The departure from her former life had been a choice.
Her return was not.
Damn that man.
Maggie McCleary hadn’t spoken to her father in five years, after turning her back on him and rejecting the life he represented. Being dragged back into his world by force really pissed her off.
She needed to break in, steal the gem, and get the hell out. After the trade took place, she could return to her safe, normal life.
Easing behind a tall maple tree, she paused to listen. Only the leaves rustling above her head and the muffled echo of branches clacking together softly in the still night air. Crisp scents of autumn mixed with the unmistakable perfume of darkness; the earthy odors were an exhilarating combination. In the distance, thunder rumbled across the sky. A storm was the perfect cover.
Her muscles stretched taut, ready for action. Rock-hard nipples rubbed beneath her tight, black leather vest. Each step became a torturous jolt of pleasure. Blood pumped hotly through her veins, swiftly centering on the sweet spot between her legs until the ache became unbearable.
The bitter-sweet taste of blood broke through the thick, dreamlike haze, and she pressed her tongue against the self-inflicted bite on her lip.
Sneaking around and close calls excited her like nothing else ever could, but tonight she needed a clear head.
As she crept closer, her footsteps fell silently on the damp grass. The unlit house loomed up out of the darkness, and exhilaration surged through her muscles like wildfire. She stepped deeper into the blackness. Its large shadow swallowed her small form, hopefully rendering her undetectable to any curious eyes.
Reaching a window at the darkest corner of the house, she paused to take a breath. A sense of total control sank down to the core of her being and spiraled outward, creating a dazzling veil of invincibility.
It shouldn’t feel this good to her, the one part she loved most about being a thief. The sole aspect she missed in her risk-free, predictable life.
With a respectable job in marketing and her secure choices in men, the outline of the years ahead looked suddenly very bleak and boring against this familiar backdrop of excitement.
She shook her head. The long, dark ponytail brushed against her cheek and brought her back to reality. She didn’t have time to contemplate her life right now. She had a job to do.
Unsnapping the small black case that rested comfortably on her hip, she opened it with a sense of reverence: Her tools. Each one custom-made for her hands. Gleaming silver against black velvet, they lined up in perfect arrangement, each neatly tucked into its individual slot.
Choosing the exact one for the job was like picking a single dessert from a plate of tempting choices, all exquisite in their own right, but only one the perfect compliment to the evening.
With a quick snip, the thin black wire was severed, the security system rendered useless. A prickle of unease brushed electric currents over her sensitive skin, and the fine hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. The sloppy safety measures bothered her professional instincts. Who would leave a gem worth twelve-and-a-half million dollars unguarded like this?
Panic reared up, drenching her in ice-cold chills and causing her chest to tighten with pain. Suddenly, her throat constricted, and she couldn’t breathe. Her fingernails dug into cool wood shingles, and she had to force her body to relax. This is no time for an anxiety attack. Come on, Maggie, get it together.
Nerves, that’s all it was. Several slow, deep breaths eased the initial distress. Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. Sam’s life depended on her abilities to remain composed, and failure meant deadly consequences. She had no other choice.
Stillness settled over her body, and her muscles unclenched grudgingly, until she gained control over her body once more. Years of training at the hands of a master burglar, her father, instilled this ability to detach. A highly valued skill in this trade and one she had thankfully remembered.
After reaching the back door, Maggie first tried turning the knob. Humiliation and ridicule remained fresh in her mind at picking a lock already open. Though it happened years ago, she’d made that mistake only once.
Nodding when the knob refused to move, she chose two small picks from her case and carefully inserted them into the keyhole. A Zen-like calm came over her, and she closed her eyes. The thin pieces of steel became one with her body as she slowly stroked the hard lock into releasing its hold with a soft click.
With her tools back in place, she turned the doorknob and quietly slipped inside, closing the door carefully behind her without a sound. A few silent steps through the kitchen brought her to the hallway she sought.
The kidnappers had provided a detailed layout of the house, the path and location of the safe clearly marked in red. Remembering the package, she shivered at the graphic repercussions for failure they had also included.
She approached the study door and swung it open on well-oiled hinges. With a furtive glance back down the hallway, she slipped inside, shutting herself in total darkness. Again, a sense of unease crawled across her skin, raising the fine hairs along her arms. Pausing, she cocked her head and listened for any indication she wasn’t alone.
A sudden flash of lightning lit up the room, and, satisfied, she sped to the large desk. Her hands made contact with the smooth wood. She let it guide her along the edge, careful to avoid any noise that would cause notice.
The safe should be right behind the painting over the fireplace. Standing in the inky blackness, she lifted her hands until they brushed the edge of the frame.
Another powerful burst of lightning illuminated the grotesque image of a dog directly in front of her, teeth bared as if grinning. A scream bubbled up in the back of her throat. The creature’s disproportionate eyes seemed almost alive, witnessing her late-night crime. She took a hasty step back, electric goose bumps dancing over her skin.
It’s only a painting. Relax, Maggie. Remember, control.
Swallowing the vile taste of fear once more, she lifted the hideous work of art off the wall. When she bit down on the small mag light, an unpleasant metallic taste covered the tip of her tongue. Her teeth clenched tightly to keep the light steady and focus the narrow beam of light on the wall. Her brows dipped sharply at the archaic, ancient safe.
That damned sensation teased across her skin once again. Turning slowly with the tiny light shining from her mouth, she peered into the blackness. Did that patch of darkness just move? Her body tensed, poised for flight, when shadows from the tree branches outside the window shivered again. She chuckled, returning to the job at hand.
A miniature stethoscope released from her belt with a gentle tug. She slipped the tiny rubber nubs into her ears and laid the flat surface next to the dial.
An audible click rewarded her slow, steady turning. One down. Back the opposite way, not too fast, click. This was it, the last turn, almost there. Click.
Her body sagged, tension-filled muscles relaxing their grip and pent-up breath escaping with a soft sigh.
Gripping the handle firmly, she eased it down and gave a quick tug. The door swung open silently. Caught in the flashlight beam, perfectly centered in the dark hole, sat a small black box. Draping the stethoscope around her neck, she reached inside, her hands trembling despite her success.
This was it, the key to her father’s freedom. She tipped the lid carefully back on its tiny hinges, and the room exploded in a sparkling display of dancing lights, reflections off hundreds of facets of the brilliantly cut ruby, 19.25 carats of pure perfection. Breathtaking.
Her eyes closed, and a deep inhale filled her lungs with the sweet breath of conquest. She had done it.
Arms reached out of the darkness and grabbed her from behind. She screamed, and the tiny ray of light fell to the floor, rolling beneath the desk. Maggie erupted in a fury of movement, struggling against the unknown captor until a well-aimed kick made satisfying contact with bone. Only a grunt indicated she had landed the blow. The grip hadn’t loosened a fraction.
“Stop,” a masculine voice commanded. “Settle down. You aren’t going anywhere.”
Maggie froze at the familiar voice. Her heart stopped beating.
No, it couldn’t be.
“That’s better.” His hot breath washed against her ear, and uncontrollable flames licked along her spine. Oh God, it was him.
Her ragged breathing cut through the silence.
He forced her forward, his body electrifying against her back, and laid her across the large desk. He yanked her arms painfully behind her back, and the cold grip of handcuffs surrounded her wrists, snapping into place.
“Now that you can’t go anywhere, let’s talk.” He jerked her roughly to her feet, only to release her immediately and walk across the room.
She blinked against the sudden intrusion of brilliant white light, blinding after the darkness.
She heard his abrupt intake of breath. “Christ. Maggie?”
His face came into focus, and the shock and disbelief in his eyes made her shoulders sag. “Hello, Trevor.”
He quickly recovered, his gaze narrowing on her.
“Damn it. What the hell are you doing here?” His voice turned harsh, accusing. “I thought you were done with this.”
Her mouth opened and closed, but no explanation came. She knew how the current situation looked, and rather than incriminate herself, chose instead to remain mute.
“Or are you?”
A few long strides carried him across the room in a flash. He gripped her chin between his fingers, forcing her to meet his gaze.
“Are you?” he demanded.
The scathing speech she had been rehearsing for five long years deserted her without a backwards glance. He was here, her Trevor.
God, even angry he was still incredibly handsome, maybe even more so. The years had been good to him. His dark hair now curled around his ears a little longer than she remembered. A well-groomed goatee gave him that reckless, bad-boy look she’d always found impossible to resist.
Her gaze devoured the way his t-shirt clung to his upper body. His muscles strained against the tight cotton, accentuating the strength lurking beneath. He had taken good care of himself. Not an ounce of fat marred his lean frame.
An image of him naked flashed through her mind, and her face heated with sudden fire. She should be raging at him for his past betrayal, but her body remembered only the pleasure and rebelled against her mind. She nervously wet her dry lips, and her breath hitched when his gaze dropped to her mouth, watching the motion of her tongue.
“Maggie…” he said, the one word a warning. Though whether he was warning her or himself, she wasn’t sure. His eyes darkened until they were almost as black as the battle unmistakably waging within him. She prayed feverishly his common sense would lose out.
Her heart raced, threatening to burst from her chest. Though the warning in his voice had been clear, she refused to listen. Her gaze settled on his lips. His sensuous and wonderfully talented lips.
The fact that she had broken into someone’s home, attempted to steal a valuable gem, and been caught, instigated a fierce war against her need to touch him again … just once. The bite of steel at her wrists reminded her of the precariousness of her situation. Would he arrest her?
Trevor. Did she whisper the plea out loud? At this moment she couldn’t stop herself any more than she could cease breathing.
He cursed a second before his lips took possession of her mouth. She met his fervor with her own, desire exploding in her, their tongues battling for control. His fingers tightened in her hair and held her head immobile against his plundering kiss.
His groan became lost in the hot recesses of her mouth. “God, Maggie, you still taste so sweet.”
At his words, raw passion raged through her, the dizzying effects an aphrodisiac to her already heightened craving. She had never been able to deny him anything. Tonight was no exception. Even the years between them could not dim the desire he could evoke with just one kiss.
“What the hell are you doing here?” The sensuous vibrations of his questioning skimmed across her lips before soft kisses trailed down her neck, making it impossible to answer coherently. “Never mind. All I want to do right now, this minute, is kiss you. Touch you. God, I missed you, Maggie.”
His words ignited a fire in her blood, and desire gave the room a strange red glow. She needed him now. Consequences be damned. It had always been this way between them, this sizzling passion, sparking whenever they touched.
When his fingers brushed the valley between her breasts, her body jolted as if struck by lightning. The sensual sound of her zipper splitting open filled the quiet room, and his eyes caught fire when he spread it open, exposing the soft mounds to his hungry gaze. He cupped one breast gently and squeezed the firm globe, fingers pinching the hard peak and rolling it in a deliberate dance between pleasure and pain.
His free hand administered the same treatment to the other side, and her moans grew more intense, coming from somewhere deep inside her. When he covered one achingly rigid bud with his hot mouth, she cried out. Teeth nipped the hard flesh until she wanted to scream.
She hovered on the edge of insanity. Flames were consuming her body, and all that mattered was finding the sweet taste of release.
“Please,” she said, begging. When his fingers brushed the ravished peaks, her appeal changed to a breathless moan.
“Do you want me to stop, Maggie?” he murmured. “Tell me, and I will. God knows I don’t want to, but I will.”
“I want you to keep touching me, please.” Her hoarse plea sounded like a shout in the quiet room.
Moving her body restlessly, she strained to push her aching peaks closer to the source of pleasure. His mouth swiftly closed over the hard bud for a second time, and his fingers found the unattended mate, twisting and nipping and biting, until she again sobbed with need.
At the height of pleasure, he pulled away once more. She cried out, and he watched her intently. He had always loved to see her perched on the edge like this, her body strung tight with anticipation, the unbearable need for his touch testing her restraint. How easy for them to fall back into such familiar roles.
His fingers traced down across her midsection and dipped into her navel before running along the band of her pants. At his touch, her muscles contracted.
“What am I going to do with you, Maggie mine?” The husky endearment slipped out, seemingly without thought. “I really should arrest your sweet ass.”
He pulled down on the zipper resting at her hip, slowly lowering it, inch by inch, the tight leather splitting open to reveal her creamy skin. His hands seared red hot, sliding under the fabric and baring her heated flesh to the cool air. He knelt and tugged the pants off over her boots, tossing them aside.
“My God.” His hands skimmed up the back of her legs, over the roundness of her ass, and finally twined with her bound fingers. He pressed a light kiss against her belly button.
Her stomach jerked, and she moaned his name. His hot breath stirred the flesh between her legs, so close, yet not close enough to touch.
He leaned forward, his tongue stroking along the outside of her smoothly shaven skin, touching and teasing the silky folds but avoiding the one spot where she craved friction most. Her hips moved in an effort to force him where she needed, but he danced away each time she got close.
“Please, Trevor,” she panted. This torturous game he played threatened to drive her over the boundary of sanity. His fingers tightened over hers, immobilizing her even further, while his free hand brushed across her hip to slip between her legs. One finger penetrated her, and he moved it in and out slowly, the slickness proving she was eager and very ready.
Her hips moved in a deliberate rhythm, arching to meet his hand with each stroke. When a second finger joined the first, she threw back her head with a lust-filled moan. It had always been like this with Trevor, this intense and almost violent need to possess each other completely, turning into a powerful drug that was impossible to resist.
The musky scent of her desire grew stronger with each drive of his fingers, until the heady perfume made her head swim. His thumb brushed over her clit, and she bucked, her breathing coming shallow and fast. The urgency within built swiftly. She was almost there. So close. Her hips rocked faster, and his fingers delved even deeper, stroking the sweet spot inside and sending her spiraling to teeter on a precarious edge.
And then he stopped.
Her desperate, guttural wail filled the room.
He lifted her leg onto his shoulder, his light kisses covering the inside of her thigh. The intimate caress gentled her, as if she were a skittish foal.
She stood spread open before him, unable to shield herself and unwilling even to try. Her body trembled with suspense. The edge of the hard desk pressed into her flesh just under the swell of her ass. When his tongue made contact with her swollen clit, she was grateful for the support the wood provided. Her entire body jerked at the scalding touch. Her hips began rocking again in an anxious pace. She ground herself against his mouth, her cries growing louder, the pleasure escalating to exquisite proportions. When his teeth grazed the sensitive bud, she shrieked, and shockwaves cascaded over her, Arctic cold and lava hot all at once.
Every muscle labored against itself, and her nerves tensed. His mouth suckled harder, and her body coiled itself to explode.
Again he stopped.
She howled, her reality centering on this one second in time, on the need to come. Her engorged clit pulsed in agony, the ultra-sensitive bud aching for the touch that would send her to oblivion.
He laved her once, took her one tiny step nearer, and stopped. Her muscles clenched.
“Say it,” he said, his words commanding. His tongue ran over her in slow circles, keeping the fire burning just beyond her reach.
“Damn you!” Her body ached for release, but he withheld it. His tongue tortured her deliberately with long, slow licks against her swollen flesh.
“Say it, Maggie. Say it, and I’ll give you anything you want.” He pulled her clit into his mouth and sucked furiously, bringing her flying back to the brink, only to stop again.
“Damn you, Trevor. Please, I need you to make me come. I want you! Oh God, please!”
“What else, Maggie?”
She was in a frenzy, and nothing else mattered. “You’re the only one, Trevor, the only one who can make me feel like this. I need you, please. I’m yours!”
It was the truth. Her body was his.
His tongue delved between her legs, circling her clit, nipping, tasting, and biting to send her soaring back to the edge. This time though, he took her over the precipice.
When it hit, she screamed his name and thrashed against him. He rode her climax hard, plunged his tongue into her slick depths, and she sank deeper into the burning orgasm. Convulsing, violent pleasure flooded her body with painful intensity. Nothing existed in that moment except the sweet bliss that filled her.
As his tongue slowly licked the throbbing bud, Maggie sucked in great breaths of air. Electric aftershocks sizzled through her with each stroke. Her leg slid limply down his arm and rested unsteadily on the floor. His strong hand held her upright, and he unzipped his pants with haste. A quick tug lowered them enough.
Hard flesh sprang free, the weight of it hot against her stomach. His mouth tugged at her taut nipple before continuing upwards, along her jaw, to settle on her mouth. His kiss both demanding and possessive.
“Over the desk.” He breathed the words against her mouth, and stars exploded in a wave of new desire. She burned from the inside out and welcomed the sweet demise.
Turning, she bent, her damp skin pressed against the cool, solid wood. Her shoulders ached from the position, and steel restraints bit into her, feeding the gripping hunger to give him everything he demanded of her.
His hands held her hips firm, and he slid into her … one long, hard thrust. They groaned in unison. She tightened around him, helpless to fight the response his body exacted. He pulled out until just the tip rested inside her and then buried himself deep inside again.
The hard desk immobilized her body for his forceful invasion, freeing her to enjoy it. To savor each delicious, endless stroke.
With each thrust, his fingers slipped between her legs and squeezed her aching clit. Another climax burst over her, and she clenched tight around his cock, her body straining from the intensity.
His free hand tightened in her hair, and he yanked her head back, riding her climax until he froze above her, the intense spasms of her sex making him explode. His harsh shout of release echoed off the walls and across the room.
He pulled away and panted for air, his hands gentle and kneading the soft flesh of her ass. His eyes closed, his flesh still pulsing inside her.
“What am I going to do with you?” he asked again.
Despite herself, a throaty laugh escaped. “Isn’t it a little too late for that question?”
He slipped out, and the warmth of his lips touched the small of her back before the distinct rasping of a zipper reached her ears. With gentle hands, he pulled her upright. Keys jingled, and the cuffs dropped away. Pins and needles pricked her flesh, and she tried to rub away the stinging bites.
He turned her around to face him, tenderly brushing back a sweat-dampened lock of hair that fell over her eyes. Placing a sweet, lazy kiss on her lips, he sighed.
“Seriously, Maggie, what the hell are you doing here in the middle of a sting operation set up for your father?”
Confusion overrode her passion-clouded mind. “My father? He was kidnapped. I came here to steal the ruby in exchange for his life.”
She realized then that the small box had fallen from her hands. When had she dropped it? She refastened her vest and covertly glanced around the floor. It had to be here.
“We need to get out. You can’t be here if someone else shows up. I’m not ready to explain you to anyone just yet.” He handed her the pants he had tossed aside earlier.
“What about the owner of the house?” She cringed when her leather pants slid over the stickiness coating her inner thighs. Her favorite pair of pants was ruined. There had to be a bathroom nearby.
“A friend of the captain. We used this place as a trap. Shit. Twelve months of planning down the drain.” He locked her wrist in his tight grasp and all but dragged her along the hall.
“Can’t I freshen up?” She eyed a small half-bath as they passed by.
“No time. We need to leave. Now.”
“What about the ruby?” Her desperate cry stopped him in the middle of the kitchen.
“It doesn’t matter.”
“But, Trevor, I need it. My father’s life depends on it.”
“It’s a fake, Maggie. We had it made for this operation.” His voice turned hard. “Now it’s useless.”
She froze. “Fake? How? Why?”
“I told you, we were trying to lure your father here. A few hints dropped in the right circles, and it should have been a done deal. I still don’t understand how you got involved.” He said the last to himself.
He took her hand, pulled her out of the house and along the edge of the gravel driveway. His car was parked behind the small outbuilding all along, hidden from her sight.
When they reached his vehicle, she finally pulled free. “What are you doing?”
“We have to leave. If we get caught, I can’t come up with a single excuse why I’m not hauling your ass in. Something went wrong tonight, and I sure as hell don’t know what. You were set up, and I want to know why. Until then, I’m not letting you out of my sight.”
“So what are you going to do? Handcuff me to your side?” She fumed at being told what to do.
“If I have to, yes.” His clipped reply told her he was serious. He reached into his car and pulled out the radio.
“This is Sinclair. Premise is secure. No sign of activity tonight. Send an unmarked to sit for the rest of the night, I’m heading home.”
He received confirmation of his orders and brought her around to the passenger side, opening the door for her.
“You’re serious about this?” Though relieved and confused over the lie he’d told his superiors, she still refused to get in.
“You can’t possibly think I’m staying with you?”
“I do, and you will.”
“Like hell, Trevor. You can’t just reappear in my life, uninvited and out of the blue, and think you can take it over like that.” When she snapped her fingers right under his nose, his eyes narrowed.
“Yeah, like I thought I would run into you tonight. Christ, Maggie, you’re the last person I wanted to see on this stakeout.”
“Well, since we both didn’t want it, let’s just go our separate ways and pretend it never happened.”
“No. Not until I figure out who sent you here.”
“Well, I told you why I was here. To save my father.” As her failure sank in, a sick feeling settled in the pit of her stomach. There was no chance now; the gem was a fake, and she had nothing to trade for her father’s freedom.
“Shit, I could lose my job over this, you know. Four years on the force gone like that.” This time, he snapped his fingers under her nose.
She slapped away his hand. “Oh, excuse me. My father’s life is so much less important than your job.”
“Hell, your father’s life isn’t worth too much, Maggie. He’s a wanted criminal. That means I’ll find him, no matter what, and he will spend the rest of his life behind bars.”
“What did he ever do to you?”
Rage contorted his face. “He took everything from me.”
She rubbed the throbbing spot above her temples. This was insane. They stood arguing in the dark about a father she hadn’t seen in years and about Trevor’s sudden need to protect her.
When he walked away, a voice inside her head chided: He sure as hell wasn’t worried then. Her father had been right about that, at least.
Her resolve strengthened. Tonight had been nothing more than a moment of weakness to be forgotten. A mind-blowing, toe-curling moment of weakness and nothing more.
She turned and started walking across the gravel driveway, her boots crunching on the stones with each step. Her car lay on the other side of the hedges. She would get in and drive home, take a hot shower, and get some sleep. And forget about tonight.
“Maggie!” His irritated shout came from behind her. Instinct kicked in, and she bolted. It wasn’t too far. If she could reach her car and lock the doors, he couldn’t do anything about it.
“Damn it!” As he pursued her, small rocks scattered. A shriek escaped her, and she practically flew across the driveway, awareness of his proximity prickling along her neck. If he reached her, she would have no other choice. A few more feet; she was almost there.
He tackled her from behind, the impact sending them both to the ground. He turned his body the instant before landing and absorbed the shock of the fall, cradling her in his arms.
He rolled over and pinned her to the ground, straddling her waist and holding her arms above her head.
The sharp bite of gravel against her skin infuriated her even more. “Get off me.”
“No. I told you I wasn’t letting you out of my sight.”
“Let me go.”
“Are you going to behave and come with me nicely?”
“No way in hell.”
“Have it your way.” He held her hands in one of his and fished behind his back. A quick snap of metal, and he had handcuffed her again.
“Uncuff me right this minute, Trevor!”
He stood quickly and shook his head. “No. You wanted to do it the hard way, so enjoy the bed you made.”
He scooped her up and draped her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes.
“You fucking caveman, put me down.” The hard slap on her ass informed her he’d heard her tirade. She let loose another string of sailor-worthy cursing, and he laughed.
“Always the lady, Maggie.”
“So are you going to just leave me handcuffed to your side, genius?”
“If I have to.”
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