Under cover, p.1

Under Cover, page 1

 

Under Cover
 


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Under Cover


  UNDER COVER

  By Donna Ball

  **********************************

  Copyright 1991 by Donna Ball Inc.

  All rights reserved

  e-book edition published February 2011 by Blue Merle Publishing

  This book was originally published in an altered version by Silhouette Desire under the pseudonym Donna Carlisle . It has been extensively revised to suit the author’s preferences and updated for modern readers.

  ***********************************************************

  Praise for the Work of Donna Ball

  "A love story that will cling to your memory long after the book has ended."

  --Romantic Times

  "Recommended reading to everyone regardless of age or sex."

  -- Affaire de Coeur

  "A major talent of the genre"

  --Publisher'sWeekly

  "Simply fabulous"

  -- Midwest Review

  ***************************

  ONE

  Teale Saunders knew three things for certain about David Carey: he was incredibly good looking, he was extremely wealthy, and he was a criminal.

  He was also, at this moment, smiling at her.

  Teale felt just the smallest quiver of excitement— perhaps even nervousness—as she returned his smile coolly over the rim of her glass. The rumors about his mesmerizing effect on women had not been entirely unfounded.

  "What do you think?" she murmured to Sam.

  Sam, who had been surreptitiously watching the interchange, glanced at her as Carey turned casually back to his conversational group. "I think," he answered, absently swirling the liquid in his glass, "he's nibbling at the bait. And we've only been here ten minutes. Well done."

  “Thanks," she replied. Her tone was dry, but she could not disguise the slight spark of triumph in her eyes as she looked around the room.

  From the outside David Carey's home was no different from any other on the beach—neither pretentious nor modest, but standard beachfront fare that blended in comfortably with its neighbors. Subtlety was a necessary tool of David Carey's trade. The interior was discreetly decorated in shell beige and gray, with touches of turquoise that picked up the tones of the Atlantic Ocean, visible from three sides of the front room. To the casual observer, the house was not distinctive, and the party was no different from any other—unless, perhaps, it was quieter than some. It was only when one looked closely at the guests that one began to suspect this was no ordinary gathering of friends enjoying a sociable time on a Friday night.

  The mode of dress ranged from tuxedos to Hawaiian prints, from glittering gowns to cotton sundresses, but there was an aura of unmistakable elegance about it all. The ring worn by the woman in sandals and jeans was a flawless four-point diamond, the simple silk frock worn by her companion bore a Dior label. No one was in this room who could not afford to be, and all of them knew what they were here for.

  The champagne was Dom Perignon, the caviar was beluga. The music was tasteful, and the conversation was punctuated by light laughter, the wink of jewels and the clink of glasses. David Carey circulated with the casual air of a genial host and occasionally would escort a guest or a couple into a short hallway and toward a back room. The door would close discreetly behind his chosen guests, and David would return to play host again.

  It had taken three weeks to set up the invitation to this party, and Teale was excited. She enjoyed the glamour and the role playing, of course; one of the reasons she was so good at her job was that there were parts of it she found unabashedly fun. But mostly she enjoyed the challenge, the taste of victory after weeks of work, and yes, even the tiny edge of danger. For Teale wasn't particularly impressed by the size of the women's jewels or the vintage of the champagne. She was interested in what was going on in that back room.

  Sam was eyeing the buffet table. "You want some shrimp?"

  "Are you kidding? They're dripping in sauce, and this dress costs more than you and I both make in a month."

  He grinned at her. "Perks of the job, sweetheart. You don't think the taxpayers would spring for a dry-cleaning bill?"

  "I'm just not so sure how easy it's going to be to knock David Carey off his feet with shrimp sauce all over the front of my dress. And stop standing so close. He's looking at me again."

  "It won't hurt him to think he's got a little competition." Sam watched the way she arched her neck to smooth back a strand of light red hair, and he watched David Carey watching. He frowned a little. "Maybe you're a little too good at this."

  Teale hid her amusement by sipping from her glass. Sam and she had been partners for three years, and it was only natural that the closeness that developed between them on the job should spill over into their personal lives. Fortunately for their working relationship, each of them had decided at first glance that neither was the other's type. Sam was too short for Teale; Teale was too skinny for Sam. The resulting relationship was purely platonic, and if Sam occasionally carried his big-brother role too far, it was impossible to be seriously annoyed with him for it. He knew Teale too well to ever allow himself to become too overprotective.

  "Getting to this party was one thing," Teale reminded Sam, watching David Carey from the corner of her eye. "Getting behind that door—" she nodded toward the hallway that led to the back room "—is quite another. And that, my friend, is what you have me for."

  Sam chuckled. "That's your problem, lady—no confidence. What makes you think he's going to take you back there the first time you meet?"

  Teale gave a toss of her head, her hair rippling across her bare shoulders. "Because I'm good at my job."

  Sam's eyes twinkled. "Are you sure you're in the right profession?"

  Teale gave him a cool stare. "I'm just the cheese in the trap."

  "Hmm." Sam cast his eyes to the side and then, casually, back to her. "You just be careful. That's a mighty big rat you're after, and he's moving this way." And, with a polite social smile and a nod, Sam sauntered off toward the buffet.

  Teale felt a leap of her pulses, which she quickly subdued. She composed her features into an expression of casual boredom and gazed absently around the room, sipping her drink. She made certain not to look in David Carey's direction, though she could feel his approach much as she could feel static electricity in the air before a storm. Every nerve in her body was alert and alive. This was the moment she had been trained for, and she was ready.

  "Miss Simon. You're looking neglected."

  Teale Simon was the alias she adopted for all undercover work; it was simpler to remember a name that was close to her own. When David Carey spoke she turned slowly and favored him with a measuring smile. "How kind of you to notice, Mr. Carey."

  He had greeted them at the door, of course, but that first meeting had been brief and impersonal, and Teale had been too busy checking out the room to pay much attention to her host. Now she had a chance to appraise him up close, and she was impressed.

  He didn't look much like a hoodlum, she had to admit. He had a casual, easy-going air about him that suggested barbecues on the beach or touch football on someone's front lawn. He could have been a lawyer, a banker, a real-estate broker, and on first glance he seemed perfectly harmless. But Teale was trained to look beneath the obvious, to the thread of steel that wound beneath his lean, sexy frame, the trace of hardness just beneath the surface of his lazy gray eyes. Oh yes, he was dangerous. But perhaps not in the way she had first imagined.

  His hair was sun-streaked brown, his eyes the color of smoked crystal. His skin was lightly bronzed by the sun; his features were sharp and aristocratic. Yet it was his mouth that immediately drew the eye and held the attention. His lips were distinctively etched, perfectly clefted in the center, flowing smoothly toward
corners that could curve in a cynical smile or tighten with sternness or anger. It was a mouth an artist's brush would yearn to capture and a woman's finger would ache to trace. His was a striking face, an unforgettable face, filled with lazy sensuality and just a hint of danger. It was a face even Teale, who was both forewarned and forearmed, could not help appreciating.

  He was dressed fashionably in a linen jacket with the sleeves pushed up close to the elbows, a pale blue open collared shirt and casual loafers. But the shirt was raw silk and the loafers were Gucci, and he wore them all with the negligent ease of a man who was accustomed to having the best in life and never questioned his own standards.

  Expensive clothes, beachfront property, a sleek red Porsche in the carport—thinking of how he had acquired these luxuries caused a small knot of anger to form in Teale’s stomach, which she smoothly disguised with a smile.

  "I was hoping you'd come over," she confessed. "I really don't know anyone here, and there's nothing more boring than trying to make small talk with people you're not interested in."

  He lifted an eyebrow. "Shall I take that to mean you're interested in me?"

  It was not just his good looks that had earned him his reputation of irresistibility with women, Teale realized, but something more subtle, less easily defined. The negligent way he held his glass, the casual stance he took as he stood beside her, just a little too close— watchful and relaxed, easy yet poised. It was in the hint of knowing amusement behind those smoky eyes, the faint curve of his lips, the lazy familiarity in his gaze that he somehow managed to make seem comfortable rather than offensive. Much against her will, Teale felt her pulses speed in response to that gaze, and she thought, God, he's good at this.

  But then, so was she.

  She swept him slowly from head to foot, and her smile deepened a fraction, invitingly. "Oh yes, Mr. Carey. Who wouldn't be?"

  She could not be certain whether the amusement she saw in his eyes was gratification or mockery. She began to realize, to her annoyance, that it would never be easy to tell quite what David Carey was thinking by looking into his eyes.

  But he responded gallantly; "I'm flattered, Miss Simon."

  "Teale, please," she murmured, and he inclined his head in acknowledgment.

  "And the gentleman you arrived with—" he nodded toward the buffet table without taking his eyes off Teale "—he wasn't, I hope, your husband—or boyfriend?"

  "Sam?" She shrugged. "I barely know him. But he does get invited to some interesting places."

  "And he brings some very interesting guests."

  Teale was growing somewhat uncomfortable beneath his smiling, appraising stare. That lazy gaze was deceiving, for Teale suspected those eyes missed nothing. She tried to reassure herself that he would see nothing she did not wish him to see, but it was difficult to keep her uneasiness at bay.

  Every detail of her appearance had been planned with painstaking detail and executed to perfection. The white strapless sheath she wore was classic and understated, woven with a tiny silver thread and fashioned in gentle lines that traced her hips and bosom as it dropped toward a subtly suggestive slit from calf to ankle. The simple style was perfect for her, and the color emphasized the golden tint to her skin and the rich shimmer of her hair. The diamonds in her ears were genuine—they had belonged to her mother—but the one-carat pendant suspended from her neck had been borrowed at great expense and under much duress from the local jewelry store. She had brushed her strawberry hair to a glossy sheen and allowed it to fall over her shoulders, darkened her normally pale eyebrows and lashes, accentuated her usually nonexistent cheekbones with shadow and a sprinkle of glitter, widened her eyes with a painstaking gradation of subtle colors and brightened her lips with gloss. The makeup job alone had taken over an hour.

  Everything about her had been carefully arranged to project negligent wealth and subtle good taste, and she tried to assure herself her mask was perfect. But beneath David Carey's probing gaze she felt like a fraud. Did he see a woman who, without the elaborate costuming, was flat-chested, pale and plain? Did he realize her perfectly manicured, ivory-coated nails came from a box and the expensive scent she wore from a tester bottle at the local department store? Did he guess the dress was rented and the necklace borrowed?

  And then an even more unsettling question occurred to her: Would he care if he knew? Something in the indulgent, amused expression in his eyes suggested he would not, and for a brief moment Teale felt more like the mouse than the cheese. She did not like that feeling at all.

  She tilted her head to him and inquired, "Do you always stare at people so, Mr. Carey?"

  "Only beautiful women," he assured her.

  Teale was not beautiful, and she knew it. She was tall and thin, with sharp features and a wide, expressive mouth. Her baby-fine hair was the palest of strawberry blonde, and she wore it long in a vain attempt to give it some appearance of fullness. Her complexion was the translucent porcelain common to most redheads, and her eyebrows and lashes were so light as to almost disappear against her skin. Without makeup, she looked plain and washed-out. With her most diligent efforts, she supposed she could look... unusual. Perhaps even striking. Apparently she looked unusual enough tonight to attract the attention of a man like David Carey, which was exactly what she had hoped for.

  Still, she took his compliment with a grain of salt, and glanced appreciatively around. "There is a room full of beautiful women here."

  He followed her gaze with an unabashed nod of approval. "So there is."

  She looked at him speculatively. "I heard you have a weakness for beautiful women."

  "Did you now?" His eyes danced. "What else did you hear?"

  She hesitated, then gave him a coy smile. Her blood was thrumming. "That you give very interesting parties."

  He leaned toward her with the air of one imparting a confidence; at the same moment she felt the light touch of his hand upon her bare back. A totally involuntary thrill of electricity tingled her skin. "Actually," he confessed, "I find them an incredible bore. How would you like to rescue me from all this?"

  The tip of his finger traced a little titillating pattern down the first three ridges of her spine, causing a surprising clutch of dryness in her throat. The man certainly didn’t waste any time.

  She recovered herself quickly. "As a matter of fact," she said brightly—perhaps too brightly—"I would love a tour of your house."

  He seemed to be watching her with more interest, and it was all she could do to keep herself from blushing under his scrutiny. His hand now rested in a light, cupping embrace around her naked shoulder, and though every instinct she possessed told her to move away, she could hardly do that and keep up the role of femme fatale she had determined to play. So she simply smiled up at him through a veil of lashes and pretended to enjoy it. She didn't have to pretend very hard.

  "It's a very ordinary house," he told her, and the slight lift of the corner of his lips was both intimate and inviting. "But the view of the beach is magnificent. Would you care to see it?"

  For a moment she had a fantasy—walking along the beach with him, the salt air riffling her hair, the damp sand squishing between her toes... David Carey draping his coat over her bare shoulders and, perhaps, taking her hand... warm skin, soft moonlight, herself alone with this incredibly handsome and unmistakably exciting man....

  As if.

  Quickly, Teale took a sip of her drink and brought her attention back to the job at hand. What was the matter with her, anyway? It wasn’t like her to get that caught up in a role. She gave an elaborate shrug. "You've seen one beach, you've seen them all."

  He laughed softly. "I feel the same way about houses." And, with a slight pressure on her shoulder, he started leading her toward the glass doors that opened onto the deck.

  Out of the corner of her eye she saw Sam, a heaped-full plate in one hand and a highball glass in the other, his narrowed eyes telegraphing the message that he was ready to come to her rescue at a moment's
notice. Something about that look rankled her and brought her clearly back to her sense of purpose. She did not need Sam's rescuing. She could handle this on her own.

  And since subtle flirtation had gotten her nothing but trouble, she decided to take her chances with the direct approach. As they edged their way through the crowd she nodded casually toward the hallway that led to the back room. "What's going on back there?"

  David gave her a speculative, slightly amused look and seemed uncertain whether to reply. Then his hand dropped-to his waist and he replied, "An orgy, actually. Are you interested?"

  "Thank you, no. The last orgy I attended was a dreadful bore. Perhaps if you had something more exciting to offer... ? "

  He regarded her for another moment with that thoughtful, humorous air, and then he murmured, "Perhaps I do at that." He turned and led her toward the hallway.

  Teale's pulses were pounding with the taste of victory, and she could barely keep the elation from showing in her eyes. Not even the chief had believed they would gain access to the back room on the first night. But she had done it.

  She caught a glimpse of the surprise and concern on Sam's face as they passed, and it was all she could do to keep from tossing him a look of triumph. Instead, she made a split-second gesture, a circle of her thumb and forefinger behind her back, and didn't glance at him again.

  "Teale," David said as they moved into the relative quiet of the hall. "That's an unusual name." He paused and touched her chin with his forefinger, tipping her face up. The gesture took her so by surprise that she caught her breath.

  He smiled. "I don't suppose there's any chance that you were named for the color of your eyes?"

  He was very close, and her back was next to the wall. The subtle herbal scent of his cologne teased her nostrils, and his body warmth brushed against her. His eyes weren't entirely gray, she noticed then, but flecked with traces of midnight blue, like some exotic jewel. There was a light in his eyes that was rich with confidence and unmistakably sensual, and Teale began to wonder if she was really as clever as she thought.

 
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