nothing better than to sign on for whatever you care to show off, lady, but I’d rather keep my head on my shoulders a few more days.” His gaze dropped to her lean curves showcased in hip-hugging jeans. The jacket she wore parted like the damn Red Sea around a spectacular rack. “Why don’t you just tell me what you want to show me?”

Her fingers flexed at her side. Clearly, she wasn’t accustomed to sitting still.

“Believe me, it makes more of an impression as a visual.” She paused, perhaps waiting for him to give her the green light to make a move.

She might as well be waiting for all the lights to turn green down Lexington Avenue. He had no intention of staring her down over the barrel of her gun.

Finally, she sighed. “It’s in my pocket.”

Smart woman. He stepped closer, fully prepared to pat down every inch of anyone who set foot in his center with a concealed weapon. The fact that the patting would be a pleasure in this case made no difference.

“Right or left?” He hovered a few inches away from her, catching occasional whiffs of her rose scent.

Her pupils dilated, darkening her brown eyes to near black. The heat between them ratcheted up a few degrees and Alec would be lying to himself to say it was just nerves.

“Right.” Her throaty voice scratched into an even lower register, the word pummeling his sense of caution into stark need. Desire.

He reached into the pocket, his fingers grazing her jeans through the thin fabric of her jacket. If she hadn’t been wearing clothes, the incidental touch would have landed a few delicious inches from the juncture of her thighs.

Sweat trickled down his back.

Fingers closing around a leather case, he retrieved what felt like a wallet. Counting himself fortunate to have survived the close encounter without her pulling a gun or him falling under her sensual spell, Alec stepped back and flipped open the leather billfold.

Revealing an NYPD badge.

“Shit.” The realization thundered through his brain with all the subtlety of a summer riot.

“You’re now a wanted man, Alec Messina.” Her words showered over him with stinging clarity. “I think you’d better come with me.”


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