Forbidden pleasure, p.29
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       Forbidden Pleasure, p.29

         Part #8 of Bound Hearts series by Lora Leigh
 
Page 29

 

  “I can find that out. ” Max glared back at Mac. “Trust me, Delia can’t keep a secret, and I know she’s behind this. I’ll find out where it started or if she just started it on her own. ”

  And Max could do it. The woman was a dynamo. She could widen her green eyes with naive innocence and play the clueless Southern belle with just the right touch of realism. False realism, but it worked.

  “See what you can find out for me, Max. ” Mac nodded as Keiley glanced over at him. “And don’t say anything about the stalker. I’d like to keep this quiet if we can. ”

  That was all it took. Maxine might give the appearance of flightiness, of cluelessness, but it hid a mind as sharp as a razor and a loyalty as deep as the oceans.

  “Of course we’ll keep it quiet. ” Max stared at Mac as though he had lost his mind. “You think I want Delia Staten to get her hands on this information? She would find the bastard and help him out. ”

  “Max,” Joe chastised gently.

  “You know it’s the truth,” Max pouted back at her husband. “And Keiley knows it as well. Delia would do anything for a chance to get in Mac’s bed. ” She turned to Mac. “Why didn’t you just give her some before you left town fifteen years ago instead of leaving her in suspense?”

  Joe lowered his head and shook it, helpless as his shoulders shook in silent laughter.

  Mac stared back at her with brooding mockery. “And how would that have helped me?”

  “Well. ” Max waved her hand blithely. “We all know how inexperienced eighteen-year-old jackasses are. She would have never looked at you twice when you came back. ”

  “Max,” Joe groaned in protest.

  “Joe, you’re lucky someone didn’t steal your wife away before you ever moved back here and rescued the rest of the male population,” Mac laughed.

  “I’m lucky someone didn’t kill her,” Joe grunted, though his expression was filled with pride, his eyes alight with love when he looked at her. “Come on, wildcat. Let’s do as Mac suggests and get out of here. ”

  “You have to be at tomorrow night’s meeting,” Max all but ordered Keiley, rising from her chair and pinning her with an eagle stare. “Other people will end up coming out here to check on you if you don’t. I was just elected as the advanced strike. ”

  Keiley looked back at her in surprise.

  “Honey, you have friends here. ” Max shook her head at Keiley’s surprise. “More friends than you know. I’ve had five phone calls since you missed that meeting, and one came from the old dragon lady Victoria Staten herself. And trust me, she doesn’t normally call and check on anyone. ”

  “I’ll be there,” Keiley promised, rising to her feet as Max moved around the table. “And you take care yourself. ”

  As their goodbyes were said and Keiley accepted a fierce hug from her friend, she stood back while Mac led the couple to the door and walked to the car with them.

  Behind her, she felt Jethro, far enough away for decency’s sake, near enough to remind her of the warmth and strength of his body.

  “I’m going to have to go to that damned meeting,” she muttered. “I really don’t want to have put up with Delia Staten this week. ”

  She was still too raw, too aware of the truth behind the gossip. She would have much preferred to hide in the house and pretend that the world outside had ceased to exist.

  “You can’t hide forever. ”

  Keiley swung around, meeting his dark blue eyes, seeing the fall of his black hair over his brow and the wicked, sensual dip of his thick lashes over his brilliant eyes.

  She pushed her hands into the pockets of her shorts before moving around him and heading back to the kitchen. “I’m not in the mood to argue with you. I’ve already been there with Mac and once a day is enough. ”

  “Keiley, am I hurting you?”

  She turned back to him quickly. He stood framed in the doorway, watching her with an assessing gaze, his expression cool, almost forbidding.

  “Do you want to hurt me, Jethro?”

  “I don’t want to hurt you. If it’s hurting you, I’ll leave. ”

  “You’re not hurting me. ” Confusing her. Making her question herself. But it wasn’t pain. She wondered if the pain would come if he left, though.

  “I need to go back to work. ” She shook her head as he stepped closer. “I just need to get away from you and Mac. Just for a little while. Just—just for a while. ”

  16

  The next day Keiley sat in the garage, stretched out on the old sofa she and Mac had discarded the year before, and worked on the data program she was still tweaking on Mac’s laptop.

  She could have worked more much effectively in her office, but Mac refused to allow her to work there alone, and he and Jethro were busy “sparring. ” It looked more like they were busy trying to kill each other.

  Wearing only a few pads at elbows and knees and lightly padded headgear, they went at each other with fists, kicks, and heavy male grunts in the center of the thick mat Mac had unrolled across the cement floor.

  She winced as Mac landed a hard blow to Jethro’s gut, then closed her eyes as Jethro landed a double-fisted blow to Mac’s back that nearly took him to the floor.

  That had been going at it for over an hour, with neither man appearing to get the best of the other. Mac was more muscular. The heavy farmwork he did on a daily basis had given him a solid, thickly muscled physique. Jethro was as tall, but not nearly as broad or physically strong. He made up for it with speed and adaptability. Not to mention striking with carefully aimed blows for the weakest parts of Mac’s body.

  She had a feeling she wouldn’t have to worry about sex because they would be too sore to move.

  They had been at this off and on for two days now. Pushing each other, daring, challenging, taking out their aggressions in what they called “preparation” until they could take them out on the stalker who had decided to begin e-mailing with fanatic intensity.

  The smug dares he had issued to Mac and Jethro were insane. Declaring both men incompetent, unable to protect her. That she needed a man better able to secure her welfare because obviously Mac couldn’t. Making his knowledge of the building relationship between her and the two men clearly apparent.

  In the past two days, there had been over six e-mails, and even now Jethro’s tracking program was working its way through the bouncing Internet signal the stalker was using to send them.

  The e-mail account was from an anonymous mailbox, and the origin of it was ghosting through Internet hosts all over the globe. And while Jethro attempted to track him, his e-mails were escalating in anger to the point that he was now berating Mac and Jethro about their sexual relationship with her.

  At that thought she sobered, trying to push back the niggling discomfort moving inside her. Not that having sex with the two men together was bothering her; that part she thought she was handling reasonably well. What had begun rippling through her with nervous intent was the awareness that something more than sex was growing between her and Jethro, though.

  In the past days she grown aware of a thread of feeling, an emotion that had first begun between her and Mac during those first weeks of courtship. It was growing between her and Jethro now, though it didn’t seem to be detracting from the bond she had with Mac.

  She was certain Mac couldn’t want this to happen. Could he? He had always seemed so possessive of her, so determined to keep other men from encroaching on her attention, that he was suddenly confusing her.

  He was throwing her and Jethro together, giving the other man every chance to touch her however he liked, even to the point that often Mac found his release with his hand or buried in her mouth rather than within her body.

  Shaking her head, she turned her attention back to the final adjustments she was making to the program Mac was using to scan the Internet, forums, and chat boards for the stalker. Key words were tweak
ed with regularity, and the processing ability of the program was now working with one hundred and ten percent efficiency and speed.

  It wasn’t going to make its round of scans overnight, but it would do it much faster now than it had before.

  As she set the program to run in the background of the laptop she looked up as Mac and Jethro collapsed, panting, onto the mat, obviously calling a draw once again.

  “You two are going to kill each other,” she told them as she set the computer aside and rose to her feet. “You’re exhausting me just watching you. ”

  They turned their heads to stare at her for a long moment before groaning and turning away once again.

  Keiley leaned back on the sofa and watched them with a smile. “How much longer are you two going to go on like this before you realize you’re equally matched?”

  “Not true,” Jethro muttered. “I’m faster than he is. ”

  “Bullshit,” Mac groaned. “I’m stronger. ”

  “Yeah yeah yeah, and you’re both mean as a junkyard dog and twice as cunning. Now get your butts to the shower so I can fix lunch. I’m hungry and I’m tired of watching the two of you beat each other up. ”

  She absently ruffled the fur of the rather large Pappy as he laid his head on her lap now that the laptop was moved to the side. “You’re even making Pappy tired. ”

  Mac turned his head again to stare at the dog with narrowed eyes. “Damned mutt. He’s never going to go back outside, is he?”

  “Probably not. ” She smiled back at him consolingly. He preferred having pets outside rather than in the house. “Content yourself with the fact that he seems housebroken. ”

  Mac grunted at that before levering himself upright and watching as Jethro did the same.

  “You should have never let that damned dog in the house,” he growled.

  Jethro just shook his head. He hadn’t said much in the past few days, brooding over his computer instead and conducting several net meetings with agents in the Bureau’s D. C. office.

  Keiley stood on her feet. Pappy rose as well, trotting behind her as she headed for the door. “Go shower,” she told the men.

  The dog pushed in front of her, moving through the short hallway ahead of her as she entered the house, his ears cocked as though listening for anything unusual.

  Keiley was aware of the small pistol resting in the pocket of the dress she was wearing today and the knowledge that she couldn’t be too careful now, even in her own home.

  “Hold up there. ” Mac caught her arm as she neared the entrance to the living room and moved ahead of her.

  His weapon was in his hand, and as she glanced behind her at Jethro, she saw that he carried one as well.

  “This house is rigged with so many damned alarms and booby traps now that I’m afraid of being caught in one myself,” she snorted. “I doubt anyone is going to slip in. ”

  They sure as hell weren’t slipping into her bedroom anytime soon. Mac and Jethro had nailed planks of plywood over the French doors until the new doors could arrive within the next few days.

  “Let’s just make certain,” he murmured as Jethro moved around them and they began a careful, quiet search of the house.

  Keiley just shook her head at them, though she followed along quietly until they were back in the kitchen.

  “I have to go take care of the stock,” Mac said as he gathered clean clothes from the washroom and headed for the shower attached to the washroom. “I won’t be gone long. Keep her in line, Jethro. ”

  Keiley turned carefully to Jethro, lifting her brow mockingly.

  “I’ll do my best. ” Amusement laced his voice, but little of it reached his eyes.

  Dragging out a cooking pot, Keiley set it on the stove before moving to the refrigerator and pulling out the small roast she had placed in the fridge to defrost the afternoon before and vegetables free of the crisper drawer.
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