Damned If You Don't

Linda J. Parisi

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Andrew Jackson “Jack” Kent’s on the hunt for white collar criminals, and as a private investigator he always gets his man. Except in this case it’s a woman, the brilliant cellular kineticist Dr. Morgan Mackenzie, whose nex...
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Andrew Jackson “Jack” Kent’s on the hunt for white collar criminals, and as a private investigator he always gets his man. Except in this case it’s a woman, the brilliant cellular kineticist Dr. Morgan Mackenzie, whose next thrilling discovery is—him.

On the run from her employers with the formula for a priceless but deadly diet drug, Morgan agrees to a night of pleasure with the outrageously sexy stranger. But when she leaves the next morning, Jack won’t let her get far, and that’s when she realizes horrible truth. Her cowboy on a white horse isn’t a hero after all. He’s part of the posse.

Yet when Jack goes to turn Morgan in, he learns who the real criminals are, and suddenly, it’s a race against time to find a murderer before they’re killed themselves. To do that Jack needs to convince Morgan he’s on her side. Even though she doesn’t trust him, Jack is a drug she can’t resist, leading her to find out that more often than not you're Damned If You Don't fall in love.

 

Excerpt
Fool. Fool. A thousand times a fool.

Dr. Morgan Mackenzie looked out at the water meeting the horizon as the Lewes ferry sped along toward Delaware, and hung her head, wondering how and where she’d lost control of the situation.

“I fell in love with you the moment you turned the corner,” Jackson Kent told her, his tone way too sincere, and his gaze way too hot to handle.

To hide her surprise she laughed, unable to suppress the heat filling her cheeks. But inside her stomach was doing an act for Cirque du Soleil.

“Jack, really. Be serious.”

Morgan made the mistake of looking down and watched the water slap and roll against the hull of the ferry. She’d taken this as an alternate route from Cape May, New Jersey, thinking it would be less easily followed. Both the ferry and her predicament caused her stomach to clench.

“I am.” Could she really believe him? They’d only met last night. Lifting her gaze, she watched his shirt stretch across his broad chest beneath his jacket and knew that a week ago, the possibility of jumping his bones would never have entered her mind. A man like this was simply out of her league. So was the situation she was in.

I need to go to the police.

No, I need to get as far away from this as possible.

Morgan pulled her coat closed and shivered. BioClin wasn’t stupid. They had to have somebody looking for her.

I need to go to the police.

And what? Hand them everything? How would that prove my innocence? Only my name and my notebook notes are connected to that poor woman’s death.

Her shiver turned to a shudder. And to top it all off, there’s no body to prove that someone’s died.

“Jack. Look. What we shared was--”

“The most incredible night I’ve ever spent with anyone,” he answered, cutting her off. A lock of hair fell down onto his forehead, giving his face a look of boyish earnestness as he reached out and clasped her hands in his.

But there was nothing childlike about the heat simmering in his eyes or the intent in his gaze. Thank goodness he couldn’t see the liquid fire answering in the pit of her belly.

The ferry rolled. Her stomach clenched again, just the bucket of cold water she needed to counteract him. He was a drug she couldn’t afford to take.

Damned motion sickness.

Any worse than the sickness in your head? What the hell were you thinking when you walked into that man’s hotel room?

Thinking?

Morgan shook her head to clear it. Was it really that simple? Had she given in to his charms simply because she wanted to taste the unattainable?

She drew in a deep breath. There was something just insanely exquisite about the man, just the right combination for her taste. He was beautiful, almost pretty, but all male. Her fingertips had personally explored every hill and crevice of his chest and biceps so she knew.

The fresh air helped her stomach, but there wasn’t anything she could think of that would save her from this man. Jack. In spite of the hard consonants, his name simply rolled off her tongue. Jackson Kent. The one luxury she couldn’t afford.

Eventually, the people who were after her would pick up her trail. The proprietor of the hotel would remember her and probably be able to identify Morgan even though she’d changed her appearance. No one would ever know she and Jack had any contact other than being guests at the establishment at the same time.

Her logic helped ease the sickness that had leached from her stomach to her head to her heart. She didn’t want to hurt him. She definitely didn’t want him caught up in her problems.

“Hey, are you all right? You don’t look so good.”

Time to exit, stage left. “A soda would be great. Can you get me one from the snack bar?”

“My pleasure.”

He was back before she could collect her wayward thoughts. Turning her head from the horizon, Morgan watched him approach. God, he was beautiful. The kind of man you figured just had to be a player.

Morgan knew firsthand exactly how good he really was.

“Morgan,” he growled, handing her the bottle. “You sooo don’t want to look at me that way.”

“What way?” she asked, her tone full of innocence.

He grinned, lifting his hand so that his thumb grazed her cheek. His touch shivered all the way down her spine. “The way you looked last night. When you were naked in my arms. After our second time. Or was it third?”

Morgan choked in spite of herself, “I am not.”

He cocked his head, his tone teasing. “Oh no? As a matter of fact,” he answered back, his tone low and full of promise, “I believe you’re daring me.”

“Daring you?” Morgan opened the bottle with shaking fingers and drank. “Jack. Stop. Behave this instant.”

“Oh no, darling,” he replied, pressing against her with a dangerous look. “That’s not what you want. And I know it.”

Damn, damn, damn. Incorrigible. Impossible. Not only had he made her ditch her better judgment, he’d made her forget who she really was.

He was seducing her all over again. Sayonara backbone. In fact there wasn’t a bone in her body that stayed solid when he looked at her like that.

In the interest of self-preservation, Morgan dragged her gaze away from him. She turned to stare out at the horizon again, trying to quell the heat inside. Talk about a losing battle.

“So what are you?” she asked, her attempt to change the conversation a pitiful one. “What do you do? I didn’t really have time to ask last night.”

She made the mistake of turning her head to look at him, and he grinned, that very special kind of half smirk, half smile that liquefied her insides right down to her toes. “I own my own business. Which allows for...” He reached out, grabbed her shoulder, and forced her to pivot toward him, his gaze turning incendiary. “Diversions.”

This insanity had to end. “Jack. This is a public place. It’s a ferry, for crying out loud. People. Cars. Workers.”

He stared at her, looking way too innocent for her own good. “It was the only way I could capture you.”

Morgan blanched inside until she read the sexy, on-the-prowl promise on his face. “I tried to tell you before. I can’t be captured.”

He punched his chest with his fist. “Me, Jack. Hunter. You, prize.”

“Seriously,” she snarked back at him.

His head dipped, his gaze acknowledging that he was getting rather carried away. “The problem is you don’t see yourself as one.”

She snorted, taking his words at face value. “Jack, be honest. I’m not a model.”

He didn’t let her continue, placing his finger on her lips. “Beauty’s only skin-deep.”

She nipped at his fingertip, appreciating that he was trying to make her feel better.

“Brains and this,” he told her, moving his finger to point at her heart. “Make for the real prize.”

“You’re a fool.”

“And yet...” He trailed off and pulled her to him so that their bodies nearly touched. “You make the world go away.”

That was the amazing part of all of this. He did for her too.

He took the bottle out of her hands and placed it on the railing of the ferry, then reached around her to draw her close. The breeze, once cold, now refreshed as it counteracted his heat. A strand of hair blew across her cheek, and he brushed it aside before cupping her cheeks with his palms.

He lowered his head, and Morgan could feel herself reaching up to meet him. Then she realized where they were. “No, Jack. Not here.”

His head shifted slowly from side to side. “Oh no,” she cried, putting her arms in between them and pushing at his chest.

Those sturdy limbs refused to budge an inch. “You wouldn’t dare.”

“Try me,” he challenged, still not budging.

“No, no, no, no, no. Public place. If we get caught, we could go to jail.”

His gaze told her he was too far gone to listen to reason. “Then we don’t get caught.”

His grin faded. He turned serious, scaring her even more than she was already. He couldn’t know what getting caught by the authorities would mean for her. And she couldn’t tell him. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Come on.”

He began pulling her away from the railing. “No, Jack. And you can’t make me.”

“I can’t?” he asked, his tone low and sexy, barely above a growl.

They fought for every inch of ground until he let out a roar of aggravation and swung her up against his body. He’d finally reached the breaking point where it didn’t seem to matter anymore that they were in a public area. He was going to do exactly as he implied.

If he did, she’d let him.

Mortified by her own willingness to throw away her pride, her principles, and her fear, Morgan stared up at him. She came as close to begging as she could. “Jack. Not like this.”

He stilled, sanity returning to his eyes. He swallowed before he whispered, “I guess now you understand.”

She did. She had the ability to make him forget everything, because he was doing the same thing to her.

“I could take you right here, right now,” he told her, his gaze sobering. “And you’d let me.”

“God help me--I think I would.”

Copyright © Linda J. Parisi

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