Most Wanted - Tyler's Story
I knew better than to risk my heart… but fierce passion comes at a high price.
I grew up believing in right and wrong, good and evil, black and white. I knew better than to trust. And then I met Tyler Sharp.
Bold, charming, and dangerously sexy, Tyler always gets what he wants. But his smile can be deceiving, his dealings sordid, his ambitions ruthless. I thought I was the one woman strong enough to resist him, but our need for each other was too urgent to deny.
One look and I was in trouble. One touch and I was hooked. One night and I became his.
And now that I’ve fallen, there’s no going back.
Bonus: This edition includes the short story “Take Me” plus excerpts from J. Kenner’s Say My Name and Release Me.
Heated is intended for mature audiences.
Heated is Story # 2 in the Most Wanted series.
Heated - Buy Now
About this StoryPublication Date 06/03/2014 Story Type Book Primary Characters Tyler Sharp Sloane Watson Secondary Characters Evan Black Angelina Raine Cole August Katrina "Kat" Laron (Catalina Rhodes) Series Most Wanted Place in Series Story #2 Genre Contemporary Romance
Right and wrong.
Good and evil.
Black and white.
These are the parameters of the world in which we live, and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise—who argues that nothing is absolute, and that there are always shades of gray—is either a fool or trying to con you.
At least that is what I used to believe.
But that was before I met him. Before I looked into his eyes. Before I gave him my trust.
Maybe I’m a fool. Maybe I’ve lost my balance and my edge.
I don’t know.
All I know is that from the moment I met him, everything changed. One look, and I feared that I was in trouble.
One touch, and I knew that I should run.
One kiss, and I was lost.
Now the only question is, will I find my way back to who I was? And more important, do I want to?
Nothing is ever as easy as it should be.
My dad taught me that. He served as a special agent with the FBI for twenty years before leaving that post to become the chief of police in Galveston, Texas, an island community with enough crime to keep his life interesting, and enough sunshine and warm weather to keep him happy.
During the years I was growing up, I’d watch as he spent hours, days, weeks, even months putting together a kick-ass case against some of the vilest criminals that ever walked this earth. Thousands of man hours. Hundreds of pieces of evidence. All those little ducks lined up just the way they should be—and it didn’t make one bit of difference. The defense would spout some technicality, the judge would cave, and poof, all that work went down the drain.
Like I said, nothing is ever easy. That’s the first truism upon which I base my life.
The second is a corollary: No one is what they seem.
My stepfather taught me that. He was a fast-rising major league baseball player that the press took a liking to. They called him the golden boy, predicted he’d spearhead his team to the World Series, and did everything but genuflect when he entered a room. What they didn’t report was the way he beat my mother. The way he forced me to watch, threatening that my turn was coming. His hands, his fists, a broken beer bottle. Whatever was handy. I’d flinch with every blow, and when her bones snapped, I’d feel it too, and my scream would blend with hers in some horrific, discordant melody.
Somehow none of those hospital visits were ever reported in the local paper, and on the rare occasions when the cops showed up at our house, nothing ever came of it. Harvey Grier had the face of a prince and the smile of a homecoming king, and if his fourteen-year-old stepdaughter called the cops one night with a bullshit story that could ruin his reputation and queer his lucrative deals, it must be because she was your typical bored teenager. Certainly it couldn’t be that she lived with the monster day in and day out, and saw all too clearly under the pretty boy disguise.
My stepfather is dead now. As far as I was concerned, that was a good thing. The man wasn’t worth anything except driving that second lesson home: There are monsters hiding under the most innocent of countenances, and if you don’t keep your guard up, they will bite you. And hard.
The takeaway? Don’t take anything for granted. And don’t trust anyone.
I guess that makes me cynical. But it also makes me a damn good cop.
I sipped champagne and thought about my job and those two axioms as I leaned against one of the white draped pillars in The Drake hotel’s cloyingly elegant Palm Court restaurant. I didn’t know a soul there, primarily because I’d crashed the party, and I was doing my best to blend with that pillar so that I could simply sit back and watch the world—and the people—go by. I was looking for one face in particular, because I’d come here with a plan. And I intended to stay in my little corner, holding this pillar, until I spied my mark.
I’d been standing there for an hour, and was beginning to think that I had a long night ahead. But I’d survived worse stakeouts, and I am nothing if not determined.
I’d been to the Palm Court once before when my dad had me for a weekend and we decided to have an adventure. But tonight most of the familiar tables had been moved out, giving the guests room to mingle around the elegant fountain and massive floral arrangement. As far as I could tell, the dress code for the evening was anything that had premiered during Fashion Week, and the only reason no one was pointing a finger at me and snickering was that my off-the-clearance-rack dress was so utterly pedestrian that it rendered me invisible.
Flowing strains of classical music filled the room, provided by an orchestra tucked into the corner, but no one was dancing. Instead they were mingling. Talking, laughing. It was all very proper. Very elegant. Very festive.
And I was very much out of my element.
My natural habitat is Indiana, where I’m actually a bit of a celebrity within the force as the youngest female ever to make detective with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. I’d come to Chicago because I’d been going out of my mind while I rode out a stint on medical leave, and when one of my confidential informants, Candy, asked me to track down her former roommate who’d fallen off the planet, I’d decided to do a little off-the-books investigation.
According to Candy, Amy had been working as an exotic dancer at an upscale Chicago gentleman’s club called Destiny until about two weeks ago. “She’d been there almost a month and was jamming on the tips. She even liked the other girls. And I’m pretty sure she was banging one of the owners. So it wasn’t like she had a reason to just split.”
To my way of thinking, banging the boss might be reason enough, especially if the boss is the one who told you to move on.
“Yeah, but she would have told me,” Candy said, when I suggested as much. “She might take another job or even move, but she’d call once she got settled. Something happened.”
Normally, I wouldn’t worry. After all, twenty-two-year-old exotic dancers pull up stakes and disappear all the time. Maybe they’re just trying to shake off the old life. Or maybe they’re following a guy. Amy had been on her own since she was fifteen and knew how to handle herself. She was clean, so I didn’t expect that she was laid out in a heroin den somewhere. Plus, I knew she fantasized about Prince Charming riding in and whisking her off into the sunset, so maybe she’d realized that banging the owner wasn’t going to stick, and she’d set out for New York or Vegas or someplace else with a surfeit of rich, horny men.
But I didn’t believe any of that. Candy had been more than seven months pregnant when Amy moved to Chicago, full of promises to come back loaded down with presents for the baby and, most important, to be there for the birth. Assuming the kid came on schedule, that was just over two weeks away.
I hoped to hell she’d just gotten carried away with a guy and would surface any day now with stories of hot nights and wild sex. But I worked homicide, and it was in my nature to fear the worst.
While I was making the drive from Indiana to Chicago, I’d put in a call to a friend in the Chicago PD, and he’d confirmed that she wasn’t cooling her heels in a Cook County cage. I was somewhat relieved to know she was either staying clean or playing it smart, but I’d secretly hoped that she’d gotten arrested for shoplifting and was too proud to call Candy for bail.
I’d rolled into Chicago just after seven on a Wednesday night, and I’d made Destiny my first stop. The place was clean and classy, with drinks that weren’t watered down, girls who looked happy to be there and not at all used up, and a clientele that skewed heavily toward the professional end of the spectrum. The place had a full bar, including Guinness on tap, and a decent menu that included some rather delicious cheese fries.
I’d certainly seen worse places, and as I sat at the bar and looked the joint over with a cop’s eye, nothing wonky popped for me.
Enter the Second Truism: No one is what they seem. Or, in this case, no place is what it seems.
I learned that when I met Agent Kevin Warner, an FBI buddy, for breakfast the next morning and he laid out a whole list of badass shit that he thought was going down in that club. He tossed allegations around like candy. And when he hit the Mann Act charges—prostitution, white slavery, and other nasty felonies—my ears perked up.
“Slow down, cowboy,” I’d said. “They got busted for that shit?”
“Fucking immunity,” Kevin said. “They helped shut down a white slavery ring that was working off the West Coast and spreading all the way toward our fair city.”
“They?” I repeated.
“Black, August, and Sharp,” he said, naming off Destiny’s three owners—three celebrated businessmen who were the toast of Chicago. I mean, hell. I’m not even from Chicago, and I knew all about those guys. “They’re slick, those three,” Kevin continued. “Slick and smart and as dangerous as sharks in dark water. Got the immunity deal to hide behind, and that cut my investigation off at the knees.”
I nodded. Immunity was part of the game. The whole point was to protect a suspect from prosecution. If there wasn’t guilt there in the first place, that protection really wasn’t necessary. In other words, it was a rare suspect who was given immunity without being dirty.
Frankly, the whole idea of giving a suspect immunity irritated me, but I knew it was a necessary evil. Besides, I figured that justice would find a way. At least that was what my dad always said when one of his defendants pulled a technicality out of their ass and shot the finger at the law.
Karma really could be a raving bitch, and I wondered if she was baring her teeth in the direction of Black, August, and Sharp. Were they as dirty as Kevin said? Were they simply good citizens who shared their knowledge with the Feds? Or were they somewhere in the middle?
I didn’t know, but I figured the odds ran toward the first or the last. “How broad’s the immunity?” I’d asked.
“If I have my way, they’ll wish it was broader. I’m dead certain they’re neck deep in all sorts of shit. Gambling, smuggling, money laundering. Bribery, kickbacks, fraud. You name it, they’re in it. But they’ve got powerful friends, and I’m not authorized to officially pursue any of it.”
I heard the frustration in his voice. He wanted these guys—wanted them bad. I got that. There were a lot of reasons I’d become a cop, but in the end it all boiled down to protecting the innocent and stopping the bad guys. To making sure the system worked and that those who crossed that line paid for the breach.
I lived and breathed my job. It was both my redemption and my salvation. And I was very good at what I did.
“I can’t push on this,” he’d said. “But you can.”
He was right. My mind was already turning over options, trying to figure the best way to slide my pretty ass into Destiny, chat up the girls, and get a line on Amy. Once I was in and poking around for information, there was no reason I couldn’t poke around for more.
Frankly, that would be my pleasure. Immunity might be a necessary evil in the world of jurisprudence, but I was more than happy to give Karma a little push. And if I found out that those guys were into other shit, bringing them down would be a damn good way to balance the scales of justice.
All of which explained how my mission to get one missing dancer back to Indiana had morphed into a full-fledged, albeit off-the-books, undercover operation. At one point I might have considered waltzing into Destiny and boldly announcing that I was looking for a friend, but once I knew that the owners could be dirty, that plan went right out the window. I wanted to know what they were up to—and if the white slavery allegations turned out to be true, I wanted to kick a little ass.
It was that whole “undercover” thing that was my current sticking point. You’d think it would be easy for a genuinely pretty woman—that would be me—to get a job as a cocktail waitress in a Chicago-based gentleman’s club, but you’d be wrong. Despite my camera-ready face, nice tits, and tight ass, the application I’d submitted yesterday had been politely declined. And that despite the fact that I have honest-to-goodness waitressing skills.
Thus illustrating that First Truism: Nothing is ever as easy as it should be.
And that brings us right back to the Second Truism: No one is what they seem.
Take Evan Black, for example. This was his party that I’d crashed. A formal affair to celebrate his engagement to Angelina Raine, the daughter of vice presidential hopeful Senator Thomas Raine.
I saw him standing across the room, a movie-star gorgeous man with his arm around an equally stunning brunette that had to be Angelina. She was leaning against him, looking giddy with happiness, as they chatted with two other couples. All clean and shiny and polished. But if Kevin was right, Black wasn’t the man he appeared to be.
Or what about Cole August, Black’s business partner, who received so much adulation from the press and the public for the way he’d pulled himself up out of the muck of his Chicago South Side heritage to become one of the most respected and influential businessmen in the city? He might look positively drool-worthy as he stalked the far side of the room with a cell phone pressed against his ear, the very picture of the entrenched businessman.
But I happened to know that August hadn’t left that shady heritage as far behind as he liked to pretend.
And then there was Tyler Sharp.
“That’s the one,” Candy had said when I ran the name by her. “Amy was head over heels for the guy.”
“He feel the same?”
“But she was fucking him?”
“Yeah. At least, I think so. I mean, wasn’t like she was posting pictures on Facebook. But no way would she have walked away from that, and from what you’re saying …”
We might have been talking on the phone, but I could still picture the way Candy shrugged as she trailed off. I knew what she meant. I’d done additional homework on Tyler Sharp, much of which I’d relayed to Candy. To bottom line it, he had a weakness for women, and I fully intended to capitalize on his womanizing ways. If I couldn’t get into Destiny through my stellar waitressing skills, I’d get in close through the man.
In other words, I was planning a seduction.
All things considered, that was a better approach than my first plan. Waitressing only gave me access to the club. But sex opened all sorts of doors. Pillow-talk. Computer access. Who knew what else. Play the game right, and I’d have a box seat to the best show in town, whether it was gambling, smuggling, or something much more heinous.
And if it turned out that Tyler had gotten Amy involved with anything hinky, I’d castrate the son of a bitch.
First, I had to find him.
He’d been out of town for the last few weeks, so I had yet to see him in person, but I was certain I’d recognize him the moment he entered this room. Like I said, I’d done my homework, and where looking at photographs of Tyler Sharp was concerned, that wasn’t exactly a hardship. The man definitely qualified as eye candy.
He stood just over six feet tall with a lanky, athletic build and the kind of dark blond hair that boasts flashes of gold in the summer. I knew that his business interests were wide and varied and not always legal. And I knew that he carried an American Express Black card. He owned at least a dozen cars, but rarely drove them, preferring his Ducati motorcycle.
“You look lost.”
I’d been glancing toward the entrance, but now I jerked my head to the left and found myself staring at a leggy brown-eyed blonde with hair so thick and shiny she could do shampoo commercials. She held out her hand, and I took it without thinking. “I’m Katrina Laron—Kat,” she said, then hooked her thumb toward Angelina Raine. “I’m the bride’s best friend, which makes me the pseudo-hostess. And you are?”
Her smile was polite, but held an edge, and I was certain that she knew damn well I’d crashed the party.
“Sloane O’Dell,” I said, using my mother’s maiden name and not my own last name of Watson.
“Who are you here with? I think I know everyone on Lina’s side of the guest list, so you must be a friend of Evan’s?” Again with the polite smile. Again with the protective edge.
“I’m actually looking for Tyler,” I said, and prided myself on my ability to tell the truth and lie all at the same time.
“Oh, really?” Her brows lifted. “Friend or foe?”
“Excuse me?” I kept my expression casual and hoped that my naturally pale skin wasn’t flushing.
“It’s just that I know Tyler didn’t bring a date, and if you’re not one of Angie’s or Evan’s guests …”
Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck.
“I took a chance,” I said, once again relying on total honesty. “I think he’ll want to see me.” Okay, that part I wasn’t nearly as sure about.
“Listen, I don’t mean to sound like a bitch, but Tyler’s a pretty private guy who attracts a lot of female attention.” She shrugged. “You wanna tell me why you think he’ll want to see you?”
“Not really, no.”
She looked at me hard, obviously taking my measure. Then she snagged a glass of wine off a passing waiter’s tray and took a long swallow “All right, then. Let’s go find him.”
“I’ve been trying to do that all evening,” I said wryly.
“He arrived just before I came over to politely inquire about your intentions. Hang on,” she said as she lifted herself up onto her toes and waved across the room. “I see him.”
I craned my neck, but as I was a good three inches shorter than Kat, I had absolutely no idea if she’d managed to catch his eye.
Time dragged, and I was beginning to think that he either hadn’t seen her or had chosen to ignore her, when I saw the glint of gold as the light struck his hair. He wore a charcoal gray suit, and the fine lines and expensive material contrasted with the slightly mussed hair that he wore just a little too long for the corporate rule book. Now it was tied back in a manner that highlighted the sharp angles of his cheeks and jawline.
His cerulean eyes were the perfect contrast to the golden blond hair, conjuring thoughts of sun and sand, wild days and wicked nights. All in all he had a devil-may-care look about him, and that was only accentuated by the beard stubble. My fingers twitched, and to my horror, I found myself wanting to reach out and stroke his cheek, letting the roughness there smooth away my hard edges like sandpaper.
He eased around the fountain and jockeyed through the crowd with the kind of confidence that comes from knowing that people will move out of your way because you’re just that cool.
“Tyler!” Kat called again, and I had the unreasonable urge to clamp my hand over her mouth. This was the guy I’d come here to get close to, but right then, I didn’t feel prepared at all.
I’d known before coming tonight that Tyler Sharp was among the finest of male specimens, but never in a million years would I have anticipated my own tingling, visceral reaction to the man.
I wanted to duck behind the pillar. I wanted to bolt. I wanted to find some sanctuary until I could get my head together and find my center. But that wasn’t an option. He’d seen us, and though he nodded to Kat, I was the one who drew his focus. His eyes met mine, and the impact of that simple look ripped through me in a way that left me weak and confused. I’d never met Tyler Sharp—had seen him only in photographs, learned about him only from articles and from chatting up cops. But in that moment it felt as though I’d known him all my life.
I wasn’t entirely sure I liked the feeling—or perhaps I just liked it too much.
He stopped in front of us, and I told myself to get it together. I was not the kind of woman who lost her cool around a gorgeous man. Or, at least, I hadn’t been two minutes ago.
As he looked at me, his sensual mouth curved up in the manner of a man about to sample something delicious—and the something was me. I shivered, the unexpected thought making my body tingle in a way that caught me off guard, but that I couldn’t deny liking.
It took one hell of an effort, but I straightened my shoulders and met his eyes coolly, determined to take back at least a modicum of control.
“Sloane was looking for you,” Kat said.
“Was she?” His attention stayed full on my face, and I thought for a moment that if I stepped closer, I would drown in those liquid eyes. “Funny,” he said. “She’s just the woman I want, too.”