She’s driven by vengeance; he’s driven by guilt.
She’s out to kill the man he’s sworn to protect.
White-hot attraction…dangerous secrets.
Only one can win, but both could die, depending upon…
… The Choice
Excerpt: The Choice
She’d nailed her audition.
One more door, and Klaus Hafner would die even sooner than Jillian MacGregor had planned. She hadn’t really expected to get this far when she set out to break into the fortress that was the arms dealer’s home, but she wasn’t complaining. Holding her breath as she reached for the door handle, she squeezed the knob gently while she turned it.
Air stirred behind her.
Too late, she pivoted.
A muscled arm seized her throat.
* * *
“I’m sorry, sir. I don’t know what happened. I never once took my eyes off the monitors, I swear it.”
“You’re telling me she’s invisible?”
Jillian kept her eyes shut to buy time. Her shoulders ached from lying on hands tied behind her back.
“Yes, sir—uh, I mean, no, sir.” Exasperation threaded through the subordinate’s tone. “I don’t know what the hell happened, sir.”
“Figure it out,” snapped the deep voice.
Footsteps hurried away. Cool air brushed over her body as the door closed.
An edgy silence pulsed around her. Jillian was careful to keep her breathing steady and her muscles relaxed, though she wanted badly to get a look at her surroundings.
“You might as well open your eyes.”
Clearly not a suggestion. This man was accustomed to obedience.
She debated over whether to ignore him or to give into the temptation to look.
“Your acting skills need work. You’re wasting my time and yours.”
Angrily Jillian opened her eyes.
Black hair, almost to his shoulders, slashed by silver at the left temple. Smoky eyes, hardening to steel as she watched. Tall…very tall. Powerful shoulders and arms, a face that could have been carved from stone. High, slanted cheekbones. Dark, thick brows shadowed eyes creased by time in the sun, a strong Roman nose. The one touch of humanity was the cleft in his chin.
Who was he? Definitely not her quarry, Klaus Hafner.
Jillian stilled. This must be the man she’d heard about only in whispers. The elusive Cullinane.
“What’s your name?”
“You first,” she said.
“I don’t think so.” An icy smile. “I hold the cards. Who are you? What are you doing here?” He strode around the oversize cherry desk to stand over her, arms crossed against his beautifully muscled chest. A jagged scar slanted from breastbone to navel.
“I want a job.”
One eyebrow arched.
Good. She’d surprised him.
In an instant, the mask returned. He merely cocked his head to indicate that he was listening. “Name?”
“Jane Doe. Was it you who stopped me?”
His negligent shrug ticked her off. “Your system’s not so hot,” she jibed. “I got through.”
The momentary flash of annoyance pleased her.
“Solly.” He barely raised his voice, and the door opened.
“Our…guest likes to play games. Find her bag of tricks. Get me a name.”
“Already on it, boss.”
A very long moment passed, thick with challenge.
She stared at the ceiling in silence, ignoring the pain in her shoulder. Pale golden light from the desk lamp threw odd shadows on the creamy plaster. Rich, dark paneling absorbed what little light escaped.
“What kind of job?” he asked at last.
“I wouldn’t have let anyone get through to him,” she taunted. “Just like I wasn’t stupid enough to leave ID.”
“Why you?” An insulting scan of her body. “You’re built like a thief, not hired muscle.”
She had definitely done her share of breaking in. A kid on the streets couldn’t be particular when it came to survival. “So I appear less threatening. People assume I’m his latest conquest.”
“But you can’t go everywhere he does.”
“The bathroom, big deal. You always use teams anyway.” She refused to let her anxiety through. This had to work.
He was already shaking his head to refuse when a new voice spoke from the doorway.
“I like it, Cullinane.”
* * *
The woman craned her neck to see Hafner, and Cullinane had a moment’s regret over laying her out on his office sofa. Hafner’s voracious appetites would definitely be aroused by this woman in her tight black garb.
Black covered her from neck to toe, but when he’d removed her cap, cinnamon hair had spilled out, a superb foil to the black garment and the dark leather, a fire breaking winter’s chill.
The figure-hugging garment revealed more than it concealed. Despite what he’d said, she was trim and toned, and though she wasn’t tall, her legs seemed to go on forever. Her breasts would fill a man’s hands, and her hips rounded nicely from a slender waist.
Oh, yes, Hafner would like it. No doubt at all.
The man himself crossed the room, navy silk dressing gown tied at the waist over pajama bottoms. The gold chains he favored glimmered within graying chest hair. His short, iron-gray hair stood up in spikes from a restless night.
Cullinane watched as Hafner’s gaze roamed over her body. She was a cool one, all right. Her whiskey-brown eyes hardened, and she kept her body absolutely still as Hafner subjected her to a perusal little short of lascivious and degrading.
Then he smiled, slow and sleazy. “Oh yes, I want her.”
Cullinane rolled his eyes. “You don’t even know if she’s competent. You know nothing about her.”
“I know she came within twenty feet of me, and your system didn’t catch her.” Watery blue eyes snapped with displeasure.
Cullinane gritted his teeth. “I caught her.” He’d be chewing some butts out over this screw-up, but in the final analysis, the responsibility for Hafner’s safety rested with him.
Hafner’s eyebrows lifted. “Ah, yes, my trusty fail-safe. But what if you’d slept too soundly or been…otherwise occupied? What then?”
“It’s being handled.”
Hafner’s smile turned expansive though his eyes never thawed. “Oh, I have no doubt that it is, my dear friend. And I pity the man who failed in his duties.” He turned back to her, drawing Cullinane’s gaze toward her once more. When Hafner reached out to touch her, Cullinane’s jaw tensed even as he wondered why the hell he cared. She’d been the one who’d barged in here. All she was to him was a distraction much too late in the deadly game he was playing.
But she was one tough cookie, this one. She wrapped an air of such icy disdain around her that Hafner’s hand hovered just an inch or two from her breast—
And then withdrew.
Hafner stood there for too long, his fingers flexing. The woman stared at the ceiling as though he didn’t exist. She had no idea the danger she’d put herself in—Hafner was thoroughly amoral and increasingly unpredictable.
Quietly—too quietly—Hafner spoke. “Check her out, Cullinane. I want her.”
Then, finally, he left.
The woman took a deep, shuddering breath.
Maybe she did know.