Under the Tycoon's Protection(9)

By: Anna DePalo



His double meaning wasn’t lost on her. She gave him a level look. “Yes, and I thought a few laps in the pool would be a better approach than dumping water over your head.”

His laugh sounded behind her as she moved off in the direction of the women’s locker room for a quick duck under the shower nozzle before changing into her swimsuit. Since he’d gotten into this gym—not his usual one—with her guest pass, she doubted he’d be following her down to the pool.

She was wrong.

She’d completed three laps and stopped at the side of the pool when she looked up to find him standing above her. They were alone, she noticed peripherally, the middle-aged woman who had been swimming in a nearby lane just disappearing into the locker room.

She trod water and frowned up at him, cocking her head to the side. “I didn’t think I’d see you down here.” She nodded at his blue swim trunks. “Where did you get those?” she demanded.

“I always come prepared.”

Was that amusement she saw lurking in his eyes? If she wasn’t mistaken, he knew she’d been thinking—no, hoping—she’d managed to shake him.

Instead, he was looming above her, muscular legs planted near the side of the pool, his hands braced on his hips, his chest and forearms leanly corded and well defined.

Inwardly, she irritatedly shoved down the feminine urge to yield. Outwardly, she shrugged for his benefit. “Suit yourself,” she said, and then took off toward the other end of the pool.

Within a few minutes, however, she became aware of him in the lane beside her. She pushed down her annoyance as he stayed with her down one length of the pool and up the other, matching her stroke for stroke.

She paused at the realization. Was that what he was? she thought. Her match? Is that why she found him so annoying?

She’d thrown her best at Connor over the years and he’d thrown it right back at her. He didn’t let her call the shots like a lot of the men she’d dated. Instead, he was an immovable, solid block of granite and she hadn’t even made a dent despite years of trying.

Except, last night he’d wanted her. She imagined that if she hadn’t made some flippant comment, if she’d taken his offer seriously, they’d have wound up in bed together.

She tested that thought despite herself. In bed with Connor Rafferty. In bed with her nemesis. In bed with the most detestably annoying and implacable man she knew.

Instinctively, she knew that their sleeping together would not be a tame affair. No, they’d take their contentious relationship into the bedroom and they’d be wild and uninhibited and a match of wills and passions.

She knew he found her at least somewhat attractive these days if their recent kisses were anything to go by. So why not just give in and scratch the itch they were both feeling?

She felt warm despite the coolness of the water. It would be so easy to go to bed with Connor—and so complicated—not least because he was currently living in the same house and sleeping just down the hall.

A part of her—the part that was apt to be flattered by evidence of her feminine power—was thrilled she’d finally gotten Connor’s attention, even if it was over ten years too late. That part of her whispered, why not find out exactly what kind of lover he could be?

Still, Connor was Quentin’s closest friend. He was so close to her family that Matt and Noah thought of him as an honorary brother. If she gave in to temptation, she might have to deal with seeing her old lover over a family dinner now and then for the rest of her life.

When she found herself touching the side of the pool again, she decided to stop and pull herself upright. Her gaze immediately connected with Connor’s hazel one.

He was big and male and disturbingly close, beads of water clinging to his shoulders above the water line. “Nice swim, petunia. Is this how you keep in shape?”

“I enjoy a good swim now and then.” She paused. “Alone.”

He smiled. “Glad I’ve been let in on the secret ritual.”

“Lucky me.”

She swam away from him then and toward the ladder at the side of the pool. He swam after her and she was acutely aware of him watching her get herself out of the pool, water cascading from her body.

She grabbed a towel while he hauled himself out of the water, too. As she headed toward the locker room, he called after her, “Meet you outside in twenty minutes.”

She shot him a baleful look over her shoulder. He was shadowing her in the most literal way possible and it was all extremely disturbing.





An hour later, Connor parked in front of the townhouse and followed Allison to her front door. The black metal mailbox nailed to the brick face of the house was half open and visibly stuffed with catalogs and other mail.He stepped around her before she could react and pulled out the mail in one swift move.

“Last time I checked,” she said, her tone annoyed, “it was a federal offense to interfere with the operation of the mail service.”

He smiled and watched her irritation grow. “Then consider it checking and not interfering.”

She made a grab for the mail, but he moved his arm up and away from her. “Aren’t you going to unlock the door?” he asked placidly.

“Don’t patronize me.”

“Just add it to my tab. I seem to be running a long one with you.”

She gave him a haughty look. “That’s funny, because I recall stopping your credit line a long time ago.”

“Open the door.” He nodded at the lock, then looked around. It was broad daylight, not even noon, but he didn’t like standing out here with her. They made an easy target. She hadn’t gotten any threats since he’d moved in with her, but he knew better than to let his guard down.

After she unlocked the door, he disengaged the alarm system by pressing a few buttons on the box near the door. Then he took a moment to glance through her mail.

The lingerie catalog gave him a moment’s pause as he wondered whether she actually wore stuff similar to the skimpy satin bra and undies on the cover.

Tossing the catalog aside, he stopped at a legal-sized white envelope with no return address. He turned it over and, noticing nothing on the back, slid his finger under the flap to tear it open.

“That’s my mail!” Allison stormed back over to him from the table where she’d just set down her gym bag. “And don’t tell me that you open your clients’ mail, too!”

He blocked her attempt to grab the envelope. “In fact, sometimes I do. When the job calls for it.”

He slid the contents from the envelope and his blood ran cold. Allison gasped beside him.

There were three photographs of Allison going about her business. The photos were somewhat grainy, computer-generated reproductions taken from a distance, but nevertheless the subject was unmistakable.

Angling himself away from her, he let his eyes scan the contents of the plain white sheet of paper that had fallen out with the photos. The three lines of typed text chilled him:



Just so you know Im watchin. I can take you out anytime. If you wanna live, quit your job and go vacation on daddy’s money.

Allison made a grab for the material in his hand, but he held up his arm. “What is it?” she demanded.He debated for a second, but realized he’d have no peace until she found out, as much as he wanted to shield her. He wanted to kill the bastard who was threatening her. Tipping the contents of the envelope toward her, he said, “Take a look.”

He watched her face blanch and cursed under his breath. “Don’t touch anything. I’m calling the police and having them test all the contents of the envelope for fingerprints.”

She nodded, uncharacteristically silent.

“Do you recognize when the photos were taken?”

“Two or three weeks ago, I think.” She looked up at him and her expression conveyed thinly veiled distress. “That first shot was taken in front of the dry cleaners. My car is over on the far left, which is where I think I parked it when I couldn’t find a closer spot. It looks as if the photo was taken from the parking lot across the street.”

“Okay, and do you recognize the two others?”

“I think so. I’m wearing something different, but I think those were taken days apart.”

He nodded and carefully set down the offending images and sheet of paper. “Good. That’ll give the police a good lead about where to start asking questions to see if anyone remembers anything, though I doubt anyone will.”

She raked a hand through her hair, the glossy locks cascading around her face. “This is ridiculous. I’m used to having my photo taken from time to time, but it’s always been reporters flashing bulbs in my face at a press conference or at a charity ball.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Quite the popular little heiress prosecutor, aren’t we?”

“Kiss my millionaire fanny, Rafferty.”

He laughed, but he privately admitted the joke was on him: he’d certainly given more than a passing thought to kissing her all over.

But, he was glad to see his comment had had its intended effect and there was some fire back in her eyes. That white-faced expression she’d been wearing was unlike her. And while he wanted her to appreciate the danger she could be in, he also didn’t want this crazy nut to cow her and mark her for life.

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