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First Meeting from Down the Drain ~ A Love Under the Sun Romance by Dellani Oakes

First Meeting imageAlthough technically Vanessa and Dario already know one another, this is the first time they’ve actually considered taking their friendship further. Since it’s a defining moment, it makes for a good first meeting.

Music played loudly and Vanessa heard voices in the back. Rather than walking through the house, she wandered around the well maintained lawn and found the party around the pool. Deb saw her coming and let her in the back screen door.

You look good enough to eat!” she teased.

I’ll take my compliments where I can get them. Thank you.”

Nessa!” Dario rushed over. He wasn’t a quiet or a subtle man, but he was good looking, above average height, muscular build with black hair and the darkest brown eyes she’d ever seen.

Taking the bowl from her, he offered her a beer, or other beverage, and bustled into the house to put the bowl in the fridge. He came back with two bottles of Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout, handing one to her with a flourish.

A lady as lovely as you, should have the best.”

Thank you.” She took the proffered bottle and sipped as he watched. “Oh, that’s good! Yum!”

Dario smirked, ducking his head slightly. “Glad you approve. I have a cousin who works at the brewery in California. He keeps me supplied.”

Can’t you buy this at the liquor store?” she smirked, raising an eyebrow as she sipped.

Yeah.” He stretched, extending his legs, exposing a tasty patch of sculpted abdomen. “But it sounds better to the ladies if I tell them how much trouble I went to, to get it.”

Vanessa laughed, tossing her head back. “Should you tell me that? Doesn’t it spoil the mystique?”

Maybe, but you aren’t the type of woman a man should lie to.”

That sobered her slightly. “Do I—come across…. How do I—? Do I seem—mean?” she stumbled and stuttered, trying not to seem needy or bitchy.

Dario laughed, shaking his head. “Vanessa, you are a whole lot of intimidating. But underneath beats the heart of a passionate woman—who can be scary as hell.”

That doesn’t make me feel better, Dario. Just saying.”

He scooted closer, lowering his voice. “But the scary isn’t the real Vanessa. There is another, very different woman under all that intimidation. And it takes a brave, confident man to find it.”

Are you saying you’re that man?” she raised an eyebrow.

I’m saying that I’d like to find out if I am. You willing to give me a shot?”

She gave him a once over, taking in his thick black hair, fathomless eyes, full lips and square jaw. Dropping her gaze, she examined his broad shoulders and firm chest, washboard abs, powerful thighs and tight ass. He waited patiently for her decision.

Yeah. I’m willing to give you a shot.”

Cool.”

Don’t think you’re getting lucky after this party.”

Hadn’t entered my mind,” he lied.

Sure, it hadn’t.” She nudged him, laughing.

© 2019 Dellani Oakes

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First Meeting from Double Trouble ~ A Love in the City Romance by Dellani Oakes

first meetingPaige Turner has a problem. Deciding she needs a private investigator, she walks into the office of the Bates Brothers, Norman and Master—kidding—Chay and Trey, who happen to be identical twins. They have an easy, fun dynamic, which immediately puts her at ease. But I bet you can’t guess which one she falls for.

She opened the stained glass door to the office with trepidation. Never having done this before, her hands shook. Identical platinum haired men greeted her with dazzling smiles. Paige halted as the effect of their stunning good looks left her breathless. One stepped forward, hand extended.

“Good morning and welcome to Bates Brothers Investigations. I’m Norman and he’s Master.”

“Dude, be serious,” the second twin said, hanging back a little.

“Seriously, he’s Norman and I’m Master. Our folks run a creepy hotel. Middle of nowhere, house on a cliff? No?”

“I’m Chay and he’s Trey,” the second one said, shaking her hand.

“But Dad totally wanted to name one of us Norman,” Trey contributed.

“It was all our mother could do to stop him,” Chay added with a smile.

“Did she stab him with a big, scary knife while he was in the shower?” their visitor asked.

“No, but she does love her rocking chair,” Trey replied with a grin.

“We named the dog Norman,” Chay said.

“So, neither of you is Master?” she asked slyly.

“Well….” Trey began.

Chay punched his brother. “No.”

“But we….”

“Don’t need to explain that one,” she interrupted.

“How can we help you?” Chay, the calmer of the two, asked.

“I need you to find someone for me.” She held out a photograph in shaking hands. “I think I’m being stalked. I got this picture on my phone.” She handed it to Trey, who was closest.

He examined it carefully before handing it to his twin.

“Has he spoken to you? Approached you in any way?” Chay asked.

“Not exactly. But I get these creepy calls sometimes. The number’s blocked, but there’s someone there, breathing….

“Then they hang up?” Trey concluded.

“Sometimes they whisper something. It sounds like a name. But it’s not something I ever heard before.”

“Not Rosebud?” Trey supplied.

The young woman cut her eyes at him. “Yeah, could be,” she replied sarcastically. “The closest I can make out, they say Katrinka. But I can’t be sure.”

“Why don’t we have a seat in my office,” Chay said. “And you can tell us all about it, Miss…?”

“Turner. Paige Turner. Yes, that’s my real name,” she directed at Trey before he could comment. “My father’s sense of the absurd. Mom couldn’t curtail him.”

“Do you have a sister named Leaf and a brother named Pancake?” Trey winked one brilliant blue eye.

“Funny, but no. I’m an only child. We named the dog Pancake.”

The men laughed in perfect unison, their booming voices filled the confined space. For the first time in weeks, Paige laughed too. Humor had been hard to find lately.

Chay ushered her into his office. Some would call it shabby chic, some less kind, just shabby. It was obvious they needed her case. Everything spoke to her of lack—from the battered wooden desk to the dented metal folding chairs. Despite the absence of glamour, it was neat and tidy. There were no files stacked on the desk, no half empty coffee cups. There were McDonald’s wrappers in the trash, but they were folded neatly and at the bottom of an otherwise empty basket.

“Sorry we aren’t fancier,” he said with a blush. “Please have a seat.” He indicated the one folding chair with a cushion.

Chay sat in a rickety wooden chair behind this desk. Trey perched on the corner.

“Tell Uncle Chay all about it,” Trey said with a frown of concern.

Paige grimaced at him. “And what does that make you?”

“I’ll be your daddy,” he replied with a nod and sly raise of an eyebrow.

Paige burst out laughing. “I hope that’s an act and you aren’t seriously using that to hit on me.”

Trey smirked. “Planting the seeds of discord. If you think of my bro as an uncle, then it’s sick if you hook up with him.”

“I see.”

“And if I were hitting on you,” he replied quietly. “You’d know it.”

Now that, Paige decided, was a come on. She smiled.

© 2019 Dellani Oakes

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First Meeting from Deserted ~ A Love in the City Romance by Dellani Oakes

First Meeting imageI’ve said it before, I’ll say it again—I love first meetings. Alyssa Kendrake is an out of work English teacher. When she gets an e-mail inviting her to audition for a TV show, she’s shocked and slightly intimidated. Since it’s a chance for work, she goes. The receptionist tells her to go upstairs and ask for directions to the audition room.

The desk on the fifth floor was unoccupied, so Alyssa waited until a tall swarthy skinned man walked by.

“Excuse me,” she said quietly.

He turned to her with a smile. “May I help you?”

“Yes, I’m looking for the casting director of Deserted. I was told to go to room fifty forty-two, but I don’t know where that is.”

“I’d be happy to show you, Miss Kendrake. I’m going there myself. My name is Barry.” He shook her hand politely.

“Thank you, Barry.”

She followed him down the hall, admiring the view. She didn’t usually allow herself to stare at a man, but he didn’t seem to notice. He was incredibly well built and his clothing set off his physique well. He wore dark gray dress pants, a dove gray shirt and no suit coat. His tie was a blend of gray and blue, like damp watercolors swirled together. He looked more like a professional athlete than someone who worked in an office.

Barry chuckled to himself. It wasn’t often a pretty woman came in the office and watched his ass as he walked down the hall. Strutting casually, he emphasized his swagger a little, to keep her looking. She thought he wasn’t aware of her gaze, but he was. He didn’t mind the lingering caress of her eyes. As a matter of fact, it was not only flattering, but a distinct thrill.

Alyssa watched the muscular man walk, thinking how long it had been since she’d had one of her own to admire up close. Blinking rapidly, she nearly ran into him when he stopped in front of room 5042. He held the door partially open, standing not quite far enough away for her to walk easily through. He leaned casually against it, one arm raised well above her head. Smiling down at her, he invited her into the room with a smile and a hand at the small of her back.

Alyssa had to turn slightly to face him, nearly brushing up against him. With a shy smile, she eased by his arm. Eyes demurely downcast, she glanced up at him like Lauren Bacall. Barry felt his pulse quicken as he closed the door behind them.

“Everyone, this is Alyssa Kendrake. She’s here about Deserted. She’s our next appointment.”

“Welcome, Alyssa,” a smiling, dark haired woman greeted her. “Please have a seat. I’m Kimberly Crimson, casting director. You’ve met Barry Sebring. Next to me is Mickey Stafford and to the left of him is Grace Bing. Why don’t you begin by telling us a little about yourself.”

Alyssa took the indicated chair. It was softer than it looked and she sank more deeply than she anticipated, nearly losing her balance. Righting herself with difficulty, she sat on the edge so she wouldn’t have another mishap.

She looked quickly at the people in the room, sizing them up as best she could. Barry was tall, athletic, handsome. Kimberly wasn’t much over five feet, slightly rounded, with soft dark hair and eyes. Grace was somewhat older than the others. Graying hair was pulled back in a sleek ponytail. Her half moon glasses rested on her nose. Mickey, who couldn’t have been much older than her high school students, was probably an intern.

“I’m Alyssa Kendrake. I’m thirty-two and a school teacher, or at least I was until all the budget cuts. To be specific, I am an out of work, high school, English teacher. I’m not really sure why I’m here. I’m not an actress.”

“You filled out an application for a clerical position,” Kimberly answered. “There was a picture with your application. I was going through the files and liked your look. It was my decision to ask you in.”

“Oh, well that’s great! I’m desperate to find something. The wolf is scratching at the door as we speak.”

They smiled politely, shuffling papers in front of them. Barry stared openly, the others kept glancing at her, scribbling notes on their papers. No one said anything for quite awhile.

“What else can you tell us about yourself?” Barry asked suddenly. “Are you married? Seeing anyone?”

Alyssa got the impression that those were more than casual questions. She couldn’t see what they had to do with anything, but turned to Barry with a friendly smile.

“I’m single, not for lack of trying. Why? Is this job contingent upon my being single?”

“No, I was just curious. Purely from a business point of view, of course,” he added quickly, glancing at Kimberly.

Miss Crimson giggled, shaking her head as she took notes. “Do you have any special talents, Alyssa?” She asked.

“I’m an English teacher and aspiring writer. I’ve done some freelance work for two of the local newspapers. I love to cook, play racquetball and swim three miles a day. My first degree is in theater and dance, but my second is in English education. Brown is my natural hair color. I wear contact lenses. I’m five foot six, weigh one hundred and ten pounds and love to listen to music.”

“What kind of music do you like?” Barry leaned forward, an intensity in his body language that hadn’t been there before.

“Just about everything, but my favorite is heavy metal. Specifically Metallica, though I really like Incubus and Rammstein.”

“Cool,” he chuckled, nodding at Kimberly. “Thank you, Alyssa. Are you available tomorrow at one for a callback?”

“My schedule is completely empty, Barry. Yes.”

“Excellent. Put her down for tomorrow at one, Grace.”

“Already got it.”

“I’ll see you out,” Barry grinned, holding the door for Alyssa once more.

“Thank you,” Alyssa blushed as she slid past him.

“My pleasure,” he gazed down at her, letting the door swing shut. “You free for dinner?”

“Tonight?”

“Or tomorrow. But tonight would be better for me.”

“Oh? Do you have pressing matters tomorrow?”

“We make our final decisions tomorrow. I’ll be tied up. Are you free at six?”

“As a matter of fact, I am.”

“I’ve got your address on your resume. I’ll pick you up at six?”

“Will this help me get the job?”

He winked, flashing a saucy grin. “Maybe.”

He had expressive, dark, jade green eyes, Alyssa noticed in passing. Her violet blue eyes penetrated his, searching the depths for what made Barry tick. His smile changed slightly as he noticed the scrutiny. Again, he didn’t seem to mind, so she indulged herself.

“Then maybe six would be good,” she giggled, blushing again.

“See you at six.” He pushed the elevator button, holding the door for her when it opened.

© 2019 Dellani Oakes

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First Meeting from Crippled by Love~ A Love in the City Romance by Dellani Oakes

First Meeting imageSome first meetings go better than others. Cynthia Marshall is new to the society page beat at one of the local papers. She’s been ordered to go to interview Ian Yarrow at his home. She doesn’t know a lot about him, except that he’s very rich, and has, apparently, asked to be interviewed. Arriving a little late, she rings the doorbell at the door of his mansion. No one answers, so she tries again. Finally, someone arrives – it could have gone better.

The door slammed open and a very angry man, dressed in nothing but a glower and a pair of black silk boxers, frowned up at her from a streamlined wheelchair. Taken aback, Cynthia retreated and nearly fell off the porch. He grabbed her with a powerful hand, tugging her back on the porch.

“What?” he demanded.

“I-I’m Cyn-thia M-Marshall from the C-Clarion P-Post,” she grimaced at her own verbal errors. She’d hammered that stutter into oblivion years ago, but it came back in moments of high stress. Like now, when a gorgeous hunk of muscular, bronzed, hard bodied male in boxers yanked her nearly into his lap.

“The reporter, huh? Might have known you’d be early.”

“N-Not early, Mr. Yarrow. Actually, I’m—I’m a tad late. I had trouble finding the house. My GPS sent me in the opposite direction.”

He glared up at her, mouth a tight line, firm, well chiseled jaw working against his irritation.

“It’s cold out here, Miss Marshall, and I’m very nearly naked.”

He rolled back inside, holding the door partially closed so she had to squeeze past it. Full chested, she had to wriggle around the door frame without catching her breasts or snagging Fiona’s sweater. He slammed the door behind her, the frown still present as he rolled toward an elevator at the end of the vaulted foyer.

Cynthia followed, unsure of where she was going or what she was supposed to be doing. The glower deepened as she stepped onto the lift with him, but he said nothing. The door of the cage slid shut behind her, tapping her on the rear.

“Why’s the paper so hot to do an article on me?”

His question, like everything else about him, caught her by surprise.

“I-I’m not certain, Mr. Yarrow. I was t-told to come here and interview you.”

“You gonna stutter like that the entire time?”

“S-Sorry. It comes on when I’m n-nervous.”

He leaned back, folding his hands in his lap. She caught the glimmer of a platinum ring on his pinky and another, more ornate one, on his thumb. There was no wedding band, though both rings were on his left hand. Since his hands lay just below the line of his boxers, she caught a good glimpse of the superb musculature of his chest and abs. A dusting of dusky, soft hair emphasized the well chiseled ridges.

A knowing smile twitched his full lips, his dark gray eyes taking in details of her physique. She was about 5’6″, full breasted, slender hipped and well toned. She worked hard at maintaining her figure and every inch of her bust line was real. Dressed in sleek black leggings and dark red turtle neck sweater with a black cashmere wrap, Stuart Weitzman boots and chunky jewelry of her own design, she thought she looked pretty good. Apparently Mr. Yarrow agreed with her. The smile grew—as did something a tad lower down—blatantly obvious given his lack of clothing.

Cynthia blushed, turning away. Mr. Yarrow laughed rather loudly. It was frightening in the confined space and Cynthia suddenly wished she’d brought the photographer with her after all. Since she was slated to have several sessions with Ian Yarrow, she’d opted to doing the first interview on her own to get a feel for him. She wasn’t sure she liked what she felt.

He rolled down the hallway toward an open bedroom door. She could see the unmade bed from the stairs only a few feet away. She hadn’t woken him—oh no, he’d had company. Thus the irritation and anger. Concealing a smile, she followed him.

“Gonna come in while I dress?”

“Oh, sorry. Of course not.”

“I mean, I don’t care. But unless you want to see more of me than is generally considered polite, you might want to wait there.”

“I apologize, Mr. Yarrow.” She stepped back from the door.

The tight lips returned. “Just Yarrow is fine. I don’t use my first name much, except with the women I take to bed. Having them scream Yarrow when they cum hasn’t got the same impact as Oh, Ian! You can quote that.” He winked up at her and rolled into the room, shutting the door in her face.

“Don’t we think a lot of ourselves?” she said more loudly than she’d meant to.

The door slammed open a few minutes later. He was dressed in faded, loose fitting jeans and a dark red Under Armour shirt that fit him like a glove. It did absolutely nothing to conceal his physique and everything to enhance it. He was still barefoot. His toes were tan, more dark hairs scattered across them and the instep. Dammit, the man even had sexy feet!

© 2019 Dellani Oakes

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First Meeting from Conduct Unbecoming ~ A Florida Families Romance by Dellani Oakes

conduct front coverJasper Waters wasn’t expecting to meet a woman like Nadeya Raymund. In fact, he can hardly believe she exists. A former soldier, like Teague, she’s currently wanted by the police, for a murder she didn’t commit. Jasper knows she didn’t do it, and hopes to prove to her that he believes her. Knowing she’s dangerous, and skittish, he’s careful when he goes to the campground where she’s staying in a small cabin. Chances are, she won’t be happy to see him.

As he approached the door, he prayed for inspiration. It was going to take some fast talking for Nadeya not to freak out and kill him. He raised his hand to knock. Rethinking his position, he moved so he wasn’t standing directly in front of the door, but slightly to the side so the thick, log wall protected him. He tapped lightly and waited for a response. The curtain over the tiny window moved aside imperceptibly. Only someone trained to be observant would have seen it.

Jasper faced the window and smiled. “I’m Jasper Waters,” he said quietly. “I’m a friend of Teague’s. You hid on my boat.”

The door opened a crack and one dark, wary eye peered at him. “I remember you. What?”

“May I come in? The skeeters are pretty nasty and they’re feasting on me.”

Nadeya took a step back, leaving barely enough room for Jasper to squeeze through. She shut the door with her foot and slammed him against the wall, one hand pulled up at an uncomfortable angle behind him. She did a thorough frisking of him, leaving no areas untouched, before letting him go. She stepped out of easy reach, eyeing him with a neutral expression.

“I just want to talk,” Jasper said, holding his hands slightly from his sides.

“You’re a cop. Why should I talk to you?”

“Because I don’t think you killed that man on the beach. We’re both friends of Teague’s, maybe we could build on that.”

“Teague has lots of friends. . . .”

“No, Teague knows every damn body, but there are only a few of us he calls friends. You’re one of them—He told me what happened to your fiancé.”

She tightened up. Jasper took a step back, raising his hands.

“Would he share that with just anyone?”

Nadeya’s lower lip trembled slightly and she blinked hard. Jasper caught the hint of a tear in her eyes.

“He wouldn’t unless he knew I would help. You think I drop what I’m doing and run everyone out to a crime scene just cause I’m nice? Teague and I trust each other and I’d like to extend that courtesy to you, if you’ll let me.”

She stared at him several minutes, sizing him up. She gestured to one of the two chairs near the window. “Want some water or instant coffee? It’s all I’ve got.”

“Water would be good, thanks.” Jasper sat.

Nadeya got two bottles of water out of the mini-fridge and tossed him one. Jasper caught it with a grin. His left hand gripped it as he twisted it open.

“Nicely done. Now you know I’m a lefty.”

Nadeya smirked. “And you’re not armed. I could have taken your head off.”

“Yup, but I trusted you wouldn’t. And I thank you for that.”

She nodded as she opened her own bottle. “So, you’re here, talk.”

Jasper told her what he and Teague had figured out about the man on the beach. He even told her about C.L.A.D.

“What do you know about that?” Nadeya leaned closer, whispering.

“Bits and pieces, nothing concrete. What do you know?”

Nadeya looked furtive. “I shouldn’t tell you. We could get in a lot of trouble.”

Jasper held his hands out, palms up. “Who am I gonna tell? Except maybe Teague. Look, the more we know about this, the better. What do you say?”

She looked away, biting her lip. “I don’t know much more than you do. They intended it as a new interrogation technique. It’s supposed to be a way to reprogram people’s minds.”

“Like brain washing?”

“Kind of. More sophisticated, but still a way to break them. I know that someone else got ahold of it though. They were using it on us!” Anger flared in her eyes.

“Us—as in you personally?”

“No. But some of our soldiers. There was a captain I heard of, they tried to kill him off in a raid, but he took out everyone who attacked his convoy. They stole his memories and gave him a fucking medal.”

“Shit! How do you know about that?”

“The subject came up as they tortured my fiancé,” she mumbled.

“Oh, Nadeya, I’m sorry.”

“I know that. Next to Teague, you’re the only man I trust.”

Jasper exhaled sharply. “That’s quite a compliment. Thank you. I know you can’t possibly feel safe here. Would you like to come to my house?”

Her eyes grew hard. Jasper pressed his lips together, shaking his head.

“I’ve got a hell of a security system. Even you would have trouble sneaking through. I’ve got a couple acres around my place so I can see trouble coming and I’m armed better than Fort Knox. I’ve got a guest room with your name on it.”

Nadeya relaxed. “And leave this luxury accommodation?”

“I’ve got more to drink than water and instant coffee. I’ll even throw in breakfast.”

Nadeya’s smile was shaky. Taking a deep breath, she tried to smile again. Tears welled before she could stop them. She didn’t trust her voice, so she nodded.

“Good. Get your stuff and we can go. My car’s outside the gate.”

“My car?”

“It’s a rental, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Anything in it?”

She rolled her eyes at him. Jasper chuckled.

“I had to ask. I know it’s dumb. Get your gear.”

© 2019 Dellani Oakes

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First Meeting from Crash Into Me ~ A Love in the City Romance by Dellani Oakes – Take 2

First Meeting imageAnton’s friend, CV, isn’t feeling well. In fact, he keels over when the two of them are fishing. Worried about him, Anton takes him to the hospital. Of course, CV knows him under the name Donald Winthrop (he has several aliases). Little does he know, he’s about to meet a very special someone—again.

“Here’s Dr. Lister,” Dr. Smithers said, smiling at someone behind him.

Anton turned around and the smile wavered. He found himself less than five feet away from Tabitha Levi.

“Dr. Lister, this is Donald Winthrop, Mr. Carpenter’s medical surrogate, and neighbor.”

“Pleased to meet you, ma’am,” he smiled, holding out his hand to greet her.

Stiffly, she took his hand. “Mr. Winthrop. A pleasure.” Her grip was hard. “Delighted to make your acquaintance.”

His fingers tingled, turning dark red before she let go.

“Doctor.” His smile waned, as he did his best to pretend he’d never seen her before.

Dr. Smithers ushered Tabitha Levi―Dr. Lister―into the cubicle. Anton leaned against the wall, trying to slow his pulse and catch his breath.

Susie popped her head out the door. “They need to talk to you, sugar.”

“Yeah. Of course.” Taking a deep breath, he followed her inside.

“Here’s Donnie,” CV said, wheezing slightly.

“You okay, Old Man?”

“Hard to breathe,” CV gasped, clutching Anton’s hand.

“Doc?” Anton’s eyes found Tabitha’s.

“Let’s get him upstairs,” she ordered. “This is now emergent. Book me an OR, Susie.”

“Yes, ma’am.” She picked up a phone, talking rapidly.

The doctors got the gurney moving. Anton was allowed to walk with them as far as the surgical ward.

“Mr. Carpenter?” Tabitha said sharply as the old man’s eyes fluttered.

“CV, can you hear me?” Anton asked loudly.

His friend gasped, clutching his hand harder as he struggled to breathe. Anton trotted to keep up. He rode with them, but had to stop at the red line outside the surgery doors. He watched as CV was wheeled into a room.

“You’ll be okay, CV,” he called as the door slid shut.

“You can wait in here,” Susie said, taking his elbow.

“Thanks.”

© 2019 Dellani Oakes

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First Meeting from Crash Into Me ~ A Love in the City Romance by Dellani Oakes

first meetingThe characters in Crash Into Me actually meet twice. This week, I’ll share the first one, next week, the second. Anton Pepper is a thief – a very good one. He and his crew have been hired to steal a ruby necklace from a special jewelry show. Posing as caterers, they manage to infiltrate the security. Anton finds himself deeply attracted to the model who is wearing the Tangiers Ruby he’s been sent to steal.

The model chosen to wear the rubies had waist length, sable colored hair and pale skin. Tall and willowy, she had a long, lean throat, perfect for showing off the necklace. Hers was a true black gown, covered in jet black beads. Glittering as she walked, she circulated in a specific, heavily guarded area. No one could get closer than three feet from her. Anton knew, though the crowd didn’t, that she wasn’t just beautiful, she was lethal. Ex-Israeli military, Tabitha Levi was trained in a variety of combat skills. She didn’t need the armed guards, but the insurance company insisted.

The other models were just that, nothing special. But Tabitha, she was unique, incredible. Anton had to admit, he had a bit of a crush. Crazy, as he’d never met her, but he’d studied her extensively; every article, personnel file, audio byte, or video he could find. He watched surreptitiously, as he circulated with trays of food. She noticed, but her eyes flickered past him as if he were part of the furniture. He knew he wasn’t, though. Her gaze passed over him often, lingering. It wasn’t his imagination—at least he hoped not.

“She made you?” the chef asked quietly, as he took up another tray.

“No.”

“She keeps looking at you.”

“Yeah.” He chuckled.

His next pass, he carried a tray of beverages, near Tabitha’s perch. Three uniformed men stood between them. Anton stopped.

“Sorry, guys. I thought the lovely lady might be thirsty. Non-alcoholic, sparkling juice. Scout’s honor, not booze.” He grinned, winking at her. A slight blush pinked her cheeks when their eyes met.

One guard lifted a glass from the tray, sniffed it and handed it to Tabitha. Anton offered drinks to the men, expecting them to refuse. Tabitha sipped her drink and smiled.

“Have some, boys. He’s telling the truth.”

They all accepted graciously, if gruffly. Taking his empty tray to the kitchen, Anton counted down the seconds. Since timing was everything, their glasses had been treated on the rim with the odorless, tasteless drug. Even if they didn’t finish their drinks, merely touching it to their lips was enough.

A surprised gasp escaped a few throats as the first guests fell. The exclamation grew louder when others began to drop. A few were left standing, these got the dart.

Anton and the chef, rushed to Tabitha to remove her necklace, to find it was fastened with a special catch. Rather than waiting to undo it, Anton carried her, to the catering van. The others made a fast sweep of the room, finding easy pickings between models and guests. Seven minutes later, they’d filled their packs and shed their uniforms. Each wore biking gear beneath. From the crate, they got goggles and helmets. Uniforms and other gear, went into the packs. Kickstands up, they were gone. Anton was left with Tabitha, and her tricky necklace. He gave her another dose of the drug, securing her in the van. His heart fluttered. He’d never kidnapped anyone before. He was a thief, and prided himself on never doing harm. Feeling he had no choice, he drove away from the museum with his glittering cargo.

It took time, but he was finally able to get to a remote location on the outskirts of town near a state park. Tabitha was still asleep, but he approached warily, helmet and goggles on to help conceal his face. Taking a pair of wire cutters from his pack, he removed the security catch on the necklace.

Tabitha’s eyes flew open. She tried to make a grab for him, only to find she was cuffed to the sink with her arms behind her. Snarling, she jerked her legs. they were attached to the stove on the other side. Both appliances were heavy steel and bolted to the floor.

“I just want the necklace, Princess,” he purred, lowering his voice an octave, adding a Midwest accent, which was anything but natural. “I promise to call for help when I’m away. They’ll find you in a few hours.”

“I’ll kill you, you bastard!”

“I apologize for this. I didn’t count on the extra paranoia. Bye, Princess.” He wanted badly to kiss her, but he was fairly certain she’d bite him. Also, some of the drug might linger on her lips—not to mention, he would deposit his DNA. Controlling his impulse, he gave her a saucy salute and was gone. The road was a little rutted, but the bike could handle it. Taking off with confidence, he was on his way.

Tabitha knew better than to fight the restraints. Trusting the man was telling the truth, she tried to get comfortable, not easy in this position. Despite the awkwardness, she dozed off.

© 2019 Dellani Oakes

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