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Devlin Raines had it all. Yet lately he had begun to feel dissatisfied.
And he had no idea how the hell that could be.
Soaking up the rays of early-October sunshine, the best time of year in Arizona, Dev adjusted his wraparound sunglasses and stretched out on the chaise lounge beside the swimming pool. The sound of water cascading over the rock waterfall at the opposite end began to soothe him. He had almost drifted off when his friend and employee, Townsend Emory, shoved open the sliding glass door.
"Sorry to bother you, boss. There's a woman here to see you. She's damned insistent." Town was a big, black, former tackle for the Arizona Cardinals. A neck injury had ended his career fourteen years ago, but Town had stayed in Phoenix and worked for a number of security firms, including Raines Security, before his old injuries had put him completely out of commission.
Fortunately, the man had brains as well as brawn and now worked at the house, handling Dev's personal affairs. Along with Aida Clark, the housekeeper, Town managed the household and just about anything else that came along.
Dev pushed his sunglasses up on his head and frowned at his friend, who took up a good portion of the doorway. He had a standing rule: none of the women he dated came to the house without calling first. It saved a lot of embarrassment if another woman happened to be there. In his no-strings relationships, the rule had worked fairly well.
Swinging his long legs to the ground beside the chaise, he stood up, wondering who it was and why she so urgently wanted to see him.
"Hey wait a minute!" he heard Town say as a tall, shapely brunette sailed past him out the door onto the patio. "You can't just barge in here!"
The woman ignored him and just kept walking. "You must be Devlin Raines." She flashed him a bright, self-assured smile and extended a slender hand with nicely manicured, hot-pink nails. She was around five-nine, with very dark, jaw-length hair streaked with red. She was wearing skinny jeans and a pair of strappy, open-toed red spike heels.
He'd never seen her before. She wasn't wearing a wedding ring. And she was sexy as hell.
"I'm Raines." He flicked a glance at Town, telling him the situation was under control, and the big man slipped silently back inside the house. "What can I do for you, Ms .?"
"Delaney. Lark Delaney. I came here to hire you, Mr. Raines. I'm hoping you'll be able to help me."
She was more than just sexy. She was a bombshell. Just not in the usual sense. This woman oozed energy and purpose. She was flashy yet somehow stylish with her big silver hoop earrings and oversize pewter-trimmed, paisley purse.
She wasn't the sort of woman he preferred: a pretty little bit of arm candy who did whatever he told her. Yet he felt the pull of attraction as he hadn't in a very long time.
He lifted his short-sleeved Tommy Bahama shirt off the back of a patio chair and shrugged it on, covering his bare chest and a portion of the navy-blue trunks he was wearing, probably a good idea considering his train of thought and what was happening to his body.
"Why don't we sit down over there in the shade?" He indicated the huge covered patio that looked more like a living room, with a fully complete, top-of-the-line outdoor kitchen. The day was pleasantly warm but not so hot the automatic misters attached to the perimeter had come on.
They sat down in yellow overstuffed chairs around a big table inlaid with colorful mosaic tiles.
"So, Lark how did you know where to find me?"
It wasn't common knowledge, though he had certainly had enough parties here for word to get out. And of course there were the ladies he brought home.
"Actually, I stopped by your office in Phoenix. When they said you weren't in very often, I came out here. A friend of yours recommended you. Clive Monroe. He gave me your address. He said the two of you served together in the army. He said you were Rangers."
Clive "Madman" Monroe was more than a friend. He had once saved Dev's life. "You're here to hire a private investigator?"
"Didn't Clive tell you I'm retired?" In the army, he'd saved his money and invested in the stock market before it took off-he'd been one of the winners, then gotten even luckier when he invested in Wildcat Oil. He and his brothers had won big on that one.
Lark smiled. She had very full lips painted the same hot-pink shade as her nails. His mind flashed on the erotic things lips like that could do to a man, and his groin tightened.
"Clive said you would help me. He said you owed him a favor."
More than a favor. If it hadn't been for the precisely placed round shot from Monroe's M-4 carbine, he wouldn't be lounging around the pool right now.
"So are you and Clive involved?" he found himself asking.
Her eyes widened. Big green cat-eyes that made the rest of her pretty face even more striking. "No. Actually, Clive recently got married. His wife and I are friends-Molly Harris, before she became Molly Monroe."
"I hadn't heard."
"It was kind of a whirlwind romance. Molly's how I met Clive. He's a great guy. And he seems to think very highly of you."
"That's nice to hear. But like I said, I'm retired." Mostly. Though at the moment, coming out of retirement to spend a little time with Lark Delaney sounded like a very good idea.
"Clive said you'd help me."
Dev blew out a breath. There was no real choice in the matter. He owed Madman Monroe. Clive had never asked for any kind of payback. The favor of working with a gorgeous brunette-even if she was a hundred-eighty degrees from his usual type-didn't seem like too much to ask.
"So what can I do for you, Ms. Delaney?"
She leaned forward in her chair. She wasn't overly endowed in the bosom department but she had more than enough for him, and besides, he'd always been an ass man. From the fit of those tight blue jeans, Lark Delaney had a world-class ass.
"I liked it better when you called me Lark, and it's kind of a long story. I'm not exactly sure where to begin."
"Let's start with what it is you'd like me to investigate."
"I need to find my sister's baby. A little girl. She was adopted four years ago. The files were all closed, the proceedings kept secret. But it was my sister's dying wish that I find her daughter and make sure she's being raised in a good, loving home."
"Your sister is deceased?"
She nodded. For an instant, her pretty green eyes clouded. "Heather was only twenty-one. She lived here in Phoenix. She died of breast cancer three months ago. I spent the last few weeks with her. As I said, finding her daughter was her dying wish."
"So you want to hire me to locate the family who adopted the child."
"I want you to help me find them. I need to do this myself. I need to be involved. I promised Heather. I won't let her down again."
"Have you tried the internet?" Dev asked. "There are dozens of sites that specialize in locating birth parents, adoptees, that kind of thing."
"I've tried the web, believe me. Genealogy.about.com. OmniTrace. GovtRegistry.com. MiracleSearch. I just don't have enough information."
Interesting lady, Dev thought. A brain, as well as a luscious little body. Too bad it looked like he was going to be working for her. Getting involved with a client was one rule he never broke.
"I'm going to have a few more questions. Why don't I get us something to drink? A Coke, maybe, or how about a margarita? I promise I won't make it too strong."
"That sounds good."
Moving toward the outdoor bar, he set to work, filling a blender with ice, pouring in a light amount of tequila, giving himself some time. He owed Monroe. But working with a woman as sexy as Lark would definitely be a test of his willpower.
As he turned on the blender, he studied her from behind the bar and a corner of his mouth inched up. His debt to Madman was about to be paid in full.
Lark shifted in her chair, her gaze fixed on Devlin Raines.
God, the man was gorgeous. She'd had no idea when she'd walked out on the patio. He was thirty-two, she knew, same as Clive. But a lot of men went to hell by then. Not this man.
He'd pulled a shirt on over his swimsuit but hadn't bothered with the buttons. As he turned off the blender then picked up two wide-mouthed stemmed glasses and salted the rims, she could see the six-pack abs across his flat, suntanned stomach. Now and then, she caught a glimpse of a muscular chest darkened with a nice amount of curly dark chest hair.
The guy was totally ripped.
And those eyes. A bright crystal-blue in a face that could grace the cover of a GQ magazine.
Lark leaned back in her chair and gazed out over the city below, blocking his handsome image. She wasn't there to ogle Devlin Raines. She was there for her sister. Heather was her first priority. She wasn't about to fail her the way she had before.
Lark had been twenty-one when it had happened. She'd graduated early from UCLA and was trying to break into the fashion world while Heather was still in high school in Phoenix. The girls had lost their parents in a car accident six years earlier and fallen under the guardianship of their grandparents.
Then, the summer Heather turned sixteen, she had gotten pregnant. She was lonely and frightened but determined to keep her baby. Grandma Florence and Grandpa Joe, both devout Catholics, were equally determined that the right thing for Heather to do was to have the baby and give it up to a good family.
At the time, Lark hadn't been certain her grandparents weren't right. They were too old, they said, to raise another child and Heather was just too young.
Heather had been forced to give up the baby, but she had never gotten over the loss. For a while, she had turned to drugs and alcohol and though that period had ended, she had continued to suffer bouts of depression.
Now Heather was gone.
Lark had never forgiven herself for the way she had failed her sister in her time of need and she was determined to keep the promise she had made. She was going to find her sister's little girl and make absolutely certain the child was being raised in a good and loving home.
She glanced up at the sound of Devlin crossing the patio and returned her thoughts to the business at hand. He set a frosty, salt-rimmed glass down in front of her and took his seat across the table.
"Getting back to your sister's child," he said, "I would think your parents would be able to help you."
Lark drew a finger through the moisture on her glass. "My parents died when I was fifteen. My grandparents raised us." She told him about Heather getting pregnant
and how her grandparents had insisted she give up the baby. "Heather finally agreed, but she never really got over losing her child."
"Do your grandparents have the adoption papers?"
"I'm afraid they're gone, too, but I have the papers that Heather wound up with after my grandmother passed away. I've done my best to locate the agency, Loving Home Adoptions, but their address here in Phoenix is no longer valid and I haven't been able to come up with anything else."
"I'll need to see the papers."
Her eyes shot to his. "Then you'll take the case?"
"Monroe knew I would when he sent you here."
Relief swept through her. It was going to happen. She would be able to keep her promise. "That's great. Terrific. Thanks."
"I charge twelve hundred a day plus expenses. Could turn into a pretty hefty chunk of change."
She noticed the way he watched for her reaction and thought he was more interested in her attitude than he was in the money.
"Not a problem. I'll give you a check in advance as a retainer." She lifted her purse off the ground and set it on the table, opened it and took out a business card. LARK Designs. It gave her office information in L.A., as well as her cell-phone number.
"I design handbags." She pointed to her purse. "This is one of them. You might not recognize the style but a lot of women would. I can afford your fee, Mr. Raines, I assure you."
His mouth edged up. "Since neither of us is that old, let's just keep it Lark and Dev." He assessed the quality of the bag. "Good-looking product. Designer bags like yours don't come cheap. I had a hunch you were more than just a pretty face."
She smiled. "I just hope you are."
"As I said, I intend to be involved in the search. I can't just sit on the sidelines. That wouldn't be keeping my word."
"All right, I guess I can handle that."
Leaving her margarita untasted, Lark got up from her chair, and Dev stood up, too.
"We'll start tomorrow," he said. "Bring me everything you have. I've got an office here in the house that should suit our purpose."
"I'll be here at eight, if that's all right with you."
She walked back through the sliding glass doors into the house, Dev right behind her, and crossed the Spanish tile to the heavy carved front doors.
"That your car?" he asked, his eyes going to the little silver Prius parked in front of the house.
"It belonged to my sister." She glanced away, feeling the familiar bite of pain. "I haven't gotten around to disposing of her things."
"That's got to be hard. There's probably no need for you to rush."
She nodded, liked that he seemed to understand.
He stood waiting as she descended the front porch steps. "See you tomorrow, Lark Delaney."