Midnight Special Coming on Strong
Author:Tawny Weber

6



HUNTER HAD SPENT PLENTY of time undercover. It wasn’t his specialty, but he was still pretty damned good at immersing himself in the part, losing himself in the role while still keeping his objective clear.

But it was always a job.

This, he thought as he snagged a stuffed mushroom cap from the roving waiter, was ridiculous.

Three lounge cars, one after another, had doors thrown open, giving the image of one very long room. Crystal chandeliers reflected the multitude of lit candles, even though it was only five in the evening. All of the blinds were pulled closed against the evening light, so as not to ruin the ambience.

Most of the people milling about were dressed in forties-era evening wear. Narrow suits, quite a few shoulder pads, and glitteringly slinky dresses filled the rooms. It was a costume jeweler’s dream, with fat fake diamonds and strand upon strand of plastic pearls.

A bunch of adults, well-to-do if the cost of this event was anything to go by, all playing dress up on a train? Pretending to solve a fake crime that they all knew was coming?

Yeah.

Ridiculous.

Then his gaze fell on Marni as she wove her way across the room with the skill of a politician’s wife. A smile here, a chatty word there, always moving but totally unrushed.

He popped the mushroom cap into his mouth and watched her, pretending she wasn’t the sexiest woman he’d ever seen. And that he wasn’t anticipating, even a little, how fun it’d be once she reached his side.

“What do you think?” she asked when she reached him. Her laugh was breathless as she looked around the room. “Isn’t it great? I’ve never seen so many people outside a movie screen, theater stage or kindergarten classroom so into playing make-believe.”

“You look like you’re enjoying it.”

She was, too. Artfully made up, her eyes glowed and her cheeks had a flush that went perfectly with the pale pink of her satin dress. Unlike the other women, she didn’t glitter. She glowed. Long sleeves hugged her arms, but left her shoulders bare while the rest of her dress wrapped and draped over her curves. His hands itched to slide over that slick fabric, to feel those curves. To cup her hips. To curl over her luscious breasts.

She was so damned delicious. His body tightened, as if his brain needed that reminder that she was sweet sexiness wrapped in pink satin.

Because, yeah, his brain wasn’t already imagining the various ways he’d like to strip that fabric off her body and rediscover the delicious treasure he’d held only that morning.

Hardening painfully, he shoved his fists in the pockets of his jeans, wishing he was wearing slacks. Or sweats. Anything roomier.

“When’s the murder?” he asked, needing distraction.

A tiny frown creased her brow. Instead of answering, she accepted a flute of bubbling champagne and took a sip, staring at him over the rim.

“Didn’t you read your assignment?”

“I skimmed it.”

“You might want to update your skimming skills, then. It clearly outlined the timetable. Tonight is a meet and greet, costumes optional. Which is why you are here, in jeans, and nobody is suggesting you go shovel coal in the engine room.”

“And the murder?” he asked again. Not because he cared. But it was fun to see her try to school him.

“Even though costume is optional, character isn’t,” she hissed, leaning closer as a group of women commandeered the chairs next to them. “We’re not supposed to discuss the setup or details of the events except in our rooms.”

“Don’t you think you’re taking this a little too seriously?”

“The winner gets a thousand dollars and a trophy,” she pointed out.

“Ooh,” he teased. Not that a grand was anything to toss away, but money wasn’t one of his big motivators. And trophies? Those weren’t even little motivators.

She giggled, lifting one shoulder as if in agreement.

“I think it’ll be fun. I’d like to win, not so much for the prize, but because I think it’d be cool to figure out the mystery. Don’t you enjoy putting together clues, pitting your intellect against others and figuring things out first?”

Hunter gave her a curious look. Her words were pretty passionate, her tone awfully excited for a woman whose life revolved around clothes and dead people. Because those were the things that came to his mind when he thought fashion or biographies. Maybe that’s why these mystery events were such a big draw. Every accountant and housewife wanted to be a supersleuth.

“Mysteries are okay,” he said with a shrug. Not that he wasn’t a fan of piecing together the puzzle. But he got a bigger charge out of outsmarting dirtbags who thought they were above the rules. Who figured they were smarter than the law. Since he was the law, letting them know just how wrong they were was his ultimate pleasure.

“I’ll bet you’re more of a suspense kind of guy,” she guessed, tilting her champagne glass his way and leaning close to whisper. “Die Hard instead of Sherlock Holmes? Blazing guns instead of a magnifying glass?”

“Sexy blonde instead of bespeckled old maid?”

He liked the way her eyes rounded, but she didn’t look away even as her cheeks warmed with a soft flush.

“Don’t you think Sherlock had something hot going on with Irene Adler?”

“Was she the brunette who drugged and stripped Robert Downey Jr.?”

He liked how she laughed. Full, deep, honest. This wasn’t a woman afraid of enjoying life to the fullest. He remembered how she’d felt in his arms that morning, regretting just a little that she’d awoken before he’d found out if she would have enjoyed that to the fullest.

His thoughts must have shown on his face, because her laughter died, her smile faded. Heat, intense and curious, flared in her eyes. She bit her lip. His eyes narrowed. He wanted to step closer, to pull her up on her tiptoes and offer to nibble that lip for her.

She looked as though she’d be pretty cool with that, too.

“Hello, there.”

Marni blinked, then shook her head as if her gaze was still fogged with sexual heat. She turned to face the person who’d joined them. Hunter took another second to watch her, not in any hurry to look away.

“Hi,” Marni offered with a shaky breath.

Finally, Hunter looked to see who she was greeting.

The woman appeared to have stepped right off a movie set. Low budget and black-and-white.

“Hello,” he offered disinterestedly. He wasn’t on the job, and she wasn’t the type he had any interest in on his own time. Maybe if he hurried her along, he could get back to seeing how hot things could get between him and Marni before one or both of them remembered why it was a really bad idea to stoke that sexual heat.

“Well, well, aren’t you delicious.” With a sultry smile, the brunette looked him up. Then she looked him down. He was surprised she didn’t take a visual three-sixty around his body.

Hunter grinned at Marni’s hiss.

“Nice to meet you,” he added, more because it was fun to watch Marni’s reaction than because it was the truth.

“My pleasure,” the vamp greeted, leaning forward to offer her fingertips.

Hunter wasn’t sure if she expected him to kiss them or shake them. Since her nails were as sharp as talons and her rings as big as his eyeball, he opted to shake.

“I’m Sugar Dish,” she introduced, fluttering her lashes in a pale imitation of Marni’s flirty move. “I’m traveling with my aged aunt, a wealthy art collector.”

“Right. Sounds good.” Hunter knew she was playing the role and expected him to play along. But while he’d vaguely heard of these mystery events, he had no idea what the rules were and hadn’t bothered to read the ones the porter had given him.

“And why are you traveling across the country?” she asked, shifting sideways as if blocking Marni from her view could cut her from the conversation.

“Business.”

She blinked those spiky lashes again, then gave him an impatient look.

“What kind of business?”

“Personal business.”

He watched Marni’s eyes dance with amusement, even as she gave him a chiding look and shook her head.

“Care to have a drink later and share what kind of personal...business you do?” she offered, her proposition more genuine than her bustline.

“No.”

“Well.” In a huff worthy of any forties seductress, she tossed her chin, turned on one heel and stormed off. She did, however, give his ass a pat on her way across the room.

Marni’s grin turned into a glare at the woman’s departing back.

“You’re not playing the game correctly,” she said when they were left in the wake of the brunette’s perfume.

“I don’t play games.” Especially not ones that involved getting his ass patted by strange women.

“Then you really should reconsider getting off the train.” She got a stubborn, for-your-own-good sort of look on her face. “This is a themed event trip. Unless you’re going to take the rest of your meals and spend all of your time in the room, you’re a part of the event.”

Hunter gritted his teeth. Damn Murray.

“You’re supposed to share the basics of your character tonight,” Marni explained. “We’re laying the groundwork for tomorrow’s big occurrence. The more information you get tonight, the further ahead you’ll be when they kill someone.”

Could he volunteer to be the corpse? Then he could stay in the cabin and play corpse for the rest of the week. Hunter sighed. If only Murray could hear this conversation. The guy would bust a gut laughing.

“Do you not understand how this works?” she asked quietly, laying her hand on his forearm in what she probably figured was a sympathetic gesture.

Hunter’s body went on high alert, though, wanting more than sympathy from her touch. Desire heated his gaze before he could hide it. Those slender fingers tightened for just a second. But she didn’t pull away.

“I understand just fine.”

He understood that she was more temptation than he’d ever faced.

He understood that she was a complication that he didn’t have time for.

And he understood that his resistance to that complicated temptation was hanging from a very thin, very frayed thread, ready to snap at any second.

“Why don’t I go through it with you later,” she suggested. “They allow people in the same cabin to share their character information. Kind of like working as partners.”

He didn’t work with partners.

Ever.

Hunter’s goal was to reach the top of the FBI, eventually to be director of National Intelligence. An honor awarded to few, appointed by the president himself. He still had a lot of climbing to do to get there, and he moved faster alone.

“I know what I’m doing.”

“Do you, now?” The skeptical arch of one eyebrow echoed the doubt in her tone.

“I’m confusing the masses. The less information I offer, the less they can pin on me when the crime happens.”

“So you’re just going to offer, what? Nothing?”

He considered, then pulled a face and nodded. “Yep.”

“I’m not sure that’s a winning strategy,” she mused.

“I am.” Especially since the only thing he planned to win was his privacy.

“I think my way is better.”

Better? Than eight years’ experience as a decorated FBI agent with an arrest record a mile long? Then Hunter forced himself to remember what this was about and shrugged instead. His methods had netted him plenty of bad guys. He didn’t have anything to prove. Nor did he need to brag just to impress the pretty girl.

Especially since he wasn’t interested in the pretty girl.

Marni shifted, turning to look around the room. The light glistened off her bare shoulders, making his fingers itch to touch, to see if her skin was as smooth as the satin of her dress.

Okay. So he didn’t want to be interested in the pretty girl.

“Look, if you’re serious about kicking me out of the cabin every day while you work, that means I’m out here.” She waved her hand to indicate out here was the rest of the train, and all these people. “Since we’re partners, so to speak, you’d better play along so you don’t ruin my chances to figure out the mystery, okay? Otherwise I’m going to sit in that cabin and stare at you. All. Day. Long.”

All. Day. Long.

He wasn’t sure he could take her and him in that cabin with her complete and total attention focused on him for that long. The way he was feeling right now, he’d make it maybe a half hour, possibly forty-five minutes before he stripped himself naked and asked her what else she wanted to focus on.

“Well, hello.”

Hunter barely resisted snarling as they were interrupted again. What was with these people trying to socialize?

“I’m Peter. Peter Principle. I’ve been watching you from across the room and simply had to come over and introduce myself.”

Smirking at the overblown drama of the guy’s words, Hunter tore his gaze off of Marni to see what kind of dress-up dork this one was.

Except he didn’t look nearly as stupid as he sounded. His tux was custom, his haircut top dollar and his capped-tooth smile full of wealthy smarm. This guy might be pretending to be someone else, but he really lived the moneyed life represented in this little shindig.

“I’m a wealthy investor, traveling to California for the opening of my newest hotel,” the guy lied. Or playacted, Hunter supposed Marni would claim. Hunter liked lied better.

“Indeed?”

Hunter frowned when Marni’s smile shifted from curious to seductive. His gut clenched and his shoulders stiffened. He glared at the smarmy asshole, wondering how much effort it would take to toss the guy off the train.

“I’m Moira Mystery,” Marni offered, introducing her character and letting him shake her hand for way too long.

“Would you like to take a walk? I’d be happy to show you the upper deck of the train and the lovely view in the moonlight.”

“It’s six-thirty. The moonlight is pretty wimpy with the sun still up,” Hunter pointed out.

Irritation quickly chased confusion on the guy’s surgically sculpted face.

“You’ll have to forgive him,” Marni said in a throaty voice, sliding closer to Hunter’s side and patting his arm as if he was a crazed old man. “He’s ever so jealous when men pay attention to me.”

“Ahh, you’re a couple?” Smarmy asked, still looking irked.

“He’s my boss,” Marni said, giving an exaggerated eye roll. “He hates anything that might keep me from focusing on the job, though.”

Hunter looked down at her, all cozy and sweet.

Then, unable to resist, he chose stupid over smart, and wrapped his arm around her shoulder to pull her tight against the hard length of his body. She felt so damned good there. Too damned good. Still, he didn’t let go.

“Her boss,” he agreed. “And her lover.”

* * *

MARNI’S BODY WAS ON FIRE.

From the side of her forehead, where it was pressed against Hunter’s chest, to the bare skin of her shoulder, where his fingers wrapped tight. The parts that weren’t on fire were tingling with sexual sparks.

“So, what was your name again? Pete? Yeah, Pete, sorry. But she’s not available for any fake midnight walks,” Hunter said, giving a little shoo motion with his chin to indicate the guy be on his way.

“Well, that was interesting,” she murmured two seconds later when the charming Peter had practically left a cloud of smoke in his hurried wake. “Lovers? Really?”

“Let’s go.” Hunter started toward the exit, not letting go of her shoulder.

Marni would have dug in her heels, but, big shock, stilettos weren’t very sturdy. Instead, she shifted to the right, out from under Hunter’s arm.

She didn’t like being led, any more than she liked being played. And while she wasn’t sure what his game was right now, she had not a single doubt that she was a pawn in it.

Marni wasn’t against playing games, but she never played unless she had a firm handle on the rules. Or if the stakes were so high, she couldn’t resist the odds.

“We’re supposed to go in for dinner soon.” Marni wasn’t interested in food. But she figured it’d be better to stay in the crowd. Smarter would be to let Hunter leave alone. To put a little space between them until she got a grip on the crazy desires that were rushing through her body like hormones run amok.

“I’m not hungry.” His words were flat. Matter-of-fact. But the look in his eyes, hot sensuality, said he had a voracious appetite for something other than food. Something like her, if his heated stare was anything to go by.

“We arrive in Chicago just after they serve dessert.”

“Then we should have an hour to settle things, shouldn’t we.”

“What things?”

He just stared. A patient, calm look that said he knew she was smart enough to figure it out and had no problem waiting until she was brave enough to own up to it, too.

Marni gulped.

She was used to being dismissed.

To being considered fluff. Light and sweet. Her own family ignored half of what she said, all sure they knew her better than she knew herself.

And here was this man, looking at her as if he knew the real her. The her inside. The one that was strong and brave, with enough ambition to reach the stars. The one who knew her own mind, and had the gritty determination necessary to make all of her dreams into a solid reality.

He didn’t say another word.

Just turned and walked toward the exit.

As if attached by a string, Marni was helpless to do anything but follow. She silently walked at his side as they made their way through the crowd, both ignoring the attempts here and there to engage their attention.

Shoulder to shoulder, they made their way down the narrow corridor to their berth.

“I’m pretty sure our roles are boss and secretary,” she pointed out randomly as he shoved open the cabin door.

“Check the stats. I’ll bet a lot of bosses and secretaries sideline as lovers.”

“We don’t.”

“Sure we do,” he said, dropping into the chair and giving her a smug look. “Especially if it keeps creeps like that off of you. Go ahead, you can thank me.”

She gaped.

“Thank you?”

“Yes, thank me. If I hadn’t gotten rid of him, you’d be shoving his lechy hand off your shoulder right now, sidestepping yet another of his tacky attempts to look down your dress and wishing like hell you were here with me, debating how long paint would take to dry if a train left New York traveling forty miles per hour, and the paintbrush left California traveling eighty miles per hour. Because, you know it’d be a lot more interesting than what Creepy had to say.”

Marni hated that he had a sense of humor.

Gorgeous and sexy were bad enough.

But gorgeous, sexy and fun?

She was doomed.

“How do you know I wasn’t interested in that creep—I mean, that gentleman,” she corrected quickly, biting the inside of her lip to keep from laughing.

“Because you have better taste than that. You’re not the kind of woman to be taken in by smarm.”

It was as if he was wearing magic glasses.

As if she’d lived in a blind world all her life, and he was the first sighted person she’d ever met. It was so cool. And just a little scary. Because her tricks, her usual ways of getting around people and situations, they weren’t going to work if he could see right inside her.

And getting around him, hiding her real intentions and keeping him off center were vital if she was going to accomplish the only reason she was on this train. To get that article.

Not, she scolded her body, to get laid.

Before her body could offer a rebuttal, Hunter looked at his watch, then got to his feet.

Her heart raced. Was he going to show her what he did think she’d be taken in by? He crossed the room, but not toward her. Instead, he headed for the door.

“I’ve got to meet someone at the station,” he said, his hand on the doorknob. He gave her a long look over his shoulder before pulling it open. “You have a couple hours. You might want to use them to figure out how you’re going to handle tonight.”

“Tonight?”

“Yeah. Tonight. You need to decide if you’re going to be camped out above me on that uncomfortable bunk. Or if you’re going to rethink that no you gave this morning.”

With that, and a look hot enough to remind her of every delight she’d felt in his arms that morning and to hint at how many more they had to offer, he left.

Marni stared at the closed door for a long time.

They’d been on the train less than a day. They had six more to go.

Maybe she should reconsider this case.

She’d always figured she’d risk anything for a big career break.

Her body, and the delights Hunter promised, wasn’t a bad price to pay.

But her heart?

That was more than she was willing to invest.





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