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Dana Birch vowed never to put herself at the mercy of a powerful man. She became a deputy so that she could take care of herself and protect those she loves. Especially her best friends, the Titan sisters.
Twenty years ago, Garth Duncan swore revenge on Jed Titan for abandoning Garth and his mother. Now he's back to fulfill that promise, even if Jed's daughters get caught in the crosshairs. All that stands between him and his goal is Dana, her gun and a growing passion that can't be denied....
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New York Times bestselling author Susan Mallery has entertained millions of readers with her witty and emotional stories about women. Publishers Weekly calls Susan’s prose “luscious and provocative,” and Booklist says “Novels don’t get much better than Mallery’s expert blend of emotional nuance, humor and superb storytelling.” Susan lives in Seattle with her husband and her tiny but intrepid toy poodle. Visit her at www.SusanMallery.com.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
It had taken four months, calling in every favor ever owed her, a case of expensive Scotch and a date with a slimy private investigator who had made the mistake of thinking "date" meant "sex." A knee to the groin had cured him of that belief. In the end, Dana Birch had gotten her man.
Now, as she rode the elevator up to Garth Duncan's penthouse condo, she smiled at the paperwork in her hand. Paperwork that demanded he come talk to the good people at the Dallas Police Department. Paperwork that said Garth was going to have a very bad day. She, on the other hand, couldn't be happier.
"Rat bastard, weasel dog," she murmured as she stepped off the elevator and headed to his front door. "You thought you were so smart. You thought you could do whatever you wanted and get away with it. You thought you could hurt my friends."
If life were perfect, he would resist accompanying her and she could threaten him with her gun. Maybe even accidentally shoot him. If only he were the type of guy to cower in the face of authority, not to mention consequences. In her fantasies, he would tremble and beg. While it wasn't as good as watching him bleed, it would be a close second. Unfortunately Garth was more the type to have a thousand-dollar-an-hour attorney who lived to sue police departments. Not that his high-powered attorney would be much help today.
"You are so mine, Garth," she said, then knocked.
In the minute or so it took him to answer, she savored the victory. She'd worked hard to nail Garth and it had been worth every long hour of digging, following up clues and waiting for a lucky break. It was his own fault, she thought cheerfully. He'd messed with people she cared about. No one did that without having to face her.
The front door opened. She smiled as she saw Garth was half-concealed behind the door. Maybe he was afraid, she thought with a flicker of contempt.
She held out the papers. "Good morning. We're going to take a little ride downtown."
"Are we?" he asked as he opened the door wider, so she could see all of him. "Am I allowed to get dressed first?"
An unexpected twist, Dana thought grimly as she took in the towel draped around his neck, covering his chest, and the one around his waist. He was dripping, obviously just out of the shower. His dark hair stood in little spikes, his expression was far more amused than worried.
"At least you know I'm not armed," he said, his voice thick with humor.
"I wouldn't be afraid if you were."
"That's because you don't know what I'm capable of, Deputy Birch. So which is it? Are you prepared to parade me naked through the streets of Dallas or will I be putting on clothes?"
He sounded confident, as if he knew she wouldn't take him in a towel, which was true. Damn him. She liked situations where she was in charge.
"You can get dressed," she said grudgingly. "I'll need to be in the room, though, to make sure you don't try to escape."
He actually gave her a little wink. "Of course you will. That's as good an excuse as any."
Irritation coursed through her. Instinctively she rested her right hand on her sidearm. "You wish," she snapped. "Let me assure you I have no interest in seeing your bony backside. Or any other part of you."
One corner of his mouth turned up. "You can watch, Dana. I don't mind."
He was playing with her, trying to mess with her. She focused on the reason she was here.
"Joke all you want," she told him. "You're going to jail."
"If only wishing made it so."
"You're not getting out of this," she said. "I have the proof I need."
"No, you don't." His voice was low and deceptively soft. "If you had what you needed, you'd be arresting me, not bringing me in for questioning. Admit it, Dana. You're not even close to charging me with anything. This is a fishing expedition."
While she knew in her head that reacting with violence only weakened her position and proved he was right, she really, really wanted to hit him.
"I'm officially bored," she said, dropping her arm to her side. "Let's get this over with."
"The part where you watch me naked?"
She stepped into his condo and rolled her eyes. "Yeah. Lucky, lucky me. Have you been featured in Arrogance Monthly yet?"
"I've been on the cover."
He shut the door, then led the way through the large penthouse.
The main room was huge—she was guessing she could fit her apartment and five others just like it in the space. There were floor-to-ceiling windows with a view of most of Dallas. Not that she cared about that sort of thing.
She returned her attention to the man in front of her, then frowned as sunlight caught his back, illuminating the scars crisscrossing his skin.
A few of them were thin lines, but most were thick and raised, as if the skin had been cut over and over again. Her stomach clenched slightly, not that she allowed her expression to change.
She knew the basic facts about Garth Duncan. He was rich—scary rich, with dozens of companies and money flowing like water. He'd started in the oil business and while down in South America, no doubt raping and pillaging a pristine part of the world, he'd been captured and held prisoner by some angry locals. They'd kept him and a coworker blindfolded in the jungle for a month, torturing them both daily.
Her gaze dropped to his long, muscled legs. She could see faint scars there, too, but these had come from a surgeon. Both of Garth's legs had been broken during his captivity. His friend had carried him to safety.
If only Garth had died back then, Dana thought, but without a whole lot of energy. He wouldn't be hurting her friends. But he hadn't died. He'd come back home and flourished.
She followed a few steps behind as he entered a massive bedroom, then continued into a bathroom the size of a grocery store. That led into one of those fancy closets done in dark wood. All the clothes were perfectly organized by color. Shoes were lined up on racks.
She leaned against the doorway, never taking her eyes from him. "Anytime."
His dark gaze locked with hers. He seemed to be enjoying himself, which pissed her off. But once the investigation began, his attitude would change. She was bringing him in. For now, that was enough.
His smile returned. He pulled the towel off his shoulders and let it fall to the floor. "If you don't have to be anywhere in the next couple of hours, we could take advantage of my lack of clothes."
"Hours? Oh, please. You'd be lucky to last six minutes. Quit playing, Garth. I have a full day ahead of me. Despite what you think, the world doesn't revolve around you."
"Yes, Deputy Birch."
He dropped the towel at his waist.
She kept her eyes on his face. Not only didn't he interest her in the least, but she was here in a professional capacity. She was proud of her job and what she did for the community. The good people of her town didn't pay her to ogle the likes of Garth Duncan.
"No?" he asked, completely naked and holding out his arms at his side. "I'm yours for the taking."
She faked a yawn.
He laughed. A rich, full laugh that spoke of amusement and perhaps grudging respect. For reasons she couldn't explain, she found herself wanting to smile back at him. As if they were sharing a connection. As if they had something in common. As if they almost liked each other and might even be almost friends.
Dana turned and walked out of the closet. "Get dressed," she called as she went.
"What if I have a gun in here?" he yelled after her.
"Then I get to shoot you."
She crossed to the window in the bedroom and stared out at the view. But she only saw her friends' faces. The three sisters Garth was trying to ruin. He hadn't been content to attempt to destroy Lexi's business or ruin Skye's foundation. He'd actually tried to kill Izzy. What the hell was she thinking, smiling at him?
Garth was the enemy. He was evil. She was going to put him in prison for a very long time.
Five minutes later he walked into the bedroom. He wore a suit she was sure cost more than she made in a couple of months.
"Let's go," she said. "We'll take my car."
"I'm calling my lawyer on the way. She'll meet us at the police station."
"You can call Congress and God for all I care." She pointed to the hallway. "Move."
Instead of heading toward the living room, he moved toward her. For a split second Dana wondered if he had really had a gun in the closet. She reached for her sidearm.
"I didn't try to kill her," Garth said. "I had nothing to do with what happened to Izzy."
"I'mnot the one you have to convince," Dana told him.
"You're a cop. Look at me, Dana. Tell me if you think I'm lying." He stared into her eyes. "I didn't try to kill Izzy. I didn't cause the explosion. I never went after her at all."
He was standing too close, she thought suddenly. She wasn't worried about him coming after her, but she still felt uneasy. What was going on?
Hating to give up the power, she took a step back.
He was lying. He had to be lying. But the voice in her head that warned her when someone was trying to pull a fast one was oddly silent.
"I suppose you didn't do anything at all," she said, grabbing his arm and starting toward the hallway. "That you're completely innocent."
He only smiled.
He could have pulled away easily, but didn't, which left her in the uncomfortable position of hanging on to him. She could feel the heat of his skin, the muscles, the smooth fabric of his fancy suit.
"Don't mess with me," she growled.
"I didn't say a word."
So why did she feel so uncomfortable?
Weakness wasn't allowed, she reminded herself. Not with him, not with anyone.
"Please tell me they threatened you before I got there," Mary Jo Sheffield said as she and Garth walked toward her car. "I'm itching to file a lawsuit."
His attorney—a fortysomething blonde who barely came to his shoulder—looked determined. She could scent blood with the efficiency of a shark, one of the reasons he'd hired her.
"Sorry to disappoint you," Garth told her as he waited for her to unlock her Mercedes. "They were polite and didn't notify the press."
Mary Jo wrinkled her nose. "Tell me someone hit you or threatened to hit you. Tell me they manhandled your cat when they brought you in. I need something to work with here."
"I don't have a cat," Garth said.
"So few men do. Something I've never understood. Cats treat their owners with disdain and God knows your gender is constantly falling for women who treat them badly." Mary Jo grinned. "Sorry. Ignore the rant. So you're saying I can't sue the Dallas Police Department?"
"I'm saying I can't help you make your case."
She unlocked her car. Garth slid into the passenger seat.
He'd spent nearly six hours being questioned. Mary Jo had been present for all but the first thirty minutes. He'd been provided with coffee, sandwiches and plenty of breaks. It had been easy... too easy.
Deputy Dana Birch would be horrified if she found out, he thought, enjoying the thought of her screaming at some unsuspecting sergeant for not stringing Garth up by his thumbs and beating him with a pipe. If she had her way, he would be tortured into confessing all and then burned at the stake. Of course if she knew him, she would know torture wouldn't get him to talk. Fortunately for him, Dana wasn't in charge of the Texas criminal justice system.
"What about the deputy?" Mary Jo asked. "Deputy Birch. Can I go after her? What was she doing, bringing you in, anyway? She's not a member of the Dallas PD. She's from Titanville. There's something going on there. Maybe I can get her suspended."
"Leave Dana out of it," he said as they left the parking garage.
Mary Jo glanced at him, eyebrows raised. "Dana? You know her?"
"Tell me you're not sleeping with her, Garth. Tell me this isn't personal."
He chuckled. It was personal, but not in the way his attorney meant. "We're not involved or even friends. She's..."
Dana was his half sisters' friend. A deputy in the town where his mother lived. She was annoying, stubborn and determined to take him.
"She's a friend of the family," he said finally.
"I didn't know you had family."
"I'm more the type to have hatched?"
She sighed. "Fine. I won't sue Deputy Birch. But tell her to stay out of my way. She's trouble. I've had to deal with her in the past. I know the type. She's honest and loyal. You know how annoying those two traits can be."
He did. Once he'd believed in them. Lately though, he was more interested in results. An attitude that had cost him a lot but insured the win. And right now winning was all that mattered.
"I have the loan papers drawn up," Mary Jo said.
"Not to keep repeating myself, but you're totally insane. Jed Titan is never going to accept the terms of the loan. Even if he does need the money, he won't take it from you."
"He won't know it's me."
"He won't have a choice. I'm continuing to buy up his company. The shareholders are getting nervous. They know I'm interested, but they don't know my end game, which is how I want it. Jed has had a lot of bad press lately. The possible treason charges alone cost his shareholders a lot of money as the price dipped."
Mary Jo glanced at him, then returned her attention to the road. "I find it interesting that the price of Jed's stock dropped right when you wanted to buy it."
"Funny how it all worked that way."
"Tell me you haven't broken the law."
"I have in no way violated Securities and Exchange Commissions guidelines or rules."
"Keep it in the gray area," his attorney advised.
He'd stepped far beyond that, but not in a way that could be traced to him. Most of his attacks on the Titan family had been more subtle. It kept things interesting.
"What happens now?" Mary Jo asked. "Or don't I want to know?"
"I go to work and start my day."
She glanced at him again. "You're not going to tell me what's really going on, are you?"
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