“I know.” She’d tried not to focus on the danger but, instead, on finding the perpetrator. She refused to live her life in fear—although, truth be told, hadn’t that been part of her motivation last night for being at the window, peering down at a dark street?
Connor continued, “Your family said the police are involved, but you and I both know those resources only go so far.”
She’d always known Connor Rafferty was a man who didn’t take no for an answer. He was, after all, the guy who’d climbed out of South Boston and, by the age of thirty-seven, had built a multimillion-dollar enterprise offering security systems and personal protection to big companies as well as the rich and famous.
But, she reminded herself, he was also the guy who’d hauled her teenaged butt out of a dark bar over ten years ago. The guy who still acted at times as if she were a pesky little kid, regardless of last night’s inexplicable kiss.
Fortified by that thought, she tried again for a polite brush-off. “Look, Connor, I appreciate the offer, but, as you just said, the police are on it. The DA’s Office also has detectives assigned to it.”
His eyes narrowed. “And what if I said you really don’t have a choice in the matter?”
She scoffed, then stopped abruptly as he reached into the pocket of his jeans and pulled out a set of house keys. Alarm bells went off in her head. “Where did you get those?”
“When I’m hired for a job, I usually get access to the premises,” he said coolly.
She pursed her lips. She knew exactly which Whittaker to thank for giving him access. When she was through with Quentin, his ears would be ringing for days. In the meantime, she had one cagey security expert to deal with.
Quite clearly, she wasn’t simply going to be able to banish Connor as she’d like. Experience had taught her, however, that it was better to graciously call a temporary truce rather than to admit defeat. She needed time to figure out how to get him out of her house. In the meantime, she’d play along with his game.
“I see,” she said, keeping her voice a few degrees cooler than his. “Well, if you’re going to be my temporary roommate, then we should set some house rules.”
“Such as?” His tone was suspicious, wary.
“Last night was a mistake that will not happen again, got it? Unfortunately, you caught me at a weak moment, when my defenses were down.”
“That’s the idea.”
She narrowed her eyes. “As I said, it will not happen again.”
“Are we, by any chance, talking about the kiss we shared?”
“Of course I’m talking about the kiss.” Somewhere in the last few hours, the kiss—really two kisses that had seemed to flow almost seamlessly together—had assumed a singular identity all its own, so that she now referred to it mentally as “The Kiss.”
“Just checking,” he said in a voice that was so amiable it set her teeth on edge.
“And let me correct you, it’s not ‘the kiss we shared.’ It’s the kiss that you planted on me when I was distracted and vulnerable.”
His lips teased upward on one side. “Funny, you seemed to have enjoyed it.”
“No kissing. That’s part of the ground rules, Rafferty.”
He had the temerity to look openly amused. “I’ll agree not to kiss you. Whether you kiss me, however, is another matter.”
She gave him a frosty stare. “I’ll do my best to resist.”
“So, are we shacking up together?” he asked.
“With an offer like that, how can I refuse?”
He broke into a grin. “Modesty prevents me from saying more.”
“I’ve always said it’s your strong suit.”
“Is that sarcasm I detect?”
“That and good manners prevent me from saying what else.”
He laughed outright then, his eyes crinkling at the corners. Her stomach somersaulted and she resisted the sudden strange urge to quell his hilarity with a sultry kiss on his laughing mouth.
Oh boy, was she in trouble. Until last night, she’d have said that the only way she’d have thought to silence Connor was with an advanced move from her karate class.
At least until she could figure out how to get rid of him, Connor was going to be her protector from an unknown threat, but who was going to protect her from the very real threat he represented?
Connor’s suspicions were immediately roused when Allison didn’t argue about his insistence on driving her to work. His instincts told him she was far too docile. She was up to something, but he wasn’t sure what.
Nevertheless, he didn’t dwell on it because he had a typical jam-packed work day ahead of him, starting with driving back to his condo to change into a business suit before heading to Rafferty Security’s headquarters.At lunchtime, he drove over to Whittaker Enterprises’ headquarters in Carlyle. He and Quentin had long ago scheduled lunch at Burke’s Steakhouse for today. They tried to fit in a lunch appointment from time to time, often at Burke’s, as a way of keeping in touch despite their busy schedules. He knew, however, that this time Quentin would have questions about how things were going with beefing up Allison’s security.
He hadn’t been wrong, he thought, as he shifted in the seat he’d taken in front of Quentin’s desk because they still had a few minutes before they had to walk over to Burke’s.
“I tried to talk to her about taking some more safety measures,” Quentin was saying, “but she just shrugs me off. Tells me she’s dealing with it. But, the thing is, she’s in a high-profile job and coming into contact with unsavory types every day.”
Connor nodded. “I’m doing my best. She wasn’t exactly thrilled to see me last night.” He added wryly, “And, you know, I’m not known for my ability to be charming and ingratiating.”
Quentin chuckled. “Yeah, but I haven’t got a choice…”
The door to the office swung open and Quentin’s voice trailed off as Allison strode in.
Her clear, sky-blue eyes flashed her annoyance. “Are you two discussing me, by chance?”
She was dressed in the navy suit that Connor had seen her in that morning, the open collar of her white shirt giving a tantalizing glimpse of her bare throat. Her high-heeled black leather pumps set off her shapely legs beneath her short skirt.
The mere sight of her awakened every male need Connor had, but she had completely disregarded everything he’d said this morning.
Quentin muttered a curse under his breath. “I suppose Celine let you come right in, didn’t she?”
“Actually, your secretary stepped away from her desk right after letting it slip that you were meeting with Connor.” Connor watched as Allison’s eyes settled on him then, a disdainful look on her face. “I might have known you’d be here. Patting yourself on the back for a mission accomplished, are you?”
He rose from his seat. “I’ll only feel a sense of accomplishment once we track down the guy who’s after you.” Sternly, he went on, “I thought I told you to stay put and that I’d pick you up from the office when you were ready to leave.”
“Yes, I do recall you ordering me to stay put. What I don’t recall is my agreeing to it, especially since I have my dear sibling to thank for my new living arrangements.” She folded her arms and sat on the corner of Quentin’s desk, glancing back at her brother, who merely raised an eyebrow inquiringly at her.
“Hello, Quentin,” she said coolly. “Just the person I wanted to see. You know, the last time I checked, tenants still had the right to peaceful occupation of the premises without unwanted roommates being foisted on them.” She fixed her brother with a hard stare. “So far I’ve resisted the urge to file a complaint against you with landlord-tenant court. I know that would break Mom’s heart.”
“Is that what you came here to do? Complain?” He added in exasperation, “And, for the record, what would break Mom’s heart is if we found you dead in a ditch. We’re all worried sick about you and this psycho who’s sending you threats.”
“Well, of course Mom is worried!” Allison retorted. “She was also worried when Noah took up race-car driving a few years ago. When Matt decided he’d try rock-climbing. And, when you went backpacking through Europe. But she trusted you to take precautions.”
Quentin leaned forward. “What’s wrong with getting a little help in this case? I couldn’t even mention Connor’s name without you going ballistic on me.” Quentin folded his hands on his desk. “Connor is the best in the business. The only reason you won’t consider him is that you two do nothing but snap and bark at each other.”
“Great, won’t that make us pleasant roomies!”
Connor gained grim satisfaction from the thought that she sounded worried about their living situation. “I can stand the heat in the kitchen if you can, petunia.”
She gave him the imitation of a smile. “You won’t need to worry about the kitchen, Connor, because I plan to light a fire under you.”
Their gazes locked while Quentin stifled a laugh. Connor wondered what she’d say if he told her she’d already lit a fire inside him. He’d just been unsuccessfully dousing the flames for years.