MEET PIPER DOVE…
The office door swung open in Piper’s face. She tripped backward, focusing so hard on keeping her balance that the door shut again before she realized who’d walked in. A whoosh roared through her ears.
Cooper Graham himself.
She felt as if she’d been struck by a supernova. After following the Chicago Stars former quarterback for six days, she should have been better prepared. But seeing him from a distance and now being ten feet away were completely different animals.
He’d sucked up all the airspace in the room, and the good ol’ boy grin he turned on the customers at his new nightclub was nowhere in sight. This was his face at the line of scrimmage.
She mentally ticked off the possible reasons she’d been detained and decided she hated every one of them. But she told herself Graham wasn’t the only one in the room who knew how to fake a play, and unlike him, she had everything at stake.
Even though her heart was pounding so hard she was afraid he’d see, she pulled out her fake British accent and tried to look as if this was the thrill of her lifetime. “Brilliant! I say, I’m quite gobsmacked.”
His eyes, a shade darker than his burnt-toast hair, swept over her, taking in her long wig, pushed-up breasts, and okay legs. She wasn’t a beauty, but she wasn’t a dog, either, and if she had a shred of vanity, she would have been demoralized by his obvious disdain. But she didn’t, and she wasn’t.
His thick brown hair was a little disheveled. Not fashionably rumpled—more the dishevelment of a man who couldn’t be bothered with bi-monthly haircuts or a shelf full of grooming products. Without warning, he snatched her clutch away, and she gave a little hiss of dismay. “Bugger!” she cried, a few beats too late.
She stared at his oversized hands—ten inches from thumb to little finger. She knew this because she did her homework. Just as she knew those big hands had thrown more than three hundred touchdowns. The same hands digging in her clutch and pulling out her fake green card.
A good investigator had to improvise, and the more detail Piper could give, the more convincing she’d be. “I go by Esme. Lady Esme, actually. Esmerelda is a family name.”
“Is that so.” His voice rolled from his lips like deep water over a parched Oklahoma prairie.
She gave a shaky nod. “Passed down through the generations to honor the second wife of the fifth Earl of Conundrum. Died in childbirth, the poor cow.”
“My condolences.” He looked inside again. “No credit cards?
“They’re so vulgar, don’t you think?”
“Money’s never vulgar,” the cowboy drawled.
“How very American of you.”
He began rummaging in her clutch again, something that didn’t take long since she’d left her wallet safely stashed in her car—a wallet that held her fresh new private investigator’s license as well as half a dozen business cards.
Truth brings peace.
The original business cards had read, “Truth brings piece.” Her grandfather had been a brilliant investigator, but a lousy speller.
Graham smelled like money and fame, not that she could exactly describe what either one smelled like, but she knew it when she sniffed it, the same way she knew that the future of her business depended on what happened next. She pulled in the few molecules of air his presence hadn’t already burned up. “I don’t really mind you mucking about in there like that, but I am curious what you’re looking for.”
He shoved the clutch back at her. “Something that’ll explain why you’ve been following me.”
She’d been so careful! Her mind raced. How had she given herself away? What rookie mistake had she made that had sunk her? All her hard work was for nothing—sleeping in her car, living on junk food, peeing into the Tinkle Belle, and—worse of all—spending her life savings buying Dove Investigations from her cheating, detestable stepmother. Every sacrifice she’d made would be useless. She’d be forced back to life in a cubicle, right along with having to live with the knowledge that a pampered jock like Cooper Graham had gotten the best of her.
Acid churned in the pit of her stomach. She arranged her forehead in a confused frown. “Following you?”
He stood silhouetted against the framed Chicago Stars Jersey displayed on the wall behind him. His blue, button-down shirt made his already formidable shoulders look even wider, and the rolled-up sleeves showcased the lean muscles of his lower arms. The expert fit of his dark jeans—neither too tight nor too lose—exhibited the long, powerful legs that had been designed by God to be steady, strong, and quick—much to the disadvantage of her Chicago Bears.
His gaze was as grim as an Illinois winter “I’ve see you parked outside my condo, following me to my gym, to here. And I want to know why.”
She’d thought she was being so inventive with all her disguises. How had he managed to see through them? Denial would be futile. She sank onto the couch and tried to think.
He waited. Arms folded. Standing on the sidelines watching the enemy’s offense fall apart.
“Well…” She swallowed. Looked up at him. “The fact is…” She released her breath in a whoosh. “I’m your stalker.”
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