THE BANE AFFAIR
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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.
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
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
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,
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
“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
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
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
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
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.”