The Departed

January 2012

A LIFELONG OBSESSION

FBI Special Agent Taylor Jones has made it his mission to save those in harm’s way by any means necessary—including employing psychic agents like Desiree “Dez” Lincoln, who can communicate with the disembodied spirits of the dead. Taylor is haunted by his own ghost, his kid sister, gone missing at age six. For a quarter of a century he has been tortured by her loss and the mystery of her disappearance.

A NIGHT’S INDISCRETION

When Dez is seriously wounded, Taylor can no longer hide his feelings for her. Getting involved could spell disaster for both of them—not to mention those who rely on them for help—but once Dez lays her hands on him, he can’t resist the fierce attraction. But after giving in to his desires, Taylor pulls back, and Dez strikes out on her own.

AN INESCAPABLE PASSION

Responding to the call of another anguished spirit, Dez is led to Taylor’s old hometown. As the two are forced to come together to save a girl in peril, Dez may be able to help Taylor finally find the answers he’s been looking for…

Praise for The Missing

“Suspense that can rip your heart open and leave you raw.”—Errant Dreams Reviews

A few minutes later, they were pulling away from the hospital and Dez sighed, the tension easing out of her body.

“How bad was it in there?” he asked quietly. Hospitals could be bad, bad places for some of his people, especially those who were more in tune with pain . . . and death.

“Bad enough,” she admitted. “I need a few minutes of quiet. I feel like the death is sticking to me.”

He could give her the quiet she needed, and in the forty minutes it took to drive to her little place outside of the city, he saw the difference some peace and quiet could make.

Her color returned and the soft, warm brown of her skin looked almost normal again. A night of sleep, a few days of decent food, and she’d be as good as new.

No thanks to you . . . you never should have let her go in there. Not her damn job, not what she trained for. You fucking moron.

He wished he could silence that voice.

Wished he could take more comfort in knowing a child lived because of Dez’s actions.

Always before, it had been enough.

But for now, all he could see was her blood, so much of it, dark red, spilling out over his hands.

As he parked in front of her house, her eyes opened and she shot him a quick glance. “You never forget a thing, do you?”

“Rarely,” he said.

And about her?

Never. He’d been to her house one other time, four years before. That time, her particular skills had been needed on a job and since he had been driving in her direction, he’d decided he would pick her up. It would save time.

Yes, all in the name of expediency.

With everybody else, yes.

Refusing to look at her, he climbed out of the car and grabbed her things from the trunk before she had the chance.

Although she was supposed to be resting, taking it easy, he knew Desiree Lincoln. Rest wasn’t in her vocabulary.

“Who is coming to stay with you?” he asked as he headed toward the front door.

“I don’t need anybody staying with me.”

“Who?”

She blew out a breath. “I asked a friend I know—outside the bureau. Julie’s a nurse but she can’t be here for a few hours. And you do realize, don’t you, I’m not exactly on the clock and if I don’t want a babysitter, you can’t make me have one. You bullied me into staying in the hospital a few extra days, but you can’t bully me into having a babysitter.”

He reached the porch and turned to face her. Eyeing the bandage, so stark and white against her flesh, he let his gaze linger there for a pointed moment before looking back into her eyes. “If I do not have your word you’ll have somebody with you for the next twenty-four hours, then I will be here watching you for the next twenty-four hours.”

“That’s gonna be boring. Did you bring any popcorn?”

Then she shouldered past him and dealt with the locks. He came inside and shut the door behind him while she reset the security system, trying not to think about her smart-ass reply. Why was it that when 99 percent of his people would tell him to kiss their ass, Dez issued a statement like Did you bring any popcorn?

If she would just work to keep him at arm’s length, the way everybody else did, maybe it would be easier not to be so obsessed with her. So desperate for a touch, a taste . . . a night.

A lifetime, even.

Stop it.

She glanced over her shoulder at him and said, “Julie won’t be here until after her shift at the clinic is over. So if you’re really determined that I’m not to be alone, either you call me another babysitter or you make yourself at home.”

Then she sauntered off into the depths of the house.

He found himself watching the way her ass swayed back and forth and wishing, really wishing, he had the strength to call her another “babysitter,” as she called it. But he also knew there was no way in hell he was going to miss out on spending a little bit of time with her. Away from work. Out of that damned hospital.

Here. In her home. Where he could assure himself she was safe, alive.

Whole.

Staring into the refrigerator, Dez found herself contemplating the bottle of wine. It was too damn early, she knew.

Plus, she was still a little off-kilter from the pain meds and she knew she’d be popping another shortly.

But still. Every once in a while, liquid courage did help things a bit and she needed something to help loosen her tongue because she couldn’t seem to figure out the right way to go and talk to Taylor and tell him something very, very simple.

Thanks for saving my life.

“Are you hungry?”

She jumped, startled. Turning around, she stared at him and then she gaped, a little dismayed at the sight of him. He’d taken his jacket off. He’d loosened his tie.

Hell—it was almost like he was . . . naked. At least for Taylor Jones. Those suits of his were like armor, she’d always thought.

“Are you okay?”

Jerking her eyes away from his chest, she stared at him and stammered out . . . something. She didn’t know what.

“Maybe you should sit down. You look flushed.”

No, I look hot. As in turned on, she thought irritably. All because my fricking boss undid the top two buttons on his pristine white dress shirt and loosened that damn tie.

And the jacket. Mustn’t forget the jacket he’d taken off.

Swallowing, she turned around and grabbed a can of Diet Coke from the fridge. Over her shoulder, she said, “I’m just thirsty. Tired. Nobody ever gets any rest in a hospital, you ever noticed that?”

“I’ve never had to stay in one,” he said. “But plenty of my people have.”

There was a weight in his voice.

Slowly, she turned and studied him.

That heavy, strange weight she’d heard in his voice was echoed in his eyes, she realized. It didn’t show in his face—no, very little was ever revealed on that face of his, but those eyes . . . somewhere, just behind a rigid, steely curtain, she sensed a great deal of chaos. Pain. Guilt.

She remembered how many times she’d heard that he was at the hospital because one of them had gone down. This was the first time for her—she was rarely ever in a place where there was any action going on. But her best friend, Taige, had been hurt a few times and she knew, vividly, that Taylor liked to haunt hospital halls.

No, he didn’t show much emotion to the world. But he felt it, she realized. He felt a great deal.

And suddenly, those words were a lot easier to find.

“You saved my life,” she said softly, setting her drink down and crossing her arms over her chest. “I haven’t said thank you for that.”

“You don’t need to. I never should have let you put yourself in that position.”

Dez arched a brow. Oh, yeah, there was emotion. She was nowhere near the emotional bloodhound some of her colleagues where, but psychics, most of them, had similar natures and she could pick up the vibes well enough.

What she didn’t understand was why she hadn’t ever picked these up from him before.

Unless he was just having a harder time keeping it all hidden . . .

Pushing off the counter, she circled the island to stand in front of him. “There was a girl inside that house, Taylor. He would have killed her.”

“We don’t know that.”

“Don’t we?” Reaching down, she caught his hand and said, “Come on.”

For just a second, he resisted.

She had no idea why she’d grabbed his hand. She was surprised as hell that she’d done it.

She was equally stunned when his fingers, long, cool, and elegant, closed around hers. She led him to the bathroom and left him standing by the counter as she faced the mirror. “This damn tape itches like crazy,” she said. “I kept telling that nurse to find some paper tape. I think she liked ignoring me.”

“You shouldn’t be exposing that yet,” he said, his voice gruff.

Dez rolled her eyes and made a face at him in the mirror. “Yes, Daddy.”

Something flashed in the depths of his steely blue eyes—something hot—something that made her knees do the weirdest damn thing. Swallowing, she tore her eyes away from him and focused on her reflection, watching as she peeled the bandage away and revealed the neat surgical scar on her throat.

Dumping the bandages in the trash, she turned to face him. Bracing her hips against the marble countertop, Dez angled her chin up, let him stare.

He did. For long, long seconds. Then he turned on his heel and stalked out.

She caught up with him in the kitchen, grabbing his arm. “It’s a scar, Taylor. A fucking scar. And I don’t mind it. Hell, I’ll wear it happily for the rest of my life. You know why? Because there’s a little girl who is alive.” She stared into his eyes and said, “Hell, even if I’d bled out, I’d consider it worth it, because that monster is dead—you made sure he’d never hurt another little girl.”

A muscle jerked in his jaw. “Stop.”

“Stop what? Pointing out the truth?”

He sighed and shoved a hand through his hair. “I know all of this,” he said, his voice harsh, colder than normal. “I even knew you’d feel that way—willing to die if it meant the girl lived. But as I’m the one who had your blood all over my hands, and as I’m the one who allowed you to put yourself in that situation, I’d rather not relive it.”

Her heart softened, something she really, really didn’t need. Not when it came to him. That bit of flesh was already a little too compromised when it came to him already. “Taylor . . . stop trying to be master of the world, okay? I made the decision and I knew, going in, it could be dangerous. I’d do it again, too.” Rising on her toes, she brushed her lips against his cheek. Heat lanced through her but, as much as she wanted to, she didn’t seek out his mouth. Instead, she started to lower back down. “You saved my life . . . thank you.”

His hands closed around her arms. Oddly gentle, but firm. Unyieldingly so.

Dez’s heart lodged in her throat as he reached up, his fingers hovering just above the wound at her throat. Hovering, not touching. A world of emotion crept into his voice as he whispered, his voice raw, “I can’t stand seeing that mark on you.”

Then he shifted his gaze and stared into her eyes.

She knew the man had feelings. She always suspected they ran deeper than most of her co-workers expected.

He never let it show, though.

Until now. That steel curtain, for just a moment, parted. Fluttered. Just beyond that curtain, she saw pain, misery, and guilt . . . and something else that stole the breath from her lungs.

Molten, burning, scalding heat . . .

The sight of that heat did something to her low, low inside her belly. Her heart skipped a few beats, then settled into a quick, rapid rhythm—a thousand butterflies trapped inside her chest. Butterflies with wings dipped in some seriously strong sort of aphrodisiac, too. Lust, hot and heavy, moved through her, and before Dez knew what she was doing, she had her hand on Taylor’s cheek. “I’m okay, you know. I’m tougher than I look. Hell, I feel almost normal already. No surprise, considering you made them keep me several days longer than needed.”

Then, tortured by the unexpected misery she saw in those steely blue eyes, taunted by unadulterated heat, she bussed his mouth lightly with hers. “I’m alive . . . and I’m alive because you were there, Taylor. So stop kicking yourself, okay?”

The feel of her mouth against his was a delight he had never expected to feel, one he knew he didn’t deserve . . . and one he knew he wasn’t strong enough to turn away from.

When she would have pulled away, he reached up, cupped his hand over the back of her head.

He thought she’d pull away.

Was sure of it, even.

She was just trying to assuage his guilt, and it didn’t surprise him. She was cocky, sarcastic, and very often full of attitude, but she had the gentlest, kindest heart . . . and he didn’t deserve that kindness. She didn’t pull away, though.

And when her mouth opened under his, it wasn’t the sort of soft, pitying kiss he might have expected.

The heat, the hunger in that kiss might have laid him low . . . if he hadn’t already been so starved for her. If he hadn’t spent so many fucking nights dreaming of her. If he hadn’t been half blind with need and guilt and desperation and too many other emotions he couldn’t even begin to describe.

Slanting his mouth more firmly against hers, Taylor stared at her from under his lashes and was startled to realize she was looking back at him. Swearing, he jerked back and muttered, “Damn it. This is insane.”

One slim, ringless hand came up, toyed with the placket of his shirt. “I always thought it was insane not to do something you really, really want . . .” Dez’s gaze shifted up to meet his and his body tensed, whip tight, as she murmured, “And I’ve wanted this a very, very long time.”

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