PLAYING LOVE'S ODDS
Meteor Kismet
ISBN 1565970829
August 1993

Follow The Mark

It was not the sort of investigation Logan Burke usually handled. Nowadays he was hired by your average Joe - not sleek, polished corporate players in plush Houston office suites. But it was a straightforward case of industrial espionage with one advantage - a hefty check from ViOPet Chemical Company. All Logan had to do was watch Hannah Evans, a ViOPet employee, and figure out how she was leaking valuable research secrets.

In the six weeks that he spent watching her, Logan began to feel a special bond with Hannah. For the first time in years, he actually considered dumping the case and pursuing the mark. It was not enough to view Hannah across a crowded restaurant or through the lens of a camera. He wanted to breathe her scent. He wanted to hear her voice. He wanted to find the innocence he'd given up on finding in his life again.

Hannah knew someone was following her. She didn't know who he was or why he was there, but his presence was unnerving. It was time to take action, time to let a professional call the shots. She would pay a visit to a private investigator who had come highly recommended - a Mr. Logan Burke.

 

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BOOKLIST

Bliss and the Art of Forever - The Sweetness of Honey - Beneath the Patchwork Moon - Boots Under Her Bed - A Blue Christmas/Jingle Bell Rock(Digital Edition) - Unforgettable - The Second Chance Café - Unbreakable - Undeniable - Holiday Kisses/This Time Next Year - Twenty-One Hours/SEAL of My Dreams - At His Mercy - Playing Love's Odds (Digital Edition) - Love Me Tender (Digital Edition) - Love In Bloom - (Digital Edition) - The Icing On The Cake - With Extreme Pleasure - One Good Man - No Limits - A Long, Hard Ride - Maximum Exposure - Kiss & Tell - Deep Trouble - In Danger - At Risk - Tex Appeal - The Perfect Stranger - Beyond A Shadow - Infatuation - The Complete Idiot's Guide To Writing Erotic Romance - Deep Breath - Goes Down Easy - Red Letter Nights - Totally Charmed - Kiss & Makeup - Undressed - Larger Than Life - Sara Smiles/Beach Blanket Bad Boys - The McKenzie Artifact - The Beach Alibi - The Samms Agenda - The Shaughnessey Accord - The Bane Affair - Mother, Please! - Indiscreet - Wicked Games - A Blue Christmas/Jingle Bell Rock - Striptease - The Sweetest Taboo - Bound To Happen - No Strings Attached - Roped Into Romance - All Tied Up - Love In Bloom - Four Men & A Lady - Love Me Tender - The Badge And The Baby - The Grinch Makes Good - The Heartbreak Kid - Call Me - Playing Love's Odds

The dream woke Logan again. The vivid splashes of color, blood red and orange blaze. The intense decibel of sound, roaring flames and exploding metal. The acrid smell of burning rubber. The taste of thick black smoke and gasoline.

And the screams.

He lay in his bed for long quiet minutes, his eyes searching the darkness for the comforts of home, the whup-whup-whup of the ceiling fan a hypnotizing lull above him. Deep breaths settled his pounding heart while he made an attempt to relax. As usual, he failed. The demon was there every time he closed his eyes, waiting in the dark, scheming to steal his mind.

Throwing the sheet to the foot of the bed, he crouched on the edge. The fan cooled the sweat running down his naked back, and he clenched and unclenched the fists resting on his knees. Finally, he stood, stretched, and threaded his fingers through his hair, lifting the drenched locks from the back of his neck.

If he had a nickel for every hour of lost sleep, maybe he could buy his way free of the nightmare. Hell, maybe he could make yet another pact with the devil and buy eight hours of undisturbed rest. Right now, that sounded as good as anything.

He padded barefoot to the kitchen, jerked open the refrigerator door, and gulped down a swig of orange juice straight from the carton. Anything to wash away the taste of the smoke, a taste that lingered, planted by the demon in his mind as a reminder of his failures. A taste his logical side knew he only imagined, the same way he conjured the smells, the sounds, and the colors of disaster.

With a vengeance born of frustration, Logan tossed the empty carton into the sink and slammed the refrigerator door. A glance at the clock on the stove revealed he'd slept two hours. Two hours of peace in a nighttime of horrors. He crossed the living room and walked onto the-deck, leaning his elbows on the railing that framed his' small square of escape. The wind whipped through his hair, cooled his heated body, calmed his fevered mind.

As always the ocean summoned, calling to him with a promise of peace. For Logan, peace was a fallacy and would be as long as the demon lived. Until then, until he faced the monster in his mind, he'd settle for a level of fatigue that would allow him to sleep. And he needed to face it soon. That was obvious. It was beginning to interfere in his work.

How else could he explain his carelessness? How else could he have followed Hannah for a month and never realized someone else was doing the same? How could he forgive himself for another failure? How could he explain the truth to Hannah? Or to himself?

And how could he be so stupid as to bring her into his home?

He bounded down the stairs, jogged across the sand and into the tepid salt water. He needed a swim. The steady rhythm taxed his muscles; the repetitive strokes tired his mind. Maybe he'd swim south to Cozumel. Or maybe head east to Florida. Maybe he'd go down and see what Davy Jones kept hidden in his locker.

Logan laughed to himself and slid through the water, his arms slicing through the wall of salt and foam to drag his body along. His hair slapped side to side and, with each breath his despair subsided, replaced with the exhilaration of being alive. He'd never taken the coward's way out. He loved being alive.

He loved the muscle rubbing across his ribcage with each reaching stroke. He loved the burning in his calves, thighs, and buttocks each time he kicked. He loved the water sluicing over his naked skin, the way he overpowered nature with his human strength, fighting the tug of the waves and the siren call of the open sea.

Someday he'd turn that strength on himself and battle the inward man. Someday soon. But for now, he only wanted to sleep.

Dripping and sated, he trudged across the sandy beach he knew well enough to cross blind. The moon lit the night sky, shining down on sand the color of bleached bone. He turned back to the gulf and stared at the reflected light sparkling in ripples across the black of the sea. Waves pulsed, following one another to shore, every seventh one washing over his feet.

At last his heartbeat slowed. His blood no longer pounded in exertion. Or in terror. He turned to plod back up the beach.

Hannah stood in the comer of the deck, the pale light giving her hair a burnished sheen. His steps faltered. He stopped, concealing himself in the shadow of the deck, and, like a dog shedding his bath, shook his head, drops of water showering down on the sand at his feet.

"Did I wake you?" he asked, his voice quiet, respecting the still of the night.

"I thought I heard a door slam."

"Must've been the refrigerator."

"Oh," she replied, as if he'd answered some earth-shattering question. He covertly watched her slide to the deck, pulling her nightshirt over her knees. Just as he had when she wore that slinky jacket, he found himself wondering what she had on beneath.

"Couldn't you sleep?" she asked, breaking the thick silence.

Logan kicked at the sand. It filtered between his toes and the exotic feel of Hannah's skin through the sheer weave of her hose returned to haunt him. "I don't sleep much."

"Insomnia?"

He shook his head though he knew she couldn't see, wondering if he could trust her with his secret, or if it would be best to keep his mouth shut. "Nightmares," he finally answered and held his breath.

She scooted to the edge of the deck, dangled her legs over the side and peered down. "Bad ones?" she asked, and he resisted the urge to reach up and touch her.

Her question echoed with such concern he felt compelled to take a small step on the long road to trust. Hoping the darkness hid the effect she had on his naked body, he answered, "Bad enough."

"Do you want to talk about it?"

"What's to say? I wake up, head pounding, drenched in sweat and come down here to swim it off." Don't ask any more, he silently begged, honestly afraid of the truth. And of himself.

"Did it help? The swim, I mean," she explained.

"I think I'm tired enough to sleep." But not tired enough to get you out of my mind. He glanced up and Hannah's legs vanished over the edge. Her bare feet trod across the planks.

"Not tired enough to forget?" she asked from the far side of the deck.

"I never forget." He paced a trench in the sand, scooping the granules to the side with his toes. Back and forth he walked, wanting to talk, forming the words, afraid to speak but more afraid not to. "The dreams. They're so real. Every color and smell exact. The reality was bad enough. The dreams ..." he let the thought go unfinished, unable to voice the horror.

Her touch on his shoulder sent an erotic burn licking over his skin. The fire seared him, an inferno melting away the hard core of bis soul. Clenching his fists, he turned on a wave of nervous unease, drawing a blank mask across his face while wanting more than anything to draw her into his arms.

"I thought you might be cold," she said, offering him a towel and a candid smile.

He swiped the towel across his chest and arms then secured it around his naked hips, his eyes never once leaving her. No censure or ridicule marred her expression. The care and concern etched on her face wanned him deep inside.

Placing his hands on her shoulders he backed her away from the shadow of the deck. Cupping her chin, he tilted her head to the left, then to the right, and stepped back to gaze down. "It doesn't work."

"What?" she asked in a breathless whisper.

"Your eyes. They change, you know. I wanted to see what color they were now. The moon's not bright enough."

"It is for some things," she replied.

"Like what?" he answered in a voice suddenly husky, seeing all too well the outline of rounded breasts and the shadow of pebbled nipples in the soft ethereal light.

In a moment out of time, she reached up and stroked a thumb across the comer of his eye. "Like seeing that your worry and exhaustion go far beyond what a good night's sleep will cure."

Logan grasped her hand in his, squeezing his fingers around hers. Turning his face into her palm, he placed a kiss in the center. She caught her lower lip with her teeth and returned his steady gaze. He thought he'd die if he didn't pull her to him. But it was still too soon.

His hand holding hers, he splayed her fingers against his chest, his pulse thundering into her hand and into his loins. "I doubt if a year's worth of sleep would cure me," he said as much to himself as to her, suddenly confused as to why he'd offered her that glimpse into his soul.

She pulled at her hand. Before he released her he added a suggestive wink and a not-so-subtle grin, trying to relieve the intensity of the moment. "But a couple of scrambled eggs would be a good place to start."

"You mean cook?" she asked, aghast.

"The way to a man's heart is through his stomach." Hannah gave him a lopsided grin. "Where do you come up with these cornball lines?"

"I'll tell you about it over breakfast."