Authors: Ciar Cullen
Tags: #Will Never Be Enough
Layla felt color flush her face, and the veins in her head began screaming. “Oh, fuck me.”
He smiled. Yep, those eyes actually twinkled. “Told you I had your number.”
“Oh, excuse my language. It’s just…you know. Well, of course you know. You’re the one who knew the whole time. The least you could have done was pay for my coffee, seeing as you’re my boss.”
“At least I fixed it for you. You must be the one person in my employ who hasn’t bothered to look me up on the net.”
“Never seemed to matter what you looked like. Until now.” Layla shook her head in dismay, but she felt a bit more relaxed at Colin’s obvious good nature.
He laughed and motioned for her to join him in his office. “Nothing for two hours, Tristan.”
“Well, you don’t need another
. Swann, so have a seat and I’ll be with you directly.”
Layla wondered if she had just blown one hundred thousand dollars. Well, at least he was still smiling. He threw his suit jacket on the couch, loosened his tie and rolled up his shirt sleeves.
She laughed lightly. “Why do you bother wearing a jacket when you’re going to take it off anyway?”
Shut up, Layla. Let him speak first. Don’t blow this
Colin raised a brow. “Because I’m handsome in a suit? Actually, never thought about it. It’s a little silly, you’re right. But you never know what the day will bring.” He logged onto his computer and turned the laptop to face her.
Layla stared at a number of likenesses of herself, some real, some in disguise and some enhanced. “Whoa, I don’t look like
naked! Wish you could do that to me without surgery.”
“No? Why don’t you describe to me exactly what you
look like naked? I’ve some extra time this morning.” Laughter danced merrily in his eyes.
Okay, Layla, it’s Colin. You’re supposed to impress him
. “Sorry, Irish—I mean, boss.”
He raised his brows. “Lovely. Why don’t we get down to business? Tell me a bit about yourself.”
“It’s all in the file. What can I tell you that you don’t know? I assume you even have my DNA profile. That’s more than I have.”
“Do it anyway. Pretend you don’t know me at all.” He pushed back his chair and propped his expensive shoes on the desk.
know you at all.”
“You know what I mean. Talk about anything—anything that’s running through your head. I’m just trying to get a feel for you.” He linked his hands together behind his neck and stretched out comfortably. Layla tried to pull her gaze away from his chest as it stretched the fabric of his crisp white shirt, his arm muscles showing through the fine cloth. She looked up to see the amusement on his face—his astonishingly handsome face.
She took in a deep breath.
“All right, then. You are not what I expected. Of course, you’ve already realized that. You’re used to the effect you have on women.”
He snorted lightly and widened his eyes. “Indeed? What effect might that be?”
Layla ignored him. “You’re practically laughing out loud at me; you’re so pleased with yourself for your little joke in the coffee shop. You have a daughter—Molly—and you take her to daycare, which suggests that you’re probably a single father.”
Kevin raised a brow and Layla regretted betraying Tristan.
“Oh, I pulled it out of him, don’t blame him, please. So, if you’re a single father, I wonder why? You didn’t cheat on your wife or she’d have custody. So…something’s screwy there. Oh, the explanation just passed across your face. I’m so sorry.” Layla shook her head in dismay.
Nice going, screwball
Colin nodded, the twinkle gone from his eyes.
“So, that leaves me to wonder how I’m going to like this mission. You make me horribly nervous, but only because of your position and your generous offer to a newcomer. I don’t give a damn about your looks. At least I don’t think I do.” The twinkle came back.
Layla hesitated. “I’m concerned that you’re going to tell me I have to sleep with someone. I’ve been trained to do a lot of things, but I won’t do that for money. The Agency wasn’t so pleased with that caveat of mine. I told Sarah, but I want to make it clear once again. Now it’s your turn.”
“This isn’t a date. I don’t really feel the need to talk about myself to you.”
“Oh, right.” Layla picked up her coffee and crossed her long bare legs in an attention-grabbing fashion.
Colin leaned back in his chair. “Lovely shoes. Beautiful legs. I noticed, appreciated, and am duly affected. Now stop flirting with me, Ms. Swann. It’s not in the job description, it’s not professional and it won’t make me like you any better.”
“Force of habit, sorry. I cover nervousness with flirtation. I’m prone to the former and pathetic at the latter. Unfortunately, you being in the business and all, you’d pick up on it.” Layla coughed delicately, trying to cover her embarrassment.
“Now you’re babbling. This won’t do on the mission. Perhaps we need to talk this through a bit.”
“Actually, you started it with the naked photos. Trust me, I can handle myself.”
“Fair enough. Let’s drop it and discuss Ardros, then.” He brought up the man’s photo.
Layla examined the Greek’s face, hoping it would give her some insight into the man. It didn’t. She turned up her nose. “Handsome enough in a Greek-god kind of way, if you like that type. I don’t. My date for the week?”
“Hmmm, not precisely your date, but the idea is certainly for Ardros to fall madly, instantaneously in lust with you. You’re to be my girlfriend. We’ll have to get our stories very, very clear. Sarah is working on it now.”
girlfriend?” Real fear stirred in Layla’s gut as she surveyed her would-be beau.
Don’t let it throw you, you can handle him
. “Why are you coming? Seems a major tip-off—the head of the firm. Why can’t I go alone and get the information?”
“The good thing about owning a detective agency is that no one ever questions it when you tell them it’s a cover. It works every time.”
“But you, personally? I don’t get it.”
“Ardros knows me personally, considers me a pal. I’ve courted him for the last several months. He likes my knowledge of the black market in antiquities.”
“And where did you obtain that expertise? I hadn’t heard that one.”
“My brother is an archaeologist. You’ll meet him soon enough, but we’ll get to that later. We’re on to me again. You have quite a knack for shifting the topic, and that’s very good. Stop doing it with me. Back to Ardros. He thinks I’m a potential laundering operation for stolen antiquities. I’ve worked hard to get him to believe that. He’s to think you’re a bit loose.” He lowered his head and looked at her slyly. “And that I don’t mind.”
“Oh, just great. My grandmother is rolling over in her grave right about now. What exactly is it I’m after?”
“A good time.”
Layla laughed nervously. There was something about the way he said “good time” that awakened her senses.
What’s a good time to you, Mr. Colin
What’s her name
“Ms. Swann, when I say a ‘good time,’ I mean it. He’s invited me to bring my gorgeous girlfriend to his swinging bachelor hangout. I believe his exact words were ‘so we all can get our groove on.’ Can you do that?”
“And while I’m having this ‘good time’ with Austin Powers there, I’m to learn what?”
“Names, contacts, appointments—anything. We suspect he’s going to fence about twenty million dollars’ worth of stolen artifacts. Actually, they are priceless, from a cultural standpoint, but that’s the approximate black-market value.
“The Greek government doesn’t want that to happen, but they also would prefer to handle this as quietly as possible—which is one reason they don’t want a Greek firm handling the case. They don’t even want the local gendarmes in on it.
“Ardros is the local director of antiquities in the Argolid, and the tip-offs came from the inside. Our job is to discover whether we’re dealing with internal politics or real theft, and to deal with it quickly and quietly.
“I would prefer to do this alone, but the man is insistent upon my girlfriend accompanying me this trip. Or he’d pick one for me. I can’t have some woman lumbered on me, getting in the way. I need to bring along an agent. You’ll be able to get private time with him.”
“I see.” It was pretty much as she had expected. Wear a short skirt and heels and distract him.
“It’s important, Layla. No one is questioning your intelligence and skills. We just need to combine them with your body this time. It’s not an insult.”
“Did you just compliment my body, boss?”
“Knock it off. Here…” He handed her a folder full of reports.
“Greece. For one hundred grand, I can do Greece.”
“I thought you might say that. We leave in two days. Cram, Ms. Swann. I’ll meet you tomorrow, and we’ll test your famous retentive skills. We’ll rehearse Sarah’s script, look over passports and so forth.”
Colin reached into his drawer and pulled out a check. He slid it across the desk, but before Layla could grab it, he put his hand over hers. The touch sent shivers up her arm.
Mmm. Nice hands
She looked up and met his remarkable eyes. “What? Do I have to beg?”
“As intriguing as that might be for me, you don’t have to beg. Unless, of course, it would make you feel good.” He smirked as Layla felt heat rise to her cheeks. “Pull this off, and I’ll make sure the next job makes full use of all your skills.”
“Layla, the ‘boss’ thing doesn’t quite work. My name is Kevin, and you need to start using it.”
“All right, Kevin.”
“Less intimidated now?”
“Not a bit.” She smiled and he smiled back.
My God, why hadn’t Sarah told her about him
Oh shit, she had, hadn’t she
Good. She didn’t like Ardros
. Kevin had no intention of ever letting the man lay hands on Layla Swann. He took in a deep breath and looked at her photos again. What
she really look like naked?
Knock it off, Kevin. It’s just been a while
She didn’t seem wounded from the Qatar job, Kevin thought. A little jumpy, maybe. Very clever, funny. And just exquisite.
Kevin Colin, are you doing the right thing
Why did you pick her
“Again.” Kevin sipped coffee as he examined the portfolio on his tray table. He cursed as the plane bobbled and the coffee spilled onto his shirt.
“Oh, honey, you’re so clumsy,” Layla practically cooed. “I’m glad I packed you another shirt to go with those pants.”
“Very funny. Again, Layla.”
She groaned. “You love fettuccine alfredo,
, Caesar salad, but hate caviar. You hate football, yet love soccer—but you call it football. You don’t golf but play squash, you read only nonfiction, you didn’t go to college, you wear Armani… Why the punk rock hair, all mussy? When you combine it with the Armani, it’s—”
“It’s what? I spend an awful lot of money on this short messy hair.”
It’s unbelievably sexy. Like a model. Perfection. I bet there’s a tattoo somewhere, too, Kevin Colin. I bet before you wore those starched shirts
“Well? What’s wrong with my hair?”
“I’m just not sure you look like a CEO.”
“Did I tell you I make the best fettuccine alfredo, darling?”
Kevin turned in his seat to stare at Layla and she took in a quick breath. This was close, very close. She smelled his soap and shampoo, saw a spot he missed with the razor, took in those impossibly long black eyelashes. He smirked as her eyes fell to his lips.
“Stop using ‘darling,’ sweetheart, it doesn’t suit you,” he whispered. “I know you well enough after three days to know it’s not natural for you. Now tell me about our life. Come on, Layla, we have only about an hour before we land.”
Layla forced her voice to be rock steady. “You have a luxurious home in Connecticut, you do the commute, I live in the Village, have a walk-up—this part’s all true.”
“The rest is all true as well. Do you actually make a good fettuccine alfredo?” He smiled. “Okay, now the good stuff. Go.”
“Ugh. God damn it, Kevin. Oh all right. I’m desperately, madly in love with you, your looks,
your money. I even like your daughter,
your daughter. I’m dying for you to propose. I want to spend my life with you raising Molly. I’ll do anything for you, and have.”
“You know, you’re a fucking terrible boss and a law suit may be in order. Phew. I’m your sex slave—leave it at that. I have it down, trust me.”
He smirked again.
Layla shook her head and turned to look out over jagged low mountains.
Kevin laughed. “I’m sorry; I just wanted to hear you say it again. You’re so mechanical when you talk about our love life, I find it amusing.”
“Mechanical? We’re on a job! Do you think my sex talk to my real boyfriend sounds like that?”
“Real boyfriend?” He sounded a little confused, almost hurt.
! She suddenly felt his hot breath on her neck as he leaned in to whisper and laugh in her ear.
“I don’t believe you for a second, my dear. Remember, I have your number, down to your DNA.
. Not in a year, and that’s being generous. Thought you had me, didn’t you?”
Layla shivered at his closeness and the harshness in his voice.
Don’t you dare let him shake you; he’s testing you, and he’ll fire you on the spot
She turned and looked directly into his eyes. “You don’t know a thing about me. You might know about my background, but you don’t know
. So stay out of my personal life.”
Kevin’s eyes softened a bit and he nodded. “And you don’t know me, Layla.” He put his fingertip to his temple. “So we’re even.”
Layla looked out the window again.
. The word still stung. Bitterness welled up at the thought of John, unceremoniously dumping her, when she needed him the most…after Qatar. She felt her shoulders shake slightly and willed the stillness back.