Book 1 in the Games People Play Series
He’s known only as Wren. A wealthy, dangerously secretive man, he specializes in making problems disappear. A professional fixer, Wren hides a dark past, but his privacy is shattered when Emery Finn seeks him out—and what she wants from him is very personal.
Some people disappear against their will. Emery’s job is to find them and bring closure. Wren is the only person who can help solve Emery’s own personal mystery: the long-ago disappearance of her cousin. Just tracking down the sexy, brooding Wren is difficult enough. Resisting her body’s response to him will prove completely impossible.
Anonymity is essential to Wren’s success, yet drawn by Emery’s loyalty and sensuality, he’s pulled out of the shadows. But her digging is getting noticed by the wrong people. And as the clues start to point to someone terrifyingly close, Wren will have to put his haunted past aside to protect the woman he loves.
Book 1 in the Games People Play Series
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Emery’s mind kept wandering no matter how hard she tried to concentrate on her skim vanilla latte. She tapped the coffee stirrer against the side of her cup and stared out the large window to the busy Washington, DC, street outside. The sun beat down as the late August humidity trapped passersby in a frizzy-hair, clothing-sticking haze of discomfort.
She enjoyed the air-conditioning of The Beanery. An unfortunate name for the perfect spot. The shop sat right on the edge of the Foggy Bottom area. Businessmen and students filed in and out, past the wall of bags filled with exotic beans and decorated mugs. The proximity to her house just down the street made the place a convenient stop for quick visits before heading into the office.
At ten o’clock on a Monday she usually sat at her desk. Today she needed room, space to think about the best way to track down the one man she needed to see and couldn’t find. Endless computer searches had failed. She’d looked through property records and tried different search engines. Next she’d call in every favor and ask a work contact to check driver’s license records. She was that desperate.
She didn’t hear footsteps or see a shadow until the legs of the chair on the other side of the café table screeched against the tile floor and a man sat down across from her. Strike that, not just a man. Not part of the usual striped-tie, navy-suit business crowd she waded through each day. This one had a lethal look to him. Dark hair with an even darker sense of danger wrapping around him.
He didn’t smile or frown while his gaze searched her face. Broad shoulders filled out every inch of the jacket of his expensive black suit. Those bright green eyes matched his tie and provided a shock of color to the whole Tall, Dark and Deadly look he had going on.
He managed to telegraph power without saying a word as a hum of energy pulsed around him. She fought off a shiver and reached for her spoon. Hardly a weapon, but something about this guy made her insides bounce and the blood leave her head, and she had no idea why.
“Excuse me?” She used a tone that let him know just sitting down without asking was not okay. Some women might like the commanding, takeover type of guy who assumed his presence was welcome everywhere. Not her.
“We need to come to an understanding.”
The voice, deep and husky with an edge of gravely heat, skidded across her senses. She felt it as much as she heard it. The tone struck her, held her mesmerized, before the meaning behind the words hit her. “Uh-huh, well, maybe we should understand that seat is already taken,” she said.
“Literally anyone else who wants it.” She looked down, making a show of taking the lid off her cup and stirring the few inches of coffee left inside. That struck her as the universal not-interested signal.
She waited for him to grumble or call her a name and scamper off. She had issued a dismissal after all. But his presence loomed and she glanced up again.
“Emery Finn.” Her name rolled off his tongue.
That shiver moving through her turned into a full body shake. “Wait, do we know each other?”
“You’ve been making inquiries.”
It was the way he said it as much as what he said. How he sat there without moving. Perfect posture and laser-like focus that stayed on her face, never wavering even as a pretty woman openly gawked at him as she passed by.
The surreal scene had Emery grabbing on to her cup with both hands. “It sounds like you’re reading from a really bad screenplay.”
“This isn’t fiction.”
“Uh-huh. You know what it also isn’t? Interesting.” She waved him off. “Go away.”
“You need to stop searching for information.” He finally blinked. “No more questions. No more inquiries through back channels at government agencies.”
In her line of work she sometimes angered people. Never on purpose, because ticked-off people tended not to open up and share. “I research for a living. If I’ve somehow upset you or—”
“This is personal, not business.”
That sounded . . . not good. Like, time-to-call-the-police not good. “Who are you?”
He continued to stare. He didn’t move or threaten her, not directly, but his presence filled the space in front of her. The noise of the café faded into the background. A loud male voice a few tables away flattened to a mumble and the people shuffling by blurred.
“Someone who is trying to help you.”
That sounded like something a serial killer might say right before he lured some poor woman into his white van. Yeah, no thanks.
She curled her fingers around the spoon just in case. “Maybe you’re unclear about the meaning of ‘go away,’ but I can start screaming and I’m sure someone will explain it to you. Maybe a police officer.”
“You’re skeptical. Good.” He nodded, seemingly not even slightly concerned that she was six seconds from reaching for pepper spray. “But you need to understand the ramifications of all these questions.”
She’d heard phrases like that every day in her work life as a researcher for the Jane Doe Network. She searched for the right piece of information to match missing persons to unidentified victims. To bring closure to cold cases and family pain. “I’ve found that people who say that sort of thing to me have no intention of actually helping me.”
“I’m the exception.” The corner of his mouth twitched in what seemed to be his version of a smile. “You’re being careful right now. That’s smart. My only point is that you should continue to do so and heed my advice.”
Every word sounded as if it were chosen for maximum impact. No wasted syllables, not even an extra breath. He sat there, stiff and sure with a brooding affect that acted like a warning shot even as something about him reeled her in, had her leaning forward, waiting to hear what he’d say next.
She forced her body to stay still. No fidgeting or spinning her cup. “Tell me what you think I’ve done that’s wrong or dangerous.”
“You have been asking questions and taking photographs.”
She’d taken exactly two photographs lately. Not for work, for her side project. The one that had haunted her for years and begged for closure. “Both activities, which, if they happened, are legal.”
“Wren.” He said the word and stopped talking.
Not that he needed to spell it out. The name echoed in her head. It was all she could do not to launch across the table and shake this guy. “Are you him?”
“I’m someone who knows you’re searching for Wren.”
Because that wasn’t an odd answer or anything. If Wren sent someone to find her, stop her, this had turned very personal. She’d been hunting in relative secret. She basically knew the name Wren from a scibble on a piece of paper.
So much for thinking she’d been discreet. She’d called in favors and asked friends to dig quietly. She’d made it clear no one should leave a trail or take unnecessary risks. Either someone had messed up or . . . she didn’t even want to think about the “or” part.
She forced her brain to focus. Pushed out the fear and confusion as her mind clicked into gear. This guy had information about Tiffany’s disappearance. Emery didn’t know what, but something.
The chair creaked as the man sat back. “The point is, you need to stop.”
“Yeah, you said a version of that already.” Not that she could forget that voice.
His head tilted to the side as if he were examining her and for a second that harsh façade slipped. “What do you hope to accomplish here?”
She held up her cup and shook it. “I’m drinking coffee.”
“When you search for a recluse who may or may not exist—”
The guy nodded. “Possibly.”
“Okay, fine. We can play that game.” But she knew the truth. People in power shook their heads and whispered the name Wren. She’d seen it when she talked with the senator who once promised a favor for matching her friend’s missing child to a John Doe case four states away. Even the senator backed away from the mention of the guy.
“Do you think if you ask the right question someone is going to hand over Wren’s home address?” His hands stayed folded on his lap as he asked the question.
As much as the conversation had her nerves zapping, she needed to keep him talking. Get him to slip up or at least touch the table or something so she could get her resources to check for fingerprints. A desperate hope, but then she dealt daily with desperate hope. “Do you have it? If so, give it to me. This conversation will go a lot faster and you can get back to doing whatever it is you do, which I somehow doubt is legal or particularly nice.”
His mouth twitched for the second time. “Why do you want to see Wren?”
Apparently they’d entered the never-ending-questions portion of the conversation. As the minutes passed, she became less interested in participating in his game and more in playing her own. “Tell me your name.”
“I’d rather you listen to me.” He leaned forward. “You are wading into danger here. There are some people who prefer anonymity. Denying them that brings trouble.”
The words shot into her, had her back slamming into her chair. “Are you threatening me?”
“I’m trying to keep you from being hurt.” He cleared his throat. “You might awaken a beast you cannot possibly control.”
The conversation, this meeting, it all spun in her head. “What does that even mean?”
“I think you know.” Without warning, the guy stood up.
“You drop that kind of overly dramatic comment, don’t bother telling me who you are or how you know Wren and then storm out?”
She sputtered, trying to think of something brilliant to say after that, but only babble filled her brain.
“And for the record.” He actually smiled this time. “I do not storm.”
“My word choice offended you?” This guy sure had the whole mysterious thing down. The suit, the stubble . . . that face. But this was a good place to talk. In public with plenty of people right there in case she needed to hit him with a chair. “At least get a coffee and sit back down so we can discuss this.”
“I already have one.” In a few steps he went to the counter and grabbed a to-go cup with the name Brian on it that had been sitting there since she picked up her drink more than a half hour ago. Then he was back by her side at the table. “Think about what I said.”
She doubted she’d be able to think about anything else. “I don’t take orders well.”
“Take this one.” With a nod he headed for the door.
She scrambled to her feet, grabbing for her purse and swearing when it caught around the back of the chair. She hit the sidewalk a few seconds later, looking up and down, past the groups of people walking and talking. Frustration screamed in her brain as a siren wailed in the distance. Still, nothing. No sign of black-suit guy. He’d disappeared.