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One widowed bachelor.
One former M16 agent.
There’s nothing WICKED about this little TRYST.

Some called them tears. Others, legs. I observed each drip and its thickness as I held the goblet at an angle, letting the wine flow up one side of the glass, then leveled it, watching as the liquid trailed down. I swirled once more, closed my eyes, then stuck my nose in the glass’ bowl and breathed in deeply. Aromas of sage and thyme mingled with the core scent of red fruit, rich with wild strawberry, raspberry, and freshly picked plum, making my mouth water.

I didn’t take a drink. I couldn’t. I was on the clock.

Instead, I set the glass on the table in front of me. Over its rim, my eyes met Tryst’s. I watched as they drifted closed with the first sip. The look on his face was the same I’d seen the night before. Then, he’d raised his head from between my legs.

“This is the wine I crave,” he’d said, running his tongue through my folds.

I trembled at the vividness of the image, squeezing my thighs together and wishing I could suggest we leave, return to the cottage by the sea he’d arranged for us to stay in, and make love throughout the night, serenaded by the sound of the waves crashing on the beach below us.

Instead, I had to remain here, staking out a wine-industry charity fundraiser after receiving intel suggesting a key player in a human trafficking ring I’d been investigating for several months was to be in attendance.

While the man’s identity was unknown, as with every mission, I scanned the room, relying on instinct—my gut—to recognize someone who posed a threat. It was what I was trained to do, the same way the other operatives positioned around the room were.

I heard the woman who chaired the event, Tryst’s niece, announce the start of the Wicked Winemaker bachelor auction.

My eyes met Tryst’s again from across the table, and he smiled. I loved his smile. It made me feel warm, safe, treasured. Apparently, Alexis, or Alex as everyone called her, had been after Tryst to participate in the auction the last couple of years. He and I joked that if he did, I’d be forced to take down any woman who bid on him.

“Ladies, I’m thrilled to open the bidding for a date with a man who is a fan favorite year after year: Zin Oliver!” said Alex.

Several paddles raised, but she didn’t react. Instead, I heard her say, “Where is she?” to her assistant. Realizing she’d spoken into a hot mic, she gave a quick explanation and flipped it off. Zin walked over to her rather than remain near the catwalk. Seconds later, he jumped from the stage.

“The office!” I heard Zin say through my earpiece.

Simultaneously, I received an alert through the comms from Blackjack, one of the operatives on my team. “Suspect reported in back office. Possible hostage situation.”

“Who is the hostage?”

“Jada Yáñez.”

“Support needed in rear hallway of the building,” I said through the mic of my headset, racing off in that direction.

The woman he mentioned had been abducted and tortured ten months ago by another man affiliated with the trafficking ring. That she was potentially in danger again sent the already surging adrenaline flooding into my bloodstream.

I touched the handle of the door with the tip of my finger. It was locked.

“Jada? The bidding has started. Are you coming out?” I said.

“Sorry. Be right there,” she responded.

I drew my gun. “You cover Jada,” I whispered to Zin when Tank, my backup, joined us. “Count of three,” I added, motioning for him to bust through the door. When it broke from the hinges, Jada screamed.

“Freeze!” I shouted, my gun leveled directly at the man standing near the rear of the room. “Hands in the air!” What did the bloody bastard do instead of following my directives? First, the cowardly sonuvabitch moved behind Jada, using her as a shield. Then, just as Zin grabbed her and whisked her out of the room, the man reached for his gun. I fired first.

When he hit the ground, I rushed forward.

“Where’s the weapon?” Tank knelt to secure it while I checked for a pulse.

“He reached to his right,” I said, picturing it in my mind as though I were still in the moment. “He’s alive.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. The presence of a pulse meant that when he regained consciousness, we might be able to turn him, get him to lead us to whomever he worked for in return for a lesser charge against him.

“There’s no gun. No weapon of any kind,” I heard Tank say as I called for an ambulance.

“Sorry, what did you say?”

“He was unarmed, Jaicon.”

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