© 2023 by Jordan Summers

PRIVATE INVESTIGATIONS CHAPTERS 1-3

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

She had to be the worst thief he’d ever seen.

Brandon Walker propped his large frame against the doorjamb and watched the hypnotic movements of the woman’s perfect ass as she fiddled with the filing cabinet lock. “Jingle Bells” played in the background.

She was so engrossed with what she was doing that she was utterly oblivious to his presence and didn’t seem to notice the change in volume of the holiday music. 

Laughter filtered in from the party downstairs. The woman didn’t even look up. Dressed in black slacks and an iridescent sweater that cupped her full breasts, she bobbed and shimmied before his eyes, trying to gain leverage on the carpet. Each undulation tempted Brandon, luring him deeper into the room.

Brandon tipped his flute of champagne, wetting his suddenly parched throat. Had his collar shrunk? He tugged at the starched shirt and bow tie constricting his neck and took another drink. The sweet dry bubbles felt good going down, but did little to ease his discomfort.

The woman’s heart-shaped bottom jiggled again. He gazed at her, transfixed. Damn, it had been too long since he’d felt the rush of excitement that accompanied instant attraction.

He drained his glass and placed the crystal flute on the oak side table just inside the door. He should stop her. But if he did that, then the “show” would end. A man of many appetites, Brandon continued to appreciate the view.

Hunkered down on her knees and bent forward at the waist, the woman continued to work. She held a flashlight in one hand and a jangling collection of lock-pick tools in the other. Between the clanging of the tools and all the muttered cursing she was doing, it was clear that she lacked experience.

Hell, a Salvation Army bell ringer would’ve been quieter.

What in the world was she after in the filing cabinet?

She grunted with the effort that it took to force the lock, sending red curls falling into her face. She didn’t stop to push them out of the way, like most women he’d known would’ve done. Instead, she just blew on them.

Brandon hadn’t gotten a good look at her face when she’d slipped past him in the hallway earlier. Nor had she noticed him sitting in the alcove. She’d seemed too preoccupied and now he knew why.

One glimpse had been enough to let him know he didn’t recognize her from the usual crowd downstairs. There was no way he would have missed that long red hair, turned up nose, and sexy ass sashaying past.

No way. He may be bored but he wasn’t dead. An inkling of familiarity washed through him, settling into his gut. 

“Open, damn it!” She groaned, shaking the lock in frustration. The movement sent her full breasts quivering beneath her sweater and she grunted again.

Brandon’s attention locked to the front of her shirt, his previous thoughts forgotten. Her soft voice brushed over him like a caress despite the tension of the moment.

With little effort, he could imagine hearing those groans in his ear as he slid inside her. Brandon held back a groan of his own as he admired her tantalizing attributesand her submissive position.

He could certainly think of a lot better ways to put that position to use than breaking and entering. His cock stirred behind the cover of his dress pants. Brandon reminded himself he was dealing with a criminal, no matter how inept or tempting she may be.

But that knowledge couldn’t deter his gaze from lazily flicking over her body, cataloguing, assessing—imagining. If sheer will alone could remove her clothes, she’d be naked by now. 

The cabinet rattled again. He marveled that she still had no idea he was in the room with her. The tools in her hand dropped to the floor. A very unladylike curse followed. She quickly retrieved her tools, then went back to work.

Brandon’s lips twitched in amusement. She’d definitely livened up an otherwise tedious office party.

He pushed from the doorway and stepped deeper into the room. It was time to put a stop to this commotion before she drew official attention to her activities. His fingers slid along the wall until he’d located the silent alarm button.

Brandon hesitated. Pushing it was the right thing to do, but for some reason he couldn’t. He dropped his hand and crossed his arms over his chest.

He cleared his throat, then said, “You’d do better with less force and more finesse.”

The muscles in the woman’s body froze a second before she leapt to her feet. Her tools clattered to the floor. She spun around with the flashlight in hand. The bright beam momentarily blinded him, then she quickly doused the light.

Between the spots in his eyes and the low lighting coming from the hallway, all Brandon could see was her rosy lips. The rest of her face remained shadowed. A pout formed on her mouth accentuating her full lower lip. It was such a small motion, but enough to capture and hold him.

Damn.She had lips made for kissing and a whole lot of other things he wasn’t going to think about right now. Brandon swallowed hard, ignoring the urge to close the distance and taste the tempting bud. 

“I think you need to consider getting into a different line of work. You’re the worst thief I’ve ever seen.”

She made a move for the door.

“Tsk…tsk…tsk.” His hand flew out toward the silent alarm.

Her gaze followed his actions. The moment she saw the button, she froze. The woman gaped, then quickly recovered. “I-I-I’m no thief,” she replied, sounding indignant. She gathered the items at her feet and shoved them in her purse.

Brandon arched his brow. “No thief, eh? Then why are you in Bill Cavanaugh’s home office, attempting to break into his filing cabinet?”

The woman’s chin tilted up a notch, hinting at a stubborn streak that under different circumstances would have turned him on. Brandon still couldn’t see her eyes or make out her features clearly, but he could tell she was looking at him. He realized he wanted her to step forward into the light and reveal herself.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” She sighed. “How did you know where to find Cavanaugh’s silent alarm?”

Brandon grinned. “Some of us have actually been invited into this room.”

Was it his imagination or had his response caused her to tense? His fingers stroked the alarm button, drawing her attention to the movement.

“What do you want?” she asked, her voice tight with apprehension. Her eyes scrolled from his fingers to his face.

His gaze raked her. A lot of things, he thought. But they’d come later. “Let’s start with what you’re doing here.”

He could see her pulse flutter beneath the long column of her neck. She may not be visibly shaking, but she was scared. Smart woman.

Her steady voice held a hint of challenge when she spoke again. “It won’t matter what I tell you so you might as well press that button and stop playing with it.”

Brandon smiled and glanced at her bountiful chest. His fingers circled the button like he longed to caress her nipples. Her body’s response was instantaneous.

He shook his head and tried to dispel the image of rose-colored areoles puckering at his touch, but it was impossible.

She was a thief. A long-legged, shapely-assed thief, who obviously hadn’t learned her lesson yet.

“You’re not in a position to be making demands.” He glanced to the floor, remembering her on her hands and knees.

The woman’s nostrils flared and her tongue dipped out to wet her bottom lip. The innocent move made his cock leap to attention.

Brandon shoved one hand in his pocket to disguise his current state of arousal, leaving the other to casually rest on the alarm. He wasn’t the type of man who’d ever had to deal with sexual frustration. He didn’t like it one bit. He also didn’t like the fact this woman had managed to get him hot and bothered without even trying.

The last thing he needed was for her to realize how much being near her affected him. She was a criminal, and he’d do well to remember that fact.

Hell, she’ddo well to remember that. Didn’t she realize he could turn her in and she’d go to jail? Better yet, throw her down on that carpet and ravage her seven ways to Sunday.

“What are you doing here?” he asked. “What are you looking for?”

She didn’t answer.

That simple act of defiance fired Brandon’s blood, raising his need two notches higher to inferno. He wanted this woman, thief or no, naked and writhing under his body as he fucked her senseless. The thought pissed him off.

“I’m giving you one last chance to save your pretty ass. You’ve got five seconds to convince me that I shouldn’t turn you in.”

She shoved the flashlight into her pocket, leaving her hands to rest on her hips. Well-manicured fingertips tapped impatiently as she seemed to debate his request. She opened her mouth and closed it again. Her breathing grew shallow. He could tell she’d finally realized he was serious.

“The clock is ticking.” He tapped the alarm lightly for emphasis.

The woman stiffened, then suddenly a cool smile spread across her face. That devilish grin made the hair at the nape of his neck stand on end. Brandon’s body went on high alert.

“You...know...who...I...am,” she said.

Those five words slapped Brandon across the face, challenging him to remember—daring him to recall. His eyes tried to penetrate the darkness and get a good look at her face. Did he know her?

He couldn’t recall anyone with flame red hair but then again, he’d gone through a plethora of women during his wilder days. You know who I am.The words rang in his head, repeating over and over. 

“I’m almost disappointed in you, Brandon,” she said softly. This time a teasing familiarity tinged her words. “The man I used to know wouldn’t have hesitated to act. The man I used to know would’ve jumped at the opportunity to be on top of a thief.”

Oh he’s nearly jumped on top of her, but not in the way she’d implied.

Her voice penetrated his memory, fragmenting his thoughts. The years fell away. “Cara?” Realization crashed down upon him like a tub of ice water.

Brandon did know her. Or at least he used to...a lifetime ago. He had so many questions, but shock stilled his tongue. The clip-clop of footsteps heralded someone’s approach.

Not now!

Brandon covered the distance separating him from Cara Martin and grabbed her by the elbow.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

He didn’t answer. He simply hurried her toward the closet. Brandon threw the door open and pushed her inside, then stepped in behind her. For a second, they stood pressed together, his aching sex nestled firmly against her lush bottom.

Her spicy perfume assailed him in the confined space, curling around his instincts, tugging at the leash of his desire.

“Don’t move,” he hissed.

Brandon fought the urge to grab her, pull her into his arms and kiss her senseless. Equally as strong was the urge to shake her silly for being so careless.

Unfortunately given her identity, neither action was an option.

Instead, he stepped back and pulled the door closed, leaving a slight crack so that he’d be able to hear if anyone entered the room. The footsteps drew nearer. Of all the people his mystery woman could’ve turned out to be, why did she have to be the one person he could never have?

 

Cara’s heart pounded so hard she thought it might explode in her chest. She reached for her flashlight and flicked on the beam.

Two things became abundantly apparent, she’d been caught and Brandon Walker had no idea who she was until seconds ago. She wasn’t sure which one aggravated her more.

“Take your clothes off,” he growled.

“Excuse me?” Cara swung her flashlight around, her gaze bulleting to Brandon’s face. He couldn’t be serious. Under the beam, his chiseled features were hard—unyielding.

Brandon loosened his tie. “We don’t have time to argue,” he snarled in frustration. “Do as I say, Cavanaugh will be here any second.”

“How do you know it’s him?”

He looked at her as if she were dense. “Who else would it be? The party is downstairs or hadn’t you noticed?”

The click of a switch sent light streaking in through the crack of the door. They both stilled instantly, listening. He was here. She shoved her flashlight into a nearby jacket pocket, before once again facing Brandon.

She leaned close and whispered, “It wasn’t my idea to hide in the closet.”

“No, it was your idea to break into his office the night of the corporate Christmas party,” he hissed. “What were you thinking?”

“Oh shut up, he’s going to hear us.”

Footsteps padded across the carpeted floor, drawing nearer to their hiding place. Papers shuffled. He must have stopped at his desk, which meant he hadn’t noticed the open closet door yet.

“Take your clothes off now.” Brandon’s teeth clenched and his hazel eyes narrowed in warning.

“No!” She shook her head. “There has to be another way.” Cara stepped back. Her hand brushed against the Italian silk jackets hanging in the cedar-scented closet. She set her purse down on a shelved ledge.

With speed that contradicted his large size, Brandon struck. Her sweater was up over her head and onto the floor in seconds.

Cara gasped in disbelief. “I said no,” she whispered.

Deft fingers reached behind her. She heard a faint click then her bra straps slid from her shoulders, spilling her full breasts into the charged air.

“You assh—” Before the curse could leave her lips Brandon swept her into his arms, crushing her against his hard chest. His mouth crashed down upon hers in a punishing kiss.

The second their mouths connected, Cara’s world tilted. Hard met soft. Moist melded with dry. Her eyelids fell and warmth spread throughout her body like a wildfire left unchecked. The heat singed her senses and scored her mind. Her nipples beaded against the scrape of his dress shirt and suit jacket, leaving her wanting.

Brandon’s tongue dipped and teased, drawing her to him. Before she could stop her response, Cara wound her arms around his neck and sank her fingers into his thick whiskey-colored hair.

Masculine spice mixed with the sweet champagne he’d been drinking earlier intoxicated her. Making her forget where they were, why they were there, and who she was with. Their bodies pressed together and their muscles locked.

The closet door wrenched open, sending glaring light into the small space. Her eyes flew open. The bright light blinded her. Brandon stepped back from the embrace and looked at the intruder, but his big body kept her from being exposed. Like her, he couldn’t seem to catch his breath.

“What the hell are you doing in here, Walker?” Cavanaugh’s surprise colored his words.

Brandon’s brow arched and he lazily caressed Cara’s bare back with his callused fingertips. The rough pads sent delicious shivers racing along her spine. Her breathing hitched. Brandon’s voice was husky when he finally spoke. “We were searching for a little privacy.”

Cavanaugh stared in disbelief. His gaze scanned the entire closet area, then he picked up the clothing strewn on the floor. He handed the bra and sweater to Brandon.

“The Hyatt is down the street,” he said. “I suggest you book a room.”

“We’ll do that.” Brandon rolled his broad shoulders and gave Cavanaugh a languid smile.

The man studied them for a moment more, then slammed the closet door shut, shrouding them in darkness. Cavanaugh’s laughter shattered the silence.

Cara couldn’t seem to catch her breath. Stunned, and more than a little shaken, she slipped from Brandon’s embrace.

Brandon Walker had kissed her. It had been under duress, but still, he’d kissed her. How many years had she dreamt about that? More than she could count. Her imagination paled in comparison to reality.

Cara’s lips quivered and her heart continued to race. Her breasts throbbed and her nipples ached to the point of pain. She grabbed her clothes out of Brandon’s hand.

To his credit, he didn’t open the door. Brandon didn’t move or even flinch as she quickly dressed. He seemed to be rooted in place.

It was just a kiss, she reminded herself again. A ruse Brandon came up with at the last second so she wouldn’t get caught breaking into William Cavanaugh’s filing cabinet. Her fingers trembled as she hooked her bra.

So why did it feel like more?

 

CHAPTER TWO

 

As soon as she’d slipped the sweater back over her head, Brandon pushed the closet door wide. Cara opened her mouth to explain why she’d been in Cavanaugh’s office, but didn’t get a chance.

“Don’t say a word,” he hissed between clenched teeth. He grabbed her by the elbow and propelled her from the room. His body vibrated in unreleased anger as they descended to the first floor and joined the crowd.

The party was still in full swing with Christmas music playing in the background. Designer clothes draped the attendees, wrapping them in luxury, cocooning them from reality. There were more rhinestones and diamonds in the room than at a Dolly Parton concert.

She took a deep breath. Her head itched and her feet hurt. She couldn’t stand the people around her. Present company excluded.

She knew the second they got outside Brandon would let her have it, so she slowed her pace. It only delayed the inevitable, but the delay would buy her some time to come up with an explanation he’d accept.

She glanced around the massive great room. Cara was no stranger to wealth but she’d never been inside a house this size. Twinkling multi-colored lights lay strewn over the adobe-inspired mantle and around all the window frames, while fake snow decorated the panes.

A crackling fire raged in the fireplace giving off a warm glow, all the while fighting the blast of Arctic air coming from the air-conditioning unit. Through open French doors, the crowd spilled out into the desert landscape overlooking Phoenix.

Cara could see cacti draped in lights dotting the backyard. The smell of piñón blended with pine in an olfactory symphony.

A twenty-foot Christmas tree stood majestically in the center of the vaulted ceiling room, giving the crowd something to congregate around and comment on. Champagne flutes clinked. Toasts were made. Laughter and chatter peppered the air. All the sounds grated on Cara’s nerves like fingernails scraping Styrofoam. 

Brandon’s firm grip slid from her elbow to her hand. The shift in warmth sent a delicious tremor zinging up her arm and over her spine. He interlaced his fingers with hers, then led her deeper into the crowd. He threaded them through the revelers as “White Christmas” came pouring from the speakers.

The revelers pressed in, temporarily halting their progress. She turned her attention to an older couple beside them.

“Can you believe the size of Bill’s home?” the woman murmured. “You could practically fit a football field in here.”

“He’s certainly done very well for himself recently,” the man observed. “Business must be booming.” The couple nodded in agreement at their assessment of their colleague’s wealth.

At the cost of other people, Cara thought.

“Brandon, honey, where are you going?” A woman’s trill voice called out over the crowd.

They both froze, then turned as one to face the woman approaching. She had blonde hair the color of honeyed wheat and wore a lilac silk dress. Unlike Cara’s, her frame was lithe like a mannequin.

She glanced at Brandon to catch his reaction to the woman’s willowy form. For some crazy reason, it mattered. Familiarity flitted over his features a second before his expression closed down. The woman slowed to a halt and joined them.

She ignored their joined hands and slipped her arm around Brandon’s elbow. He stiffened, then seemed to relax.

Cara watched the exchange, wondering just how well Brandon knew this human celery stick.

“Hello, Vivica,” he said. “Having a good time?”

“I am now,” she all but purred. “Sorry to hear about you and Julie. Thought maybe you could use a little company. It’s not fun to be alone on the holidays.”

Alone? Was she blind?Cara glared at her and cleared her throat.

“Who are you?” Vivica drawled, sparing her a passing glance.

With that southern accent, she obviously wasn’t from Phoenix. Cara straightened and resisted the urge to adjust her own clothing. She knew she was probably a wrinkled mess, having spent most of the evening on her hands and knees. But she didn’t deserve to be ignored.

Brandon pulled his arm free from Vivica’s possessive grasp. “She’s an oldfriend,” he answered for her.

“Speaking of friendship.” Cara rubbed a smudge of lipstick from the corner of his mouth. “I don’t think it’s your color.” She held up her finger for him to see.

Something sparked in Brandon’s eyes, before they once again became unreadable.

Vivica’s gaze started at her shoes and slowly worked its way up until they were staring eye-to-eye. She didn’t say a word but there was no hiding her disapproval. With a final glance, she dismissed her.

“Are we on for a drink later, sugar?” Vivica asked.

Cara wanted to scream. She wanted to hold up their joined hands and shove them in the woman’s perfectly made-up face. Not that there was anything going on between her and Brandon, but Vivica didn’t know that.

Brandon beat her to it again. “Now Viv, you know that we weren’t planning to get together tonight.”

Vivica’s face flushed. “But I thought you wanted to discuss the court case.”

Brandon smiled. “We can do that at the office.”

Undeterred, she continued her pursuit. “But we’ve got court in three weeks.”

Brandon shrugged nonchalantly. “It’ll wait until after the holiday.”

“Ted said you worked with him night and day until his case went to trial,” she said. “I was hoping we’d be able to do the same.”

“It was a different kind of case.” 

“Fine.” Vivica reached into her clutch purse and pulled out a sprig of mistletoe, which she jiggled in front of his face. Brandon’s jaw clenched but he didn’t say anything.

Fascinated by the woman’s daring, Cara watched as Vivica boldly moved in and captured Brandon’s mouth. The whole thing seemed to occur in slow motion. Brandon didn’t pull away, but he didn’t participate either.

The kiss seemed to go on for an eternity. Cara felt her cheeks heat. Awkwardness she hadn’t felt since her teen years returned, tightening like invisible thumbscrews, adding to her physical discomfort. This was worse than the day she was pantsed in third period gym class.

She cleared her throat.

Vivica ignored the sound and kept kissing Brandon.

Cara cleared her throat again—louder. Enough already! Neither one paid any attention to her.

What had happened to the Brandon Walker she’d known?

He’d grown up...and turned into a jerk.

His round boyhood face had thinned giving definition to his tanned warrior-like features. His lips were savage—demanding. He’d lost much of the soft padding that had come from his pre-football days. Brandon was now solid muscle, his body chiseled and hard, daring her to touch.

Obviously the temptation was too much for Vivica to resist.

With one hand, he gently detached himself from the embrace. Other than a slight flush to his cheeks, he seemed unaffected by the kiss. That hadn’t been the case when they were in the closet.

The unexpected pleasure from that realization startled her. She reminded herself once more not to read too much into his reaction. This was Brandon after all. He’d always been good at hiding his feelings.

“Merry Christmas,” Vivica said. “I’ll see you on Monday.” She smirked at her.

Brandon nodded and walked away. Cara had no choice but to follow.

“Sorry to hear about you and Ann. Good gal,” a man in a blue suit slurred as they passed by. A martini dangled from his fingertips, sloshing onto the floor.

“Thanks,” Brandon said.

He gave Brandon a sympathetic look, then his eyes lit upon her and a smile spread across his weasely face. “Looks like you’re not letting the grass grow under your heels.” He waggled his eyebrows and moved on.

Just how many women was Brandon seeing?Cara wondered, then just as quickly realized she didn’t want to know. She’d heard enough.

 

Brandon didn’t think they’d ever reach the front door. His co-workers seemed to be taking great pride in accosting him over his love life this evening.

He’d never been shy about the fact that he enjoyed the company of the opposite sex. He’d gone through a bevy of transitory beauties over the past few years and it had never once occurred to him that the number should embarrass him. Until now. For some reason with Cara here, it made him decidedly uncomfortable.

He was beyond grateful he’d managed to elude Bill Cavanaugh. The last thing he needed was to have to explain himself again about what he was doing up in the man’s home office closet.

Hell, he didn’t even know himself. Never mind the wild-haired idea that had him stripping Cara Martin and pulling her into his arms.

What had he been thinking?

He’d told her to remove her clothes initially to make the scene more believable for Cavanaugh, but once her sweater came off something shifted inside of him.

He’d unhooked her bra clasp with skill that came from years of experience. In that moment, he knew full well he wanted to hold her naked in his arms. Convincing his colleague that they were playing grab ass in the closet had been secondary.

Brandon reminded himself again that Cara was unquestionably off-limits. There may only be a few unspoken rules regarding women but this was one: keep your hands off your best friend’s little sister.

It was a rule he’d lived by. One he’d taken to heart in his teens, when their attraction became apparent. There would be no more touching her full breasts or kissing her soft lips. He needed to stop thinking about the feel of her supple skin beneath his fingertips. The spicy aroma that lingered in the air whenever they stopped had to go, too.

The mix, a subtle combination of perfume and sexually aroused woman, had given him a raging hard-on. Heck, Brandon had been hard ever since he’d first laid eyes on her, but that was before he’d known who she was. He didn’t want to think about how finding out hadn’t made any difference to his stubborn male body.

It was why he’d let Vivica try to remove his tonsils with her tongue. He’d thought for sure that woman’s kiss would erase Cara’s. Fat fucking chance.

Brandon pushed the front door open and stepped out into the warm desert night. It may be December, but it felt more like April. He took a deep breath, hoping to clear his lungs of her intoxicating scent.

He glanced at the face he’d known for years. Her blue eyes met his and his gut clenched in reaction. Brandon had been so mad earlier and so turned on that he’d come close to turning Cara over his knee and paddling her pretty ass. If he hadn’t been worried he’d enjoy it too much, he would have.

She had no business here. She had no business sashaying back into his life, looking like sex incarnate. When had she moved back to Phoenix? Why hadn’t Granger mentioned it? All good questions. He’d get answers to later.

It was time to find out what was going on. “How did you get here?” He scanned the sweeping driveway for the banana-colored Camaro she used to drive.

Cara hesitated, then glanced sideways at the eight-foot privacy fence. “I scaled the wall.”

Brandon jerked her around to face him. “You what?” The heat from her skin burned his fingers. He released her arm. “You’re lucky you didn’t break your neck.”

“Nobody saw me,” she said. “I’m competent at my job.”

“Competent?” Brandon laughed. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” He shook his head in disbelief. “From what I just witnessed a few minutes ago, honey, your competency rates right up there with the winners of the Darwin award.”

Her blue eyes narrowed to icy slits. “You know nothing about me, Don Juan.” She poked him in the chest to punctuate her words. “We haven’t seen each other in over eight years so I suggest you back off and mind your own business.”

Brandon couldn’t stop the smile from spreading across his face. Cara was as fiery as he remembered, except now she had the backbone and confidence of a grown woman behind her actions.

Without thought, he closed the distance between them. An urge to dominate swept through him so powerfully he had to act. He gripped her by the chin and tilted her face up until they were mere inches apart.

“Now you listen to me, little girl. You are my business, always have been, always will be.”

Cara arched a brow in challenge. “Does my brother know?”

His own words penetrated his mind and Brandon released her. What was he saying? She wasn’t his business, hadn’t been for a very long time. He rubbed his hands together to dispel the feel of her, but he couldn’t look away. 

Her pearl-like complexion glowed in the starlight. A single freckle dotted her face near her eye. He’d always thought the lone spot added character. Cara’s deep blue eyes remained fathomless, refusing to give away any secrets.

Her lush mouth was fuller than he recalled, but it was her hair that had truly thrown him. The outrageous red color was so different from the beautiful black hair he remembered. Why had she changed it?

At twenty-six, she was far more dangerous to his sensibilities than she’d been when they were teens. Brandon liked what he saw, which was a very bad thing.

Her gaze narrowed on him but she said nothing.

He stared at her curly red hair and frowned. “I don’t like what you’ve done to your hair. It doesn’t suit you.”

She snorted. “What I do with my hair—and my life for that matter—is not your concern.”

Brandon’s jaw clamped shut and he tried to rein in his temper. She should be grateful to him. If anyone else had caught her, she’d be on her way to jail by now.

“Where did you park?” he snapped out the question, aggravated at himself for his loss of control. His gaze flicked to her curvy body. There was nothing brotherly about his thoughts.

Her return disturbed him on many levels. He never lost control when it came to women. Unfortunately, Cara wasn’t just any woman. She knew him better than anyone did. She was the only one who’d ever managed to get close to him.

She crossed her arms over her chest and glared at him. The slight action shoved her breasts higher. They peeked out of the top of her sweater, unknowingly taunting him.

“Now’s not the time to be stubborn,” he pressed. “Just answer the question. Where did you park?” His voice sounded as if he were gargling gravel. So much for keeping his cool.

She blew out a frustrated breath. “A few blocks over, outside the gated community.”

“Good.”

Brandon grabbed her arm and pulled her toward his platinum-colored Jaguar. He reached into his pocket and thumbed the remote to unlock the doors. The lights came on as they approached, highlighting the car’s cream leather interior. He shoved Cara into the passenger seat, then slipped behind the wheel.

If her family knew what she’d been up to tonight they’d tan her hide. The thought brought a smile to Brandon’s face. He started the car and reversed onto the street.

Night blanketed the desert city as he wound his way through the wealthy neighborhoods of Paradise Valley until he reached the highway.

“Where are you going?” she asked. “Take me back to my car.”

“Granger can drop you off later.” Was it his imagination or had her face lost a little color at the mention of her brother’s name?

Brandon punched the gas pedal when he entered the ramp, taking his frustrations out on the high-powered machine. The Jaguar glided into the fast lane, its speed increasing by the second.

“You better slow down, Mario, or would you rather I call you Romeo? I had no idea you were such a male slut.”

Brandon glanced at Cara then focused back on the road. “Considering your lack of experience in the dating field, I wouldn’t be too quick to judge.”

Her mouth gaped. “My lack of experience...” She sounded incensed. “Just because I don’t fall into bed with every guy I meet doesn’t mean I’m inexperienced.”

He reached down to the console without looking and flipped a switch. A dial tone buzzed from the tiny, semi-concealed speakers in the car’s interior.

“What are you doing?”

He glanced in his rearview mirror. “What does it look like?” From his peripheral, Brandon saw Cara flinch. “Call Granger,” he said.

She sighed. “You don’t need to do this.”

“Yes, I do.” His grip on the steering wheel tightened.

“Yo,” a gruff male voice came on the line. The connection crackled and spit as he passed by the mountains.

“Hey Grang, it’s Brandon. Where are you?”

“I’m on” pop“boat”hiss“Lake Pleasant.”

Brandon laughed. “That explains the connection. Can you hear me okay?”

“Loud and clear,” he said.

“Guess who I ran into tonight?”

There was a pause on the end of the line. The tension in the cab of the car rose exponentially. “Some leggy blonde with a nice set of—”

“Your little sister,” Brandon cut in before his best friend put his foot in it.

There was a pause on the line. “What has she done now?” Granger’s voice was deadly calm, too calm. His passions ran hot or cold. There was no in between which meant he was pissed. Brandon almost felt sorry for her...almost.

“I think she should tell you.” He nudged her elbow. “No time to be shy, Cara.”

The line crackled.

“Hello Granger,” she said.

“Spill!”

 

CHAPTER THREE

 

Cara took a deep breath. “It’s not what you think.”

“Oh yes it is,” Brandon piped in.

“Shut up, you’re not helping the situation.” She glared at the strong profile of the man beside her.

Her brother growled on the other end of the line. “You have no idea what I’m thinking, cupcake.”

“Stop calling me that,” she said.

Granger had dubbed her “cupcake” after she devoured half a dozen of the tasty treats that had been earmarked for a school bake sale. Cara had been in fifth grade at the time and had been heavier than most, so the name was an unwelcome reminder of her chunkier days. Granger only used it now to get under her skin. Unfortunately, it worked.

“Perhaps we should wait to do this in person,” Brandon said. “Some of this information is of a sensitive nature.”

Granger cursed. “Where are you?”

“We’re on our way. Cara will explain everything once she gets there.” Brandon spared her a glance, easily weaving his way in and out of traffic. There were no wrong moves. He drove like he did everything else: flawlessly.

“Fine! See you in a few.” Granger disconnected.

She sighed. “Since you’re so gung-ho about me telling Granger the whole story, I’m just curious does that include the incident in the closet?”

Brandon made a choking sound. “There’s no need to go into those kind of details.”

“Why not? You want him to know what happened.” Cara crossed her arms over her chest. When Brandon didn’t answer right away, she continued. “We’re both adults here. I’m sure Granger would understand that unplanned things happen when you’re working a case.”

“Working a case? What exactly do you do for a living?”

“I’m surprised Granger didn’t tell you. I’m a private investigator at the family firm.”

Brandon gaped. “Since when?”

She shifted until she could face him. “It’s been about two years now.”

“Two years!” Brandon looked at her for a couple beats to gauge if she was serious or not. His jaw suddenly firmed and he stared back at the road.

“Yep, that’s about right.” She nodded.

“Granger didn’t mention it,” he said.

“The news probably got lost in all the girl talk you guys do.”

His body tensed and he shifted in his seat. “Granger may be an understanding guy, but he’s not going to appreciate his best friend getting hot and heavy with his kid sister. Even if it was out of necessity.” Brandon accelerated. At this rate, they’d reach Lake Pleasant in fifteen minutes.

Cara stared at him while he drove and recalled the first time she’d seen Brandon Walker. He’d waltzed into her family’s kitchen behind her older brother Granger. She’d had her nose shoved in a book, which was her norm at age fourteen. One glance in his direction and her mind had ceased to function.

She’d stood there gaping at him like the goofy adolescent she was at the time, her heart firmly emblazoned on her sleeve.

Brandon’s hazel gaze had locked to hers for what had felt like an eternity before Granger slapped him on the shoulder and announced that he was his new best friend.

After that, Brandon went out of his way to treat her exactly like Granger did. She was for all intents and purposes his little sister. Someone to protect, look out for, tease and torment, but never under any circumstances touch.

Unfortunately, his decision had done nothing to deter her raging hormones. She’d fallen in love with him at first sight. Cara perused Brandon’s broad chest and firm thighs. She hated the fact that the jerk still made her heart race, made her believe in fairytales and happily-ever-afters.

For years, she’d imagined what kissing Brandon Walker would feel like. Would his lips be hard or soft, wet or dry? Would he be all tongue or coaxing in his approach to a kiss? She’d played every possible scenario in her mind and now twelve years later she’d finally found out.

The kiss had quite simply been...wow! Her toes refused to uncurl. She could still feel the silky texture of his whiskey-colored hair beneath her fingertips. The hot press of his hands along her spine.

The worst part was her body had somehow picked up the imprint of his, leaving her achy and more than a little restless. God help her, she wanted this man more than she’d ever wanted anyone. Always had. Feared she always would.

Cara inhaled, trying to calm her jangled nerves. Brandon’s male scent clung to her pores, surrounding, seeping into her senses, triggering a craving that no amount of chocolate would ease.

This sucked!

Considering his level of experience with women, he’d probably done it on purpose. Cara ran her hand over the leather side panel to discharge her nervous energy. The car smelled of rich leather and Brandon, a potent aphrodisiac to her senses.

The twinkling lights of the houseboats on Lake Pleasant came into sight in the distance. Cara knew Granger wouldn’t be at the dock waiting for them. He was probably moored in his favorite cove, seething. She’d have to do some pretty fast talking once they reached her brother. She hadn’t exactly received his blessing before venturing out.

Brandon pulled into the parking lot at the top of the hill. “We’ll have to take the speedboat out to Granger. I doubt he’ll be parked in the slip.”

Cara nodded. “He won’t be.”

They made their way from the car down toward the marina and over to the slip holding Brandon’s sleek black boat. Two cream-colored bucket seats flanked the controls while padded benches lined the stern. Brandon helped her into the boat, then untied the lines.

“Why are you doing this?” she asked.

He shrugged. “Guess I haven’t gotten out of the habit of looking after you.”

“I’m not a baby anymore, if you hadn’t noticed.” She held her arms wide for emphasis.

 

No, she wasn’t.Brandon’s muscles refused to unlock. He’d noticed all right. It had been impossible to ignore. After his hands had scraped the soft swell of her breasts, his mind had thought of little else.

What had happened to the innocent little girl he’d known years ago? He certainly couldn’t see her in this siren standing before him.

Why in the hell had he kissed her after he’d realized who she was? The question returned time and again, niggling at him like a loose tooth refusing to fall out. He knew better.

Brandon swallowed hard. He could still taste Cara’s honeyed sweetness on his lips. He cleared his throat and bent down to release another tether from the boat. If his cock got any harder, it would split the seams of his pants.

He took a deep breath, letting the cool air seep into his body. The last knot slipped free and Brandon stepped onto the boat. If he was honest with himself, he knew exactly why he’d kissed her.

Brandon had thought of little else since he’d witnessed her feeble attempt at burglary. Hell, he’d been thinking about it since that first moment he’d walked into the Martins’ kitchen twelve years ago. He’d spied Granger’s curvy little sister sitting on a stool, reading a book. 

Even at fourteen, she had been stunning. She didn’t know it at the time, which made her all the more adorable. The attraction was instantaneous for both of them. Cara had followed him around like a puppy and Brandon had loved every minute of her schoolgirl adulation.

At the time, he’d treated her like his own kid sister, playfully deflecting her attempts at flirtation. With his teenage hormones in full throttle, it had been the hardest thing he’d ever done.

Now, he’d give anything to have that same kind of adulation from her, even though he could never act upon the attraction out of respect for Granger.

With the boat untied, Brandon started the engine. She slipped into the passenger seat as they idled out of the marina. It only took a few minutes to reach open water. Brandon kicked up the speed a notch and they headed out onto the moonlit lake.

The awkward silence stretched on, finally Cara turned to him. “Aren’t you even going to ask me why I was trying to access Cavanaugh’s files?”

“I already did. Remember? You couldn’t be bothered to give me a straight answer.”

Her brow furrowed. “I was mad at you at the time.”

He glanced her way, watching her red curls blow in the wind. “Doesn’t matter.”

She stiffened and her jaw firmed under his gaze. “You’re a hypocrite, you know that?”

Brandon stopped the boat and faced her. “And just how in the hell am I a hypocrite?”

“You claim to be this cool guy putting on this cooler-than-thou front, but you’re really just another corporate jerk.” She closed the distance between them and stood on her tiptoes to bring her closer to his height. “I used to think you walked on water but I was wrong. You’re nothing but a womanizing ass, who wouldn’t know the truth if it was laid in front of him on a platter.”

Brandon’s jaw clenched. Coming from anyone else, the words wouldn’t bother him, but this was Cara. His Cara.“What truth is that?” His gaze dropped to her mouth. The urge to kiss her beat at his control.

The boat bobbed and rocked. Gentle waves lapped at the shore in the distance reinforcing the fact that they were alone.

She ignored his question. “What happened to you, Brandon?” Cara shoved her trembling hands into her trouser pockets.

“I grew up,” he said softly. “But it looks like you haven’t.”

She snorted. “Brandon Walker the big, bad lawyer with the stellar reputation. Never does anything out of line or unlawful.”

Brandon wanted to do something out of line right now. His carnal thoughts would probably shock Cara. The urge to act on his impulse was strong.

What he wouldn’t give to be able to strip her naked and slide his aching cock inside of her. What would it feel like to have her warmth surround him as he fucked her senseless?

Brandon envisioned bending her over the bow of the boat and taking her from behind. That perfect bottom would fit nicely against his groin, while he palmed her breasts.

He swallowed hard. Brandon could almost feel his cock gliding in and out of her. The sensation pissed him off even more, since he knew it was never going to happen.

“You’re right! I don’t get out of line anymore. That crap ended in my early twenties. I’m not going to apologize for making something out of my life. Upholding the law is my job. If you don’t like it, then sue me.”

“I’m not faulting you for upholding the law. I just didn’t think you’d associate with someone who’s breaking it,” she said.

How could she think he’d abandon her? In all the years that they’d known each other, he’d never once failed to come through when she needed him.

“I’ve known you a long time, Cara,” Brandon said. “And Granger is my best friend. I would never turn my back on you.”

She growled in frustration. “I’m not talking about me! You idiot!”

“Are you implying that Cavanaugh is dirty?” And him by association.Oh she hadn’t come right out and said so, but Cara didn’t have to. Brandon scowled. Who was this woman next to him? Certainly not the girl he remembered. “Careful, that’s quite a slanderous accusation.”

Cara crossed her arms over her chest. “I’m not implying anything. I’m telling you that he is.”

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