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Marnie Wainwright started her fantasy escapes travel agency, Lose Yourself…, to spice up daily boring routines for others. But when she discovers she's the subject of a deliciously hot private investigator's surveillance, she suddenly starts living her own wildest fantasies. After all, what better gift could she get than a chance to spend the holidays at a quaint upstate New York inn–which just happens to offer naughty playtime for sensually adventurous couples–with her sexy P.I.?Jake Brennan should keep his hands off Marnie. But she's delectable…irresistible! And the longer he keeps his desire under wraps, the more he wants her.If only she wasn't his number one suspect…
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Under Wraps Joanne Rock

It’s said that you have to lose yourself in order to find who you really are…

Three intrepid Harlequin Blaze heroines are about to test that theory—In the sexiest way possible!

Watch for:

Shiver by Jo Leigh

(October 2010)

The Real Deal by Debbi Rawlin

(November 2010)

Under Wraps by Joanne Rock

(December 2010)

Lose Yourself…

What you find might change your life!

Dear Reader,

One of the most exciting rewards of being an author is getting to know other writers whose work you’ve read and admired. I’m sure in every profession it’s a treat to meet people who do your job with a skill and finesse you dream about acquiring, and in the writing world, there’s also a bit of fan-girl enthusiasm attached to that admiration. So it’s been a real privilege to work on the Lose Yourself…miniseries with the very talented Debbi Rawlins and Jo Leigh. I’m so glad we were able to develop this miniseries as a team.

In addition to the fun of great colleagues for this project, I had the added pleasure of writing my first full-length holiday Harlequin Blaze with Under Wraps. Although I’d tackled a holiday novella two years ago (A Blazing Little Christmas, an anthology with the fantastic Jacquie D’Alessandro and Kathleen O’Reilly), I was really excited to revisit a snowy Christmas setting for this story. There’s something about being snowbound for the holidays that seems just right for a Harlequin Blaze!

I hope you enjoy Under Wraps, and please do visit me at http://joannerock.com for the scoop on my upcoming releases in the new year!

Happy holidays,

Joanne Rock

Under Wraps

Joanne Rock



Three-time RITA® Award nominee Joanne Rock writes sexy contemporary romances and medieval historicals. A romance fan since forever, she enjoys teaching writing at a local university and sharing her love of literature and popular fiction. She is a Golden Heart winner and RT Book Reviews Career Achievement nominee. When she’s not reading or writing, Joanne can be found at her local gridiron, ball field or basketball court—depending on the season—cheering on her three athletically inclined sons. Learn more about Joanne and her work by visiting her at http://www.joannerock.com.

For the beautifully talented Winnie Griggs, who calls and checks in on me, who cheers me on, who always makes me feel like a success! Thank you for many years of friendship and wise advice.



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



NORMALLY, THE LAST PLACE Jake Brennan would want to be the week before Christmas was sitting on a stakeout.

He’d promised his mom he’d come home for the holidays this year, a pledge which made him a liar three years running. Instead, he sat in his SUV across the street from a suspect’s business in downtown Miami, where neon palmetto trees made a tropical substitute for white lights in the snow back in Illinois.

But when the stakeout involved Marnie Wainwright, there were perks involved. Enough perks that Jake didn’t mind watching the storefront for her business, Lose Yourself, from inside his vehicle on a Friday night. It didn’t matter that the rest of the world went to holiday parties right now. He had Marnie for entertainment, and two months of surveillance on the entrepreneur behind Lose Yourself had taught him that was more than enough.

His hand hovered over the screen of his BlackBerry where an internet connection allowed him access to the camera he’d installed in her place eight weeks ago. Soft holiday music and Marnie’s warm, sexy laugh greeted his ears even before the picture on the video feed came into focus.

Thanks to the wonders of technology, he could sit two car lengths up the street and still see exactly what went on inside her high-end adventure company that specialized in exotic fantasy escapes.

And as long as Marnie was there, he always got an eyeful.

“If you’ll just give me your credit card, you can pay the balance on the trip and I’ll mail you a detailed itinerary next week,” she was currently saying to an attractive middle-aged couple in front of her desk.

Marnie had a pen tucked in the swoop of cinnamon-colored hair piled at the back of her head. He knew from hours of watching her that she sometimes stuck as many as three pens back there at a time, occasionally losing all writing implements to her hairdo. His camera was hidden inside a bookcase he’d built for her two months back, when he’d posed as a carpenter and helped remodel the front office. The carpentry skills, a long-ago gift from his dad, had been fun to brush off after his years in the military and the Miami P.D., and they’d certainly come in handy for concealing the surveillance camera at Marnie’s business.

At that time, she’d been a prime suspect in a white-collar crime at Premiere Properties, her former employer. Vincent Galway, the CEO of Premiere, had fired her right after discovering embezzlement that had cost the company $2.5 million.

Vincent only had very circumstantial evidence pointing to Marnie. The missing funds had been funneled through her department, and there had been a rise in client complaints about double billing. Coupled with her frequent overtime, easy access to the accounts and constant work outside the office, Vincent had let her go for superficial reasons—easy enough to do since Florida was an “at-will” state for employee termination. Then, with Marnie out of the company and none the wiser as to why, Vince had asked Jake to quietly investigate a few key remaining employees and to keep his eye on Marnie, too. While Jake hadn’t found the missing money yet, he had leads.

Today, he had the distinct pleasure of taking Marnie off the list of primary suspects thanks to the ridiculously stripped-down lifestyle she’d led for the past two months.

Marnie had demonstrated obvious financial hardship while funds continued to disappear from Premiere’s accounts. But Jake couldn’t even share with her since she’d never known she was a suspect. Still, Jake thought of today as a damn happy occasion because clearing Marnie meant he could do more than just watch her from afar.

His eyes locked on her luscious curves as she came out from behind the desk to shake hands with her clients. Yes, the time approached when he could return to her life—as the carpenter she hadn’t seen in two months—and ask her out. He could remove the surveillance equipment easily enough if she left the front office for even a minute.

There’d been a definite attraction between them when he’d first met her, an attraction he would have never acted on while she remained a suspect. But now, the path was clear to explore the fireworks he’d felt when he’d been in her office building that bookcase for her. If anything, he admired her all the more after watching her pull her life together in the wake of losing a job and getting dumped by the waste of space she’d been dating up until she’d been terminated. Marnie had defied the odds and opened her own business in a crap economy, using her travel smarts to her advantage in the new gig.

Smart. Sexy. And she’d be all alone inside in another minute once her customers left. Would he knock on the door as soon as they were gone? Or, knowing that she was prone to stripping off a few layers of clothes as soon as she flipped the Closed sign on her storefront, would he tune in to the BlackBerry a few minutes longer?

Heat crawled up his back at the thought. The need to be honorable warred with the urge to look his fill.

As she ushered her clients to the door, Jake figured he’d split the difference. He’d only watch for a minute and then he’d flip off the feed.

And this time, he wouldn’t settle for just fantasizing about Marnie. He’d follow it up with a house call, because damn it, he wanted to see the show in person one of these days.

Yes, a very Merry Christmas to him….


A DETAIL-ORIENTED, TYPE A personality, Marnie Wainwright took all necessary precautions. So she checked and double-checked the lock on the street-level door to her business. She closed all the blinds. She flipped the sign on Lose Yourself from Open to Closed.

Only then, in the privacy of the small storefront where she’d converted the back offices into a living space, did she pump her fist in victory and break out her best Michael Jackson move.

“Yesss!” She shouted her triumph, letting down her hair with one hand and switching the satellite radio tuner to dance grooves with the other.

Two months of hard work at Lose Yourself had paid off with her biggest profit yet now that she’d booked an African safari followed up by a beach getaway to Seychelles for a wealthy local couple. Two months of nonstop trolling for clients. Sixty-one days of researching unique trip ideas to appeal to an increasingly competitive travel market full of selective buyers who could easily book online. But her idea to pitch one-of-a-kind fantasy escapes was working.

“How do you like me now?” She sang a tune of her own making, rump-shaking her way into the back to retrieve a bottle of champagne she’d been saving from the days when her paycheck had been fat and the perks of working in promotions for a luxury global resort conglomerate, Premiere Properties, had been numerous.

She hadn’t salvaged much financially from that time, thanks to the bad investments she’d foolishly let her financial adviser boyfriend oversee. Little did she know then that he’d been even more clueless than he’d been charming, losing her hard-earned money almost as soon as she’d entrusted it to him. She’d been royally ticked off about that, but that had only been the prelude to him dumping her. On Facebook, no less. Apparently he hadn’t been interested in her once she lost her cushy benefits at Premiere. At least she understood Alec’s reasons. She never had figured out why Premiere had let her go or how her department had been losing as much money as her boss had claimed. But while getting laid off had hurt, it hadn’t broken her.

Tonight’s sale proved as much. She’d taken her travel smarts from all those years crisscrossing the globe for Premiere and used them to match up adventure seekers with just the right unique escape to suit them, whether that meant a spa trip to Bali or backpacking around the Indus Valley. The inspiration for Lose Yourself had come from her need to do just that. Since she hadn’t been able to take a vacation from her own problems, she enjoyed helping other people to do so.

Ditching her suit in a celebratory striptease for the benefit of a life-size cutout of a Hawaiian guy offering a lei to her, she tugged on a long black silk robe for her private after-party. The Hawaiian dude had been a promotional item from a hotel and not quite in keeping with the upscale, personalized appeal of Lose Yourself. But he was cute company in the copier room that doubled as a galley kitchen until she got on her feet enough to afford a real house again.

“Cheers to me!” She raised the proverbial roof with one hand while she twisted off the wire restraint from the champagne cork with the other.


The happy sound of that cork flying across the room pleased her as much as the taste of the bubbly would. It had been so long since she’d had reason to celebrate anything. About the only other victory that came close was curing herself of the need to throw darts at the ex-boyfriend who’d helped her lose a job and her savings.

She used to regularly wing a silver-tipped missile at a photograph taped to the dartboard she kept on an office wall, but she’d torched that picture a month ago in an effort to take ownership of her mistakes.

She’d almost taken a cute guy’s head off with one of those darts a couple of months ago, she recalled. Handsome contractor Jake Brennan had been handcrafting a display case for her storefront and had unwittingly opened a door into one of her tiny arrows. It hadn’t been her finest moment. Although Jake Brennan himself had been very fine indeed. Memories of his strong arms coated with a light sheen of sweat and sawdust as he’d sculpted the wood into shape had returned to her often ever since.

Pouring the top-shelf champagne into substandard stemware, Marnie lifted one side of her robe like a chacha girl before testing out a high kick. A little champagne sloshed out of the cheap glass, but the bubbles felt like an electric kiss sliding down her arm as she lifted the glass in a toast.

No doubt it had been thoughts of Jake Brennan that had her thinking of electric kisses.

“To me!” she cheered, then took a drink.

Rinnng! A call on her cell phone interrupted her celebration and she scrambled to grab it just in case it was a potential client. Seeing her former colleague’s name on caller ID didn’t mean it was a casual call. She’d been pitching her fantasy adventures to all her overworked, overstressed friends these past two months.

“Hello, Sarah.” Marnie turned the music down just enough to hear her friend on the other end of the phone.

“Hi, Marnie.” Sarah Anders’s voice was low, her tone oddly serious next to Marnie’s good mood. “Have a minute?”

“Sure.” Marnie sashayed her way toward the display case the sexy contractor had built, still dancing as she savored the taste of her drink on her tongue. “I’m just having a little toast to rich world travelers who aren’t afraid to take a chance on a new business.”

“You made another sale?” Sarah asked.

“An African safari. Not exactly the most original trip, but it’s long and involved and will keep me in business well into the New Year. Between that and a little holiday escape I booked for a couple who wanted to check out an ice hotel in Quebec City, I’ve had my best week yet.”

“That’s great.” Sarah’s voice didn’t match the words.

“What’s wrong?” Feeling the groove vibrate the floor through her bare feet, Marnie set her glass on one of the shelves of the bookcase.

“I just wondered if you’d heard any rumors about misappropriation of funds or big losses at Premiere Properties before you left.”

“Embezzlement?” Marnie told herself she shouldn’t care what happened over at Premiere Properties after she’d been terminated six months ago for bogus reasons. Her boss, Vince Galway, had told her some b.s. about cutting back on promotions, but the company spent money hand over fist to promote its luxury resorts. Still, she had to admit she was curious. “What makes you think that?”

“Nothing concrete.” Sarah sighed, a world of stress in one eloquent huff of air over the mouthpiece. “But there’s been a guy asking questions this week. He’s been discreet enough, saying he’s part of some forensic accounting team that Vince hired to double-check the books, but I think something’s up.”

For the first time in six months, Marnie almost felt lucky to have lost the job she loved at Premiere. Her business was taking off, and she didn’t have any worries about corporate scams or office politics.

“I’ll keep an ear out since I still do business with a lot of Premiere’s hotels.” In fact, Marnie had sent more than one client to the properties she used to promote. Although she didn’t think it had been fair that she’d been axed with no warning, she still recognized Premiere ran first-class resorts.

“Thanks, Marnie. I’d appreciate any word.”

Disconnecting the call, Marnie cranked the tunes back up, ready to get back into celebrating her successes. She’d dealt with enough crap these past six months to know that she damn well needed to toast the good stuff when it came along since life didn’t give you happy days like this all that often.

Standing in front of the custom-made bookcase that displayed miniature buildings, crafts and other souvenirs from destinations all over the world, she placed her palms where Jake Brennan’s broad hands had once been and ran her fingertips over a smooth edge. He’d done a beautiful job on the piece and he’d done it for a song, all things considered. She’d really needed that financial break since she’d been trying to get the doors open for her business on a budget.

Between the memories of the man, the champagne and the swish of silk around her bare legs, she experienced a rush of longing. Jake had been big-time attractive. Too bad she hadn’t been in a better place emotionally when they’d met or she might have invited him to stick around after the job was done. Maybe asked him out for a drink.

Or—in her wilder fantasies—simply peeled off all her clothes and plastered herself to that gorgeous body of his.

Walking her fingers across a shelf, Marnie blew a kiss to a model of the Egyptian sphinx on one side of the case and winked at a tiny replica of Michelangelo’s David. She had to freshen her flirting skills sometime, didn’t she? One day, she’d get back out in the dating world again.

Retrieving her champagne glass, she knocked over an iron Statue of Liberty nearby. As she moved to straighten it, she noticed a smear on the back of the case—a dark spot that didn’t belong. Unwilling to suffer a smudge in an otherwise perfect display, she reached past the travel guides and mementos meant to entice her clients.

But the spot felt smooth as glass—different than the rest of the wooden cabinet.

“That’s odd.” Shoving aside a few more famous buildings for a better look, Marnie peered into a small circle of smoky glass.

Her champagne flute fell from her fingers and shattered on the floor. The electric thrill pulsing through her over her good payday fizzled to nothing, even though the bass from an old club tune still pumped through the speakers.

Because at the center of that smoky glass rested a tiny camera lens. Someone had been watching her.

And given the way the gadgetry had been so perfectly incorporated into her custom-built cabinet, she only had one guess as to who that might be. After what she’d gone through with her ex-boyfriend, the next guy who crossed her would be wise to run for cover.

And right now, it looked like that man was none other than her sexy contractor.

Jake Brennan.

MUSIC PULSED FROM INSIDE the Lose Yourself storefront facade until it sounded more like a raucous bar than a ritzy travel agency specializing in exotic adventures. If Jake Brennan hadn’t known Marnie so well, he might have turned around and come back another day, thinking she had company.

But weeks’ worth of video surveillance on her fledgling business had not only taken her off his primary suspect list in a major white-collar crime. It had also taught Jake that Marnie liked to dance. And damn, but her shimmy-shake routine while stripping off her jacket and blouse hadn’t disappointed.

He would have closed his eyes if she’d ditched more than that. Honestly, he would have. But he’d wanted to be sure she was alone before he went to the door. Could he help it if she had a habit of peeling off work clothes in favor of a silk lounging robe the second she shut her door for the day?

Rapping on the door through the hole in the middle of a fat green holiday wreath, he grinned at the memory of old surveillance footage and the brief, two-minute snippet he’d allowed himself back in the car—just enough to see her whip off the clothes and grab the champagne. He’d made sure to only point the cameras toward her work space for legal reasons, even though she’d had plans to live in the back offices. That had eased his conscience somewhat since he hated the idea of spying on anyone who was innocent—especially in their most private moments. But at the time he’d installed the camera he now sought to remove, Jake had very good reason to think she was anything but innocent.

Inside Lose Yourself, the volume of the music decreased. The quiet of the business district on a Friday night surrounded him and he couldn’t help a rush of anticipation at seeing Marnie now that he’d all but cleared her.

“Who is it?” came her voice, sweetly familiar to him after scanning hours of video for evidence in his case.

Yes, he’d gotten to know Marnie Wainwright so damn well that just hearing her voice had him salivating like Pavlov’s dog. And that happened even though he’d forced himself to shut off the video feed on those few occasions where she’d started to strip off a little more than a stranger had the right to see.

“It’s Jake Brennan,” he called through the door. “I did some work on your office a couple of months ago and I think I might have left one of my tools behind.”

He knew she’d remember him from his brief stint working there. He’d given her a steal on his labor, mostly because his work was entirely self-serving.

Plus, she’d eyeballed him enough that day to make him think she hadn’t been oblivious to his presence in her office. If it hadn’t been for his suspicions of her back then, he would have asked her out.

Now that he was going to retrieve the surveillance equipment and declare this part of his case finished, Jake looked forward to seeing her again without his work as a barrier.

Inside, he could hear her slide a dead bolt and flip one other lock open. He could picture it perfectly since he knew the inside of that office like the back of his hand from watching Marnie run her business day in and day out. Other than the brief view he’d allowed himself in the car, however, he hadn’t reviewed any tapes in a while. Not since his case had led him in another direction.

Slowly, the door creaked open.

A whisper of black silk fluttered through the crack. She’d left the final latch on the door—a long hook like the kind used on hotel rooms—so she could see into the street without leaving herself vulnerable.

Recognizing the black silk as the calf-length, sexy number she liked to wear around the place before bed, he swallowed hard, knowing damn well she wasn’t wearing much else.

“Sorry to bother you so late—”

The expression on her face froze him in his shoes. Pursed lips, a clamped-tight jaw and gray eyes staring daggers at him all suggested he’d interrupted something. Had she been arguing with someone on the phone? Protective instincts flared to life.

“Is everything okay in there?” He stepped closer, trying to look past her into the familiar office interior that he’d seen often enough on his surveillance tapes. Framed prints of the Egyptian pyramids hung next to a map of London highlighting historic pubs.

“Everything is fine.” She spoke the words oddly, like a marionette where the mouth’s movement didn’t quite match up with the sounds. “Especially now that you’re here.”

“I don’t get it.” He didn’t like the brittle set of her shoulders or the flushed color in her cheeks. Was she not feeling well?

Before he could ask, she raised a silver-tipped dart that he remembered well from an earlier meeting.

“You’re just in time for target practice while we wait for the cops to arrive.”


His confusion only lasted until she arced back her arm and let the missile fly, aiming for his eye.

Oh, shit.

Belatedly, he realized her assortment of symptoms pointed to stone-cold fury. All directed at him.

Luckily she was so angry, that her release point was late and the dart clattered harmlessly to the concrete pavement at his feet.

“How could you?” she yelled through the narrow opening. Disappearing for a moment, she returned with a whole handful of darts. “You pervert!”

The darts started flying in earnest now and he took cover against the door.

Ace detective work told him she’d found his hidden camera.

“Marnie?” He tried leaning into her line of sight between rounds of incoming fire. “Did you really call the cops?”

That was going to be a nightmare. He had as many enemies on the force as he had friends. With his luck, one of the former would answer the call and gladly lock his ass up for the night until he could straighten away the paperwork.

“Of course.” Another dart.

He ducked.

“You can wait with me while the local police bring you a pair of handcuffs and an orange jumpsuit.” A painted pink stone that he happened to know was her paperweight came hurtling through the opening now, joining the darts on the pavement.

He heard the stomp of furious footsteps away from the door. Leaning into the vacated space, he used the time to make his case.

“Marnie, wait.” He pulled out his wallet and tossed it inside her storefront where it skidded across the gray commercial carpet and thudded against her ankle. “There’s my ID. I’m a licensed private investigator.”

She slowed her battle with the buttons on the desk phone. Apparently, she’d been making more calls. To a friend or neighbor? Backup to be sure he stuck around long enough for his own arrest?

“If that’s true, that sounds only marginally less smarmy than being a complete and total perv.” She cradled the phone against her shoulder and started punching buttons again, this time with slow deliberation.

“Premiere Properties didn’t terminate you because they couldn’t fund your department. They terminated you because of a major embezzlement scam that originated in your sector of the company. You were a prime suspect.”

She shook her head. Confused. Shocked. He’d seen that expression on people’s faces when he’d worked in homicide and he’d had to face grieving family members to question them. Hell, he still saw that expression as a P.I. when a wife learned her husband had been cheating. He didn’t take jobs like that often, but sometimes he could be persuaded. Having been on the clueless end of an unfaithful relationship made him empathize.

Marnie’s face mirrored that kind of disillusionment now.

“Who are you?” She seemed to see him for the first time that night, her brows furrowed in concentration as if she could guess his motives if she stared hard enough.

Relieved, he pointed to her feet.

“My ID is right there. Just hang up the phone long enough to let me talk to you.”

With a jerky nod, she replaced the receiver and retrieved his wallet. Seeing his Florida private investigator’s license inside, she met his gaze again.

“I didn’t really call the cops yet. I only just found that camera a minute before you arrived.”

Thank God. He didn’t want to deal with that drama tonight.

“I’m going to collect the darts out here,” he told her, scooping up the littered sidewalk. “If you want to meet me somewhere you’ll feel safe, we can talk.”

By the time he straightened, she was already back at the partially opened door. The stiff set to her shoulders had vanished.

Her caramel-colored hair slid loose from a messy twist on one side, the freed strands grazing her shoulder where her satin robe drooped enough to show she wore a black cotton tank top underneath it. Her gray eyes locked on his, searching his face for answers.

“I don’t want to go anywhere. Not when my thoughts are so scattered and my head is spinning like this.” Over her shoulder, he could see the mess in her office, it looked as if she’d cleared everything off the display case he’d built, probably searching for other cameras. “I’m suddenly very, very tired.”

Without warning, she closed the door in his face and he thought she’d ended the conversation. Then, he heard the safety latch unhook and she reopened the door, silently inviting him inside.

“Are you sure you’re okay with this?” He didn’t like the idea of setting foot in there if she thought for a second he could still be some random lecher taking video for fun.

She nodded. “A real perv would have put the camera in the bedroom or over the shower, not pointing at where I do business. Besides, a colleague from Premiere called tonight and mentioned something about rumors of a financial loss. I know you’re not making it up about possible embezzlement. Are you the guy Vince hired to ask discreet questions around the office?”

He nodded.

“Then you might as well come in.” Her words lacked the red-hot fury of the flying darts, but there was a new level of iciness that didn’t feel like a big improvement.

Accepting the grudging invitation, he stepped inside the storefront and closed the door behind him.

“I’ll just set these down.” He piled the darts on her desk, an elegant antique piece out of place with the rest of the utilitarian furniture. Kind of like her. Her silk bathrobe probably cost as much as the old beater she drove to work lately.

Marnie Wainwright had fallen on some hard times, but he admired her grit in not letting them get the best of her.

“I refuse to apologize for the darts.” She produced an open bottle of champagne along with two glasses, then dropped onto the love seat in her office’s waiting area. “Even if you were conducting an investigation, a hidden camera is still a disturbing way to go about obtaining information.”

But legal for an investigation of this magnitude, as long as the device wasn’t inside her private residence. He took the chair at a right angle to her, observing the way she recovered herself. Her fingers shook with the leftover churning of emotions as she handed him a glass of bubbly. He hated that his investigation had freaked her out. Hated that she’d found the damn camera in the first place. He’d been banking on hitting on her, not having her glare at him as if he were evil incarnate.

“Granted. But it was also the fastest way of proving your innocence. If my client had gone to the cops, you could have been stuck trying to clear your name from inside a cell, since the evidence they had on you was pretty damning.” He set the glass she’d given him on the coffee table.

She seemed to think that one over as she poured her own glass and held the cool drink against her forehead like a compress.

“Why didn’t they go the police?” she asked softly, her hands shaking just a little as she lowered the flute and took a sip.

He tried not to envy the glass for its chance to press against her lips. She was dealing with a crisis, after all. But he’d been battling an attraction to this woman ever since the week he’d built the custom-made cabinet to house his spy equipment. He couldn’t help subtly ogle a bit now that he was finally free to act on that attraction. Her dark robe slipped away from her calf enough to reveal the delineation of the long, lean muscle in her leg. A gold toe ring winked from her bare foot, a small row of pearls catching the light as she shifted.

Jake had a sudden vision of that long, bare leg in his hands, his body planted between her thighs. And wouldn’t that fantasy be helpful in explaining why he’d been spying on her? Cursing the wayward thoughts, he forced himself to talk about the case.

“The CEO of Premiere doesn’t trust the local police ever since they misplaced key evidence that would have convicted some crooks involved in his last company.”

The case still pissed off Jake, too, even though it had been two years ago.

“Brennan. You were the investigator on that crime.” She snapped her fingers in recognition. “I thought your name sounded familiar when we met. I did a little research on it because I worked for Premiere when they hired Vincent Galway to take over as CEO.”

Great. Jake didn’t want to be associated with an investigation that screamed police corruption. He’d left the force because a couple of the cops appeared to be flunkies for some bigwigs who didn’t want that particular corporate fraud case prosecuted. To keep his eyes off Marnie’s legs, he diverted his attention to a nearby painting of the Anasazi cliff dwellings, decorated for the holidays with a few balsam sprigs on the top of the frame.

“I quit when the system screwed over Vince. He talked to the cops and the Feds to try to throw some light on dirty dealings in his last company, and he was the one with mud on his face after the evidence was misplaced.” Jake swiped the champagne glass off the table. “But I know Vince from way back. He served in Vietnam with my dad. Because Vince trusts me, he hired my services to help him wade through the embezzlement scandal that could have hurt his company if news about it leaked.”

Marnie swirled her glass and watched the bubbles chase each other.

“So you got onto the work crew when I had the office overhauled and you installed a camera.” Her bathrobe slipped off her knee, unveiling bare skin for as far as the wandering eye could see up her leg.

A slice of creamy thigh proved too much competition for the picture of the damn cliff dwellings. His gaze tracked up her skin as he calculated how quickly he could have her naked…

“Yes.” His throat went dry. “It was a fast way to either clear you or confirm your guilt, and it’s a tool the cops rarely use because—”

“—because it’s highly unethical and borderline illegal?”

“Because it takes a lot of reviews to obtain permission for it.” He’d be damned if he’d let her call his honor into question. “Technology is saving a lot of manpower hours at your local cop shop, so I can guarantee you it’s not illegal when there is just cause—for me, or for them.”

“But I’ve been cleared of any wrongdoing, thanks to having my life put under a microscope?”

“You’re no longer a prime suspect.” He watched her retuck the bathrobe around her legs, possibly feeling the heat of his stare despite his best effort to rein himself in. “In fact, I was hoping to remove the equipment tonight.”

Right before he hit on her. He planned to get very close to Marnie Wainwright in the near future. Now? Who knew how long it would take for him to rebuild some trust?

“You thought you’d just saunter in here tonight after I hadn’t seen you in two months?” The precariously lopsided twist in her hair finally gave up the ghost, spilling caramel-colored strands and spitting out a pencil that had been holding it all together.

“I figured you wouldn’t want to have that equipment running any longer than necessary,” he told her reasonably as he retrieved the fallen pencil and placed it on the coffee table.

“Of course not, but since I didn’t know I’d been under surveillance for the past two months, might I inquire why you thought I’d even let you in?”

Animal attraction.

But he knew better than to say as much.

“I figured I’d look into a fantasy escape.” Heavy on the fantasy. God knew, she’d been occupying enough of his lately.

The woman had compromised his investigation every time she sashayed past that surveillance camera, her confident feminine strut one hell of a distraction.

“At this hour?” Her gaze narrowed. Suspicion mounted.

And with damn good reason.

He hadn’t even come close to laying his cards on the table with her yet.

“I work late.” He shrugged, not sure what else to offer in his defense. “Do you want me to take the equipment now?”

“No.” She leaned forward on the love seat, invading his personal space in a way that would have been damn pleasant if she hadn’t fixed him with a stony glare. “I know how to take a sledgehammer to the cabinet, but thanks anyway. Right now, I’m more interested in two things.”

“Shoot.” He breathed in the warm, spicy scent of an exotic perfume he wouldn’t have noticed if they hadn’t been this close.

“First, you didn’t say I was cleared of suspicion. You carefully distinguished that I’m no longer a prime suspect. Care to explain what that means?”

Her silk-covered knee was only inches from his. One bare foot sat so close to his loafers that he’d have to be careful of her toes if he stood. The nails had been manicured with glittery white polish except for the big toe on each foot, which featured a carefully painted holly berry leaf.

Lifting his gaze to meet hers, he wondered if he was the only one fantasizing about peeling off her robe.

“It means that there’s an outside chance you could still be a conspirator, but we don’t think that’s likely and we are one hundred percent sure you are not the primary force behind the embezzlement.”

“How reassuring.” She tucked a strand of hair behind one ear, frowning as she seemed to consider the implications of that.

“You said you were interested in two things?” He saw the dartboard behind the love seat no longer contained a picture of her ex-boyfriend, something he hadn’t known from the video feeds since his camera didn’t give him enough of a wide angle on the room.

Good for her for not caring anymore. Jake’s investigations had dug up more than a little dirt on him.

“Right.” She fixed him with her gaze. “I’d also like to know just how much of me you’ve seen with that camera lens of yours.”


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