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Scent of Persuasion : Sensory Ops Series
An alluring woman in a red dress. Is she an ally...or a killer's lure?
Sensory Ops, Book 2
Actress Kami Evans is tackling the biggest role of her life--as an escort. There's definitely something going on in Madame V's mansion, but Kami has to prove herself trustworthy before she can dig deeper and prove her stepbrother didn't commit suicide.
Her first assignment: seduce a CEO and, oddly, steal his hair brush. He's everything she avoids in a man: suave, sexy, suited. She plays her role all the way to the bedroom...and finds it stunningly difficult to walk away.
Breck Lawson's undercover assignment, posing as a replacement CEO, is yielding zero clues as to why his friend tried to kill himself--until Kami comes on the scene. She's everything he likes in a woman: safe, sexy, temporary. She also arouses him just by walking into a room, a sure sign it's time to push her away.
Then he connects the dots she unwittingly shares, and realizes their investigations are linked by delicate strands of DNA. Keeping her near isn't wise, but he has to know her secrets and keep her safe.
Unless they trust each other and come clean, those dots could lead to death for both of them...
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May 03, 2010
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Excerpt from Scent of Persuasion by Nikki Duncan
This is a necessity. This is not promiscuous. This is not immoral or degrading.
Kamille Evans swiped her tongue across her scarlet-fever-red-painted lips and tucked the thick, coordinated streak of hair behind her ear. She'd gotten used to long hair, but the shoulder-length, tapered cut Madame V had forced on her actually suited her face better. Studying herself in the elevator's black, glossy wall, Kami took a deep breath, rolled her shoulders back and straightened the most amazing red gown she'd ever slipped on.
The silk slithered and shimmered with every move. She turned and studied the back--or rather her back, as the dress had only two crisscrossing straps that were barely thicker than strands of thread.
Repulsion rippled beneath the dress, coating her skin in shame. Telling herself she hadn't stepped onto a degrading path was a lie. Staring at her misshapen reflection, she shook her head.
Madame V would filet her, but she could send someone else to play date-the-CEO. Donning an elegant dress and using a soft word like escort detracted nothing from reality. She was whoring herself for truths that might not be found.
Reaching out, she pushed the button for the lobby. The twisted chain decorating her neck distorted and became a strangling rope. Her eyes bulged. Breaths gurgled in her throat as she clawed free of the golden noose. The shiny walls closed in. Shrinking. Suffocating.
The elevator doors slid open.
Gasping in untainted air, she stumbled into the glamorous lobby decorated in more black marble and varying shades of cream.
No! Turning back, unable to move forward to the assignment, she reached for the doors as they whisked shut with a dismembering finality.
Behind the double glass doors separating upper management's inner sanctum from mundane comings and goings, a handsome man a few inches shorter than her stood from behind the mahogany assistant's desk. He quirked an urbanely waxed brow and waited, judging her as below his station.
It was the same judgment she'd seen on the faces of the cops who'd worked Channing's crime scene. The cops who'd negated her claims that he'd been murdered.
Demeaning methods aside, her brother deserved justice. Resolve wove through the hollow spaces of her spine.
Glancing heavenward, she sent up a silent prayer. If you're real, find me a way out of this with my soul intact.
Reassured she'd made the right choice, that she was on the right course for achieving her goals, she crossed the sumptuous foyer. Her stilettos struck the marble floor with decisiveness.
Huge photographed landscapes printed in black and white and hung in simple black frames added a welcoming warmth she hadn't anticipated, while making it evident that powerful people made powerful deals where she now stood.
The depravity behind the purpose of her visit in the lushness surrounding her reminded her of Julia Roberts walking through that glorious lobby she hadn't belonged in. Kami no longer belonged in this moneyed world, but she would not fidget.
This night is no different from the thousand others. Well, except my reason for being here. The staff at Elegant Entertainment knew how to perfectly wrap the merchandise.
Tonight, she was the merchandise.
Kami wrapped newly manicured nails around the gold handle of the double doors and pulled.
Dressed elegantly in a tuxedo with shiny lapels, the man behind the desk lifted his head and smiled. It didn't quite reach his eyes. "You must be Ms. Evans."
He scornfully turned the "s" on Ms. into an elongated z. She'd dealt with men like him her entire life. He thought more highly of himself than he should, but she smiled warmly. "Yes. I'm here to see Breck."
Appearances are crucial. Ava, another of Madame V's escorts, had advised her while helping Kami dress for the night. Make it appear as if you've known him for more than five minutes. Study his environment, and you'll pick up little insights into the man that will help you get through the night.
"I am Edwin Weems." He crossed the distance and extended his hand. "I will show you to Mr. Lawson's office."
Edwin's arrogant stride, the way he introduced himself as if he was leaving off a crucial the Third, and the slight condescension coating his voice when he said Mr. Lawson's name suggested that he considered himself above whatever role he served. He was a pompous little man.
"Thank you." She met Edwin's gaze directly and shook his hand firmly. She could play this game. She would play this game. For Channing.
She followed him across the large reception area to another set of double doors with ornate handles. Edwin pushed the doors open without knocking. "Ms. Evans is here to see you, Mr. Lawson."
The beginnings of an Enya song played softly from an iPod dock on the credenza that sat before a massive window. She wouldn't have pegged the man she'd researched online as an Enya fan, but public profiles rarely held much truth.
"Thanks, Eddie." A deep, melt-your-thong voice reached her before she stepped through the doors.
"That's Edwin, sir." Edwin's attitude reminded her of a snooty assistant she'd seen on a sitcom. He didn't mean to be funny, but his natural stuffiness made him so.
Kami cleared her throat to bite back a laugh. Judging from their tones, Breck quite often called his assistant Eddie. Did he do it intentionally to get under Edwin's skin? It seemed logical that doing so would only succeed in straining their working relationship.
She stepped into the huge, impressively decorated office that carried on the theme of wealth. Breck Lawson, clad in a tuxedo shirt, tie and slacks, gorgeous from the top of his thick, wavy brown hair down, stood behind a massive desk overlooking Biscayne Key. His wicked smile, the humor temporarily transforming the stress lines around his mouth and eyes into laugh lines, indicated his delight in needling Edwin.
It had taken a freak out in the elevator to get her in gear, but Breck's sense of humor might just make the night's assignment tolerable. Maybe even enjoyable. No. That would never happen spending the evening at a formal event so like the ones she'd left behind in her teens. Not that she would stay in this life a moment longer than necessary--certainly not long enough for these functions to become a habit again.
Focus on why you're here, Kami. Do the job.
Kami looked around and saw that Edwin had silently vanished, closing the door behind him.
Breck plucked a tuxedo jacket off the back of his chair and moved around the desk. Tall and slender, he was built and moved like a runner. His surroundings suited him as if he'd been born for a position of power.
Tossing his jacket over the back of a nearby chair, he offered his hand. "Breck Lawson."
"Kami Evans." She sat her evening bag on the nearest chair and slid her palm into his. His skin sliding against hers sent a volcanic explosion of awareness flooding her belly and beyond. She'd always required a warm-up period when it came to arousal, and yet Breck's touch heightened her senses to the sharpest point of awareness.
She closed her eyes and breathed deep. The air--clean and calming like an afternoon in a park--stroked her nerves. A few doubts eased away to be replaced by desire. Desire for the man standing before her.
You're new at this so you'll be nervous. Ava's voice came to her again. Do the deed right off and it'll be easier for you to play the role of his companion later. Don't try to back out.
Nerves nipped at her conscience. She wouldn't have been nervous or minded sex with Breck Lawson under different circumstances. Like ones that didn't include discreet charges to his credit card.
Breck's deep brown gaze locked with hers. He slid his thumb over her wrist and molten heat oozed through her veins. She swiped her tongue across her lips, partly from nerves, partly from desire. Screw the circumstances. She wanted him.
He slid his gaze over her body and raised his arm, keeping her hand in his. "Turn."
She obeyed slowly. His hand tightened a fraction. Her skin tingled beneath the caress of his heated gaze. Her naked thighs brushed together, making her wish it was his skin rubbing along hers. Her thong dampened, and following the silent cues given through his hand holding hers, she turned back to face him.
His Adam's apple bobbed. His eyes darkened.
Kami lifted her chin slightly. She lowered their arms and brought his hand to rest at her waist before stepping close, leaving only a few inches between them. Ava had been right about one thing. When they were in the crowded ballroom, she needed to act like she knew Breck well.
What better way to get to know him than to close the deal first off?
She locked her eyes with his and smiled lightly. "Are you satisfied with what you see?"
How satisfied? Sidling closer still, grateful for the added height of the stilettos, she rolled her pelvis against him. His erection pressed against her. Her stomach clenched. Oh yeah. He liked what he saw. She raised her hands to his neck and loosened the tie. "I'm here to satisfy, so that's good."
She could do this. He was a sexy man. He turned her on more than any of her previous lovers. She eased the buttons open down to his waist and dipped her hands beneath the white fabric that contrasted with his tanned chest. She slid her palms over him, thrilling at the feel of his amazingly toned chest and stomach muscles jumping lightly beneath her touch.
His free hand traced the straps at her back. Gooseflesh popped out on her skin--sensitizing her. Awakening her desires for what could come.
He was solid and strong in all the best ways--subtly chiseled muscles, long fingers and a gently commanding touch. She curled her fingers over his stomach and slid the tips into the waistband of his pants.
"Kami--" His voice had gone gravelly.
Yeah, she could easily do this, and not entirely for Channing. "The question is how would you like to be satisfied?"
Her family had accused her of being no better than a prostitute when she'd informed them she was going into acting. She hadn't imagined she would ever make their words truer than they were at this moment. Neither was she backing away from the challenge now that she'd accepted it.
Breck hummed low in his throat and eased his hands up her back. Every inch or so his fingers flexed against her, but he never moved to take a firm hold of her. His dick lengthened and hardened more against her hip. She tilted against him. The desk would make a great spot for a quick round. Or one of the chairs. Or the couch in the corner.
His scent surrounded her--clean and masculine with a hint of cinnamon spice. She itched with the desire to feel him against her. Inside her.
"You're a temptation, Kami." He curled his hands over her bare shoulders and eased her back. "A major one, but I can't be late to the fundraiser."
On one hand, she should be grateful he wanted to halt things. On the other, she'd likely failed at her first assignment. She wasn't exactly experienced in these games, but damn she wanted to know the experience of being with Breck.
"We can be fast." Hopefully her whisper hid her disappointment.
"Not fast enough." Breck's wicked grin flashed briefly before he cleared his throat. Stepping back, he began re-buttoning his shirt. "Will you give me a rain check?"
She stiffened her shoulders to keep them from dropping and stepped back. "You're the boss."
He flinched slightly, but quickly recovered from whatever impact her words had provoked.
He pointed out a door to her right. "The bathroom is through there if you need to freshen up before we go."
"Right." They hadn't done anything to mess up her appearance, but she could take a hint. Besides, she had another goal for the night that was more important than sex.
She headed to the door he pointed out and tried to make sense of Breck Lawson. Why hire an escort and not take her up on sex? Even rich people, especially rich people, wanted to get their money's worth out of a service.
According to the vague bio on the Blue Chip Technologies website, Breck Lawson had stepped in as the CEO a few weeks earlier to replace the late Trevor Masters. The only thing that had rung with clarity had been the mention of his Ivy League education, including majors in finance and engineering and the equivalent to a minor in law.
Channing had gone to Harvard before founding his own company. Now he was gone and the local cops wrote it off as a suicide. If they'd given any credence to her claims that he would not have killed himself any more than he would have signed that contract for some contact lenses that would never work, she wouldn't have wound up at Elegant Entertainment in hopes of finding proof.
No, the man who'd jeopardized his future for her benefit all those years ago would never have taken his own life. She would prove it.
Breck Lawson ran in circles similar to the ones Channing had. He wouldn't be the only man to occasionally employ escorts for high profile functions. And according to Madame V, she wasn't the only one from Elegant Entertainment assigned to the Blue Chip Technologies Fundraiser, which meant she would be constantly watched. It also meant her pool of suspects would be off their home turf, which raised her hope of finding hints or answers before the night ended.
Alone in Breck's space without a need to freshen up, Kami poked through the drawers. At the very least she might gain some insight into him as a man that would make her more believable as a date, which would make him appear more professional and help her feel less like a fraud. Finding nothing, she opened another door and stepped into an adjoining apartment.
The d�cor was more college bachelor pad than the upscale lobby--an odd contrast. Stranger, though, was that neither seemed to fit the man she'd met. Checking her watch, she slipped back into the bathroom. She was learning no more about her date than she had about Channing's death in the previous weeks of training beneath Madame V's iron tutelage.
Until she cemented her spot among Madame's girls, she was stuck treading in the kiddies' pool where questions were not allowed. She'd never handled restrictions well.
Maybe that was what made Breck seem like he'd make a fun distraction. In the world of pomp he lived in, he bucked the convention of having a drop-dead sexy receptionist and worked at irritating the pretentious one he did have.
With the reminder of her mission fresh in her mind, Kami's slipped her trained composure firmly into place and reached for the door handle.
She stepped into Breck's office to find that he'd righted his clothes and had been joined by a stunning redhead decked out in a classy, A-line black gown. The woman hadn't bothered with jewelry or adornments. She didn't need them.
"Ian's wrapping up the finishing touches."
"Good." Breck glanced at Kami before turning back to the other woman. He was in complete command of the room, and she suspected the same would be true when they went to the fundraiser. "Stay alert and keep an eye out."
"Now you sound like Ian. I know how to do my job."
"I didn't say differently, but tonight is very important."
Breck straightened some papers with a stylized EW in their top left corner and slid them into a folder. She'd need a closer look to verify it, but she thought she'd seen that logo before.
The woman stepped closer to Breck and stopped less than six inches away, clearly comfortable sharing personal space. "Try to relax and trust us."
"I'll relax when this is done, Kieralyn."
"You don't know how to relax." Kieralyn closed the remaining distance and kissed Breck's cheek. "Oddly enough, that's one of the things I love about you."
Kami's jaw tensed as irrational jealousy snapped at her. Breck had been CEO for a few weeks, but he and Kieralyn acted as if they'd known each other a long time. How long had they worked together? What kind of relationship did they really have? Why in hell did she care? He was a date for one night. Nothing more.
"Thanks for... Well, thanks." He hugged Kieralyn, but his eyes drifted across the room and met hers. "It means a lot."
"You'd do the same for me." Kieralyn whispered something in Breck's ear before stepping away. She grabbed an evening bag from the desk and sauntered to the door.
That was an exchange more fitting for lovers than an employer and his employee. Why hire an escort? Unless they were lovers with an open relationship. Or with a secretive one they needed to keep hidden from whoever Ian was.
Kieralyn turned back at the last minute with a mischievous glint in her eyes. She reached in her bag and tossed a spray bottle to Breck. "The DJ is promising a fun night. You might want to use that so your hair stays Breck-tastic."
Kami choked on a laugh. He shared a name with a shampoo and had fabulous hair. There was plenty of fodder for jokes.
Breck groaned and shook his head. "One day, Kieralyn. You could let one day pass without a crack."
"Nope." Kieralyn flicked her long hair over her shoulder and smiled at Kami. A gorgeous diamond winked from Kieralyn's ring finger. "And I love your stripe."