Mariska Stonegate waited in the tropical paradise known as
the Aqua Bar at the Four Seasons Hotel in Bangkok. The
tranquil setting was in crazy contrast to the anticipation
that zinged through her body.
Less than three hours ago she'd received a case file on a
missing man. Desmond Gladstone, a husband and father of a
toddler, had traveled to Bangkok on business three days ago.
His wife hadn't heard from him since the day after he
landed. At the wife's insistence, the hotel finally checked
the room. Except for his bag of clothes and toiletries it
was empty. The maid said no one had slept in the bed since
the guest had checked in. That's when the wife panicked.
The Thai police weren't as helpful as Mrs. Gladstone would
have liked. Since there was no sign of distress in his room,
they believed he had wanted to disappear, or that he was
having an affair. Mariska's company, Stonegate Investigative
Agency, had been hired by the man's wife to find out what
The case had not been a part of Mariska's vacation plans.
She'd landed in Bangkok earlier in the day ready to shop for
a few days, and then she would head to Phuket Beach for a
That's what I get for turning on my phone.
Unfortunately, she had hit the on button, and now she had a
case to solve before she could run away to the place of
sun-kissed skin and mai tais.
It had been a tough year, and she craved time away from
home, and the well-meaning friends who were constantly in
her business. Her life wasn't going according to plan, not
that she really had one. But she was fairly certain she
hadn't spent all those years in school to work in a job
where she felt like she was barely keeping her head above water.
She couldn't even go on vacation without work interfering.
Closing her eyes, she pushed the negative thoughts from her
This case is a minor bump on my road to fun.
At least the gang at SIA had hired a local private detective
in Bangkok to get some of the legwork done before she arrived.
Mr. Thomas had discovered Gladstone cleared customs, checked
into the hotel and then disappeared. That was a start at
least. The one thing that bugged her about the mistress
theory was if he was in the middle of a trystâ€”why not stay
at the Four Seasons? Room service, six-hundred-thread-count
sheets, it was hard to pass up.
A call to his workplace had revealed Mr. Gladstone was on a
two-week vacation and they didn't expect him back until the
end of the month. Mr. G had lied to his wife.
In Mariska's handbook that made him the winner of the Most
Likely to be a Scumbag award.
Soft classical guitar music played and there was a hint of
jasmine in the air. She'd never been in such a relaxing bar,
and wished that her surroundings would help calm her anxiety
about the case. Sipping her San Pellegrino and lime, she
turned on her bar stool so she had a better view of the entry.
That's when she saw Matt Damon in a beige linen suit
perfectly tailored to his body. Mariska touched her chin to
keep her jaw from dropping. He commanded the room as he
Oh, my God. No way.
Unable to peel her eyes away, it took a second for her to
see that it was apparently Matt's doppelgĂ¤nger. The eyes
were a different color and this guy was taller, broader in
the shoulders. And this guy had an air of danger. Not the
scary serial killer kind, more a bad boy searching for his
next heartbreak. The confidence of the man was nothing short
Oh, baby, you can break my heart any day.
His almost perfect face had been marred with a pink scar on
his lip. The small imperfection sent Mariska's curious mind
into hyperdrive. Had he been protecting someone? Was he one
of those guys who worked in fight clubs for a living? Muay
Thai fighters were a dime a dozen in Bangkok. More than
anything she itched to run her thumb across the spot and
kiss it. Her pelvis tightened and her breath caught on the
thought of touching him.
Turning his cerulean eyes toward her, he smiled.
Holy crap. She gave a tiny gasp. He was
panty-melting hot. It had been too long since she'd spent
time with a man like him. Damn if she didn't want to whisk
him up to her hotel room right that minute. The idea of
plastering herself against his frame made her squirm on the
Can you say stalker? You're here for business, Mar. Get
She chewed on her lip. Maybe if she could settle the case fast.
Before the solitude of the beach, I could get into some
serious trouble with that guy.
She tore her eyes away and concentrated on her glass of
When he sat down beside her, she almost choked. Coughing,
she turned to look at him.
"I'm sorry I'm late," he apologized. "I hope you weren't
I've been waiting all my life. Mariska cocked her
head as if she couldn't believe it. "Mr. Thomas?"
He watched her briefly and then smiled. "Yes." He stuck out
his hand. "Were you expecting someone else?"
The warmth of him sent a thrill of anticipation through her
as she put her hand in his. "No, sorry, I was distracted."
By your awesome hotness. "I'm Mariska Stonegate.
Thank you for meeting me."
"It's no problem, and it's lovely to meet you." His eyes
held hers as if he had nothing better to do than gaze at her.
After a long silence, she realized she'd been staring.
Reluctantly taking her hand from his, she sat up a little
straighter. "I'm sorry, you weren't what I was expecting."
Something flickered in his eyes. "What do you mean?"
Embarrassed she'd actually said the words out loud, she
waved a hand as if to whisk the thoughts away. "It doesn't
matter. Have you found out any more information? I read your
report about Mr. Gladstone not sleeping in his bed and that
his luggage was still in his room. He'd called his wife
earlier that day when he landed and told her he was fine, so
I'm not sure what to thinkâ€”"
The bartender walked up to ask what he wanted to drink. Mr.
Thomas ordered the same thing as Mariska and his attention
moved back to her. "You were saying?"
"That I had the information you'd e-mailed earlier. May I
ask your opinion? What do you think happened to Mr.
Gladstone? Has he run off with a mistress or do you suspect
foul play. The police weren't very forthcoming when I asked
if there might have been other businessmen who have gone
Nodding, he leaned forward. "It happens in this country more
often than anyone will admit. That's why it's always good to
travel with a companion. It's an amazing city, but strange
things happen here all the time. People disappear, never to
be found again."
"Hmm. My mind was set on a different direction where
Gladstone was concerned." Mariska wasn't sure how to broach
the next question, but they were both professionals so she
decided to lay it out there. "I'm wondering ifâ€”you know, a
lonely businessman traveling to an exotic localeâ€”if heâ€¦" She
could feel her cheeks turn pink. She was far from a prude,
but this subject was tough to talk about with a complete
"If perhaps he took in a bit of the local color? Visiting
one of the many establishments where a man such as himself
could possibly relieve some stress," he said, picking up her
train of thought.
She laughed at that. "I'm not sure I could have put it so
delicately, but yes, that's what I'm asking."
He glanced over her shoulder. "I see my associate. Please
excuse me. I'll be right back."
Mariska didn't want to spy, but she couldn't help watching
as he prowled across the bar. There was something about the
way his body moved like a big cat stalking prey. At the
entryway he spoke with a white-haired Asian gentleman
wearing a panama hat and holding a file folder. Mr. Thomas
handed the man some bills, and the older gentleman gave him
The bartender delivered the drink and she paid for it. As
Thomas approached her again, he read through the file.
Sitting down without glancing up from the paperwork.
That must be some interesting reading. "Your drink
is here." She pointed to the glass when he sat down.
"Thanks," he said, without looking up from the file. "My
associate brought me some news about our Mr.
Gladstone." He frowned as he glanced up at her. "It's as I
suspected. Mr. Gladstone asked the bellman to recommend a
good place for a sauna and massage."
"Is that such a bad thing? After an eighteen-hour flight it
sounds like a great idea to me." As soon as she said the
words she regretted them. "Oh, a massage."
"Exactly." Mr. Thomas's right eyebrow rose.
Embarrassed didn't begin to describe how she felt. She
really did need to pay better attention. The last thing she
wanted was to make a fool of herself in front of this guy.
"Sorry, I'm a little slow today. Couldn't sleep on the
plane. So, do we have a location?"
"The bellman gave him several options, but had no idea which
one Mr. Gladstone chose."
Mar pursed her lips. "Hmm. Well, I guess I'd better check
them all. At least I have a lead now. I should get started."
He looked at her as if she had jumped off the crazy train.
"I don't think it's a good idea for you to go off on your own."
"Do you have a problem with that?" She'd run across her
share of chauvinistic males. It happened a lot in the
investigative business, but she was disappointed that Mr.
Thomas didn't think she could do the job. His hunk factor
went down at least a third. She didn't care how big his
muscles were, or that her fingers had an urge to run through
He held up his hands in surrender. "No, not at all. I know
for a fact women are as capable as men, many times more so.
I also know your mostly female agency has a highly
successful closed-case ratio." At her surprised look he
explained. "I do my homework, Ms. Stonegate. I had to make
sure you were a legitimate organization before agreeing to
help with your case.
"What I meant was that you shouldn't go to these places
alone. I'm sure you can handle yourself, but as I mentioned
before, it's best to have a companion while traveling in
Bangkok if at all possible. I'll escort you, no additional
Mariska was once again embarrassed for jumping to a
conclusion. "That's generous of you, but I'd feel more
comfortable compensating you for your time." She sounded so
calm and professional. Inside she was jumping up and down
like a teenager who'd met her favorite heartthrob.
It's going to be such a drag having to spend a few more
hours with the hottest guy I've met in a really long time.
She almost laughed out loud. When this case was over she did
need a good long break. And sex. She needed a lot of sex.
Maybe then she wouldn't want to jump the first cute guy to
He checked his watch. "It will be a few more hours before
the bars and massage parlors open. Is there something you'd
like to do until then?"
Mariska's mind went straight to a naughty place and she had
to make herself not glance down at his groin.
She leaned toward him. "Yes, as a matter of fact, I'd like
to go to bed."
Jackson couldn't believe his luck. Mariska Stonegate landing
in his lap was a gift. That they'd both ended up in the same
hotel bar looking for information was nothing short of
divine intervention. He'd have to thank the universe the
first chance he had. Of course right then he had to
concentrate on keeping his pants from tenting.
He knew what she meant by the "bed" comment. She'd arrived
in Thailand after an eighteen-hour flight, but parts of his
body weren't as understanding as his brain. Shifting in his
seat, he imagined a nice cold shower.
It wasn't easy, since Mariska Stonegate was beyond enticing.
Long legs poked out of a flowered skirt, and he'd even
noticed her dark red toenails. Curves in all the right
places and her eyesâ€”he'd never seen a shade of green so
light they were almost translucent. Her curly hair had been
pulled back in a haphazard ponytail, giving her the look of
a college coed on summer break.
Jackson knew better. She was intelligent and obviously damn
good at what she did. Even in his business he was aware of
SIA. They worked in every part of the world. Then there was
the fact that her mother, Janice Stonegate, was a legendary
operative. That last name had been his first clue that
Mariska was someone who could help. He wondered if she even
knew her mother had ever been in the CIA, before quitting to
open up her own security and investigative firm.
People in his business knew about Janice, because she was
one of the few international operatives to transition into
civilian life successfully. She'd been killed in a plane
crash last year, and many wondered if, after thirty years
away, her past had finally caught up with her.
Jackson couldn't believe his luck in running into her
daughter. When he'd walked into the bar he'd been looking
for an ally. Dawson, his handler, said he was sending a
friend. Dawson had a history of using women to convey
messages, and she was the only one there. When he heard her
last name, he knew he'd hit the mark.
She might not even know that she was the "friend," but she
would have resources, something Jackson was seriously low on
at the moment.
She seemed like a genuinely nice woman. It was unfortunate
he had to pull her into his plan, but he had no choice. If
it made Jackson a lying bastard, so be it.
For once, luck certainly seemed to be on his side. When he
discovered Mr. Thomas was a private investigator, Jackson
had slipped right into the role. Mariska was an asset in his
world, and he needed her more than she could ever imagine.