When she was younger, Eve Deaux followed her twin brothers and their best friend Raymond around constantly. It wasn’t easy. They made no allowances for her size or youth. It was keep up or be left behind. Although, Raymond always kept an eye on her. She spent much of her adulthood honing her skills as a detective and becoming successful in her career in hopes of earning the respect of Raymond, her childhood crush. 

When his company hires her firm to solve a string of recent burglaries, Eve believes she is ready to claim her happily-ever-after. Ray finally sees her as a woman, but he becomes overprotective once they become lovers.

Will winning his heart cost her a career she excels in? Can she submit to him without losing her professional edge?

This is book three in the Louisiana Loving series but can be enjoyed as a standalone.

Publisher’s Note: This steamy contemporary romance contains action, adventure, mystery, suspense, and elements of power exchange. 

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Prologue

Genevieve Deaux blended into the background of the vast warehouse as she watched the newly delivered boxes of supplies being unloaded. Having memorized a copy of the packing list, she mentally checked off each item as it was accounted for. A few feet away, Lynn Goldman stood by a deliveryman and took her own notes about what was carried inside.

“It looks like it’s all here, gentlemen.” The raven-haired lady in the tailored pantsuit smiled and initialed the forms the foremen of the delivery company handed to her.

“Not that it’s not an honor having a lovely lady here to accept our delivery,” the tall, muscular driver said, “but did Charlie get canned or something? He usually checks us in when we make a delivery.”

“Charlie will be back soon, I assure you. I was in the area and my brother Raymond asked me to help out here. He still likes to keep a hands-on approach with the companies Becnel Incorporated manages.”

“Your brother?” the man’s interest was piqued.

“Raymond Becnel,” she filled him in. The man nodded, no doubt placing the name as the CEO of one of the biggest operations in the state. “Our father ran the company until he passed away. I sit on the board, but it’s Raymond who does most of the day to day management of the different holdings. I hope you have a great weekend, sir.” She handed over the clipboard and smiled warmly.

The delivery driver thought the smile sent a signal, and tried to take advantage of it. “It would be a better weekend if I had a nice lady like you on my arm.”

“My husband probably would object,” she replied and Genevieve almost chuckled from her hiding place. While investigating this case, she had familiarized herself with all the people connected with this particular company. Lynn’s husband Richard was odd; there was no other word to describe him. She was open and professional. He was dark and rarely spoke. It was hard understanding what attracted the couple to each other in the first place. Must be that old adage about opposites, Eve decided.

Eventually the guy and the rest of the deliverymen got back into their truck and drove away. Unaware that Genevieve was present, Lynn locked the bay doors, switched off the lights and exited the storage room.

Genevieve stayed in her hiding spot a bit longer, allowing her eyes to adjust to the limited light in the room. Once she was fairly confident no one would come in unexpectedly, she walked over to the boxes and rechecked the inventory. She let a disgruntled sigh escape. Darn, this mystery was not going to be as easy to unravel as she had originally suspected.

When one of her business partners, who was also her brother, Paul had given her this assignment, Eve had been beyond thrilled. Her childhood crush, Lynn’s own brother, Raymond Becnel, ran this warehouse in Lake Charles, as well as many other properties in and around the Baton Rouge area. Supplies at the business had been disappearing, and Raymond had contacted Deaux Consultants to help eliminate the problem.

Eve’s twin brothers Jean and Paul ran a discrete, troubleshooting firm, which specialized in eradicating business owner’s complications without drawing too much attention to the situation. Many of the Deaux siblings worked in the company in one role or another, but Genevieve was a step above most. She was a silent partner, helping to finance the start of the company when it first opened its doors eight years before.

Once she managed to figure out who was responsible for the missing supplies, Eve, as her friends and family called her, looked forward to marching into Raymond’s office and proving once and for all she was not a helpless kid any longer. She couldn’t fault him for not seeing her as a woman. After nearly a decade of suffering from her chasing after him and the twins when they were teenagers, Raymond probably thought of Eve as more of a kid sister than a potential lover.

Smiling, she longed to dispel such a ridiculous misconception. She was a woman, and had been secretly in love with the dark, sexy businessman since she hit puberty. One day she had promised herself, Raymond Becnel would be forced to admit she was a desirable, independent woman. She would earn his respect, and maybe even stir up a desire to get to know her on a more intimate level.

When the warehouse light switched back on, Eve found herself blinded briefly. Heavy footsteps broke the silence and she realized someone was walking toward the recently closed bay. Eve reached into a holster hidden in the back of her pants waistband. She inched quietly back into the shadows as the heavy delivery door was lifted and a truck backed into the bay. The piercing beeping sound of the truck made her wince.

Stealthily watching from behind a forklift, she tried to make out the faces of either the driver or the person letting him in. Both were male, she decided, but their faces were covered by shadows. Pulling out her phone, she started filming what happened next. The men removed only a few boxes from the last delivery. Then they moved to other bay areas and started selecting an assortment of other supplies.

If there was a rhyme or reason to what they took, Eve had not figured it out yet. She did suspect they did not want any one section of supplies to be obviously depleted. It would buy them time before the missing items would be discovered. Most businesses might go a long time before discovering the thieves, but this one was run by Raymond Becnel, a man who noticed the most minute details and was very thorough. No doubt, he sent his own sister to check on the delivery today just to make sure the issue wasn’t with the delivery services.

After several minutes of filming, Eve found herself alone in the dark warehouse again. The robbers were in and out in less than ten minutes. The driver had dropped a cigar butt near the entrance. She used great care to secure it properly in a Ziploc bag. While her company rarely ran DNA tests, if criminal charges were filed, the police might need this to link at least one of the men to the scene. Eve could not contain her excitement. Tonight, she would call in her brother Paul and review the video with him. Then tomorrow, she would bring her evidence to Raymond.

She looked forward to explaining the next steps in the investigation. She already had a good idea of the identity of the person opening the bay door. There were only so many workers in the company who had access to the business locks. But proving Charlie’s involvement was not what was important in the end. In her experience, The Who was generally easy to identify, Eve knew. It was The Why that took more patience and time to uncover. But unless both aspects were brought to light, trouble would likely return.

***

“Mr. Becnel,” a middle aged secretary said as she opened her boss’ office door early the next morning, “someone from Deaux Consultants is here to speak to you.”

Raymond glanced up, a quick smile forming on his hard lips. “Jean or Paul? Never mind, Janet, they look so much alike, you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart anyway…” Eve stepped inside and his words trailed off.

“I hope you can tell me apart from my brothers, Raymond. Aside from the red hair, I pray I am a bit more pleasing to look at than thirty-something year old men.” Seeing the surprise on his face made Eve feel a bit giddy. All doubts about her getting over her childhood crush were gone. Something about this tall, rugged looking man called to her, making her feel wanton and feminine.

A loud whistle filled the room, and he leapt up to pull her into a close hug. His aftershave filled her nostrils. When they had been young, he often smelled like a mixture of dirt, sweat and leather. The expensive, rich scent was agreeable, but she missed the hint of leather more than she cared to admit.

“No one could confuse you with any of your brothers since you reached puberty, Genevieve.”

For a blissful, magical moment, his wonderful lips met hers. The rest of the world vanished, and she marveled in the beauty of a dream come true. Her lips were just about to part and invite him inside when he pulled back. Damn, she wanted to be back in his embrace. Consoling herself that he would soon be reveling in her progress in eliminating his Lake Charles company’s issues, she sashayed to the chair he pointed to in front of his desk.

He leaned back on the edge of the wooden desk and smiled down at her. “We haven’t seen each other in years, beautiful. Last I heard you were off to law school at Tulane. It was a major blow that one of my dearest friends turned her back on her LSU roots. We have our own prestigious law schools in Baton Rouge, you know.”

“I wanted to establish myself outside of my big brothers’ shadows. You have to admit, the three of you cast a large shadow for the rest of us. Not many Lake Charles natives care to contend with you guys’ reputations. I think one of the reason’s Tulane offered me such a great scholarship in the first place was because of my last name. I made sure they realized I was not looking to play linebacker on the football team just because my brothers Jean and Paul played for LSU.”

“Jean says you used your tennis skills to win a few medals for the Green Wave.” His lopsided grin did something to the pit of her stomach, and Eve had to stop herself from staring at his lips. She had waited a long time to meet this handsome man on equal footing. From this moment on, Raymond Becnel would be forced to see her as a woman, an equal, someone impossible to walk away from without a backwards glance.

“I even managed to steal away a few wins from LSU in Track and Field,” she chuckled. When they were children, the twins, Raymond and she used to talk about going to Baton Rouge for college. The three guys went off years before she reached the proper age. Stories about the frat house fun the three had, made her jealous. They chased more women than footballs, if Jean was to be believed. She knew she would never be able to handle seeing the man she planned on marrying one day playing around with other women. Tulane offered a way to avoid that.

In her mind, Eve had rationalized that the time was not right for Raymond and her to start a relationship. They each had some growing up to do before they could appreciate how right they were for one another.

In the past, she had come to depend on Raymond always being at her side, helping her fight her battles against all foes, be it with her bossy brothers or other childhood enemies. When he stopped coming back to Lake Charles after he graduated college, she had cried for weeks. Then she started making plans to run off and track him down, and demand to know how he could ever leave her behind. Eventually, it dawned on her that the man she loved was probably tired of having to spend all his time watching out for her. He was a man now, in need of a strong, self-assured mate, not a childhood pest.

Still determined to fulfill her childhood dream of being Mrs. Raymond Becnel, she reassessed her life. Was that what she was, ‘a person dependent on another for protection and self-worth’? Hell, no, she had decided. She systematically set out to learn everything she could about protecting herself and others. Genevieve did not need anyone, especially a man, to rescue her these days. She could take care of herself and her own issues. Better still, she could help the man she adored, being an asset instead of a liability for a change.

“What brings you to Baton Rouge, Genevieve? Did Paul or Jean let you tag along while they came in here to handle a job for me? How long are you planning to stay? I’d love to take you out tonight if you can manage to ditch the guys. There’s this little Italian restaurant in the city. I remember how much you love Italian food.”

Eve relaxed a bit more. Everything was falling into place perfectly. Her years of hard work and determination were finally paying off. A small part of her worried this meeting could go badly. What if Raymond might never be able to change his view of her from bratty kid to possible mate? “How is the lasagna at this restaurant? I can be a bit picky, remember? Is it anything like back home?”

“Almost as good as your momma’s,” he promised. His voice was deep. She could listen to him talk all day and never get tired of it.

Those brown eyes of his were incredibly warm and inviting. Eve’s eyes trailed down his lean, strong body and she found nothing lacking. What would he do, she wondered, if she jumped up and threw herself in his arms? Faint? Hold her tight and turn her fantasies into reality?

“I would enjoy going out to eat with you, Raymond. But let’s go back to your earlier question. I made this trip alone, so we don’t have to worry about ditching my brothers. I am here on official Deaux business, though. Paul assigned me to your case. I am happy to report I have a solid lead on how your supplies are disappearing in the Lake Charles warehouse. I came here today to discuss the situation. I would like to share the information I have gathered to date on the case so we can discuss possible avenues to eliminate the problem. Deaux Consultants defers to the client’s feelings about bringing in the authorities, but in this case, I would strongly advise you to consider it. The complex method used to pilfer the goods from your warehouse suggests an inside job. Someone within your company, or companies, may be behind this matter.”

“Why didn’t Jean or Paul come here to share the findings?” he asked, a frown marring his handsome face. “No offense, Genevieve, but this is a delicate matter. I prefer you stay as far away from the case as possible. I would never forgive myself if you got hurt because of one of my companies.”

“Paul and Jean do not handle all the cases at the firm. Neither of them came today because they are not leading this investigation.” She tried to keep the censure from her tone, but failed. Why was he having such a difficult time grasping the situation?

“Did they put Louis in charge?” he asked, and she wanted to go for his neck.

“Raymond Becnel, you are acting like a sexist jerk! I am the one handling the case.” She watched him absorb the information slowly. He was having a difficult time of it. Shaking her head side to side, she tried to keep calm. “Your mouth will dry out if you keep letting your jaw hang open like that. Now, if you are finished insulting my ability to handle this job, I would like to share some of the evidence I uncovered.”

Pulling out her laptop, she accessed the video from the night before. Setting it on his desk, she turned it to him. Most of the footage was grainy due to the shadows and distance she filmed from, but the figures moving supplies into the waiting truck were evident. Crossing her arms over her chest, she narrowed her eyes at him, daring him to question her skill now. Surely, he would have to acknowledge her abilities now.

“Tell me you did not shoot this video,” he growled, the sound resonating from deep in his chest as he turned toward her.

Eve took a step back in defense. Then she forced herself to hold her ground. This was her job. She was a professional. This might be an old friend, but she was not going to let him intimidate her. “I have more footage of other things I have uncovered, but none is as useful as this.”

“So you were inside a dark warehouse, in the middle of downtown Lake Charles, at night, all alone, filming criminals?” He backed her up towards the chair she had recently exited, and she ended up falling back into it. His strong arms rested on the arms and he leaned down until his face was inches from her own. “I thought you had finally grown up, Genevieve, but you are still the reckless little brat I had to bail out of one disaster after another as a child.”

“I don’t need anyone to bail me out these days, Raymond Becnel!” So much for impressing him. It was all Eve could do to stop herself from lashing out at him.

“What if the men in that damn video had caught you, young lady? You would have been defenseless to protect yourself.”

He was crowding her, trying to frighten her a little. Other men had tried to challenge her control in the past. Women had to fight hard in her line of work to earn respect. Men respected action over talk. Eve silently slipped the knife from her boot and let him see the sheen of the blade before laying it down on her lap. “I am never defenseless these days.” She stated, doing her best not the blink.

Eve had to admit, in hindsight, showing a weapon when she had no intention of using it against her opponent was a foolish thing to do. Raymond relieved her of her knife and proved just how vulnerable she could be. Challenging him on his own turf was not a wise move on her part either. The sharp blade was out of reach in seconds before he hauled her face down over his heavy lap in the very chair she sat in a moment before.

“I will be speaking to Jean and Paul about your lack of good judgment, young lady. Sneaking around dark warehouses, filming criminal activity instead of having the good sense to run…” He kept on stringing together offenses as she fought to free herself.

Eve refused to cry out as his heavy hand landed time and again on her poor backside. It was physically painful, but more devastating was the realization her dreams of a happy reunion with her childhood hero were crashing down around her. Thank goodness she had opted to wear her thick jeans and a tailored shirt instead of the sexy dress she had considered for today’s meeting. The material offered a bit of protection for the jarring smacks.

Taking a few, calming breaths, she tried to reason with the devil beating her. The pain he was inflicting may have affected her word choice. “Jean and Paul assigned me to this case, you bastard. I happen to be a partner in the business.”

His hand paused briefly as he absorbed her words. Then he resumed. “I bet they will be interested to hear you pulled a knife on a client,” he continued lecturing, his heavy hand bouncing off her backside again and again. After what felt like an hour, but probably only amounted to minutes, he pulled her up and stood her between his legs.

Raymond’s eyes pinned her in place and she dared not move. “Had I known you would put yourself in danger because of me, I never would have called in Deaux Consultants in the first place. The thought of you in any kind of danger… Damn it, why the hell would your brothers put you in harm’s way? None of this makes sense. You are supposed to be a lawyer. Don’t you have a law degree?”

Rubbing her backside, Eve glared at him. “You are lucky I am not practicing law, right now, Raymond Becnel. I would sue your ass for personal injury. And for your information, this is the closest to a work related injury I have ever sustained while at Deaux Consultants!” Walk out, she silently ordered herself. Punch him. She would not give him the satisfaction of becoming unprofessional or childish. “Now, if you are finished bitching at me, I would like to discuss my plans for eliminating your problems at the Lake Charles warehouse.”

“You are off the case,” he scowled, standing up so he could pull out his cell from his pants pocket. He punched in a few numbers before grabbing her arm as she tried to put some distance between them.

Did he feel the same charge of energy she did when they were so close? Every hair on her body was standing on end, be it from frustration, anger or sexual energy.

“Paul, this is Ray. I’m fine. As a matter of fact, Eve is right here now. Yes, I saw the video, dammit. Upset? I sound upset? It’s one thing to let your kid sister trail after us when we were kids, buddy, but this is taking it a bit far, don’t you think? Highly qualified? You are kidding me, right? One of your best detectives? That doesn’t speak highly of your company in my opinion.”

A loud masculine groan followed as Eve gave in to the urge to stomp her foot down on his polished shoe. “She could get hurt playing these games, Paul. Professional? She just smashed the damn heel of her boot on my toes. I can’t feel three of them at the moment. Yeah, well she also pulled a knife on me earlier. Care to try explaining that away? You want to talk to her? Be my guest, but keep this in mind. Either you or Jean take over this case, or I will find some way to solve it myself. It won’t be on my head if she gets herself killed while playing like she’s one of the boys.”

Raymond handed her the phone. Eve hesitated for a moment, picturing her older brother sitting at his desk, fuming. “Before you start, you should know your best friend is a sexist jerk. Well, I didn’t use the knife on him, dammit. Yeah, well maybe he should wear steel-toed shoes if his big feet are so sensitive. What are you supposed to do? Oh, I don’t know. Maybe you could try telling him he can shove his warehouse case… Listen to reason? Sure, start spouting some bits of reason and I’ll be glad to hear you out. Oh, we will definitely finish discussing this when I get back to Lake Charles,” Eve promised before she ended the call.

“Pulling me off this case will come back to bite you in the ass, Raymond Becnel,” Eve announced as she tossed his phone back to him with a bit more force than necessary. Fuming and embarrassed, Eve grabbed her things and started for the door, hoping to muster a bit of grace with her exit.

“I assume our date for tonight will have to be rescheduled,” Raymond called out.

Turning back to face him, she thought of a million ways to explain just how royally he had screwed up. She would never allow herself to spend time with him again. “It will snow in New Orleans before I ever consider going out with you again.” She slammed the door on her way out.


Chapter One

The unusually cold winter that hit in the Deep South this year would be her downfall, Eve knew the moment she watched Raymond Becnel striding in her direction. In fact, cities across Louisiana had closed down for a few days when freezing ice plagued the region. While Lake Charles was familiar with a few snowflakes, New Orleans had been ill prepared for the effects.

He could not dare to think she would even consider dating him after their last encounter. The smug look on his face suggested otherwise. The other people at her booth soon noticed the attractive, six-foot-tall man as Eve tried to blend into the background.

“Ooh la la. I think I am in lust,” Eve’s baby sister Lilly Marie announced. All seven Deaux siblings had red hair, but the youngest had more blonde highlights, thanks to a recent visit to a beauty salon. “Left hand ring finger bare. I think he feels the instant attraction, too. He’s heading this way. Everyone, push over. I’m going to invite him to join us.” Eve refused to budge, even if her sister-in-law Camille and co-worker Jayne inched over in their booth.

“Hello ladies,” Raymond smiled as he reached them. “Genevieve, I’ve been trying to get in touch with you for weeks now. When I saw the news about it snowing in New Orleans, it reminded me you and I haven’t had a chance to reschedule our dinner plans.”

“Wait a minute.” Lilly Marie suddenly realized she knew the man. “Are you that dreamy, tall guy who used to run around with my older brothers?”

“Shortcake, what happened to the pigtails you used to sport way back when?” Raymond smiled.

“I’m all grown up now, but we can set up a play date anytime you like,” she smiled boldly up at him.

“Introduce me to your friends,” Raymond said, staring straight at Eve.

Unless she wanted to go into a long explanation, Eve had no choice. “Raymond Becnel, meet Camille, she’s Jean’s wife, Jayne, my friend from work and you already know Lilly.”

“Ladies, may I borrow Genevieve for a moment? She and I have unfinished business to discuss.”

“You and I don’t do business together, remember?” Eve hoped her voice did not sound as strained as she felt.

“Still sensitive about that?” He raised one dark eyebrow and Eve had to stop herself from noticing how attractive he was. “I will be in town for a few weeks. It’ll be easier to just go out to dinner with me than trying to avoid me for that long.”

“I’ll go out to dinner with you,” Lilly Marie winked at him.

Raymond laughed, his perfect smile doing something to the pit of Eve’s stomach. She was over him, she told herself. He was a jerk. He only saw her as a child, a weak female, someone he could push around. Then again, if she were the type of woman who went for that alpha male scene, Raymond would be the man she would pick to lead her around.

“I have lots of cases I am handling for Deaux Consultants right now,” she said coolly. “Even if I wanted to go out to dinner with you, I am booked solid.”

Jayne, the receptionist for the business chimed in, “Eve’s schedule is quite tight right now. Aside from the wedding reception tonight, I don’t think she has a night off for at least a month.”

“Wedding reception?” Something in his eyes lit up and Eve silently groaned as her body responded to him of its own accord. “Ladies,” he nodded before turning to walk away.

“He has one hot ass,” Lilly Marie cooed. “Camille, you are awfully quiet.”

“Why did I let you talk me into getting my hair cut? Jean is going to be pissed off.” The brown hair beauty snapped, her fingers pulling on her locks as if willing them to grow out.

The two women fussed back and forth with peacemaker Jayne trying desperately to change the subject. Eve just kept staring off into space. Raymond Becnel did have a great ass. She often dreamed of digging her nails into it as they made wild passionate love. Too bad they didn’t suit. He was too bossy and controlling for an independent woman like her.

Later that night at the wedding reception, Eve noticed Raymond hanging by the bar, watching her every move. His eyes seemed to be undressing her as she moved around the dance floor. Maybe he didn’t see her as a small child? Might there be a chance to see his impressive ass in action? Grabbing a drink from a waiter passing by, she started debating her next move.

She had not really given him a chance to talk about their falling out. Maybe he came to Lake Charles to apologize for his rude behavior. He could have realized his mistake and be looking for a chance to make amends. One meal out with him wouldn’t be too horrible to withstand. Here, they would be on her turf. She would be the one in control. If he really wanted to take her out, he would have to accept she was no longer a compliant little girl, begging to do his bidding just to see his sexy smile or earn a bit of praise.

Eve found the gumption to head his way when a blonde swooped in and started flirting outrageously with him. She recognized her brother, Paul’s former girlfriend immediately. Before Jayne came to work at the family business, Paul had dated this brash woman. He dumped her after falling for Jayne’s beauty and innocence. Just the other day, Eve had been forced to kick the other woman out of her brother’s office. He had not been there. Erica Summers, the blonde throwing herself at Raymond, had let herself into Paul’s office, no doubt hoping to start trouble. Eve did not suspect the other woman was hurt because she still had feelings for her brother. No, Erica was the one used to breaking up with someone. It did not sit well to be pushed aside by one of her lovers.

The logical part of Eve knew the bitch was probably trying to pay her back for tossing her out of Deaux Consultants by flirting with Raymond. Eve’s emotional side fumed that he wasn’t putting up much of a fight. Damn, she realized suddenly that if Erica was trying to humiliate her, the other woman had to know Eve had the hots for Raymond. How many people knew about her secret crush? She scanned the area, sure everyone around was watching to see her reaction.

Holding herself tall, she lifted her glass high toward the couple at the bar, pretending as if nothing about the situation concerned her. Then Eve forced herself to take a sip of champagne before slipping away to lick her wounds.

One of the benefits for working as an investigator was knowing the layout of most businesses she had frequented. Most women might run to hide in the ladies’ room, but Eve made her way to a storage room near the back of the club house where the wedding reception was being held. She let the tears fall as she sat there in the darkness, willing herself to forget about her childhood fantasy of living happily ever after with Raymond Becnel.

Those were childish dreams. She was a grown woman, dammit. Yet the feelings she had for him were far from innocent childhood daydreams these days. Something about him called to her on a deeper, more intimate level. All day long, she worked on untangling one sinister plot after another. It would be nice to come home to a man who could make her forget the evils of the world. Was it too much to ask to find a man who could take care of her, remind her of what it was like to be loved and protected?

A knock at the door startled her, but it was Paul’s voice that called out, “Can I come in?”

Wiping her face to rid it of the tears, she kept the light off as she opened the door. “I noticed the ladies’ room was running dangerously low on toilet paper,” she offered by way of explanation for her current location. “This is where they keep the supplies.”

“Want me to punch him for you?” Paul walked inside and closed the door.

A chuckle filled the room as Eve considered it. “It depends. Did he already pay the bill for the job you had to take over for me at the warehouse? You added that asshole penalty charge, right? You promised you would when you convinced me to let you take my case because Raymond Becnel is an ass.” It still irked her that the man had ignored all the hard work she put into solving his problems, only to have him kick her off the case. The spanking he gave her for pulling a knife still made her fume, too.

“I called it a nuisance penalty because bookkeeping didn’t know how to record the asshole clause,” her brother said.

Eve hated remembering the warehouse case Raymond pulled her off of. It was too hard to separate his rejection from the details she gathered. “Did the company end up prosecuting the warehouse manager?”

“The company decided to let him go quietly instead of taking a hit with the bad press a trial might cause.”

Even in the dark, she could imagine her older brother shaking his head with disapproval. She said what he was thinking, “I guess the company didn’t care who was behind the whole scheme. Eliminating the baitfish won’t stop the shark from hunting. I told him firing me was going to end up biting his ass. I ought to let you deck him.”

The door opened, flooding the room with light from the hallway. “Deck who? Is this a private party or can anyone join in?”

“You aren’t invited,” Eve insisted as she placed the voice of the new arrival long before he switched on the light in the room.

“You weren’t invited when the guys and I went off to the bike trail or fishing, but you tagged along anyway. Think of this as payback.” Raymond’s solid frame filled the doorway.

Paul regarded the two people facing off with amusement. “Still want me to deck him for you?” he asked Eve.

Raymond merely smiled at the suggestion. “Jean isn’t here to hold me down, buddy, but, by all means, give it your best shot.”

Her brother shrugged. “Give me a minute. I’ll go hunt down Jean. Don’t let him out of this closet until I get back.”

“Instead of hunting down your twin, you ought to go find your woman. She might be little, but she just tore a chunk of my ass off just now at the bar. She blamed me for Erica Summer’s ridiculous behavior earlier.”

Paul was out of the closet and heading away before Eve could stop him. “I told her to wait with the family,” he muttered as he disappeared.

A firm hand reached to pull her back into the small room and the door closed. She was trapped in a closed space with the one man who she longed to avoid. Grabbing a roll of toilet paper, she tried to escape with what dignity she could muster. “The ladies room is running low. If you will excuse me…”

His lips dropped to hers, and he pulled her in tight against his hard body. The toilet tissue dug into her stomach until she had found the good sense to let it go. Then her arms wound around Raymond’s thick neck and she returned his kiss.