"Yes," Katie said, gripping the steering wheel harder.
"Uh–huh, yes, I get it." She glanced in the rearview
mirror, signaled left, and changed lanes. The traffic was
getting thicker as they approached Louisville.
Her brother kept talking, his voice robbed of its
customary power by the cheap speakers of her cell phone,
which sat in a cup–holder mount and broadcast Caleb's
warnings upward at her head. "If you have the slightest
indication that there's danger attached to this threat,
you're going to call me, and—"
"Yesssssss," she droned.
The drama was wasted on Caleb, who was going to give her
this lecture for the seventeenth time whether she wanted to
hear it or not.
It was wasted on Katie's traveling companion, too. Sean
didn't react to anything she did. Ever.
Katie glanced at the man in the passenger seat of her
Jetta, just to be sure. His expression as he stared out the
windshield matched the bleak, featureless expanse of
southbound I–71. He was like a human wall of granite,
completely impervious to everything about her.
A stern, gorgeous cliff face.
Suppressing a sigh, she tuned back in to Caleb's speech.
"—you to be in charge of anything along those lines,
Sean. This is a trial run for Katie. I'm only letting her go
because Judah insists she's the one he wants to work with.
You got that, Katie? It's Sean's show. I need you to play
nice and stay out of his way."
"Yes," she confirmed. "I know the deal. I agreed to the
deal. I am on board with the deal. Now can we stop talking
about it, please?"
She flinched at the way her voice came out, sharper than
she'd meant to sound. It was only because she was nervous
about this trip. Her palms had gone clammy and slimed the
leather wheel cover, so uncomfortable did it make her to
venture into an unknown city to do an unfamiliar job with a
man who didn't like her.
She had a tendency to bristle when nervous.
One more bad habit she needed to make an effort to tame.
Better to be professional. What Katie really needed to
figure out was how to act cool and icy like some kind of
Bond Girl assassin, slinking around and poisoning people by
slipping strychnine into their drinks.
Except without the poisoning. Her goal was to win herself
a promotion from office manager to agent for Caleb's
security company, not to become an assassin. Not unless her
ex–husband strolled into town needing assassinating.
"We'll stop talking about it when I'm positive you're
going to cooperate," Caleb said. "Right now, you sound like
you're blowing smoke up my ass."
"I'm not," she replied levelly. "I promise. I understand
that this is your company and Sean's assignment, and I'm
just a companion on this trip. I promise I'll be quiet and
helpful and learn things, okay?"
"I need you to be safe."
She made a face, then immediately regretted it. Wrinkling
her nose and pursing her lips in response to Caleb's babying
only proved she deserved to be babied. Not the way she
wanted Sean to see her.
She flicked another glance in his direction. If he saw
her at all, he gave no sign.
"I'm safe," she said.
"I care about you, Katelet."
"I know you do," she replied. "I care about you, too."
"And it's only because I care about you that I'm going to
say this again . . ."
Katie tapped her fingertips against the steering wheel
and stopped listening.
She understood his worry. Ever since she'd confessed that
she was married and needed to locate her spouse so she could
get divorced, Caleb had become all concerned and brotherly.
She kept waiting for him to go back to the way he'd been
before, but so far, no luck.
Five years older than her, her brother was a born nice
guy who had spent most of his adulthood in the Military
Police before moving home a year ago to help take care of
their parents after their dad had a stroke. Katie had been
living in his house rent–free at the time, working as
a bartender nights and spending her days in
elastic–waist pants, moping and watching daytime TV.
Her husband, Levi, had cleaned her out and dropped her like
a bad habit, and she'd returned from the life they'd built
in Alaska in defeat. She'd practically regressed to
adolescence by the time Caleb pulled her out of her
He gave her a job running the office of his new company,
Camelot Security, and after the first month or so, Katie had
started to feel useful again. Competent. She'd discovered
she had some get–up–and–go left in her
after all. That she actually wanted to do something with
Caleb was also the one who'd encouraged her to enroll in
a couple of online classes. He'd even appointed himself her
personal trainer, helping her whip her body into its best
shape in years.
He was a great brother, but Katie was done with the
coddling. She'd turned over a new leaf. He needed to get
with the program.
"Sean, are you hearing all this?" he asked.
Sean nodded. He was invisible to Caleb, but the two of
them apparently had a man–telepathy thing going,
because Caleb said, "Great. Give me a call after you've
talked to Pratt. I want to hear the details of these threats
he's supposedly getting. And if you can, find out why he's
brought this case to us instead of giving it to his security
team from Palmerston, because—"
"Caleb," Katie interrupted.
"Give it a rest."
"We've been over this and over this. Sean gets it. I get
it. We'll call you. Now let us do the job."
Her brother exhaled explosively, which made Katie smile a
little. "Aren't you supposed to be taking today off?" she
asked. "Go home and help Ellen with wedding arrangements or
Caleb and Ellen had met on a job and gotten engaged about
six minutes later. He pretty much lived over at her place
now, and he'd become more of a father to her son, Henry,
than the two–year–old's real father ever had.
"God, no. She won't let me near any of the wedding stuff.
But I did tell Henry I'd take him to the hardware store."
"So why aren't you doing that?"
Katie spotted an exit and swerved toward it, weaving
nimbly through three lanes of traffic. The gas tank was
"I've got payroll to figure out first."
She caught herself right before the words left her mouth.
I can do that when I get back.
It was the kind of thing a self–sacrificing doormat
would say, not a slick professional. A decade of
specializing in being a doormat had left her rumpled and
ground down, with boot prints on her forehead.
Time to stop jumping to the rescue.
"You should hire somebody else to do payroll, now that I
have a new job," she said instead.
At the end of the off ramp she turned—a little too
fast, perhaps, because she got distracted by the fact that
Sean was looking directly at her. Somehow he made looking
look like not–looking. As though he could see her, but
he couldn't be bothered to see her.
How was she supposed to concentrate on Caleb talking
about payroll when Sean was not–looking at her that way?
She didn't know what the guy's deal was. It seemed as if
he didn't approve of her—though what it was about her
he disliked, she had no idea. Her personality, her being on
the job, her existence?
Sean had been working for her brother since the summer,
and in that time he and Caleb had grown thick as thieves. He
spent hours every week in Caleb's office, a solid panel of
pine muffling the mingled sound of their voices as they bent
their heads over some obscure security challenge and Katie
tried to get her work done at the reception desk a few feet
Then he would come out, fix her with that blue stare, nod
like a robot, and leave.
She'd tried being nice to him, reminding him they'd gone
to high school together and sat by each other in Algebra II
and Trig. She'd tried ignoring him. She'd tried glaring at
him and even, one embarrassing day, flirting with him.
Nothing made a difference.
He didn't speak to her. Not at all, not ever, not under
any circumstances. It was extremely weird, and it drove her
Caleb was way too casual about it.
Don't send me to Louisville with him, she'd begged. He
No, he doesn't, Caleb had said. I'm positive he doesn't
hate you. You two just need to work it out between you.
She didn't know how to work it out, but she refused to
let Sean get to her. This job was the big chance she'd been
waiting for—her opportunity to get out of Camelot and
see new places, rub elbows with interesting people, become
somebody independent of Levi and Caleb. Her own somebody.
Judah Pratt saw her potential. The
singer–songwriter had asked for her specifically. And
okay, yes, maybe Judah's interest in her was largely carnal,
but an opportunity was an opportunity. She'd only been in
his Chicago apartment for half an hour when it arrived: he'd
announced that he would hire Camelot Security, but only if
he could have Katie.
He'd said it just like that, too. Only if I can have
Katie. A week later, the memory retained the power to send
shivers skittering up her spine.
Or it usually did. It was a little hard to get swept up
in her Judah fantasies with Sean sitting next to her,
emanating stony disapproval of . . . something. Her being
assigned to work with him. The way she breathed. Her boots.
"Katie?" Caleb interrupted her reverie.
"Are you even listening to me?"
"Sure." She rewound her brain, hoping to locate some
phantom memory of what he'd said when she wasn't paying
attention. Nada. "What did you say?"
"When did you stop listening?"
"Never mind. The upshot is, you've still got your old job
when you come back."
"Yeah, but after I completely blow your socks off, you'll
need someone else to do my old job."
"Please don't try to blow my socks off. Be safe."
"Right, right." She turned into the gas station. "I've
got to go."
"One last thing."
"I want you to keep your distance from Pratt."
"No, I'm serious. Sean, I need your help here. Keep the
guy away from my sister. I don't trust him not to take
Katie pulled to a stop beside a pump, her blood boiling.
There was overprotective, and then there was stifling. She
loved Caleb and all, but she wasn't about to let him smother
her to death.
Sean had turned to look at her. He had the most
astonishing eyes. Dark, dark blue, with thunderstorms in them.
She lifted her chin. "That isn't necessary," she told Caleb.
"I think it is."
"No, it isn't. If Judah wants to take advantage of me,
I'm all for it."
"Katie," Caleb said, a note of warning in his voice.
"Stop. You don't want to have this conversation any more
than I do, so just drop it, okay?"
Sean got out of the car. Katie watched him go, uneasy but
resolved. It was hard enough to defeat her own internal
censor. She didn't need two men dog–piling on to judge
her ability to make decisions about her own freaking sex life.
Not that she had a sex life.
"Believe me, I would love to drop it," Caleb said. "But I
don't think I can."
"Try. I'm a grown woman. I have condoms. I think I've got
this under control."
Sean tapped on the passenger–side window and
pointed toward the gas tank. Katie popped the fuel door for
him, and he swept one open palm in the direction of the
gasoline options. "The cheap stuff," she said, loud enough
for him to hear her through the window. He nodded and turned
his back on her.
"I don't imagine you care," Caleb said carefully, "but I
think your sleeping with Judah is a bad idea."
Now that was just unfair. Six months ago, Caleb had asked
Katie if she thought it would be unethical for him to get
involved with a client. She'd thought about it and told him
no—that it depended on the situation, and in the
situation he and Ellen had been in, it was fine.
She'd come to the same conclusion about this Judah job.
It would be one thing if Judah were traumatized by fear,
quaking in his boots and relying on Katie to keep him safe,
but that just wasn't the case. She was along for the ride.
Why not make the ride a little more
enjoyable—especially when Judah had made his interest
in climbing aboard more than clear?
Maybe it wouldn't be the smartest move of her life, or
the most romantic, but "romantic" wasn't what Katie was
looking for from Judah. If she had to pick one adjective to
describe what she was looking for, it would be "torrid."
Or "inadvisable." She'd never had inadvisable sex before.
She'd had Levi, the high school sweetheart who'd given her
every single one of her firsts: first kiss, first sex, first
orgasm, first wedding, first abandonment, first divorce.
Considering that Levi had walked out on her almost two
years ago—two long, transformative, sexless
years—and the ink had finally dried on her divorce
papers a few weeks back, "torrid and inadvisable" sounded
like just the ticket. Katie wanted to throw herself headlong
into new experiences, skate the edge of recklessness, flirt
All while behaving safely and responsibly, of course. No
need to get Caleb's panties in a twist.
Her brother was silent. He seemed to be waiting for a
reply to a question she wasn't sure she'd heard him ask. She
tried out another "Mmm–hmm."
"I didn't even like the guy," he said.
"I noticed that."
"You can do better."
Judah had unruly black curls and huge, dark eyes. He had
a low, sexy voice that she loved to listen to when she was
tired, lonely, and in need of a glass of wine.
And maybe it was starry–eyed of her, but she felt
as though she already knew him from his music. When he'd
said he wanted her on the case, she'd hoped it was because
he shared that feeling of familiarity, and their deep,
instant connection would lead to awesome conversation and
But really, she'd settle for a
less–than–mystical experience if it meant she
finally got some action.
"I don't think I want to do better," she said.
"Fine." Caleb sounded resigned. "I'll stay out of it. But
I'm going on record as strongly disapproving."
The gas pump shut off with a hollow mechanical thump, and
Sean turned to the machine to wait for a receipt, shoulders
hunched against the January chill. The wind ruffled his
short blond hair and turned the tips of his ears red. He had
to be freezing his ass off out there.
Katie was hoping Louisville would be warmer than Camelot
had been lately. It was only a four–hour drive, but
Kentucky was the South, right? Gray skies and freezing rain
had been haunting central Ohio for so long, she could hardly
remember what the sun looked like.
All week, she'd been dreaming of Kentucky bluegrass.
Totally unrealistic, given the time of year and the fact
that she was about to spend the weekend in some dank,
beer–piss–smelling nightclub, but she couldn't
turn the daydreaming off. Her mind had a mind of its own.
"Let me talk to Owens," Caleb said.
"None of your business."
"Is it about work or my personal life?"
"Also none of your business." His voice had gone all
clipped. She wasn't getting anything else out of him.
She tried anyway. "C'mon, Caleb. It's my phone."
"Put him on."
"Yeah, fine. Okay." She jimmied the phone out of its
cradle and leaned way over to open the passenger–side
door a crack. "Caleb wants to talk to you."
Sean took the phone, and she closed the door, not wanting
any more cold air to get into her toasty car than necessary.
He walked ten feet away and lifted the phone to his ear.
She imagined what he'd sound like if she could hear him.
He had an unusual way of shaping words. Every syllable came
out perfectly enunciated, as if he had nothing better to do
than tumble the sounds around his tongue.
She liked listening to him talk. Yet another reason it
chapped her hide that he wouldn't speak to her.
After a minute, he disconnected the call and folded
himself into the car. He was too tall for a compact. Too
broad, too. He brought the cold air in with him, and she
could feel the chill coming off his black leather jacket and
soaking into her right shoulder.
"You good to go?" she asked, putting the car in gear and
releasing the emergency brake.
He nodded, eyes straight ahead.
"You wanna drive?" They'd already begun rolling toward
the exit. "Speak now or forever hold your peace."
If he thought she was funny, he didn't show it. Instead,
he waved her on, settled back in his seat, and closed his eyes.
Sean Owens: World's Most Boring Copilot.
One of her favorite Judah songs came up on the stereo, so
Katie cranked the volume and started to sing along, bouncing
gently up and down in a low–key car dance.
Caleb couldn't spoil this for her, and neither could
Sean. Nervousness be damned—she was on a mission. She
had sixty miles left to drive, a job to do, a future to claim.
Plus, if everything went according to plan, she was going
to get laid this weekend.