Stripped
glanced at her. “Morning, Ms. Trubachev. Hope you enjoyed your run.” As he spoke, the gates soundlessly opened. “Next time, I won’t forget. I’m good with faces.”
    Natalya reclaimed her ID and jogged up the walk to the spacious front entry. Inside, following the marbled floor, she made her way down a narrow hallway to the elevators. She rode to the twenty-sixth floor.
    Sergei answered seconds after she knocked. Looking well-rested and alert, he flashed a bright smile. “Morning.”
    “How do you do that?” As she entered, she swept a hand down the length of his body, indicating his immaculate jeans and crisp white T-shirt. “I know what time you got in last night.”
    Chuckling, he ushered her onto a stool at the granite-topped bar between the dining area and the kitchen. “Magic.”
    “Inhuman.”
    He pushed a tall mug of black coffee under her nose. “Have some caffeine.”
    One thing could be said for her partnership with Sergei—he always knew how to use coffee to his advantage. She drank deeply, savoring the rich dark roast.
    “Want a cinnamon roll?”
    Natalya raised an eyebrow. “From the bakery? Or did you cook them?”
    With a shake of his head, he scoffed. “Why buy when I have an entire kitchen at my disposal?”
    Another thing about her partnership that she treasured—Sergei could cook better than Dmitri’s personal chef. Her stomach growled at the prospect of a hot, buttery, home-cooked cinnamon roll. “Sure.”
    As he busied himself with preparing her breakfast, she glanced around the luxury suite, admiring the wood trim, the crisp retro furniture, and the glass accents that added elegance to what would otherwise be harsh angles and lines. Modern. Exceedingly upscale.
    “HQ really put themselves out this time, didn’t they.”
    Standing in front of the stove with his back to her, he shrugged. “I told ’em you’d become accustomed to the wealthy life.”
    “Uh-huh. You’re in a mood. Why so chipper?”
    “Why are you so crabby?”
    A vivid image of Brandon’s dark head moving across her breasts, his tongue searing over her nipple flashed through her memory. In less time than it took to furiously blink the vision away, the uncomfortable ache between her legs returned. She crossed them against the deep throb. “Strange bed. I didn’t sleep so well.”
    Sergei answered the microwave’s bell and slid a piping-hot roll in front of her. Cinnamon permeated her awareness, momentarily erasing Brandon from her mind. She picked up her fork, speared it into the doughy corkscrew, and took a bite. “Mm. Tell me again why we aren’t married?”
    His laughter rumbled low as he dished out one for himself. “Because marriage requires sexual attraction.”
    “I don’t know about that.” She pointed her fork at her plate. “I could give up sex for good food.”
    As Sergei pulled up a stool beside her, he gave her thigh a pat. “I have needs, babe.”
    “I have needs too. Good food. Good wine. Laughter—that’s important also.” Good sex certainly hadn’t been a part of her life. At least not until Brandon filled her head with possibilities.
    She cringed inwardly, the unbidden thought spoiling her attempt at good humor. “So why am I here at the crack of dawn?”
    He pulled off a hunk of roll and stuffed it into his mouth. Speaking around his food, he answered, “Because we have a case to work on. Or did you forget why we’re here?”
    “I didn’t forget.
I
worked last night. You, on the other hand, had a whole night off.”
    In typical form, Sergei ignored her attempt to rattle his easy-going demeanor. He slid off the stool, retrieved an opaque plastic bag from the corner of the kitchen entry, and plopped it on the countertop between them. Taking his seat once more, he dumped the contents out. A handful of ballpoint pens and thumbnail-sized electronic gadgets spilled free. “Wrong. I spent last night with a few of our buddies.”
    Excitement thrummed through Natalya. Audio

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