Driven by Fire(6)

By: Anne Stuart

“Then you’ll stay here, and Ryder will see to it.” Jenny straightened her shoulders as she heard the footsteps beyond the closed door. If she’d had any choice she would have gone to someone else, but the various agencies had run through their allotment for illegal immigrants, and she had no choice but to see if the secretive Committee could do better. She braced herself for another confrontation, and the last thing she was about to do was show weakness in front of someone so desperately in need of a champion, even if her stomach knotted and her fisted hand trembled slightly as she raised it to pound on the door once more. Because like it or not, Matthew Ryder had a very powerful, very unwelcome effect on her and her previously dormant libido.

It was a good thing she had excellent reflexes or she would have ended up pounding on Matthew Ryder’s face, and he wouldn’t have liked that one bit. She’d been around dangerous men all her life, her father, her uncles, her brothers, and she knew a wolf when she saw one. It was a wolf who opened the door and stood staring at her, an unpromising expression on his face.

“Well, look who’s here,” he said, though she suspected he had known perfectly well what awaited him on the other side of the door. “What brings you out on such a bright Sunday afternoon, Ms. Parker?”

She straightened her already-stiff spine and gave him an equally stiff smile. “Good afternoon, Mr. Ryder. I see you’ve been enjoying your weekend.”

If she’d managed to annoy him, and she’d been trying to, he didn’t show it. He was clearly hungover—she knew that much about men as well. He was scruffier than usual—he was one of those men who had to know he looked sexier when he didn’t shave, and he was wearing faded jeans and a wrinkled linen shirt with the sleeves rolled up. His feet were bare, and he had a glass of whiskey in his hand. She looked at it disapprovingly.

He saw where her eyes went. “You have a problem with my drinking, Ms. Parker?”

“Not if you don’t,” she replied in a determinedly pleasant tone of voice.

“None at all, as long as no one interrupts me. So what do you expect me to do for this girl that your own damned family can’t accomplish?”

Bastard, Jenny thought, ignoring the frisson of nerves that attacked her stomach. She’d only seen him once since their first encounter on the container ship, and by that time he seemed to know everything there was to know about her, including her background, her family, and probably the profit and loss statements, mainly loss, for her small law office. He’d been about as unhelpful as he could be, but she was getting used to this man and his suspicions, though she had no idea exactly what he suspected. Since then she’d done her best to avoid any other chance encounters as they both dealt with the refugees.

“I haven’t had anything to with any member of my family in years,” she lied easily enough. “I don’t involve my family in my business. I prefer to keep them as separate as possible, given their quasi-legal proclivities.”

His cynical laugh didn’t improve her mood. “Their quasi-legal proclivities have them working with the wealthiest law partnership in the city, while it does appear that your career path hasn’t been quite as successful.”

She swallowed her instinctive retort. She needed a favor from him, and it wouldn’t help matters if she went out of her way to annoy him. She already seemed to have irritated him enough, and she didn’t want him looking at her too closely.

“So what is it you want me to do with your current waif?” he said, when she didn’t come up with a response.

At that Soledad lifted her head slightly to give him the full benefit of her huge brown eyes, and Jenny waited for him to melt just as every other male had. He barely blinked, turning his attention back to Jenny without the slightest show of interest.

She tried not to show her surprise. “Papers,” she said after a moment’s hesitation. “A job, and a place to stay. And counseling,” she added as an afterthought. “She’s been through a lot.”

Ryder’s cynical smile wasn’t meant to put her at ease, and she could feel her palms begin to sweat. Nerves, she reminded herself. What was it about this man who sparked such odd reactions from her?

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