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“I’m here with Jared, Grant,” I sneered.

“Oh, c’mon,” Grant grinned. “Just one dance?”


He laughed and shook his head. “You look,” he gave me a once-over, “incredible. Red is…wow.”

“Thank you,” I said, looking in every direction but his.

“Are you sure you—,” he said, trailing off. “Jared! Nice to see you.”

The pleasant expression on Jared’s face as he handed me the smal , plastic cup faded abruptly when he turned to Grant. “I wish I could concur,”

Jared said, noticeably restrained. “You might have better luck with the interns,” he nodded to a dark corner of the room, “who are spiking their punch, and might be more susceptible to your persistence.”

Grant’s smile didn’t budge. “Happy Holidays to you both.”

“Merry Christmas,” Jared said.

The people around us were beginning to stare, so I looked to the floor, attempting to downplay the spectacle Jared had made.

“What is with you?” I said, trying to keep my head down.

“I didn’t want him to be under the impression that I liked him.”

“You made your point. Now, can you please be the reserved, control ed Jared I know and love? I need to earn the respect of the people here.”

“I’m sorry,” Jared said, kissing my hair.

“Nina?” a voice call ed from across the room. I winced at the horrid sound, and then turned to see Sasha barreling toward me with someone in tow.

“Practice what you preach,” Jared said with a contrived smile.

Sasha's annoying smirk twisted her face in a way that made her already sharp features seem cartoon-like. She gestured to the brawny, dark- headed man behind her.

“I’d like for you to meet my date, Ryan Scott. Ryan, this is a fel ow intern of mine, Nina Grey.”

I couldn’t hide the instant shock and dismay that came over me.

Ryan held out his hand. “Intern? Doesn’t she run the company?” he winked.

Sasha laughed once, caught. “Er…not yet.”

I took Ryan’s hand. “I believe we’ve met.”

“Oh?” Sasha said, genuinely intrigued.

Ryan glanced at Jared, and then back at me. “Could I…steal you for a minute?”

“No,” Jared said without pause.

I chuckled nervously, and then peered up at Jared from under my lashes. “Sweetheart, I’ll just be a minute.”

Jared frowned, but he didn’t argue.

“Wel ,” Sasha said to Jared in her high-pitched, irritating voice, “I guess it’s just you and me, then.”

“I’ll be right back,” I said, staring directly at Sasha.

Ryan held me by the arm, quickly stopping in a quiet corner. “I thought we had a deal.”

“A deal?” I hissed. “I agreed that I owed you for helping me fool Jared. I didn’t say I would help you talk to Claire. Ambushing her is not a good idea.”

He sighed. “Wel , I’ve got a lot on my plate right now. My partner was murdered, and I think it has something to do with the other police deaths over the last year. I think they’re al connected. I need to talk to her before I can get my head on straight enough to investigate this. It’s big, Nina.

Real y big, and I can’t focus on it if my mind is always on Claire.”

“You’re investigating the police murders?”

Ryan’s features were so stern I was suddenly nervous. “Not official y. Anderson and I were both on the case before he was kil ed. I wasn’t sure before that they were connected, but now that Kit’s dead…I know. Even the one’s that appeared to be accidents.”

“Listen—,” I began, but Ryan cut me off.

“No, you listen. I’m in a lot of trouble. No one else at the station knows what we were up to, and if they did, they’re not going to let a rookie take the case. They kil ed my partner, Nina. It’s personal. But, if I don’t figure this out soon, you can kiss my ass goodbye. This is serious, and I need to be focused, and Claire’s eyes above me in that hel hole is al I can think about.”

“Are you finished?” I said, irritated.

“No,” he said, frowning. “And, just so you know: I’m real y, real y sorry.”

“For what?” I said, returning his expression.

Ryan grabbed each side of my face, and kissed me. Not just any kiss; his tongue was inside my mouth, and he kissed me so passionately, it was beyond obscene in front of everyone I worked with, not to mention my fiancé.

Before the embarrassment soaked in, Ryan was thrown across the room, and slid on his side along the dance floor, stopping just before he crashed into the DJ station.

The music abruptly cut off, clearing the air for the screams and audible panic.

“Jared, stop!” I shouted, watching him charge.

I ran across the wooden floor, hoping to stop any bloodshed, but before I reached Ryan, Claire appeared in front of him, in a protective stance, facing her brother.

Jared stood motionless, breathing heavily from the angry adrenaline running through his veins. “He did it…on purpose,” Jared huffed.

“And you played right into his plan,” Claire said, livid. She turned to Ryan. “Kissing my sister? That’s how you planned to get my attention?” she said, pul ing him up by his tie.

Ryan choked a bit before loosening up the knot around his neck, and then smiled. “I did what I had to,” he said to Claire, and then looked to Jared, “I’m sorry.”

“I don’t care what you’re reasons are, don’t ever touch Nina like that again. I can’t kil you, but I’ll make you wish you were dead.” Jared grabbed my hand, and then led me from the party, down two flights of stairs, and out to the parking lot.

When we reached the Escalade, I covered my mouth with one hand. Jared was stil angry, but when he looked at me, I couldn’t help but smile.

“He so got you,” I said, trying not to laugh out loud.

Jared smiled. “He did, didn’t he?”

We both laughed aloud, uncontrol ably, more than we had ever done before. By the time we were finished, I was breathless, and the muscles in my stomach were sore and tight.

We drove home, hand in hand, smiling at one another at each stoplight. Ryan final y getting face time with Claire should have been a disaster, but a sense of relief surrounded us, as if our group was final y complete. I had no idea what Claire would tel Ryan—how much truth she would real y share—but Ryan being Claire’s Taleh, and the fact that he was now in love with her, was proof that we were supposed to be in each others lives.