"Heroes Inc., Book 7"
Harlequin® BlazeTM #185
Mass Market Paperback
Publisher: Harlequin Books
Pub. Date: June 2005
"Hathaway's so hot, I'll never have to fake an orgasm again," bragged Francis Ledan, Vogue's August cover model who was impressed by her super agent, Hathaway Balkmandy.
"Hathaway's so hot," agreed another model draped in a Versace gown beaded with delicate pearls and Parisian stitching, "he could keep the Statue of Liberty's torch lit permanently."
Hathaway. Hathaway. Hathaway.
Everywhere Amanda Lane turned in the Ritzy New York ballroom, the legendary modeling agent's name spilled from the lips of famous women. And so far this crush of A-list party goers made it impossible for her to approach the Hugh Heffner wannabe herself. Amanda bided her time and filled her crystal champagne flute from a silver fountain flowing with Dom Perignon. Far from a Hathaway admirer, she had to admit the powerful modeling agent sure knew how to throw a party. From the tuxeoded, white-gloved waiters who served exotic caviar on slivers of toast and cream-filled lobster canapes to guests sumptuously decked out in designer couture to Marc Anthony's live performance, the elegant ballroom was hopping beneath the Swavorski chandeliers.
Tapping her Brazilian Pappagallo to the music, Amanda sipped champagne and bided her time, secure in the knowledge that her .22 caliber tucked into her thigh holster might be small, but it was as deadly as her spectacular wrap-style dress. Form-fitting through the bodice to show off her breasts, the chiffon nipped her waist then flowed gracefully but loosely over her hips, enhancing her figure. When one of Hathaway's body guards speared her with a look, Amanda, feeling alluring and seductive. She winked at him as if she belonged, as if she didn't believe that Hathaway had been the master mind behind her sister Donna's classified formula ending up in the hands of a terrorist, as if she didn't believe Hathaway was responsible for her sister's murder.
Amanda never forgot her mission. She was here to gain information about Hathaway's operations, and if clearing her sister's name and finding her murderer required her to flirt, then she would act the siren.
She glanced toward Hathaway and like the Red Sea parting on command, his coterie of sycophants, models and body guards parted for a moment, leaving her a direct view of Hathaway's face. He didn't look like a monster, but was one of those men whose age was difficult to guess. With his round countenance and thinning hair, he could have been thirty or fifty. Amanda's extensive research had told her he was thirty seven and women adored him as much as he adored the models who draped themselves around him. However, as Amanda and Hathaway locked gazes, she realized that her research had failed to prepare her for the searing crackle, a staggering snap of power, like the crack of a bullwhip, dangerous, deadly and oddly decadent, that emanated from the man, but his powerful stare alone would never prevent her from forgetting she was here for justice and to clear Donna's name.
Someone stepped between them, severing the weird connection. Amanda didn't wish to draw attention to herself and forced her gaze away, surprised by how difficult it was to ignore Hathaway's allure. Before she could analyze exactly what had just happened, she took a calming breath. Obviously, seeing the man she believed responsible for her sister's death was upsetting. She must have read more into the exchanged glances than was possible.
But no one else seemed to have noticed anything unusual. Guests chatted in groups, helped themselves to hors d'oeuvres and champagne. Marc Anthony finished the song and began another tune and Amanda's skitterish nerves settled.
Until her wandering gaze caught on a man exiting the gold and mirrored elevator. His scrumptious appearance caused her heart to do a back flip. Amanda wasn't the kind of woman to judge a man by his looks, but then she wasn't accustomed to seeing a man with a movie star face act interested in her. And there could be no doubting the man's interest. From across the ballroom, his gaze singled her out and caused heat to simmer low in her belly.
Good. She'd attracted an admirer. While she hadn't gotten close to Hathaway, she could still become part of a couple and blend better into the party scene. So she didn't deny her attraction to the stranger who was single-mindedly shouldering his way through the crowd with an ease that belied his size. Sporting spiked, black-black hair, a square, oh-so-kissable jaw and a friendly boy-next-door smile with toothpaste commercial white teeth, he approached with provocative intensity. Clean shaven, he wore a navy Armani suit that matched the color of his eyes, a deep lavender shirt and a diamond ear stud.
When she lifted her chin, brazenly holding his gaze, he grinned, showing off charming dimples. Except for the slight crook of his bold nose, he was perfect. Totally yummy.
And he was definitely aiming straight for her, making no pretense of his intended target. Oh, my.
Fascinated by the man's apparent objective to reach her, she fortified her anticipation with a sip of champagne and kept her gaze on him. The deepening warmth that drizzled downward from her stomach and caused a pleasant tingle between her thighs was a very physical reaction to the strong I'm-coming-to-meet-you signals he radiated.
"Good evening," he spoke with a soft southern accent, using a deep base tone that would make most women pay attention. "Did you come to the party alone?"
"Yes." She sipped her drink, enjoying herself and his direct approach. The singer's voice thrummed through her system but faded with the background crowd as she focused on the delicious-looking man who'd just invited himself into her space.
"Then let me introduce myself. Bolt Tanner." His hand enclosed hers in gentle warmth and hot calluses. Whatever he did for a living required physical activity. But even before she'd shaken his hand, she'd known he worked out from the fit of his suit over powerful shoulders and from the way his slacks clung to his lean stomach and hips. Chatting couples around them passed by carrying his scent to her. Soap and shampoo, maybe a breath mint. No cologne. Just pure male heat.
She retrieved her hand, a little unnerved by her strong reaction to him. Never had she met a man quite so focused on her and his intensity piqued her curiosity. Lately, she'd barely noticed more than a guy's general height and weight, so she wasn't quite prepared for his stunning effect.
"Nice to meet you, Mr. Tanner." She hoped he wanted something interesting from her . . . like a kiss. A slow, sensual, seductive kiss. The kind that promised more. For him, she might even be willing to forgo her usual six months of getting-to-know-a-man-before-sleeping-with-him rule and was glad she'd taken such care with her appearance tonight.
"Please, call me Bolt."
He lifted her glass from her hand, his fingers grazing hers and shooting an arc of electricity across her knuckles. Then holding her gaze, he deliberately turned the glass to sip from the exact spot her lips had touched, his maneuver smooth and intimate.
She tilted her head, eyeing him brazenly. "Bolt. You have an unusual name."
"Mother named me after her grandfather, a Florida fisherman who was struck by lightning three times and lived to tell about it."
"You ever been struck by lightning?"
"No, ma'am." He chuckled. "Not until tonight when I saw you."
She laughed with him. "I set you up perfectly for that, didn't I?"
"As a matter of fact, you did." She hadn't expected him to agree, but his tone rang with sincerity. "But if it makes you feel better, you should know I haven't used that line before."
"Mmm." She let the comment slide. He knew exactly what to say and how to say it to put a woman at ease. "So are you one of Hathaway's models?"
"Now, why would you think that?" He pretended to be insulted, but clearly was not.
She cocked her head and assessed him frankly, letting him see her admiration of his handsome face, the high cheekbones, the predatory nose that contrasted with his easy-going smile. "You fit the part."
"So do you."
"Thanks." She'd expected him to angle for a compliment, instead he'd turned the tables. Obviously, he had a quick mind behind those gorgeous baby blues. And while a clever man always made her feel sexy, the chemistry between them practically sizzled. If she could have bottled it, she'd have been a wealthy women, but she'd settle for the intoxication bubbling through her veins.
As much as Amanda wanted to go with the flow, she didn't trust the over-the-top sparks. Something wasn't right. Something she couldn't definenot with her every female instinct urging her to give him her best siren act.
Not about to ignore her well-honed instincts, yet not counting herself out just yet, either, she continued to play the game. "We both know I'm not tall or thin enough to work for Hathaway."
He glanced from her face and boldly dropped his scrutiny to her mouth. "You have plenty of . . . engaging features." At his appreciative glance, she could have sworn her breasts swelled. Her nipples most certainly tightened. He raised his eyes, clearly enticed by her response, and lowered his tone to a husky whisper. "I'll tell you a secret. I've always preferred a real woman. I don't know what Hathaway sees in these collagen-lipped models besides dollar signs."
"You know him?" she asked. Remembering she was here to scope out Hathaway was difficult while she conversed with such a striking specimen of masculinity. But she tried to focus on her goal and ignored the pulsing heat that beat like a go-get-him tattoo in her mind. She missed her sister too much to let lust sidetrack her.
"I only know Hathaway's reputation. While I admire his business acumen, his wretched taste in women has left the best one for me."
"Your name suits you," she teased. "You're as quick to strike as lightning."
"Quick?" Bolt handed her back the champagne flute, then slapped his palm to his forehead. "What the hell is the matter with me? I'm acting as slow as a stuffed fish to nibble on bait."
"Why am I standing here talking to you when I could have my arms around you? Would you like to dance?"
She licked her bottom lip, adoring the way his gaze followed her every little move. "I'd love to dance as long as you promise one thing."
"Not to step on your feet?"
She shook her head.
"Not to kiss you in front of all these people?"
Again she shook her head.
"Promise me that you won't keep your hands to yourself." Now, where had that comment come from? It wasn't something she would normally say. She might flirt. Yes. But she wasn't a tease and no damn way was she going to make love to this man tonight. But from what she'd just said, he had every reason to think otherwise. She hadn't drank enough champagne to make such a mistake. What in seven blazes was wrong with her?
"Now, darling." His sexy grin widened. "You must be reading my mind."
"Is that so?" She set her champagne flute on the tray of a passing waiter, placed her hand on his shoulder and slipped her other into his, every instinct on alert. He swung her into his arms and following his footwork came as easily as looking at him. In fact, as his hand settled on the bare small of her back and her skin tingled, she didn't notice anyone else in the room.
Before she knew exactly who closed in on whom, her hips were snugly pressed to his, her breasts caressing his chest as they danced. Every nerve in her body screamed to life, demanding she abduct him, then rip off his clothes. To distract herself from the incredibly hot sensations, she tilted back her head and looked at him. Up this close he was just as handsome.
"So what else is on your mind?" she asked, pleased she kept her tone breezy.
"Kissing you," he admitted right before his lips brushed hers.
Pure molten heat singed her. Her lips parted in amazement. Sure she liked kissing, but this brush fire couldn't possibly be normal. She eyed him warily, wondering if he'd used some kind of slight of hand to drug her drink. "Is this wise?"
"I don't want to be wise."
"Neither do I," she admitted, speculating over when her objective had changed from blending into the crowd to satisfying her growing lust. She was ready to tackle the man on the dance floor.
What was wrong with her? She was acting just like those idiot models who couldn't seem to keep their hands off Hathaway. As they'd danced past the agent, she'd seen at least half a dozen women fawning over him, groping him. It was almost as if the air were saturated with an aphrodisiac.
Now that she considered it, the attraction between her and Bolt was way too strong, unusual, not just rare but downright weird. From the moment that elevator door had opened, he'd focused on her. He hadn't casually picked her out of the crowd, almost as if he'd intended for them to meet, but if that were the case, he hadn't been the least bit subtle, hadn't tried to hide his intentions.
The hair on her neck prickled. Was Bolt one of Hathaway's men sent to check her out?
Regardless of her raging lust, Amanda wasn't into one-night stands. She didn't pick up men. Not in bars. Not in ballrooms. Certainly not when she was undercover and wearing a gun that would give her away. And most certainly, she didn't sleep with the enemy.
She didn't care if every feminine and needy cell in her body wept and called her traitor. Or if she had to take an ice-cold bath to soothe her burning flesh. After this one dance, she was out of here.