Nick Fuller decided he'd waited long enough. It was time to make his move.
He stepped away from the polished mahogany bar and made his way through the thickening crowd. The closer he got to the woman he'd been watching, the faster his heart raced. He'd waited a long time for this meeting. He couldn't afford to screw it up now.
He stepped up behind her and tapped lightly on her shoulder.
She turned, gave him a quick once-over out of the corner of her eye, then turned back to her drink with a shrug. It was a nice try, but he wasn't letting her off that easy. These past ten minutes she'd been watching him as intently as he'd been watching her. She recognized him. Of that, he was certain.
This time she spun around to face him.
He wasn't prepared for the full impact of Arabella Quinn up close and personal. Just that fast, he fell completely under the spell of her violet eyes. Right here, in the dim light of the smoky, noisy, Friday afternoon bar crowd, his heart was hers.
Then he remembered the reason he was here.
He needed to win her heart, and her trust, so he could send Kevin Pitre back to jail. He was also here to see that, as Pitre's accomplice, she went to jail with him.
He dredged up the image of the woman he'd loved—and lost—and the memory was more than enough to put him back on track. To keep him focused when Arabella Quinn challenged him.
"How do you know my name?"
She sounded so sincere he was almost ready to believe she really didn't remember him. But he put the brakes on fast; reminded himself he couldn't trust anything she might say. It would be best, he decided, to play along with her, act cool and give her memory a gentle nudge.
"It's been a long time. But I'm pretty sure we met years ago at some police department shindig or other." He caught a faint glimmer of recognition in her eyes. "And we probably saw each other at the trial."
That did it.
The corners of her mouth slid downward. Her eyes lowered. She looked so vulnerable it was almost enough to destroy every conclusion he'd ever formed about her. Almost, but not quite.
"You're a cop?" She made it sound like a dirty word.
"Not anymore. I gave that up years ago."
She turned back to the bar. "I don't revisit my past if I can help it."
Bullshit. She was stringing him along, lying through her teeth. So, okay, fine. He'd play her little game if that's what it took to keep the conversation going.
He edged between her and the guy on the stool next to her so she'd be forced to look at him. "You're certain you don't remember me?"
She twirled her glass in slow circles on the bar, turned to look at him again. Long moments passed before she finally answered. "Actually, I do. You were the other fiancé, weren't you?"
He didn't think she expected an answer, so he didn't offer one. He didn't say, Yes, I was the other fiancé. It was my woman your man was fucking a couple of nights a week when I thought she was working extra shifts. For some reason he didn't understand, he couldn't bare Bella's past that way.
She stopped toying with the glass and gave him her full attention. "I'm afraid I can't recall your name."
"Nick. Nick Fuller." He held out his hand. She hesitated a moment before she gave him hers. When she did, he wished she hadn't. The feel of Bella's skin against his was like fire, reminding him that he couldn't afford to get burned. Not by her. Nevertheless, he allowed himself the satisfying thought that fucking her was going to be a pleasure in more ways than one.
"Can I buy you a drink?"
She shook her head and her copper curls blazed from the rays of the overhead lights. A quicksilver fever shot through him. Mentally, he doused the heat. He needed to think clearly. It was imperative that he get this first meeting off on the right foot.
"I'm waiting for friends," she said in a dismissive tone. "They should be here any minute."
He already knew that. He also knew she was always the first to arrive and that her friends wouldn't be here for at least another thirty minutes.
He'd studied her habits long enough to know them almost as well as his own, courtesy of Vince, his partner. Vince had been happy to stay on her tail so Nick wouldn't risk blowing his cover. In the usual Vince Martelli style, the reports had been detailed to the point that Nick not only knew where she bought her underwear, but what size she wore.
Nick chuckled to himself. Vince had jumped at the opportunity to keep Arabella Quinn under surveillance. As a bad cop's accomplice, she was high on Vince's 'most wanted' list.
Vince hated rotten cops as much as Nick did. Probably more, since Vince had lost a best friend in the drug raid led by Kevin Pitre. The raid in which Pitre had cut himself a big slice of the drug pay-off pie.
Nick swung his attention back to the task at hand, working to keep the channel of communication open. "Maybe I could buy you that drink some other time?"
Why? He'd better come up with a good reason. "Well, I know we weren't friends back then, but we do have something in common. We…"
She swiveled away from him and curled her fingers around her glass. "I already told you I don't like thinking about that part of my life. And I don't associate with cops."
"And I already told you I quit the force."
She swung back around and this time she looked at him with narrowed eyes and a definite flare to her nostrils. "And just what do you do for a living now—stalk women?"
Her words were a bit too close for comfort. "I'm in the home security business. And you?"
"I'm a travel…" She caught herself and a smile grabbed the corners of her mouth, tugged it up to reveal a dimple in her left cheek. "You're sneaky, you know that? A typical cop."
He heaved a long sigh of frustration. "How many times do I have to tell you I'm not…"
"I know. You're in the home security business, now. But in my book, once a cop, always a cop. So, if you don't mind, I'd like to finish my drink before it turns to ice water."
He caught her arm before she could turn away again. Then, just as he was ready to make his next move, she leaned forward and waved over his shoulder. She was good at this game of dismissal.
"Excuse me, but my friend, Pam, just arrived."
He ignored the shutdown and turned to follow her line of vision. A tall brunette was headed their way. Damn. After one dozen Friday meetings with her friends that hadn't deviated by more than five minutes, today one of them had to arrive early. He had to get things moving in his direction—fast.
Turning back, he whipped out a business card from his shirt pocket. "I'd really like for us to get together."
She scowled at him. "How many different ways do I have to say the same thing?"
"I understand. The past is taboo. I can live with that. But maybe I can interest you in some home security." He held his card out to her and treated her to what he knew was his most charming smile. He threw in a wink for good measure.
She took the card just as her friend sidled up next to him. He ignored the brunette and kept his focus on the redhead in front of him. He took another card from his pocket and held it out to her.
"Why don't you give me your name and phone number? Maybe we could have that drink over dinner." She glared at him in stubborn silence. No problem, tenacity was his strong suit. This time he ditched charming and flashed her his most seductive smile. "Please? I'd really just like to talk with you. I think we'd hit it off. If I didn't, I'd have already left. I'm not usually this pushy." Like hell he wasn't. He pushed whenever he had to. And this time, he was going to push as hard as it took to get this smart number in his grasp.
He guessed the smile got to her, because she threw her friend a beleaguered look, took the card, scribbled on it, then handed it back to him.
"I'm not promising anything. But it so happens, I am in the market for a security system."
Yeah. He already knew that. That was one of the lucky breaks Vince had happened upon.
He took a quick look at the card just to be sure she hadn't duped him, and was relieved to see the information she'd given him was exactly what he'd already received from Vince. He flashed her another smile. "I'll be calling soon, Bella." He flipped his index finger in a salute, first to her, then to the brunette who, on any other Friday, would have gotten his undivided attention.
He turned and headed for the door feeling pretty cocky from his success. He was also feeling pretty damned hot, and totally unprepared for the physical impact Arabella Quinn had on him. Usually it took a real beauty for him to get hit with instant lust—and this one wasn't beautiful. The most he'd allow was marginally pretty.
He decided if it weren't for that mass of red curls and those devastating violet eyes, she probably wouldn't even get a second look from most men.
Of course he wasn't most men. He was just one guy. One guy on a mission. And he wasn't about to get off track even if Bella did have his blood doing somersaults in his southernmost region. Nope, he wasn't getting sidetracked until he was damned good and ready.
And then it would be only to seduce her until he could get enough evidence to throw her in prison, along with the no good bastard that had killed the woman he loved.
* * * *
"Remember," Pam said, tossing her dark hair over her shoulder, "if you don't want the hunk, I'll take him."
Both women stood alongside Bella's car in the packed parking lot of Barnaby's Bar and Grill. Bella opened the door and slid behind the wheel without answering. She started the engine but waited until Pam was safely inside her car, one row over, before she put her own in gear. When she finally slid out of the parking space and onto the Boulevard, she had only one thing on her mind. A six-foot, dark-haired, dark-eyed hunk named Nick Fuller.
When she'd first seen him at the other end of the bar, she thought her imagination was playing tricks on her. When she realized it was really him, she was taken aback. It had been seven years since the trial. How ironic, that now, so close to Kevin's release, she should run into the man whose lover Kevin had been convicted of killing.
She'd wondered many times over the years what had happened to him. Wondered if he'd managed to put the past behind him more easily than she had. Rumor had it that the death of his fiancé had just about done him in. She wondered now if that had anything to do with him not being a cop any more. She decided if an opening presented itself she'd ask him the next time she saw him.
It didn't surprise her that she'd already made up her mind to see him if he called. No, not if. When. She knew he'd call as surely as she knew the street she lived on. There was no mistaking the reaction to her she'd seen in his eyes. Or felt in the heat of his skin when he'd touched her. Or the way her own flesh had picked up his heat and held it. No, it didn't surprise her at all that she wanted to see him again.
It didn't surprise her. But it did frighten her.
She placed her hand over his business card on the seat next to her. The feeling of foreboding that had been with her since she'd first been aware of him standing behind her at the bar intensified.
An aura of secrecy, almost desperation, surrounded him. After so many years in the travel business, dealing with all kinds of people, she could usually read a person as easily as she could read the hands on a grandfather clock.
Nick Fuller was hiding something. Something that had to do with her. His showing up at Barnaby's at this particular time in her life was no coincidence. He'd come looking for her and he'd found her. She was certain it was simply a matter of time before she saw him again. Before he tipped his hand.
It came as a surprise when she found herself in her driveway, the last quarter hour a blur.
With a vague sense of unease, she made her way to her front door. After retrieving her mail, she shifted her purse and the mail to one hand, fitted her key in the lock with the other, and opened the door. She flipped the light switch, dumped her purse on the nearest living room chair and sorted through the mail.
The thick white envelope brought a smile to her lips. She slipped it from the pile, slit it open with her thumbnail, and checked the tickets inside to be certain the dates were correct. She'd had the tickets for the cruise sent here, rather than the office, omitting one more thing she'd have to remember when it came time to pack.
She'd be leaving in less than two weeks. Plenty of time for Nick Fuller to get in touch with her.
When he did, she'd be ready for him.
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