Wicked and Dangerouspart #7. 5 of Wicked Lovers Series by Shayla Black / Romance & Love
AS DECKER MCCONNELL STRODE INTO THE LOUD BAR AT HALF past nine on a Saturday night, the woman’s picture burned a hole in the pocket of his black shirt. In the past six hours, he’d stared at it a hundred times. Rachel Linden, age twenty-nine. Divorced. Graduate of UCLA, summa cum laude, with a degree in education. Recent transplant from sleepy Moss Beach on the Florida coast to Louisiana. Currently employed by the Lafayette Parish school system as an elementary English teacher. Those facts might define the brunette whose dark eyes sparkled from a seemingly average oval face, but that didn’t explain why just looking at her photo made him hard as hell.
“You sure this Rachel woman is going to be here?” his boss, Xander Santiago, asked, propped up against the quiet corner of the bar on his left.
“Unless she bails on her own birthday party, yep. I’ve got to find her before this situation goes south. ”
Decker sighed and surveyed the crowd through the club’s flashing lights. People were getting their drink on and looking around for a nightly hookup. From what he could gather, Rachel was only here because the new neighbors and coworkers who had become her friends insisted that she celebrate her big day. Though the club was packed more tightly than meat behind cellophane, he hoped he’d spot her soon. Every minute that slid by was another minute that bad shit could happen.
And he wasn’t about to let it. He was a protector by nature. If the cops weren’t going to help, then he guessed it had become his job. For whatever reason—boredom, maybe?—he felt the urge to make sure she stayed safe.
Rachel’s picture suggested that she possessed a shy, good-girl quality. Not usually the kind of female he gravitated to. That meant he’d probably find her in a corner somewhere, trying to blend into the wall. He’d have to fish around for some way to set her at ease before he glued himself to her side long enough to untangle this clusterfuck he’d unwittingly stepped in. As far as he was concerned, naked was the best way to keep her from harm’s way because he wasn’t remotely interested in being her big brother. Everything he’d been able to dig up indicated that since becoming single again, she’d lived like a nun. That was really fucking unfair to the male species. The idea of her peeling off a button-down shirt and “work-appropriate” skirt to reveal her soft curves, scantily clad in lingerie, made his cock stand up and salute.
Get your mind out of the gutter and back on business.
Decker hated that voice in his head. The gutter was way more fun.
“Are you sure about this?” Xander’s brother, Javier, asked beside him.
He turned to the guy with a shrug. “No, but I don’t know what my more appealing options are. Believe me, if I hadn’t run into a colossal pile of shit this afternoon looking for a cold beer and an easy lay, I wouldn’t be here now, searching for a woman I’ve never met. ”
“And you tried the police?” Xander asked.
“Useless. ” Decker rolled his eyes. “How much evidence should I need to prove another man’s intent to commit a crime? The fuckers could at least look into it. ”
But the lazy bastards of the Lafayette Police Department hadn’t listened to a word he’d said while LSU played football. On the other hand, he probably shouldn’t send a starched uniform fresh out of the backwoods police academy to do a job the CIA had trained him once upon a time to do far better.
“So you think this plan will work?” Javier asked.
“You got a better one?” He shoved Rachel’s picture under the other man’s nose. “Look at her. She’s a school teacher. She looks sweet, for fuck’s sake. I can’t stand here with my thumb up my ass and let this nut job put a hole in her head. ”
Studying the picture, Javier sipped his tonic water. After a couple of years of supposedly being cozier with vodka than sanity, sobriety now suited him. “Of course not. I’m just saying that if she’s recently divorced, she might not appreciate you romancing her for ulterior motives. ”
“What my brother means is that in a few short months of marriage to London, we’ve learned how quickly our lovely bride can hand us our balls when we’ve screwed up. ” Xander smiled. “He’s thinking that you’d probably like to keep yours attached to your body. ”
“Exactly. ” Javier grinned.
“I can’t tell her the truth,” Decker argued. “Why would she believe a total stranger trying to convince her that someone’s put a price on her head? Besides the twenty-five grand and the phone number this guy gave me, all I’ve got is her picture and some basic information I could have pulled off the Internet. None of that proves anything. If she actually does believe me, I’d probably scare the hell out of her. ” He tossed his hands up. “This asshole gave me a few days to finish the job. I’ll just make the problem go away by then. Even if Rachel isn’t thrilled with my method, she’ll be alive. ”
He peered deeper into the club, ignoring the come-ons of a few girls who didn’t look old enough to even be here, wearing skirts so short he could almost tell if the carpet matched the drapes. Finally, the crowd parted, and he spotted his target near the wall, just as he’d predicted. Rachel. White wine in hand. Long hair like a chocolate waterfall. Pretty profile. Thick lashes. Button nose. Full lips that would look perfect wrapped around his cock.
Damn it, he wanted to get her naked. What a shame that wasn’t his first priority with her, but he hoped he could find a way to make it a close second.
She smiled as a tall, African-American woman beside her whispered in her ear. Then suddenly, Rachel whipped her gaze around and met his stare. Her little, rosy mouth opened with a gasp. Even through the smoke and over the racket of the bad country singer on the stage across the room, he could all but hear the sound. Yeah, he felt the electric zing, too. Up his spine and clear down to his toes, it engorged his cock so completely, he wanted to rip off that god-awful sensible blouse she wore, tear away her panties, and fuck her breathless in the next thirty seconds. Normally, he would, but this situation meant he had to use the head up north—at least a little. And didn’t that just piss him off.
How fucking ironic that he couldn’t pick her up just for the fun of it. No, he had to get close to keep her alive. Honestly, Decker didn’t like lying to her either. The hell of it was he couldn’t think of another way to protect the woman he’d been hired to kill.
• • •
RACHEL LINDEN FIXED her gaze across the room at the man staring her way, standing between the two suits. Her jaw dropped before she forcibly snapped it shut. Holy cow! Between the alcohol and the press of bodies, she was overheated. But he made her shiver.
Military-short black hair capped off his angled face, covered by a healthy two days’ growth of beard. His eyes remained hidden behind a pair of aviators that rested on top of chiseled cheekbones. His black shirt nearly busted at the shoulder seams. Under the short sleeves, his biceps bulged. The soft cotton clung to every valley and ridge of his pectorals and abdominals.
He was a man with a capital M, the sort who made a woman swallow her tongue. The kind her mother had warned her about. The type who’d starred in her fantasies. And the one she wanted sliding against her skin-to-skin now. Dark and bad, yes . . . but those big hands and muscled forearms alone said he’d be oh so good.
Just looking at him, Rachel had trouble breathing. Every inch of him was hard. If she’d had a fantasy in the flesh, he’d be it.
A tattoo—Asian writing maybe—drifted down his veined forearm. Dog tags hung from his neck. The little smile curling his lips was somewhere between an invitation and a challenge. And he was staring directly at her.
The bottom fell out of her stomach. Normally, she’d shy away from such a man. Aaron, the fifth grade social studies teacher, had asked her out a few weeks ago. He was polite and had kind brown eyes. He’d mentioned a local theater production that sounded interesting. That was her speed. This man in front of her . . .
“He looks good enough to eat. And to lick, slurp, suck . . . Damn, girl!” Shonda, one of the art teachers, murmured in her ear.
If you’re going to dive into a meal after starving, why not start with the juiciest one you can find?
She glanced at Shonda’s dark skin gleaming under the dim house lights and faintly flashing colored strobes. “Is it my imagination or is he staring at me?”
“Right at you, like he thinks you’re a tasty snack. Go on now. Talk to him. ”
And say what? Hi, I haven’t had sex since I divorced my ex over a year ago, and I’ve never had it as down and dirty and sweaty as I’ll bet you could give it to me.
“Maybe he thinks I work here. ”
Shonda snorted. “Maybe you’re insane. Jarelle is an awesome fiancé with enough freak in bed to keep me smiling, but hell . . . If I were single, I’d be all over that guy like paste on wallpaper. ”
Rachel laughed. Leave it to Shonda to tell it like it was. And to be right. Rachel had to admit that she’d never know what could be if she didn’t try to talk to Mr. Tall, Dark, and Hot.
She turned back toward him, a welcoming smile in place. But he was already leaving behind his two friends, wearing insanely expensive suits, and walking her way. No, “walking” was the wrong word. “Approaching” was too weak. “Looming” maybe? Still not right. “Prowling,” yes. “Stalking” sounded even more like it.
He tore off his sunglasses to reveal a stark pair of blue eyes, unabashedly roaming over her body with a heat that made her swallow. He kept coming at her, invading her personal space without compunction. Reflexively, she retreated. He smiled, then did it again and again—until her back hit the wall.
“Hi, beautiful. ”
Mercy, the low rumble of his voice was sexy. Her knees quaked.
“Hi. ” She breathed the word as if she couldn’t quite catch her breath.
He looked her up and down, obviously scoping her out. “Hmm, you with all those curves, and me here with no breaks . . . Damn!”
OMG, was that some sort of pick-up line?
“Um . . . ”
If he’d intended to flatter her, he was headed in the wrong direction. She’d write him off, except . . . The black skirt Shonda had insisted she wear tonight had seemed stupidly tight—until she saw the appreciation in his gaze. That and his line, no matter how terrible, made her think that, maybe, he actually found her sexy. And she wasn’t interested in him for his conversational skills.
“Too much, huh?” he asked with a frown. “How about, there must be something wrong with my eyes because I can’t take them off you. ”
He was trying to pick her up—badly—but out of a bar full of pretty girls, he’d zeroed in on her. Would wonders never cease?
Maybe if she stopped focusing on her ex-husband’s litany of critical comments and started to believe that some men might like her as she was, curves and all, it wouldn’t seem so weird.
“Definitely too much. ” She gave him a smile that she hoped looked sophisticated and wry, rather than giggly and excited.
“Oh, you like subtle. I got it. ” He leaned closer and leered. “Hey, baby, you come here often?”
The most obvious pick-up line ever, and when he delivered it with a grin, she laughed. If this was his idea of starting a conversation, she wasn’t sure whether she should be annoyed or charmed against her will. But she was definitely leaning toward the latter.
“Never. This is my first time,” she admitted. “You?”
“Same. I was thinking that I hated places like this until I saw you. You’re better than a broom because you swept me off my feet. ”
Rachel couldn’t help but laugh. “Right . . . ”
“No lie, beautiful. ” He winked at her. “Tell me, what’s your sign?”
Yield. If she were holding a sign, that’s probably what it would say because that’s kind of what she wanted to do for him. Oh, but she guessed that wasn’t what he meant.
“Libra,” she said finally. “Today is my birthday. And I’ll only keep talking to you if you stop with the pick-up lines. ”
“Happy birthday! You mean I can’t ask you for a Band-Aid?”
She frowned. How had they gone from pick-up lines to Band-Aids? “I’m sorry?”
“I need one because I scraped my knees falling for you. ”
Rachel tossed her hands up, shaking her head, and giggled. “Does this sort of thing usually work for you?”
He shrugged. “Don’t know. I never tried. You wanna tell me come morning?”
“My mama has a word for men like you. ‘Incorrigible. ’”
Mock horror crossed his face. “I’ve given you the impression that I’m a bad boy with no manners. Okay, maybe that’s not too far off. How about we start over? Decker. ”
He held out his hand for a friendly shake, and she hesitated only an instant before she slipped hers inside. A quick sizzle between them nearly made her shiver. It traveled up her arm and through her body as his hand—warm, calloused, and huge—engulfed hers. Dark hair dusted his forearms. Veins stood out. Decker was obviously strong, but he touched her gently. When he smiled, the light inside reached his eyes.