Sage Matthews's fascination with hacking into computers and creating bugs got her into deep trouble. Just ask special agent Ian Chandler, who handcuffed the fiery redhead—and has been monitoring her every sexy teasing move since.
Ian has now formed his own crack crime-busting team—The HotWires. His first case? None other than Sage, fresh off probation, but seemingly up to her old tricks. Ian's hot on her tail, but his plans backfire one sultry steamy night.He tangles with Sage between the sheets—breaking every rule in his personal code of honor. And he's about to break a few more as his gut instinct tells him she's been framed again—and only he can prove her innocence….
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FIXATION (New Edition, Spring 2020!)
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
“Did you stay out of trouble this month, Sage?”
Sage Matthews held Ian Chandler’s steady, gray-eyed gaze for a long moment and pursed her lips thoughtfully, as if she had to think carefully before speaking. She looked down at the drink she held in her hand and slipped the straw between her cherry-red lips and sucked slowly, drawing her cheeks in so that her mouth formed a sexy pout around the plastic, closing her eyes as the cool burst of carbonation hit her throat. She released the straw and caught a stray bit of fizz with her tongue before answering.
“What kind of trouble, exactly, would you be referring to, Ian?” Her voice was a sultry purr, the soft southeastern Virginia accent adding a lilt of mischief.
Ian sighed and his full, gorgeous lips drew into a tight, impatient line and Sage felt a little spark of satisfaction. Ian might be the sexiest man she had ever met, but she fought any attraction she’d ever felt toward him because he was also an immense, unforgivable thorn in her side. Sure, he was only doing his job, but for five years he’d controlled almost every aspect of her life. Annoying him – and teasing him – was one of the only ways she wrestled that control back into her hands. It was a small advantage, true, but she made the most of it.
It was an additional benefit that the air conditioning in the Norfolk Police Department, where Ian had his new office – part of the new job he was leaving his post as a federal agent for – was on the fritz. It was high summer in Virginia. The sweltering August heat created a fine film of sweat on her skin, making her thin tank dress cling to her, leaving little to the imagination. Sage didn’t want to be subtle. She wanted Federal Agent Ian Chandler, who specialized in computer crime, to sweat.
She hadn’t worn anything underneath the light shift because she was more comfortable that way, but also because she was going to see Ian for her monthly check-in. The more to tempt you with, she thought devilishly. Sage didn’t really want Ian – she just wanted to torture him with what he couldn’t have. Sighing, she looked at him, sliding her glance over his handsome features. She had a weakness for dark-haired men. Ian was a sexy guy. It was too bad he was a cop.
But just five more days and she would be free of Ian for good. And hopefully free of a past that had been holding her down for too long. Her sentence for the computer crimes she’d been arrested for almost five years ago was almost over. Ian Chandler was the federal agent who’d arrested her, and he was also assigned to “monitor her progress” throughout her sentence.
What that really meant was that he had the right to invade every corner of her life, watch her constantly, ask her anything he wanted, and pry into every detail of her life. If he caught her doing anything he thought broke the rules, he could throw her in jail. No questions asked.
It rankled her that he had so much power over her life, though she’d learned to live with it. Sage was determined never to give him the satisfaction of catching her slipping up – or any kind of satisfaction, for that matter. But he couldn’t arrest her for flirting. Not that he ever expressed interest. Ian was the epitome of straight and narrow. It wasn’t in his nature to break the rules or back off of enforcing them. She tempted with him incessantly, knowing he would never cross the line. But that fact only made pushing the limits more enjoyable.
She got up out of the chair and sat on the corner of his very organized desk. The room was clean as a whistle, the chrome gleaming, the windows sparkling clear. Everything was exactly in its place, and Sage pushed a neatly stacked pile of papers carelessly to the side as she made room for herself. She leaned over to throw her empty paper cup in the garbage can, not-so-subtly inviting him to take a peek at what was revealed by the slight sag of her neckline as she did so.
He just looked away.
She smiled and swung one slender leg over the other, swinging it as if to some unheard song playing in her head, and picked up a pen to play with between her nimble, tanned fingers. “Oh, you know I’ve been good, Ian. I’m always good.”
Sexual innuendo aside, she had been good – not that she had much choice. As much as she liked to mess with Ian, she had no desire to end up in prison, so she also played the straight and narrow, contrary as it was to her nature. There was no way she was going to lose what precious little freedom she had. She’d been a fool for a man once, which was what landed her in this mess in the first place. She wasn’t going to do it again.
The first eighteen months of her sentence had been pure hell – house arrest, ensured by a nasty ankle bracelet that she could have removed herself within an hour – if doing so wouldn’t have landed her directly in a cement cage.
It seemed extreme for simply letting a virus out on the ‘net – especially when she had been duped into doing it. Not that anyone would believe her. Technically she had released it, but the fact that she had no idea what was on the disk she’d slipped into the computer that day didn’t matter.
She’d told the one of the investigators who’d questioned her that she didn’t write the virus, but he’d clearly thought she was just trying to slip the wrap. And she couldn’t prove otherwise; the evidence was damning. Locke, the hacker who had set her up, had made sure of that. The worst of it was that she’d been banned from any and all use of computers for those five years, a heavy price to pay, though it was better than jail. The judge made use of flexible federal sentencing guidelines and had been cruelly creative.
If Sage was so much as seen near a computer, even in a store, or if she attempted to contact her hacker friends from college, she would go to real prison. She wasn’t allowed to own or use anything even remotely computerized, not even a cell phone. Ian was the man who’d tracked her down in the first place, and he was in charge of making sure she minded her P’s & Q’s. Sage had never been one much for P’s & Q’s.
Ian’s interference in her life had been considerable – she had to check in with him monthly, he stopped by her home unannounced, checked out her house and her habits, checked on her classes when she was in school and later would discuss her with her boss and peers at the plumbing store where she currently worked.
She had even caught him going through her mail on a couple of occasions. She’d never felt safe talking on the phone, though most of her conversations were innocuous – she didn’t have many friends, as most of them had been computer junkies just like her. The loss of control over her own privacy was the worst punishment anyone could have concocted for her. The helplessness was sometimes overwhelming.
No part of her life had been safe from Ian’s prying eyes. Once she’d been kissing a date good-night in front of her apartment and found out later that Ian had even run a background check on him. She discovered this at her monthly meeting when Ian asked her not to see the guy again because he had a drunk-driving record. She’d railed against the unfairness of it, but it didn’t matter.
Since then she’d stayed away from men, except for Ian. Eying him speculatively, she spoke again, “Ian, there’s something I wanted to ask you.”
“Well, I am almost done with my time. I’ll be a free and responsible member of society again within the week. And since you’ll be starting a brand new position, and you won’t be a federal agent anymore, you won’t be held back by those silly ol’ rules that say you and I can’t have a more personal relationship, right? So, maybe we could--”
She reached over a little farther and slid her hand over his forearm, catching her breath at the hardness of the muscle there, and pursed her lips appreciatively – Ian was not just a desk jockey. The same crisp, black hair that he wore nearly military short was sprinkled over his skin, and she wondered how it would feel to tangle her fingers in it over his chest, and in other places. . . .
Ian’s head snapped up at her touch. His eyes weren’t cold or distant now, but they were definitely pissed off. She bit her lip, partially because his reaction nearly sent her rocketing off the desk and back into her chair and partially because she’d never thought he was capable of such heat. Did it all just come from anger? Or was there more to it? Right now those irises were dark as slate and she felt herself falling into them, forgetting the moment at hand, where she was, who he was.
She’d never really seen him angry. Usually he was just aloof. A little frisson of excitement danced along her hot skin at making him lose it, if just a little. Now, this was fun. He yanked his arm from under her hand and pushed his chair back, distancing them.
“I don’t have to tell you that kind of behavior is completely out of line. There’s nothing between us, and you know it. And there never will be. I think it’s time for you to go.”
She just laughed and got down from the desk, walking slowly around the office, posing in the doorway while turning to look at him, turning on full vixen mode.
“You sure about that?”
“Dead sure. I’ll see you next week at your release hearing. Behave yourself until then.”
She pouted. He’d sucked that heat right back in and buried it under the cool, unflappable exterior once again. But now she was intrigued. All of a sudden the sense of challenge that had led her to computer hacking in the first place – the urge to find your way into somewhere forbidden, to solve an unsolvable puzzle – tugged at her intensely.
What would it be like to try to get behind those straight and narrow walls that encased Ian so securely? What would be the key that would allow her access to what lie behind them? What would she find there, inside the man who always seemed so tightly under control?
She smiled, waving flirtatiously to Ian as she left the office. What the courts didn’t realize is that you didn’t get rid of a hacker by taking away their computer – hacking was a way of life, a philosophy, a way of thinking. And some challenges were just too good to resist.