Midnight Special Coming on Strong
Author:Tawny Weber

5



MARNI MENTALLY RECITED all of the reasons it was important to keep her clothes on as she considered the sexy FBI agent across from her while their waiter poured coffee.

There had to be a better—aka less dangerous to her mental and emotional well-being—way to get this story.

She’d spent a little time researching while he’d tried to stare her out of their cabin earlier. With a document opened, she used typing away at her aunt’s life story as she knew it as her cover. It’d been a few years since she’d worked on a biography type profile, and she’d forgotten how much she loved it. Curiosity drove all of her writing, but there was an extra spark to a profile, the excitement of digging into the who and why of a person’s life that she found fascinating.

She’d been so lost in the joy of writing, she’d had to force herself, between paragraphs, when she was sure he wouldn’t jump up and grab her laptop to see what she was doing, to access the FBI media files.

Special Agent in Charge Hunter. No first name on public file. Second generation FBI with more commendations than she had shoes, he was based in New York but had worked out of D.C. and San Francisco over the years, too. She’d emailed a few contacts, hoping they’d shed more light on the enigmatic FBI hottie before the end of the day. Not just because he was totally fascinating. But because she was going to need every bit of light, every shred of information she could get, if she was still going to be sleeping on this train tonight.

“So what kind of accident were you in?” she asked as soon as the waiter had finished arranging—and rearranging—the china cream and sugar containers. At Hunter’s frown, she added, “You said you’d damaged your inner ear in an accident and couldn’t fly. That sounds scary.”

“I was in a car accident last night.” His shrug suggested it was no big deal, but she saw the way his lips tightened a little in the corners at the movement. He must still be in a great deal of pain. All of a sudden, she felt horrible about keeping him from that rest and recovery he’d said he needed. She vowed that once she’d secured her place on the train and gotten a grip on her raging hormonal response to him, she’d do her best to help Hunter feel better. Well, almost her best.

“It must have been really bad to damage your ear,” she observed, although she figured re-damaged was probably more precise. “I’m surprised you’re able to travel so soon after something that devastating. I was rear-ended once and was laid up in bed, bruised and sore for three days afterward.”

He shrugged again, either dismissing her concern, or her mini–sob story, she wasn’t sure which.

“So what do you do?” he asked.

“I work in fashion, but I want to be a writer.” A good lie was woven around the truth, her grandpa always said.

“A writer? What kind of a writer?” His deep blue stare sharpened, as if warning bells were ringing in his head.

“Biographical. I’m working on a wonderful profile right now,” she said, thinking of the couple of pages she’d written that morning. Her excitement and love of writing bios almost made her words bounce. “It’s about a groundbreaking, prizewinning feminist who flouted family expectations to build a career in a man’s world.”

The suspicion in his sexy eyes faded into what just might be boredom. Marni frowned. What was up with that? The handful of biographies she’d written were anything but boring. She’d even won awards for them. Her fascination with the bits and pieces that made up the lives of people who’d made a difference, who’d stepped outside the box and forged their own path, came through loud and clear.

She’d debated for a while about sticking with profile reporting. The process of digging into someone’s history, of sharing their world and their story, was incredible.

Just not as incredible as being an ace investigative reporter. She straightened her shoulders, pulling her head out of the clouds and telling herself to focus. A biographer was all well and good, and maybe someday after she was rich and famous she’d try her hand at it. But for now, she was after bigger career kudos.

And she needed the man across from her to get them.

“So what do you do?” she asked, propping her elbow on the table and resting her chin on her fist. “Businessman? Big-time CEO of a million-dollar company? Engineer? Ladies lingerie salesman?”

His lips twitched.

“None of the above.”

She waited.

He just leaned farther back into his seat and smiled.

“You know, to share the berth with you, I do need more information than just your name and a snapshot of you from my phone’s camera,” she chided, figuring going on the offense was always preferable to playing defense. Especially with a man like Hunter, who was clearly used to putting people on the defense.

“I still haven’t agreed to share anything, though.”

“Do you always play hard to get?”

Her laughter faded when his gaze heated, the intense look in his eyes making it clear that he was remembering just how hard he’d been earlier this morning, and just exactly what he’d been so close to getting.

Marni’s breath caught in her throat. Her thighs melted, heat swirling low in her belly as the memories filled her head, too.

“Look,” she said, leaning across the table and giving him her best don’t-mess-with-me look. “We both know that neither of us is giving up that berth. We also know that if you had the power to kick me out, you’d have used it already. So you’re stuck. I’m stuck. Let’s quit being silly and deal with the reality of that, why don’t we.”

Hunter’s eyes flashed with frustration for just one second, then turned mellow and amused again. She had to give him credit, this was a man in command of his emotions. A tendril of heat sparked again in her belly as she remembered how it’d felt when he’d almost lost control in her arms.

The idea of making a man, a strong, controlled man, forget himself and go wild... She gave a tiny shudder of delight. Oh, that was a sweet concept.

But one she was going to ignore, she reminded herself sternly. Career over sex had always been her mantra. Just because she was potentially sharing a cabin with the hottest guy she’d ever met didn’t mean that mantra was going to change.

“How do you suggest we deal with being stuck together?” he asked in a tone she knew wasn’t nearly as friendly as he made it sound.

“Let’s start with getting to know each other.” She countered his fake friendliness with saccharine sweetness. It was only fair. “I told you what I do. What do you do?”

He hesitated for a second, then reached over to snag one of the large, juicy red strawberries off her plate.

“I work for the government,” he told her before nipping the berry in half with strong white teeth.

Marni watched his mouth as he chewed, her own watering for a taste. She licked her lips, trying to stay focused. This was definitely going to be a challenging week.

“Government? That’s either hellishly boring or terribly exciting,” she offered with a laugh, the flutter of her lashes inviting him to tell her which one.

He didn’t take the invitation.

“So, what do you do for the government? Are you in politics? Or are you one of those regulatory inspectors, going from business to business, checking to see if they are following the rules?” She forked up a spear of fresh pineapple and nipped off a bite, letting the rich juice slide over her tongue as she waited to see how much he’d tell her.

“I’m in accounting.”

“Sounds fascinating.”

“Not really.”

“Your accident, was that accounting related?” she asked, her eyes not leaving his as she popped the rest of the pineapple into her mouth.

“Accidents are unfortunate happenstance events that can often be tied to errors in numeric calculations.”

“Clever.” She gave him an exaggerated wide-eyed look of admiration.

Hunter grinned in response.

Then he leaned both elbows on the table and gave her a serious look. “Tell you what. I’ll talk to the conductor, make sure he has all the vital information to vouch for me. You check with him, see if you feel comfortable. Sound fair?”

“Sure.” Oh, that was smart. She could do the same, instructing the conductor to notify her family with all of that information if anything happened. That way she didn’t have to tell them that she was pursuing a hot story instead of a hot guy. “Now that we’ve settled that, let’s talk about the fun stuff.”

“I’m on this train to work.”

“I am, too,” she insisted, honesty giving an extra weight to her words. “I’ll admit, I’m excited about the film noir events they have planned, which is why no other train would do.” Especially since she’d checked the trains leaving Chicago that’d put Hunter in San Francisco in time for the trial and this was the only one. “Still, it’s important that I work this week. That I get this story done. My career, my future, depends on it.”

“On this biography?” The skeptical look on Hunter’s face made it clear that she’d lost a few points in her argument for them to share the berth. “I didn’t realize publishing worked quite that fast.”

She almost jumped up and kissed the waiter for choosing that moment to bring their breakfast. Her mind raced while he arranged their plates.

She lifted her fork, ready to use a mouthful of eggs as an excuse not to respond until she’d figured something out. But the look on Hunter’s face, suspicious expectation, had her laying the fork right back down. What was it with this guy? Was it being with the FBI that made him so suspicious, or was he with the FBI because he was naturally distrustful? And wouldn’t that make a fascinating biography?

“My aunt is in San Francisco,” she blurted out, her mind one word ahead of her mouth. “It’s her story I’m writing. She’s not doing well. The family expects to lose her anytime.”

Again, all truthful, given that the family had disowned her aunt when she’d run off to join a commune in order to write an insider view of the free-love movement. Marni had heard her grandparents say time and again that Robin was lost to them.

“I’m sorry.” Looking as if he really was, Hunter reached across the narrow table to pat her hand. “Are you and your aunt close?”

“She’s my hero.” Marni’s smile was bittersweet as she spoke that truth. What she didn’t share was that because of the family rift, she’d never met the woman in person. Then and there, she vowed that once she reached San Francisco, she was going to remedy that. “I don’t think she has any idea how much I admire her, want to be like her. She’s lived this amazing life, and is such a strong woman. She deserves to have her story told. Have you ever known anyone like that?”

After a second of hesitation, Hunter nodded. “My father, I suppose. He always inspired me in a lot of ways. I always wanted to be like him when I was a kid. I guess he was a hero, you know?”

“Then you know what I mean. My aunt is so special to me. I need to do this. I need her to be proud of me.”

Hunter grimaced, then gave a nod toward her plate as if to indicate she get to eating. Since he dug into his slab of fried ham and three eggs over easy, Marni slowly followed suit. But she didn’t take her eyes off his face.

She didn’t have to wait long.

“Here’s the deal...”

“Yes?”

“We’ll share, but there are a few rules.” He looked about as enthusiastic as if the words were being forced out at gunpoint. She didn’t mind. It wasn’t as though she needed him to want to have her around. Not like she would if they were going to have another bout between the sheets. Or against the wall. She swallowed, trying to get past the sudden lump in her throat at the image of the two of them up against the door like they’d been just an hour ago. She imagined his body tight against hers, this time while the train’s motion added a whole new level of erotic to their sexy dance.

“Rules?” she croaked, trying to banish that image.

So far, she sucked at this focus-on-business goal of hers.

“I need privacy to work. I’m preparing a classified financial report and can’t have you in the room. We’ll establish the hours, and during those hours each day, you clear out of the room. You can write in the lounge, or watch movies, or paint a picture for your aunt. Whatever you want to do. But during work hours, the room is mine.”

Marni managed to contain her butt-wiggling happy chair dance, instead raising a single brow in inquiry.

“Anything else?”

“Yeah. You take the top bunk. I’m sore and don’t want to have to climb into a tiny bed that’s too short for my legs.”

“And that’s it, your last rule?” she asked, her heavy sigh making it clear she knew he was going to toss in another one.

She was right.

After a quick frown, he shook his head and leaned forward.

“Nope. One more. The minute you change your no to a yes, you be sure to let me know.”

* * *

HUNTER LIKED THIS TRAIN. The old-world feel, harkening back to an easier time, it had a lot of charm. A man of the times, he didn’t yearn for the days without 4G, Wi-Fi, instant records checks and string bikinis. But the gritty world of a gumshoe, the cut-and-dried appeal of simpler—though no less horrible—crimes, yeah. He could see why people would drop a pile of money to pretend they were a part of that era.

After he left Marni to finish her meal, he moved through the cars, from dining to lounge, past one renovated into a movie theater and back toward the caboose. He wasn’t officially on duty, but he always found it handy when traveling to introduce himself to whoever was in charge, as well as to get a lay of the land. Or in this case, to memorize the layout of the train.

It was standard protocol.

Not as if he was avoiding his new roommate or anything.

That he’d chosen not to walk her back to the cabin had nothing to do with avoiding temptation. So the woman was hot. And sweet. And sexy as all hell. So she did fascinating things to her skirt when she walked.

That didn’t mean jack.

Except that she was sexy and sweet and smart.

He’d worked with plenty of sexy women. They never distracted him from the job.

He knew a few sweet women. They rarely made enough impression on him to merit more than a kind word.

He was surrounded by smart women. They had a way of seeing things, an innate understanding of human nature that he appreciated.

So the sexy, sweet and smart blonde waiting in his bedroom shouldn’t be a distraction. If he couldn’t handle prepping a huge criminal case with a pretty little thing like her around, well, hey, he wasn’t much of an FBI agent, then, was he.

Feeling as though he’d just gone the mental equivalent to whistling in the dark, Hunter gave a mental groan. Before he could decide which direction to take his mental lecture, though, his phone rang.

Saved by the cell.

Grateful, even after checking the call display, he answered.

“Hey, Murray.”

“Any problems?”

“On a train dedicated to gritty detectives and dames in distress?” Hunter quipped, knowing the irony would go right over his boss’s head. “I’m handling it just fine.”

“You’re going to have to dress the part. Participate.”

“No, I’m not.” Hunter climbed the steps to the open-air gondola car. Since most people were at lunch or down doing some silly movie thing, the platform was empty but for a dozen glossy benches for relaxing to enjoy the view.

“Yeah. You are. I told you that when I booked it. It’s mandatory participation.”

“I can ignore mandates just fine.” Giving in to the aches in his body and the screaming pain of his cracked rib, Hunter dropped to one of the benches to give his body a time-out.

“Don’t want to waste taxpayers money, now, do you?” Murray’s words were light, but the edge beneath them was a direct attack on the habit of only turning in expense receipts if he figured they supported whatever official means he offered up in his case reports.

He had a habit of breaking cases his way, though, and taking the financial hit rather than dinging Uncle Sam for payment. Like the case he’d broken the previous year in Black Oak, California.

Tobias Black, a notorious con artist and master criminal, had, in Murray’s view, skated free thanks to Hunter’s taking matters into his own hands instead of playing by the rules. Rather than use his own guys to infiltrate the crime ring and try to bust Tobias, Hunter had called on a buddy in the DEA who specialized in the many wicked ways of Tobias Black.

That the buddy was also Tobias’s eldest son had been pretty damned handy. Caleb Black was Hunter’s best friend since they’d been college roommates. Long after they’d graduated, the two men still had each other’s back. Still stayed in touch, were still tight. Hunter had gambled on that friendship, pulling Caleb into the sting operation. Murray had called that a serious breach of protocol.

Then a month later, one of Hunter’s own agents infiltrated the crime ring without permission, using Caleb’s sister, Maya, as cover. The deputy director had been pissed enough to spit nails when, instead of busting the agent down to checking shipping manifests in the Gulf of Mexico, Hunter had promoted him. But hey, Simon had broken the case open and brought in vital information. Enough information for Hunter to make his next call to bring in Danita Cruz, his protégée at the agency, as a fake hooker. Danita had found the final key to not only close the case, but to bring yet another criminal off the streets in the form of Gabriel Black giving up his con artist ways to marry Danita.

Murray had thrown such a fit, his face had turned ten shades of purple. But the powers that be had done backflips over the busting of a statewide crime ring, the arrest of a dozen major criminals and the takedown of the town’s dirty mayor.

Still, his unorthodox methods had guaranteed Hunter’s spot on Murray’s short list. But since he’d covered his own expenses, right down to the tux he’d worn as Caleb’s best man, the deputy director hadn’t been able to do more than lecture him on protocol.

“I’m not playing Sam Spade on a train,” Hunter told his boss, who was gloating so hard on the other end of the line he was practically breathing heavy. “I’m here to work, remember.”

“You can’t do two things at once? Losing your edge?”

Hunter snorted. Was that the best he could do?

“I made sure the agent who’s meeting you in Chicago in three hours packed a suitcase with just those events in mind. Be sure to get a picture or two. I’m going to want it with your report.”

With those words and a cackle worthy of any cartoon villain, Murray ended the call.

This case was becoming a three-ring circus. In the center ring was a vicious criminal whose ass Hunter had vowed to put away. But he couldn’t ignore the other two rings to do that. He didn’t mind so much the sexy blonde in one of them, but the political posturing and jealous games in the other were annoying.

Irritated despite himself, Hunter contemplated the view for a few seconds. Then, like he did most things that irritated him, he shrugged it off.

* * *

MARNI SAT CURLED ON THE comfy club chair, her laptop on the table next to her, her cell phone in her hand as she juggled texts and emails with the skill of a teenager.

When Hunter had tromped off an hour ago to do whatever he’d muttered he was doing, she’d hurried back here for a little research time. He didn’t have any luggage and hadn’t left anything in the room other than a faint hint of his cologne. But now that she had his name she was able to tap into a few more sources than she’d had before. She was contacting everyone she knew, both official magazine sources, old friends and even family.

“Oho,” she exclaimed when Meghan’s text came through. Sammi might be tight-lipped about sharing official hospital business, but Meghan had ways of sliding information out of her sister that was nothing short of twin-tastic.

Hunter hadn’t been admitted alone that first night.

Meghan’s text read:

Watch it. Hottie you’re so in lust over has a girlfriend. He was with her that first night in emergency, so says Sammi. She’s worrying about you getting all gaga over someone who’s already hooked.

Someone else had been in that explosion last week? A woman?

Marni’s brain raced. She was so excited, she tossed her phone on the table and got up to do a fist-pumping happy dance.

This was it. This was a real break.

Oh, think of the story.

Hunter and someone else had been in that building.

Was the someone else another FBI agent? Had they survived? Were the rumored new charges connected somehow?

She had to find out. She just had to know.

Before she could do another butt-wiggling dance, there was a knock. She quickly shut down her email and exited her message app, then with a deep breath, pulled open the door.

It wasn’t Hunter.

“Hi,” she greeted with a warm smile. “Simpson, isn’t it?”

The porter stepped into the room, hooking the door on a chain so it didn’t close behind him while he fetched a covered tray of food from the cart in the hallway.

“Right, hi,” he said with a big grin. He pushed his spiffy porter’s cap back on his forehead, then gave a head tilt to indicate the room. “It looks like this worked out okay. You got the cabin, right?”

“Well, that’s actually a problem,” Marni said, closing her laptop and shrugging. “With no other berths available, and neither of us willing to leave the train, Mr. Hunter and I are actually sharing the cabin.”

A knowing glint lit the young man’s gaze. Before he could say anything, though, Marni walked over to the bed.

“Can you show me how to pull down the bunk? Since I’m shorter, I get the top bed,” she said with a rueful smile.

“You get...?” The porter frowned, setting the lunch tray on the little table, then moving over to press a button next to the headboard of the main bed. A bed slid out of the wall like something out of a fifties sci-fi movie. Marni grinned, wondering if the bed was covered in Jetsons sheets.

The porter walked to the foot of the bed and opened a small panel, and out twisted a set of steps for easy bedtime access.

“We will set up the bed at nine each night and return it to its cubby during the morning cleaning. You have your own sleep light here.” He indicated a small lamp on a wire gooseneck. “The blanket has temperature settings built into the lamp controls, as well.”

“Oh, isn’t that clever,” Marni said, trying to pretend a light and blanket controls would be enough to keep her from wanting to slide into the bed below and have her way with Hunter’s body. “Thanks so much.”

“So, wow. This really isn’t what you wanted?” Looking more upset for her than smarmy over the enforced roommate situation now, Simpson hefted the bunk back into place and latched it closed. “I feel bad. I wish there was something I could do.”

Marni bit her lip. Rooming with Hunter was ideal on so many levels. Sure, he was a strange man. But he was a safe strange man. Everything she’d found out about him said he was completely trustworthy. As long as she wasn’t a criminal, that was. And since lying wasn’t actually a criminal act, she figured she was fine. And if he was serious about spending his days working in here, there were so many possibilities for ferreting out information.

But rooming with Hunter also meant no privacy.

It meant that every bit of time spent in the cabin would either be in his presence or with constant reminders of him. Like now, he wasn’t here but his scent floated in the air, forest fresh and inviting.

How could she focus on writing the story of her career if she was spending every night lying awake above the sexiest body she’d ever felt? Wondering what he’d do if she climbed down that ladder and slid over his body in the dark, pressing hot, wet kisses to every inch of his skin?

Marni’s pulse skipped a few beats and she was tempted to wave her hand in front of her face to cool off.

“Any chance another berth might become available?” she asked with a doleful smile.

His grimace was all the answer she needed. Not wanting him to feel any worse, Marni patted his arm. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll make do. But remember, if one does open up, I’d love first dibs.”

With that, a big smile and a generous tip, she thanked him for bringing lunch. Looking relieved, the porter turned to the door.

“Oh, one last thing.” Simpson all but smacked his palm against his forehead, grimacing as he turned back around to pull a sheaf of papers out of his handy leather portfolio. “This is your role for the Train Whodunit. You and Mr. Hunter are playing a gumshoe and his dame. Your character is one of the main suspects for the murder that will take place tomorrow night.”

“Really?” Marni laughed, taking the pages with delight. “I’ve never been cast as a femme fatale before. I think this might be fun.”

Then she saw the drawing. A slinky woman, in glittering spaghetti straps and seductively sweeping curls, draped all over a guy in a hat with six-foot-wide shoulders and a skinny tie.

Her pulse sped up. Hunter had shoulders like that. Wide, strong and sexy. The kind that made her fingers tingle with the need to touch. Broad enough to support the weight of the world, sturdy enough for a woman to hang on to while he took her on a wild, naked ride.

Whew, it was getting hot in here. Marni puffed out a breath, then gave the porter a doubtful look.

“I’m not sure how Hunter’s going to feel about all of this,” she said. She looked at the pencil sketch of the fedora-wearing gumshoe with the lantern jaw again, then flashed Simpson a big smile. “Is there any way to make mine a stand-alone character? Just in case. After all, for all we know, he hates solving mysteries. Or worse, that he’s horrible at it.”

“Oh, I think I can handle it.”

It was anybody’s guess who jumped higher, Marni or the porter. Her heart racing, she glared at the man standing in the doorway, gloating over their reactions. Did he specialize in sneakiness in FBI school?

“Sir, I’ve got your character dossier here,” Simpson said, recovering first. “You’re a hard-bitten gumshoe with a soft spot for your secretary.”

“A soft spot, hmm?” Hunter took the papers, but didn’t release Marni’s gaze. His smile was slow, wicked and challenging. “I guess we’ll see how well I can pull that off.”