I’m writing a romantic suspsense novel EXCLUSIVELY on Patreon.
**UNEDITED** Copyright @2019 Debra Elise
She was being watched. Stalked. As Coryn Westwood, now Coryn Thornton for this case, locked up the import shop an itch of awareness began at her neck, traveled down her spine and sat heavy at the small of her back. It had happened before. The natural fight or flight response kicked in. The first time she wrote it off to stress. The second, she talked herself into believing it was a jogger. There one minute, gone the next.
She’d begun seeing ghosts in every corner since discovering her former partner—now dead partner, had led a secret life. Dammit she was a Special Agent of the FBI she should be able to handle anything, dammit. Her boss wanted her to go to counseling before taking on this assignment. She’d gone to two sessions and declared herself fine.
She shook off her suspicions knowing this wasn’t her imagination conjuring up the killer of her partner. She’d be dead by now if it was. Someone was all up in her business. No one was going to screw up her last and best chance to find answers. Answers to who was behind her partner’s death. And answers she’d been searching for years concerning her own ties to the very mob family she was attempting to infiltrate.
One thing for sure, whoever was stalking her was no ordinary criminal. If they were, they would have attacked by now. She’d bet her favorite pair of heels they had ties to her case. And if they broke her cover, she wasn’t going to play nice.
Ty’s death had been written off as merely being in the wrong place at the wrong time. A robbery gone bad in the alley of a nightclub in Trinity Falls, an affluent and trendy suburb of Seattle. But she knew better. With no known next of kin, she was given the task of going through his personal effects. And it was the USB drive on his keychain that drove her to break protocol today.
She fumbled the shop keys and let them slip through her fingers. A slow scan of the street as she knelt proved nothing out of the ordinary. She caught her reflection in the shop’s window as she straightened her five-foot-three frame, and caught a quick flash of a long coat flapping behind her much taller opponent.
She adjusted a lock of her hair and turned down the tree-lined sidewalk. Her intent on feeding her grumbling stomach forgotten replaced by luring her prey. Alert and desperate to take her frustration on the snail-paced progress of her case she used every ounce of her training and kept her pace steady. She’d been hangry for the last hour as she dealt with the minutiae of her cover story and helped a customer choose the perfect divan for her penthouse apartment in downtown Seattle. An Oscar-worthy performance if ever there was one.
Instead of treating herself with a slice from her favorite pizzeria for not telling the snobbish woman where to stick her black Amex card she kept walking past the restaurant as her stomach protested. She sighed and held her gaze ahead while she tracked the man following her in the glass storefronts along Main Street. The city had done a fantastic job of restoring the turn-of-the-century buildings by keeping the oversized windows which were fashionable during that period.
Over the last few months, she’d worked hard at cultivating her cover; that of an importer of fine-home furnishings. Her team was close but out of site. They were located in a state-of-the-art surveillance center in the adjacent boarded-up former coffee house.
Hunger now forgotten, her mind raced to who could have tagged her? Someone from the Marcozi family? She’d been careful dammit. Not once had she deviated from her new persona—Coryn Thornton, import shop owner, wife to a tech expert conveniently away on business and friend to the target’s daughter.
But why get sloppy now? If it were someone working for Marcozi, why not confront her or threaten her shop? Scare tactics were a tried and true tactic of the mob. Well, besides murder, but rumor had it the West Coast Mob King was attempting to go legit. She didn’t buy it. So she had to come up with a new adversary who was looking to make her life, or her investigation and possibly both come to an end. If she were a gambler, she’d bet on Ty’s secret.
Another glance in the window showed the man with the expensive leather coat keeping pace on the opposite side of the street. His features hidden behind a pair of aviators and a frown. She was close enough now to her original destination her stomach growled at the garlic-scented air. There’d be no grilled panini anytime soon.
As a group of teenagers passed her, she ducked into the alley between a credit union and a florist shop. She crouched behind a city dumpster and waited. Footsteps soon followed her. She reached for her Glock but thought better of it. Too many pedestrians on the street. She didn’t feel like playing TV cop; not until she had to.
The steps slowed as the man approached her hiding spot. The leisurely pace pissed her off. Amateur. Follow her for days then act like he was taking a walk in the park. Dammit, she was hungry, and this fool wanted to play cat and mouse.
When he finally passed her spot, she jumped out and shoved her shoulder into his side, twisted the dark-haired stranger’s right hand and shoved it up behind his back as she pushed him into the brick wall. Too easy. Her brain screamed. He wanted to be caught. Definitely not a mob guy.
She spread her feet wide and took stock of the stalker who’d finally made his move. She torqued his arm up higher. “Who are you?”
His response was a whoosh of air as she again put all her weight into pushing him closer to the wall. She guessed he had close to sixty pounds on her, but she kept in top physical condition and been known to throw heavier men over her shoulder when the situation called. “You have ten seconds to talk, or I start breaking fingers.”
He shifted which brought her flush with his back and legs. She recovered and regained her balance. In the silence, heavy breathing was the only communication, and she felt a moment of panic as she gazed at his profile.
Something was off. A flash of memory played. A party at the end of her second semester at the FBI academy. An encounter interrupted. She tried to shake off the connection, but her stomach flipped over at something she’d buried long ago. Something that had no business surfacing as she made contact with the heavily muscled back of the stranger that she now worried wasn’t.
Unwelcomed sparks of awareness traveled down her spine. A long-forgotten crush. An older student she had no chance of attracting. But he’d noticed her that night. They’d spent hours talking, and when it seemed they were headed to doing more, he’d received a text and the moment was gone. And so was he.
It may have been a one night, a handful of hours years ago but she’d remember that jawline anywhere. And wasn’t her luck the man attached to that handsome jawline was now beneath her hands and refusing to talk to her.
Dammit. She needed answers, not a sexual re-awakening. No matter how small the tingle; it was annoying and unprofessional. And something she didn’t need or want to address right now.
Coryn took a quick look towards the opening of the alley to make sure no one was watching. And to buy time. Time to tuck away the thoughts of a young woman enchanted and replace them with her next move. One that would give no indication of her recognition.
“The silent act won’t work. I’ve got all night, so talk.”
This time she received a low, raspy chuckle in answer to her demand.
“Sweetheart, I appreciate the ten seconds, but don’t you recognize your own husband?”
At his words, she started in surprise. She’d forgotten the deep baritone of his voice, but not the awareness it ignited throughout her body. She ignored her feelings and focused on the implications of his words. She sucked in a deep breath then counted to ten.
No! He’d gone and done it. After weeks of threats, her boss sent in another agent, and it looked like she’d be forced to play house with a stranger. But not really. Did one night of not having sex count as …what? Certainly not friends. Maybe acquaintances? Their time together hadn’t been a real hook-up but a random, cosmic run-in she’d never thought to happen. Lord, please let him not remember me.
He wanted the Marcozi mob put away almost as much as she did. So, it seemed the FBI’s patience had run out. But why did it have to be the one agent she’d fantasized about seeing naked?
She let out a frustrated groan. She loathed not being in control, and Braxton Hewitt, her first partner right out of the academy and current Deputy Director of the FBI’s Cyber Response Unit, was in for an earful as soon as she set a few things straight with Jack… Jack what? Wow, she forgot his last name. And maybe that meant he wouldn’t remember her.
And maybe that meant she was wrong about this guy. Perhaps it wasn’t Jack. Maybe her lack of sex was catching up to her and … and nothing. She didn’t have it in her to pretend right now. She was hungry, frustrated with Braxton and mad at herself.
Dammit, she should have never created a world-traveling, barely-home husband as part of her backstory. Too much room for error. She’d left Trinity Falls a few times over the past two months on the pretense of meeting her husband for a weekend getaway to travel back to headquarters. She’d done so thinking she’d better fit into the conservative community by being happily married and independently successful at the same time.
She hadn’t counted on having her plan used against her. Maybe there was a chance this was all a big mix-up.
“Why are you following me? I promise you—” She held onto hope this was simply some weird coincidence and her long ago crush had fallen on hard times and into a life of stalking women. Her inner self laughed her ass off at that one.
“I’m not here to mug you, Coryn. Although you keep pressing yourself into me, I might suggest something a bit more… mutually agreeable. Braxton sent me in. You remember him, right? He’s done waiting for you to wrap up Marcozi in a bow and asked me to …help out.”
Coryn rocked back on her heels and released his arm. When he turned around, she got her first full look at her undercover husband. He looked… good. And he was Jack. His lack of response to her threats and penetrating stare screamed experience. He was as far from a street thug as one could get. And it seemed he had no clue who she was beyond the mission.
Before she opened her mouth to verify the code word she’d thought never to use, he took advantage of her loosened hold and grabbed her by the shoulders. She was now pinned up against the cold, brick wall. Her heart rate leaped as she scanned the area for a new threat. She refused to acknowledge it could be from his hard form now nicely lined up with hers. Damn, why hadn’t she worn her Gucci’s today? She could have used the three-inch heels; to look him in the eye, well maybe in the chin, and if need be, as a weapon.
Cursing herself, she realized her own rookie move; she’d neglected to pull her gun. Now all she could do was wait for a break to draw the Glock from her thigh holster.
“No answer? Does that mean you were able to secure the couples-only invitation for the yearly Marcozi family retreat after all?”
Before she could respond, he leaned into her and nuzzled her neck.
“Wha-what do you think you’re doing?” He was too close. She couldn’t think. He pressed his hard body into hers once again, and she momentarily forgot her own name. Her head spinning, she’d hesitated too long in protecting herself. She tried lifting her leg to knee him, but he anticipated her move and pressed his tree trunk of a leg into hers. Gone was the easygoing grin of moments ago.
“Special Agent Westwood, is that any way to greet your husband? Your little move on me has brought us some unwanted attention. So, I’m asking you to play nice, relax your leg, and pretend that you’re over-the-moon happy to be back in my arms.”
Coryn looked over his shoulder towards the opening to the alleyway. Sure enough, two older ladies were pointing towards them, worried expressions on each. Oh, he’d pay for this little display. But she was smart enough to know he was right, and if she had to play the besotted wife until they were in private, so be it.
“Fine. But maybe now would be a good time to tell me what I’m supposed to call you, besides asshole?”
“Jackson Knight at your service. Jack to my friends, but now that we’re …married… you can call me anything you want.”
His husky voice pissed her off and turned her on. Arrogant Bastard. Dammit. She had a weakness for cocky, arrogant men.
Her throat dry, she cleared her throat. “Agent Knight—”
“Just Jack. And I never said I was an agent. Oh, and the last name from this moment on is Thornton, like yours.”
“Whatever. What I expect from you is to authenticate whom you say you are, and…wait, what? Did you say you’re not an agent?” Coryn pushed hard on his broad shoulders. He didn’t budge. Did he get kicked out of the academy all those years ago? Was that why he left her hot and bothered in a dark garden.
Ignoring her questions, he talked right over her. “Listen, there’s a restaurant I want to try. It’s a few blocks away. We can have dinner. Have a drink, or two, and spend some time getting—reacquainted, Popeye.”
Shit. This was real. He’s real. But why him? She’d chosen the silly code word never thinking it’d be put into play.
“Funny, you look nothing like Popeye.” He grinned.
She watched as his gaze traveled down and then back up her over-heated body. He’d given her a similar look all those years ago. Put it away, Coryn. That night has nothing to do with now. She closed her eyes and swore to herself she wouldn’t tell him. If he didn’t remember her, she sure as hell was going to embarrass herself by reminding him; not when the stakes had now been raised to get this case wrapped up.
He winked and flashed her a heart-stopping grin. “Let’s go.”
Damn man expected her to drop everything and follow his orders. No way in hell. She was the lead agent, and he was about to find out what happened when you messed with one of her operations. Lord save her from arrogant, sex-on-a-stick special agents or whatever he was. He wasn’t the first. Been there, done that. Never again.
Jack waited and watched as Coryn glared at him when he stopped at the opening to the alley. She took her time picking up her purse from where it’d fallen when she’d jumped him. He held her gaze as she made her way towards him. She was pissed and gorgeous, and their little tussle had given him a taste of her curvy body; he wanted more.
He tamped down his libido. He needed to find out if she was playing both sides. He hadn’t expected to be drawn to her physically, and the itch of recognition would not go away. Had they met before? He hadn’t had so many women in his life that he’d forget one. Maybe. And he felt secure that he’d never forget a woman like Coryn.
It didn’t matter. It couldn’t. According to Braxton, the agency was looking into the possibility that there may have been a mole playing both sides. If it was Coryn and she had anything to do with his cousin’s murder, becoming involved with her on a personal level wasn’t going to happen—no matter how she made his heart race.
He locked eyes with her as she stepped into his personal space. Without words, a battle of wills played out. One thought repeated in his mind…formidable. If he thought this mission was going to be a cakewalk, her look of determination gave him pause. Perhaps he should play her opposite of his initial plan. Besides the stubborn bent of her chin, he noticed a hint of desire in her eyes.
A desire which echoed his own. Dammit. Playing husband had sounded so easy. But now. Now he needed to bury the insta-attraction before he did something stupid like kiss her.
He waved her toward his car parked down the street. Her back was ramrod straight as she strode towards the Jaguar he’d leased. He’d been warned about Special Agent Westwood, aka Coryn Thornton, but the dossier had nothing on the live and in person spitfire he’d held in his arms. He watched as she walked away. Her curves held his attention a few seconds too long. She wore a smirk on her face as she caught him looking.
“Nice car. How’d you swing this ride? Definitely not an expenditure Braxton would have approved.” She eased into the dark brown leather seat, buckled up and crossed her arms.
He wondered at the edge in her voice and tucked it away for later scrutiny. At least they had one thing in common. Neither of them was fans of the Deputy Director.
Jack swung into the high-performance car and leaned over the console. Damn, he should have gone for a car that better accommodated his six-two frame. “Braxton has nothing to do with me driving this car. I’m not officially on the bureau’s payroll.”
He watched as her mouth opened than closed. She stared at him a full twenty seconds before she took a deep breath. Damn, she was cute when thrown off balance. Her dark brown hair was still mussed from earlier, and he found himself itching to tuck the stray pieces behind her ear.
“Dammit, this has been my op for the past four months, so let’s start with who you really are? I believe it’s past time you enlightened me, dear.”
Hell, how much to tell her? He didn’t report to the FBI. Not directly. Back in the early 2000s, he worked with Braxton in the cyber division; right before Braxton began his meteoric rise within the Bureau. Jack once admired the man, his skills and his dedication to protecting the country from black hat hackers.
But that was before his one-time mentor made sure Jack would never cross him. He insured Jack’s name was all over a personal vendetta Braxton carried out under the guise of a sanctioned operation.
And now, Braxton held the name of his Ty’s killer as bait for Jack’s cooperation in bringing the Marcozi mafia family to their knees. Because he knew what Ty was to Jack. What no one else knew. Ty had been more than the victim of a mission gone wrong. He was Jack’s cousin. And Jack would do anything to bring the killer to justice. Even working with Braxton Hewitt.
He glanced again at Coryn. Her gaze had not wavered. He knew she’d wait as long as necessary to find out his motives. Jack wasn’t about to tell her the real reason for his insertion into her operation. Not until he found out if she played a role in Ty’s death.
He also wouldn’t tell her was that he answered to no one. Not Braxton, not the FBI. After he left the bureau, he opened a business specializing in cybersecurity, providing extractions from hostile locations, and on a case-by-case basis; personal protection. His work was his salvation. Most saw him as a mercenary, but in a world gone fucking mad, he’d set the rules he would follow and ensure justice was given to those who were held hostage by men determined to allow greed and power free reign. No, he wasn’t sharing anything until he knew exactly who he was working with.
Jack merged the car into traffic. “Such a deep question for so early in our relationship. I’ve been many things in the past twenty years. However, I’ve never really dug deep and asked myself, ‘who am I?’ I’ve never sat under a tree and meditated, nor have I gone on a journey of self-enlightenment, that I know of.” He flashed her a grin and waited.
No response. Not a lift of her mouth, or a relaxing of the shoulders. Tough cookie. He looked ahead and let out a sigh. “So, while I’m sure those two things are beneficial to some, that’s not what you’re asking here, is it Coryn?” He looked at her from the corner of his eye and watched in fascination as she took a deep breath before she answered. The move brought his eyes to her chest and another bump to his heart rate.
“Do you often use humor to deflect serious topics? Or maybe you enjoy messing with people’s heads instead of being professional?”
The damn woman was trying his patience and the fit of his pants. What was it about her that had his engine running non-stop? Dealing with her sharp tongue while imagining it on his cock was not something he’d anticipated. He wasn’t used to being questioned. In his line of work, he gave orders, and they were followed; otherwise, someone could end up dead. Shit, he needed a cold beer and a colder shower to reset himself and get back on track.
“Only when I feel the situation warrants it. And professional, Agent Westwood, is my god damn middle name.” His voice laced with barely controlled anger, he took a deep breath and continued on. “I’ve given you the code word. That should be enough for you to get on board with the fact that we are now working together.” He swerved the car to avoid an old delivery truck and cursed himself.
“Life was a lot simpler when I was on the front lines. And if we were there instead of inside a car arguing about protocol, we’d both be compromised by now because of your inability to deal with a change in plans.” Damn women and having to dig deeper and not taking things at face value.
The challenge in her eyes made him forget everything.
“Are you kidding me right now? How long has it been since you worked for the agency? If you think—”
He braked for the light, and before Coryn could protest, he grabbed her chin and silenced her the best way he knew how. He claimed her lower lip and suckled lightly at first before taking full possession of her tongue. Liquid fire rushed through his veins as a pang gripped his heart, this was what had been missing with other women. Excitement from the get-go. Instant knowing. And it scared the holy living hell out of him.
He expected a shove at the very least, but what he received in return was one hell of a hot response. A throaty groan greeted his deep, wet kiss. Her sweet reaction made him wish they were anywhere but in this damn car.
Pretending to be Coryn’s husband might turn out to be more enjoyable then he could have imagined. Playing house with a smart-mouthed, sexy as hell FBI agent, who erased other women from his brain with one kiss, …almost made him forget she couldn’t know his real purpose for crashing her operation.
She leaned into him and ran her hand up along his neck, threaded her fingers into his hair and tugged—hard; then she bit his tongue and pulled out of his grasp.
“Ow! Dammit, what was that for?” he asked.
“Try that again, and next time I’ll draw blood.”
He glared at her as she straightened her blouse and brushed her hair off her face. However, she couldn’t fix the blush high on her cheeks or her increased breathing. Score one for him.
He watched as her breasts rose and fell rapidly and knew she was as affected by the kiss as he was. His breathing was heavy as well, and he quickly needed to come up with a good reason for the kiss.
Jesus, how’d this situation get stuck on fast forward? Crazy fucking hormones.
“Don’t get so worked up. I saw one of your regular customer’s peeking into the car and took the opportunity to play the part of a couple reunited after months of separation. Besides, it was a kiss.” A horn blared. Jack looked to see the light had turned green and hit the accelerator.
Switching topics was the best strategy Jack could come up with since his blood flow was still currently south of the border. “Tell me about Teresa Marcozi-Rizzi? How much have you been able to insert yourself into her life?”
Jack watched as Coryn opened her mouth to answer, and then slammed it shut. Re-crossing her arms over the breasts he’d be dreaming of later tonight, she lifted her chin and avoided his gaze.
“No dice. If you’re not FBI, then it’s you who has a story to tell before I agree to release any information. You first, cowboy.”
Jack shook his head and chuckled.
“What’s so funny?”
“I think you and I are going to get along better than you think.”
“How do you figure?”
“We’re both bull-headed and skeptical. Two things you need to stay alive in this business. And the over-the-top chemistry doesn’t hurt either.” He couldn’t resist baiting her. “Admit it, were hot for each other.”
“Wow. You’ve learned all that in the fifteen minutes we’ve been together? Color me impressed. Your time would be better spent trying to convince me why I should trust you?”
“Honey, you should know better than anyone that reading people is crucial; otherwise we end up dead. My instincts tell me you’re going to be a challenge, yes, but never boring and worth the effort.” He reached over, squeezed her hand and grinned.
She yanked her hand away and looked at him like he’d lost his mind. “First, don’t call me Honey. Second, I already have a partner. She and the others working for me can more than handle the tech side. You being here now means I need to rethink and redo my strategy in dealing with Teresa and her father. So hold the flowery speeches for now. I need a drink, and you said something about dinner. So how about we take it a step at a time since it doesn’t look like you’re willing to go away, hmmm?”
“Coryn, don’t kid yourself, you’re stuck with me for the duration. And look, here we are.” Jack pulled up to the valet stand and exited his side of the car. He studied Coryn’s face as she looked up at the marquee on the building and did a double-take.
“You’ve got to be kidding, right? This is not a good idea. There’s a nice steakhouse two blocks down, let’s go there.”
They were parked in front of Maria’s Ristorante, one of the few legitimate businesses Marcozi owned and the one where the most notorious West Coast mob boss spent most of his free time. Jack had done his homework before he took on this job. He also knew that Coryn met Teresa for lunch here at least once a week.
“Coryn, it’ll be fine, and it’s necessary that Marcozi, his daughter and your customers, see us together. Besides, don’t you want to meet your husband’s new employer?”
Coryn turned Jack’s words over in her head. Just a kiss? Oh, no. It was so much more. She’d never been kissed quite so—thoroughly. Lost in the moment, she’d let herself feel, for the first time in a long while. She’d spent years shutting her emotions down and doing her job. Not allowing herself time for personal entanglements beyond a few nights here and there best forgotten.
Romance and finding “the one” were not her thing. Yet Jack’s kiss made her yearn for more. More of him. More from life. Unfortunately, the timing sucked. She couldn’t get caught up playing happily-ever-after with a man she’d merely met, a man who was not FBI, who was an unknown force she now had to share information with. Information she hadn’t shared with anyone else.
No matter how many nerve endings he lit on fire with a simple touch or that searing kiss, she needed to continue her hyper-focus on discovering two truths. Two truths that had nothing, yet everything to do with why she wanted this case so badly. Who killed her former partner, and find out why every lead she tracked down on her deceased father led to the Marcozi crime family?
She couldn’t let anything, not even her own happiness keep her from her personal mission or nailing Marcozi for the attempted hacks into the US stock exchange.
Now Jack arrives out of nowhere, and her damn body turns traitor on her; it was all happening too fast. She hadn’t been kidding earlier when she compared him to a fitness model. His dark, military shorn hair fit his rugged good looks, and his dimpled chin made her fingers itch to trace his jawline; with her tongue. And his broad shoulders were her kryptonite. As a matter of fact, he reminded her of the actor who played Superman and damn, her hormones were ready to be rescued.
He stirred up too many questions, and not enough answers. And wait a minute. How did he know what her long-time customers looked like? And how the hell had he pulled off getting a job with Marcozi?
While she’d been stewing over… well, everything, Jack had opened her door and stood looking down at her. She took in a deep breath and counted to ten. She looked up at the temptation wrapped in a leather jacket; sporting a grin, she couldn’t read. She’d keep her guard up until she decided if he was friend or foe.
Coryn caught him checking out her exposed legs, and when their gazes connected again, he upped the wattage in his smile. Awareness and yearning slammed into her. Get yourself together girl. This is not real, it’s all pretend. This is what Quantico trained you for, dealing with the unexpected; relying on logic over emotion.
Jack wasn’t Prince Charming, and he wasn’t going to sweep her off her feet and make everything better. It was time to take back the upper hand and let him know she was in charge and there’d be no more kissing. Maybe.
“Honey, you ready?” Jack asked.
She knew he asked in a loud voice for the benefit of anyone listening, but it struck a chord. She’d never before been called honey, or any other term of endearment for that matter and she wasn’t sure she liked it.
She took another look into this midnight eyes, practically the same color as her own, and saw a shutter slam down. Beneath the sleek exterior hid a well-trained soldier. She’d felt it when she first touched him. Coiled strength and barely concealed arrogance. He was the type that went after what he wanted full-force, using whatever was at hand to win and with her, it looked like he’d chosen seduction; she’d best remember that.
Jack leaned into the car and offered her his hand. A simple touch that warned her of his threat to her mission. Damn, she did not have time for this distraction. She’d been getting closer to Teresa, and her tech team had broken several encrypted files Ty was able to send them before he was murdered.
It was only a matter of time before they had enough information to bring down those responsible for the intrusion attempts on the stock exchange and avoid a financial catastrophe should the hackers actually get past the network’s safeguards. She’d been assured if they did, the damage to the US and global economies would be on a scale few would dare think of in their darkest nightmares.
She would not allow Jack Knight to be a distraction; no matter his good looks or flirtatious attempts to work his way into her operation.
She squeezed his hand as hard as she could, digging her short nails into his palm. Coryn stepped out of the car and threw him a tight smile. She expected him to flinch at her rough touch, but he continued playing the doting husband.
“Our table is ready, and Marcozi is expecting us,” Jack announced loud enough for the benefit of the valet and the other patrons exiting the restaurant. He leaned towards her and whispered, “Follow my lead and later, I promise I’ll share everything I can. It’s important you trust me, Coryn.” A little louder, he added. “Then we can go home and have a second honeymoon.”
The way he said her name ignited a small flame low in her belly. She ignored it the best she could. “Trust you?” Coryn shouted. Damn. Big mistake. Another couple was entering at the same time, and her outburst startled the wife.
She covered her outburst by giggling and placed a hand over her mouth. She whispered “sorry” to the poor woman and turned back toward Jack and grabbed his arm. “Trust is earned. And I’m not playing along until you tell me exactly who you are. You may have had the correct code word, but that doesn’t mean I’ll share anything with you until I speak with Braxton.”
Jack stared her down, and before he could respond, she heard her name called. She closed her eyes and groaned. Teresa was here, and there was no way Coryn could pretend she hadn’t heard her friend/subject acknowledge her.
This situation was getting out of hand, and she needed to get it back under control or four months of planning would go sideways fast, and there was no other way into the Marcozi fold without Teresa, at least not for her.
She held up her hand at Teresa’s acknowledgment then looked up at the most irritatingly handsome man she’d ever had the misfortune to meet. Or kiss.
Coryn smiled and caressed Jack’s face right before she gave a sharp pinch to his earlobe. “Now it’s you who needs to play along, Jack, or you’re going to blow everything I’ve built here. You don’t want to cross me. I’ve got a nasty right hook, and I will use it.” She stepped away from him and into the offered hug from Teresa.
Show no fear, and all will be well. She repeated the mantra and prayed Jack was smart enough to listen to her. Teresa fancied herself a self-taught psychologist, and she could smell a lie twenty feet away.
Before Coryn had a chance to break contact with Teresa, Jack stepped up behind her and introduced himself.
“Hello, I’m Jackson Thornton. I’ve heard so much about you, Teresa. I’m so glad we could finally meet.”
He pressed his body into Coryn’s back and placed his hands on her shoulders. He began rubbing them in a silent dare. Sending more unwanted tendrils of desire pulsating through her body.
“You don’t know how relieved I was that Coryn was able to find a friend like you when she opened her shop. My long absences have really made it difficult for us, and I worried about her being alone.”
Coryn watched as realization finally dawned on Teresa. She looked from Jack to Coryn and back again. A huge smile appeared on her face. She let out an ear-piercing squeal and grabbed Jack and hugged him a little too long as far as Coryn was concerned. The twenty-foot buffer had been broken. Coryn made the sign of the cross and pasted on a lovesick smile. Where was that drink?