Authors: Tarah Scott,Evan Trevane
Texas Rangers: Special Ops
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
Cover art by Rebecca Poole dreamss2media
Photos: Hot Damn Designs
Broken Arm Publishing
Many, many thanks to Rebecca Poole for a spectacular cover. You’re the best.
Words aren’t sufficient to thank Kimberly Comeau. Your help is priceless.
Nina Bruno Designs caters to the modern woman. The mature woman who knows that life begins after forty.
Liz mentally repeated the litany as she blinked at the strobe of photoflashes illuminating the night outside the limousine. The car slowed behind a line of other limos entering a circular drive and Francis Remmey’s estate came into full view. Spotlights crisscrossed the Edwardian columns and stone façade of the mansion.
Only a few hours ago, she had been giddy at the prospect of getting caught on camera by the reporters that now crowded each approaching vehicle and lined both sides of the walkway leading to the hacienda’s steps. It seemed the entire state of Texas had converged on El Paso for the fashion event of the year, the fifth annual
G International Gala
hosted by Larissa Remmey, owner of
Now, however, getting noticed was a double-edged sword.
Liz shifted her attention to the two co-workers sitting across from her. Richard Anderson, VP of Marketing of Nina Bruno Designs, and Brenda Pierce, Head Designer.
“This is a bad idea,” Liz said.
“You and your dress are going to be a hit,” Richard said. “Stop worrying.”
The knot in her stomach cinched tighter. “What in God’s name were we thinking? We have an arsenal of models, any of whom would pant at the opportunity to debut the first design in our winter collection. Just because Lisa wasn’t able to accept our offer to replace Tanya didn’t mean we couldn’t find someone else. Why didn’t we try?”
“Name someone else who lives in El Paso,” Richard said. “Even better, name someone old enough who would fit into that dress. You’re the one who’s been selling the idea that older women don’t want to see teenagers modeling the clothes they buy.”
Liz tugged the bustier top higher. She had to remember to make the darts deeper for women her size. “My
aren’t enough to warrant me modeling this dress.”
“Yes they are,” he replied. “But the point is moot. We had no choice.”
Liz tamped down on the panic that began three hours ago upon watching the news report that their New York buyer Genevra had declared bankruptcy. That meant the three hundred thousand dollar payment they were expecting in sixty days wasn’t coming. An hour after they’d learned about Genevra, they got a call from a local reporter that the model they’d hired to debut their winter-line dress had just been seen getting into a limo outside her downtown El Paso hotel wearing a layered chiffon flamenco-style dress that screamed Jorge Estonia—their direct competition in Dallas.
In a span of three hours, Nina Bruno Designs—the company she had poured her life savings into—had gone from the verge of financial independence to teetering on financial ruin. The worst part was that the employees and investors now expected her to pull off what Tanya could have accomplished in her sleep.
When Brenda had approached Liz with the design early that spring, she’d fallen in love with the strapless, bustier-style leather bodice and chic gathered skirt design. But the thought never entered her mind that she might be forced to wear the twenty-seven inch dress in an effort to keep the company from going under.
Another Xenon-flash flared, jarring her from her thoughts.
Brenda leaned forward and straightened the strap on Liz’s three-inch heel sandal. “You look as good as Tanya in that dress.”
Liz pursed her lips. “We promoted Tanya as the model for this dress. People are expecting her, not a replacement ten years older, and certainly not a company executive.”
“You’re only seven years older,” Richard said. “But you don’t look a day over her thirty-seven.”
Liz shot him a dry look. “If that’s meant to boost my ego, it doesn’t.”
Richard returned the look. “Get your priorities straight, Liz. You want our first invitation to Larissa’s gala to be our last? Without this event, our winter collection ends up in bargain stores and we don’t get invited to another major fashion show this year.”
Liz knew he really meant, ‘We won’t be in a position to go to another major fashion show this year—maybe no other fashion show ever.’ The company no longer had the luxury of growing slowly. This was Nina Bruno Designs’ only chance to stay in business.
“Damn that bitch,” he muttered.
“Richard,” Liz admonished.
He shook his head. “Don’t start with me. You hired Tanya.”
“She’s the best model in her age bracket,” Liz said. “And, as you pointed out, one of the few who would fit into this dress.”
His eyes lowered to her chest. “Not anymore.”
* * *
From the corner of his eye, Ben saw another limo stop in front of the estate and turned his head in time to see the rear door open and Richard Anderson emerge from the vehicle. Anderson turned and extended a hand into the car’s open doorway. A slim arm reached toward him and cameras flashed in quick succession as a long, shapely leg stretched toward the paving stones. Elizabeth Monahan’s face came into view, illuminated by camera lights.
Ben lifted an eyebrow in appreciation as she rose to her full five foot nine—no, he dropped his attention to her three-inch heels—her six-foot
. He raised his gaze up those long legs, then the pleated skirt that brushed toned thighs, and blew out a silent whistle.
. Her breasts nearly spilled over the bodice of the leather top—the dress that was kicking off the winter collection for Nina Bruno. His appreciative mood vanished. What was the Creative Director of Nina Bruno Designs doing wearing the dress Tanya Xavier—his date—was supposed to be modeling?
NB Designs had hired him as Tanya’s escort. He was the arm candy that said,
Buy this dress and land a man like me
Something had gone wrong for Elizabeth Monahan to be wearing the main attraction. Was he to escort her or did the change of plans include another escort? Maybe she decided that Tanya would wear another dress. He didn’t like surprises. She should have called. But why would she? He was just the hired help.
Richard Anderson slipped Ms. Monahan’s hand into the crook of his arm and led her toward the steps. Toward Ben. She glanced left, and the press snapped photos and thrust microphones toward her. Then she spotted him. Her brow furrowed. Understanding hardened her expression and Ben read in her eyes a mirror image of his thoughts:
What the hell are you doing here?
He’d bet a thousand bucks someone forgot to call him to cancel. Damn good thing, too, because he’d have come no matter what.
They reached him.
“This isn’t going to work,” Elizabeth hissed under her breath.
She had that right. Was that a hint of nipple peeking over the bodice of her dress? The damn thing was scandalous, even for these over-the-top designers.
“You knew Adam was going to be here, Liz,” Richard said in a low voice. “You hired him.”
Adam Billings. His alias.
She flashed a dazzling smile that caught Ben off guard before he caught sight of a reporter pointing a camera at them. The camera flashed and her smile didn’t falter when she said under her breath to Anderson, “You know good-and-well I forgot he was going to be here, and you conveniently forgot to remind me.”
She darted a glance over her shoulder, clearly worried her whispered words might have been overheard by a reporter who had edged closer. Not much chance of that happening amid the babble of other reporters.
She really couldn't ask him to leave, but he had to play the part of a pliant employee. Ben angled his head away from the reporters in case any of the vultures could read lips. “I can leave, if you prefer, ma’am.”
“Liz, half of Texas is watching us,” Anderson said. “Make a scene now, and it’ll be all over the state before the evening is over. We need him.”
Something Ben couldn’t quite define flickered in her gaze, then she shot Anderson a look to kill. “I sleep with the CEO, Richard. You’re fired.”
Ben bit back a laugh.
Anderson nodded. “Sure thing, Liz. As soon as the party’s over, I’ll pack up my desk.” He transferred her hand to Ben’s arm. “She’s all yours. Good luck.”
The determination to get to know her better had formed two days ago, during a photo shoot with him and Tanya after the Thompson Agency sent him in to replace the model originally hired to escort Tanya.
Ben glanced at her legs, then reminded himself not to combine business with pleasure. So what if he hadn't expected to see her tonight dressed in an outfit that heated his blood? He had to get inside the Remmey’s mansion. Business now. Pleasure later.
Liz gripped his arm and he had the feeling she was considering a quick getaway. Ben covered her hand with his—if nothing else to keep her from bolting. Liz Monahan was his ticket through the door.
He led her up the stairs and a man dressed like a British soldier opened the door at their approach. They entered the foyer and the door closed behind them, cutting off the voices. Ben squinted against a glow of chandelier light bouncing off the white marble floor. A sweeping staircase to their right led to a gallery that encircled the foyer. Directly ahead, three arched doorways opened to the rear of the estate. An escape route if anything went wrong. But Liz Monahan as his date might ensure nothing went wrong. Slipping away from her would be easier than ditching Tanya. If Liz was all business as she had been during their shoot two days ago, she wouldn’t miss him.
He steered her left, toward the music wafting through an arched doorway. They reached the room and he turned Liz right in the direction of a dancefloor near a twelve-piece orchestra.
Ben waited until they’d passed a man and woman talking in low tones before whispering to her, “Is that true?”
She looked up. “What?”
He leaned closer. “Do you really sleep with the CEO?”
Frustration flickered across her features. “No, but I’d give him a go if he really would fire Richard.”
Ben laughed. He just bet she would. “He’s right, you know. You are the one who hired me.”
Her eyes narrowed. “
fire—and don’t think your good looks will stop me.”
So she had noticed. During the photo shoot she’d appraised him like a prize horse.
Ben shrugged. “I’m an independent contractor, if you recall. I don’t have to work for Nina Bruno Designs again.”
“Nina Bruno Designs is the best designer this side of the Mississippi. You’d be a fool not to want to work for us again.”
She actually sounded offended.
“Maybe that means I should sleep with
,” he said.
She shot him one of the looks she’d given Anderson. “I don’t rob the cradle.”
“Then I guess we have a deal.”
She opened her mouth for a retort but, instead, smiled at a large group they skirted a large group
“Not that I’m disappointed,” he said, “but where is Tanya, by the way?”
She slowed and her smile wavered. “Over there.”
He looked across the sea of bodies in the direction she stared. Tanya stood surrounded by a group of men. The man on her left shifted so that his face came into view and Ben’s heart jumped to a hard hammer.
The human traffics dealer wasn’t supposed to be in Texas.