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A Perfect Storm(5)

By:Lori Foster

"You know men find you attractive."

"I know they see … me." Her throat tightened, especially with the  speculative way Spencer watched her. She flagged a hand and tried to  sound negligent. "They look at me and they know things. That's all."

"What things?"

"Who I am, what I've done."

"No." His gaze darkened, softened. "They look at you and see an extremely exotic, beautiful woman. That's all."

If he wanted to believe that, fine. She knew the truth: her ugly past clung to her like a wet shirt.

He dropped into the seat. "Let's get back to the bet, okay?"

She'd rather not. "What did you tell her about me?" It still rankled,  seeing the way that woman had looked at her, all long-faced and  sad-sacked.

Spencer sighed. "Does it really matter?"

"To me, yeah." She nudged her chin at him. "C'mon. Fess up. What'd you say?"

He worked his jaw. "I told her you were a one-night stand who didn't understand the concept."

Un-freaking-believable. "She bought that?"

"That you and I would have sex?" With a sardonic glare, he said, "Yeah, she bought it."

"No, I mean that I would track you down here and act all stalkerish and clingy and shit?"                       


His expression didn't change. "She bought it."

"Huh. That makes me sound really … dysfunctional. And maybe dangerous."  She thought about it and grinned. "Not bad. I can live with that."

He rolled his eyes. "The bet?"

It wouldn't hurt to clean up her language. She'd always meant to anyway,  but when she got annoyed, stuff just came out of her mouth. "I dunno.  What do I get when I win?"

"What do you want?"

Perfect opening. Refusing to admit, even to herself, how much his answer  mattered, she said, "Your help with checking out the bar and grill and,  if necessary, righting things there."

His gaze searched hers for only a moment before he nodded agreement.

No way. That was too easy. "Seriously?"

He sat back in the seat and crossed his arms. "I'd have done that anyway. So yeah, why not?"

"You … " She closed her mouth and frowned. He'd planned to assist her all along? "You'll help me? For real?"

"I can't control you, so I know you're going to do it either way."  Gently, he tacked on, "Did you really think I'd let you get involved on  your own?"

Did he really think he'd have any say-so in that? Not likely.

Two emotions pulled at her: resentment that he wanted to control her,  because no way in hell would she ever let that happen again, and a  twinge of … maybe relief.

Because he seemed to care what happened to her.

Dumb, dumb, dumb. She worked best unhindered by emotion. It was tough  enough worrying about Jackson, but she owed him big-time, so of course  she wanted him safe. The last thing she needed was to start fretting  about Spencer, too.

And thinking of Jackson …

While she had Spencer in an agreeable mood, why not press for more?  Taking the seat opposite him at the table, she thought it through, then  ventured cautiously, "Okay. Since that was already a given, maybe … " she  drew a deep breath " … you could be my escort to Jackson's wedding?"

"Done." He thrust out his hand.

Whoa. His fast agreement left her feeling played. But damn it, she  didn't want to go to a wedding. Since she had to go, she didn't want to  go by herself.

He waited.

"If I can't swear," she warned, "you can't, either."

"No problem." He kept his hand extended, his expression expectant.

Uncertainty left her on edge. Oh, she trusted that she could win the  stupid bet and all payments would be a moot point, but still …  "What kind  of kiss are we talking about?"

Suddenly his annoyance melted away. A small smile curled the corners of his mouth. "Nothing to distress you, I promise."

Yeah, well, the way he said that-with so much satisfaction-sort of  distressed her more than anything. But Arizona shored up her pride and  gripped his hand. "Get your suit ready, Spence, because I know I'll win  the bet."

He let her slide on shortening his name-which was something she knew  annoyed him. "If you say so." He retained his hold on her hand. "I would  have gone with you to the wedding anyway, so it's no skin off my nose."

Touching him did funny things to her stomach, made her feel unsettled  and jumpy and too warm. Pulling her hand free, she pushed from her seat  and glared down at him. "If you would have already done both those  things, then I'm not really getting anything in the bet!"

"But you already agreed." He smiled. "You even shook on it. And somehow, I just know you're true to your word."

Like he really knew jackola about her or her morals? Fat chance. She  headed for the coffee carafe and a new mug. "Fine. Whatever. Now, about  that bar … "

"Understand, Arizona. Even if you lose the bet-"

"I won't." She couldn't. Kisses? No, she couldn't, wouldn't let that happen.

"I'm still going with you to the wedding-"

"We'll see." But she was so relieved to hear it. Going with Spencer would make the formal affair a little more bearable.

"-and I'm still going to help you with the bar."

"Great. Glad to hear it."

"But I want you to listen to me, and listen good."

Here we go. She poured a fresh cup of coffee and came back to the table. "Let's hear it."

"Since you want my help, I have a few rules."


"Give me the name and address and I'll scope it out." He looked stern,  even foreboding. "In the meantime, you will not do anything on your own.  Don't go there, don't even go near there. I don't want them to know who  you are."                       


Arizona laughed. "Sorry, Spence-my-buddy, but it's too late for that.  I've been there twice already, and they've more than taken notice of me,  so … " She shrugged. "I'm balls-deep in this thing, and we gotta go in  tomorrow night, because they're expecting me. Be there or be square."

* * *

THE SECOND SPENCER STEPPED into the family-owned diner, he saw Trace  sitting toward the back, drinking a Coke and eating a burger. Innocuous  enough, or at least it should have been.

But no way in hell would anyone not notice Trace Miller. More than any  other man he knew, this one exuded extreme capability. He was part of a  trio that Spencer had met after tailing Arizona right into the middle of  a setup. She'd been in danger, or so he'd thought. There was no way he  could have known she had an elite ops group looking out for her. The  trio had incredible contacts, far reaching influence and the ability to  back up the badass swagger.

Not that any of them swaggered, really. Well, maybe Jackson, but that  had more to do with Jackson as a man than with his expertise at  utilizing deadly skill. If Spencer had to guess, he'd say Jackson was  born cocky.

This one, Trace Miller-most likely an alias-was a cool cucumber. GQ  looks didn't conceal his edge. As a bounty hunter, Spencer had learned  to size up people quickly in order to gauge the danger in any situation.  He'd pegged Trace as a take-charge, protect-the-innocent but  get-it-done personality. Suave, wealthy, efficient … and deadly when  necessary.

The trio seemed to trust him-to a degree. He had no illusions about  their cautious natures. They'd already dug through his background,  unearthed things he'd rather keep private, and probably knew him as well  as he knew himself. Not that they said much about it. So far, there'd  been no reason.

Spencer didn't take the association lightly, and beyond that, he hated  to ask for favors. He especially hated to admit he might not be able to  handle things on his own. If Arizona wasn't at risk, he'd do things his  way and accept the consequences.

He wasn't without his own ability.

But she was involved. Hell, she was in it up to her pretty little nose,  and that changed everything. He knew the trio cared about her, that  they'd made her a priority. Having backup, just in case things went  sideways, only made sense. He wanted her safe, damn it.

Feeling a little traitorous, Spencer crossed the restaurant floor. He'd only promised not to tell Jackson, he reminded himself.

He hadn't said a thing about Trace.

When he reached the table, Trace set aside his napkin and glanced up.  "There a reason you stood there studying me before coming in?"

Since he hadn't been going for stealth, Spencer didn't mind the direct  question. He shook his head and slid into the booth. "Not really. Just  wondering about something. I know Jackson renamed Arizona. And I know  that Alani's last name is different from yours, even though you're  siblings. So was she renamed, too?"