As she looked over the lab counters scattered with broken glass and ruined experiments, Dr. Helena Reif didn’t think her sensation of shock and horror could get any worse. The break-in was so unexpected, so inexplicable. Even more incomprehensible was the systematic destruction the invaders has wrought. It almost seemed…personal.
Frankly, she couldn’t help taking it personally. This was her lab, one she’d worked hard to earn. At age thirty-two, she was one of the youngest professors at the university. She was responsible for everything that happened in the laboratory: the proposals, the experiments, the results and papers published in reputable scientific journals. Helena had thought security had been taken care of by the locks on the doors to the public hallway and the roving university security guards, but obviously, she’d been wrong. And thus she’d allowed this to happen.
No, she was quite sure her shame and dismay couldn’t get any worse.
Then he walked in through the door.
Parting the small crowd of policemen gingerly stepping over spilled formulas, Beau Dillinger strode with the easy grace of a man who owned any room he entered. Though she knew he was quite wealthy, a private investor, it wasn’t his money that gave him the seeming ability to control the very air around him. He simply owned an aura of power.
Why Helena had ever found that aspect of him attractive she would never know. She certainly didn’t find it attractive right now. In fact, she wished he would turn around and go to hell. What in the world was he doing here?
Feeling her face turn warm, something she unfortunately could not control, she turned her attention to the police officer who’d been addressing her. Deliberately, she faced away from Beau. “No, I have no idea why anyone would want to sabotage my lab,” she told the policeman.
A middle-aged man with a hint of a pot belly, the police officer scratched his chin. “What are you working on in this laboratory?”
“We’re breeding bacteria.”
The police officer froze. Then, looking down, he moved his foot from one of the many puddles now on the floor. “Uh, is it safe for us in here?”
“Perfectly safe. These bacteria aren’t interested in humans.”
“Um, then what are they interested in?”
“Oil. Petroleum products. We’re developing bacteria that will find and eat oil from ocean tanker spills and other accidents.”
The man shook his head. “Can’t think why anyone would want to sabotage you for doing that. Maybe… Well, don’t you scientists have rivalries and such? Maybe there’s someone in another lab doing similar work who wants to set you back.”
Helena smiled wryly. “We scientists have devised far more effective and less risky ways to stab each other in the back.” But in her head, she quickly ran through a list of her main rivals, euphemistically deemed “peers” at scientific conferences. She couldn’t imagine any of them taking this kind of drastic action, however, even if her research was so far ahead of theirs.
The policeman chuckled and wrote something on the pad in his hand. “Probably a disgruntled student you gave a bad grade to last semester and some of his drunken pals.”
Oh, could that be the answer? The adrenaline that had been shooting through Helena’s veins ever since she’d come into work this morning and viewed the destruction eased a bit. She did have a few disgruntled students. The vandalism didn’t have to be anything more menacing than that.
“We’ll see if we can get any fingerprints,” the policeman told Helena. “Let you know if we find a matching ID. Meanwhile, why don’t you make a list of students who might be pissed at you?”
“Yes, good. I’ll do that.”
Meanwhile, Beau had come closer. Despite her effort to ignore him, Helena was aware of his proximity. Dammit.
And when the policeman turned away, she had no choice but to turn and face Beau.
But she didn’t greet him. He knew perfectly well she didn’t want him here. She put on her professional mask of resting bitch face and let him squirm.
But he didn’t squirm. Of course not. He simply stood there perfectly relaxed with his hands in the pockets of his expensive-looking pants. His soft sports jacket folded elegantly behind his wrists. “Juan told me about the break-in,” he said.
Both Juan and Beau were friends of Helena’s brother, Harry. Having met as teenagers, the three men were close and always looked out for each other. Since Juan worked in the county district attorney’s office, Helena had called him first after walking in on the angry mess here. Juan had advised her to inform the local police. Then he must have gone and called Beau—for some inexplicable reason. Probably something along the lines of Juan considering Helena part of a package deal with her twin brother, Harry. Thus, one of them needed to come by and support her. Beau was self-employed, so Juan had nominated him as the point man.
“That was…kind of Juan to try to help out,” Helena told Beau. “But the situation is under control. The police are conducting their investigation, and I will be taking care of the cleanup and replacement of broken equipment. Your presence is not required.”
The last sentence came out more sharply than she’d intended, but for heaven’s sake, no matter what Juan might have told him, how could Beau imagine she’d want him here…intruding?
He had the nerve to hold her steady gaze. “Juan seemed to think you were in immediate need of assistance.”
Helena felt her stupid face go warm again. She’d been a bit panicked when she’d called Juan. After all, why call Juan first instead of the police? But there’d been that…thought she’d had when she’d first seen the destruction in her laboratory.
The thought, the terrible, traitorous idea, that maybe this had something to do with Harry. Her reckless, danger-seeking twin brother, Harry, was currently on a boat off the coast of Central America looking for treasure lost from a sixteenth-century Spanish galleon. His expedition was perhaps a hair under the line of legal. Granted, she couldn’t imagine how Harry’s activities could have anything to do with the vandalization of her lab, but all the same her instinct on viewing the damage to her laboratory had been to avoid involving the authorities.
Her instinct was always to avoid getting Harry into trouble. Not that she imagined Harry could be responsible for this mess. Of course not!
No, not even given the further troubling coincidence of today being day thirty of Harry’s thirty-day rule. Before he’d left, Harry had promised Helena he’d touch base with her in some fashion—phone, email, text—at least once every thirty days.
It had been thirty days today since she’d last heard from him.
But that was just a coincidence. It had to be, right? She couldn’t imagine a connection between Harry’s lack of communication and the vandalism.
“I was still fairly emotional when I spoke to Juan,” Helena admitted. “But everything is under control now.” And even if it weren’t, the last person on earth to whom she’d apply for assistance would be Beau Dillinger.
It killed her that she might have to end up doing just that.
The second part of Harry’s safety precaution had been his instruction for Helena to contact Beau if Harry violated the thirty-day rule. ‘Beau has the money and connections to find me if anything goes awry,’ Harry had told her. Then he’d waved his hand and gone on to another subject as if the likelihood of that happening was too remote to bother considering.
“You have everything under control,” Beau repeated and maintained his annoyingly steady gaze.
How dare he look as though—as though he were concerned? Helena straightened. “That is correct. It was…compliant of you to come when Juan asked you, but there is nothing for you to do here. No need of you at all.”
She held his gaze, determined to keep hers just as steady. Inside, she didn’t feel nearly as calm. Harry might be missing, and her lab had been destroyed. Every experiment currently underway had been ruined. The violence with which this had been done was impossible to ignore, and it rattled her. Worse than that, though, was her sense of failure. She was responsible for the lab, for everything that happened in it and to it. The shards of glass, the wet mess, the wrecked experiments—all of this was on her.
She had never screwed up this badly in her life. She didn’t know how to handle it.
But Beau was hardly the person to give her comfort.
His dark blue eyes bore into hers for one more, intensely uncomfortable moment. Then he lowered his gaze and nodded. “Okay. If you’re sure?”
“Positive.” But Harry told you to contact Beau.
A flash of guilt shot up in Helena as Beau turned away. But mostly she felt relief as she watched him wind around the milling policemen and go out the door.
What an idiot, what an idiot she’d been six months ago at Harry’s birthday party. To go home with Beau Dillinger, multi-millionaire jet-setter and man-about-town— What had she been thinking?
Squinting into the sun, Beau descended the stone steps of the Life Sciences building, hardly in a sunny frame of mind.
He was angry. He knew it was unreasonable for him to feel angry, and that only made him feel all the angrier.
He had not asked for this task.
Look out for Helena. That’s the job Harry had given Beau.
Heading toward the car Beau had parked in the on-campus lot, he crossed a lawn sprinkled with lounging students. Most of them were in groups, talking, laughing—oh, such great friends with each other.
In his black mood, Beau could only scowl at them all. He hadn’t been like that as an undergrad. He’d steered clear of all ‘friendship.’ At age seventeen, he’d learned the word had no meaning. People would drop you like a hot potato the second there was any trouble. Certainly all of his friends in high school had dropped him during his expulsion drama. They hadn’t wanted the odor of his problems to rub off on them. Some friends they’d turned out to be.
Beau’s skepticism about people had served him well in the business world. He’d made a fortune in shrewd investments by being sure not to trust a single soul.
There were only two exceptions to Beau’s view of humanity: Harry and Juan. They were the only two people in the world who Beau knew would never let him down. They’d proven themselves repeatedly, and thus Beau would never let them down in return.
He was committed to this vow even though his friend Harry had asked Beau to do the most unpleasant, impossible favor in the world.
“Keep an eye on Helena,” Harry had asked Beau a couple months ago, the weekend before Harry had left on his benighted treasure-hunting trip down to Canigua. The two of them had been enjoying a couple of beers at Last Call, the bar at which they often met in Santa Monica.
It had taken every acting ability Beau possessed to avoid reacting to the reference to Harry’s twin sister. “Isn’t she a grown woman?” he’d asked instead. “Why would anyone need to keep an eye on her?”
“I’m serious,” Harry had replied. Indeed, Beau’s normally devil-may-care friend had looked uncharacteristically somber. “This is the favor,” he’d added.
You’re joking, Beau had wanted to say. For fifteen years, Harry had held this favor over Beau’s head. Harry had taken a punishment that should have gone to Beau while they’d both been inmates at McMillam Reform School for Boys. Harry had nearly died in the heat box he’d been put into for ‘starting a fight.’ In reality, a gang of bullies had surrounded Beau and started to beat him up. Juan and Harry had stepped in to stop the carnage. Finally, the authorities had arrived. But instead of punishing the true culprits, the school officials had decided either Harry or Beau had been to blame. Before Beau could say anything, Harry had cheerfully ‘admitted’ he’d started the fight. Ever since then, Beau had owed him one. A big one.
And Harry was choosing this way for Beau to pay back the favor? Beau had to look after a woman he’d decided to avoid for the rest of his natural life?
“Okay,” Beau had said because what else could he say? He couldn’t exactly admit to Harry that he’d spent one mistaken night with Helena and that she probably didn’t want to see his face ever again. “You’re not expecting her to have any trouble, are you?”
“No, no,” Harry had said. Too quickly? Now Beau wondered about that. At the time, he’d worried Harry expected to fall into some kind of trouble himself in the waters off the Central American country of Canigua. The nation wasn’t known for its stability, a fact that enabled drug traffickers to use its coast for their activities. Harry would be sailing right into the thick of that.
“Consider yourself as getting off easy on the favor,” Harry had said and had added a broad, reassuring smile.
Beau had searched his friend’s smile with deep suspicion. Did Harry know about Beau’s night with Helena? Beau didn’t see how he could, but then Harry had dangerously good intuition. Somehow, he might have sensed Beau’s short and, admittedly, shameful history with Helena.
No, no, no. Not shameful. Beau hadn’t promised the woman a thing. Not a damn thing!
But guilt spiked Beau’s stewing anger as he left the lawn of undergrads behind and entered the parking structure where he’d left his car. Dammit, there was no reason for him to feel guilty. Six months ago, he’d chatted Helena up at the birthday party her brother had put on for himself. Beau and Helena had met briefly and occasionally over the years, but he’d never spent any significant time with Harry’s sister. But at the party, she’d been standing all by herself and looking…lonely. Out of touch with the boisterous, working-class kind of crowd Harry had invited. Maybe Beau had been feeling a little lonely himself.
Hell, he didn’t know. He was a man. He’d been attracted, and he’d acted on that attraction. They’d ended up at Helena’s house. And, okay, maybe he’d been a little more involved, emotionally, than he usually got with a hookup. Helena was, after all, a little more complicated than the empty-headed, supermodel type Beau usually invited to his bed. And maybe he’d panicked just a little when he’d woken up early the next morning to find he was still in her bed.
Maybe his panic was the reason he’d snuck out without leaving a note. And had never called her again.
Okay, perhaps he was a dick for having acted that way. But he truly hadn’t promised her a thing. Nor had she asked for anything!
Just as she hadn’t asked for anything right now, with her lab in shatters around her. In fact, she’d decidedly sent Beau away. She didn’t want a single thing from him. He should get into his car, drive away, and get on with his life.
Beau pressed the fob to unlock his Porsche. Yes, that’s exactly what he should do. He jerked open the driver’s side door.
Keep an eye on Helena. Harry’s words echoed in Beau’s head.
He slammed the door shut again. He wasn’t driving anywhere. But neither could he return to Helena’s lab after she’d thrown him out.
Dammit all to hell and back.
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