All or Nothing(8)

By: Catherine Mann

Utter crap.

At fifteen, he’d been old enough to know better. He’d understood the difference between right and wrong. But he’d been so caught up in his own selfish need to prove he was better than his crook of a father, he’d failed to take into account the workers and the families hurt in the process.

He might have avoided official prison time, but he still owed a debt. When Salvatore had retired as headmaster of North Carolina Military Prep and taken a job with Interpol, Conrad had been one of his first recruits. He’d worked a case cracking open an international insider trading scam.

The sound of the balcony door opening drew him back to the moment. He didn’t have to turn around. Jayne’s scent already drifted toward him. Her sea-breeze freshness, a natural air, brought the outdoors inside. She’d told him once she’d gotten out of the practice of wearing perfume as a nurse because scents disturbed some patients. And yes, he remembered most everything about her, such as how she usually slept like a log regardless of the time zone.

That she was restless now equaled progress. It was already past 2:00 a.m.

He shut down the file and switched to a computer game, still keeping his back to her.

“Conrad?” Her husky voice stoked his frustration higher, hotter. “What are you doing up so late?”

“Business.” The screen flashed with a burst of gunfire as his avatar fought back an ambush in Alpha Realms IV.

She laughed softly, stepping farther onto the balcony silently other than the swoosh of her silky robe against her legs. “So I see. New toy from your pal Troy Donavan?”

Conrad had the inside track on video games since a fellow felonious high school bud of his now ran a lucrative computer software corporation. “It’s my downtime, and I don’t even have to leave town. Did you need something?”

“I was getting a glass of water, and I saw you’re still awake. You always were a night owl.”

More than once she’d walked up behind him, slid her arms around his neck and offered to help him relax with a massage that always led to more.

“Feel free to have a seat.” He guided his avatar around a corner in dystopian city ruins. “But I can’t promise to be much of a conversationalist.”

“Keep playing your game.”

“Hmm...” Alpha Realms provided a safe distraction from the peripheral view of Jayne sliding onto the lounger. The way the silky robe clung to her shower-damp skin, she could have been naked.

Her legs crossed at the ankles, her fuzzy slippers dangling from her toes. “Why do you keep working when you could clearly retire?”

Because his fast-paced, wealthy lifestyle provided the perfect cover for him to move in the circles necessary to bring down crooks like Zhutov. “You knew I lived at the office when you married me.”

“I was like any woman crazy in love.” She cupped a water glass between her hands. “I deluded myself into believing I could change you.”

He hadn’t expected her to concede anything, much less that. He set aside his tablet, on top of those damn divorce papers. “I remember the first time I saw you.”

The patio sconce highlighted her smile. “You were one of the crankiest, most uncooperative emergency room patients I’d ever met.”

He’d been in Miami following up on a lead for Salvatore. Nothing hairy, just chasing a paper trail. He would have been back in Monte Carlo by morning, except a baggage handler at the airport dropped an overweight case on Conrad’s foot. Unable to bear weight on it even when he’d tried to grit through the pain, he’d ended up in the E.R. rather than on his charter jet. And he’d still protested the entire way.

Although his mood had taken a turn for the better once the head nurse on the night shift stepped into the waiting room to find out why he’d sent everyone else running. “I’m surprised you spoke to me after what an uncooperative bastard I was.”

“I still can’t believe you insisted you just wanted a walking boot, that you had an important meeting you couldn’t miss because of what you called a stubbed toe.”

“Yeah, not my shining moment.”

“Smart move sending flowers to the staff members you pissed off.” She scratched the corner of her mouth with her pinky. “I don’t believe I ever told you, but I thought they were for me when they arrived.”

“I wanted to win you over. Apologizing to your coworkers seemed the wisest course to take.” He’d extended his stay in Miami under the guise of looking into investment property.

They’d eloped three months later, in a simple ocean-side ceremony with a couple of his alumni buddies as witnesses.