His voice was low, sincere. His blue eyes warmer than normal, their usual frost...gone. “I have to attend a conference in Las Vegas this weekend.” His gaze was steady. “I’d like you to come with me.”
Stunned, Carly bit her lower lip, struggling to adjust to the development. A weekend together didn’t exactly jive with her goal of avoiding the man. Unfortunately she loved how he made her feel, and it went well beyond what he did to her in bed—not that they’d technically made it to a bedroom yet. A part of her was tempted to risk a bigger piece of her heart just to spend more time with him. Another part was scared as hell.
She really should refuse.
Heart thumping with the force of a thousand bass drums, she tried to play it cool and keep it light. She hiked a teasing brow. “It won’t make me go easy on you on the show.”
“I’m not afraid,” he said, his faint smile utterly seductive.
Her resolve slipped a bit. “I’m still going to challenge you to pull The Ditchinator.”
“I can handle it.”
Her heart thudded, and her attempt at keeping it light died. “My boss has accepted my request to do a story on you.” If that didn’t get him to bolt, nothing would. And, though his body didn’t move, his whole demeanor tensed as her words hung in the air.
“And if I refuse?” he said.
“It doesn’t matter. We’ve slept together. I can’t write it now.”
He cocked his head. “Have you told your boss?”
Ah, yes. There was that little hiccup to contend with. Carly briefly closed her eyes as panic threatened to overtake her, but she fought it back. After months of chasing Sue about potential story ideas, and having spent a considerable amount of time pointing out the advantages of a story on Hunter—including his current popularity with the local press—now she had to figure out a way to tell her boss no. Short of claiming the public’s interest had waned, or sharing that she’d slept with the man, she was out of ideas. The first was an obvious lie. The second could get her fired. Again.
Swallowing past the boulder in her throat, she met his gaze. “I’ll tell her soon.”
She just had to figure out how. Sleeping with him hadn’t been the smart thing to do. But the enigmatic Hunter Philips had captured her attention where every other man had barely registered a “huh.” And now he was here offering her a whole weekend with him.
A gift that could eventually bite her in the backside.
Delay tactics were in order. “What kind of conference?” she said.
“The largest hacker convention in the US. Hackers, security experts, even law enforcement attend to keep up with the latest tricks. I’ve gone to Defcon every year since I was a teen.”
“Did your dad take you?”
Hunter let out a laugh. Stunned, Carly watched amusement roll off the man. “No, my dad’s not into technology—though he is retired FBI,” he said. “His dad was a Fed too.”
The news explained a lot. “It’s in your blood?”
“Absolutely. But not in the same way. Dad is old school, and doesn’t like reliance on computers, so we’ve had a few heated debates in our time,” he said dryly, giving the impression he was understating the truth. And she knew a lot about heated family debates. “But...” His expression grew thoughtful as he looked out over the city. “Even when we disagreed about everything else,” he said, and then turned to face her, “the law and justice were two subjects where we always saw eye to eye.”
She tipped her head. “Fidelity. Bravery. Integrity...” she mused softly. Would that her family mantra was so noble. “You grew up living the FBI motto.”
A dark look flitted across his face, and he shifted his gaze away. “Not exactly.”
Surprised, Carly crossed her arms. “You mean you haven’t always lived the life of a justice-seeking action hero?” Silence followed, and her teasing statement grew awkward as his expression remained serious, his eyes studying the skyline. Curiosity now at full throttle, Carly said, “Do tell.”
Hunter didn’t move, as if weighing his options, and it was a full minute before he finally spoke. “Booker and I grew up together,” he said. “Being an eccentric genius works as an adult, but back then he was the target of every clique in school.”
Given what she knew of Pete Booker, the news wasn’t a surprise. She lifted her brows, waiting for him to go on. Instead she had to prompt him. “And...?”
“And until we became friends I never lifted a finger to stop them,” he said bluntly, finally meeting her gaze, his eyes heavy with regret. “Our sophomore year, the wrestling team tossed him in a Dumpster while I stood by and did nothing.” He let out a soft, self-derisive scoff. “That’s just one of several instances Booker has never mentioned, though I’m sure he remembers.” Hunter gazed out over the skyline, as if the memories were too distasteful to contemplate. “I know I do...”