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In Hot Pursuit

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«In Hot Pursuit» - Джоанна Рок

NYPD detective Josh Winger has never been pursued like this before. Instead of focusing on his undercover investigation, he's being distracted by the gorgeous Lexi Mansfield. Josh can't bring himself to use his best evasive maneuvers to escape her. With his thoughts on steamy nights and tangled sheets, he really doesn't want to get out of her sights.Following the tempting-looking stranger at her fund-raiser starts out as a sexy game for Lexi. She'll spend a few anonymous hours in his company and be free to move on. But she never imagines that when Josh turns his scorching gaze on her, the game rules change. Now Lexi is being pursued in the most tantalizing, skillful way…and the stakes are for more than just a few hours of sexual pleasure.
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Josh was proving every bit as tempting as she’d imagined

Josh was proving every bit as tempting as she’d imagined

He stood close, one hand on either side of Lexi, bracketing her against the door. The dominant position made her think about lying beneath him in her bed, his arms levering him above her body as he made love to her.

At that moment she looked up at him, only to find his gaze focused on her mouth.

He made a hungry sound that rumbled right through her in the moment before his mouth met hers. She shivered at the wet heat of the kiss, and twisted her way closer to the hard wall of his chest.

Josh’s hands moved to hold her against him. He stroked his way down her spine, sealing her body to his. His arousal nudged her belly, making her want to drag him inside and indulge herself in him.

Suddenly he pried himself away.

“Honey, I need to know if this is what you want.”

Lexi wriggled against him shamelessly, wanting more of this feeling. “Don’t make me break out the handcuffs again, Detective. You’re not going anywhere tonight.”



Dear Reader,

New York police detective Josh Winger has never been so relentlessly pursued, but then again, he’s never had fashion critic Lexi Mansfield on his tail before. He needs to remain anonymous to protect his drug-smuggling investigation, yet Lexi seems determined to drag him into the spotlight. When the outrageous beauty clicks a pair of handcuffs on him at a ritzy buy-a-celebrity’s-freedom fund-raiser, Josh doesn’t know whether to put up a fight…or encourage her.

I had so much fun writing Lexi and Josh’s story. These characters first appeared in my Blaze novel #26, Silk, Lace & Videotape last February, and they captured my imagination from the moment they stepped on the scene. I hope you enjoy their rocky—and very steamy—road to love.

Visit me at www.JoanneRock.com to learn more about future releases or to let me know what you think of Lexi and Josh. I’d love to hear from you!

Happy reading!

Joanne Rock

P.S. Don’t forget to check out tryblaze.com!

In Hot Pursuit

Joanne Rock



To my father and favorite storyteller, Cornelius Goes. If I can weave a tale half as entertaining as the ones you’ve been telling me all my life, I count myself fortunate indeed. To my mother, Louise, thank you for the unwavering support and for showing me how to move through life with quiet strength and grace.

I am grateful to you both for the model of

your marriage—a wonderful testament

to happily-ever-afters.

Contents

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

Chapter 16

1

“STEP ASIDE, LADIES. Jailer coming through.” Dangling handcuffs from her manicured fingers, Lexi Mansfield swept past the other socialites thronging the ladies’ room mirror in the trendy Manhattan bar.

She didn’t need to see her reflection to confirm she looked as good as her hodgepodge of features would allow. She’d blown two paychecks to ensure New York’s best hair and makeup people maximized her questionable beauty assets for tonight’s fund-raiser.

A girl couldn’t go into battle unarmed, after all.

She stuffed her handcuffs into her purse for safekeeping until her jailer stint for tonight’s Buy a Celebrity’s Freedom event kicked in. She would have served as MC tonight, if not for the rampant gossip currently making the rounds about her. Being demoted to jailer might be a step down, but Lexi was determined to wrest all the fun she could out of the handcuffs.

Behind her, a compact snapped close and a pair of high heels clicked double time on the ceramic tile. “Hold up, Lex,” Lexi’s girlfriend Amanda called.

Lexi forced herself to stop, even though she couldn’t wait to leave the smothered giggles and gossipy whispers of the powder room behind. She knew all too well that she was the hot topic of the night, and the knowledge ate away at her stomach far more than did the two glasses of merlot—although the smoke and hair spray fumes didn’t help much, either.

No doubt the ladies’ room rumor mill couldn’t wait for Lexi to scram so they could continue their discussion of the day’s scandal. Lexi Mansfield—one of New York’s leading fashion reviewers and most popular magazine columnists—had been shredded to ribbons in a scathing letter to the editor written by an up-and-coming designer.

The designer in question, Simone Bertrand, had been Lexi’s nemesis since boarding school. A trust-fund baby with more boobs than brains, Simone had the morals of a tomcat, but her scads of money usually covered up the fact.

Amanda smoothed a hand over a nonexistent stray lock of light brown hair and frowned at Lexi. “You are dangerous tonight. I about twisted my heel to catch up with you.

Lexi couldn’t help a twinge of envy for her gorgeous friend, a ringer for a young Grace Kelly, except for the darker hair. Despite Lexi’s designer duds and expensive makeup job, she paled in comparison to Amanda’s born beauty.

“Amanda, I appreciate what you’re doing, but you don’t need to baby-sit me. I’m a big girl, I can handle the gossip hounds.” Lexi opened the bathroom door to greet the pulsing bass of a pop dance tune.

Amanda pushed the door shut again and grabbed Lexi by the elbow. Lexi squealed, but allowed her friend to tug her back into the restroom toward the semi-quiet corner by a condom-dispensing machine.

Lexi snorted at the picture of the ecstatic-looking couple plastered on the front of the dispenser. It had been far too long since Lexi had needed condoms for a damn thing.

“Why do I get the feeling you want me to leave?” Amanda huffed, crossing her arms over her blue taffeta gown. “Don’t tell me you’d rather face the vultures by yourself.”

Lexi shrugged. “Maybe I’d be better off facing them on my own, so people can say what they want about the letter and get it over with.” The charity they were raising money for tonight—Shelter the Homeless—was one of Lexi’s pet projects. She wouldn’t leave until she’d done her job.

Amanda studied her for a moment. “Are you sure?”

What was the worst people could say? I agree with Simone’s letter to the editor and I think you are a blot on the concept of style, too? I second Simone’s observation that you have all the magnetism of a houseplant? Besides, Simone’s public attack might be embarrassing, but it didn’t scare Lexi half as much as the anonymous threatening notes she had been receiving for the past month.

She didn’t breathe a word of those letters to anyone, however. Lexi had grown accustomed to fending for herself a long time ago.

Lexi nodded. “I’m sure. I’ve made my entrance. I’ve scoped out my territory. I’m ready to take them on.”

“I don’t know, Lex.” Amanda glanced uncertainly over one shoulder toward the crowd of cackling social divas spritzing hair spray and layering on lipstick. “They look like they can’t wait to get their talons into you. Want me to wait until the Buy a Celebrity’s Freedom event begins? Once you start your gig locking up the celebs, you should be okay.”

Lexi still fumed to think she would be stuck filling the makeshift jail cell with wealthy patrons. She should be the MC tonight, but after the scathing letter, the charity had asked her to let someone else take center stage.

“If they get too rough before then, I’ll just latch on to someone else.” Lexi eyed the stud on the condom machine and wondered if maybe tonight she’d live on the wild side and find herself another protector—one who wore a tux instead of blue taffeta. “Besides, how can I feel like I have more magnetism than a houseplant when I’m walking around next to the Revlon girl?” She shoved Amanda toward the door. “Get lost, girlfriend. You’ve got better ways to spend your Saturday night.”

Amanda flashed a wicked grin. “Duke did say something about waiting up for me.”

“See?” Lexi brushed away an escapee spiral of hair from her face and winked. “You’re supposed to be packing for your getaway, anyway. What time do you leave tomorrow?”

“Nine. I can’t believe he’s taking me on a motorcycle trip. I’ve never done anything so exciting in my whole life.”

“Call me a city girl, but I don’t know if three days perched on a motorcycle seat is my idea of fun.” Lexi grinned, the first smile she’d managed since waking to find the derisive letter to the editor in the very magazine she’d given the past five years of her life to. “Go home, Amanda. I can take it from here.”

Amanda nodded as she adjusted Lexi’s borrowed diamond collar. “You’re right. You look ready to kick some gossipmonger hind-end.”

Lexi laughed, tugging open the rest room door.

“I dressed to kill for a reason, honey.” She withdrew her silver handcuffs from her purse and slid one end over her wrist. “Besides, maybe I can squeeze a small amount of satisfaction from my detractors by playing the dominatrix.”

“No brutality, Lex,” Amanda warned. “And if you find yourself in any provocative situations with those cuffs, I highly recommend capturing it on videotape.”

Lexi laughed, knowing she’d never have anywhere near the kind of sizzling adventures Amanda had stumbled into a few months ago with Duke Rawlins.

“I’ll leave the video to you. I’m just going to have fun being Lexi, Mistress of the Night.”

After they exchanged a quick hug near the bar, however, Lexi’s smile faded as she watched Amanda disappear in the cloakroom.

Leaving Lexi alone to fend for herself.

In a room stuffed full of people who couldn’t wait to see her crumble.

Lexi clutched the polished mahogany bar and took deep breaths to ward off the feeling she’d just made a colossal mistake by excusing her bodyguard. The fashion world elite adored Amanda, the socially untouchable daughter of one of New York’s most influential designers. Lexi was a scrapper, a New Jersey transplant to Long Island’s upper-crust North Shore and eventually Manhattan’s fashion world. Although devoid of blue blood, she possessed a sharp eye and wit for commenting on style. And tonight, she was fair game for this crowd.

Lexi was thankful that Simone Bertrand had not attended this function. But then, Simone resented spending a cent on anyone but herself. Lexi knew the author of the other letters could be here tonight, however, and the thought gave her pause.

The notes had urged her to change topics in her column—or she’d be sorry. But Lexi often covered three or four different topics each week, and she could never be sure which topic in particular the note-writer referenced.

Not that it would have shut Lexi up.

Her need to speak her mind was as essential as breathing. She’d been hushed far too many times as a child. She didn’t let anybody muzzle her these days.

As the band switched from a pop disco beat to a swing set, Lexi struggled to gather her bearings. Peering around the two-tiered disco that had closed its doors to the public for the fund-raiser, Lexi spied no friendly faces in the crowd. The elegant sea of tuxes and silk seemed to have closed ranks against her. She hadn’t felt like such an outsider since childhood, peeking into her parents’ book-lined study and wishing she could be a part of their academic discussions.

Ignoring the urge to bolt and return to the security of her apartment full of nonjudgmental pets, Lexi reminded herself she was here for a good cause. The Shelter the Homeless organization had always been dear to her heart, and she ran frequent reminders of their activities as footnotes in her fashion column.

Bracing herself for a night of mingling with the masses and imprisoning anyone she thought might bring in a big donation, Lexi approached the small platform and podium to immerse herself in her duties. She could inspect the makeshift jail cell—sort of a sixties-style go-go booth—that would house her captives. This would be more fun than an auction. Lexi merely had to handcuff celebrities and toss them in the cell, while the MC coerced the crowd into making a donation to free the jailbird.

The jailer job was a definite step down from hosting the event, but she’d be damned if she would walk out of here tonight before last call. At least everyone would see her on stage, head held high, rather than cowering in the corner sucking down Fuzzy Navels.

Determined to parlay her frustration into her role as the bad girl cop, Lexi sauntered off into the crowd in search of her first victim.

AN HOUR LATER, Lexi realized she was not only far removed from her dominatrix fantasy, but also was enduring far more snide remarks than she’d ever anticipated.

In the course of rounding up various fashion industry stars, she’d heard several versions of “here comes the houseplant,” two backhanded comments that she looked lovely in her “usual, nonmagnetic style,” and one outright slam that she had finally received her comeuppance for playing goddess of the fashion world.

Lexi retreated to the bar and ordered a cosmopolitan—pretty much a martini, but the pink color made it look innocent. Wavering between tears and fury, she swayed to the Latin beats the band had switched to, trying not to glance at her watch. She didn’t want to know how many more hours she had to endure the lions’ den.

Public humiliation she could deal with. But did her social circle really view her as the most unattractive woman in Manhattan? Sure, they veiled their insults by attacking her fashion stance. But the whispers she’d heard all night had been directed at her—her gaudy look, her tacky clothes, her attempts to fit into a world that didn’t seem to have room for her.

Lexi peered down at her sequined dress, knowing it epitomized refinement. Could she help it that her tiny frame didn’t fill it out the way Amanda’s would? Was it such a crime that she didn’t care to butcher her Romanesque nose with a surgeon’s knife so she could meet some prepackaged, Stepford ideal of beauty?

Maybe she could feel a little more self-righteous about her sense of style and personal magnetism if she’d actually attracted a man in the past few years. She’d told herself she had no love life because she dedicated her time to her job. What if lack of time had nothing to do with it? What if she couldn’t lure a man to her bed for all the lingerie in the Victoria’s Secret catalog?

The notion scared her to her peau de soie covered toes.

An image of the stud on the condom dispenser flashed in her mind. What if she went in search of a man here, tonight?

She glanced around the disco at the guys in perfect tuxes, the ones who didn’t dance too much so as not to mess up their hair. How could she ever find a man among the Ken look-alike dolls who—

Her gaze stopped abruptly on a slightly rumpled dinner jacket at the back of the room. Her eyes followed the dark fabric upward to glimpse a white shirt and a long tie—not a standard bow tie—that wavered between gray and silver.

A waiter passed in front of the man, a tray of drinks hiding the stranger’s face from view. Lexi set her drink aside and leaned forward to get a better look. As the tray passed, she spied a profile to set a girl’s pulse to racing.

Dark hair brushed his collar, too short to be a rock star’s hair, but definitely longer than the cropped perfection of every other man in the room. Great cheekbones. A nose that definitely hadn’t bowed down to the gods of plastic surgery. And a diamond stud earring winking in one lobe.

Hello.

Blood pulsed through her veins in time with the sultry Latin rhythm that dominated the disco. Maybe the stress of the day conspired to make her a little more on edge tonight, but she’d never before experienced lust quite so keenly just looking at a man.

An idea took shape in her head—a crazy, insane plan to act on this feeling. Lexi slid off her bar stool before she lost her nerve to approach the sexy stranger.

She downed half the cosmopolitan to fuel her steps in the direction of her quarry. The pair of handcuffs around her wrist would provide a definite conversational icebreaker.

Lexi had just figured out a surefire way to put her personal magnetism to the test.

JOSH WINGER didn’t need to look over his shoulder to know someone followed him. After all, he’d been chased by the best—bad asses with guns, knives and garrotes for weapons rather than six-inch spikes and a killer flash of thigh.

The sultry brunette in black sequins had stalked him through the trendy Manhattan bar for the past ten minutes. Relentlessly, she pursued him—through a narrow, zebra-printed corridor, down a staircase lit in pink neon.

Damn.

Any other day, Josh would have welcomed attention from a knockout like the one hot on his trail. Tonight, however, he needed to remain detached, anonymous. He’d attended the after-hours gathering of New York’s fashion elite for work, not pleasure.

Josh didn’t waste any time at the subterranean bar. As soon as he hit the lower level, he sprinted along the side of the room to a second set of stairs and bolted back up them to the main floor. With any luck, the sequined siren would get distracted downstairs, and Josh would be able to get back to business.

The thought of work didn’t interest him quite as much as it usually did, however. Maybe because he’d caught the brunette’s eye earlier, and the look she’d shot him still sizzled through his veins. Despite the woman’s designer dress and perfect makeup, Josh had the feeling she was the kind of woman who could heat up a room with nothing more than a breathy whisper….

Not that he was thinking along those lines on the job.

He needed to keep his professional ear to the ground tonight and observe the players in the fashion world. For two months, he and his partner had been tracking smuggling activity in the Garment District to no avail. But tonight, he’d slipped past the doorman at a swanky fund-raiser attended by most of the smuggling suspects on Josh’s list.

One way or another, he would bring down the thugs causing trouble in the Garment District. Not only were the bastards slipping drugs and weapons into the city, but they were using underage gangsters to run half their dirty business. Josh had already tangled with one juvenile offender last month in an encounter that had nearly cost a fellow officer’s life. While Josh had wasted time trying to talk the kid out of his crime, the wayward teen got off a shot that seriously injured Josh’s backup. Josh blamed himself for the shooting—and so did the press when the story was splashed all over the front page.

Now Josh hungered to find the ringleader of the smuggling operation, to squash the wave of crime that had plagued his precinct and the special task force he was assigned to. If that meant working on his case after-hours, Josh didn’t mind a bit. This job meant everything to him.

He scanned the crowd one more time, searching for any familiar faces.

His partner’s new socialite fiancée had told Josh about the event. He’d searched for Amanda Matthews—soon-to-be Rawlins—in the crowd, but she’d obviously left before he arrived. On the other hand, maybe his partner, Duke, hadn’t allowed his gorgeous future bride to stray as far as six blocks from their brownstone. The two of them seemed to be joined at the hip—a condition Josh had no intention of ever suffering.

Josh surveyed the dance floor from an old balcony left over from the bar’s days as a theater. Later, the seats would be packed with couples too drunk to find a hotel room, but for now the shadowy corner gave him a perfect window on the glittering assembly below.

For a moment, he caught himself wishing he’d glimpse black sequins. He had to admit that the attention from the brunette had been more than a little flattering. He’d never been the kind of man women sought out first, which probably had something to do with the fact that he resembled a criminal more than he did a cop.

A waitress, in thigh-high boots and a dress that looked like an X-rated toga, sidled over, effortlessly balancing a tray of empty glasses with one hand. The getup might have turned his head if he hadn’t just spotted a small jail cell off to one side of the dance floor.

A jail cell?

“Get you a drink?” the waitress asked, leaning close to be heard over the steady thrum of the music’s bass line.

He shook his head and tore his gaze from the lower level long enough to smile at her. “No drink, but maybe you can tell me what the cage is for.” He peeled a crisp bill off the roll in his pocket and stuffed it in the waitress’s tip glass.

She shrugged, the small action shifting her tiny toga enough to flash him white satin panties. An observation he made on a strictly professional basis. He was more in the mood for black sequins, anyhow.

The blonde waitress adjusted her tray. “Some prop for the private party. It doesn’t belong to the club.” She sent him a wicked grin. “Looks sort of kinky, huh?”

Images of the brunette in a cage didn’t do much for him, until he mentally inserted himself inside the cage along with her.

“Definitely.” He turned back to the view on the dance floor, just in time to make eye contact with his pursuer.

Even from this distance, her dark eyes broadcast a message for him alone. A smile played at her crimson lips, as if she enjoyed their game.

Heat surged through him. He admired her persistence. An odd sense of pride in her tracking abilities mixed with growing frustration. He couldn’t very well do his job tonight if he had to keep eluding this woman. Maybe he needed to confront her and tell her he wasn’t interested in her game.

Too bad his body was very interested.

Josh had the sinking feeling that if he got within five feet of the fashion princess, he’d be lured in like a damn fish.

Reluctantly, he left his observation deck before his stalker caught up with him. He wasn’t a cop worth his badge if he couldn’t give a society babe the slip, right? She was probably drunk to boot, given that she had chosen to pursue him over the wealth of highbrow guys milling around the bar tonight.

Josh sped back down the pink neon stairs and ducked into the hallway by the phone booths and cloakroom. As soon as he shook the woman on his tail, he would seat himself at the bar and salvage what he could of the night by soaking in the party gossip.

For now, he envisioned his pursuer climbing the stairs in her slinky black gown, and he ticked off enough time for her to reach the balcony he’d just vacated. Thinking she must be safely on the opposite side of the bar by now, Josh stepped from the dark hallway.

And nearly collided with a whirlwind of black sequins.

He obviously hadn’t given his pursuer enough credit, because there she stood with a satisfied gleam in her dark eyes.

Her black hair shimmered in the low light of the bar. Although most of it rested on her head in an intricate knot, one long wayward tendril slipped free to point a path toward her cleavage. Cleavage out-lined by a square neckline that exposed just enough pale skin to tease the hell out of him. The collar of diamonds around her throat was too sexy to even contemplate in a public place.

He instantly shifted his gaze to her face.

She arched a brow and smiled up at him. Even with her high heels, she barely reached his chin. “Excuse me. Guess I wasn’t watching where I was going.”

Her knowing look belied her innocent words.

He couldn’t help but smile back at her. She practically preened over her small victory.

“Seems to me you were right on target.”

She shrugged a careless shoulder and waved an airy hand, gestures that loosely conveyed consent to his words. Josh wondered if she always spoke so eloquently with her body. Her sequins danced and winked, giving her the illusion of perpetual motion.

“Maybe you’re right,” she admitted, treating him to an obvious once-over. “I just hope the reward proves to be as much fun as the chase.”

Name the place, honey. The temperature between them soared a few more degrees.

The woman was a firecracker.

Josh’s smuggling investigation faded into the background for one perilous moment. His work suddenly seemed as distant as the zebra-printed walls and the pulsing Latin music. This tiny woman had a bigger presence than salsa or smugglers.

But Josh wouldn’t allow himself to lose focus.

Before he could respond, the woman offered a cheeky grin and a formal handshake.

“I’m Lexi Mansfield.”

Josh suspected it would be dangerous to touch her, but how could he ignore such an innocuous overture? Hesitating only briefly, he closed his fingers around Lexi’s long, jeweled fingers.

“Josh Winger, at your service.”

She squeezed his hand back, her grip surprisingly strong for such a little thing.

“I certainly hope so, Mr. Winger.”

Distracted by the wicked twinkle in her brown eyes and the exotic scent of her, Josh didn’t notice the handcuffs until cold metal clamped around his wrist.

With a deft click of the mechanism worthy of a veteran vice detective, Josh’s stalker chained herself to him.

So much for his skills as an undercover cop.

He was about to be brought low by a kinky dominatrix with killer cleavage and a lethal attitude. Lexi Mansfield had just blown his cover—and fueled all his fantasies—by handcuffing him into a naughty scenario guaranteed to attract attention.

.

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