Playing Love's Odds

 

COLLISION COURSE
was PLAYING LOVE'S ODDS
digital edition
April 2011

 

currently available only at amazon

Follow The Mark

It was not the sort of investigation Logan Burke usually handled. Nowadays he was hired by your average Joe - not sleek, polished corporate players in plush Houston office suites. But it was a straightforward case of industrial espionage with one advantage - a hefty check from ViOPet Chemical Company. All Logan had to do was watch Hannah Evans, a ViOPet employee, and figure out how she was leaking valuable research secrets.

In the six weeks that he spent watching her, Logan began to feel a special bond with Hannah. For the first time in years, he actually considered dumping the case and pursuing the mark. It was not enough to view Hannah across a crowded restaurant or through the lens of a camera. He wanted to breathe her scent. He wanted to hear her voice. He wanted to find the innocence he'd given up on finding in his life again.

Hannah knew someone was following her. She didn't know who he was or why he was there, but his presence was unnerving. It was time to take action, time to let a professional call the shots. She would pay a visit to a private investigator who had come highly recommended - a Mr. Logan Burke.

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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

Fifteen minutes later, she left her room dressed in Logan's "Surfers Ride the Ocean’s Motion" T-shirt and the matching fish-trimmed shorts. Working through a sense of déjà vu, she went to find him. And she did, sprawled in a lounger on the deck. Only this time he was fast asleep.

She stared for a minute, her gaze wandering the length of his body. He wore no shirt and his low-slung jeans had crept even lower as he slept. The near-blond dusting of chest hair gilded his skin, the effect more masculine than a heavy pelt, especially as it arrowed down in an eye-drawing line to vanish beneath his threadbare waistband.

A pencil-thin scar followed the curve of one rib down his side. Another shorter scar branched off to disappear under his arm. Her gaze inched back to his face. His hair bore the signs of nervous fingers, like blades of grass crushed under incredible weight. The laugh lines around his eyes appeared more defined as he slept.

She frowned, thinking he should look at ease, not like a tiger poised on the edge of attack. He wasn't relaxed at all, but stiff. The hand laying against his thigh jerked, a spastic tic in his fingers twisted his arm. The dream again.

Even here, safe in his own space, in the light of morning, he wasn't free. She ached to offer comfort, to hell with his demons and her resolve not to get involved. She was involved and, if she were to be totally honest with herself, had been since she'd turned around in his office and seen his big bad boy persona covering up that little boy hurt.

"Oh Logan, what have you done to me?" She pressed her fingers against her lips.

The next second he cried out, a painful, strangling sound, and lunged upright in the chair. Hannah crossed the deck and dropped to her knees between his legs. He looked at her, his eyes wild and unfocused, then shook his head and tried again, this time driving punishing fingers through his hair, making fists in the length at back.

Hannah reached up and circled his wrist, rubbing her thumb over his, urging him to let go. His eyes, still glazed and cloudy, met hers for a brief second before he closed them, shutting her out. At last he untangled his fingers from his hair and allowed her to draw both his hands away.

She could only guess what sort of nightmares had the power to bring him to this state of near panic, to reduce him to inflicting pain upon himself. Did the physical anguish ease the mental? she wondered, holding his fingers in hers, stroking the backs of his hands.

"How long has this been going on?" she whispered as much to herself as to him.

His eyes shifted behind closed lids. He smiled a crooked smile, enough of one to let her known he wasn't about to give her a serious answer.

"About a minute or so but you're welcome to keep it up as long as you want," he said in a voice gruff with sleep and hurt. He cocked one eye open, then the other, and frowning, made a quick visual sweep of her body.

"I hope you don't mind," she began, "but it was either wear this, the prom dress, or the centerfold get-up."

"I vote for centerfold," he said flexing his fingers into the material covering her legs.

"No doubt you would," she retorted shooing his hands away.

He obliged, lacing his fingers behind his head and leaning back. For several minutes they stared at one another and Hannah could tell the effort it took for him to put on this phony front. His breathing came in shaky fragments, the pulse in his neck racing at breakneck pace.

Then, without warning, he came to his feet. She gripped the frame of the lounger to keep from being upended. Snagging the cigarettes lying on the deck table, he lipped one out of the pack and paced the deck, inhaling the unlit tobacco.

What was eating at him? What torment had he seen or suffered—or caused—to turn him into a bundle of nerves? She knew the consequence of pain first hand, but this, this was different. He strode back toward her, stopping to offer his hand.

"I need some fresh air," he mumbled, the cigarette still dangling from the skin of his lip. "You feel like a walk?"

What a funny thing to say, she thought, surrounded as they were by more fresh air than one man could breathe in a lifetime. "As long as it's a short one," she answered, placing her hand in his.

She followed him down the stairs, slowing as they reached the bottom. Her gaze moved from the white T-Bird to the red Mustang convertible parked under the carport next to it.

"Logan?"

"Yeah?" he answered distractedly.

"Whose car is that?"

He pulled up at the bottom step. She stopped one stair directly above. For a long minute she thought he wouldn't answer. Finally, he glanced over his shoulder, his eyes full of indecision. "Mine."

"The Mustang, not the T-Bird," she clarified wanting to make sure he understood.

"The Mustang is mine."

"It wouldn't be a false assumption, would it, for me to think it's the same one I saw sitting in your parking lot? The same one that got doused in a sudden rainstorm?"

The only hint of his broken control came when he snapped the cigarette in half and thumped it across the carport.

"The Mustang is mine," he repeated, none too willingly.

"And you prefer rain water to the car wash."

Hands braced on hips, he hung his head with an aggravated shake. "You're not gonna let it go, are you?"

The stair gave her a two-inch height advantage. She took it all, wanting a clear, honest answer. "I don't understand. Why would you subject a gorgeous piece of machinery to that kind of damage?"

The look he gave her backed her up another step. He took two at a time until he towered over her. "C'mon," he growled, lacing his fingers tightly through hers and pulling her behind him at a gentle, though insistent, pace. "Let's walk."

She shot a last confused look at the cars and circled under the staircase to hit the beach. The touch of Logan's palm against hers, his fingers curled around hers, was nice. More than nice. Comfortable. Like their hands belonged together. Just as comfortably, they matched their steps through the loose-packed sand.

Logan chose their destination, stopping no more than twenty yards down the beach where discarded trees created a manmade dune and abandoned fence posts formed a makeshift bench.

The small windbreak of trees at the edge of his house provided a smidgen of shade. He dropped to the ground to lie on his back. Gingerly, Hannah lowered her body to the sturdiest section of the bench, stretching her legs out with a mild groan.

Logan glanced up at the sound. "You should've said something if the walk was too much. We could've turned back."

She shook her head. "I'm okay. Just stiff in a couple dozen places." She pulled her knees to her chest finding the position put less of a strain on her bruises. "Talk to me Logan. About the car." First, she added silently, then we'll take care of the rest of your nightmares.

"I haven't felt anything ... real ... or good for a long time. You intrigued me, that day in my office. So fiery and righteous. I didn't want you to walk out of my life."

The words flew out in such a breathless squall she figured he'd been holding them in for a very long time. "You sacrificed your car on my behalf."

His laugh was quick, directed more at some inner thought than anything she'd said. "Gideon was a might pissed when he first saw it."

"I can imagine. He rebuilds them and you buy them?"

She thought he shrugged but it was hard to tell since he was lying down. "Something like that."

"I'm surprised you don't have a vintage Corvette tucked away somewhere."

He visibly stiffened, slowly sat up, the damp sand sticking to his back. She wanted to reach out and brush it off, but as if he'd read her mind, he flinched away.

What had she said? Something about a car? "Do you own a Corvette?"

"I did."

The words barely reached her ears. "Did you wreck it?"

"No."

"Sell it?"

"No."

"Then what?"

"I used it to kill a child."