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Prologue


She should’ve taken the first cry of the security alarm more seriously.

Its wailing sound pierced the silent night like a team of screaming banshees ripping Misha Alexander out of her sleep. She sat up in bed with a sharp gasp. Her heart started a frightened dance as she realized that the wailing of the alarm was a sure sign that there was an intruder in her house.

Quickly, she rolled off the bed to the floor, grabbing her phone as she went. But before she could dial nine-one-one, it rang in her hands.

“Hello,” she whispered breathlessly.

“This is Winthrop Security,” a calm male voice resounded over the line. “Is everything all right?”

“No.”

“Is someone in your home?”

“No… Yes… I.. I don’t know.” Misha took a shuddering breath to calm her racing heart. “I’m here by myself. Please c- have somebody come. Please come.”

“We’re sending someone right away,” the man said. “Please stay on the line with me.”

“Okay.”

If there ever was a time to regret moving back into her parents’ home, this was it. Everyone was against it. They claimed that this neighborhood was no place for a celebrity like herself. But Misha couldn’t bear the thought of selling her childhood home. To waylay the security concerns she’d hooked up the house with the latest in security gismos.

The man from the security company stayed on the line with her, calming her with his soothing voice, while they waited for help – or for her intruder to bludgeon her to death. Fortunately, help came first. Misha emerged from her hiding place to open the door when the cops knocked. They immediately did a quick walk through around the premises.

“All clear,” the female, uniformed cop said after they’d finished their assessment of her house. “No signs of entry.”

“And you checked everywhere?” Misha asked.

“Yes, we did, and your neighbors say they saw nothing,” the cop’s male partner said. “In the morning you might want to check with your security company to make sure there are no issues with your system.”

“Thank you for coming to check on me,” Misha said as she followed the officers to the front door.

“No problem, Ms. Alexander. Good night.”

After waving them off Misha headed back to bed. Sleep wasn’t easy to come by – not with the residual adrenalin still coursing through her. She tried counting sheep, imagined herself floating on a cloud, slowed her breathing – nothing worked. She thought of calling Danny – his deep voice was often enough to soothe her into sleep – but it was way too late to call him. And besides after their fight tonight she wasn’t in a Danny mood.

Nope, she was not calling him.

Wasn’t warm milk supposed to make you sleepy? Misha flipped on the bedside lamp and rose from the bed. Without bothering to put on slippers or a robe over her tank top and shorts, she headed to the kitchen. She didn’t switch on the hallway lights or the kitchen lights; after all she knew the house like the back of her hand. Once in the kitchen, she headed directly to the fridge.

“Oh, come on!” she exclaimed when she picked up the empty milk bottle. This had to be Danny’s doing. Danny and milk were like an alcoholic and his vodka. He must’ve emptied her bottle while she was getting ready for the party.

Still cussing him under her breath she trod toward the kettle. Maybe hot tea would help her slip back into sleep. She was filling up the kettle at the sink when the hairs on the back of her neck tingled as if to alert her that someone was watching her. Her sixth sense caused her to look up at the window, in time to catch sight of the reflection of a figure dressed all in black standing at the door.

Instinctively she turned to face the intruder just as her would-be attacker raised an arm. It took Misha only a millisecond to process the glint of metal that came with the raise of that arm. On instinct she darted downwards. Just in time too because the loud crack of a gun being fired echoed in the room. The window above the sink shattered in a hail of glass. It was immediately followed by the wailing of the security alarm.

With no time to wonder if the intruder was coming for her or to linger on the fear twisting her guts, Misha scampered to the other side of the island. She clutched onto the sloshing kettle of water like it was a weapon as she scuttled. But luck wasn’t on her side; just as she emerged on the right side of the island a shadow appeared in front of her.

Without second thought, Misha tossed the kettle. It crashed into the intruder’s face with a satisfying thud. The weapon in the intruder’s hand dropped like a stone, firing off a startling shot as it went down. The bullet whizzed by, missing Misha by the skin of her ear. The temporary reprieve was just what she needed to turn, lift off the floor and dash out of the kitchen.

If she was working at normal common sense capability, she would’ve run to the bedroom, locked herself in and waited for the cops to turn up. But her flight response was in full control and it wanted her to get the hell out of there. Her heart thudding almost as loudly as the alarms wailing in the house and her breath coming in fast pants, she sprinted toward the front door. A few snaps of the locks and she was out of the house.

The cold night air hit her as soon as she bolted onto the front porch. A part of her recognized that she was in her sleep shorts and a tank top, but the rest of her didn’t care. Her priority was her security. Now, she wished she’d insisted that Geneva Vexer trim her side of the fence because then she could’ve vaulted over the hedge to bang on the elderly woman’s door. In any case the only exit from her front yard was to sprint down her driveway to the main road.

Blind panic carrying her footsteps, she raced towards the road. Her intention was to round the fence and go to Geneva’s house but then she saw the light in the Miller’s house, opposite hers, come on and decided to cross to their house instead. At least she wouldn’t have to wake anyone up.

She started to cross the road.

And it happened in a split second.

One minute she was running across the street and the next the hooting of a car stopped her in her tracks. She turned her head in time to see the car hurtling toward her. Shock rooting her feet to the ground, she watched the driver attempt to slow down. She could hear his brakes screaming as he raced inexorably towards her.

Misha felt a certain calm fall upon her as she waited to die. Life was funny that way. Who would’ve thought that she would die almost the same way she’d killed her parents? This was karma’s way of a correcting a cosmic injustice. At that moment she realized that she didn’t care if she died. Death could take her.

She closed her eyes.

The sound of screeching tires rent the air, then the sickening thud of metal meeting human flesh.

Pain.

So much pain.

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Chapter 1


4 DAYS EARLIER

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“… So, there I am bored out of my mind. And this dude’s going on and on and on about how monogamy is a concept perpetuated by prudes, fat housewives and religious nuts,” Misha said as she shoveled scrambled eggs from the pan on to two separate plates, “and that evolution doesn’t support it.”

“Do your dates always get that deep?” Danny, who was standing behind her, chuckled as he reached above her to open the cupboard. The pressure of the hard planes of his chest against her back was enough to heat her. Combined with the aquatic scent of his masculine cologne, it set her senses buzzing.

It had always been this way.

Few men were capable of making her feel as breathless or as feminine as Danny could. He topped her five feet nine by at least six inches and was broad enough that despite her ample bust and thick hips he made her feel as if she were delicate.

However, Misha had trained herself to hide her reaction. Hunching forward slightly to give him space to grab two ceramic mugs from the cupboard, she scoffed, “This one was a first. Anyway, after all that evolution bullshit and insulting every woman on earth, he tells me that he expects his partner to be open to exploring other avenues of sexual gratification.”

“Uh oh.” Danny chuckled as he moved away from her.

“Uh oh is right. So I’m thinking there’s no possible way he’s going where I think he’s going.” Turning her head so they were eye to eye, she continued, “… Of course he goes there. Apparently, Mr. Date Of The Year only dates women who are open to threesomes and taking it up the…” She let her words trail off, embarrassed to vocalize the rest of that conversation.

“Up the what?” Danny’s brow furrowed in confusion. But when Misha lowered her gaze to his ass then gave him a meaningful look, he blinked then his mouth fell open in shock. “No!”

“Yes.” She set two pieces of toast on each plate. “He went there. He even hinted that there might be contract signing in our future.”

Danny’s lips twitched and his eyes warmed in amusement.

“Don’t you dare laugh,” she warned. Too late; Danny burst into raucous laughter and despite herself Misha joined him.

“It’s not funny.” She chuckled as she crossed the room to set the plates on a small, round, glass-top table situated between four comfy-looking chairs. “I was so embarrassed, especially when the girls seated on the table next to ours started giggling.”

“I told you that guy was full of it.” Danny snickered as he joined her seconds later with the mugs and a jar of coffee in hand. “Who the hell claims his favorite book is the Corpus Aristotelicum? I bet he can’t even pronounce it right.”

Indeed Danny had warned her about going on a date with Lucius; painter extraordinaire, acclaimed life coach and dabbler in the philosophical arts as his CupidLives.com profile had snottily announced. But she was desperate and Lucius looked good in his picture – like a younger Taye Diggs.

“That’s not even the best part.” Misha bit into her toast. “When I told him I didn’t think that that was an appropriate conversation to have on a first date, wannabe Socrates goes loco. Apparently I’m a soulless clone who is afraid to step out of the ridiculous boundaries imposed by society and release my real animal nature. Also, maybe I don’t do anal is because I already have a stick up my ass.”

Immediate anger flared in Danny’s eyes and there was an unmistakable note of protectiveness in his voice when he said, “Do you know where he lives?”

It would’ve been a lie to say Misha wasn’t flattered. She loved how he was protective of her even though she was quite capable of taking care of herself. She smiled. “Thank you but you don’t have to worry about Lucius. I think I handled him quite well on my own.”

“What’d you do?”

“I was very mature.” She raised her chin. “I told him I was sorry he felt that way and wished him all the best.”

Danny leaned back in his seat and folded his arms over his broad chest. “Hmm.” He inclined his head, watching her with a knowing smirk. “Come on. What did you really say?”

“What?” she protested. “I can be mature.”

He gave her one of his patented eyebrow raises.

“Fine.” Misha grinned. “I went all Madea on his philosophical ass. I may be soulless clone but my throwing arm is pretty mean and a jug of iced water was sitting right there -ready to be thrown at his face.”

Danny returned her grin with a chuckle of his own that lit up his blue eyes with humor. Looking at him now, she marveled at how she could be just friends with such a beautiful man. Their friendship had started out as a cliché – girl investigates a spitball incident, suspects boy, boy proves to be innocent, boy and girl become friends.

Unfortunately that’s where their story ended. Their relationship had never crossed into anything more than friendship. Not that Danny hadn’t tried to make it more. When they were fifteen he’d kissed her in an attempt to move their friendship into something more.

It’d ended in disaster.

Misha was in love with his older brother, Zeke, and didn’t have the good sense to keep that information to herself. Danny hadn’t taken it well and had proceeded to ignore her for close to a year. He’d only started talking to her when they were paired up on a chemistry project.

But now looking at Danny, Misha had to wonder what had been wrong with her teenage self. They were both twenty-nine now. He was in his prime, and geeky-cute had transformed into devastatingly handsome. Was it possible for eyes to grow bluer? It certainly seemed like his had. One look into them was enough to make her heart jig and her pulse race. Raven black hair teased his broad forehead while long eyelashes shadowed perfectly sculpted cheekbones and a strong jaw-line.

Gone was the gangly boy who was barely her height. In his place was a man with the trim masculine physique of an athlete. His black slacks clung to his long powerful thighs; his powder green shirt showcased his broad chest, shoulders and those hard muscular arms that flexed each time he tipped his coffee mug to his mouth.

She flushed at the unnerving realization that she’d slipped into intimate scrutiny of him. Abruptly, she dragged her gaze away from his and back to the paper. No, she mentally shook her head. She didn’t have any feelings for Danny except the friendly kind. Any romantic feelings she might’ve had for Danny were gone, she insisted to her skeptical senses. She’d accepted that she’d missed that boat when she still had the ticket.

She was only appreciating his masculinity in a purely platonic way. Like a chef tipping her hat to a good meal or a plastic surgeon appreciating a good boob-job; because there was no doubt that Daniel Landa-Hollis was an exceptional specimen of the male species. Besides, it wasn’t like he still had a crush on her.

After his failed attempt at seducing her, he’d never tried again. Instead, he’d proceeded to date the whole of New York. Surely, any feelings he might’ve had for her fourteen years ago had been extinguished by all the women he’d dated.

But what if it hadn’t? What if…

Stop it. Her common sense yanked her back into reality. There was no point in ruminating over a relationship that could never be. There was too much water under that bridge. And even if there was a chance for them to be more than friends, she couldn’t take it anyway.

Not unless she wanted him to die.

Danny jerked her back into reality when he called out her name. “So Michelle…” Once he had her attention, a slow grin spread across his face. “Do you?”

For a moment Misha was lost in his smile and his deep smooth voice. Her nipples pebbled in response. Beneath the table, she wiped her suddenly damp palm on her skirt. Stop it. She cleared her throat. “Do I what?”

“Do you take it up the…” His brow lifted meaningfully.

It was enough to jerk her out of the hypnotic trance he’d lulled her into.

“Ew.” Misha snatched the folded newspaper from the middle of the table to smack him on the side of the head. “Gross.”

Danny ducked just in time to escape the swinging newspaper. “I’m just curious.”

“Be curious in your own house,” she retorted. “Otherwise you’ll find yourself going to work hungry.”

“Please,” Danny scoffed. “Do you know how many restaurants I passed by on my way-” he started but made a quick turnabout when Misha reached for his plate. Lifting it to safety, he laughingly apologized, “Sorry, sorry, sorry.”

“I should still send you to work hungry anyway,” Misha grumbled. “It’s your fault that I had to go out on a date with that horny hipster.”

“How is it my fault?” Danny protested. “I told you not to go out with him.”

Her gaze searched his as she started, “If you’d just agree to come with me to-”

“No,” He interrupted with a violent shake of his head. “Absolutely not.”

She pouted. “Pleeease.”

“No,” he insisted as he grabbed the paper and shook it open. “Get your ass back to CupidLives.com.”

“Come on. You’re going to make me scout all those dating sites, which by the way are like menus to serial killers, when you could help me out?” She paused dramatically before adding on a breathless whisper. “I could die.”

Danny was unmoved. He didn’t look up from the paper as he pronounced, “I’d rather cut myself with a rusty tetanus-infested razor and swim past a school of sharks than attend another one of your reunions.”

Every five years her extended family, all descendants of Apollo and Comfort Washington, organized a reunion complete with cookouts, competitive sports and speeches. Since she was the only living member of her nuclear family, Misha was participating on her cousins’ team. Her cousin, Femi, had decided that this was their year to win the family trophy. Unfortunately Femi’s sister, Kalila had deserted the family to go and get married in Nigeria. To boost their family’s numbers, Femi had asked – or rather ordered, Misha to get herself a date or else…

To be honest Misha didn’t want to go to or participate in the reunion, but her parents would’ve wanted her to. But finding a partner was more difficult than she’d expected – especially because Danny, her preferred partner, was being such a girl about the whole thing. With only four months left to find a partner and train, she was getting desperate.

“Danny.” She reached across the table for the paper but he turned in his chair.

“Nope,” he insisted. “You know how crazy your whole family gets when that trophy’s involved.”

“We’re not crazy,” Misha rose to the defense of her much maligned family. “We’re just… passionate about winning.”

“Yeah, right.” A snorting sound escaped him. “All your cousins still call me white boy. Aunt Keisha tried to drown me in the dunking pool and I wasn’t even the target. Will farted in my face during Giant Connect. Sean laced my lotion with pepper so we’d be forced to forfeit Tug of War and Femi told me to push through the pain…”

“That was five years ago,” Misha wheedled. “We’ve all changed.”

“No.”

“Daaanny.”

He shook his head. “Absolutely not.”

“Pleeease,” she begged. This time he didn’t even answer, choosing instead to ignore her repeated pleas and read his paper.

Striving for a nonchalant tone, Misha said, “Did I tell you that Tony and Elle broke up?”

That got his attention. Danny stiffened, immediately understanding the implied threat in her statement, and his gaze shot upwards to clash with hers. He lowered his paper, deliberately folded it and placed it beside his plate. His gaze flickered up and down over her in calculated perusal. That piercing gaze would’ve been enough to make any other woman squirm in her seat. Misha merely returned it with a studied gaze of her own.

Danny inclined his head. “Risky play, Alexander.”

She shrugged. “I’m desperate.”

They studied each other across the table, gauging each other’s will to win this battle. For a moment she thought he might actually call her bluff but then he released a heavy breath. “Fine. I’ll come with you.”

Misha’s lips widened in a smile as she enthusiastically added, “Okay, we’ll start training on-”

“Not so fast.” Danny raised a hand to halt her words. “There are conditions.”

Her smile dimmed. “What conditions?”

Danny gave a wolfish grin. “So you know how my mother has been trying to make nice with Richard Wilde…”

Oh yes, she’d heard. Ever since Edya Landa-Hollis had learned that Richard Wilde was up for consideration as a prospective nominee to the Supreme Court, she’d been working relentlessly to get into his pockets – or rather to get him into her pockets. To that effort she’d had been trying to convince Danny to court the Wilde’s daughter, Lauren; a proposition that had been met with outright hostility from Danny.

Misha narrowed her eyes. “Yes?”

“Well, she claims that she has to stay in London for a couple more weeks.” He paused for a moment before adding, “… and Katherine Wilde is throwing a party to celebrate Bradley’s new positions as Assistant District Attorney this weekend.”

Misha blinked and when she spoke, her “No,” was unequivocal.

“Come on,” he said. “I can’t go to that party alone. There’s no way Mother didn’t plan this sudden extension of her trip.” He added glumly, “She’s probably recruited Katherine to lock me and Lauren in some deep dark dungeon together until we say I do.”

It sounded dramatic but Misha didn’t refute it. Edya had been known to do some pretty dark things to get her sons to follow her edicts. Regardless, Misha was not going to that party.

She shook her head. “No, I don’t want to go. Everyone there will either be avoiding me because they think I’ll do an exposé on them. The ones who aren’t avoiding me will be stalking me in hopes that I’ll cover their latest political event or some other nonsense. Plus I can’t stand Katherine and she can’t stand me.”

“You think I want to go either?” Danny asked, “Katherine will be hitting on me all night, when she’s not throwing me at Lauren. I need a buffer against her.”

“Then find a pillow cause I sure ain’t one,” Misha retorted. “I wasn’t there when you were sleeping with her.”

“That was ten years ago,” Danny defended himself.

“Ten stupid years ago.” Misha shook her head. A smile quirking her lips, she said, “I can’t believe you slept with a married woman. And that married woman at that. Katherine has more plastic in her than a Barbie doll. What did you see in her?”

Danny took a long breath as if fortifying himself. Completely ignoring her question, he said, “I would’ve refused to go to the party but Zeke’s in South Africa and someone’s got to represent the family. If I go with a date it will be harder to get trapped.”

“Daaanny, no,” Misha whined. “The last time I went to a party with you, we made the front-page. I don’t want to give the press more wood for their bonfire.”

“The press won’t be there,” he countered.

Her eyebrows shot up. “Are you kidding me? This is Katherine Wilde. She’s probably sent them monogrammed invitations.”

“Katherine told my mother this was just a small gathering for friends and family. No paparazzi,” he coerced, reaching for Misha’s hand across the table. Her pulse jumped when he stroked a finger across the back of her hand and a tingle ran up her arm. He added, “And we won’t stay for long. Just five minutes to duck in, show my face so Richard sees me then we can leave. I’ll even buy you dinner at that weird Indian place you like.”

She threw him a pleading look. “Danny, don’t make me.”

He was silent for a moment, his gaze taking her in slowly, from her green silk top upwards to meet her eyes. Her skin heated at the touch of his eyes but she maintained her earnest expression. She really didn’t want to go to that party. His gaze softened and for a moment she thought he might let her off the hook…

Then he shrugged. “Sorry, that’s my price.”

“You know I could still ask Tony to go with me to the reunion,” Misha threatened. “All my cousins like him.”

Danny merely cocked his eyebrows.

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Chapter 2


By nine p.m., Saturday, Danny was ready to admit that the evening was a catastrophe. Nothing was working out as he’d expected it to.

For one; Katherine had lied. This was no small get-together. Judging by the number of people milling around the enormous gallery, it seemed she’d invited all of New York’s upper strata and their friends. Worse, the press was out in full force. They hid their recorders and pens beneath expensive evening gowns and tuxedos, but Danny had been friends with Misha long enough to recognize the keen, interested gaze of a journalist.

Even worse, Richard Wilde was nowhere to be seen. Considering he was the father of the man of the hour, the judge should’ve been front and center in the gallery, but Danny had yet to sniff him. Danny wished he could just leave, but if he left without at least greeting the man, tonight would’ve been a complete waste of time. It looked like he’d be forced to ask Katherine where Richard was – and she was the last person he wanted to talk to at this shindig.

Then there was Misha.

She looked stunning tonight. And it made being around her much harder. Misha wasn’t classically beautiful, yet there was something about the hair cut into a chin-length bob, the smooth bronzed skin and the button nose with a silver stud winking on one side that belied the word ‘ordinary’.

With her height, she towered high above many of the guests. But true to form she’d chosen to wear stilettos that gave her a height advantage over almost everyone, male and female. If anyone was blind enough to miss her regal form, her dress was like a beacon drawing every eye to her.

Like every other woman who’d attended the red-tie event, she was in red. But unlike almost everyone else, there was nothing plunging or short about her dress. Instead she’d chosen to wear a floor-length bodycon dress, with mesh panels on the sides. The soft fabric clung to her voluptuous curves and flaunted the rich tones of her bronze skin. More than a few men – and women – threw appreciative looks her way as she circled the gallery to chatter with the other guests. Those looks brought out all of Danny’s possessive instincts.

She was his Artemis.

His hunter.

His fingers flexed reflexively over her waist as he stared daggers at Bradley Wilde who was not being as sly as he thought with his leering looks at her bust.

“Don’t you have to greet your other guests,” Danny practically growled at Bradley.

“Don’t be rude, Danny,” Misha berated as she threw a smile Bradley’s way. “You’re talking to our newest ADA. He could order our arrest.”

“I could never arrest you. You’re too beautiful,” Bradley flirted, even though his girlfriend, Jodie, was standing right next to him.

Danny didn’t blame Bradley for his fawning attention. It was hard to resist Misha’s lovely smile or the way her hazel eyes glittered when she did. It was what had drawn him to her years ago. To say it’d been hard to realize that she was in love with his brother and not him was an understatement. Better she’d just ripped his heart out and thrown it to the wolves.

Yet despite her rejection, his attraction to her hadn’t faded.. It’d grown stronger with each year. Fortunately, he’d gotten better at hiding it. But nights like these, when she was looking so damn good, it was hard.

It was damn hard.

No. Danny couldn’t blame Bradley for falling into her thrall. That however didn’t prevent him from wishing he could punch the shorter but paunchier man when Bradley sidled closer to her.

“Flattery will get you anywhere.” Misha’s warm laughter reverberated around their circle drawing everyone else to join in as she teased Bradley. Before Bradley could monopolize her attention any further, Misha turned to Sylvia Poole, “Sylvia’s how’s your mother doing? I heard about Ramon.”

Danny hadn’t heard anything about Ramon. But he wasn’t surprised Misha had. There was a reason his mother called her ‘Nosy Alexander’.

“Oh, Mama’s having such a hard time.” Sylvia gasped dramatically. “We’re going to St. Bart’s next week so she can recover.”

“Oh?” Misha said. That was all Sylvia needed to launch into her spiel about her former step-dad now a fugitive of justice because of some bank robbery out west. From her enthusiastic rendition of the events of his capture, it was obvious Sylvia was enjoying the five minutes of fame their misfortune had given them.

The way she told it you’d have thought Ramon had held them hostage in their house and threatened to blow it up if they didn’t give him a gazillion dollars and a helicopter. The truth was that Ramon had been arrested at the country-club earlier today while getting a massage. But Sylvia’s dramatic telling had the fortunate result of capturing everyone’s attention. It gave Danny the opening he needed to ease Misha away from the group.

“Are we going home yet?” Misha asked as he set their glasses on a tray carried by a passing waiter.

“Not yet.” Pressing his hand to her spine, he guided her towards the gallery’s exit. He reveled in how she arched her spine as if seeking his touch and without protest followed his wordless direction. “We’re going to check the study to see if Richard is there. After we see him, we can get the hell out of here.”

“Okay.” Despite her heels, Misha’s footsteps fell seamlessly in tune with his. “But you owe me. You promised me only five minutes and we’ve been here more than two hours. You’ll have to make it up to me.”

They both nodded a greeting towards the Remingtons and Mendleys who were huddled together in low conversation, with Danny praying that neither couple would try to forestall their forward progress. They didn’t. Another group of partygoers nodded at them but didn’t stop them either. A couple more steps and they’d be home-free and at liberty to search for Richard without people constantly trying to get their attention.

They weren’t that lucky.

“Daniel Landa-Hollis.” Katherine Wilde ambushed them two feet from the exit with a bright smile. “Just the man I was looking for.”

Daniel masked his irritation well with a smooth smile and a, “Hello, Katherine.”

As usual Katherine was a vision of willowy loveliness. Her blond hair was piled atop her head, a few stray curls left to frame her face. She was wearing a white cocktail dress, because of course she couldn’t wear a red dress like everyone else. The fabric clung to her size zero form and dipped dangerously between her clearly surgically enhanced, voluptuous cleavage.

It was that cleavage that had suckered him into sleeping with her ten years ago. That one moment of weakness still haunted him to this day, as did Katherine. Whenever they were in the same place, she took every opportunity to remind him of that mistake or to try to seduce him into a repeat performance. Tonight was no exception.

“You look good.” Katherine skimmed the length of his body with hooded eyes and a small smile as if mentally stripping him. Danny felt like meat on a platter being stared at by a wolf.

He didn’t miss the way Misha stiffened beside him, obviously uncomfortable with the attention Katherine was giving him. He circled his arm around her waist in a bid to reassure her that he’d get her out of here as soon as he could. Katherine’s gaze zeroed in on his arm around Misha then snapped upwards to meet the younger woman’s own stare. Her tone was noticeably chillier when she said, “Michelle.”

Misha hated being called Michelle, but you’d never have known it from the beaming smile she gave Katherine. “How are you, Katherine?” She motioned to the room. “This is a lovely party.”

“Thank you.” Katherine’s lips straightened into an even thinner smile. “If I’d known you were so desperate to attend it, I would’ve sent you an invitation.”

Misha’s eyes narrowed, a sure sign that she was about to snap. Danny cut in before she could, “I invited Misha,” he informed Katherine. “You said you were looking for me?”

But it was almost as if Katherine was literally looking for a fight because her attention stayed on Misha. “How are you these days? Still poking your nose into other people’s business?”

The woman didn’t have a self-preservative bone in her body. With her slenderness she was no physical match for Misha. If it came down to a physical altercation, Misha could fling her across the gallery like a rag-doll. However, Misha wasn’t the type to get handsy. Her weapon of choice was her tongue.

It seemed she’d sheathed it tonight though because she merely smiled at Katherine and said, “Yes I am, and racking all those Pulitzers as I do. What about you? I heard you were launching a new perfume?”

Katherine visibly started and shock shadowed her voice. “Where did you hear that from?”

Misha shrugged. “My nose is everywhere.”

Katherine scanned the crowd around them as if to make sure no one else was listening to their conversation. Her voice lowered into an almost whisper as she said, “That’s information that’s yet to be released.”

Misha smiled. “You don’t have to worry, Katherine. I won’t share.”

It was a subtle threat to Katherine to tread carefully around her.

Danny’s lips twitched. Starting to skirt to the other side of Katherine, he said. “If that’s all…”

“Actually I need to talk to you.” Katherine latched onto his arm, the Wilde family ring, a gold band topped with jadeite stone, glittering on her ring-finger. Her eyes swooped past him to Misha then back to him again. “Alone.”

The woman wouldn’t quit.

But there was no way to evade her without being rude. Danny sent an apologetic look Misha’s way.

Misha nodded. “If you’ll excuse me.”

She turned to leave, and Danny dropped his arm letting his fingers link briefly with hers. He squeezed slightly, a reassurance that he’d come get her as soon as he could. His gaze followed her wistfully as she walked away.

“So Daniel…” Katherine drew his attention back to her.

* * * * *

MISHA WANTED NOTHING more than to walk out of this ridiculous party. The fakeness was like a cloying scent seeping into her skin with each minute she spent here. They smiled at her, laughed with her, kowtowed to her, stroked her ego, but deep inside she knew they couldn’t stand to be around her. And she couldn’t blame them. When someone had the power to destroy you with a stroke of the pen, it was hard to like them.

There at the corner, laughing with Cheron Hunter was Peter Norell. A year ago Misha had taken down a Philippine subsidiary of his fashion empire for using child workers. There patting Bradley’s back was Senator Marc Spencer. Misha had practically handed him the keys to his office after she’d exposed the funding for his main opponent as coming from a blood-diamond warlord. On the other side of the room was General Joan Jane who was hard at work trying to shut down Misha’s current story; an exposé on the country’s arbitrary use of drones in the Middle East.

It was a hard, sometimes thankless, job exposing the truth, but someone had to do it. And Misha enjoyed it, most of the time. But it did affect her personal life and the kind of friends she had. It was hard to find genuine friends who weren’t friends with her for what she could do for them, especially within this crowd. Fortunately, she’d been blessed to find one among them. She looked back over her shoulder searching for him.

Dressed in a stark black tuxedo, white shirt and red bow-tie, Danny looked good enough to eat. He was still talking to Katherine who was crowded against him like she was trying to climb into his body. Charmer that he was, he was giving her his full attention, looking for all the world as if Katherine was sharing the recipe for World peace. Misha itched to walk over there and rip the woman off him. She bit back on the impulse, reminding herself that he wasn’t hers to be jealous over. He would never be hers.

Dragging her eyes away from Danny and Katherine, Misha searched the room for someone she could chat with; someone who wasn’t afraid of her or didn’t want something from her. Her gaze fell on Lauren Wilde.

The slender woman was standing alone next to the east windows, seemingly trying to blend with the scarlet drapes. She seemed lost among the crowd. There was a group of people beside her, but either they couldn’t see her or they weren’t interested in including her in their conversation. She looked lonely.

Lauren was the odd one out of the Wildes. Not only was she the only dark-eyed, auburn-haired one in the blue-eyed, blond family, but she was also the least gregarious. Maybe that was why Misha liked her so much. Because she didn’t look like a Wilde.

Misha’s gaze must’ve pricked at Lauren because the younger woman lifted her gaze. The moment her eyes met Misha’s they lit up in a smile. Returning the smile, Misha started towards her but her progress was abruptly halted when someone grabbed her arm.

“Misha?” Eric Ingram, Katherine Wilde’s assistant’s loosely clasped her wrist. “Can I talk to you?”

“What’s up?” Misha turned to the brown-haired man. If Misha was into short guys, Eric would definitely have made the list. He had the tanned good-looks of a sun-kissed surfer who’d mistakenly stumbled into this gallery. Instead of a tux, he’d paired a dark jacket with almost matching pants and a red shirt. Judging by the high-nosed look Nancy Gilbert gave his mismatched pants, the other guests had noted that he didn’t fit in with them.

“Not here.” Eric’s voice lowered as he added, “I might have a story for you.”

Misha’s instincts immediately sprang into alertness. Something about Eric’s intent expression said that the story was a lot more than gossip about Katherine’s perfume. It was something really juicy. And she was interested. Very interested.

Unfortunately, she couldn’t do a story about Katherine Wilde. Everyone already knew that the two of them couldn’t stand each other. Any story Misha did on the woman’s family would look more like spite than actual truth-telling.

So with a heavy heart, Misha started, “Eric, I’m sorry I can’t-”

Eric cut her off before she could finish. “At least hear me out.”

“No. Thank you.” She offered, “But I can give you the contacts of someone who might be able to help.”

But Eric refused to be dissuaded. Digging into the inside pocket and extracting a notepad and pen, he coerced, “Once you hear what I’ve got you can decide if you want it. This is my number.” He scribbled on the notepad. “Call me.”

He ripped the paper from the notepad and held it out. Misha was about to tell him she didn’t want it when someone bumped into her from behind. The sound of glass shattering echoed behind her as the bump thrust her towards Eric. Eric’s eyes widened with horror and he raised his hands to fend Misha off. Instead his hands landed on her breasts.

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