“If you need another favor, Dingo Paddock, the answer is no.” Valene’s words held enough edge to cut through the tension crowding the air. “I’m busy and I don’t have time for any of this, this ... whatever it is you’re here for.”
“I know you’re busy and I just need to talk to you,” he repeated gently. He couldn’t get past just taking her in. How many days and long nights had he imagined being this close to her again?
She was the sexiest thing he’d ever known.
One of her smiles would be worth the punishment he’d put his body through since yesterday to get here, just to see her alive and safe. He knew every inch of the beautiful body hidden inside that black-on-black mandarin style suit.
Damn. If he didn’t stop thinking about her sans the suit, he wouldn’t be able to walk.
If he had what he wanted, she’d be in his arms and he’d be kissing the lips he missed more than he’d thought possible. That was never going to happen again, especially now when he had to open a wound that had never healed.
He asked, “Remember back when I was looking for information on a man named Giuseppe?”
Her gaze sizzled with fury. She crossed her arms. Yes, she remembered.
Shaking her head, she laughed and it came out as a dark sound. “Seven years. You disappear for seven years, then show up out of the blue a month ago needing help, and now you want to talk about the last time I saw you before you walked away without a word?”
He’d left her seven years ago, knowing she’d hate him.
He’d hurt her by leaving and saying nothing. But if he’d taken that risk, then the gamble to get inside Satan’s Garden Club and stop them from touching her would have been for naught.
But he wasn’t going to reach for the sympathy vote by explaining it now, even if he could share that information, which he couldn’t.
“Giuseppe went missing–” Dingo started.
“So you need to find him again?” she broke in, acid dripping off her words. “Forget it. I made one exception to stop a terrorist. All your good deals are gone.”
She’d been their key to a successful mission last month. He admitted, “We were lucky to prevent the Orion Hunters from pulling off that attack in May, but more than being lucky we had you. If not for you, we might have lost that battle, Val. You saved a lot of lives.”
She glanced away. “Whatever.”
He’d seen her eyes glisten. She’d never been one to preen over compliments. If anything, they made her wary. He’d like to know why, wished he’d have a chance to find out.
You could have dug around online and found out about her past.
He didn’t have a lot of rules, but unless it had to do with stopping a criminal or protecting someone, he respected the privacy of those people who meant something to him.
He’d bent that rule just to find her today by triangulating her phone signal, but as far as he was concerned, this fell under protecting someone important to him.
He explained, “About Giuseppe. I thought he was a distant relation of the man I was looking for back then, but I was wrong.” Understatement of the century.
“Then you should have had me look for the guy you wanted, not his neighbor or cousin or whatever. That’s not my fault.”
“Let me get this out, Valene. Please.”
She waved her hands in an exasperated you-have-the-floor motion.
“Giuseppe was connected to a very dangerous group back then. If I’d had any idea that he was running guns for the man I was hunting, I’d have never asked you to do it.”
“Guns. As in black market guns?”
“Among other things, yes.”
She groused, “It seems to me that some alphabet agency with hotdog operators like you should be able to find a gun runner.”
She flipped her hands in the air again and let out a long growl of exasperation. “So what’s the problem, 007? Still need help finding Giuseppe? Again? Run out of women to do your research or are they not letting you pay in trade?”
He flinched at the verbal strike. “I never treated you that way.” What they did after hours had nothing to do with his job or her contract work for him. She knew that, but she’d waited seven years to rail at him and he deserved it. That didn’t mean he could take it without grinding his back teeth.
Her gaze darted all over the place before it zeroed in on him again. “How am I supposed to know what was true and what was your job?”
“Believe whatever you will, but I have never mixed business and pleasure. I would never show you that lack of respect.”
She was holding on to her righteous anger and she had every right to it, but he saw her chin quiver before she sat up straight and put on her game face. “You’re burning my daylight and I’m not on your payroll now. If you need Giuseppe–”
Dingo said, “No. Giuseppe died six years ago. I only came to make sure you’re safe.”
Her face softened and she got that dewy look she used to have when he’d show up after being gone weeks–or months. They’d stare at each other for all of five seconds, then shred clothes in an explosion of kissing and hot sex.
God, he missed the way she kissed.
He missed holding her when she slept.
He’d give up all his tomorrows for an hour with her in his arms, but not until he had her tucked away out of view.
When she didn’t say anything, he took this calm moment to explain. “I need you to leave LA for a while. Maybe three or four weeks tops. I can put you in a safe house, just–”
“No.” Whatever softness had been there vanished under the return of an anger flash fire.
“In fact, hell no.”
Dingo leaned forward. “There’s a chance that some of those people from seven years ago are back.”
“And how is that a problem for me? I’m not involved with any of them.”
“I don’t want to risk you being out in the open until I can confirm that you are definitely not on their radar.”
She leveled him with a you-must-be-kidding glare. “Oh, so let me get this straight. You want me to go into hiding because of someone who might figure out that I gave you information on Giuseppe like ...” She dropped her hands. “Seven freaking years ago? Who is this supposed threat to me?”
This was where it got difficult. If he told her, Valene’s insatiable curiosity would push her to find answers. That’s why Dingo had ended up taking the gamble of his life to get inside Garcia’s organization. He was not going to allow her to make that same mistake twice.
He said, “I don’t know yet.”
She shook her head at some thought then stared at him, counting off each point on her fingers as she spoke. “You vanish for years and show up again only because you need something. I do my part for mankind and the US of A, help you out then you’re gone again–”
“I would have come back this time,” he muttered, but she ignored him and kept going.
“–and now back once more with some wild story about how someone from forever-years ago might find out I helped you locate Giuseppe. Oh, and he’s dead! Now you want me to go into hiding while you do what exactly?” She gave him a half beat then added, “No, let me answer. You won’t tell me because you don’t trust me with anything but your dick.”
He wouldn’t trust her with that right now. “I know how it sounds, Val, but–”
“I’m. Done. This bullshit stops here.”
“Valene, I’m serious about this. Just work with me–”
He knew that voice, it came with a rigid backbone that bent for nothing and no one.
Don’t lose your temper with her. He’d had spectacular rows with Val in the past, but this was not one of those times he could let her blow off steam then seduce her.
He reached out to touch her face.
She leaned away, giving his hand the same consideration someone would give a rattlesnake coiled to attack.
Nope. Seduction was not on the menu.
He said, “Just consider what I’m asking and we’ll talk more later.”
She pointed her finger. “You come near me again and I’ll, I’ll ...”
“Have a restraining order issued.”
“You don’t have enough information on me to do that.” Damn, the minute those words were out he wanted them back.
She dropped her finger, hurt flowing across her face. “And that will never change, will it,
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