“It’s a challenging job,” he said, knowing exactly how to pique her interest, damn him. “Need an ID on a guy, and if it’s our man, we need a distraction while we . . . borrow his laptop, the one he never lets out of his sight.”
Hmm. Definitely a challenge. “I don’t suppose he’s the type you could just walk up to and ask his name,” she said.
His mouth curved in a small smile. “Let’s just say I’m not someone who would interest him.”
“No? So who would?” she asked.
“A hot blonde with legs for days in a short, tight dress.”
Heat pooled in her belly and spread outward. Dammit.
“One with the stickiest pickpocket fingers I’ve ever met,” he added.
With a low laugh—dammit, was there anything sexier than a man who knew you to the bone?—she made it to the outer reception area. She’d just reached for the front door when it opened and she collided with someone.
The man caught her, keeping her upright. “I’m so sorry. Are you alright?”
“I’m fine,” she said. In his early thirties, he was about her height, medium build, and in a very nice suit. He also had a nice smile, a kind smile, and more than a little male interest in his expression.
“Mike Penham,” he said, offering her a hand. “I’m a client of Archer’s.”
“Elle Wheaton.” She smiled. “Not a client.”
“Ah, a mysterious woman,” he said with a smile.
“No, just a busy one.” She shot one last look at Archer—a mistake because his gaze was inscrutable and on her as always, and she felt her stupid heart do a stupid somersault in her chest as he came into the front room, moving with his usual liquid grace in spite of still being armed for a third-world skirmish.
“Mike,” he said in greeting to the man who’d just arrived. “Come on back.” He looked at Elle. “Tonight then?”
Since she’d never yet figured out how to say no to the hot bastard, she nodded. And for a single beat, the mask fell from his eyes and his golden green gaze warmed as he nodded back.
And then she shut the door between them.
“Damn, she’s smokin’ hot. Is she available?”
Archer heard Mike’s question about Elle but he didn’t take his gaze off her as she walked her sweet ass out of his office. “No.”
Mike slapped his hand dramatically to his own chest. “Right through the heart, man. You’ve cut me right through the heart. She’s got some serious fire, that one. Love that in a woman.”
Yeah Elle had fire. She was like the sun. Get too close and you’d burn up . . . With a shake of his head at himself, Archer turned away, heading for his office.
“No, but seriously,” Mike said, following along after him. “I’ve got a shot at her, right?”
Mike laughed. The guy was a walking conglomerate and a solid client who brought in business, a lot of it in fact, but that didn’t mean Archer wanted him within fifty feet of Elle.
Granted, the vulnerable, scared, isolated sixteen-year-old street rat he’d once saved when he’d been a twenty-two-year-old rookie cop was not a street rat anymore. Nor alone, scared, or vulnerable. She was outspoken and tough as nails.
But she wasn’t available. Hell no.
Not that she was his.
He wanted her. And he wanted her bad too. But she’d worked her ass off to become the woman she was now. He knew he reminded her of bad times, and there was no way he’d risk setting her back or damaging her in any way. She’d been through enough without him muddying the waters. So they were friends.
Or maybe the more accurate description was that they pretended to be friends.
He entered his office and he gestured for Mike to have a seat. “Your message said you have a security problem.”
“A big one,” Mike said. “I think our digital division’s got a leak.”
“What makes you think so?”
“We had two new high-tech communication products that no one else even had a bead on. We had a scheduled presentation to a very selective, confidential client—”
“How selective?” Archer asked. “How confidential?”
Mike rolled his lips inward. “Let’s just say very.”
The US government, Archer figured, reading between the lines. “And let me guess, someone beat you to the punch.”
“Our number one competitor,” Mike said grimly. “But there’s no way in hell that they beat us. Someone gave them the intel. From the inside.”
“Yes. And now I need to stop the leak. You in?”
Archer nodded. “I’m in, but—”
“I know, I know,” Mike said. “No guarantees, blah blah. I’ve heard the spiel, Hunt, but you’ve not failed me yet. Plus I’m going to pay you a whole helluva lot of money to make sure you don’t fail me this time either.”
Archer gave him a short nod. “Consider it done.”
When Mike left, Archer set some plans into motion to get that job up and running, and then he got to work going over the plan for the night’s distraction.
They’d been hired by an insurance company. Some of their clients were up in arms, claiming that they’d paid for additional services that had never been received.
It turned out that the insurance company didn’t even provide those services and had no records of receiving the premiums.
Enter Hunt Investigations. Archer had dug in and found it all came down to one freelance insurance agent who’d quietly offered select—read: rich—clients some opportunities to upgrade. All that had been required were additional “premiums.” The agent had then pocketed those additional premiums—of course without upgrading the policies.
With help from Archer’s resident computer specialist, Joe, they’d located the “agent,” a guy who had multiple aliases but was currently using the name Chuck Smithson. Some further research revealed that Chuck was a loner who trusted no one. He moved around between hotels and kept a cross-body messenger bag on him at all times, which most likely held his laptop and all his secrets. And since he lived in a state of paranoia and didn’t back up anywhere that they could hack into, they needed that laptop for evidence.