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Burn (Chapter Thirteen)

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CAEL LAY ON HIS STOMACH ON THE BEDROOM FLOOR, drilling a small hole in the base of the wall that separated this suite from Larkin's suite. Larkin could return to his suite at any time, though his duties as host of the cruise might keep him occupied for an hour or so longer, depending on who wanted to talk to him. If Cael didn't get this done before Larkin returned, they'd be both blind and deaf this first night at sea. He didn't like that option, so he ignored everything else and concentrated on what he was doing. He wanted ears in that suite, if nothing else.

Normally, concentrating wasn't a problem. Normally, however, he didn't have a woman with attitude yammering at him nonstop.

He'd been right about her having the guts to carry off the act he needed. He'd also been right about her causing trouble. Just for once, he wished he'd been wrong. This would have been so much easier if she'd been more like Sydney Hazlett, who was frightened and had cried some but hadn't shown any sign of fighting back. She'd been told the same thing that Redwine had been told, that her friend's safety depended on what she did, that each was hostage for the other. The difference was that, according to his people holding Hazlett, she was quiet. Redwine was anything but quiet.

He silently cursed Larkin for being a paranoid son of a bitch and switching the suite assignments around at the last minute. Until then, the plan had been simple enough. From the suite Ryan and Faith had originally had, on the other side of Larkin, they could have set up all the surveillance necessary to gather information: his phone calls, his onboard meetings, his visitors. If Ryan and Faith had been in place, none of this elaborate charade would be necessary, the kidnapping wouldn't have been necessary. The surveillance equipment would already have been installed and tested, and they wouldn't be forced to settle, for now, on eyes and ears in the bedroom instead of the living area – and he wouldn't be forced to listen to the nonstop commentary on what he was doing.

"What are you, a thief? What are you doing? Is that a camera?" He could hear her shifting around in the chair, probably trying to get a better look at the equipment neatly arranged on the floor beside him, as well as what he was doing. "You're going to an awful lot of trouble for a run-of-the-mill perv."

Cael stopped drilling and checked his progress. Drilling through a wall on a ship wasn't exactly like drilling through a wall in a house. The requirements for stability and noise reduction were different, the wiring was different, the codes were different.

Larkin's suite was a big one, about thirteen hundred square feet, with the living room on the other side, adjacent to the suite Ryan and Faith had booked. In the middle was the dining room, and on this side was the bedroom. The equipment he was using was sensitive enough to pick up everything said in the bedroom, and part of what was said in the dining room. No way would it pick up the living room sounds. They'd have to get a bug on his phone, and if Larkin had a computer with him they'd also have to get access to it. They'd have had to do that in any case, but the layout of the rooms would have eliminated most of his problems – and the biggest problem that would have been eliminated was sitting handcuffed to the chair behind him.

If they got through this without her blowing the whole scheme wide open with her mouth, it would be nothing short of a miracle. He would have to ride herd on her every minute of the day to keep her under control; he wasn't sure any of his other people could do it.

She'd already gotten under Bridget's skin, and rattled Faith. Tiffany … nothing rattled Tiffany, but with the scene they'd set up, absolutely no one would believe that Tiffany and Redwine could become buddies, so Tiffany spending any amount of time with her was impossible. Matt couldn't do it, because his cover as a ship employee wouldn't let him be in her suite, either. That left Ryan, and as good as he was, he was also a married man and he and Faith were known to be very happy, so what excuse could he have for being in Redwine's suite? Moreover, Larkin was so paranoid that if either Faith or Ryan, the original occupants of the suite adjoining his, suddenly began spending a lot of time in the suite on the other side of him, he would go nuts.

That left Cael. God help me, he thought wryly.

"Whatever your plan is, it isn't going to work. No one is going to believe that you and I are together. I know some of the passengers on this cruise, and you're so not my type, plus they won't believe I'd ever bring you back to my suite for the night right after you just broke up with your girlfriend."

If she kept kissing him the way she'd kissed him up on the sports deck, they would. He stifled that particular memory before it could fully form, because the last thing he wanted right now was to get turned on. He focused on his work, threading two very thin cables, one with a tiny microphone on the end, the other with an equally miniscule camera, through the hole he'd drilled and into Larkin's bedroom. According to the layout of the suite Bridget had given him, and the exact measurement he'd used to place the hole, the camera and mic were just beside the large plant that filled the empty space in that corner of the bedroom.

He could have used a single cable that incorporated both audio and video, but in his opinion they weren't as sensitive as the ones with dedicated functions. If he'd been threading the cables through a solid core, the task wouldn't be half as delicate, but instead he was moving them through empty space. The camera was already operational, inserted just an inch or so, and he used the video from it to guide the audio cable toward the small hole on the opposite side of the wall. Once the audio was in place, he taped the cable so it wouldn't move, then began working the video cable toward the same hole. The biggest problem was that, at the slightest touch, the audio might fall out of place.

That was exactly what happened. As soon as the video cable touched the audio, the audio cable fell sideways. Silently cursing, he began all over again. He was sweating by the time he got both cables securely in place, but just barely through the hole so they weren't noticeable. He checked the read-out on the monitor, held his breath as he made minute adjustments to the camera until he was satisfied with the angle, then heaved an inward sigh of relief when both cables remained in place. Carefully he duct-taped both to the floor and wall.

"What kind of name is Cael? You were named after a vegetable?"

Now that he was finished, he gave her a cool look. "It's spelled C-A-E-L, and yes, it's pronounced just like kale. You don't have any room to talk. What kind of name is Jenner?"

She shrugged. "According to my dad, my mother had a huge crush on Bruce Jenner. She couldn't name me Bruce, so she named me Jenner. Of course, that's according to dad, so take the story with a grain of salt."

How could she keep that mouth going? She was exhausted; her face didn't have any color except for the dark circles under her eyes. He suspected she still had some fight left in her, though, just as he also suspected he was about to catch the full brunt of that fight when she realized how they were going to spend the night.

First things first, though. Taking out his cell phone, he called Bridget. "Everything's up and running. Get some rest."

"Glad to," she replied. "How's the prisoner?"

"Mouthy."

She laughed. "Yeah, intimidated she isn't. Call if you need help."

Cheerful thought. He didn't want to battle with Redwine, he just wanted to catch some sleep himself. He rotated his shoulders, working out the kinks and feeling the soreness in his triceps where she'd bitten him. She'd really clamped down, too, like a skinny, blond pit bull. She was lucky he hadn't strangled her, because the urge had definitely been there.

He went into the bathroom and relieved himself, then splashed cold water on his face. He'd looked at the shower, wishing he could risk it, but he didn't dare turn his back on Redwine that long. Even though she was safely shackled to the chair and couldn't free herself from it, she might be stronger than she looked and be able to pick up the chair and carry it. He didn't think so, because ship furniture was heavier than regular furniture and she was skinny, but he wouldn't bet the bank on it.

She must have been too tired to even try it, because when he stepped out of the bathroom she was sitting exactly as she had been. If she hadn't been such a pain in the ass, he might have felt some sympathy for her.

Instead, he grimly braced himself for the next battle.

"All right, Mike Tyson, let's go to bed."

JENNER WAS SO EXHAUSTED that for a minute the words didn't register. Mike Tyson? Then she realized he was referring to her biting him, which gave her an insane desire to laugh, but hard on the heels of that came comprehension of the rest of his sentence and all desire to laugh completely vanished.

She sprang to her feet, at least as much as she could while handcuffed to the chair. "What do you mean, let's go to bed? I'm not sleeping with you! You can sleep on the damn couch out there. There's no separate door out of the bedroom, so there's no reason to – "

"Your only options are whether you put on the pajamas I saw in the closet or sleep naked," he cut in.

Sleeping naked was so far out of the question that it really wasn't a choice of options at all. He knew it, too, because he smirked as he came over and released her from the handcuffs. The clamp of metal was instantly replaced by the clamp of his hand as he urged her toward the closet. "Go ahead and change."

She stumbled to the closet and selected a pair of pajamas at random, then went into the bathroom while he stood guard outside. His high-handedness made her so angry she could barely think. There was absolutely no reason for this, other than showing her who was boss, as if she didn't already know.

Quickly she stripped down and washed off her makeup as fast as possible, because she wouldn't put it past him to jerk the door open at any time. After she put on the pajamas, though, she took the time to brush her teeth just as she always did. She should have brushed faster, because he opened the door without warning and caught her with a foamy mouth.

She almost choked on the toothpaste, because the open door revealed more of him than she'd ever wanted to see. He'd used the time to remove his shoes and pants, and was wearing only a pair of black boxer briefs that revealed just how hard and muscled he was, and a lot more besides. After her first startled look she turned away and spat the toothpaste into the basin. "Where was I going to go?" she snapped. "Down a drain pipe?"

"You're skinny enough," he returned.

She ignored the impulse to deny that, and instead said irritably, "Call Bridget to bring your pajamas."

He looked amused. "I don't own any."

"Then put your damn clothes back on!" It was bad enough he'd been without his shirt for hours. Now he was practically naked, and the inherent threat made her skin crawl as if she were covered with ants.

"I'm not sleeping in my clothes. If you have any virtue, it's safe with me, so stop acting like a Victorian virgin."

"I'd say I have more virtue than you, considering who's the kidnapper here," she fired back.

"Yeah, yeah. Come on, Cujo, stop delaying and wipe the slobber from your mouth. I'm bushed."

Jenner glanced in the mirror and saw the toothpaste still foamed on her lips. Unaccountably embarrassed, she quickly rinsed and spat, then wiped her mouth before charging back into the fray. "At least put your pants back on. That way I won't have to bleach my eyeballs if your little ding-dong accidentally falls out."

"You and your eyeballs will live, no matter what my ding-dong does." His tone was flat and unyielding; his eyes glittered briefly, but she couldn't tell if he wanted to laugh or smack her down.

He caught her arm and hauled her out of the bathroom. While she'd been in there changing clothes, he had not only removed his pants, he'd turned out all the lights in the suite except for the bedside lamps, and he'd also turned down the bed. Her entire body ached at the sight of those smooth white sheets. If only he weren't here, she'd have whimpered with joy at the thought of actually lying down.

"Get in," he directed, steering her toward the far side of the bed, away from the door leading into the living room. She was too tired to argue anymore. Her spirit was willing, but her body said if she didn't get some sleep soon she'd fall down. Silently she crawled between the sheets and pulled the blanket up over her. He turned out the lamp beside her, then went around to the other side of the bed and got in beside her.

Her eyes were already closing, despite her best effort to glare at him. They popped open when his hand closed over hers. Cold metal snapped in place around her right wrist, then he calmly fastened the other handcuff around his left wrist and stretched out his right arm to turn out his lamp.

Darkness engulfed them, and Jenner stared upward in shock. Damn him, he'd handcuffed her to him! Now what?

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