Undercover Husband, page 1
Letter to Reader
Roman could hear the water running while he locked up the house and turned off lights. Much as he tried to concentrate on anything else, he couldn’t prevent vivid images of the woman in the shower from passing through his mind.
He’d entertained houseguests on numerous occasions.
This was different.
No way could he forget that Brit Langford was standing under that water. With clothes on, she was breathtaking. The sight of her without—
Stop right there, Lufkilovich.
Realizing it was going to be a long night, he headed for the kitchen and pulled a can of beer from the refrigerator. He rarely drank anything alcoholic, but tonight he needed something to offset the adrenaline running through his body.
You’re losing it, Lufkilovich. That woman has slipped past all your reliable defenses and has somehow worked her way beneath your skin. You’re not the same man you were before you took this case.
Get ready to meet the world’s most eligible bachelors: they’re sexy, successful and, best of all, they’re all yours!
This month in Harlequin Romance® we bring you the first book in a great new series, BACHELOR TERRITORY. These books have two things in common—they’re all predominantly written from the hero’s point of view, and they all make wonderful reading!
This month’s book is Undercover Husband by Rebecca Winters. Every other month we’ll be bringing you one BACHELOR TERRITORY book by some of the brightest and the best Harlequin Romance authors. Included in the lineup are Emma Richmond, Lucy Gordon. Heather Allison and Barbara McMahon.
In March it’s Val Daniels’s turn with #3497 Marriage on His Terms.
There are two sides to every story... and now it’s his turn!
P.S. Look out in Harlequin Presents for our “brother” promotion Man Talk! starting in April with bestselling author Charlotte Lamb.
BRITTANY LANGFORD, better known to her friends as Brit, anxiously scanned the hundred or so listings of private investigators in the Yellow Pages of the phone directory. Most of the ads didn’t mention stalking. She turned the page where her attention was immediately drawn to one particular advertisement near the bottom.
LFK Associates International. If you need peace of mind, or simply proof. * Background Checks * Surveillance * Stalkings * Decoy * Undercover * SecurityBodyguard
* Experienced Former Federal Law Enforcement Security * Investigations * U.S. Marine Corps Special Tactical Surveillance Unit.
Brit didn’t have to look any further. Everything about the ad and professional credentials felt right to her. No address had been given. She jotted down the phone number, then got up from the table on shaky legs and walked to the phone booth at the rear of her favorite Mexican restaurant.
After a few minutes she heard, “You’ve reached LFK-5555. May I help you?” a pleasant female voice spoke up.
“Yes. My name is Brit Langford. I—I’m being harassed by a man I met in Europe this summer and I’m so frightened I don’t know what to do. Lieutenant Parker of the Stalking Unit at the Salt Lake Police Department is handling my case. He says it’s pretty routine, but—”
“But you need further assurance so you won’t lose your sanity,” the receptionist finished for her.
“Exactly. The thing is, I don’t have much money. I can get it. I’ll apply for a loan and—”
“Before money is discussed, I need to take down all the pertinent information you can give me. If one of the investigators decides he wants to handle your case, an affordable fee payment plan will be drawn up. How does that sound to you?”
Brit clutched the receiver tighter. “It sounds wonderful.”
In the next few minutes she’d told the receptionist every detail she could think of.
“All right, Ms. Langford. I have your phone and work numbers, and the times when you can be reached. No matter the answer, one of the investigators will get back to you before the day is out.”
“Thank you very much.” To her embarrassment her voice wobbled. “I hope someone there decides to help me.”
“I hope so, too. Be expecting a call.”
“Ladies and gentlemen of the Nevada Police Academy—with our other business out of the way this morning, I’d now like to present the man you’ve been waiting to hear from. He’s here in Las Vegas for a well-deserved rest after helping mastermind the stakeout which resulted in the capture of the notorious Moffat brothers, two killers who’d managed to elude the best officers in six western states until now.”
Ear-splitting applause broke out.
It was part of a front for a top secret, covert operation out in the Nevada desert.
Though it was an operation of which he could approve, Roman had gone from being an idealistic soldier, to a disillusioned officer in the military, to a disenchanted CIA agent.
For a variety of reasons—not the least of which was his distaste for the growing corruption within the system—he was thinking of getting out.
“The man’s credentials speak for themselves. After serving in the Marines in a special tactical surveillance unit for a number of years, he went to work as a law enforcement officer with the New York City Police Department.”
Correction. My time in the New York City Police Department was another cover to gather information about drug-trafficking coming out of South America. What I found was a number of people within the community of law enforcement who were involved and it has sickened me.
“He’s a special agent of the International Police Congress, the Associated Licensed Detectives of New York, Bureau of Missing Children, American Society of Industrial Security, National Association of Chiefs of Police, Academy of Security Educators and Trainers and International Association of Law Enforcement Intelligence Analysts.”
But I’m rarely given the time to do the P.I. work I love.
“He founded Professionals International, and at present is the owner, licensee and executive director of LFK Associates International, a private investigation firm located in Salt Lake City, Utah.”
That’s right. My latest temporary cover until they send me to South America. Maybe I’ll retire before that day comes. When I’m no longer associated with a system that isn’t doing the job, then I can be exclusive as a P.I. and fight other problems plaguing society right here at home.
“Without further ado, we’ll now hear from Lieutenant Roman Lufka.”
Another burst of applause accompanied Roman’s short walk to the rostrum. He looked around his audience of a couple of hundred law enforcement people.
For the most part, this group in front of him—whether on or off duty—were hardworking, law-abiding citizens themselves, the cornerstone of goodness in the whole scheme of police work.
Unfortunately, the higher one climbed, be it a member of the FBI or the CIA, there was a tendency to get bogged down by a corrupt bureaucracy.
Roman. You’re tired...
“It seems the only thing Chief Wilson didn’t tell you is that the name written on my birth certificate reads Romanov Vechiarelli Lufkilovich. My great-grandparents on my father’s side were Russian immigrants who arrived and settled in New York. My mo
“When I came home from grade school with my tenth nosebleed in a row, my parents agreed to let me shorten my name to Roman Lufka, which incorporated a little of the best parts of all the blood flowing through my veins.
“Of course by then, I’d begun to learn how to take care of myself. The other guy ended up in the hospital. I suppose I have my parents to thank for putting me on the road to my particular and peculiar destiny, no matter how ignominious and self-serving its start.”
A roar of laughter filled the conference room. Someone called out, “How come you ended up in Salt Lake?”
If you only knew...
“That’s an interesting question,” Roman responded when quiet reigned. “Would you believe, skiing? The rumors are true. Utah has the best snow on earth. To this New Yorker anyway,” he added with a smile.
That part was true. The skiing was fabulous. He was already addicted...
Judging by the shouts and whistles, a large portion of the audience agreed with him.
“I could go on all day about my favorite sport. However, Chief Wilson has a reputation, if you know what I mean, and he expects us to get some work done here.”
Again the room exploded with good-natured guffaws and laughter.
“As you know, in the past, the image of the private investigator hasn’t been the best. I’ll be the first to admit that incompetent bunglers, less-than-professional idiots who couldn’t find their way out of an unlocked closet, have riddled our noble profession with holes which the media has picked up on and exploited in the worst possible light.
“We’ve been made out as uninformed, uneducated riffraff, rising from the dregs of society in our rumpled clothes which wreak of cigarette smoke and garlic from yesterday’s leftover pastrami sandwich eaten out of a rundown ’72 Chevy we haven’t finished making payments on. The exhaust pipe, by the way, long since confiscated by local hoodlums.”
Again everyone laughed and clapped in agreement because the picture he painted was too real and hit too close to home.
“I’m here to tell you that this image is changing. No longer is there room in the private investigation field for those of us choosing this line of work to be anything but professional. In fact, we’re approaching the year 2000 where we’ll be wiped out, eliminated from the competition, unless we become the absolute, total professional.
“This means you have to be dedicated to a higher degree of commitment as you study and learn everything possible to navigate and win in our specialized and technical society. As crime spreads like the incurable ebola virus, mutating in hideous new forms, we have to be equipped to handle the awful and unprecedented tasks besetting us, testing us to the last atom of our cognitive thinking powers.
“That’s what being professional is all about. That’s why I’m here today, to provoke you to be better than you’ve ever been before, to reach inside that core of you which will not stand for mediocre or slovenly service, but will respond to the highest call to be your brother’s keeper in the noblest sense of the word, defending the helpless, even to the giving of your own life, if necessary.
“But the chances of that happening diminish in direct ratio to the degree of your professionalism, and that’s a fact you can take to the bank.”
There was absolute quiet before the room suddenly erupted into thunderous ovation. When Roman could get a word in he said, “That’s it. That’s my speech. I’d rather turn the rest of the time over to a thirty-minute question and answer period before I have to get back to Salt Lake on the noon flight.”
“Another call on line two, Brit!” the secretary spoke up.
Brit’s gaze darted to the wall clock. Ten after three. Maybe this was the one she’d been waiting for.
She left the drafting board and rushed over to her desk. “Brit Langford, here.”
“Ms. Langford. This is Diana from LFK.”
Her heart plummeted to her feet. Maybe the receptionist was calling to tell her they wouldn’t be able to take her case.
“Y-yes?” she answered, dry-mouthed.
“Hold on. I’m putting you through to Lieutenant Lufka.”
Brit gripped the receiver more tightly.
“Ms. Langford? Roman Lufka here. From what my secretary, Diana, has told me, it sounds as if you’ve got a serious problem on your hands.”
The deep cultured voice whose accent suggested an East Coast education and sophistication came as much of a surprise to her as his assurance that her fears were justified. The police had shown her relatively little interest or compassion.
“I get a pit in my stomach just anticipating looking at the mail. When the first letter came, I thought it had to be some sort of hideous joke, but it has gone on too long. I was feeling so desperate I decided to call your office.”
“I’m glad you did. Can you meet me at Lieutenant Parker’s office in say, twenty minutes?”
She breathed a huge sigh of relief. “Oh, yes. Does this mean you’ll take my case?”
“Thank you.” Her voice trembled.
“You’re welcome. See you soon.”
She heard the click before she put the receiver back on the hook. Thank goodness she was going to get some help.
Roman drove the tan Ford he used on the job into the underground carpark of the metropolitan hall of justice.
Unfortunately, there was no anonymity here. By the time he’d reached the third floor of the complex, he’d shaken hands with a dozen officers and exchanged shoptalk with a dozen more who wanted to discuss the stakeout he’d been on.
He broke it off as soon as he could and headed for Parker’s office. The head of the stalking bureau possessed a need to be in control at all times. Since he was on the phone, Roman used sign language for permission to get into the files. The other man hesitated, then expelled a frustrated sigh and nodded his go-ahead.
On his way to the cabinet, Roman theorized that this had to be one of Parker’s better days, or else the phone call had distracted him.
His client hadn’t arrived yet. He decided to get started.
Lam, Lamoreaux, Landau, Landrigan, Langford. Roman pulled her file and sat down at a table against the wall.
The first item to meet his gaze was a copy of her passport photo, and a large color photograph of her tour group assembled on the steps of St. Peter’s in Rome.
A hairy-faced figure among the group had been circled with black marker. Obviously he was the man who’d been harassing her.
Roman’s eyes darted to the other people in the crowd until he found Brittany Langford, a budding new architect according to Diana.
With her ash-blond hair long enough to be pulled back in a medium-size ponytail, she looked about nineteen rather than twenty-six, and very attractive.
Putting the pictures aside, he began studying the information from the report taken by investigating Officer Green. It was sparse at best.
Glen Baird. White male, approximately six feet, medium build, medium-dark brown hair and brown eyes, resident of Madison, Wisconsin.
If the man’s hair were shaved off, the description could belong to hundreds of thousands of men in the U.S. The letters would tell Roman a great deal more.
Oftentimes it was during the initial perusal of evidence—when his brain seemed to be in free-association mode—that his creative side took over. As ideas sprang into his mind—ideas to be followed up on at a later date—he would make verbal notes into his pocket recorder.
The process of assessing, digesting, analyzing random bits of information generally revealed a pattern, sometimes a whole picture of a mind that didn’t function in the normal way.
He started to pull the recorder from his pocket when he heard his name called out in a familiar feminine voice with that slightly husky tone. He looked up to discover that his newest client was even more beautiful than the picture had revealed.
Those vibrant blue eyes and flawless young skin
“Ms. Langford.” Rising to his feet, he put out his hand for her to shake, then flashed her his credentials to identify himself.
The top of her head reached his chin. A subtle, flowery fragrance emanated from her.
As a rule, when Brit tried to match a face with a voice, she was totally off base and inevitably disappointed. For once in her life, the reality surpassed the image of the bodyguard-type she’d conjured in her mind.
His hazel eyes stared directly into hers. The attractive, dark-haired man stood at least six feet two, maybe three. He had a lean, powerful build and was probably in his midto late-thirties. With a name like that and his olive complexion, he was definitely of European or even Eastern European extraction. Yet he was as American as she was. The combination took her breath.
There weren’t any men of her acquaintance who looked remotely like him, not even a few of the striking foreign males she’d met on her tour.
Her gaze quickly reverted once more to his company credentials which contained his picture and description.
“Please. Sit down.”
He helped guide her to a chair before he sat opposite her. There was an air of unreality about the whole situation. What in heaven’s name was wrong with her?
“I appreciate your being willing to talk to me this afternoon, for making it possible for me to pay you in installments. I’m very grateful.” Damn. Her voice quivered.
REBECCA WINTERS SERIES:
Other author's books:
- The Prince's Forbidden BrideWedding the Greek BillionaireThe Princess's New Year WeddingHome on the Ranch: Wyoming Cowboy RangerHome on the Ranch: Wyoming SheriffTHE GREEK'S TINY MIRACLEThe Billionaire's Baby SwapMarry Me under the Mistletoe
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