AS THE ELITE OF MANHATTAN sipped champagne and whispered in hushed tones, Rafe Mancuso patted the Glock hidden beneath his tuxedo jacket. Relaxed but alert, he strode through the room, certain he wouldn’t need the gun in this highbrow crowd. Still, the Lancaster Foundation was paying him to remain vigilant at their auction of outrageously priced jewels. Instead, he was distracted by the woman who’d recruited him to work security, Sara Rios, his one-time partner at the NYPD.
She walked through the double doors, and he couldn’t focus on anything else. They’d had a unique connection, working together like a well-oiled machine. Spending hours in a car together led to an immediate friendship and an emotional intimacy Rafe had never experienced before.
Not even with his fiancée.
He and Sara had never acknowledged let alone acted on the feelings simmering between them, but that hadn’t lessened the impact. And if Rafe thought Sara had been a dangerous temptation back then, he was blown away now. The woman who’d worked alongside him in a police uniform had never looked this hot. In a sparkling silver dress that hit toned midcalf, her long blond hair draped over her shoulders and full br**sts he hadn’t known existed, Rafe couldn’t tear his gaze away.
“Hey there, stranger! Long time no see.” She greeted him with a wide smile.
She leaned over and pressed a kiss on his cheek, her soft lips and sweet scent intoxicating him, reminding him of why he’d switched shifts and broken up their partnership last year. Rafe’s father had almost destroyed their family with an affair, and Rafe had sworn he would never follow in those footsteps. To an engaged man, Sara presented a temptation that simply had to end. Ironically, his relationship with his fiancée had imploded not long after, but as far as Rafe was concerned, breaking up the partnership was the smartest thing he’d ever done.
Sara would never commit to any man for the long haul, and Rafe demanded nothing less.
“I’m glad you took me up on this gig. It’s good to see you.” She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and met his gaze, her brown eyes sparkling with pleasure.
He smiled. “It’s good to see you, too.”
“You dress up nicely,” she said.
His stare never left hers. “I can honestly say the same about you. And as a bonus, it should be an easy night.” He inclined his head toward the other side of the room, where the jewels were on display.
The Lancaster Foundation had insisted Rafe and Sara blend in and socialize, not crowd the items for sale. As trained professionals, they’d have preferred to set the parameters, but the foundation hadn’t wanted the guests to feel too intimidated to view the items up close.
“An easy night is good,” Sara said. “I’m supposed to lie low until I testify at a murder trial next month. And you can’t get any more low-key than this.”
He laughed in agreement. “I heard about your case. Started as a routine B and E on Park Avenue, right?”
“That’s what we thought. Someone broke in and surprised the wife at home, hit her on the head and stole some high-priced items. But the victim refused to go to the hospital and died in her sleep a few hours later.” Sara shook her head at the senseless result.
They’d both dealt with their share of stubborn victims.
“As it happened, I was the last person to speak to her before she died. She implicated her husband or at least gave him motive.”
“So you’re the key witness at the husband’s murder trial,” Rafe said, repeating what he’d heard around the station.
“Yep. And it all comes down to money.” She tipped her head toward the wealthy crowd. “Alicia Morley’s capital was the only thing keeping her husband’s investment firm afloat. He and his partners ran the firm into the ground, and she refused to continue to subsidize his bad investments. He hired someone to break in and make it look like a robbery gone bad, hoping to inherit her estate. But if he’s convicted, her money goes to adult children from a first marriage.”
A waiter passed by, and Sara grabbed a sparkling water from his tray. She took a sip, leaving a pink-rimmed lipstick mark on the glass.
Rafe couldn’t tear his gaze away. Couldn’t stop his mind from imagining other uses for those luscious, glossed lips. “Where’s the husband now?” he asked, his throat parched and dry.
“Still in jail. Prosecutors convinced a judge he’s a flight risk. But his business partners are connected to some dangerous people, and the D.A. wants me to keep a low profile until the case is over.”
“Well, I’m happy to handle this low-profile event with you.” Where he could look and not touch. “I saw your neighbor, Sam Cooper, earlier.”
Coop and Sara weren’t just next-door neighbors: they were good friends. And since Sara let few people get close, and Rafe trusted her instincts, he automatically respected Coop. He often crossed paths with the crime-beat reporter and professionally pegged him as a decent guy who’d never compromise the truth for a story.
Since Sara was territorial about her friends, Rafe decided not to mention that he’d caught sight of Coop sneaking out of the unused coatroom not long after a disheveled-looking woman had done the same. In the dead heat of summer, nobody used that closet unless they were getting some action. Rafe was actually jealous. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d grabbed a quickie with a woman in a nearly public place, but looking at Sara in that dress had him thinking about nothing else.
Sara nodded. “I came with Coop, but I hope he’ll be leaving with his girlfriend, Lexie Davis. If they settle an argument they had first.” She pursed her lips and glanced around the room, her frown becoming more distinct. “I don’t see them.”
“It’s crowded. Maybe they’re somewhere making up,” Rafe said in an attempt to reassure her.
Sex, then an argument, then makeup sex? Could any guy get that lucky in the span of an hour? Rafe shook his head and laughed.
“What’s so funny?” Sara asked.
Rafe came up with a cover story. “Just wondering how Coop’s handling his stint on the Bachelor Blog.”
The online and in-print feature now in the Daily Post targeted single men in New York City. The blog started by picking a bachelor and highlighting him. The spotlight led to people covering the guy’s every move, from where he stopped for coffee to where he worked, and usually culminated in speculation about his love life. Women then came out of the woodwork in droves, hoping to snag the newest, hippest NYC bachelor. Despite the fact that he worked for the Daily Post, Coop was the blogger’s latest sucker.