Forbidden Touch

Forbidden Touch
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He was a hardened former marine with a guarded past…until one touch from Iris Browning became his undoing. Thanks to the raven-haired beauty, reclusive millionaire Maddox Heller found himself back in the line of fire, chasing down an elusive killer who'd made Iris his next target. She claimed not to know why, and every instinct told Maddox to believe her.Still, trusting this virtual stranger seemed risky, especially as their relationship grew increasingly personal. Now, as ghosts from the past threatened to destroy the present, would one forbidden touch bring pleasure…or pain?

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For Gayle Wilson, whose wonderful stories made me

want to be a Harlequin Intrigue author in the first place.


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen


Chapter One

Pain snaked up Iris Browning’s spine and squeezed, stealing her breath. She stumbled to a halt, her sudden stop earning a French epithet from a blonde walking on the sidewalk behind her. The woman swung her head around as she passed, glaring and gesturing.

“Sorry,” Iris murmured, moving off the sun-baked sidewalk and leaning against the warm stucco facade of a dive shop. She breathed deeply, the tangy sea air filling her lungs and beginning to clear her pain-fuzzed brain.

“Are you okay, sugar?” A man’s drawl, molasses-slow and unmistakably Southern, rumbled from somewhere to her right. She opened her eyes, squinting against the tropical sun, and found a pair of slate-blue eyes fixed on her.

The speaker was not a local, though his sun-bronzed skin suggested he’d been in the tropics awhile. He sat at a small wooden table near the front of an open-air café. His long, muscular legs stretched out in front of him, clad in a pair of denim cutoffs that had seen better days. His cotton T-shirt, though worn loose and untucked, did little to hide his broad shoulders or muscular chest.

Iris raised her eyes to meet his curious gaze. “I’m fine.”

He pushed back from the table, his chair scraping the concrete floor, and stood to face her. “You don’t look fine.”

“Gee, thanks.” She tried for sardonic but didn’t quite achieve it. Annoyed at her weakness, she pushed away from the wall. Her knees wobbled but she managed to stay upright.

Remember why you’re here, Iris.

Ignoring her instinct to run, she crossed to him and pulled a photo from her pocket. It was becoming dog-eared, thanks to her morning’s efforts. “Have you seen this woman?”

The stranger’s brow wrinkled as he studied the face. “Can’t say I have.” He looked up. “Friend of yours?”

“She was supposed to meet me yesterday afternoon. She didn’t show.” The anxiety writhing in her stomach had been building since she’d arrived by cab at the hotel to discover Sandrine missing. The concierge had told her Sandrine hadn’t checked out, but none of her friend’s things were in the room she and Iris were supposed to share. Iris didn’t want to think the worst, but the alternatives didn’t make much sense.

As the blue-eyed stranger handed the photo back to her, his fingers brushed hers. A dark sensation roiled through her, pulling her attention back to the present. It wasn’t physical pain, like the earlier sensation, but an emotional one, black and bitter like strong coffee.

She jerked her hand back, losing her grip on the photo. It fluttered to the floor, faceup.

The man’s eyes narrowed as he picked up the photo and handed it to her. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to invade your personal space.”

She realized how he must have interpreted her quick retreat from his touch. “You didn’t,” she assured him, her voice more gruff than she intended. The blackness swirling through her thickened, slowed to a poisonous crawl.

“You’re not used to this heat. Why don’t you sit down? I’ll buy you something to drink.”

She looked up at him, intending to refuse. But the wariness in his eyes struck a nerve. Her earlier reaction to his touch had wounded him, somehow. She found herself unable to compound the insult by rebuffing his offer.

Besides, she was tired and thirsty.

Relenting, she sat in the chair he held out for her. The stranger disappeared for a moment, returning with a chilled bottle of water, already uncapped. He set it in front of her and took the chair on the opposite side of the table.

“Name’s Maddox.” His gaze followed the bottle to her lips.

Iris began to take a sip, then stopped. How many rules of traveling alone had she just broken? She set the bottle back on the table and looked nervously at her companion.

A wry smile curved his lips, carving dimples in his bronzed cheeks. She felt a bubble of unexpected attraction pop and spread through her chest. “Sorry. Guess I should have left it unopened. I’ll get you another one.”

She shook her head. “I’m okay.” She started to stand, but fresh pain assaulted her, driving her back to her seat.

“I’ll get you another one,” he repeated firmly.

She watched him cross to the bar and order another water. He paid in cash and brought the unopened bottle back to her. She opened the bottle and took a sip.

“Had any sleep?” he asked.

She eyed him warily. “How bad do I look?”

Maddox grabbed the other bottle of water and took a swig before he spoke. “You look tired. A little pale. Not bad.”

“I just want to find Sandrine.”

“That’s a pretty name.” He gestured at the photo on the table. “Pretty girl. Maybe she met somebody here—”

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