The Professional (Dangerous in Dallas)

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9780373279388: The Professional (Dangerous in Dallas)

Her sexy neighbor turns savior in this next Dangerous in Dallas romance! 

 

Despite her job as a wedding planner, Violet Richardson doesn't believe a happy-ever-after is in her future. And when she's kidnapped by a killer, she's surprised that rescue comes in the form of her tempting yet irritating neighbor Max Baldwin. 

 

Trying to forget his dark past, Max never meant to take on his attractive neighbor's troubles. But now the bickering pair must outrun a thug who's determined to get his hands on mysterious jewels he thinks are in Violet's possession. And as they race for their lives through Dallas's summer heat, Max and Violet may finally open their eyes to the burning passion they share.

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About the Author:

Addison Fox can't remember a time when words weren't a part of her life. In addition to being an avid reader, she loves writing novels about strong-willed and exciting heroes and heroines – individuals who are meant for each other and who deserve their happy ever after. After she makes them work for it, of course!

Addison lives in Dallas. You can find her at her home on the web at www.addisonfox.com or on Facebook (facebook.com/addisonfoxauthor) and Twitter (@addisonfox).

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Violet Richardson removed herself from striking distance of the bouquet and took her usual spot on the wall. That place—halfway between the kitchen and the entrance—provided a comfortable perch to oversee the lavish ballroom.

It also gave her eyes on anyone coming and going.

In the past, she'd believed it was a necessity to ensure any wedding she coordinated ran well. Not well, she mentally corrected herself. Perfectly.

But since the previous week, she'd accepted that having eyes on the ballroom would ensure the threat stalking her and her business partners wouldn't spill over to their wedding clients.

The Kelley-Gardner nuptials had been a long project, full of all the things she loved about her job. A manic mother of the bride, a guest list that could fell a celebrity chef, and a bride and groom who practically glowed with their love for each other.

The wedding had also put Elegance and Lace firmly on the map as one of the city's premier event providers.

She and her partners, Cassidy and Lilah, had worked tirelessly to make their business into one of Dallas's best. Despite the recent rash of danger in their lives, she couldn't hide her satisfaction at what they'd created.

"Lilah's wheeling out the cake and all's on schedule." Gabriella Sanchez took a spot beside her, her unobtrusive black suit doing nothing to hide the saucy curves beneath. Gabby had started out as a caterer they partnered with on events and had quickly become a friend.

The clock that perpetually ticked in Violet's mind counted off the required time to cross the ballroom to the cake and gave Lilah a few extra minutes to fuss. "She's been working on this one for almost a week."

"It's a good thing she started early after—" Gabriella broke off, her soft brown eyes marred with the memories of the prior week. Lilah and her new fiancé, Reed, had faced off with the threat that had stalked their business, only to discover the name that went with the threat was Reed's stepfather, Tripp Lange.

Shaking off the rush of anger and sadness at what her friend had experienced, Violet gripped Gabriella's hand, desperate to hang on to something solid. "She and Reed found each other and Cassidy and Tucker did as well. It is a good thing."

Gabby squeezed back before she offered up a small moue of disgust. "As beautiful as this place is, the catering needs a serious overhaul."

Her friend's dig had Violet refocusing on the event. The hotel was doing the formal catering, but they'd brought Gabby along as extra arms and legs. "Please don't tell me you snuck into the kitchen."

"It wasn't sneaking."

Violet ignored the delicate sniff and only pressed harder. "Gab—"

"My cousin's best friend works here, and I wanted to say hi."

Violet knew Gabby was a walking connection to half of Dallas, either as family or as friends of family. But none of it hid the fact that she wanted eyes on the kitchen. Her own catering business had been on the rise, but the competition between the local caterers and the large hotels had gotten fiercer in the last few years.

"They put a swimming pool of sauce on the beef entrées," Gabby hissed. "You know as well as I do there's only one reason a kitchen does that."

"To hide the quality of the meat."

"Exactly!"

"Who made you mad, Sexy Sanchez? I see that lovely Latin temper spiking."

Violet's back went as straight as the surface of Lilah's fondant, as that dark, husky drawl interrupted Gabby's moment of triumph. For a large man, Max Baldwin's ability to materialize out of nowhere was unsettling.

And damned annoying.

"The kitchen's subpar." Violet's voice was as prim as a nun's habit, and she was oddly gratified at the corresponding spike of annoyance in Max's vivid blue gaze.

"Like that's a secret." He pulled Gabby close in a side hug. "Besides, if we're comparing other food to Gabby's, the White House would lose out in a cooking contest."

"Max!" Gabby hugged him back, her natural ease with people evident in the soft lines of her smile. "That's so sweet."

"He's—"

Max interrupted her before Violet could finish the thought. "And I'm not buttering her up for a week of leftovers after she finishes tomorrow's cooking."

Violet snapped her lips closed as Max guessed her next jab. Over the past few months, Gabby had begun bringing any of her catering leftovers to the businesses around the Design District. She'd claimed it was a loss leader—she was only going to throw the food out anyway—and this gave the local businesses exposure to her work and more opportunities to keep her in mind.

As a business strategist, she was brilliant.

But it was her spirit of generosity that made Gabby truly stand out. Quite unexpectedly, the weekly food offering had begun to make their little neighborhood a community. A small, close-knit group of business owners who looked out for each other and depended on each other.

It had been humbling to realize how much that sense of family mattered.

"I wasn't suggesting you were." Violet cursed herself for the prim attitude—hell, why did she even feel the need to answer?—and avoided looking directly at Max.

"It doesn't change the fact I want in on those leftovers. Especially if you have those little beef Wellington pastries."

"I do, and you're first on my list because of them." Gabby giggled before she patted Max on the arm. "And since I just saw one of the servers attempt to put a few cookies back on a plate that fell on the floor, I'm going to go make a nuisance of myself."

"Where?" Violet's gaze swung in the same direction as Gabby's. "I can do it."

"Nah. I feel the need to whip up a fuss. It'll make me feel better about the beef."

Before Violet could insist, Gabby was off, her long strides through the ballroom drawing more than a few appreciative stares from the wedding's guests.

"It's a good event. You, Cassidy and Lilah have done an amazing job." That husky voice slid over her like a warm bath.

"Thank you."

"Since it's running smoothly, maybe you can give me more than a cold shoulder."

Violet held the sigh and shifted her stance so she could see Max yet still keep an eye on the ballroom. "I'm just doing my job."

"Reed's on watch over Lilah, and Cassidy and Tucker have the ballroom entrance. You can take a moment and talk to me."

Violet did sigh this time, more for herself than because of his request.

Why was she so prickly around him?

Although she knew she was leery of opening up to others save close friends, she was a fundamentally kind person. And she liked other people. Heck, her business was about working with a wide variety of individuals, and she was good at it.

So why did Max Baldwin put her back up?

The man was an annoyance. That was all.

He was too big. Too loud. And far too grumpy for her taste.

He also had broad shoulders that tempted her to touch him whenever he got within fifty feet. Her fingers practically itched every time she took in the sandy-blondish hair that got darker as her gaze followed the short cut to the crown of his head.

Since her gaze did just that, a heated, appreciative rush swamped the pit of her stomach.

Damn hormones.

"I do appreciate you and the guys being here."

"Tucker and I wouldn't miss it, and Reed's still struggling with the news. I think the sense of purpose and activity helps."

Violet nodded, the reality of what Detective Reed Graystone had endured still a raw wound for all of them. Assigned to their case by someone inside the Dallas PD, Reed had only just uncovered that that connection—and corresponding corruption—had its roots in his powerful stepfather, Tripp Lange.

"Lilah's been keeping a close eye. She said he's holding up."

"Graystone's tough. He'll hold up because he has no choice. None of it changes the fact that with what he's exposed, the danger's still out there. Still lurking."

"But Tripp's in jail."

"For how long?" Max turned toward her, his eyes alight with fire and a mix of—concern? anguish?—before he pressed on. "The man's got connections layered beneath connections. You think he's going to sit in a cell for very long?"

"I think this case is too big and too strange not to catch the eye of someone who will ensure it gets solved."

"Then you're more naive than I ever gave you credit for."

Satisfaction filled his chest as the barb struck Violet square in hers. She actually sputtered before she caught herself. "I'm far from naive."

"Then start acting like it. Tripp Lange will be out ofjail before any of us can blink. I'm surprised he's still there."

"He's been exposed as a major criminal. He's got to be under tight supervision."

Max fought the urge to gently shake some sense into her, the concerns he'd harbored since discovering the cache ofjewels in the floor of Violet's business only getting stronger and more forceful by the day. Violet was the practical one of the women who ran Elegance and Lace, and even with that pragmatism, she clearly had no idea what they were up against.

"Come on, Max. I'm serious. Lange's in jail and Reed's requested any and all updates on his case. The danger has passed."

Max shrugged, his gaze drifting to where the object of their discussion stood. The good detective hovered over Lilah while his new fiancée hovered over her masterpiece of a wedding cake. "Reed's stepfather has a lot of people in his pocket. People he's paid good money for. What's their incentive to start cooperating now?"

Graystone was a good man. A more than solid cop and, from what he'd seen of the man's interactions with Lilah, as well as their broader group, an honorable soul who believed in the badge.

What did it do to a man to see those beliefs destroyed in a hard sweep of money and corruption?

He knew what it was like to have your faith in something destroyed. Your knees cut out from underneath you, even as you sank in a pool of quicksand.

Graystone would hold up, but he'd pay a price. Thankfully he had the love of a good woman—a woman he saw as his equal—to help see him through.

At the thought of having a woman, Max's gaze swung back toward Violet.

Damn, but she was a looker. Every time he got within a mile of her, a strange sort of awareness settled itself at the base of his spine, drumming on his nerves with hard spikes. He wanted to chalk it up to simple attraction, nothing more. But as easy as that would be—and nothing about Violet Richardson was easy, in the biblical sense or otherwise—he knew it was something else.

Something fierce and needy that gripped a man in a hard fever and refused to let go.

Despite knowing her for well over a year, since they were first introduced at their local business owners' meetings, and then getting to know her far better after the break-in at her shop, he still found the woman to be a mystery.

Her business partners were easygoing and friendly, and both had welcomed him into their social circle with open arms. Violet, on the other hand, had railroaded him at every opportunity. Her green eyes tempted, even as the cool set of her shoulders and that pure-as-vodka voice shut him down at every turn.

"You ever think about it?" he asked.

"About what?"

The change of topic added a hint of confusion to her question, but it also went a long way toward cooling the ire sparking at the suggestion she was naive.

He waved a hand toward the ballroom, filled to the brim with laughing people, drinking people, dancing people, many doing all three. "This. Getting hitched. Doing forever with someone."

"No."

"Because you don't want to?"

"Because I've never even come close."

He had figured her for having a swath of old boyfriends, several of whom had made it close to the fiancé stage, so the acknowledgment that she'd been no closer than he to taking a walk toward the altar was a surprise.

He brushed a finger down her cheek, the soft skin more tempting than anything he could have imagined, and he fought to keep his hand steady through the trembling that suddenly gripped him. "That's a surprise."

Her breath caught as she stared up at him, and he took it as the smallest sign of victory that she was affected. But when she spoke, it was pure Violet.

Brisk and practical.

"It shouldn't be. I'm difficult on the best of days. Something you remind me of on a regular basis."

"I've never said that."

"You don't have to."

She stepped back, her eyes wide with awareness and the wariness of cornered prey. "I need to see to a few things."

He moved into her space again, deliberately blocking her view of the ballroom. "It won't stop running without you."

"Let's not wait to find out."

He stood still for one moment longer, not sure why he was baiting her and even less sure why he'd chosen this moment. She did have a job to do and was smack in the middle of a major event.

Still, he pressed on.

"I'd like an answer to my question."

"What question is that? Why I'm so naive or why I keep ignoring you?"

"Neither. I'd like to know what you have against this." He flung a hand out in the direction of the merry revelers. "Forever."

The green eyes that usually glittered at him like hard emeralds softened for the briefest moment as she shifted her gaze toward the ballroom. But it was the light, wistful whisper that gripped him by the throat and hung on. Hard.

"You know, Max, I try to be hopeful. But most days I just think happy-ever-afters are for suckers."

* * *

Violet fought the shaking of her limbs as she strode across the ballroom. Damn Max Baldwin and his all-seeing blue eyes and his freaking questions that cut far too close.

Damn him.

A hard knot of tears thickened her throat, and she swallowed around it. She would not cry here. Goodness, what had happened to her? She was a professional. She owned a business and she was responsible for the event going on around her.

She could cry later.

On a hard breath, she gave herself a moment to collect her thoughts. She'd been doing it for years. Pressing down on the hurt and pain to ensure no one saw the wreck that lived inside. And she'd be damned if she showed that sorry face to the assembled crowd at the Kelley-Gardner nuptials. Over four hundred of Dallas's elite and she was considering a breakdown.

No freaking way.

Instead, she'd use the anger and the frustration and just work that much harder. Max Baldwin didn't know anything, and his leading questions were designed to throw her off guard.

"Violet!"

Kimberly Kelley, now Kimberly Gardner, bounced over to her on light feet. The silk creation that wrapped her tall, slender body was as traditional as it was modern. Another Cassidy Tate creation.

Her friend had managed to capture all the gravitas and elegance of a wedding while ensuring the bride still looked fully twenty-first century. Violet made a mental note to have the photographer snap some extra photos for their portfolio with the bride in motion.

"Kimberly. It's a beautiful day."

"It's wonderful and amazing, just like you promised. Jordan and I truly can't thank you and Cassidy and Lilah enough. It's the perfect day." Kimberly smiled as she took in the assembled crowd. "Perfect."

Although she only had a few years in age on the bride, Violet couldn't help thinking that bright-eyed, wondrous smile had never been hers. She'd never looked that young. And she'd certainly never been that carefree.

But she'd given tha...

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