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Running Scared
by Elizabeth Lowell
William Morrow, 2002

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Chapter One

Los Angeles
Friday, October 31

Even though Risa Sheridan was only an occasional consultant to the international firm of Rarities Unlimited, she didn't resent flying from Las Vegas to Los Angeles for a few hours of work. She never knew what treasures a client might have brought to the company's headquarters so that Rarities could "Buy, Sell, Appraise, Protect." All she could be certain of was that whatever she would be inspecting was at least four hundred years old -- and usually much older -- because ancient jewelry was her specialty.

Risa's feeling of anticipation flattened when she looked through the double glass doors that led to Rarities' offices; Shane Tannahill was already on the other side of the bulletproof glass. Despite the fact that she had left Las Vegas before he did, her boss had beaten her to Los Angeles.

Shane had one of his hands tucked into a pocket of his black slacks. The other hand anchored the soft leather jacket he had slung over one shoulder. A visitor's badge hung on a chain around his neck. Angular face impassive, jade green eyes narrowed, dark hair neatly trimmed, he lounged against the guard desk. Waiting for her.

He wasn't a patient man.

Bloody L.A. traffic, she said silently.

It wasn't her fault that her plane had been held on the ground in Vegas for a security check. Then in L.A. a semi truck hauling gasoline had turned over on Sepulveda, blocking the easiest exit from the airport and thoroughly screwing up the city's already overburdened surface streets.

And making her late.

Risa's pulse might have kicked with more than irritation when she spotted Shane, but her steps didn't hesitate or quicken. Nor did she check that her short black hair was smoothly in place and her unstructured blue jacket was hanging straight. Other women might have licked their lips for that extra shine or sucked in their belly or stuck out their chest to look their best for Shane Tannahill.

Not Risa.

She had fought to get where she was. She loved her job as curator of gold objects for the Golden Fleece, Shane's Las Vegas entertainment complex. She wasn't going to lose everything she had worked for simply because of his handsome face and killer grin. Better that she rub her boss the wrong way than the right.

Shane's work ethic was simple and inflexible: no lying, no cheating, no stealing, and no sex. He didn't touch the female employees. End of subject. But if a woman didn't want to accept that and he was interested in an affair, he would find her another job. Only then would a good time be had by all.

No matter how intelligent, appealing, rich, and maddening Shane might be, Risa wanted her job more than she wanted to do laps around the sex track with any man. Even one of the few who had ever really interested her.

It's the forbidden fruit thing, Risa told herself briskly. No man is that sexy after you wake up with him. Or without him, more likely.

The guard released the automatic locks for Risa. The door swung open.

She gave the uniformed man a bright smile. "Good morning, Jersey. How's the thumb?"

Jersey, who was about seven feet of muscle and bone, blushed. "Who told you?"

"Mmmm" was all she said. She didn't want Shane to know how often she and S.K. Niall chatted. Shane was friendly with the two heads of Rarities, but that friendship didn't slop over into business. Shane wouldn't be pleased knowing that his curator talked several times a week with Niall -- Rhymes with kneel, boyo. I'm not a bloody river. At the moment the Golden Fleece didn't have enough business with Rarities to justify such frequent communications. But Risa was lonely, and Niall was safely involved with Dana Gaynor, the other head of Rarities.

"I can't believe I slammed my thumb in the desk drawer," Jersey muttered.

"Yeah, Dana really ought to wear a warning bell when she walks around," Risa sympathized, fighting a smile.

Shane didn't bother to fight it. He flashed the kind of grin that made men and women alike blink and draw closer, as though to a fire.

Jersey's blush deepened.

"You'll get used to Dana's walk," Risa said. She tossed her purse on a moving belt like those at an airport checkpoint and strolled through the metal detector's field without setting off a single buzz. "All the men do. Eventually."

"Uh, yes'm." But Jersey was shaking his head while he watched the screen that displayed the contents of Risa's purse. Nothing but the usual. The metal alarm didn't quiver. The nitrate alarm didn't go off. Neither did any of the other chemical alarms. Not that he expected anything like that to happen -- not with a consultant. But he wasn't paid to make personal judgments. He was paid to put everyone who walked in those doors through the scanners, and that included Dana Gaynor and S.K. Niall.

Shane took Risa's purse as it popped out the other end of the scanner. He tossed it to her with a quickness that had caught more than one person off guard.

She snagged her purse with a deceptively lazy movement of her arm. He wasn't the only one with good reflexes. "Thanks." She turned to Jersey. "Anything else?"

"Just this." He handed her a staff pass dangling on a long neck chain. "New rules."

She put on the chain and the colorful bit of plastic that stated she was a consultant. "Since when?"

Shane answered before Jersey could. "Since someone threatened half of Rarities Unlimited."

"Dana was threatened?" Risa asked, startled.

"No. Niall."

"Whew," Risa said, blowing out a breath. Besides being a friend, Niall was half owner and head...

Excerpted from Running Scared by Elizabeth Lowell. Copyright © 2002 by Elizabeth Lowell. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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