Just This Once

Just This Once

Trish Jensen

July 2013 $12.95
ISBN 978-1-61194-294-1

They spent one passionate night together, a night neither could forget...

Our PriceUS$12.95
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Will she say Yes, just this once?

 As a minister’s daughter, Shannon Walsh was raised to say No to a lot of temptations with men at the top of that list. She’s an adult now, making her own choices, but until Mr. Right comes along, she plans to keep resisting the call of the wild.

Then Rick Hardison moves in next door. The handsome rascal doesn’t appear to have spent many hours inside a church, and he doesn’t waste any time drawing Shannon inside his wickedly sexy arms. What’s a good girl to do when the man of her dreams is a very bad boy? She decides to take a chance. But just this once.


"This was a really quick but really cute read. The author did an awesome job of writing this book." -- Emily Hightower, Rate my Romance

"…sweet, sad, funny and so enjoyable that it made it a good read! Go check it out – highly recommend!" -- Michelle Oxrider, Snarky Mom Reads

"Just This Once is a must-read for lovers of well-written, sensual, contemporary romance." — Connie Ramsdell, Bookbug on the Web




Chapter One

THE DOG WAS going to kill her.

Shannon Walsh stood frozen, staring into the feral amber eyes of a mangy, overgrown, snarling German shepherd. A German shepherd who’d somehow managed to invade her back yard. Her fenced in back yard.

How had he gotten in? And why? It wasn’t like Shannon had committed any crime. She glanced down at the skimpy, damp lingerie she’d come outside to hang dry. Uh-oh.

Was this beast her punishment for buying such wicked underwear? Was it a sign from above that she’d done something unforgivably sinful?

Her father would shout a resounding "yes!” Reverend Felker Walsh would consider owning lacy, sexy underwear as a sign of possession by the devil. She let the bra and panties slip from her fingers.

The dog took a step forward.

"Good doggie,” Shannon said faintly.

The dog growled, apparently disagreeing with her.

She took a step back, searching her peripheral vision for any possible weapon. Directly to her left lay a rolled up hose. She had the feeling the menacing animal ten feet in front of her would eat a rubber hose for a snack.

A one hundred and twelve pound woman would make a nice meal.

She backed up again, and this time felt the bite of brick against her shoulder blades. She chanced a quick glance to her right. The porch door that led into her kitchen stood about fifteen interminable feet away. She’d never make it.

She looked back at the beast stalking her. "Where... are you from, big boy?” she asked, then winced. That sounded like a bad pick-up line. "I... don’t recognize you.”

The dog cocked his ears back, then did a quick one-two over his shoulder. That’s when Shannon noticed the green collar around his neck. She spotted some kind of stitched writing on it, but with fear clogging her throat and fogging her brain, she couldn’t make out the words.

The dog turned back to her and growled.

She took a step sideways, testing his waters.

His waters didn’t like being tested. The German Shepherd jumped like a jackrabbit, hung his head low, and snarled at her.

Every nerve in her shook. Spots started bursting in front of her eyes. She was going to die. She’d moved to DC to spice up her life. This was not the sort of spice she’d been looking for.

Tears stung her eyes. She knew she should be praying for salvation, but not a single prayer came to mind. All she could think about were the things she’d never done, the things she’d miss if this dog killed her.

She’d never been to Sea World.

She’d never tried skydiving.

She’d never been to a male strip club.

She’d never had a wild, illicit love affair.

"If I make it out of this alive,” she whispered. "I’m going to have a fling.”

The dog cocked his head at the sound of her voice. Encouraged, she kept talking. "That’s right, a fling. A torrid affair with a man who’s all wrong for me.”

The dog seemed interested in her fantasy, so Shannon elaborated. "He’ll be big and rough and he’ll swear like a sailor. He’ll be handsome in a roguish sort of way. He’ll be... a bad boy. One of those men who would make my parents faint if they saw him.”

Slowly she raised her arm and passed a shaky hand over her brow. "We’ll take one look at each other and know it’s inevitable. We’ll be so hot for each other we won’t even make it to the bedroom.”

Keep talking girl. As long as he’s listening, his fangs will stay put. "We’ll spend one night—just one—making wild, passionate love.” Her hand dropped. "And then I’ll go home and do what’s right.”

A small sob forced its way past her lips. The thought of doing what was right left her stone cold. Probably because she’d been doing what was right all her life. Her boring life. Just once, she wanted to do something wrong. Well, not wrong exactly. Just... reckless.

Rover or Fido, or more likely Killer, hunkered down and whined. Suddenly, he didn’t appear quite so menacing.

Taking a deep breath Shannon shoved off from the wall. The dog jumped, his hind-quarters bunched and, in horror, Shannon watched as he leapt toward her.

In that eternal instant, regret at all she’d miss burned in her soul. She cried out, bracing herself for the agony of torn flesh.

The beast’s huge paws collided with her shoulders, slamming her against the house. Her head cracked against the unforgiving brick with a dull thud.

Shannon almost blacked out, but a last shred of survival instinct reared up inside of her, and she shook her head to clear it. That was when she realized that the dog hadn’t torn into her jugular at all, but just stood on his back legs, pinning her to the wall.

She looked into its brown eyes and saw... concern. No, not possible. Still, the dog’s tongue hung out the side of its mouth, and it didn’t seem intent on ripping her apart. It just didn’t want her to move for some reason.

"Good doggie?” she whispered.

The dog’s oversized tongue slurped her cheek. Shannon tentatively patted its side. The slobbering beast loved it.

"Down boy,” Shannon said, trying to sound friendly yet commanding.

Amazingly, the dog got down and stood there, wagging its long tail.

Why hadn’t she thought of this before? "Sit!” Shannon said.

The dog handed her his paw.

Close enough. "Lie down.”

The dog sat.

Bemused, Shannon rubbed the back of her head. "Sit!”

Again, he offered his paw, his tail swishing through the grass in an arc.

Shannon dropped to her knees, and raised a trembling hand to the dog’s head. His tongue lolled, and she could swear his mouth lifted in an adoring smile as she gave him scratches.

"You’re not a killer at all, are you, you phony?”

The dog tilted his head, leaning into her petting hand.

"Who do you belong to, anyway?” she asked, as she spied the writing on the collar again.

She turned the collar so she could read it. There were the words NO DRAH and an upside down phone number. Shannon’s forehead furrowed as she leaned forward and read it right side up. "Oh, my God!”

What kind of jerk would call his dog HARD ON? She knew for certain it had to be a man. No self-respecting woman would be that crude.

"You poor baby!” she cried, indignant on the innocent animal’s behalf. She scruffed his thick chest fur. "Do you want to come inside, Har... doggie?”

The dog barked. Shannon slowly got to her feet, lest the poor puppy decide to pin her against the house again. "Come on, let’s get you a treat. Then I’ll call your master and give him a piece of my mind.” She sidled along the wall toward the porch. The dog followed. "Maybe I’ll even call animal services. That must be cruel and unusual punishment or something.”

They reached the porch, one hesitant step at a time. Shannon didn’t feel exactly comfortable turning her back on Har... the animal, but she didn’t have much choice. He literally dogged her steps.

She took a breath, whirled and raced up the four concrete stairs. With a yip, the dog bounded after her, but thankfully didn’t tackle her.

She opened the screen door and waved the dog in. As regally as a king, he swept into her house.

Considering she’d only be in Northern Virginia four more months, Shannon had decided not to get herself a cat, for which, at the moment, she felt eternally grateful. The dog made himself at home, sniffing his way around her modest ranch style house.

Then he returned to the kitchen and looked up at her expectantly. Shannon couldn’t bring herself to call the dog Hard On, so she mentally renamed him King.

She didn’t have doggie snacks on hand, so she grabbed lunch meat from the fridge. Tearing off some chipped ham, she said, "Speak!”

King dropped to the floor and performed a not-so-graceful one-eighty.

"Lie down!”

King sat.

"Roll over!”

King laid down again and went limp, playing dead. Apparently the jerk who owned him spoke a different language.

Shannon set down a large bowl of water. King managed to get more on the floor than in his mouth.

While he drank, Shannon grabbed the phone and dialed work.

"Lab,” the bubbly receptionist answered.

"Hi, Molly, it’s Shannon. Can you put me through to Diane?”

After a moment, Shannon’s boss and friend answered. "Mackenzie.”

"Hi, Diane, it’s Shannon.”

"Oh, no, don’t tell me you’re sick!”

"Nope, I’m just running a little late. I got shanghaied in my back yard this morning.”

"Oooh, please tell me he was tall and dark and gorgeous!”

"Not exactly,” she said, looking at a now resting King. "He’s a dog.”

"Hey, honey, sometimes the dogs are the best in bed! Go for it.”

Shannon rolled her eyes. She’d never met anyone like Diane in her life. The woman could turn a discussion of the results of a phenylthaline test into a discussion of men. "No, I mean he’s an honest-to-goodness, woof-woof dog.”

"Oh. In that case, get your butt into work. Preston wants results back on the Chambers case today. He needs to know if there’s enough here to indict.”

"I’ll be in as soon as I call the owner and turn this beast over to him.”

"How do you know the owner’s a him?”

Clucking, Shannon said, "Call it a hunch.”

"Well, if the owner’s cute, I give you permission to take an extra half hour. You can make up for it tonight.”

"Do you ever think about anything besides sex?”

"Not a chance.”

Laughing, Shannon hung up. Phone in hand, she bent beside King and turned his collar so the phone number was visible. Then, her indignation growing as she punched in the number, she stood and started pacing. The phone rang five times before she heard the click of a machine.

"Leave your name and number. I’ll get back to you.”

A shiver raced up Shannon’s spine. She pulled the phone from her head and stared at it, wondering if her ears were playing tricks on her. Just a few terse words, growled into the phone, and she went hot and cold all over.

She’d never heard a more dangerous, masculine voice in her life. It was low and rumbly and commanding, and it conjured images of a darkly handsome man, confident, arrogant and supremely, utterly male.

That was a bad boy voice if she’d ever heard one.

Abruptly she realized that several seconds, maybe minutes, had passed since the phone had buzzed at her. Quickly she punched the "off” button, breaking the connection.

Taking several deep breaths, she looked down at the dog. Definitely, the man who owned that voice would have the audacity to name his dog Hard On.

Steeling herself, she punched in the number again. Strangely, she felt something akin to anticipation while she waited for the machine to pick up. When she heard his voice again, Shannon actually quaked inside. Was it possible to fall in lust with a voice?

After the beep, she said, "Umm, yes, my name is, umm, Shannon Walsh and I... I believe I have something of yours. If I have the right number, you’re the man who owns, uh, Hard On.” Shannon’s eyes closed and she stifled a groan of pure agony. She couldn’t believe she’d just said that. "That is, I believe I’ve got your dog. He... he was in my back yard this morning.” She swallowed. "I... have to go to work. I’ll tie him in the yard so he doesn’t run away again. That’s about the best I can do.”

She hesitated again, debating whether to give the man her address. Quickly she discarded that idea, for some reason a thrill of fear trickling through her. No, she didn’t think she wanted the man to know her address.

"You... you can call me at work today and we can make... arrangements.” She gave him her work number, hesitating yet again. "Thank you,” she finished primly.

She disconnected and slumped into a kitchen chair, burying her head in her hands. Could she possibly have made a bigger fool of herself? She pictured the man, sitting at a bar with his buddies, sipping beer and relating the story of the woman who’d called him.

Straightening, she stiffened her spine. Well, what did the man expect when he called a poor dog that disgusting name? In fact, she thought she just might tell him exactly what she thought of someone who could be so crude. With self-righteousness bolstering her, she left King snoring on the kitchen floor and marched to the bathroom and the shower.

RICK HARDISON checked the clip in his Sig before driving it home. He glanced at his partner, Tom Fletcher, across the threshold of the back door of the warehouse. Fletch nodded.

Rick inspected their backup, and found everyone in place and ready. He lifted his clenched fist high and mouthed, "Three... two... " as he ticked off fingers. At "one” he swung toward the door and kicked it sharply, once, twice, before the lock gave way.

He and Fletch quickly entered the building, guns leading the way. They found themselves in a store room of sorts, small but well-organized. From the looks of things, the leader of this bookmaking operation—Lucky Louie, their sources called him—kept his employees well-fed. Industrial size jars and cans, huge sacks of flour and sugar, and row upon row of chocolate chips lined the shelves. For a moment Rick wondered if they had the correct address.

He waved his gun, and on cue the uniformed back-up fanned out behind Fletch and him. Silently, he moved to the door opposite the entrance. Stopping to listen, he heard the jangle of phones, and the low hum of dozens of voices, speaking at once. Sure sounded like a book operation to him.

Again he and Fletch flanked the door. Again he checked their backup, before counting down. And again on "one” he shoved open the door, yelling, "Everyone freeze! Don’t move! You are, as they say, busted.”

Everyone froze, including Rick. He blinked. Then, as his gaze roamed the room, his jaw grew more and more slack. As officers swarmed in behind them, they all seemed to stop in their tracks, too.

Phones went unanswered, as the fifty or so bookies stared in alarm at the number of uniforms filling the warehouse.

It was a remarkable set-up.

Along the near wall was a huge computer screen, where one of their computer geeks kept the bookmakers up to speed on the odds of ball games, horse races, even the chances of The Dancing With The Stars winner.

Every bookmaker had his or her own desk, with what looked like cushy leather chairs. On each desk was a phone, stacked "in-out” trays, books of chits, a small crystal vase with a single daisy and greens, and a plate of chocolate chip cookies.

Beside nearly every desk sat a walker or a cane.

Rick spared a glance at Fletch. "I think we just busted a bingo hall.”

At the same time they lowered their weapons. It didn’t seem right to aim them at people who would need a half-hour head start to make good their escape.

It was a bookmaking operation all right.

Run by a team of senior citizens.

Rick shoved aside his army jacket and jammed his gun into the holster at his ribs. He ran his hands through his hair, tucking it behind his ears. "Spread out,” he called behind him.

He ambled to the closest bookie, a man who looked to be in his seventies. Or eighties. Or nineties. It was hard to tell.

The man appeared shocked, his mouth frozen in a perfect O. His fingers shook as he pushed his chits to one side.

"Where can I find Lucky Louie?” Rick asked him.


Rick leaned closer to his ear. "Lucky Louie,” he all but shouted.

The man flinched, but his eyes went straight to a door at the back of the room.

"Thank you,” Rick said loudly.

He strode directly to the door, as the uniformed cops took on the task of getting down names of the felons.

Fletch followed, muttering under his breath. Rick thought he said something like, "I knew I should’ve gone into plumbing and heating.”

Without knocking, Rick pushed open the door to the office. He found Lucky Louie trying to escape through the single small window.

And Louie would have nearly made it, too. Except that her support hose had snagged on the sill.

As gently as he could, Rick freed the hose, then grasped Louie around the waist and lifted her back into the office. Louie weighed about ninety pounds, had curly blue-white hair, and flailing arms. She wiggled and squealed indignantly as Rick set her on her feet and turned her around.

"Mrs. Sugarbaker!” Rick said, astounded, as he recognized the head of this illegal operation.

He’d just busted the largest contributor to the Police Benevolent Fund.

"AREN’T YOU going to cuff me?” Louise Sugarbaker asked, as Rick and Fletch started leading her out of the warehouse.

"I don’t think that will be necessary,” Fletch answered gravely. But the amusement in his eyes was unmistakable as he glanced over the tiny woman’s head to Rick. "You’ll come along peacefully, right?”

"I suppose,” she answered, sniffing. She glanced up at Rick. "You need a haircut, Richard.”

"Yes, ma’am.”

"And a shave.”

"Yes, ma’am.”

"And your wardrobe is atrocious.”

"Yes, ma’am.”

"Why, you could take lessons from Thomas, here.”

Rick resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Why had he been saddled with a partner who always looked like he was heading to a photo shoot for GQ?

Fletch smirked at him as they headed for his Range Rover.

Mrs. Sugarbaker stopped in her tracks behind Fletch’s car. "Oh, my!” she gasped, then looked up at Fletch with patent disapproval. "Thomas Fletcher, what kind of license plate is that?

Fletch stopped and looked. Then gaped. Then scowled. He turned narrowed eyes on Rick, who was holding onto Mrs. Sugarbaker’s elbow with one hand, holding his other up to study his nails.

"Hardison, you sonofa—” Fletch began.

"Watch your language, Thomas.”

"It’s the least you deserve,” Rick said, "after what you did to Bert’s collar.”

"Bert’s a da—darn dog. What’s he gonna care?”

"It’s a matter of his dignity.”

"Besides,” Fletch ranted on, "nobody but your friends—of which you have few—would see Bert’s collar. How long have I been tooling around town with a license plate that reads ‘LECHER?’”

Rick waved. "A couple of days.”

Fletch leapt forward and started scrubbing at the white ink that covered the "F.” "No wonder those babes honked at me this morning. And here I thought it was my awesome good looks.”

"Dream on.”

Fletch moved to the ink covering the T. "Will this stuff come off?”





Rick laughed and helped Mrs. Sugarbaker into the passenger seat. He winked at her as he helped her buckle her seat belt. "No sense of humor.”

RICK WEARILY let himself into his house. On a scale of one-to-ten, the bust this morning at the warehouse had been a definite zero. He tried to remind himself why he’d become a cop in the first place. He was pretty damn certain it wasn’t for the glory of taking down four dozen senior citizens.

Passing by his desk he punched the blinking button on his answering machine. Shrugging out of his army jacket, he tossed it on the back of his easy chair.

"Rick, it’s Lisa. Call me, love.”

He ambled to the back door of the house and threw it open, emitting a sharp whistle.

The machine beeped again. "Hey, Hardison. Basketball game tonight at the Y. Seven o’clock. Be there.”

Removing his shoulder holster, he threw his weapon in the desk. When Bert didn’t come bounding in the house, he headed back to the door to look out.

"Richard, it’s me.” Rick groaned at the sound of Mary Anne’s voice. "Your alimony payment’s late. As usual.”

Rick hissed a curse. Like she needed the money. The settlement he’d agreed to just to get the divorce moving had made Mary Anne a millionaire several times over. But still she hounded him once a month like clockwork.

He made a mental note to check with his accountant to see if there was a way to pay her off permanently, just so he didn’t have to deal with her. She was a constant reminder of the biggest mistake he’d ever made in his life—trying to become something he was not.

Thoughts of Mary Anne vanished when he gazed out over his yard. Bert was nowhere to be seen. The gate was closed, and there were no holes in the ground to indicate he’d dug his way out.

Which wouldn’t have made sense anyway. Bert wasn’t a wanderer by nature. He knew who his master was, where his home was, and he faithfully watched over his domain. So Rick didn’t believe for a moment that Bert had run away. Which left him with one other conclusion.

Someone had taken his dog.

Rick tried not to panic. He tried to come up with a rational plan of action. He tried not to consider what he’d do to whoever had dognapped Bert. His best friend.

"... you’re the man who owns a hard on.”

He spun back to the machine, certain he couldn’t have heard that right. He didn’t recognize the woman’s voice, but if she was trying a new pick-up line, she certainly sounded doubtful about it.

Striding to the machine, he hit replay. After listening to the message, he grinned his relief. One of these days he should invest in a new collar for Bert after Tom’s stupid practical joke.

Bert must have jumped the four foot fence. Why? It was so out of character for his dog, it made Rick uneasy. He hoped this wasn’t a new game. He and Bert had only lived in this house a little over a month, but Rick had felt that Bert adjusted to his new big back yard well.

Rick swore. Punching the button, he picked up a pen. He wrote the number down, and grinned a little. Poor woman sounded flustered. He supposed she had good reason.

Scratching his temple with the pen, he looked at the phone number. He recognized it as the one for the crime lab. But he didn’t know any Shannon Walsh who worked there. Of course, he’d spent the last several weeks spinning his wheels with this bookmaking ring, so hadn’t had much reason to visit the crime lab.

Rick dialed the number and flirted with Molly for a couple of minutes before asking to be put through to Shannon Walsh. She answered almost immediately, her soft voice sounding distracted.

"Ms. Walsh, my name’s Rick Hardison. I believe you found my dog.”

There was a long, long pause—one he’d call almost startled. He wondered about that. After all, she’d given him the number.

She cleared her throat. "Yes, I, uh, believe I did.”

"I’m sorry about the inconvenience. Thanks for watching out for him. When can I come and get him?”

"I should get home around... seven, Mr....”

"Call me Rick. What’s your address? I’ll go look for him now.”

"I prefer to bring him to you,” she said in a prim and proper little voice.

He threaded his fingers through his hair. "Lady, I want my dog.”

"Mr. Hardison, I didn’t ask for him to attack me in my yard. I’m sorry if you don’t like it—”

"Wait a minute. He attacked you? Maybe this isn’t my dog after all.”

"Well, he sort of just trapped me. For some reason, he didn’t want me going to my clothes line.”

"Did he hurt you?”

"No, not really. It didn’t take long to realize he’s a creampuff underneath that snarl.”

Snarl? Bert? Something was wrong.

"I’ll tell you what,” the woman continued. "I’ll call you as soon as I get home. You can give me your address and I’ll bring King to you.”


Another pregnant pause. "Well, I certainly wasn’t going to call him... that other name,” she snapped, her voice ringing with disapproval.

Rick swallowed a shout of laughter. She sounded like a first class prude. He could just imagine her reaction when she’d first read Bert’s collar. He opened his mouth to tell her Bert’s real name, but some perverse streak stopped him. "I see,” he said, not even trying to hide his amusement. "All right, we’ll do it your way.”


That one clipped word said a mouthful. He’d bet she wore her hair back in a face-stretching bun. He’d bet she considered the sex act a crime. In fact, he’d bet she’d never had an orgasm in her life.

"I’ll be looking forward to your call,” Rick said. He guessed the woman had a right to assume he was a pervert. But, she wouldn’t have to call him. By the time she got home, he’d be waiting for her.

He called the station. "Fletch, do me a favor... oh, good for Mrs. Sugarbaker... listen, I need an address...”

RICK SHOVED off from an oak tree when the red Ford Escort pulled into Shannon Walsh’s driveway.

Her single car garage door lifted, and she drove right in. He thought he glimpsed a flash of blonde hair before she disappeared inside.

The garage door closed before he got another look at her. Rick waited about a minute, then strolled across the street to her red brick ranch style house. The house whose back yard bordered his. He wondered how she’d take that news.

Somehow, he didn’t think she’d be thrilled.

He strolled up the flagstone walkway. Her door was painted the same black as the shutters. She had a welcome mat at the entrance, and automatically, Rick wiped his sneakers.

He rang the bell then shoved his hands deep into his jeans pockets.

Several seconds later he heard the scrape of a chain. The door cracked open, and all he spied was one blue eye. "Yes?”

"Ms. Walsh?” he said, admiring her eye.


"I’m Rick Hardison. The owner of the dog.”

That eye went wide, then swept from the top of his head to the tips of his sneakers. Rick felt suddenly self-conscious. His battered Army jacket and torn, faded jeans didn’t exactly inspire confidence. Between that and his long black hair, single earring and five o’clock shadow, he had a feeling that her first thought was to slam the door and call the police. He knew he looked like a thug.

He held up his hands. "I’m civilized, I promise. I just want my dog.”

"How’d you find out where I live?”

"You’re in the book.”

"No, I’m not. I haven’t lived here long enough.”

Oops. "I have a friend at the phone company.”

"I believe that’s illegal.”

Several caustic remarks came to mind. Rick bit them back. "Look, I was really worried about my dog. I want him back.”

Her eyes swept his body one more time. "Do you have some sort of identification?”

Rick resisted the urge to whip out his badge and flash it at her. Instead he dutifully pulled out his wallet. He took out his driver’s license, careful not to let any condom packages fall out. If she saw them, she’d probably faint.

Holding the license up, he tried to smile reassuringly. Jeez, knowing what type of female he was dealing with, he probably should have been smart enough to clean up his act a little. But he hadn’t been thinking too clearly after only four hours of sleep.

She hesitated a moment. That irritated Rick. He didn’t care what people thought of him, but he also didn’t like her looking at him like he was some kind of rapist.

"Listen, you don’t have to invite me in for tea and cookies. But I want to get my dog, and I’d like you to show me where he trapped you.”

She shut the door in his face. He stopped himself from making a rude gesture. Good thing too. Because he heard the scrape of chain again, then she opened the door completely.

Rick’s jaw almost hit the pavement.

Prissy little Shannon Walsh was a knockout.



Chapter Two

RICK HARDISON was a hoodlum.

Why Shannon had broken world records opening her door to him, she didn’t know. She should have slammed home the dead bolt and rushed to the phone to dial 911.

Instead, she stood staring at a pair of the blackest eyes to grace the planet. His hair was even darker than his eyes, pulled back in what she feared was a ponytail. His jaw was shadowed with stubble. He had shoulders that would thrill a linebacker, and a diamond stud earring, winking in the fading, early-evening light.

An earring. God, the man was wearing an earring.

A ponytail. God, the man had hair long enough to pull back in a ponytail.

A hunk. God, the man was a hunk.

Shannon realized she was staring rudely at him, but she couldn’t stop herself. She’d never seen a more darkly handsome man in her life. Wickedly handsome. Dangerously handsome.

The threat to her life this morning had nothing on the threat to it at this moment. Absently, she noted the danger. And didn’t care.

She blurted the first thing that came into her head. "Briefs or boxers?”

The man blinked those dark eyes. Then his lips lifted in a lazy grin. "I’m flexible. Which do you prefer?”

Shannon wanted the earth to swallow her up. She couldn’t believe she’d just asked him that. And how did she respond to his own question? Truthfully, "Actually, I think I’d prefer neither,” would work.

She vaguely realized that he was checking her out as closely as she was checking him out. She’d never felt this instant draw before, this burst of carnal awareness. It glittered in his onyx eyes, in the tense set of his stubbled jaw.

She had no idea how long they stood, staring at each other. Time seemed to melt around them. They were trapped in a cocoon of mutual attraction. She knew that as surely as if he’d said, "I want you.”

They might have stayed that way forever if Shannon’s phone hadn’t rung. She tore her gaze from him to stare over at it stupidly.

"Aren’t you going to answer that?”

Answer it. That’s right. When a phone rings you answer it.

She moved to the phone. "Hello.”

"Shannon, it’s your mother.”

Shannon cringed. Her mother’s tone implied that she wasn’t in a good mood. No doubt about it, she still hadn’t forgiven Shannon for taking this job.

Shannon’s gaze flew to the man who’d stepped into her living room. Guilt riddled her for his mere presence in her home. Her mother would have a coronary if she knew Shannon had allowed a man like him into her house.


Shannon mentally shook herself, wondering what her mother would say if she could have witnessed Shannon’s mesmerized reaction to a total stranger who also likely had a criminal record. "Yes, yes, I’m here.”

"Have I caught you at a bad time?” her mother asked. What she meant was, "Are you so busy dancing with the devil down in that den of iniquity, that you don’t have time to talk to your mother?”

Looking at the man who wandered her living room, Shannon decided the honest answer would be, "Well, we haven’t danced together yet, but don’t rule it out.” What she said was, "I... did just get home from work.”

"I see. How’s your new job going?”

Shannon might have been able to answer that question intelligently if Rick Hardison hadn’t at that very moment reached out and touched a daisy from the bouquet of flowers Mark had sent her. That brought her attention to his hands. He had long, almost elegant fingers and strong-looking wrists. Those powerful hands probably had the strength to strangle her easily, if he wanted to. Or make her quiver with pleasure, if he wanted to. She had an insane desire to ask him if he wanted to.


"Oh... yes?”

"What’s wrong with you?”

I’m lusting after a potential guest star of AMERICA’S MOST WANTED is what’s wrong with me. "Nothing, Mother. I just... just walked in the door.”

Rick Hardison’s eyes lifted to hers... very slowly, as he made a few less than subtle pit stops on the trip up.

Her body flushed hotly in the places where his gaze had rested, and when she looked into his eyes, she held her breath. She’d never read such blatant, masculine desire in her life. He didn’t even try to mask it.

"Mark came to supper last night,” her mother said.

Shannon flinched. She really did feel badly about hurting Mark.

"... I cannot believe you never told us he proposed.”

Oh, no. "He... told you?”

"Of course he told us! He thought we knew! Imagine our embarrassment when we had no idea what he was talking about!”

"I can’t talk about this now, Mother.”

There was a long, accusing silence. Into that silence came the sound of Rick Hardison clearing his throat. The noise sounded sexy as hell, vibrating along her nerve endings. Getting turned on by a dark stranger while conversing with her mother felt just a little too depraved. "I have to go. I love you. Talk to you soon,” she said, then hung up the phone, her hands shaking.

The man walked over to her, his gait a sexy swagger. He stopped a few feet in front of her. Too close. And way too far away.

His dark eyes gleamed like polished black jewels, and the message in them was very, very clear. Even a relatively inexperienced woman like Shannon would have a tough time mistaking it.

He wanted to use her as a sex toy. There was no emotion behind the desire. He hadn’t instantly fallen in love with her. He might not even like her if he got to know her. But there was only one way he wanted to get to know her, and it had nothing to do with personalities and everything to do with libidos.

"I’m all yours,” Shannon whispered.

If her capitulation surprised him, he didn’t show it. His slight smile was filled with self-confidence, which led her to the conclusion that Rick Hardison was used to getting what he wanted just by shooting a woman one smoldering look. He took easy conquests for granted.

The thought of being lumped into the category of Rick Hardison’s easy conquests brought Shannon to her senses. She pressed her fingers to her lips and stumbled back a step. "Oh, my God, I didn’t mean that! I don’t know what came over me. I... I... you better go. Now. This minute. I... didn’t mean it.”

"Too bad.”

Those two rumbled words plummeted like twin lead weights through her body, landing somewhere in her lower belly. Shannon dropped her hand. "I’m sorry. See, what happened is,” she rushed on, desperate to explain, "King trapped me this morning and I was really scared and I started thinking about all the things I wanted to do that I might never do if King killed me. I’ve recently sort of had this fantasy about having a fling with a bad boy just once before I settle down, and then you showed up and you definitely look like the bad boy type, so I... got confused for a moment, and I... I... oh God!”

She covered her flaming face with her hands, willing herself to disappear in a puff of smoke. She couldn’t believe she was capable of acting like such a complete idiot.

Suddenly she felt his fingers on her wrist, warm, electrifying. "Shannon,” he said softly. "Don’t apologize. I like fitting the image of your fantasy.”

"Just get your dog and go.”

Gently but firmly, he pulled one hand from her face. She kept her eyes squeezed tightly shut, on the theory that if she couldn’t see him, he couldn’t see her. Irrational, yes. But nothing about this situation smacked of rational.

"No,” he said.

She didn’t know if the dizzying pace of her blood flow stemmed from fear or excitement. She popped one eye open to look at him.

If it wasn’t fear, it should have been. His presence overwhelmed her. He was dangerously huge, dangerously dark, and dangerously sexy.

"Please,” she said, although she didn’t exactly know what she was asking for.


"My pleasure,” he murmured, then pulled her into his arms.

Shannon’s hands got trapped between his ribs and her chest. She stared up at him, wondering if she should scream. And if she did scream, what would he do to shut her up? And if she didn’t scream, what did that say about her moral fiber?

His heart beat slowly, steadily under her fingertips. In contrast, hers threatened to jackhammer its way out of her chest cavity. She wondered if he could feel or hear its rapid cadence.

This was pure insanity. She’d known this man for a total of ten minutes, tops, and she was already in his arms and seriously close to allowing him to seduce her.

Her brave words this morning had no basis in reality. No matter how dark her fantasies, she just didn’t have it in her to have casual sex with a man. Not even this man. Her one and only partner had been Mark, and she’d dated him for nearly two years before she’d allowed their relationship to progress to that level of intimacy.

"Show me,” he said, his voice low and growly.


"Show me where my dog trapped you.”

His eyes mesmerized her. They were so dark, opaque, but there was an ages-old wisdom in them, too. "Out back” she said, her voice faint.

His arms dropped from around her. Shannon almost shivered from the sudden lack of his warmth. She tried to slap a cool, distant smile on her face, as if she hadn’t just been in his arms moments ago, contemplating a quick romp with him on the living room floor.

He smiled, which had such a startling effect on his features, Shannon nearly gasped. His grin didn’t soften the harsh contours of his face, but instead sharpened them even further. He looked at once more alarming and more handsome. "Take me.”

She considered that an excellent suggestion. But she was only vaguely aware of why. She was too busy deciding how tall he stood—a few inches above six feet was her guess. Which made him close to a foot taller than she.



"Take me there.”

Giving herself a mental slap, she asked, "Where?”

"Show me where he trapped you.”


"Because he does that for only one reason, and I want to check it out.”

"What one reason is that?”

"You sure you want to know?”


He shrugged. "He only acts that way when he’s trying to protect someone from danger.”

THE WAY Shannon Walsh’s face drained of all color told Rick she’d changed her mind about wanting to know. And Rick hadn’t even elaborated. If Bert acted strongly enough to frighten Shannon that much, then he’d been extremely concerned about her welfare.

It also explained why he’d jumped his own fence.

Rick searched for reassuring words, but he didn’t have much practice giving beautiful women reassurances. Especially women he wanted to get down and dirty with in the worst way.

"Show me, Shannon,” he murmured again, trying to ignore the painful tightening in his groin. He’d taken one look at prudish little Shannon Walsh and wanted to walk in, pick her up and cart her to the nearest expanse large enough to hold two writhing bodies.

He’d been instantly attracted to women before, but not to this magnitude. And he was so used to women who hid their honest desires behind cunning and manipulation that he hadn’t been prepared for the naked plea that had screamed at him from the depths of Shannon’s wide blue eyes.

But he also knew her type. She had commitment written all over that pretty little forehead of hers. And if there was one thing Rick now ran from, it was commitment. There was a basic equation he’d learned from his marriage. Commitment equaled living hell.

So, it was just as well she backed off. He was enough of a bastard to take her and walk away, but he wouldn’t have enjoyed himself half so much if he worried about the aftermath, and hurting her. No, he had to stay away from commitment-minded Shannon Walsh.

But he didn’t have to stay away from the Shannon Walsh who wanted to indulge in a fling. In fact, he was going to do everything in his power to bring that side of her out. That was the side he wanted to get naked with.

Damn, she was good-looking. Her eyes could make a man beg to swim in their clear blue depths. And her eyes weren’t even her best feature. That honor, by far, went to her body. Even wearing a no-nonsense black skirt and white blouse, he could tell she was slight and slender, with a tiny waist and gently flaring hips.

Down at the station, Rick was known as a connoisseur of breasts. He could correctly guess any woman’s bra size with just a glance. Shannon Walsh was a deliciously perfect thirty-four B.

She had a delicate frame, he knew, just from glimpsing her collar bone. And covering that frame was about the creamiest, silkiest looking skin he’d ever wanted to touch.

Her blonde hair was fairly short and curly. She probably hated it for being impossibly unruly. Rick loved it for that very reason. Her hair gave her the look of a woman who’d just spent the better part of a wild night in bed.

He liked her lips a lot, too. Not too full, not too thin, they looked soft and rosy and exceedingly kissable. As did the small cleft in her chin. As did her pert nose. As did the golden, finely arched brows above those impossibly blue eyes.

Yes, indeed, Rick wanted Shannon Walsh. Just as soon as he got her to see the merit of having an affair with her neighbor. Her bad boy neighbor.

He nearly grinned. Well, she’d pegged him right off the bat. He was a bad boy, all right. His background hadn’t given him much choice. No matter how much his grandfather had tried to "fix” him after he found him, it hadn’t changed him. As his grandfather had finally conceded with a sigh, he could take the boy off the streets, but he couldn’t take the street out of the boy.

He suddenly became aware that they’d been staring at each other again. He didn’t think he’d ever experienced this instant rush of chemistry with a female before. He could take one look at a woman and decide whether he’d like to sleep with her, but he’d never taken one look and decided he needed to sleep with her.

"Show me where B—Hard On trapped you,” he repeated, because the look on her face told him she’d forgotten the request.

She blinked, her eyes cleared and then narrowed. "Oh... right.”

Rick bit his cheek to keep from grinning. He’d tell her Bert’s real name. Eventually.

Turning, she led him through a pretty little living room into a small, cozy kitchen. Rick’s eyes fastened on her swaying hips. Yeow!

She opened the back door. Rick put his hand on it and stepped back. "After you.”

He followed her out. Unlike his place, she had a solid, knotty pine fence, and a neatly trimmed yard. She had pots of flowers everywhere and she had a small vegetable garden. Rick’s fence was steel, his yard an unruly mess, and the only plant in it was an ancient sugar maple the last owners had left behind.

Bert yelped and turned in dizzying circles at the sight of him. Rick couldn’t help but smile. The unconditional adoration his dog provided never failed to touch his heart in a way no human could. Bert didn’t care if Rick came from the streets, didn’t care if Rick often resembled the dregs of humanity he spent far too much time around.

Shannon unhooked what looked like a clothesline from Bert’s collar, laughing as Bert worked hard to lave her face with his tongue. At the moment, Rick found himself unenviably jealous of his dog.

"You big marshmallow.” She scratched Bert behind the ears, then straightened.

First a creampuff, then a marshmallow. Rick would have liked to take offense on Bert’s behalf. Too bad it was the truth.

Shannon looked at Rick, an impish grin on her face that did something funny to his chest. "You did a real good job of training him,” she said.

Bert romped to Rick, slurped his hand once, then the fickle mutt whirled and headed back to Shannon. Rick supposed he couldn’t blame him. If he had a choice, he’d pick Shannon to lick every single time.

Briefs or boxers? The first words out of her mouth. Of course, she’d immediately looked mortified. What sort of woman was Shannon Walsh? he wondered. On the surface, he’d have pegged her as a woman who’d led a pristine life, and had finally figured out that pristine wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. She was experimenting with her dark side.

Of course, he’d stopped trusting his judgment when it came to women and their motives. After all, hadn’t he thought Mary Anne loved him for who he was?

Rick shook his head. He’d stopped trying to dissect the female psyche long ago. He’d never understand them. But, man-oh-man how he loved to touch them.

"Sit, Har—doggy,” Shannon said, dragging Rick back to the present. Bert dutifully handed her his paw. Rick supposed he should be embarrassed by Bert’s less than stellar performance in the tricks department, but the sound of Shannon’s delighted laughter made the humiliation worthwhile.

She glanced from Bert to Rick, her smile socking him in the gut. "Did you train him this way on purpose?”

Rick was tempted to lie, but her open, guileless expression—whether a facade or not—compelled him toward honesty. "Not exactly.”

She tilted her head. "How did he learn everything wrong?”

Rick descended the steps, feeling some kind of invisible force drawing him inexorably toward her. "He’s a K-9 Corps reject.”

She tilted her head the other way. At an angle for their lips to fit together perfectly if he bent to kiss her. Damn, he really wanted to kiss her.

"You mean, he’s a police dog?” she asked.

"He was supposed to be. He flunked out.”

She looked at Bert. "Roll over!”

Bert obediently dropped into his death pose.

Shannon laughed softly. "He’s adorable.”

"He’s not really dumb,” Rick defended. "His trainer knew he’d never make it as a K-9. So when I asked to have him, the trainer thought it would be real funny to teach him this way. I didn’t want to confuse him, so I never tried to change him.”

Her eyes shone bright blue. She looked at him in a way that one could interpret as admiration, if one wanted to be foolish enough to do so. "That’s cute.”

Cute? Cute! Rick had been called a lot of rotten things in his life. By far, "cute” ranked as the worst. He decided to disabuse her of this cute thing right up front.

He graced her with the grin that had convinced many a woman to part with her panties. Her smile evaporated. Her eyes went wide. She looked like she was torn between running like hell and flinging herself at him.

The uncertainty in her eyes made him back off. He didn’t mind taking advantage of women who made it real clear what they wanted from him. Taking advantage of one who didn’t know what she wanted smacked of emotional rape.

Dragging his gaze from her parted lips, he looked across her back yard to his. Because of her fence and the sloping hill, only the upper level of his house was visible. Well, no wonder she hadn’t recognized Bert. And it was also no wonder that the two of them hadn’t run into each other. He’d been immersed in putting an end to Lucky Louie’s bookmaking ways the last couple of weeks, barely taking the time to come home.

Well, that had all changed this morning. Since he’d be working normal hours again for the next few weeks, he’d have plenty of time to convince Shannon Walsh that he was the answer to her prayers. He looked forward to it.

"Show me where he trapped you,” he said.

"I came out to hang some... clothing on the clothesline,” Shannon said, turning her back on him to point.

Holy sh—

She swung back to face him, and caught him in mid-stare. When he finally managed to raise his gaze, he found her cheeks ripening with color.

"But... King was standing here, snarling at me.” She shuddered. "I don’t know how he got in.”

Rick started across the lawn. "Stay, B—Hard On.”

Bert came bounding after him.

Rick grinned as he heard Shannon cluck her disgust behind him. He skirted the neatly tended garden, searching the ground. Nothing. He unlatched the brass hook, swinging the gate open. There was about a ten foot expanse of grass between Shannon’s back fence and his. It was neatly mowed, and Rick assumed Shannon took care of it, because he knew he certainly didn’t.

Bert bounded through the gate ahead of him and raced directly to a crabapple tree, standing just outside the far right edge of Shannon’s fence.

Rick approached it, his eyes sweeping the ground. In the middle of summer, small crabapples already littered the grass. Hunkering down, he noticed some crushed fruit in different spots around the base of the tree. Someone, recently, had walked by or stood under the tree.

Not much of a clue, considering there were plenty of children in the neighborhood, and this gnarled old tree would make a great climber. Still, he didn’t like that Bert seemed so concerned about Shannon. There had to have been some kind of danger out here somewhere.

He looked around some more, but found nothing else unusual. Returning to Shannon, he found her in her garden, busy picking tomatoes and peppers.

She glanced up when he latched the gate. "Well?”

Rick shrugged. She looked adorable with her hair blowing and bouncing in the breeze. He knew a swift, intense need to turn into a caveman, haul her sexy little butt over his shoulder and lug her into his lair. He focused on the tomatoes, trying to fight the desire crashing through him. "Someone’s been back there recently, but it could have been kids.”

She nipped at her lower lip. "I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about.”

Rick disagreed with that assessment, but he preferred to be the one to worry. "Right. Just remember to keep your doors and windows locked up tight.”

He thought about offering Bert’s services for a few days, but he wasn’t certain she wouldn’t get a false sense of security. Bert had flunked out of the police academy because of his irritating ability to love everyone, including bad guys. Although Bert seemed unusually protective of Shannon, Rick didn’t know if he wouldn’t be equally fond of a prowler.

Shannon started toward the house. "Well, it was kind of you to check out there for me...”

Now go away. She didn’t say it, but the words hung in the air anyway. As he and Bert followed her into the house, Rick considered his next move. And for the first time in his life, he was at a loss.

The summer sun had set, and ribbons of red and orange streaked across the sky. Somewhere in the neighborhood, folks barbecued some mouth-watering meat. Rick’s stomach rumbled.

In the kitchen Shannon dumped her bounty, and briskly headed to the living room and the front door. She put her hand on the knob and turned, a cheerful, fake-as-paste-jewels smile on her face. "Well, thanks again!”

Rick stopped in front of her. "I’m the one who should thank you for taking care of my dog.”

"You’re welcome.”

She looked everywhere but into his eyes, making it impossible for Rick to re-establish the bond they’d felt earlier. For some reason, that irritated him. "I’d like to repay you.”

Her gaze flew up and collided with his. "Oh, that’s not at all necessary.”

"Yeah, I think it is,” he said, his eyes wandering down to her breasts, then back up.

"No, really,” she said, her voice going breathy.

"I insist.”

He cupped her neck and brushed his thumb along her jaw. While she stared up at him with eyes as big as the Atlantic and Pacific, he lowered his lips to hers. He meant to take just a small sip, a small taste. And he tried. He really did. He searched for control and came up empty.

His free hand lifted to trap her head, and he slanted their lips, pressed hers apart and stabbed his tongue into her mouth. She went stiff.

Rick lifted his head. "Kiss me back,” he growled.

"You should go,” she whispered.

"I’m not leaving until you kiss me back.”

She opened her mouth to protest. Rick didn’t give her the chance. He pressed his lips to hers again. After an uncertain moment, she relaxed and gave him her full participation. And when little Shannon Walsh decided to participate, she didn’t do it halfway.

Her hands slid up his ribs to his chest, then around his neck. Her lips brushed his passionately, her tongue explored his mouth. Rick grasped her waist and pulled her against him, and he groaned when her soft breasts pressed against his ribs.

He wanted to devour her, taste every inch of her. He wanted her naked and open beneath him, hot and wet and ready. He wanted her shapely thighs gripping his hips as their bodies ground together in a rhythm as old as time. He wanted her breasts in his mouth, her scent in his nostrils, her moans of ecstasy in his ears.

He kissed her throat and neck, savoring her female skin. His hands explored the contours of her body, learning her shape. He liked what he learned. He liked it a lot.

"Look at me,” he demanded, his voice hoarse.

Her eyes fluttered open, and the passion in them made his knees go weak and other parts go rock-hard.

"It’s inevitable, you know.”

"Wh... what?”

"Us.” His hand skimmed up her waist to the side of her breast. He brushed his thumb across her already peaked nipple. "This.”

She inhaled sharply and visibly jumped. Rick managed to stand still, even though everything inside him jumped as well. God, he wanted this woman. Now.

Her eyes cleared to a sky blue, and he knew the moment she came to the conclusion that kissing him had been a horrible mistake. She pushed at his chest, and he let her go. Very, very reluctantly, he let her go.

She fussed with her blouse. "Well, Mr. Hardison... well, goodbye.”

He tipped up her chin. "You want it as much as I do.”

"No, I—”

"Didn’t your mother teach you not to lie?”

She jerked her chin from his grasp. "What my mother taught me was to stay far, far away from men like you.”

He shot her an indolent grin. "Sage advice.”

"My thoughts exactly.”

"So tell me, Ms. Walsh,” he said, brushing back a blonde curl from her cheek, "if it’s such good advice, and you’re such a smart lady, how come you want me so bad?” He held up a hand to forestall her retort. "You’ve got my number. When you decide you’re ready for that fling, give me a call.” He looked down at Bert. "Stay!”

Then they walked out of the house and down the sidewalk, Rick never looking back. Whistling, he shoved his hands in his coat pockets so she wouldn’t see them clenched in frustrated fists.

"WHAT’S WRONG with you today?” Diane asked Shannon the next afternoon at lunch.

Shannon rearranged the lettuce and tomatoes in her taco salad. She shrugged. "Problem with a neighbor. At least, I think we’re neighbors.”

"What kind of problem?” Diane asked after swallowing a bite of chicken burrito and washing it down with iced tea.

Shannon looked at her friend. When one met Diane Mackenzie, one word came to mind: robust. She did everything with gusto; eat, drink, swear and dress. She had big hair, loud clothes and an unquenchable thirst for men. And men seemed to return the favor in droves. In other words, she was absolutely nothing like Shannon.

But Shannon liked and trusted Diane. Diane was the only person in the world she’d confessed her secret fantasy to. Well, except for Rick Hardison. And just like Rick Hardison, Diane was determined to get Shannon to fulfill it.

"Remember I told you about the dog?”

"Uh-huh,” Diane said, sounding disinterested.

"Well, the guy who owns him came to get him last night.”

Diane perked up. "And?”

"And he wants to... to...”

"Play Scrabble?


"Go to dinner?”

"No. He doesn’t even want to bother with that intro.” "He wants to go straight into doing the nasty?”


"Oh, baby, this is cool!”

"No, it’s not.”

"Why not? Is he ugly?”

"He’s gorgeous.”

"Is he short?”



"Dark, thick hair down to his shoulders.”

"Does he drool?”

"Not that I’ve noticed.”

"Dumb as a brick?”

"Too smart for my own good.”

Diane growled her exasperation. "Then what’s the problem? Run, don’t walk, to the bedroom.”

"He’s all wrong for me.”

Diane’s jaw nearly hit the table. "Tall, dark and handsome is all wrong for you?”

"He’s... " Shannon waved. "... probably got a rap sheet a mile long.”

"What, did he show up in prison fatigues?”

"The next best thing. If I saw him on the street, I’d bet he was a gang leader or something.”

"Oooh, yummy! I love those dark and dangerous types. Go for it.”

"He wears an earring.”

"And this is a problem because... ?”

Shannon’s nose tilted skyward. "I don’t date men who wear earrings.”

"Did he ask you out?”


"Then he’s not asking you to date him, dummy. Go ahead and stick to your Dudley Do-Right plans for the future. Just bed the man.” With that sound advice, Diane re-applied herself to her burrito.

Shannon stabbed at her salad irritably. Problem was, she was thinking about it. In fact, she’d thought of nothing else since Rick Hardison had ambled down her sidewalk last night, so damned cocky and sure of himself, she’d wanted to throw her shoe at the back if his pony-tailed head.

Then she’d spent the next couple of hours desperately trying to forget his phone number. When that hadn’t happened, she’d caved into the inevitable and started rationally considering her options.

She’d mentally listed the pros and cons of having an affair with him. The only pro had been her certainty that he was an animal in bed. And, God help her, she wanted to experience—just once in her boring life—sex at the hands of an animal.

The "con” side of the list could take pages. A loveless affair went against everything her strict Presbyterian upbringing had taught her. Especially a loveless affair with a man who was so obviously wrong for her. The affair wouldn’t, couldn’t, lead to anything permanent.

But then, wasn’t that what she wanted?

On the other hand, what did she know about the man? That he loved animals, especially his dog. He’d been frantic to get Hard On back. The sum total of her knowledge of Rick Hardison. She didn’t know if he had any diseases she should worry about, didn’t know if he had a girlfriend, or, God forbid, a wife. He hadn’t worn a ring, but that didn’t mean a thing. Rick Hardison didn’t strike her as a man who’d wear a symbol of commitment. And he’d been awfully determined to keep her from bringing his dog to his home.

A thought hit her. "What if he uses that dog to meet single women?”

Diane waved her fork. "Tall, dark and handsome types don’t need to use a dog to get women.”

"True. Still, Har—King showed up again this morning.”


"The dog.”

"Is he still at your house, or did you send him home?”

"I don’t know where ‘home’ is. I don’t think he wanted me to know.”

"It’s fate. Call him and when he shows up tear off his clothes.”

Unfortunately, that sounded like a wonderful idea. "No, I’m not going to get involved with a criminal, no matter how good-looking Rick Hardison is.”

Diane’s fork clattered as it missed her Spanish rice and hit the plate. "What did you say?”

"I said—”

"What’s the name of your mystery man?”

Shannon noted Diane’s heightened color with interest. "Rick Hardison.”

"Oh, my God!”

"You know him?”

Diane held her hand flat, several inches above her head. "Six feet-three or so inches of testosterone?”


"Dark eyes that scream, ‘I can make your every dream come true?’”


"Lips that look like they’ve been sculpted with kissing in mind?”


"Shoulders out to here?”


Diane threw back her head and laughed.


Eyes swimming with moisture, Diane finally got her laughter under control. "Go to bed with him.”


"Honey, you’ve just been handed a godsend, and you don’t even know it.”


"Because every female in the greater DC area, young and old, married or not, would give their eye teeth to get within spitting distance of that man’s bed.”

"What are you talking about?”

"Rick Hardison ain’t no criminal.”

"He’s not?”

"He’s not. Although, men that sexy probably ought to be outlawed.”

"He sure looks like a criminal to me.”

"Well, he’s not. Fact is, he’s a cop.”



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