Authors: Lynne Connolly
Tags: #Vampire Paranormal
RUBIES OF FIRE
Department 57: Rubies of Fire
Copyright © March 2012 by Lynne Connolly
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Editor: G. G. Royale
Cover Artist: April Martinez
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“He looks good at a distance, doesn’t he?”
Roz turned away from Nancy to see what had sparked the light in her friend’s bright eyes. When she did, Roz knew her own eyes held sparks too.
She was right; he was very easy on the eyes. Tall, with an athletic build and short, crisply cut, near black hair, Andreas Constant was a walking fantasy. He headed for them without seeing them. Until he saw Roz.
The width of the street lay between them, but he didn’t look away when he stepped off the curb to cross the road. Roz didn’t know whether to admire his carelessness or despise him for stupidly risking the wrath of the New York traffic, but he got to their side of the road without incident and continued to walk toward them.
He swept his dark, intense gaze over her, then returned for a second look. Roz lifted her chin and stared straight back. Good looks didn’t excuse poor manners, as her mother had often said. If he’d been an average Joe, she wouldn’t have liked it, so she shouldn’t like it now. Except that she did, and that made her mad with herself for responding so easily to the man. Office Lotharios shouldn’t be so good-looking.
All he did was smile at her, one corner of his sinful mouth turning up and his gaze softening. Damn. Roz would have bet a week’s salary he had Irish blood in him. Nobody could do that sexy look of mischief quite like an Irishman.
She didn’t smile back. “He might be gorgeous, but there’s not a sincere bone in his body. That man is out for what he can get. Nothing else.”
“So what’s wrong with that? He’s fantastic to look at, and I bet he could show a girl a good time.”
“It’s all right for you. You’re safely engaged.”
Nancy chuckled, a wicked edge to her low laughter. “I wouldn’t say safely, and I wasn’t looking for it. It just happened. Play the field, girl. Dance with every man on the floor before you decide who your partner’s going to be for the rest of the evening.”
“Some mixed metaphor.”
“I never said I majored in English. So play the field
dance the night away.” Nancy nudged her when she tried to move away.
“Not with him. He moves on to another partner too fast.”
“None of the girls he dated have complained. He took them out, treated them well, and never promised them anything he didn’t deliver. My idea of a good man.”
Roz didn’t want anything to do with Andreas Constant. The fact that he was just her physical type made her even more determined to resist him, together with the unalterable fact that she was next on his list. He’d come on to her this week, so she knew he was interested, but too bad for him. “He’s dated every other woman in the office, even some of the married ones.”
“Probably because you’re the best, so he saved you for last. Lucky you,” Nancy murmured softly. “He wants you, sugar. Now get out there and dance! We’re going to work together, so what’s the harm in getting to know him better?”
Roz couldn’t help but laugh. Nancy could always defuse a situation, and what might have been tense turned into something that didn’t matter so much. She wouldn’t usually date a work colleague, but working alongside the sexy Andreas Constant hadn’t helped her resolve. And now they would be working more closely together.
He reached them and paused. “Hi, ladies. It’s a fine day, so I decided to walk.” He opened the glass door and went inside, striding toward the elevators at the rear.
Nancy patted her shoulder. “Go to it, kid. See you later.”
“Aren’t you coming up?”
Nancy gave her a knowing smile. “I need to make a call before work. I’ll see you inside.”
“Damn convenient call.”
Nancy’s only response was a wider smile. “With any luck, you’ll get him to yourself in the elevator all the way up to the eighteenth floor.” She leaned closer. Nancy shrugged and turned away, but swiveled abruptly back to Roz, the skirt of her flirty dress flying up briefly before settling around her knees. “Oh, I forgot to tell you. Mom’s changed her mind about the number of attendants she wants me to have.”
Roz grinned. “How many now?”
“She’s trying to double the original six to twelve.” Nancy grimaced. “I still think Vegas would be better.”
Roz’s grin turned into a chuckle. “If you do that, you’re taking me with you. No way am I facing your mom on my own.”
“Okay, I’ll warn you if we do.” Nancy’s face broke into a broad smile. “Probably from my cell phone after we’re safely on the plane.”
Still chuckling, Roz turned in to the door of her office building, a nondescript, not too tall, not too small building in the midst of architectural gems. New York was like that. A space never stayed empty for long; it was far too valuable. Crammed in between an art deco skyscraper and a modern glass and steel monster, her office building was like the Second Attendant in a Shakespeare play—you’d only notice it if it wasn’t there anymore.
The lobby was just as nondescript. Indifferently cleaned, tiled in fake marble, it might have been noticeable in a smaller town, but it seemed to know it didn’t stand a chance in this city of architectural marvels. Roz liked it. It was like her, trying to get by without drawing too much attention to itself.
Unlike Andreas, who stood by the elevators, waiting for the car to arrive. She was surprised one hadn’t arrived by now, but perhaps he’d let a couple go without him. She felt targeted, and not without reason. His smile of greeting barely creased his lips, but the warm look in his eyes intensified. “You busy today?”
“Kinda.” Closer to him, Roz felt a prickle of awareness. She wished she’d stayed with Nancy, but she hated the idea of lurking around just because he was there, waiting to step into the elevator on his own. She had as much right to use the elevator as he did.
She shifted her briefcase to her other hand, the one closest to him. Keeping a distance.
heralded the elevator’s arrival, and she watched the steel doors slide open. With a sideways glance at Constant, she walked forward, and he followed. Nobody else did. That came of getting to work half an hour early. She’d hoped to catch up on some paperwork she’d been too tired to finish last night and to avoid the rush when the other employees arrived.
She wouldn’t make that mistake again. She’d wait for the rush or make sure she got in the elevator on her own.
The elevator wasn’t large, but there was room for them to stand with half an arm’s length between them. Not that Constant even tried. He reached across her on the pretext of pressing the button. Instead of leaning back, he looked down and smiled. It warmed his eyes. “We have to stop meeting like this,” he suggested, his light, musical voice tinged with amusement.
Roz didn’t smile back. “We do indeed.” Unlike him, she meant it.
He smelled too good, something citrusy and himself, a spicy, masculine odor she found herself drawn to. His crisp white shirt revealed a slight shadow underneath. Chest hair and the suggestion of a nipple. Hell, wasn’t she supposed to tempt him with her nipples? Not that there was a chance of that under her buttoned-up suit jacket and light knit top, not to mention the lacy but substantial bra underneath.
“Or perhaps not.” He lifted his long, strong hand and touched her chin, urging her to look up at him. “You’re single. I’m single. What’s the problem?”
“Getting better acquainted. Knox wants us to work together, so maybe we should try it.”
Somehow, she didn’t think her boss had this in mind when he asked Andreas to join the team.
She stared up into his eyes, hoping she wasn’t betraying her speeding pulse and heightened senses in any way. This wasn’t what she was looking for. Not at all.
“You’re suggesting a date?”
His slow smile spoke of sin and wickedness. He reached over and pressed a button. The elevator came to a sudden, jolting halt, urging her against him. He pressed a few more buttons, and she knew he’d keyed in the code that stopped the security alarms going off. She was trapped in an elevator with him. So why wasn’t she screaming the place down? She didn’t need to look too hard inside herself to guess the answer.
He took the invitation she hadn’t meant to give, curling the arm not braced above her head around her waist. “Now, don’t you think it would help if you learned to relax around me?”
She stayed perfectly still. “I’m as relaxed as I need to be.”
“Maybe, maybe not. Why do you think he wants to see us first thing?”
She shrugged, or tried to. “Because something new has turned up. Maybe he wants to take you off the assignment. Why would he want you on the case? Your security cover is really low. You’re a grunt, a clerk.”
If she’d hoped to deflate his ego, she failed. He only grinned and moved closer. “Because I’m the only person who’s met Cristos, been inside Department 57. You need me.”
“Not for long.”
He laughed. “We’ll see. Cristos is a slippery customer. He’s evaded the authorities for years. Do you think he’ll be easy to catch? This operation could go on for a while, baby.” He touched her chin, stroked his fingers down her throat, and paused at the base. She stayed where she was, kept his gaze, but seethed at that “baby.” She was nobody’s baby. “We’ve been dancing around each other for the past two months. Don’t you think I’ve been patient?”
His heat, his closeness, all seeped into her as though her body was just waiting to welcome him home. Yet he’d never even touched her before, just watched her, talked to her. Roz was no longer sure if she was excited, nervous, or panicked. No one had ever made her feel like that before. She needed time to think.
She didn’t get it. When he lowered his head and that sinful, sexy mouth grew closer, she rose up to accept him, almost without thought. Natural, like breathing.
His lips caressed hers, gently moving where she had expected fierce passion and rough treatment. His gentleness unnerved her, but her whole being lifted to him, begging him for more.
She didn’t even
him. Andreas Constant moved and behaved with a confidence that amounted to arrogance, especially considering his lowly status as a clerk in the Department of Internal Business. He probably made love the same way. The thought both attracted and repelled her, and she couldn’t be sure which was the stronger emotion.