Executive Decisions, Book 4
Ebook ISBN: B00S9TBNFA
[ Romantic Suspense, MF ]
The Executive Decisions Trilogy may be over, but the story continues. Intrepid reporter, Carla Flannery, wants to interview Wade Crittenden, the secretive creative genius behind Pneuma Inc. But when, against all odds, Wade actually agrees to the interview, Carla suspects ulterior motives.
Carla Flannery took a large gulp of what that was supposed to be coffee, but she suspected was actually lubricant for heavy machinery. She made a heroic effort to swallow, and then shuddered at the after-bite. The cut on her face stung, but it had stopped bleeding, so she ignored it as she went over her notes on the rescue of Devon Melbourne and the arrest of his kidnappers – well some of his kidnappers, anyway. The police suspected that Rigby Eberhardt was only the flunky but, for whatever reason, he was taking the fall. She had a good rapport with most of the cops at the station, so she would eventually find out. They didn’t trust many reporters, but they trusted her, probably because of her father and her inadvertent association with Wade Crittenden. It actually wasn’t much of an association. For the most part, Wade ignored her. At the best of times he tolerated her – probably because she was Martin Flannery’s daughter. Well, being a good reporter was all about contacts, networking and being able to namedrop when necessary, so if Wade’s name got her into certain inner sanctums, she wasn’t above dropping it.
She glanced down at her watch and then at the closed door of the interrogation room. She knew Wade wasn’t inside, but was pretty sure he was watching the questioning of Eberhardt from the two-way mirror. She’d seen him go down the hall with Detective Meyers. They’d been back there forever. She’d sent off a quick story to her editor from the scene of the rescue, as soon as she’d gotten over the shakes. Flannery scoops it again, she thought with a smile. She supposed a high-five from Wade was too much to ask, but he’d glared at her like she’d just killed his cat. Still, Wade, and his cat – if he had one – weren’t the issue. Carla had all ready updated her story after she’d talked to the police, and she wanted to talk to Wade for the next update. She knew the night’s rescue and subsequent arrest wouldn’t have happened without Wade’s help, but it wouldn’t have happened without hers either. It hadn’t been her intention to still be in the vacant apartment building when the police raided. She was a journalist, not a cop, and she didn’t make a habit of hanging out at crime scenes – well unless you counted the illegal landfill over by John Day or the warehouse outside Gresham where stolen cars were being cannibalised for parts. And that horrible stalker who tried to kidnap Kendra Davis well it was hardly Carla’s fault that he decided he wanted her to have an exclusive on his creepy brilliance. Wade had played a major part in saving Kendra Davis’s life too, but so had her quick actions. She would hardly go so far as to think of them as a damn good team. He certainly didn’t think of her at all. Not that she wanted him to, of course. Not that she cared what Wade Crittenden thought of her.
Back to the present situation though, the truth was, the police wouldn’t have raided at all if she hadn’t put two and two together, gone to the building and realised what was going on. They wouldn’t have known where Rigby Eberhardt was holding the heir to the Melbourne empire if Carla hadn’t figured it out and called them in. It wasn’t her fault that she got caught out when Eberhardt and his cohort showed up unexpectedly. Then when it became clear that they were getting ready to move Melbourne somewhere else, namely the bottom of the Willamette River in a weighted-down garbage bag, what else could she do but text Wade and the cops from her hiding place in the closet?
She looked at her watch one more time. What the hell was Wade doing? She wanted to make sure he was all right. He was favouring his arm when he came out of the derelict building with the police and Devon Melbourne. No other civilian but Wade Crittenden would have been allowed access. She’d been severely reprimanded by Detective Meyers for her part in the incident – never mind that it was her part that got Devon Melbourne back alive. All she wanted was just a few quotes from Wade before he told her to fuck off, he was busy. That was the man’s standard answer to everyone. Go away, he was busy. He wasn’t known for his social skills, and he certainly hadn’t been happy to see her tonight.
She nearly choked on the last of the lube-oil coffee as the door to the interrogation room burst open disgorging Detective Meyers, who was joined almost immediately by a very stern-looking Wade Crittenden. She had to do a double take. Wade wasn’t cloaked his usual baggy hoodie. He had given it to Devon Melbourne, who was wearing only a singlet and a pair of shorts when the kidnappers had taken him during his morning run along the river. She had never seen Wade without the baggy jacket, even in the heat of the summer. But Wow! The man clearly did more than just play with computers. He wore a faded black Portland State t-shirt that was not tight, but was definitely not baggy enough to hide broad well-muscled shoulders and that squared, ramrod upper body that had fit written all over it. His left bicep looked as though it might burst from a strip of gauze bandage wrapped carelessly around it several times. God, what the hell did the man do with himself when he wasn’t being Pneuma Inc’s genius nerd? She knew he bowled, but she’d never heard of anyone getting that ripped from bowling. He wore the shirt tucked into a pair of threadbare low-riding Levis settled over scuffed hiking boots that looked well past their sell-by date. And bed head! Wade Crittenden had bed head. His rich brown hair, sorely in need of a cut, had the just up from a romp between the sheets look prissy men moussed and blow-dried to get. But Wade Crittenden didn’t have a fashion-conscious bone in his body and try though she might, she couldn’t keep from thinking of the man just up out of bed. Preferably her bed. Nope, the look was most definitely not dress for success billionaire, and yet Carla couldn’t take her eyes off him, as he bent to talk to Meyers. The detective was a fireplug of a man, several inches shorter than Wade, who she figured to be about 6’2”. She strained to catch what they were saying, but could hear nothing over the hum of the air conditioning.
And then Wade looked up. Her stomach did a summersault, and her face flushed. Damn pale Flannery skin meant that, beneath the freckles, she glowed like a fire engine when she blushed. And why the fuck was she blushing? There was no need to blush. It was just Wade. But as his gaze came to rest on her she felt like a rabbit caught in the headlights of a Mack Truck. He nodded to Meyers and said something else before the detective turned down the hall, but Wade’s eyes never left Carla’s, and the shift of muscle along the square jaw now sporting the stubble of a very long night told her that he wasn’t happy. Her pulse jumped with a little shiver of fear. She’d never seen the man when he wasn’t totally focused on something that wasn’t her. He never got angry, never got happy, never got anything but slightly annoyed at being interrupted from whatever work of genius had his totally tunnel-visioned attention. That had never upset her, since she wasn’t sure any person was actually worth Wade Crittenden’s full attention when he had other things on his mind – which he always did. He’d never done more than offer her an acknowledging glance, and that grudgingly, as though her presence startled him slightly, but not enough to pay any real attention to.
She wiped hands, suddenly gone sweaty, against her own jeans and rose from the orange plastic chair. For a moment he didn’t move, only stood glaring at her so, like any good journalist, she took the initiative. She offered him her best Flannery smile and moved boldly toward him. ‘There you are. I was hoping we’d get a chance to talk. What happened,’ she said, nodding to his arm.
He looked down at is as though he hadn’t actually realised he was wounded, as though he hadn’t realised he had an arm there at all. Said arm was apparently far less obvious to him that it was to her. ‘It’s nothing. Just a scratch.’
‘Detective Brewster said it’s a knife wound, that Eberhardt tried to stab you.’ Even as she said it, her knees felt strangely weak. Knife wounds were often fatal. People died every day from stabbings.
‘It’s nothing,’ he repeated. ‘Eberhard’s not good with a knife.’ His hard gaze returned to her. His eyes weren’t exactly green, but they weren’t hazel either. They reminded her of moss or lichen or some mix of the two.
‘That’s good. I’m glad. I wonder if I could ask you a few questions,’ she ploughed on before he could shove past her and ignore her like he always did. ‘I’ve already talked to the police, but –’
‘What the hell were you doing?’ his voice was so soft, she almost didn’t hear the question.
‘Why the hell were you there? In the building?’
‘I had a lead from one of Eberhardt’s old school mates, and I … What are you doing? Wade?’
The man grabbed her forearm in a bruising grip and half marched, half dragged her down the hall and into an empty interrogation room, where he slammed the door behind them and gave her a shove. She stumbled and steadied herself
‘Ouch! What the fuck to you think you’re doing?’ She turned to face him, feeling her cheeks heat up, but her stomach turn to ice at the angry mountain of a man that only a few minutes ago was mild-mannered nerd genius, Wade Crittenden.
‘You could have gotten yourself killed.’ He moved on her, forcing her back until she had to catch herself to keep from falling on top of the small table at the centre of the room.
‘You’re a fine one to talk,’ she said, skirting the table and shoving him with the flat of her hand in the centre of his hard chest. ‘Besides if I hadn’t texted it in, no one would have known Eberhardt was there and Devon Melbourne would be dead by now.’
‘Text it in! I got that. But text it in, Carla!’ He grabbed her by the lapels of her white shirt and gave her a shake that made her teeth rattle. Christ! She had never seen Wade like this before, and she could never remember him calling her by name. She was doubtful that he even knew it. He continued. ‘You don’t have to go into the goddamned building to text us the location.’
‘I wasn’t planning to stay!’ Her words came out high pitched and a lot less indignant that she intended. ‘I didn’t expect Eberhardt to show up while I was investigating.’
‘While you were investigating? While you were investigating!’ With his hands still on her lapels, he walked her backward in an urgent, cockeyed tango until her spine was up against the institution-green of the wall. ‘Christ, Carla, you could have been killed!’ He repeated.
‘I would have left if I could have, goddamn it, and don’t talk to me like I’m some stupid little kid. A man’s alive because of me, because of what I found out. You think I’m gonna stay safely locked up in my little apartment and let a man die because I’m a coward? And you? What about you? You’re not a cop. Eberhardt pulled a knife on you when you should have been back in the Dungeon safely calling the shots over your juiced-up Android.’ This time she gave him an elbow in the solar plexus and the bastard didn’t even budge. ‘I’m doing my job, damn it, Wade. I’m doing my job.’
‘They could have killed you!’ He shook her again. ‘They could have killed you.’ It was only as he brought his hand down to trace the wound along her cheekbone that she realised he was shaking. She barely had time to wonder if he could really be that angry at her before he pushed her again, then pulled her up on her toes, fists still curled in her shirt. And then … and then… he kissed her. Wade Crittenden, the epitome of obliviousness, the man who was always too busy doing important stuff to notice Martin Flannery’s daughter, suddenly had her mouth in a lip-lock that was so vicious and so demanding that if it had been a wrestling move, she would have very happily submitted.
She gave a little yelp that he took full advantage of, his tongue finding its way in to battle hers and to snake over her teeth and her hard pallet. Almost as though her arms had a mind of their own, they went around his neck and curled into fists in the back of his t-shirt. And his hands – well his hands were all over the place. One, fisted in her hair, held her so that there was no taking her mouth away from where he totally controlled it, not that she was very anxious to do so. The other hand slid down low onto her hip and then moved to cup her ass, bringing her up on her toes even further, as though he were trying to drag her up his body, and damned if she wasn’t doing her best to aid his efforts. Then he slid a knee in between hers, for support, she was sure, because her knees had turned to jelly at the first signs of mouth-to-mouth. And he was hot, like sitting too close to a campfire that felt so good you just couldn’t bring yourself to move away from the heat, even though it scorched you. Hard against soft, that was all she could think – that and how good it felt and how surprised she was at the hardness of Wade Crittenden’s body. At some remote control centre in her brain, some bit that had stayed marginally online in the wake of the kiss that would now and forevermore be known as The Kiss, she became aware that some parts of Wade Crittenden were harder than others. There had been major expansion in the general area of his fly, and her efforts to climb him, and his efforts to help her were an attempt to position said hardness for maximum effect.
‘Wade if you’ve got a minute – Oh shit! Sorry!’
It all happened so fast. Detective Meyers shoved into the interrogation room and was already mid-sentence before he realised there was a very private interrogation going on. Wade jumped back from her as though she had given him an electrical shock, and she bit her tongue to keep from yelping. Whatever Wade said beneath his breath, Carla was certain it wasn’t nice.
‘I’ll be right there, Meyers,’ he said, without taking his eyes off Carla, who just stood there like a lump with her hand against her mouth, breathing like she’d run a marathon. The desperate rise and fall of Wade’s chest helped to keep her eyes above his waist and the fire of anger still in his eyes, kept her from moving until he stepped back and raked her with a gaze that would have scorched metal. ‘Go home, Carla, and don’t try to play dangerous games you don’t understand.’ Then he turned and left her in the interrogation room leaning heavily against the wall, one hand still pressed to her lips, the other clenched in a furious fist at her side. She would have run after him and given him a piece of her mind, but at the moment, she wasn’t entirely sure she could even walk. Come to think of it, she couldn’t imagine walking was too easy for him at the moment either. That at least brought a smirk of satisfaction to her kiss-bruised lips.