Copyright © 2012 Nikki Duncan
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
Do you easily connect to a lover? Do you easily become aroused?
“Do you easily orgasm?” Ava Malia—Ava Sebastian as far as Dr. H was concerned—flipped her heavy hair over her shoulder and offered up her most seductive smile. The one she’d mastered on her last case as a call girl.
“Excuse me?” A dark and unexpectedly sexy Greek Dr. H glanced up from his piles of reports, graphs and charts on the desk before him. His glacial eyes remained as stoic as his face.
“It seems to me you didn’t take this line of questioning as far as you could have.” She spoke low, not needing to raise her voice. She sat so near the PhD she’d been tasked to get close to that their knees brushed—and sent shocks of awareness up her thighs when they did. “I wonder why.”
A dark man with a buzz cut and muscles straining his shirt sat six rows back in the classroom. He choked and shot a shocked gaze her way. She ignored him for the sake of keeping Dr. H fully engaged.
“Your task here, Ms. Sebastian, is not to question me. Your task is to silently gather your data.”
He didn’t need pretense. He didn’t rely on posturing. He didn’t try to appear powerful. He was powerful.
“I am well aware of my task here.” To find out which Whitestone operative has been assigned to kill you, who likely is in this room.
She’d wanted to take a direct approach and ask Dr. H for his help, but her boss, Breck, team leader of the FBI Specialized Crimes Unit, had demanded a more clandestine advance. They had no hard proof Dr. H had the contact lenses Whitestone sought. And given his history with the secret arm of the corrupt agency and her former ties to them… Breck didn’t see Dr. H working with them. As far as Ava was concerned, the bastards at Whitestone had ruined enough lives. She was going to witness their fall.
“Isn’t your goal with this questionnaire to get to know your study applicants? To find out what makes people tick and how deeply connected we are to our emotions?”
“Your point?” His smooth-as-butter voice whispered across her consciousness like a gentle aubade, though lingering just below the surface was an almost indiscernible, adversity-forged superiority.
“It just seems you missed an opportunity by not asking people about their orgasms. What could be more closely tied to a person’s emotions, their psyche, than how they react during sex?”
“Sex is not…” He trailed off as his gaze locked on her like a targeted missile. The pulse at the base of his jaw thumped. “This is not a sex study.”
Moist awareness bubbled in Ava’s throat, but she refused to swallow it down. Just as she’d been trained to always sit with a clear view of a room, she’d been trained not to react to certain stimuli.
Dr. H tested her training.
She’d conditioned herself to not respond to the cover name she hated and the memories it evoked for her. His slightly flustered response and the arousal pulsing through her body that was stimulated by nothing more than a hard-eyed look made response impossible.
Maybe she was the one being engaged.
“No.” From what she’d learned of Dr. H he studied emotions, their triggers and effects. He seemed to be on a quest to find genuine empaths, especially young ones, to help them master their gifts.
“Then drop this line of pursuit and focus on your job.”
He was her job and focusing on him was no hardship.
“The questions make a girl think. They trigger internal signals…” She rested an elbow on the desk and moved her shoulders slightly forward. “And I don’t mean in the clinical ways of the posters in a gynecologist’s office on communicable diseases like, oh I don’t know…herpes.”
Buzz cut dude barked out a rough laugh. The perky blonde two seats over from him giggled. Everyone else in the half-full classroom shifted in their seats and pretended to be focused on their questionnaires.
Dr. H returned his attention to his papers. “Do your job, Ms. Sebastian.”
For her plan to work, she needed him on her side. Needed him to accept her rather than reject her as a problem. She shrugged and did his bidding.
Dr. H may think he’d kept a low profile since his escape from Eston White, a company she knew by their alternate name of Whitestone. He was cautious, and gaining access to his lab on short notice hadn’t been easy, but she’d gotten in. He wasn’t as safe as he thought.
She would wait until just the right moment to point out his weak spots.
After the study applicants had finished and left, Ava flipped back to the first page of the report Dr. H had passed her and skimmed through the data again. She’d had little time to prepare for this assignment, and didn’t want to disappoint her new team. Hoping she’d interpreted the information correctly, Ava jotted a few final notes in her journal and began packing up.
“I hope you got everything you needed, Ms. Sebastian.” Dr. H shifted through the papers without looking up. “Call if you need something more.”
Dismissed as easily as he’d swat away a mosquito. She rounded the desk and smiled. “I’ll be back. Soon.”
Smooth and slow he lifted his head. “I think I have to hear this.”
His face remained impassive, but his voice was humoring. She’d piqued his curiosity.
“Hear what, precisely?”
“Begin with what makes you so certain you will be allowed back.”
She sat on the edge of his desk, allowing her skirt to fall open at the slit just high enough for him to glimpse the bottom edge of her tattoo. He scanned her quickly. Almost quickly enough for her to miss the thump of his pulse. The pulse point that had thumped earlier. The pulse point hiding beneath his sexy, five-day beard.
He was intrigued.
“I know more about you right now than you could know about me or my ‘empathic’ abilities after studying my questionnaire for days.” She used air quotes around empathic to attempt to irritate him.
Humor warmed his eyes a tenth of a degree. “What could you know about me?”
“You don’t stop thinking. Ever. Which makes sense considering your chosen profession. It also enables you to see all sides of an issue. While you can be objective, you have an experiential approach to life.”
“I’m right. Just as I know you’ve likely received little support from family or mentors or whoever should have been there for you. So you’re independent. While you can cope with people being close—in your space…”
She bent at the waist, leaning into the space she mentioned. He smelled of barely there, old-fashioned musk. His pulse thumped again. Her palms heated. “You’re most comfortable on your own—personally and professionally.”
Thump. Thump. Thump. He controlled his responses well, but his heart gave him away.
“You chose this field of study because it’s emotionally satisfying. This is the one part of your life you don’t have to question.” She drew air deep into her lungs, pulling in his scent and absorbing the answering flicker in her belly. “You’re a good listener and though you have a sense of humor, you conceal it beneath the need to accomplish your goals.”
“You’re not as good as you think, Ms. Sebastian.” He eased back in his chair and rested his hands lightly on his thighs.
“I’m better than you think I am.” Though she hadn’t pushed the envelope too far by sharing her speculations on his choice of cologne—a cologne which reminded her of visits to their shared native country even more than his coloring.
For him, a seemingly modern man, it was likely a reminder of a simpler time in his life. Maybe it revived memories of a father or grandfather. Someone he hadn’t been allowed to know long enough.
Telling him what she read from his face and body language wasn’t an intrusion. Allowing what she’d learned about him in her research to leech into the conversation was, though more than real data she’d found gaps and inconsistencies. Unless she missed her mark, his life had started tough and gone downhill. Beyond hell.
In her line of work, both the past job as an undercover operative and her new position in the FBI Specialized Crimes Unit, there were some lines she could not—would not—cross.
“But not as good as me.” His voice and stance remained as stony as the gauntlet he’d just dropped. And as sedately powerful as everything around him.
Still, she’d scored his interest, or he wouldn’t attempt debating her observations.
Whatever his ultimate goals were with his studies, he seemed to be on a quest for some unseen justice. She didn’t need to know every detail to understand the motivation. Similar desires had propelled her to this moment. What she needed to identify was what his brand of justice was and who he was working to help.
“Really?” She lifted her right brow in what her mother had always claimed was a cocky show of bravado guaranteed to slap her into trouble. That trouble had almost killed her. Today would not be a repeat. “Then tell me, Dr. H, what you think you know about me.”
“I will give you credit for bravery, Ms. Sebastian.”