My tormentor’s rose-petal mouth twitched. If the bad guys learned about waxing, they’d be able to take torture to a whole new level.

“I expected more from you,” she said with a chuckle, applying warm, oozing, sticky wax to my right leg.

In the wake of laser treatments and follicle-killing creams, waxing had become obsolete for humans long ago. Unfortunately, such treatments permanently damaged Raka skin cells, forcing me to revert to these archaic practices.

As my tormentor jerked a strip of tape from my leg, quickly followed by another, and another, I pounded my fist against the table. I forced my thoughts elsewhere. Michael had already purchased and furnished an apartment for me in New Dallas, though I had yet to see it. I’d wondered, though—more often than I should have—if Lucius had sneaked inside and found the best escape routes and secured any weakened point of entry.

Most likely.

That man wouldn’t leave anything to chance. But more than that, I doubted he trustedme to see to it. He was just like every other agent I knew, thinking women weren’t as competent as men. I looked forward to proving them all wrong.

Most importantly, I looked forward to proving Lucius wrong.

Lucius…His picture formed in my mind. Cheekbones cut from glass. Aquiline nose. Piercing ice-blue eyes. Even in my mind, he regarded me with something akin to superiority. God, I despised him. I desired him. I hated him. I craved him. My teeth bit into my bottom lip. I hadn’t seen him in seven days. I missed him. Yes, I hated him.

With one kiss, he’d consumed my mind, my good intentions, my common sense. He’d taken my sanity and scorched me to the core, somehow branding his name into my every cell. Most days, I thought of nothing but him. I saw his face when I bathed. I heard his voice when I slept. I felt his heat when I walked.

In the whole of my life, I’d had two lovers. Neither of them had affected me so strongly. So deeply. And that Lucius did, a man I wanted out of my life at the earliest possible moment, irritated me. Yet I still wanted to see him again. I hungered for the sight of him. And my hunger had nothing to do with the case.

What was he doing right now? What was he thinking? Had I passed through his mind even once?Stop it, Eden. Just stop. Lucius’s thoughts didn’t matter. All that mattered was that he’d renewed his acquaintance with Jonathan Parker and that our plan ran smoothly.

“There,” the esthetician said. “Your legs are finally done. That wasn’t so bad, was it?”

“A knife woundisn’t so bad, ” I grumbled and sat up. My gaze traveled the length of my legs, examining the supple, golden skin. “Being chained to a wall and awaiting my enemy’s arrivalisn’t so bad. ”

She uttered a humorous snort. “You’re acting just like a man. No, actually, most men would at least pretend to be tough.”

“Go ahead. Laugh it up.” I smiled darkly, leaning close. “But make sure you sleep with a weapon tonight.”

Unperturbed, she returned my smile. “We haven’t even done the bikini area yet.”

I scowled.

Twenty minutes later, she laughingly waved me away. “I have never heard so much screaming.”

I grabbed up my pants and tugged them on. Then—God, would the torture never end?—I strapped on a pair of high heels. My feet had grown used to boots. I stalked (okay, hobbled and stumbled) from the room. With the torturous waxing complete, I spent the rest of the day inside my room being fitted for a new wardrobe. My feet ached constantly. I didn’t mind wearing dress suits and flowing gowns, as long as they hid my weapons. I wouldnot go without protection for any reason. Ever. The shoes, though…

“Don’t forget,” I said to the seamstress, “to make room for my weapons.”

She rolled her eyes and knelt at my side, sticking her pins in the ice blue material. “You want me to add a codpiece, too?”

I leveled an irritated stare at her. “Only if you can make it extra large.” Did no one find me menacing? Damn it, my hands were stained with blood; I’d spent my lifekilling people.

“Funny,” she said dryly. “I’ve worked for Michael for many years. I know the drill.”

I at last found myself alone, but it didn’t last. I didn’t have time to change or sprawl across the bed before Michael knocked on the door.


The door slid open, and he entered hesitantly. “Don’t hurt me,” he said, tiptoeing to the seat by the window and sinking into the plump gold cushions.

Laughing, I removed my shoes and tossed them on the floor with a thump. Relief! “I can’t believe I used to do this stuff all the time. Fittings, waxings. High heels.”

“I remember those days.” He grinned fondly and leaned his head against the chair’s edge. “So how are you feeling?”

I eased into the white velvet settee across from him. My dress puffed around me. The seamstress had given me orders to remove it and hang it the moment she left. I took a small bit of pleasure in disobeying. “I feel like the pampered princess I’ve always been accused of being.”

He slid a long, thick cigar from his jacket pocket and placed the tip in his mouth. He didn’t light it yet but savored the flavor as he studied me. “I meant, how are your injuries? I’m worried about you, sweetie.”

“One hundred percent healed.”

His brows winged up, and his eyes gleamed with doubt. “Not even a slight twinge of pain or weakness?”

“No,” I said, total deadpan. I didn’t feel guilty about lying to Michael about my lack of injury. I wasalmost one hundred percent. But I didn’t want him to worry about me. Or worse, doubt me.

The cigar rolled between his fingers as he said, “Would you tell me if there were?”


Another grin lit his features. “That’s what I thought. Stubborn, girl. That’s what you are, and that’s what you’ve always been.” His smile faded slightly. “You know, I never wanted you to be an agent.”

“I know,” I said, my tone soft.

“You came and asked me to let you train, and I…” He shrugged. “I just wanted you to learn how to protect yourself. Your kind is hunted. And my kind, well, you could have been abducted and used to get to me. I wanted you prepared. You proved stubborn, though, and wouldn’t let me keep you behind the scenes.”

I chuckled. “I remember how you had me play doctor to injured agents to show me exactly what kind of pain I was asking for. ‘See the blood,’ you said. ‘See the pain in his eyes because that’s what you’ll get if you choose this line of work.’ ”

“But you never wavered.” There was pride in his voice.

“No. I never wavered. I wanted you to see me as strong and capable. Like your men.”

“I know.”

“I love that you trust me now, that you’ve given me another chance. I don’t think I can ever express just what that means to me.”

Michael pushed to his feet and strode to the mini-bar. I insisted one be installed for my own personal use in every one of his homes. Sometimes it was the only way I could relax.

“You’re my daughter,” he said. “No matter what blood runs through your veins, you’re my daughter and I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

Silence settled around us for several minutes before he said laughingly, “What kind of killers are we, having such a mush fest?” After clipping the end of his cigar, he claimed the nearest lighter and puffed. Smoke soon billowed around him. Cigarettes and cigars were illegal because they were air pollutants. But Michael lived in a world where he followed no rules but his own.

He poured a Scotch. “Want one?” he asked.

“Yes. Thank you.”

He handed me the glass, and my fingers wrapped tightly around the cool container. He poured another. Sipping, I reveled in the way the smooth liquid warmed me and erased the twinges in my arm and side.

“Have you ever dealt with Jonathan Parker?” This was the first chance we’d had to talk business.

“From a distance.”

“I’d like to see your files on him.”

“Of course. They’re in the study.”

I didn’t bother with shoes, but went barefoot. I took my drink with me. God knows, I needed it. I felt more on edge today than I had in a long time. Silently, we strode down the stairs, past Oriental vases, metal sculptures of gods and goddesses, and the trickling rock waterfall he’d had built into one of the walls. When the sealed door to the study sensed our presence, it opened automatically. The cleaning crew had already left, so we were alone and didn’t need to worry about prying eyes.

“Sit,” he said, indicating a dark brown leather recliner with a tilt of his head. “Relax.”

I obeyed without hesitation, resting in the chair across from his desk. I breathed in the familiar scent of leather.

He padded to that desk, rested his cigar in an ashtray, and palmed a remote. He pressed a series of buttons, dimming the lights and causing a holoscreen to materialize over the far wall. A man’s image flashed into focus. Human, thirty-something. Pale hair, a long aristocratic nose. Thin lips, but a handsome visage nevertheless. Arrogant brown eyes regarded the world with a nothing-can-hurt-me gleam.

Even with the warnings about the sun’s dangerous rays, Jonny Boy obviously spent a lot of time outside. His skin was deeply tanned and lined more than it should have been. An aura of self-importance enveloped him.

I disliked him already.

“Does he like women or men?” I asked.

“He likes power.”


“He’s been married three times. The first wife died in a car accident.” Michael pressed another button, and the image of a gorgeous young woman filled the screen. Black hair, green eyes. Flawless skin. “Her brand-new tires blew.”

“Convenient for him.”

“The second wife died in a car accident, as well.” Another young woman, this one with silvery white hair and big blue eyes, consumed the screen.

“Let me guess. Her brand-new tires blew?”

“No, her sensors gave out.”

“What tragic accident befell his third wife?” I asked.

“Amazingly enough, she’s still alive.”

She wouldn’t be for long, I thought. Not if Jonathan Parker had his way. I gazed up at the third wife’s picture. Glossy red hair, sparkling brown eyes. A sultry vibe radiated from her.

“Obviously Parker likes his women young and pretty. Too bad they don’t live long.” I tapped my knee with one finger, smashing the puffed, satin dress. “There wouldn’t happen to be a hit on him, would there?”

Michael’s entire expression lit with amusement, easing the age lines around his mouth. “At this time, no, there isn’t a hit on Parker.”

“Too bad.” I took another sip of my Scotch and savored the rich taste in my mouth for a long while. I wondered what type of persona Lucius—a.k.a. Hunter—had donned in order to immerse himself in Parker’s world. Lucius wouldn’t be tattooed. Nor would he be pierced. Most likely he’d have to wear a suit and tie, perhaps sport a pair of glasses. A sigh slipped from me as I set my glass on the small table beside me. No matter what persona he used, he’d be sexy as hell.

“Tell me about the man I’ll be interpreting for.”

“Hername is Claudia Chow, and she’s major player in the alien rights movement. Her dedication to other-worlder equality has made her the first human ambassador of alien goodwill.” He grinned a guess-what-I’ve-done-now grin. “As of now she’s on my payroll.”

“Ambassador of alien goodwill?” I snorted. “What did you tell her about me?”

“Only that my daughter desired a change of scenery and needed a new job. I almost couldn’t convince her to help me. However, the moment she learned her interpreter was a Raka, she relented. I think she sees you as a new prize pet she’ll get to parade around and show off.”

“I can hardly wait,” I said, my sarcasm heavy.

He pointed a finger at me. “Don’t you dare kill her.”

All innocence, I blinked over at him. “Give me some credit. I do know how to use restraint when the situation warrants it.”

A teasing light glowed in his eyes. “I thought so, too, until I saw you with Lucius. You’re…different around him. Why is that?”

“That man—” My hands clenched. Michael was right. Iwas different with Lucius. More emotional. Lustful. On edge. Why? I didn’t understand and couldn’t answer Michael’s question. “You trust him completely?”

“Of course.” Slowly he frowned. “I never would have paired you with him otherwise.” Michael lifted his cigar, rolling it between his fingers and causing smoke to waft around his hand. “This is a good plan the two of you have put together.”

“Him. Not me.” I crossed my arms. “I wish I could take credit.” As soon as I spoke, I realized how true those words were and how great my bitterness. I might desire Lucius, but I resented him, too. This assignment should have belonged to me, and me alone. Not Lucius. Yet so far he was moving the pieces of the game on his own.

Was it wrong of me to feel that way? Yes. Did that matter? No.

Michael shook his head. “Sweetie, you’ve been injured. Don’t be so hard on yourself. It’s not a competition between you and Lucius.”

Yes, it was. Sometimes I felt like I was in competition with the entire world. I wanted to be the best. Always. At everything.