One Kiss More

ONE KISS MORE, Book 2 of the U.S. Marshals series will be available February 24th, 2015!

Rough, tough and by the book, he’s most criminals’ worst nightmare. Until the girl of his dreams is caught on the other side. . .

Emma Ruiz knows her father is innocent. But that doesn’t help her convince the law—not even smoking hot U.S. Marshal Landon McCabe. When McCabe bangs on her door demanding information about how her cancer-stricken father escaped from federal prison, she’ll have to distract him somehow—it may as well be with a stolen kiss.

Landon gets why Emma isn’t saying all she knows. What he doesn’t understand is why he’s putting his reputation, his case, and his badge on the line for a gorgeous person of interest. Much as he’d love to, he can’t let Emma play him. The stakes are higher than either of them can guess. The only way to survive is to trust their instincts. But their instincts want more than one kiss…

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Chapter One

Landon McCabe could think of a thousand things he’d rather be doing right now. Skydiving, BASE jumping, climbing to the top of Mount Hood would be nice. When did the running of the bulls begin, anyway? Law enforcement was supposed to be an exciting, adrenaline-infused career. Maybe he should have applied for the Marshals’ elite Special Operations Group when he had the chance. Of course, knowing his luck, he’d get an assignment like his friend Galen Kelly had snagged: babysitter to some foreign dignitary for a year. Prestigious? Maybe. But Landon wasn’t interested in recognition or prestige. He was in it for the action. Which was why, as he pulled up to the swanky Aspira building in downtown Seattle, he wished he were jumping out of a plane, thousands of feet from the ground. He hadn’t felt an exhilarating rush of any kind for a long goddamned time. And like any addict, he was itching for a fix.

He pulled his phone out of his pocket and dialed. After a few rings, Galen answered and the fucker had the nerve to sound upbeat. “Hey, man. Did you see me on Anderson Cooper last night?”

Galen had recently come off a case that had landed him not only in the media spotlight, but in bed with the woman he’d been assigned to protect. Lucky bastard. “Yeah. And you know what? It’s true what they say about the camera adding ten pounds. You might want to think about hitting the gym.”

“Jealous much?”

“Please,” Landon scoffed. “I’ve got nothing to be jealous about. You go ahead and be the poster boy for the Marshals Service while the rest of us go out and get shit done.”

Galen’s laughter rumbled through the receiver. Playful hostility was what Landon appreciated most about their friendship. Galen deserved his accolades, though. He was damn good at his job. “Have you questioned Ruiz’s daughter yet?”

The consummate professional, Galen would forego the banter for work talk any day of the week, and as always, Landon was on the same page. “On my way up to her condo now,” he said as he flashed his badge to the parking attendant at the underground garage. The Aspira had top-of-the-line security, which might make it tough to sneak a fugitive in. On the other hand . . . it might also be the perfect place to hide someone from prying eyes. Landon pulled the phone away from his ear long enough to get directions to the public parking and pulled through the levered gate. “I doubt she’s going to be cooperative, though.”

“Who’s your contact there?”

Technically, the Ruiz case was in the Oregon district’s jurisdiction, but since Ruiz’s daughter lived in Seattle, the investigation had become an inter-regional effort. “Ethan Morgan,” Landon replied as he hit the key fob with his thumb and locked his black Chevy Tahoe. He pivoted on a heel as he searched out the elevators and found a bank of silver doors on the far left wall. “I’m meeting him at the office later, but I thought I’d get a jump on Emma first.”

Galen was silent for a moment, and Landon could almost picture the shit-eating grin on his face. “Get a jump on her, huh?”

“Unlike you, I’m a professional,” Landon remarked, as he stepped inside the elevator and hit the button for the twenty-first floor.

“Touché,” Galen replied.

“Dude, the French,” Landon said with snort. “So not manly. Later.”

Galen’s answering laughter was the last thing Landon heard as he ended the call. For the past few days, he’d been staking out Emma Ruiz’s building and tracking her every move in the hopes that she’d lead them to her father. But the only thing he’d learned so far in his time on this assignment was that the more things changed, the more they stayed the same. Emma was still a hard-core party girl. She still hung out with pro athletes and rich playboys and lived her life as publicly as she dared, as though she invited the media attention and gossipmongers while simultaneously not giving a shit about any of it.

The Ruiz case had been high profile six years ago when they’d conducted their investigation into the federal judge’s dealings with Mendelson Corp. Once one of the country’s shrewdest and most successful attorneys, and later, the consummate legal hero who defended the little guy, Javier Ruiz had landed a federal judgeship in Oregon after retiring from a firm that dealt primarily in environmental safety and wrongful death suits. His judgeship had taken a nosedive when his dealings with Mendelson had been scrutinized. The U.S. Marshals had gotten involved after he’d dismissed what should have been an open-and-shut FTC trade violation case against the multinational corporation. Through an anonymous tip, the feds had been alerted that Ruiz was extorting money from Mendelson, and the CEO had admitted to paying the judge in exchange for a favorable ruling in their case.

And for the last six years, Emma had been a staunch supporter of her father, declaring his innocence on several national news programs as well as on E! News and in the pages of US Weekly. A first-class celebutante, Emma was often categorized as famous for being famous, or whatever it was the gossip rags said about over-privileged daddy’s girls like her. She had often been whispered about in the Portland office when they’d investigated Javier. At eighteen, she had already been on the road to stop-your-heart gorgeous and had a reputation for playing fast and loose with several pro athletes. She had a mouth on her, not to mention a penchant for fucking with anyone who fucked with her dad. During the course of the Marshals Service’s investigation, she’d made it her life’s ambition to cause any deputy involved in bringing dear old daddy down a world of hurt. Landon’s team had been on the receiving end of several of her malicious pranks including the old potato-in-the-tailpipe routine. That shit wasn’t urban legend, and the blowback from the exhaust had damned near asphyxiated him. Not the best experience for a rookie on his first case.

Watching her over the past couple of weeks had stirred up all sorts of memories. One of those being the euphoric rush he experienced every time he laid eyes on her. Landon couldn’t explain it. He wasn’t usually the sort of guy who got twisted up at the sight of a pretty girl. But Emma was different. Her presence triggered something primal in his subconscious. And that instant, gut-clenching reaction bothered the shit out of him. So, yeah, he wasn’t exactly enthused about paying a visit to the now-twenty-four-year-old Emma, and grilling her about daddy’s whereabouts while he tried not to fall under her spell yet again. Landon was certain that no matter what, Emma was going to give him a run for his money. Paybacks were a bitch.

#

Emma Ruiz hung up the phone, her heart racing like a thoroughbred, and stared off into space as she tried to collect her thoughts. One of the benefits of living in a building with the best security money could buy was getting a heads-up from the front desk that a deputy U.S. marshal was about to pay her a visit. Not that she hadn’t been expecting it, though the timing could have been better.

She cast a furtive glance toward her closed bedroom door as a riot of butterflies took flight in her stomach and fluttered toward her throat. Everything was happening so fast and she needed to play her A-game right now. The key to a good defense was a strong offense. Any sports fan worth her salt realized that. And Emma knew that that if she wanted the ball to be in her court with the Marshals Service, she needed to make sure they were off their game. She looked down the length of her purple cami top, black yoga pants, and bare feet. Not exactly an outfit that screamed I’m in charge! And while she’d hoped never to go toe-to-toe with those self-righteous do-gooders again, she guessed she had no choice but to suck it up and face the music. At least the next few weeks wouldn’t be boring.

When the doorbell rang a few minutes later, Emma took a deep breath and held it in her lungs before expelling it all in a rush. The cops weren’t as scary as they liked to come off. Emma wasn’t easily intimidated, and besides, she’d done this dance with them six years ago. If she could handle their pushy bullshit then, she could certainly handle it now. She could do this.

A round of obnoxious knocks followed on the heels of the bell and Emma rolled her eyes as she walked to the door. God forbid she keep the U.S. Marshals waiting. After all, they had a dangerous criminal to find and apprehend. She snorted. They were all a bunch of idiots if they thought that Javier Ruiz was a criminal mastermind. So ready to believe he’d orchestrated the perfect escape and itching to get one up on him. And of course, none of them knew how far off base they really were.

Emma curved her lips into what she hoped was a pleasant smile to mask the apprehension creeping up her spine and swung open the door. The smile melted right off of her face and her stomach did a twisting backflip that kicked out at her lungs on the dismount, leaving her breathless and a little stunned. Great. They would send the guy who’d arrested her dad in the first place, wouldn’t they? The one guy who’d get under her skin. Emma clenched her fists at her sides as she wondered how much jail time she’d get for socking a U.S. marshal in the jaw.

“Deputy McCabe,” she said, infusing her voice with innocence. “What a surprise. By all means, don’t come in.”

The bastard had the nerve to smirk.

“Obviously you know why I’m here,” McCabe said. “So tell me where Javier is and I’ll be on my way.”

Emma relaxed against the doorknob, shifting her weight so that her braced arm supported her. It took a lot of effort to look so calm while her knuckles turned white as her fingers clenched the knob in a death grip. Coming face-to-face with Landon McCabe again was like stepping back into time. He was technically the enemy, but even after all this time Emma couldn’t deny his appeal. His voice tumbled over her like a cascade of warm water, relaxing the tight knot that had settled in her chest. His blond hair was almost too short, but Emma was willing to bet she could still tangle her fingers in its length. And his eyes . . . keen and bright blue running with veins of gold. A warm spark that, when focused on her, ignited something low in her stomach. Her brow puckered as she realized his presence had become even more commanding, his face even more handsome with the passage of years. Totally not fair.

“Why ask me?” She made sure her voice was devoid of any emotion. If she sounded even a little nervous, McCabe would pick up on it. “When Dad was remanded into the care of the U.S. government, I was sort of under the impression that you’d be keeping an eye on him. It’s not my fault you guys suck at your jobs.”

“Come on, Emma. I’m not in the mood to play games.”

Emma saw an opportunity not only to intercept McCabe’s innuendo, but to deflect his questioning with her own distraction while she ran in for the touchdown. “That’s too bad, Deputy. I love to play. Maybe later? You can be shirts and I’ll be skins.”

McCabe’s jaw tensed, and it gave Emma a perverse sense of satisfaction to have rattled the cocky deputy’s chain. The quicker she could get him out of there, the better.

“Mind if I come in? Take a look around?”

What part of don’t come in did he not understand? “Do you have a warrant?”

His tawny brows pulled down tight over his eyes. “No.”

“Then yes, I do mind.” Emma’s pulse rushed in her ears, nearly drowning out the sound of her own voice. The last thing she needed right now was to have him nosing around her apartment. She fought the urge to glance back at the closed door of her bedroom. No, she definitely didn’t need to direct his attention there.

“Don’t say I didn’t try to make this easy on you.” His voice hardened and lowered an octave, causing a pleasant chill to trickle from the top of Emma’s head down the length of her body. “You’d better clear your schedule for the rest of the day, Miss Ruiz. A pair of deputies will be along in an hour or so to escort you to the federal courthouse for questioning.”

Yeah, well, Emma could be hard, too. “What’s the matter, McCabe? Not man enough to cuff me yourself?”

He took a step back from her doorway as though resisting the urge to do just that. He looked down the length of her body, and though she assumed it was meant to be disdainful, a thrill rushed through Emma’s veins. “Just be ready to cooperate,” he said. “Otherwise, I won’t hesitate to issue a warrant for your arrest.”

Without allowing her to respond, McCabe turned on a heel and sauntered down the hallway toward the elevator. Emma couldn’t help it—she leaned out of the doorway to watch him leave, appreciative of the way his designer jeans hugged his ass. Boy was tight. His shoulders rolled as he walked, the precision and grace of every placed step a thing of beauty. Deputy U.S. Marshal Landon McCabe was still the enemy. He was the one who’d arrested her father and the man who was looking to do it again. But, damn, was he ever something to look at.

“That wasn’t so hard, was it?”

Emma bristled at the sound of the voice behind her. An icy chill that was nothing like what she felt in Landon’s presence chased over her skin, and she rubbed at her arms to banish the goose bumps that rose up there. “I told you, you have nothing to worry about.”

“Oh, I know, chica. I only wanted to be sure you could play your part. Now that I know you can, I’ll leave you alone. For now.”

Emma tried to slow the racing of her heart with a few deep breaths. All of this was her fault. If she’d stayed out of trouble like her dad had asked her to, he’d be okay and getting the care he needed right now. “I know what’s expected of me,” Emma said, still refusing to turn and face the man speaking to her. She just wanted him to get the hell out of her condo.

“Good. That’s good.” His low voice snaked around her, dark and dangerous. “I’ll be in touch.”

Emma closed her eyes as he walked past her through the door. His body brushed against hers and she cringed as she inched away. She waited until the sounds of his footsteps disappeared down the hallway before she closed the door with shaking hands and turned the dead bolt into place. Her mind raced as adrenaline seeped into her bloodstream, making it difficult to focus. Landon McCabe’s appearance in Seattle was going to be a problem. And she hoped that his interference in her life wouldn’t get him killed.