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Meghan glanced at Connally again. He was much too close. Much too...physical. He was big enough to project a subtle threat sheerly through his stature. The breadth of his heavy shoulders blocked her view of the room behind him, and the broad chest beneath his crossed arms depicted a certain power. In a studiedly casual move, she settled more deeply into the couch cushions. It was ridiculous to feel that the slight movement had put some much-needed distance between them. Ridiculous, because there was nothing about his actions or his expression to suggest she had anything to fear from him.
Except that he was a cop. He was in her apartment, and he was intent on dragging Danny into the middle of a police investigation.
"I have another option for you to consider." His voice, coming after a minute of silence, seemed raspier than usual. "Forget Wadrell. Let me help you instead."
She looked at him as if he'd lost his mind. Maybe he had. He'd never be considered one of those white knights charging to rescue ladies in distress. He found jackets and ties confining enough; armor would be murder.
He shook off the fanciful thought. "You want something. So do I. I'll take another look into the accident for you. In return, you'll cooperate by allowing Danny to assist us in any way we need him." As if sensing the protest she was about to utter, he went on quickly, "You get what you want, I get what I want. It'll be strictly business." Her cooperation would make his job easier. He didn't want to chance her sabotaging him at every turn, maybe even coaching the boy to tell them nothing. He needed every lead he could get on this case.
Everything inside Meghan recoiled from accepting his offer. For different reasons, she was even more loath to spend time in his presence than she was in Wadrell's. And there was no way, absolutely none, that she would let Danny get embroiled with the police. She knew nothing about raising children. But the one thing she did know was that her sister's psychic ability had ruined Sandra's life. If she could spare Danny only one thing, it would be that.
Connally was speaking again. "Of course, maybe you have other reasons to want to stick with Wadrell. Maybe you really wouldn't mind if you and he..." He made a gesture with his hand which, along with his tone, made his message clear.
Meghan's indignation overcame her caution. "Believe me, I find cops eminently resistible. For that matter, how can I be sure that I wouldn't have to fight off your advances?"
He didn't appear to take offense. "'Cause I make it a point to steer wide of your type. So if we partner up for a while, you won't have to worry about me coming on to you."
He watched her intently, but when she failed to respond, he said, "If you need convincing..." Before she could guess his intention, he leaned forward in one smooth movement and covered her mouth with his own.
Shock held her motionless. The man was completely outrageous! She managed to raise her hand to his chest before her bones began to take on the consistency of warm wax. It was like kissing a flash of lightning, she thought fuzzily; all sizzling heat and banked strength. There was an unexpected measure of wildness to his taste, layered beneath a hint of tightly harnessed control.
He wasn't a man to ask permission, and there was no entreaty in his touch. Her hand lingered, forgotten, on his chest as he angled his head and pressed her lips open. His tongue boldly swept in, exchanging her flavor for his own.
Her heart spun once, then kicked a faster beat. He tasted foreign, and primally male. His hand cupped her jaw, his fingers caressing her throat, and the dual assault made her shiver and want, with a suddenness that was all the more frightening for its being completely unfamiliar.
His mouth lifted from hers a fraction, lingered a moment, then eased away.
She stared at him, stunned. "Just what was that supposed to convince me of?" Her voice was threadier than she would have wished, but at least it was steady.
Gabe reached for the glass he'd set down, and brought it to his lips for a long swallow. His eyes avoided hers. "Just proving my point. Neither of us is attracted to the other. That kiss left you cold, right? Me, too."
Cold? Numb, maybe. Achy, certainly. But cold? A sheerly feminine ire fueled her next words. "The next time you try conducting a little experiment like that you'd better be wearing protection." She left no doubt that she wasn't referring to his gun. "The only point you convinced me of is that I'm no better off with you than with Wadrell."
He looked impatient at her words. "Use your head." Holding up his fingers, he enumerated, "One, I'm not the detective you hold indirectly responsible for your sister's death. Two, I outrank Wadrell and I'm better liked. I've got guys who'll be willing to do me favors when I poke into the accident investigation. I doubt Wadrell can get his own mother to invite him to Sunday dinner. And three, we've just shown that physically we don't do a thing for each other."
She crossed her arms over her chest to keep from strangling him.
"You won't have to worry about me making moves on you, because I like women with more obvious...uh...charms." He cocked his head, pretending not to see the simmer of latent temper in her eyes.
"Unless...you can't do that little tassel trick I've seen, can you? You know," his index fingers circled in the air in front of his chest, "the one where you get them going in opposite directions?" When she didn't respond, couldn't, he shook his head. "I didn't think so. So as near as I can tell, us matching up would be perfect. There'll be no personal interest on my side, and if you can promise the same there won't be any complications at all."
The deep-breathing exercises learned at Miss Devain's School of Deportment had never been more necessary. The actual physical effort of filling her lungs with oxygen almost took Meghan's mind off the shockingly primal urge to knock that complacent expression off Connally's face. The strength of the temptation was shocking. Civility was a quality not only valued by her family, but demanded. Tremaynes didn't indulge in spectacles. There had been no public displays of temper or of affection. Every conversation, every cutting remark, was made in the same chillingly dispassionate tone. The genuine lack of emotion displayed by her mother and grandparents had confused and saddened Meghan by turns.
However, it wasn't a lack of emotion that was bothering her right now, but the imminent volcanic eruption that this man was close to eliciting. Her gaze narrowed at his bland expression. He was goading her; he had to be. Surely no one could be that irritating, unless by design. What he was suggesting was out of the question. There was no way she was going to shackle herself to Connally willingly, no matter what he promised to do for her.
When she didn't respond, he shrugged and rose. "Let me know if you change your mind. I've got one piece of advice for you, though. Stay in public places when you meet with Wadrell. You'll be safer there."
His words triggered the memory of what she'd gone through to avoid Wadrell's touch earlier that evening, and a renewed shudder of revulsion prickled her skin. Connally was right about one thing. She didn't relish having to fight off the other detective's smarmy advances.
She glanced at Connally, reconsidering. She could make Danny's cooperation dependent upon him showing her evidence of a renewed look at Sandra's accident. She'd get what she wanted up front, and that would be the end of their agreement.
Because of course she had no intention of going through with her side of the arrangement.
Ruthlessly she brushed aside a whisper of conscience. She didn't owe anything to this man, especially after his recent display. And the CPD certainly didn't rate her honesty. The only one she owed was Danny. And the sister who would never know the lengths to which Meghan had gone to make amends for a lifetime of estrangement between them.
"You may have a point." His hand on the knob of the front door, Gabe looked back at her words. She moistened her lips nervously. "You understand that I'll require something solid to convince me that you actually followed up on the accident."
He regarded her soberly. "And you understand that I'll hold you to your end of our bargain."
It took effort not to reveal the direct hit his words had scored. "Of course."
He gave a short nod. "I'll be in touch, then." He opened the door and advised, "You'd better lock this after me."
She approached silently. Gabe gave her a long look, then she swung the door shut on him. He stood, listening to the sound of her securing the dead bolt. Then he released a long breath and started down the hall, feeling as though he'd just run a marathon.
He was a master at getting what he wanted, but he'd have to admit that this was the first time he'd had to deny any attraction to a woman in exchange for her cooperation. It had taken a lot of talking, and more, to convince Meghan that she had nothing to fear from him physically, that he didn't want her, on any level. The words had been easy to say, easier to mean. Until he'd tasted her and felt a surge of violent emotion proving otherwise.
He gave an involuntary look upward. Lucky for him that God didn't smote down bald-faced liars. He'd have been a goner.
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