Tamsyn Holt, seductress and chameleon. Her sensual beauty has ensnared many a mark into her honey trap. With her client base, she’s quite an asset to the family PI agency’s bottom line. But can any man hope to tame her? Only Jason St. John, a man as elusive and seductive as she, can lay claim to her body. But will she trust any man with her heart? No way!
Jason St. John is a man with secrets. His first FBI undercover assignment will show the Bureau and his father Jason’s worth as an agent. But becoming attracted–okay, more than attracted–to a sexy PI, isn’t the way to go about it. And becoming the person of interest in a murder investigation not only threatens his operation but also his career.
MEASURE OF A MAN
Music City Heat 3
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Print Cover Reveal
Excerpt Chapter One
Copyright, Marie-Nicole Ryan
All rights reserved, Ryandale Publishing
She blinked, giving her eyes time to adjust to the dim lighting of Gatsby’s Jazz Bar. Mellow music from a smooth jazz band drifted through the air. And there he was. Tamsyn Holt spied her client’s fiancé sitting at the end of the bar nursing what looked like a vodka rocks. The jazz bar was a nice departure from the usual Nashville country music venues where she normally found her clients’ significant others.
He glanced impatiently at his watch. Was he meeting someone? Better make her move before someone else showed up and spoiled her action. Weaving her way through the bar patrons, she spied an open barstool. Backup, in the form of her brother Justin, entered the bar a minute or so behind her. She could smell his Old Spice after-shave. Yes, Jay was an Old Spice man, in spite of being the family agency’s computer nerd. Jay was the nickname she’d given her new stepbrother long ago when her father and Jay’s mother married. The Holts and Lackeys had blended so long ago that it seemed as if they’d always been together.
As she neared her client’s fiancé, one Jason St. John, she noted he was even better looking than the photo Brianna Tollison had provided. Initially, she’d been reluctant to take Bree on as a client because of their previous friendship. Seen live and in color, this dude exuded a definite James Bond vibe. He was entirely too virile to be a mere financial consultant. His longish dark hair was expertly trimmed by someone who knew what they were doing. And his profile was movie-star perfect. She slid onto a barstool two spots away from his and ordered a glass of white zinfandel, something she could sip without becoming impaired. Her brother managed to find another seat two away from hers, closer to the door.
She paid for her wine then clumsily elbowed her purse to the floor so that everything spilled. A tube of lipstick rolled toward her mark.
“Drat.” She hopped from the stool and scrambled for the tube. As she did, St. John eased from his seat and retrieved it.
“You lost something.” His voice was low and resonant. It set her senses thrumming. His steely blue, yet amused, gaze seemed to bore through her, as if he recognized her ploy but wouldn’t necessarily call her on it. Or would he?
“I believe I did,” she murmured when she regained her power of speech. “Thank you.” She reached for the tube.
His hand circled her wrist. “Not so fast.”
“Excuse me?” Her heart sped up, her mouth dried. The coiled strength in his touch surprised her. Irrational thoughts of leading him away from the bar and screwing him blind leapt to her mind. “Uh—” she managed to utter. She tried to swallow. Couldn’t.
“You wanted to meet me, so here’s your chance.”
“Of all the arrogant—” she broke off, confused. This wasn’t going as planned. Maybe she should’ve tried a more subtle approach. Maybe she should get her thoughts in order. Maybe she should run like hell.
“Want to meet you? I merely came in for a drink before heading home.”
“You’re a working girl.” Not even the hint of a question in his tone.
Omigod. He thought she was a prostitute. “What I am is a woman who works, not in any sense a working girl as you seem to imply.”
He arched a dark brow in Justin’s direction. “And the blond dude who came in behind you isn’t your pimp?”
She sucked in a breath. How had he pegged Jay as being with her so easily? “M-my what?” She glanced around. “In Green Hills? Seriously?” She snatched the lipstick from his hand and whirled to leave.
Dammit. She’d screwed up. Now she’d have to return her client’s money and recommend someone else to see if Brianna’s fiancé could be tempted. She shoved the lipstick inside her purse and headed for the door. Damn. She hated failing, especially since Brianna was such an old friend.
Outside on the street, she headed for the lot where she’d parked her new—okay, gently-used—Porsche Boxter. Her cell phone rang. Jay.
“Screwed the pooch on that one, didn’t you, sis? Losing your touch?”
“You gave it away,” she growled, knowing full well the fault was hers. “See you at home.”
Jason St. John watched the small brunette leave, followed half a minute later by her blond pimp. Her outrage seemed real enough. Was she a hooker or not? Who could tell these days?
But if she wasn’t, what was her game? Some sort of honey trap?
Relocating to Nashville’s field office might’ve been a mistake. He hadn’t counted on staying in Music City this long. His career aim was New York City or DC, even better. When his superiors discovered he’d met a young interior designer by the name of Brianna Tollison at a charity fundraiser, they’d suggested he initiate a relationship with her in order to get close to her father, the man at the center of the Bureau’s investigation. If need be, he’d go through with a wedding ceremony. Some assignment.
Bree’s father, Randall Clay Tollison III, had some very suspicious characters in his circle of business associates. And it was imperative Jason be accepted into that circle. As Tollison’s future son-in-law, he stood an excellent chance.
But Jason’s physical reaction to the wannabe hooker had stunned him. Her dark eyes had flashed with fire when he’d called her on her game. She was a tidy bundle of sex appeal all right. Under normal circumstances, he wouldn’t have hesitated to hookup. Frankly though, he couldn’t afford the distraction of juggling two women in the midst of an undercover op.
He left a tip on the bar. The jazz would have to wait until another time.
He made it to the street just in time to see the dark beauty zip from the parking lot in a small red Porsche.
His own vehicle was nearby. He waited just long enough for her to clear the lot and sprinted for his black Range Rover. By the time he made it to the street, she was already heading toward downtown on Hillsboro.
He followed her until she reached Woodmont, then turned left. He hung back about a half block. Her red sports car made it easy to keep in sight. She continued making her circuitous way through the upscale neighborhoods, obviously knowing where she was headed and avoiding more highly trafficked streets.
She crossed West End Avenue, heading into Richland Park, an area renowned for its Victorian and turn of the century houses. She turned into an alley running behind a row of houses. He slowed long enough to see her stop and pull in behind the third house.
Gotcha. He circled the block, then noted the address of the large Mission Style house, third from the end.
Finding who owned the house would be a breeze. Didn’t appear to be a house of ill repute. Indeed the Richland Park residents association wouldn’t sanction such a business in their midst. He circled the block once more and chuckled when he observed a boxy, 1950s puke green vehicle, the same one that had dogged him all the way from Green Hills, park in front of the dark beauty’s house.
Was the blond dude her husband or her pimp? Was she a hooker or were they a free-loving couple on the prowl for some threesome activity? A ménage à trois? He smiled. The possibilities were endless. Unfortunately, none of them were on his agenda.
Back at his Hillsboro Pike condo, Jason booted up his Bureau-encrypted laptop and entered the Richland Avenue street address. He quickly located the names of the inhabitants: three with the surname of Lackey and one with that of Holt. A blended family? He’d been in Nashville a mere three months—long enough to meet and sweep Tollison’s daughter off her feet, but the name Holt—now that had a familiar ring. He Googled the names and found the family business, Holt Investigations. According to the agency’s web site, the head of the agency was listed as an Andrew Scott Holt, providing full-service investigations serving professional and private clients. So the brunette was one of the family or one of their investigators? Both?
Had Bree had actually gone so far as to hire someone to see if he could be tempted? So much for earning the trust of his true love. He really must do a better job of convincing her of his devotion. Blowing his first undercover assignment wasn’t an option. He had a lot to prove to himself. To the Bureau. And especially to his father, Supervisory Special Agent Marcus Stone.
He spent the next hour researching the family-run P.I. agency. It turned out that Andrew Scott Holt was married to a Metro Nashville homicide detective, one Tess O’Malley Holt. As for the hot tamale investigator… She could prove to be a damned nuisance. If so, then he’d just have to find a way to deal with her.