Some Days, It Doesn't Pay To Get Out Of Bed
That's what crosses Clint Evans's mind the minute he takes on the four thugs holding heiress Julie Rose hostage. It isn't the danger that has Clint in a lather, but Julie herself. The pretty, petite schoolteacher he's been hired to return to her wealthy fiance is no fainting trust-fund baby. She's more of a hellcat, one who won't be deterred when she sets her sights on something. And her sights are set on Clint.
The one rule Clint never breaks is this--don't get involved with the client. He can look, but he definitely cannot touch--even if it's driving him crazy. Keeping Julie safe until he can figure out who's behind her kidnapping means never letting her out of his sight. And the closer he sticks to the feisty, seductive woman who makes him feel alive...the harder it gets for him to ever consider letting her go...
"Foster writes smart, sexy, engaging characters."--Christine Feehan
"A Lori Foster book is like a glass of good champagne--sexy and sparkling."--Jayne Ann Krentz.
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May 25, 2010
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Excerpt from Just A Hint-Clint by Lori Foster
"Why would he take her?" Those rough, rumbled words carried a dose of suspicion--and accusation. Equal parts nervous and concerned, Robert Burns swallowed hard. He was a man of influence, damn it, a man of wealth and standing with his own source of power.
This man-for-hire, a grunt that now worked for him, would not intimidate him.
It didn't matter that Clint Evans wore an aura of danger as thick and suffocating as an electrical storm, or that his eyes were so . . . Jesus, his eyes were so sharp they seemed to cut right through Robert.
Forcing himself to lounge back in his chair, Robert feigned an insouciance that eluded him.
Evans's reputation hadn't been exaggerated. This man was more than capable of killing. Robert could see that just by looking at him, and it suited his purposes even as it set his nerves jangling.
"I can't think of anyone else it could be." That much was true, because as far as Robert knew, Julie had no enemies.
But he did, and now he'd been reduced to a man he didn't recognize, a man he couldn't respect. That thought made him ill, but it was still possible that he'd get Julie back unharmed and be rid of some trouble at the same time.
Robert lowered his head in what he hoped looked like hesitation, when in fact he teemed with frustration. The ransom note, now somewhat crumpled and smudged, rested on his desktop as an ugly, grim reminder of what his life had become. He detested himself for what he planned to do, but damn it, he had no alternative.
"I hate to admit it," Robert murmured low, "but Julie's something of a... tease." He sighed and raised his face. "Her father did his best with her, but she'd do things, see . . . certain men, just to enrage him, just to prove he had no real authority over her. After his death, well, she seems to enjoy dishing the same provocation onto Drew."
"Drew Johnson, her uncle, the executor of her trust fund and the man now forced to monitor her behavior." When Clint said nothing, Robert felt compelled to explain further. "Drew and her father were close, as family and as business partners. He loves Julie, never doubt that. But she's always done just as she pleased regardless of how it damaged the family name." He shrugged. "Sometimes it pleased her to flirt with danger."
"You're saying she got snatched because she flirted with the wrong man?"
"It's possible. She's done it before. Once she even had a liaison with a stable hand."
A funny expression, almost like satisfaction, passed over Clint's hard face. "Do tell."
Robert shook his head. "It was a huge scandal, and Julie wouldn't even bother to deny it to anyone, not even the press. She almost seemed to enjoy the untoward attention."
Amusement brought a crooked smile to one side of Clint's unhandsome face.
Robert scowled at the awful ransom note. "It's possible she's been up to her old tricks, and now she's gotten herself into trouble. That's all I can come up with."
"You think she flirted with Asa Ragon?"
Swallowing down his uneasiness, Robert began his fabrication of the facts. "After the note, there was . . . one phone call."
A new alertness entered Clint's already intimidating expression. "What was said?"
Robert wanted to back up a step. He wanted to stop now, to call it quits. But he couldn't. "Only that I should wait to hear from the kidnapper. He said he'd call and give me a time and place to take the money."
"That was in the note. Why make a call if there wasn't anything new to add?"
"He wanted to reiterate that if I involved the cops, or anyone else, they'd kill her." Robert gulped, and tried to appear convincing. "The voice...It sounded like Asa."
"You've met him?"
"Yes, and once you do," Robert said, finally able to give the unadulterated truth, "you don't forget him. You definitely don't forget his voice. It's rough, sort of gravelly. Maybe even damaged."
"I'm curious." Clint crossed his arms over his chest and sized Robert up with a look. "What kind of relationship does an up-and-coming social type like you have with a thug?"
"We're certainly not friends!" His confidence ruffled, Robert made a show of straightening his tie, tugging on his cuffs. "I'm a well-respected financial advisor. One of the corporations I work for wanted to buy waterfront property from Asa. He was... was there during the discussion."
"What was your recommendation on it?"
"That area is rife with development, but the city had no plans to extend public water and roadways onto that property. It would have cost more to develop it than it was worth, so naturally I advised against it." A chill skated down Robert's spine. At the time, he hadn't realized the level of Asa's influence. When he'd talked the corporation out of the property, convincing them to buy a property he represented instead, he'd talked himself into more trouble than he could handle.
"I'll bet Asa wasn't too thrilled with your interference."
"He's a lowlife scum of no importance to me." Except that Asa had been enraged, and he'd demanded that Robert reimburse him for the money he'd lost on the deal--or else.
"You think Asa took your fianc?e to get even with you?"
"Of course not." Frazzled, Robert rearranged a gold pen on his desk just to hide his loss of composure. He couldn't let Evans know of his own involvement or everything would crumble around him. That meant there had to be another reason for Asa to take Julie, one of her own making.
"Julie happened to be with me during that meeting. We were leaving straight from there to a play. I hate to say this, but you must have facts." The lies burned like acid in his throat, but Robert told them anyway. "She . . . well, for lack of a better word, she seemed impressed with Asa."
Clint turned his back on Robert. He picked up a small photo of Julie from the bookshelf. "You think she got involved with him?"
"I don't know." Jesus, Robert just wanted this over with. He didn't want to talk it to death. "But I do know that Asa has a lot of connections. If he didn't take her, he knows who did." Robert stared at Clint's back, thankful that those piercing eyes weren't on him. "It was definitely him on the phone."
With careful precision, Clint replaced the photo. "You say she's a reckless flirt, that she got herself in this predicament by playing dangerous games." He didn't look away from Julie's image as he spoke, and there was a raw edge to his tone. "Yet you still planned to marry her."
Despite the pep talk he'd just given himself, Robert shivered. His smile felt sickly, and the sound of his heartbeat drummed in his ears.
"Understand, Evans, I love Julie, and love is often blind. Besides, I don't really blame her for how she is. Her father could be overbearing in his efforts to protect her. He always tried to control Julie by controlling her money, gifting it out in small doses as he saw fit."
And in the process, he'd made sure that Robert couldn't skim from the funds. The bastard.
Clint turned his head to stare at Robert. "I take it she didn't like that."
"Julie hated it, and sometimes she hated him. I see her behavior as rebellion." Robert raised his gaze cautiously to lock with Clint's. "After we're married, she'll settle down."
Evans said nothing to that. The silence dragged on until Robert felt stretched taut, until his skin prickled and his nerves twitched. Damn it, he would not cower. This was too important.
He stood and rounded the desk. "When you find her--" And he had no doubts Evans would do just that, one way or another. He cleared his throat and forced the words out. "You should be aware that Asa is very dangerous. Don't underestimate him, don't go after him unarmed."
That eerie green gaze, unblinking and ice cold, pinned Robert. "You want me to shoot him?"
Instinct told Robert to deny it, but he couldn't.
"Despite her brazenness, Julie doesn't deserve to be ransomed by a lawless ruffian. She doesn't deserve to be frightened, mauled, and . . ."
Evans's eyes narrowed.
Robert shook, his voice, his hands, even his heart. He tried to hide his revulsion, to swallow his awful guilt. "God only knows what else they've done to her." A shudder ran through his body, brought on by worry, by hope and fear.
Important, this was so goddamned important.
"I want him out of her life." I want him out of my life.
"You want him dead?"
Oh, God. "If she's been touched," Robert stressed, knowing she surely had been and hating his part in it, "if she's been hurt at all, yes, I want him dead."
The words fell like a sledgehammer between the two men. Evans didn't blink, didn't change expressions at all, so Robert continued. "Either way, Julie definitely doesn't deserve the bad publicity that'll result if you bring a kidnapper in to the police. She's had enough of that already."
"By being a flirt?"
"Yes. The only way to protect her now is to make sure this is never known. That's why I hired you specifically, rather than someone . . . better known."
A cynical half smile touched Clint's hard mouth. "Rather than someone more legitimate, you mean."
Robert tightened his jaw. Was the bastard taunting him? If society ever found out that he'd hired a borderline criminal to save his fianc?e, he'd never live it down.
Drew would certainly be outraged.
He'd given Robert the funds to ransom Julie, never suspecting that Robert would try a different tact to get her back. If Drew knew, he'd cut Robert out--financially and socially. He'd be ruined.
But Robert wouldn't change his mind now. He honestly didn't want Julie harmed, but he had no choices left.
"Julie's an heiress. I can pay the money if it comes to that." Or rather, he'd pay half. The other half would hopefully go toward buying him some time. But Evans didn't need to know that. "I was afraid if I paid the ransom, they'd kill her."
Evans nodded his agreement to that.
"And I was afraid someone else would feel honor bound to go by the book, to drag in a bunch of animals for prosecution."
"Julie's reputation has already suffered several blows. I'm afraid she couldn't weather another scandal."
Lifting one eyebrow, Evans said, "Sounds to me like you're afraid of a lot of things."
Robert's male pride quailed under the verbal blow. "I'm afraid for Julie."
Evans reached for the photo again. "Uh huh. It's touching, all this love and devotion you have for a woman who sounds like a royal pain in the ass." He gave a careless shrug. "So I'm to be judge, jury, and executioner for this Asa Ragon, assuming he's the only guy involved. I suppose there could be more."
"Would more be a problem?"
Did the bastard have to sound so cocksure of himself? Robert locked his knees. "Good." He hoped he looked more enthusiastic than he felt. "I'll be her husband. I want to protect her, even if I have to protect her from herself."
Turning the framed photo over, Evans pried off the backing, cracking the expensive hand-carved frame in the process. With a gentleness that belied the iron strength in his massive hands, he laid the broken pieces aside.
Alarmed, Robert took a step closer. "What are you doing?"
Those steely eyes were impassive when they looked at Robert. "I'm keeping this." Evans slid the photo into the back pocket of his disreputable jeans.
For a man who commanded such an exorbitant fee, Clint Evans didn't dress very well. His black T-shirt had faded to a dull gray, his Levis had to be ten years old, and his black lace-up boots had scuffed toes.
In fact, if it weren't for the large, lethally honed body beneath those clothes and those dead eyes, Evans wouldn't seem so imposing at all. He was an older man, probably nearing forty. His unkempt black hair had grayed at his temples and a timeworn weariness etched his unhandsome face.
But those eyes...