"Midnight Assignment" in the Midnight Kiss anthology! - A Victoria Dahl novella


“I’m not going to let you screw this up for me, Noah James, is that clear?”
    Noah ignored the question and watched Elise Watson’s backside as she walked ahead of him. Each of her long strides turned the gray conservative skirt into an intriguingly tight scrap of fabric before it relaxed into boring wool again. Then her next step would stretch it tight for another brief moment, cupping her muscles like a--
     She stopped so suddenly that he almost crashed into her. “I said, is that clear?
     By the time she’d spun toward him, Noah had forced his gaze higher, and he managed to meet her eyes with a cool glare. He, after all, hadn’t been the one to screw things up the first time around. Elise had definitely been the one who’d caused that damage. She’d started the kind of trouble for him that had lasted two long years. Trouble that hadn’t ended until he’d stolen the Denver job out from under her nose and gotten the hell out of D.C.
     She was still pissed about losing the job, and her anger gave Noah an excuse to smile. “Whatever you say, Elise.”
     Her mouth tightened at his insolent tone. Her eyes narrowed. Elise Watson was about to lose her temper, and the agents waiting ahead of them in the hotel lobby were cringing visibly in anticipation. When she lost her temper, heads rolled, and Noah knew she’d be pleased as punch if it was his head bouncing across the faded blue of the hotel carpet.
     But hotel carpet it was, and he saw the moment Elise remembered they were in public. She couldn’t scream and cuss and threaten death, or the hotel staff might suspect that they weren’t really there for an emergency corporate meeting for a company called Workfire Industries. They’d already strained belief by holding their fake meeting two days after Christmas. If their supposed CEO started cursing like a sailor, punching Noah in the chest with her finger, suspicions would be raised. So her temper was thwarted. Noah was safe.
     Plus, he reminded himself, he was armed. Surely one five-foot-seven-in-heels woman couldn’t hurt him. Physically. 
     She leaned a little closer, her green eyes ablaze with violence, but before she could speak, someone else called out.
     “Hey, Noah James!” Tex Harrison called. He was a forensic computer analyst, and though he looked like a scrawny seventeen-year-old boy trying to grow a beard, he was a genius. A perverted genius. Noah bit back a groan.
     “Noah, I heard you got an invite to party with the flight attendant team from your flight. Where are they staying?”
     Glaring, he gave a quick shake of his head, but Elise’s eyes slid back to him and caught the movement. “That’s not true,” he said, as if it could possibly matter to her.
     She swept him with a scornful look. “The bank closes in five minutes. I want your team in place in four.”
      “Don’t worry about my team.”
     “I swear to God you missed that flight just to make my life harder." The frustration on her face softened to compassion for a fleeting moment. "These people are about to have a very bad evening. The least we can do is handle this quickly and smoothly."
     Noah clenched his teeth. “The flight was canceled. I briefed my team at the airport while we waited. If anything goes wrong, it won’t be on our watch.”
     “You’d better hope not. Or you’re going to regret the time you put into flirting with flight attendants instead of prepping for the job.” With that, she swung around and stalked out to the tiny lobby.
      Noah watched the rest of the team jump at some quiet word from her. She was sharp and exacting and one of the smartest people he’d ever met. She demanded excellence and expected miracles, and everyone on her team knew it.
      She was damn good at what she did, and that pissed him off. After all, it would’ve been easy to get her out of his head if she weren’t sharp as a razor blade. That kind of weapon sunk deep  and true. His only consolation was that since moving to Denver, he didn’t waste so much time looking up every time the elevator door opened, just in case it was Elise wandering down to his floor.
     Noah followed the rest of the team toward the door, sparing a second to glare promises of retribution at Tex. But Tex was busy hitting on one of the new girls and he only gave Noah a distracted wave in response.
     Taking a deep breath, Noah looked down at his watch. Three minutes. “It’s time,” he said, and his second-in-command stepped up to his side.
     Elise tossed him a glance. He gave a careful nod in answer and they both stepped toward the door, confident the other ten team members would follow. Ten more were assembled in the conference room, waiting for the signal to go, and two more teams were stationed outside the other two branches of the bank.
      “Mrs. Smith!” a perky blond receptionist called out as they moved past.
      At the sound of the name she’d assumed for the case, Elise paused, her brown hair swinging forward as if she wanted to keep moving. “Yes?”
     “Are you sure you guys want to go out in the cold? It’ll be below zero by eight o’clock. We’ve got an arrangement with the local market, and I’d be happy to have dinner sent over. Maybe sandwiches or barbecue?”
      “No, thank you. We’re fine.”
      “Oh. Well... All right. It’s just so weird to have a conference and no food service, but I guess, if it’s an emergency meeting, like you said...”
     Elise stared at the girl as if she were speaking another language. The girl’s face turned pink, and Noah watched as Elise physically braced herself for the kind of polite talk people in places like Omaha expected. “Thank you so much for the offer, but we’re fine. We’ll have dinner out and then we’ll be back for another meeting later, so keep the coffee brewing.”
     “Oh, I’ll get some fresh cookies in the oven!” the receptionist responded.
     Noah almost laughed out loud at the horrified expression on Elise’s face. “That won’t be necessary.”
      The men and women around her groaned. 
     “But... they’re complimentary,” the girl murmured in disbelief, but Elise was already walking away.
     Noah rolled his eyes before following Elise out the door. “Make the cookies,” he tossed over his shoulder, happy to needle Elise any way he could....

Look for "Midnight Assignment" in the Midnight Kiss anthology!
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