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CHAPTER ONE

Alex Hayes surveyed the long lines in the supermarket with frustration. He contemplated leaving the trolley of goods behind and head for home, but then he remembered his cupboards and fridge were empty and he had a hot date coming over in a few hours.

He wanted to pull off a gourmet meal to impress Ashley, his personal assistant. But the only dish he could manage was macaroni and cheese. As good as it he made it, he didn’t think his high-maintenance lover would appreciate it.

So, after an intense search for a simple but exotic recipe, he made a quick trip to the grocery store. Armed with a trolley full of items he’d never seen his life, he made his way to the checkout counter. He pushed his unusually packed trolley in the shortest line he could find—which was still excessively long.

As he steadied the trolley, a woman forced her way through the heavy throng of shoppers, knocking him sideways. Alex whipped around with a curse on his lips, but his brain immediately froze and all thoughts disappeared. He stood gaping at the curly-haired beauty before him, his heart racing.

“I’m so sorry,” her silvery voice washed over him. Without waiting for a response, she turned and walked away, her wide hips swinging. She continued to push through the crowds of tired shoppers and disappeared down an aisle. Alex pulse tripped as he stared at the aisle where she’d vanished, hoping she would re-appear. A sudden and deep longing filled him.

The woman behind him in the line hissed, “move up mister!” pulling him from his reverie. He spun to see the line had moved further up, creating a huge gap.

How long had he been watching the aisle?

Aren’t you getting ready for a date later? The voice of reason asked him, and he ignored it. His eyes scanned the rest of the store to see if he could spot her, and an aching need arose. He considered leaving the trolley and going to search for her. With the line still a mile’s length, he had time. But one look at the grumpy old woman behind him and he knew she would push his trolley out the line as soon as he left.

So, he stayed. But he continued looking.

Finally, he reached the head of the line. He was busy placing his purchases on the check-out counter when he felt a gentle nudge in his side. “Hi, can I check-out ahead of you? I only have one item.” He turned towards the voice, and his heart-rate skyrocketed. The voluptuous beauty stood before him, waving a small box of ice cream. His skin tingled as she smiled at him with a silent plea, her big eyes innocent.

Alex was instantly in love.

She waited for an answer. “Can I?”

Snap out of it, Alex!

He smiled and gestured. “Go right ahead.” She smiled gratefully, and as she moved past him, her hand brushed against his.

Alex resisted the urge to touch her. God, she was beautiful; with tiny pink lips that slightly pouted. On an impulse he wanted to taste her, to lick every inch of her gorgeous mouth.

Pulling back, he allowed her to proceed while admiring her from behind. With a Her body sculptured to perfection, her perky ass covered a pair of skinny jeans that seemed to be under immense pressure. Alex tried to visualize her nakedness and his dick swelled at the thought.

From a moment he debated to ask for her cell phone number, but decided against it. The last thing he needed was a blatant rejection in a store filled with people. Besides, she probably had a man, looking the way she did. Alex watched as she paid for her ice-cream while he willed his mouth open to say something, anything to her. But no words emerged—which was a first.

Time ran out, and a beep from the cashier’s computer showed he was next. He watched helplessly as the beautiful stranger waved to him and hurried from the store. Returning the woman’s wave, he watched her go, with his heart pounding furiously and his palms damp with sweat. His eyes followed her as she moved though the automatic door, her curly hair bouncing, matching her strides that emphasized the sway of her hips and her apple-shaped bottom. He itched to catch another glimpse of her, and as soon as the cashier was through, he grabbed his bags and jogged to the parking lot.

But she was nowhere in sight.

Disappointed, he went home to prepare a meal for his date, but his heart wasn’t in it anymore. After burning the shrimp and over cooking the vegetables to a soggy mess, he surrendered, and took Ashley out to an expensive French restaurant, one he knew would impress her. Ashley had no complaints; she spent the evening taking selfies and posting on Instagram, while he sat daydreaming about the woman who, without even knowing it, had stolen his heart.

Who would have thought? Alex had sworn to never love again after a tragedy that skewed his perception. After Gillian, he’d never thought he would connect to anyone again. And now, this sensual creature unknowingly destroyed every reservation he’d clung to after a tragedy turned his life upside down.

Occasionally, his mind went back to the day when everything changed…

Three Years Ago

Alex was on assignment, working on a case for a politician’s wife. Sandra Bent needed hard evidence her husband, Mark Bent, the city’s councilman, was having an affair. With his reputation as a sharp but discreet private investigator, Alex’s knack of uncovering hidden secrets and flushing lies earned him a huge following and a fat bank account. Since lately, however, he’d been entertaining the thought of hanging up his hat and branching into another area of work. The working hours were endless, and he wasn’t getting any younger.

Also, it was time for him to settle down. After a series of bad relationships, he’d finally found the woman right for him. He’d always been drawn to women who needed rescuing; unfortunately, they were always the wrong type.

He remembered Cindy, a financial accountant with sticky fingers who he saved from jail by paying off her angry bosses. She repaid him by sleeping with his neighbor then running off with his Rolex and a family heirloom.

And Leigh-Ann; he met her—bumped into her actually—when she was running from her abusive husband who attacked her in the restaurant where they dined, when she accused him of cheating.  Alex hid her in his apartment for several days while her lawyer prepared a quickie divorce. After her divorce, and a short affair with Alex, Leigh-Ann disappeared from his apartment—and his life—like a ninja.

Currently, he was dating Gillian, a fitness trainer who lived in his apartment complex. They’d hooked up after she hired Alex to find her ex who’d framed her for murder.

Gillian was in bed sleeping with her new boyfriend when Nick, her jealous ex broke in and shot him in the head. He knocked Gillian unconscious, wiped his prints from the gun and put it in her hands. He added the icing on the cake by calling the police and reporting a shooting at her address.

When the police stormed, they found Gillian found with her blood-soaked hands clutching the nine-millimeter that killed her lover. She was on trial when Alex tracked Nick down and skillfully drilled a confession from him.

To show her gratitude, Gillian invited Alex into her bed. Within a short time, their relationship escalated and they moved in together. Due in part to their amazing synergy, Alex considered the thought of marrying her. The only drawback was his constant overtime which meant they hardly saw each other.

Gillian voiced her frustrations with his busy schedule. Alex knew he had to make a change, and fast. She was a good woman and he did not want to lose her. His feelings for her were as close to love as he could feel. He couldn’t imagine life without her.

Yes, it was definitely time to change his career, marry Gillian—if she was still around—and have babies. In that order.

He drove around town, tracking the politician he was hired to investigate, and a feeling of foreboding suddenly launched in his gut.

Something was wrong.

He could feel a sinister vibe lurking, trying to overcome. In an attempt to dispel it, he called Gillian, needing to hear her soothing voice. But after a few rings where her phone went to voicemail he hung up, the dark feeling growing stronger.

His forced his mind to return to business. According to the Mark’s diary that Alex had gotten from his wife, Sandra, he was currently in a meeting at the city’s convention center. Alex drove fast, and arrived in the parking lot just as the Mark emerged, waving to his colleagues and climbing into his SUV with haste. He immediately gunned the engine and sped away. Alex quickly followed.

Heading to the hip strip uptown, Mark turned into a hotel located on the far end of the strip where the most private and exclusive businesses were. Alex waited a beat, then parked while Mark entered the hotel.

After two hours, Mark reappeared, this time with his jacket slung over his shoulder and his shirt sloppily tucked in his pants. He glanced behind him as a tall, athletic woman stepped from the doorway. Alex felt his bowels loosen.

It was Gillian.

Alex froze and stared at the couple until his eyes strained. My eyes are playing tricks, he decided.

It was impossible that Gillian, the woman he wanted to marry, was having an affair. Clearly it was someone else. He jumped from his car for a clearer look. At the same time, another car pulled into the venue and glided past him, reversing neatly into a parking spot. It shocked Alex to see Sandra alight from the driver’s seat.

How the hell did she know where to find them?

As he closed the car door, his cell phone fell from his hand. Cursing, he bent to retrieve it, and as he straightened, he saw Sandra approach the startled couple.

What happened next was a blur.

Sandra ran towards them with a colorful rant. Mark stood shock-still, his face masked with terror. Gillian recovered quickly, waving dismissively to the angry woman before her. Alex hastened his steps, the sinister feeling rising.

Dipping in her bag, Sandra raised a gun. Alex spotted it and broke off in a run, screaming Gillian’s name. Sandra pulled the trigger as Gillian turned and looked in Alex’s direction, her face registering surprise at the sight of Alex and force of the bullets hitting her neck and chest. In an instant, she was gone.

Mark turned to run but several bullets connected with his head and back. He fell with a heavy thud on the asphalt.

At sound of gunfire everyone scattered. Alex froze, his mind willing his eyes to defy what he’d just seen.

The sound of police sirens filled the air. Sandra sunk to the floor with a hysterical sob. A squad car entered the complex with breakneck speed and came to a screeching halt where she knelt. As the cops spotted the gun they sprang into action, jumping from the car with their own guns drawn, screaming instructions for her to put her gun down.

Alex stood in a daze as he watched the scene unfold.

Sandra looked at Alex, her face etched with torment. Then, as swift as an arrow, she put the gun to her head and blew her brains out.

***

Alex never truly recovered from that day, and he’d vowed never to fall in love again. After Gillian’s betrayal, it was impossible to trust any woman. His heart had been permanently out of business.

Until today…

***

Whitney grabbed the box of ice cream from the supermarket refrigerator in a hurry and headed quickly to the checkout aisle. After a long day she was rushing to get home. It was late, and there was someone special waiting for her.

She groaned at the long lines ahead. It would take forever to get through. The checkout clerks resembled snails on an assembly line, and the queues were barely moving. Decisively, Whitney made her way to the front of one of the lines where an attractive man proceeded to unload his trolley.

“Hi, can you allow me to check-out ahead of you? It’s only one item,” she waved the box of ice cream at him.

He stood staring at her blankly, and Whitney smiled uncomfortably. Had he heard her?

“Can I?” She repeated.

His face broke into a smile and he gestured. “Go right ahead.”

Whitney gave a relieved, “thank you!” and moved ahead. Waving at him as she left, she hurried to her car with her thoughts on home. Her man was waiting for her, and she was dying to feel his warm body against hers. It had been a long day.

She was so intent on reaching her destination she did not see the car that pulled out behind her and followed her all the way home.