As the elite of Manhattan sipped champagne and whispered in
hushed tones, Rafe Mancuso patted the Glock hidden beneath
his tuxedo jacket. Relaxed but alert, he strode through the
room, certain he wouldn't need the gun in this highbrow
crowd. Still, the Lancaster Foundation was paying him to
remain vigilant at their auction of outrageously priced
jewels. Instead, he was distracted by the woman who'd
recruited him to work security, Sara Rios, his one-time
partner at the NYPD.
She walked through the double doors, and he couldn't focus
on anything else. They'd had a unique connection, working
together like a well-oiled machine. Spending hours in a car
together led to an immediate friendship and an emotional
intimacy Rafe had never experienced before.
Not even with his fiancée.
He and Sara had never acknowledged let alone acted on the
feelings simmering between them, but that hadn't lessened
the impact. And if Rafe thought Sara had been a dangerous
temptation back then, he was blown away now. The woman who'd
worked alongside him in a police uniform had never looked
this hot. In a sparkling silver dress that hit toned
midcalf, her long blond hair draped over her shoulders and
full breasts he hadn't known existed, Rafe couldn't tear his
"Hey there, stranger! Long time no see." She greeted
him with a wide smile.
She leaned over and pressed a kiss on his cheek, her soft
lips and sweet scent intoxicating him, reminding him of why
he'd switched shifts and broken up their partnership last
year. Rafe's father had almost destroyed their family with
an affair, and Rafe had sworn he would never follow in those
footsteps. To an engaged man, Sara presented a temptation
that simply had to end. Ironically, his relationship with
his fiancée had imploded not long after, but as far as
Rafe was concerned, breaking up the partnership was the
smartest thing he'd ever done.
Sara would never commit to any man for the long haul, and
Rafe demanded nothing less.
"I'm glad you took me up on this gig. It's good to see
you." She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and met
his gaze, her brown eyes sparkling with pleasure.
He smiled. "It's good to see you, too."
"You dress up nicely," she said.
His stare never left hers. "I can honestly say the same
about you. And as a bonus, it should be an easy night."
He inclined his head toward the other side of the room,
where the jewels were on display.
The Lancaster Foundation had insisted Rafe and Sara blend in
and socialize, not crowd the items for sale. As trained
professionals, they'd have preferred to set the parameters,
but the foundation hadn't wanted the guests to feel too
intimidated to view the items up close.
"An easy night is good," Sara said. "I'm
supposed to lie low until I testify at a murder trial next
month. And you can't get any more low-key than this."
He laughed in agreement. "I heard about your case.
Started as a routine B and E on Park Avenue, right?"
"That's what we thought. Someone broke in and sur prised
the wife at home, hit her on the head and stole some
high-priced items. But the victim refused to go to the
hospital and died in her sleep a few hours later." Sara
shook her head at the senseless result.
They'd both dealt with their share of stubborn victims.
"As it happened, I was the last person to speak to her
before she died. She implicated her husband or at least gave
"So you're the key witness at the husband's murder
trial," Rafe said, repeating what he'd heard around the
"Yep. And it all comes down to money." She tipped
her head toward the wealthy crowd. "Alicia Morley's
capital was the only thing keeping her husband's investment
firm afloat. He and his partners ran the firm into the
ground, and she refused to continue to subsidize his bad
investments. He hired someone to break in and make it look
like a robbery gone bad, hoping to inherit her estate. But
if he's convicted, her money goes to adult children from a
A waiter passed by, and Sara grabbed a sparkling water from
his tray. She took a sip, leaving a pink-rimmed lipstick
mark on the glass.
Rafe couldn't tear his gaze away. Couldn't stop his mind
from imagining other uses for those luscious, glossed lips.
"Where's the husband now?" he asked, his throat
parched and dry.
"Still in jail. Prosecutors convinced a judge he's a
flight risk. But his business partners are connected to some
dangerous people, and the D.A. wants me to keep a low
profile until the case is over."
"Well, I'm happy to handle this low-profile event with
you." Where he could look and not touch. "I saw your
neighbor, Sam Cooper, earlier."
Coop and Sara weren't just next-door neighbors: they were
good friends. And since Sara let few people get close, and
Rafe trusted her instincts, he automatically respected Coop.
He often crossed paths with the crime-beat reporter and
professionally pegged him as a decent guy who'd never
compromise the truth for a story.
Since Sara was territorial about her friends, Rafe decided
not to mention that he'd caught sight of Coop sneaking out
of the unused coatroom not long after a disheveled-looking
woman had done the same. In the dead heat of summer, nobody
used that closet unless they were getting some action. Rafe
was actually jealous. He couldn't remember the last time
he'd grabbed a quickie with a woman in a nearly public
place, but looking at Sara in that dress had him thinking
about nothing else.
Sara nodded. "I came with Coop, but I hope he'll be
leaving with his girlfriend, Lexie Davis. If they settle an
argument they had first." She pursed her lips and
glanced around the room, her frown becoming more distinct.
"I don't see them."
"It's crowded. Maybe they're somewhere making up,"
Rafe said in an attempt to reassure her.
Sex, then an argument, then makeup sex? Could any guy get
that lucky in the span of an hour? Rafe shook his head and
"What's so funny?" Sara asked.
Rafe came up with a cover story. "Just wondering how
Coop's handling his stint on the Bachelor Blog."
The online and in-print feature now in the Daily Post
targeted single men in New York City. The blog started
by picking a bachelor and highlighting him. The spotlight
led to people covering the guy's every move, from where he
stopped for coffee to where he worked, and usually
culminated in speculation about his love life. Women then
came out of the woodwork in droves, hoping to snag the
newest, hippest NYC bachelor. Despite the fact that he
worked for the Daily Post, Coop was the blogger's
"You read that trash?" Sara sounded affronted by the
Rafe shook his head. "Hell, no. But Maggie does." As
Sara knew, Maggie was their daytime dispatcher, and she
loved to share station gossip and, lately, Bachelor Blog news.
"I don't know how Maggie finds the time," Sara said.
"Saves her from focusing on her own life."
Suddenly a loud shriek and the sound of shattering glass
broke through the dull hum of the crowd, interrupting their
Rafe whipped his head toward the sound, hand on his pocket,
ready to draw his weapon.
"The waiter has a knife!" someone next to them shouted.
"And he's got Coop's girlfriend," Sara groaned.
Instinct kicked in, and Rafe met Sara's gaze, both silently
acknowledging they needed to get closer to the action.
Rafe inclined his head, and Sara immediately started
clockwise around the room, heading toward the waiter with
the knife. Rafe went counter and worked his way through the
Hopefully one of them, Rafe or Sara, could distract the
waiter while the other got a jump or a clear shot.
"He's got the ring!" The warning came from the woman
being held hostage.
A piece from the Lancaster Foundation. Rafe swallowed a curse.
"Shut up!" the panicked waiter yelled at her.
Rafe glanced over in time to see the man prick his hostage's
skin with the tip of his blade.
"Just how do you think you're getting out of here?"
Suddenly Sam Cooper stepped forward. Hands in the air, he
eased toward the waiter who held his girlfriend at knifepoint.
Ordinarily Rafe wouldn't want a civilian trying to talk a
crazy man down, but Coop wasn't stupid. And at least he was
buying Rafe and Sara time to get closer.
"Who the hell are you?" the waiter asked.
"I'm with the lady. Now, just relax." Coop attempted
to take another step.
"Stay there!" the waiter shouted.
Rafe still wasn't close enough, nor could he risk scaring
the man who'd already escalated from stealing a ring to
taking a hostage.
The waiter shifted his grip on the woman. "Look, I'm
just gonna walk out of here, and nobody's going to stop
me." He made his way toward a steel door marked
Stairwell, pulling his hostage along with him.
Rafe sought and found Sara across the room. She was close
enough to confront the man, and Rafe gave her silent
encouragement, knowing she could handle talking him down.
They'd been in negotiation basics together, though she'd had
no interest in specializing.
Without warning, the waiter shoved the hostage into the
crowd, taking everyone off guard.
In the chaos that followed, he yanked the door and bolted
from the room. Sara took off after him.
Rafe surged forward, but the door slammed shut before he
could reach it, costing him precious time. Heart lodged in
his throat, he pushed his way through the guests, opened the
door and ran up a dark stairwell.
He launched through another door and onto the rooftop, gun
already drawn, only to find he had a different hostage
situation on his hands.
The waiter had obviously misjudged his exit strategy. There
was no way out from here, and he now held Sara at
knifepoint. He'd obviously been expecting company and
grabbed her as insurance.
Rafe broke into a sweat that had nothing to do with the heat
and humidity swirling around him.
"Drop the gun," the waiter ordered.
Rafe gauged his chances of shooting the suspect and missing
Sara. The moonlight was on his side, illuminating the roof.
But considering the other man held her as a complete body
shield, knife to her neck, his chances were not good.
"Come on, man. Let her go. You don't want to go down for
assaulting a cop," Rafe said, beginning the process of
talking the man down.
The waiter's eyes opened wide, but he didn't flinch or drop
the knife. "Is she really a cop?" Sweat poured down
the man's face.
"We both are," Sara said, voice calm.
Rafe admired her cool and hoped she could hold on to it.
The waiter spat a curse. The hand holding the knife shook,
and the blade pricked her skin. A small trickle of blood
oozed onto her neck.
Nausea swamped Rafe, but he pushed the feeling aside.
"Your day just gets better and better," Rafe said,
his gun level with Sara's chest. "Let her go. It'll
still go easier on you if you don't stab a cop."
"I need to think," the man said, obviously shaken.
Panic warred with the irrational need to go down fighting,
and his indecision was tangible.
Rafe had seen it before. The guy had to make a choice. So
did Rafe. Where another trained negotiator might talk his
guts out until he was out of time, Rafe had the advantage of
knowing the hostage.
And she knew how to read his mind and his cues.
Acting presented a risk, but Rafe trusted his ex-partner.
Decision made, Rafe met Sara's gaze, giving her an
imperceptible nod. "Drop!" he yelled at the same
time as he dove for the other man's legs.
Everything next happened in a blur. Sara's body went limp,
surprising the guy while Rafe barreled into him, knocking
him off balance. Sara rolled free, and Rafe tackled the
other man but was unable to get a grip on the knife. He
wasn't sure how long he grappled and deflected before he
obtained the upper hand, landing a smooth blow to the man's
jaw that ultimately subdued him.
"Don't move!" Sara stood over the waiter, gun raised.
Breathing hard, Rafe rose to his feet. "You okay?"
She nodded. "I would've been better if he hadn't gotten
the jump on me," she muttered. "He knocked the gun
right out of my hand." She shook her head in disgust.