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Hot Target

Hot Target by Lisa Renee Jones
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Big-league pitcher Luke Winter needs a new security detail and specialist Katie Lyons is the best in the business. Going undercover as his girlfriend is a no-brainer: she's got to stay close. Unable to resist the hottie hurler, Katie launches into a torrid fling.

When playing at being lovers becomes the real— incredible, irresistible—thing, Katie finds that she's taking her eye off the ball. Posing as his girlfriend and being his true-to-life lover are two very different things—and losing focus could cost them both dearly….

Harlequin; August 2010
224 pages; ISBN 9781426864315
Read online, or download in secure EPUB
Title: Hot Target
Author: Lisa Renee Jones

Leave it to a man to get a woman in trouble.

Katie Lyons gritted her teeth just thinking of the loser husband her sister had once hooked up with and had now dumped.

Just not soon enough.

Kyle Rogers, the low-down, scum-of-the-earth jerk, had hooked her younger sister, Carrie, on gambling to the tune of fifty thousand dollars, which Carrie had proceeded to ask Katie for as flippantly as if it were a cup of sugar.

Though Lyons Security was doing well, it had only opened a year ago when, at thirty, she'd decided it was now or never, and she'd taken the plunge. And financially, it was indeed a plunge. Fifty thousand dollars was like asking for water in a desert.

It wasn't happening.

Only it had to happen or Carrie's health and well-being would be in jeopardy. Because some wrestler-looking dude kept showing up at all hours of the night, threatening to use the baseball bat he carried around with him to influence Carrie's pocketbook.

Katie sighed heavily and shoved a long lock of her straight brunette hair behind her ear as she followed her old friend Ron Mortan through the foyer of Luke Winter's house.

Ron turned to look at her. "You okay?"

Katie forced a smile. "As fine as I can be, considering I let you talk me into this in the first place. You know how I feel about working for athletes."

"You don't know what it's like to work with an athlete. You dated Joey, you didn't work for him." His expression held just a hint of reprimand.

Katie's lips tightened. "I saw how he treated the people who worked for him, and I don't want any part of being a doormat for some overinflated ego."

"Joey Martin was and is a great quarterback, but he's also a crummy person and a lousy friend. I know this and you know this. I took his abuse professionally— you took it personally. But one bad relationship with an athlete should not make you pass up good business opportunities with another. Replacing Joey with Luke as a client was one of my best decisions ever. He's the top pitcher in the game of baseball, yet he's as down-to-earth as they come. Give him a chance, Katie."

"I have no trouble getting clients," Katie clarified for him, and it was the truth. She worked mainly on the road, doing security for the music industry, having once been a dancer for one of the it singers of the decade, until she blew out her knee. But with a cop for a father, she'd been drawn to security, and learned all the ins and outs. One day, she and her father had planned to open Lyons Security and cater to high-end clientele…only her father hadn't lived to see their dream fulfilled. He and her mother had died in a car accident three years before. While Carrie had been a senior in college.

"I'm proud of you and how well your business has done. But how many of those jobs pay what I have offered?"

Katie frowned. "Ron," she said with an apology in her voice. "I owe you for a lot of moral support in the past. I don't want you to think the money is the only reason I'm here."

He smiled, his expression softening. He had always been like a second father to her. It's why she had even told him about Carrie. If it had been anyone else, she would have kept it private.

"I don't think that," he reassured her. "But I do know you need the money, so it helped me get you here. Now, let's proceed with the introductions, shall we?"

"A file and a rundown on his security system would be nice."

"Tomorrow," he said. "It's late. You just got here. The introduction is the most important thing tonight."

Katie nodded and followed Ron into a large, dimly lit room with a full bar against one wall. She caught her first glimpse of Luke as he stood behind the bar.

And damn if her stomach didn't flip-flop. Even her mouth went dry. Her reaction was over-the-top, and not at all expected.

He was sexy as hell and exactly the kind of guy Katie had sworn off years before. With determination, she pushed her instant attraction to him out of her mind. One run-in with a professional athlete was enough to last a lifetime, thank you very much.

Even taller than she had pictured, he was a dominating figure, towering well over the top of the bar. His broad, dark good looks were far more devastating to the female senses, at least hers, in person than they were on television or in magazines.

Ron, a black man who looked more like a linebacker than like Luke's manager, walked toward the bar, smiling at Luke as he did.

He positioned himself on a bar stool and motioned Katie forward. "Come meet Luke."

"Yes," Luke said in a voice that almost seemed to taunt. Then he added, "Come meet Luke."

Okay. That, most definitely, was a taunt.

At least his personality wasn't going to draw her the way his features did. "Don't have to," she mumbled to herself. "Met one arrogant athlete, met 'em all."

"What?" Ron asked.

Katie smiled at Ron, her lips tight, her muscles tense. "Nothing."

"Nothing she wants to repeat," Luke said, drawing her attention. Then he winked at her.

Katie frowned, still standing just inside the doorway, her feet seemingly cemented to the floor. For some reason she was reluctant to move forward, as if she were entering the lion's den. Had the lion himself heard her from clear across the room?

Surely not. Yet…the look on Luke's face said yes. Not that she cared. Let him hear. They needed to establish right up front that she wasn't a rug to be walked on.

When she spoke again, she made sure he heard her. "Smarter than the average athlete. Point for you."

He laughed. "Good. I like being on top."

Her eyes narrowed as she scrutinized him. Was there a double meaning to his words? His eyebrow inched up as if he knew what she was thinking and dared her to say it out loud. Which made her wonder if her mind was that dirty, and she'd taken his words out of context…or was he trying to get her to second-guess herself?

"Luke is a lot of things, but average isn't one of them," Ron said to Katie, drawing her attention as he patted the bar stool. "Come join us."

Katie didn't look at Luke. Didn't have to. She could feel him gloating across the room. His attitude, even from a distance, was a prime example of why she didn't like working with athletes. They were all jerks.

Already she knew Luke Winter had an exceptional knack for pushing her buttons. No, she most definitely did not like working with athletes.

And no way was she going to be attracted to Luke Winter. So her body reacting like this made no sense. No way was she getting involved with another athlete. She would do this job and then be gone. Luke Winter could not get to her. It was impossible. Squaring her shoulders, a look of determination in her eyes, she stepped forward.

She advanced toward the offered seat. "Good," she said to Ron, and despite the fact that she was talking about Luke, she didn't look at him. "Average athletes don't know how to follow directions. I'll need Mr. Winter to do as I say."

Luke laughed. "Oh, now, darlin', I'm sure we can work something out. If you ask me just right, I'll do about anything."

That stopped her in her tracks. Slowly, her gaze moved to his. "Mr. Winter…"

"Luke," he corrected. "Call me Luke. I plan to call you Katie."

Katie kept her expression impassive.

But just barely.

She wasn't about to get sucked into whatever game this man was trying to play. She started forward again, even as she met Luke's piercing gaze. There was something intimate about the way he looked at her, his eyes lingering on her features in a slow, thorough inspection.

His scrutiny was keen and far too probing, as if he were seeing well below the surface. It set her on edge, made her feel off center. Each step forward came slowly and took extra effort.

With irritation, she realized she was holding her breath. She immediately forced herself to exhale, slowly allowing the air to trickle through her lips.

Ron was talking, and she tried to focus on what he was saying. Not quite at the bar, she drew to a halt, still struggling to absorb Luke's words.

"Katie and I go way back," Ron commented. "I trust her as a person, and her company is considered top-notch. She's provided security for some big names. People who tend to draw the type of problem you are having. This won't be her first stalker."

Katie's eyes flickered from Ron back to Luke as she settled her hands on the back of the bar stool. Their eyes locked and held, almost squaring off in silent battle.

"No," she said to Ron, but never took her gaze off Luke. "Is it your first, Mr. Winter?"

Thanks to Ron, Katie already knew Luke didn't take seriously the recent threats he'd been receiving, and that he didn't want her or anyone else's help.

According to Ron, Luke was a very private person. Katie wasn't sure she bought into that idea. Especially since Ron had also said Luke was a nice guy. Clearly he was mistaken on that point, which meant he could be wrong on others. Luke reeked of arrogance and trouble. Not a hint of niceness.

Luke's full attention was on her. She could feel it with every ounce of her being. His lips twitched ever so slightly. "It depends on how you define stalker. I've had my share of obsessive fans."

In an effort not to look into his eyes, her gaze slipped down…to his lips. Another strategic mistake. They were full, the bottom bigger than the top, and alluring. Addic-tive…yes. She could see why a fan or two had become obsessive. He had a vibrant sensuality that demanded a reaction, even by her, despite her resistance.

No way was he a nice guy. He had bad boy, hot nights and great orgasms written all over him. Tempting, spicy, delicious, never nice.

Not that she cared.

She didn't need sex. Two years of going without had proven that. So why was she feeling all this damn awareness in every inch of her body, for a man she didn't even like?

One who didn't even want her here.

She forced her mind to business. "Obsessive enough to send death threats?"

Luke shrugged off the question. "The letters are harmless."

"They're getting more aggressive," Katie told him sternly. "I saw them, and I don't like the way the tone has changed."

Luke's lips thinned. "A letter never killed anyone."

"But I might," Ron muttered. "Luke, get on board. There is more to this than letters. What about the hangup calls on your private line?"

Luke made a frustrated sound. "You're making too much of this, Ron. I don't need extra security, and I don't have a stalker. I have a fan who is a bit over-the-top. That's all."

Katie didn't think Ron was overreacting. How would a fan get his private line? "I think Ron has reason to be concerned."

Luke narrowed his eyes on her. "And you're going to keep me snug and safe?"

His words held a hint of challenge. "From the stalker," she bit out, "but if you keep pushing me, I can't promise I won't hurt you."

His head fell back as he laughed. It was a deep, resonating sound that reached out and warmed her insides in a way that was sexy as hell and impossible to ignore. Damn him.

"That might be fun," he said with a twinkle in his eyes.

Luke stared at Katie Lyons from across the bar, and the corners of his mind flickered with a unique response. What it was, he wasn't quite sure, but damn if it wasn't impossible to ignore. His body felt alive with her presence. His heart was beating at a crazy fast pace, and ridiculously, Luke had to force away the urge to put a fist over it. Despite his resolve to dislike Katie, the distinct thunder of attraction jolted his nerve endings.

Somehow, getting her to hate him now seemed far from appealing. But it was too late to turn back. Besides, the last damn thing he needed was a woman to screw him over with her own private agenda. He had no intention of expanding his emotional stamina, though as she smiled, sexy, all pride and defiance, he thought his physical stamina might be worth testing. Damn, he wanted her, and he cursed the irony of finding no one tempting for months, until this woman—the one he was trying to shake loose. Katie was hands-off. Yeah, right. Tell that to his cock. He was rock hard, his zipper stretched, his balls drawn up tight in discomfort.

"Drink?" Luke asked, watching her climb up on a bar stool as he tried to decide what his next action should be. What was it about this woman that did funny things to his insides?

Turned him on.

Beyond that even…

Interested him. No, that still wasn't a strong enough word. Intrigued him was more like it. When was the last time a woman had gotten his attention the way this one did? He couldn't remember. At some point they had all become users to him. The thought was so cynical, and so out of character, he made a mental note to revisit exactly what was going on in his head.

Katie's voice, a sultry sound that wrapped around him like an enticing breeze on a hot day, drew him back into the present. "No, thank you," she said with obviously forced politeness, which did nothing to douse the sexiness of her tone or the way it rippled along his nerve endings.

Despite the businesslike mask she wore, he could see a softer, and even hotter, Katie beneath. Her eyes were a warm green, like grass, with little specks of yellow. Her brown hair hung down her shoulders in soft waves, and he could just imagine burying his hands in it while he kissed her.

He could tell from the way she shifted slightly that she knew how intense his scrutiny was. She continued, "I'd like to get straight to the point. You have real trouble here."

Luke leaned an elbow on the bar. "Ron is the one who thinks I have trouble. I don't. As I have already stated, we are simply dealing with a fan who is a bit more aggressive than others."

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