The Bane Affair by Alison Kent

THE BANE AFFAIR
digital reissue edition
May 2016

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Christian Bane is a man of few words who battles demons rooted in a woman’s betrayal, and being left to die in a Thai prison. All these years later, he still isn’t free of the past.

Now Spectra IT, the crime syndicate responsible for his imprisonment, has recruited a computer scientist facing his own death sentence to hack critical government encryption technology. Christian, a member of the elite Smithson Group, SG-5, has been tasked with stopping him.

Posing as a womanizing Spectra boss, Christian gets up close and personal with the scientist’s goddaughter, Natasha Gaudet, who handles his business affairs, and is the most obvious way in.

But the closer Christian gets to Natasha, the harder it is to deceive her. The fact that she knows nothing about her godfather’s dealings has Christian wondering who fed him the faulty intel.

Because if she isn’t the criminal he’s been led to believe, they’re both being taken for a very dangerous ride. And if he doesn’t face his demons and trust her, neither one of them will survive.

   

THE BANE AFFAIR
Kensington Brava Trade
SG-5 #1
ISBN 0758206682
October 2004

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Brava Mass Market
The Bane Affair
Wal-Mart exclusive reissue
June 2008

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BOOKLIST

The Comfort of Favorite Things - Bliss and the Art of Forever - The Sweetness of Honey - Beneath the Patchwork Moon - Boots Under Her Bed - A Blue Christmas/Jingle Bell Rock(Digital Edition) - Unforgettable - The Second Chance Café - Unbreakable - Undeniable - Holiday Kisses/This Time Next Year - Twenty-One Hours/SEAL of My Dreams - At His Mercy - Playing Love's Odds (Digital Edition) - Love Me Tender (Digital Edition) - Love In Bloom - (Digital Edition) - The Icing On The Cake - With Extreme Pleasure - One Good Man - No Limits - A Long, Hard Ride - Maximum Exposure - Kiss & Tell - Deep Trouble - In Danger - At Risk - Tex Appeal - The Perfect Stranger - Beyond A Shadow - Infatuation - The Complete Idiot's Guide To Writing Erotic Romance - Deep Breath - Goes Down Easy - Red Letter Nights - Totally Charmed - Kiss & Makeup - Undressed - Larger Than Life - Sara Smiles/Beach Blanket Bad Boys - The McKenzie Artifact - The Beach Alibi - The Samms Agenda - The Shaughnessey Accord - The Bane Affair - Mother, Please! - Indiscreet - Wicked Games - A Blue Christmas/Jingle Bell Rock - Striptease - The Sweetest Taboo - Bound To Happen - No Strings Attached - Roped Into Romance - All Tied Up - Love In Bloom - Four Men & A Lady - Love Me Tender - The Badge And The Baby - The Grinch Makes Good - The Heartbreak Kid - Call Me - Playing Love's Odds

Natasha sighed, climbed from her SUV and stretched before gathering up her suit jacket and the endless work and correspondence she’d brought from the university. She’d present it all to Wick at tomorrow morning’s breakfast meeting, which meant organizing and prioritizing the bulk of it tonight. Definitely a long evening ahead.

Halfway up the inclined walkway from the garage to the back of the house, she stopped.

And turned.

And frowned.

Angling her computer bag’s wheels on the slanted ramp, she set down her purse and the expanding files she carried, draped her jacket over the telescoped handle. Her heels clicked sharply as she made her way back along the smooth sidewalk that appeared as an extension of the water garden between the house and garage.

Wick had a visitor. She’d been so self-absorbed that only her subconscious had noticed the low-slung import parked on the near side of her godfather’s van. Upon closer inspection—because she had this thing for hot-bodied cars—she realized Wick had a very wealthy visitor.

She circled the Ferrari once, shaking her head and grinning like a besotted fool, leaning down to peer unsuccessfully through the driver’s side window. Neither the light from the garage spotlight nor that from the moon was a match for the dark tint. No big deal, really, because she wanted to see the interior only half as much as she wanted a good look beneath the glass cover over the rear engine bay.

She made her way around the car slowly, fingers digging into her palms instead of testing the sleek surface of the composite and metal as she wanted to do. What she didn’t want to do was set off the alarm. So at the two sharp shrieks of said alarm disengaging, she jumped back, hand to her throat, pulse thundering. The rumble in her ears took long seconds to quiet.

Once it had, she blew out a breath, hearing footsteps, a slow but certain approach from behind. Footsteps, yet no familiar voice calling out to her to set her mind at ease. The owner of the car; it had to be. Busted by her own curious nature, Natasha turned.

The man she assumed to be Wick’s visitor was tall and lean and frighteningly attractive—frightening, because the intensity of his gaze was not the least bit dimmed by the darkness or the shadows. If she’d been the type to shiver, her Jimmy Choos would not have been the best choice of footwear. The way he was looking at her? Looking into her? Looking through what she showed the world for what she might be hiding? She would have shaken out of her shoes by now.

He had to have come from the water garden. Perhaps he’d seen her stop on the walkway. The garden took up a good eight hundred square feet, and any number of the benches along the water’s edge, as well as at least two Natasha could think of nestled deeper into the lush foliage, offered a perfect view of the path rising from the garage to the house.

Approaching from that direction gave him the advantage. She stood in the full fall of moonlight, yet all she could see were his eyes.

Well, that and his build, which had a lot to do with the buzz of energy sizzling at her nape. Hot-bodied cars. Hot-bodied men. Both hit her right where it counted. He drew closer, and she waited, her gaze taking in his long legs and his stride that made clear he was in no hurry.

He wore black dress pants and boots. Ostrich, she decided, as the leather appeared distressed rather than the gloss more natural to crocodile. Pricey boots, she knew, because footwear ran a close second to her love for cars. His shirt was dress white, with collar open and cuffs rolled to mid-forearm. He’d tossed his suit coat over his right shoulder and held it there hooked on his thumb.

A watch, platinum, she was certain, hugged his left wrist. No ring on that tell-tale third finger. That she noted right before his hand came up and his car keys came flying. She snagged the silver ring from the air, lifted a brow, and watched as his gaze dropped to the throbbing beat at the base of her throat.

“She’s open,” he said, now no more than ten feet away.

As much as Natasha longed to slide down into that smooth leather seat and get her hands on the wheel, she waited. She waited because no car could spike her pulse like a man. She slipped her index finger through the ring, spun the keys around and into her palm, keeping her gaze steady and losing the battle with a smile.

“Just like that? No terms? No questions? The keys are mine?” Wow. Not a crack or a waver. She actually pulled it off.

He grinned. Not broadly, nor with his eyes, which she thought might be a shade of aqua rather than the bright sky blue she’d first thought—oh, why couldn’t this be happening in daylight? There was so much of him that she wanted to see.

And then his grin widened, the right corner of his mouth quirking upward. It was enough. She was in love. No, lust, she corrected, determined never again to confuse the two. Oh, but he was gorgeous.

“You caught me feeling generous.”

“Generous?” She swung the keys around once, twice, catching them again as they smacked into her palm. He now stood close enough to touch, and having the key ring to hold onto was a very good thing. “I’m thinking more along the lines of insane. You just handed, what? Four hundred thousand dollars to a woman you’ve never seen before?”

“The professor asked if I would mind a delay in dinner as he was waiting for his assistant to arrive.” The stranger tossed a quick glance toward the mountain of work she’d left stacked on the sidewalk with her jacket and purse. “I’d say those files make you the assistant. That means if you run off with my car, I’ll know where to find you.”

“Then run with me,” she said without thinking. “Wick will kill me for my lack of punctuality. I might as well be granted a last request before he carries out the sentence.”

“That’s a hell of a stiff fine to pay for being late.” He grinned again. This time with both sides of his mouth.

She saw the dimple on the left and was a goner. “For a ride in that car? I’ll make the sacrifice.”

He moved his left hand to his hip. The platinum case of his watch caught the moonlight and flickered. He gave a lift of his chin. “You’ve got the keys.”

She opened her fingers, her gaze caught by his, her palm beginning to sweat as she offered up the ring. “You want them back?”

He didn’t move. He simply stared, his gaze even more intense with so little distance between them. She wanted to ask what he was looking for, what he expected to find. She had no secrets, yet she kept her mouth closed. Intuition told her the thoughts going on behind his eyes would quickly dispel this two-strangers-and-a-Ferrari fantasy she wasn’t finished living.

When he remained silent, she withdrew her offer, palming the keys. She wanted this ride in a very bad way. “I’ve never had an accident. I’ve never been ticketed. I’ve never been stopped. Not even for a warning.”

This time when he shook his head, she swore he was also shaking off a chuckle. “I suppose you want the top down.”

“Yes, though my stylist will definitely kill me.”

He moved closer still. A flicker in his eyes was her only warning before he reached up to finger a lock of her hair. “Do your decisions always invite this hovering crowd of executioners?”

Her voice. Where was her voice? “What can I say? I enjoy living dangerously.”

His touch as well as his gaze lingered there where he rubbed the strands between forefinger and thumb. “Then it seems we have more than a few things in common.”

Heat lightning arced as the back of his hand hovered close to her neck. She watched as he caught sight of the popping pulse at the base. “Does that mean you trust me to drive?”

“No.” His gaze came up to meet hers, hot and vivid and razor’s-edge sharp. “And if you wreck my car, I’ll personally escort you to the guillotine.”

Oh, but she could hardly breathe. And a part of her believed that he literally meant what he said. “Promise to make it swift and painless?”

He released her hair but he didn’t lower his hand. Instead, he traced the line of her collarbone through her red silk shell. “And here I thought you were into danger.”

She’d never been so glad for the shadows as now at feeling her nipples tighten. “So I lied.”

And, at that, he laughed. And he stepped closer, reaching behind her to open the driver’s side door. She felt the brush of his chest to her shoulder, caught a much closer glimpse of the hard line of his jaw where golden brown beard stubble glinted. And his scent. Yum. Very warm and very woodsy, and oh, but she was in such big trouble here.

He gestured for her to get in, which she did before shutting her door and circling around to the passenger side. He slid down into the seat, taking up a whole lot of space in the intimately close interior. Only the console between kept their thighs from touching.

She buckled her seatbelt; he did the same, and then she turned the key. The car rumbled to life beneath her, behind her. The power of the engine tickled her legs where bare skin met luxurious Connolly leather. She moved her hand to the gearshift.

He draped his coat across his lap, settled back like a man without a worry in the world. Then he turned to face her, his grin having finally reached his eyes. “Let’s see what you’ve got.”

She was close to melting into the seat. Instead, she winked, kicked off her shoes, and tossed them into his lap. “Hang on.”