Genevieve Deaux blended into the background of the vast warehouse as she watched the newly delivered boxes of supplies being unloaded. Having memorized a copy of the packing list, she mentally checked off each item as it was accounted for. A few feet away, Lynn Goldman stood by a delivery man and took her own notes about what was carried inside.
“It looks like it’s all here, gentlemen.” The raven haired lady in the tailored pantsuit smiled and initialed the forms the foremen of the delivery company handed to her.
“Not that it’s not an honor having the CEO’s own sister here to accept our delivery,” the tall, muscular driver said, “but did Charlie get canned or something? He usually checks us in when we make a delivery.”
“Charlie will be back soon, I assure you. I was in the area and my brother Raymond asked me to help out here. He still likes to keep a hands-on approach with the companies Becnel Incorporated manages.”
“Your brother?” the man’s interest was piqued.
“Raymond Becnel,” she filled him in. The man nodded, no doubt placing the name as the CEO of one of the biggest operations in the state. “Our father ran the company until he passed away. I sit on the board, but it’s Raymond who does most of the day to day management of the different holdings. I hope you have a great weekend, sir.” She handed over the clipboard and smiled warmly.
The delivery driver thought the smile sent a signal, and tried to take advantage of it. “It would be a better weekend if I had a nice lady like you on my arm.”
“My husband probably would object,” she replied and Genevieve almost chuckled from her hiding place. While investigating this case, she had familiarized herself with all the people connected with this particular company. Lynn’s husband Richard was odd; there was no other word to describe him. She was open and professional. He was dark and rarely spoke. It was hard understanding what attracted the couple to each other in the first place. Must be that old adage about opposites, Eve decided.
Eventually the guy and the rest of the delivery men got back into their truck and drove away. Unaware that Genevieve was present, Lynn locked the bay doors, switched off the lights and exited the storage room.
Genevieve stayed in her hiding spot a bit longer, allowing her eyes to adjust to the limited light in the room. Once she was fairly confident no one would come in unexpectedly, she walked over to the boxes and rechecked the inventory. She let a disgruntled sigh escape. Darn, this mystery was not going to be as easy to unravel as she had originally suspected.
When one of her business partners, who was also her brother, Paul had given her this assignment, Eve had been beyond thrilled. Her childhood crush, Lynn’s own brother, Raymond Becnel, ran this warehouse in Lake Charles, as well as many other properties in and around the Baton Rouge area. Supplies at the business had been disappearing, and Raymond had contacted Deaux Consultants to help eliminate the problem.
Eve’s twin brothers Jean and Paul ran a discrete, troubleshooting firm which specialized in eradicating business owner’s complications without drawing too much attention to the situation. Many of the Deaux siblings worked in the company in one role or another, but Genevieve was a step above most. She was a silent partner, helping to finance the start of the company when it first opened its doors eight years before.
Once she managed to figure out who was responsible for the missing supplies, Eve, as her friends and family called her, looked forward to marching into Raymond’s office and proving once and for all she was not a helpless kid any longer. She couldn’t fault him for not seeing her as a woman. After nearly a decade of suffering from her chasing after him and the twins when they were teenagers, Raymond probably thought of Eve as more of a kid sister than a potential lover.
Smiling, she longed to dispel such a ridiculous misconception. She was a woman, and had been secretly in love with the dark, sexy business man since she hit puberty. One day she had promised herself, Raymond Becnel would be forced to admit she was a desirable, independent woman. She would earn his respect, and maybe even stir up a desire to get to know her on a more intimate level.
When the warehouse light switched back on, Eve found herself blinded briefly. Heavy footsteps broke the silence and she realized someone was walking toward the recently closed bay. Eve reached into a holster hidden in the back of her pants waistband. She inched quietly back into the shadows as the heavy delivery door was lifted and a truck backed into the bay. The piercing beeping sound of the truck made her wince.
Shyly watching from behind a fork lift, she tried to make out the faces of either the driver or the person letting him in. Both were male, she decided, but their faces were covered by shadows. Pulling out her phone, she started filming what happened next. The men removed only a few boxes from the last delivery. Then they moved to other bay areas and started selecting an assortment of other supplies.
If there was a rhyme or reason to what they took, Eve had not figure it out yet. She did suspect they did not want any one section of supplies to be obviously depleted. It would buy them time before the missing items would be discovered. Most businesses might go a long time before discovering the thieves, but this one was run by Raymond Becnel, a man who noticed the most minute details and was very thorough. No doubt, he sent his own sister to check on the delivery today just to make sure the issue wasn’t with the delivery services.
After several minutes of filming, Eve found herself alone in the dark warehouse again. The robbers were in and out in less than ten minutes. The driver had dropped a cigar butt near the entrance. She used great care to secure it properly in a ziplock bag. While her company rarely ran DNA tests, if criminal charges were filed, the police might need this to link at least one of the men to the scene. Eve could not contain her excitement. Tonight, she would call in her brother Paul and review the video with him. Then tomorrow, she would bring her evidence to Raymond.
She looked forward to explaining the next steps in the investigation. She already had a good idea of the identity of the person opening the bay door. There were only so many workers in the company who had access to the business locks. But proving Charlie’s involvement was not what was important in the end. In her experience, The Who was generally easy to identify, Eve knew. It was The Why that took more patience and time to uncover. But unless both aspects were brought to light, trouble would likely return.
“Mr. Becnel,” a middle aged secretary said as she opened her boss’ office door early the next morning, “someone from Deaux Consultants is here to speak to you.”
Raymond glanced up, a quick smile forming on his hard lips. “Jean or Paul? Never mind, Janet, they look so much alike, you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart anyway…” Eve stepped inside and his words trailed off.
“I hope you can tell me apart from my brothers, Raymond. Aside from the red hair, I pray I am a bit more pleasing to look at than thirty something year old men.” Seeing the surprise on his face made Eve feel a bit giddy. All doubts about her getting over her childhood crush were gone. Something about this tall, rugged looking man called to her, making her feel wanton and feminine.
A loud whistle filled the room, and he leapt up to pull her into a close hug. His aftershave filled her nostrils. When they had been young, he often smelled like a mixture of dirt, sweat and leather. The expensive, rich scent was agreeable, but she missed the hint of leather more than she cared to admit.
“No one could confuse you with any of your brothers since you reached puberty, Genevieve.”
For a blissful, magical moment, his wonderful lips met hers. The rest of the world vanished, and she marveled in the beauty of a dream come true. Her lips were just about to part and invite him inside when he pulled back. Damn, she wanted to be back in his embrace. Consoling herself that he would soon be reveling in her progress in eliminating his Lake Charles company’s issues, she sashayed to the chair he pointed to in front of his desk.
He leaned back on the edge of the wooden desk and smiled down at her. “We haven’t seen each other in years, beautiful. Last I heard you were off to law school at Tulane. It was a major blow that one of my dearest friends turned her back on her LSU roots. We have our own prestigious law schools in Baton Rouge, you know.”
“I wanted to establish myself outside of my big brothers’ shadows. You have to admit, the three of you cast a large shadow for the rest of us. Not many Lake Charles natives care to contend with you guys’ reputations. I think one of the reasons Tulane offered me such a great scholarship in the first place was because of my last name. I made sure they realized I was not looking to play linebacker on the football team just because my brothers Jean and Paul played for LSU.”
“Jean says you used your tennis skills to win a few medals for the Green Wave.” His lopsided grin did something to the pit of her stomach, and Eve had to stop herself from staring at his lips. She had waited a long time to meet this handsome man on equal footing. From this moment on, Raymond Becnel would be forced to see her as a woman, an equal, someone impossible to walk away from without a backwards glance.
“I even managed to steal away a few wins from LSU in Track and Field,” she chuckled. When they were children, the twins, Raymond and her used to talk about going to Baton Rouge for college. The three guys went off years before she reached the proper age. Stories about the frat house fun the three had made her jealous. They chased more women than footballs, if Jean was to be believed. She knew she would never be able to handle seeing the man she planned on marrying one day playing around with other women. Tulane offered a way to avoid that.
In her mind, Eve had rationalized that the time was not right for Raymond and her to start a relationship. They each had some growing up to do before they could appreciate how right they were for one another.
In the past, she had come to depend on Raymond always being at her side, helping her fight her battles against all foes, be it with her bossy brothers or other childhood enemies. When he stopped coming back to Lake Charles after he graduated college, she had cried for weeks. Then she started making plans to run off and track him down, and demand to know how he could ever leave her behind. Eventually, it dawned on her that the man she loved was probably tired of having to spend all his time watching out for her. He was a man now, in need of a strong, self-assured mate, not a childhood pest.
Still determined to fulfill her childhood dream of being Mrs. Raymond Becnel, she reassessed her life. Was that what she was, ‘a person dependent on another for protection and self-worth’? Hell, no, she had decided. She systematically set out to learn everything she could about protecting herself and others. Genevieve did not need anyone, especially a man, to rescue her these days. She could take care of herself and her own issues. Better still, she could help the man she adored, being an asset instead of a liability for a change.
“What brings you to Baton Rouge, Genevieve? Did Paul or Jean let you tag along while they came in here to handle a job for me? How long are you planning to stay? I’d love to take you out tonight if you can manage to ditch the guys. There’s this little Italian restaurant in the city. I remember how much you love Italian food.”
Eve relaxed a bit more. Everything was falling into place perfectly. Her years of hard work and determination were finally paying off. A small part of her worried this meeting could go badly. What if Raymond might never be able to change his view of her from bratty kid to possible mate? “How is the lasagna at this restaurant? I can be a bit picky, remember? Is it anything like back home?”
“Almost as good as your momma’s,” he promised. His voice was deep. She could listen to him talk all day and never get tired of it.
Those brown eyes of his were incredibly warm and inviting. Eve’s eyes trailed down his lean, strong body and she found nothing lacking. What would he do, she wondered, if she jumped up and threw herself in his arms? Faint? Hold her tight and turn her fantasies into reality?
“I would enjoy going out to eat with you, Raymond. But let’s go back to your earlier question. I made this trip alone, so we don’t have to worry about ditching my brothers. I am here on official Deaux business, though. Paul assigned me to your case. I am happy to report I have a solid lead on how your supplies are disappearing in the Lake Charles warehouse. I came here today to discuss the situation. I would like to share the information I have gathered to date on the case so we can discuss possible avenues to eliminate the problem. Deaux Consultants defers to the client’s feelings about bringing in the authorities, but in this case, I would strongly advise you to consider it. The complex method used to pilfer the goods from your warehouse suggests an inside job. Someone within your company, or companies, may be behind this matter.”
“Why didn’t Jean or Paul come here to share the findings?” he asked, a frown marring his handsome face. “No offense, Genevieve, but this is a delicate matter. I prefer you stay as far away from the case as possible. I would never forgive myself if you got hurt because of one of my companies.”
“Paul and Jean do not handle all the cases at the firm. Neither of them came today because they are not leading this investigation.” She tried to keep the censor from her tone, but failed. Why was he having such a difficult time grasping the situation?
“Did they put Louis in charge?” he asked, and she wanted to go for his neck.
“Raymond Becnel, you are acting like a sexist jerk! I am the one handling the case.” She watched him absorb the information slowly. He was having a difficult time of it. Shaking her head side to side, she tried to keep calm. “Your mouth will dry out if you keep letting your jaw hang open like that. Now, if you are finished insulting my ability to handle this job, I would like to share some of the evidence I uncovered.”
Pulling out her laptop, she accessed the video from the night before. Setting it on his desk, she turned it to him. Most of the footage was grainy due to the shadows and distance she filmed from, but the figures moving supplies into the waiting truck were evident. Crossing her arms over her chest, she narrowed her eyes at him, daring him to question her skill now. Surely, he would have to acknowledge her abilities now.
“Tell me you did not shoot this video,” he growled, the sound resonating from deep in his chest as he turned toward her.
Eve took a step back in defense. Then she forced herself to hold her ground. This was her job. She was a professional. This might be an old friend, but she was not going to let him intimidate her. “I have more footage of other things I have uncovered, but none is as useful as this.”
“So you were inside a dark warehouse, in the middle of downtown Lake Charles, at night, all alone, filming criminals?” He backed her up towards the chair she had recently exited, and she ended up falling back into it. His strong arms rested on the arms and he leaned down until his face was inches from her own. “I thought you had finally grown up, Genevieve, but you are still the reckless little brat I had to bail out of one disaster after another as a child.”
“I don’t need anyone to bail me out these days, Raymond Becnel!” So much for impressing him. It was all Eve could do to stop herself from lashing out at him.
“What if the men in that damn video had caught you, young lady? You would have been defenseless to protect yourself.”
He was crowding her, trying to frighten her a little. Other men had tried to challenge her control in the past. Women had to fight hard in her line of work to earn respect. Men respected action over talk. Eve silently slipped the knife from her boot and let him see the sheen of the blade before laying it down on her lap. “I am never defenseless these days.” She stated, doing her best not the blink.
Eve had to admit, in hindsight, showing a weapon when she had no intention of using it against her opponent was a foolish thing to do. Raymond relieved her of her knife and proved just how vulnerable she could be. Challenging him on his own turf was not a wise move on her part either. The sharp blade was out of reach in seconds before he hauled her face down over his heavy lap in the very chair she sat in a moment before.
“I will be speaking to Jean and Paul about your lack of good judgement, young lady. Sneaking around dark warehouses, filming criminal activity instead of having the good since to run…” He kept on stringing together offenses as she fought to free herself.
Eve refused to cry out as his heavy hand landed time and again on her poor backside. It was physically painful, but more devastating was the realization her dreams of a happy reunion with her childhood hero were crashing down around her. Thank goodness she had opted to wear her thick jeans and a tailored shirt instead of the sexy dress she had considered for today’s meeting. The material offered a bit of protection for the jarring smacks.
Taking a few, calming breaths, she tried to reason with the devil beating her. The pain he was inflecting may have affected her word choice. “Jean and Paul assigned me to this case, you bastard. I happen to be a partner in the business.”
His hand paused briefly as he absorbed her words. Then he resumed. “I bet they will be interested to hear you pulled a knife on a client,” he continued lecturing, his heavy hand bouncing off her backside again and again. After what felt like an hour, but probably only amounted to minutes, he pulled her up and stood her between his legs.
Raymond’s eyes pinned her in place and she dared not move. “Had I known you would put yourself in danger because of me, I never would have called in Deaux Consultants in the first place. The thought of you in any kind of danger… Damn it, why the hell would your brothers put you in harm’s way? None of this makes sense. You are supposed to be a lawyer. Don’t you have a law degree?”
Rubbing her backside, Eve glared at him. “You are lucky I am not practicing law, right now, Raymond Becnel. I would sue your ass for personal injury. And for your information, this is the closest to a work related injury I have ever sustained while at Deaux Consultants!” Walk out, she silently ordered herself. Punch him. She would not give him the satisfaction of becoming unprofessional or childish. “Now, if you are finished bitching at me, I would like to discuss my plans for eliminating your problems at the Lake Charles warehouse.”
“You are off the case,” he scowled, standing up so he could pull out his cell from his pants pocket. He punched in a few numbers before grabbing her arm as she tried to put some distance between them.
Did he feel the same charge of energy she did when they were so close? Every hair on her body was standing on end, be it from frustration, anger or sexual energy.
“Paul, this is Ray. I’m fine. As a matter of fact, Eve is right here now. Yes, I saw the video, dammit. Upset? I sound upset? It’s one thing to let your kid sister trail after us when we were kids, buddy, but this is taking it a bit far, don’t you think? Highly qualified? You are kidding me, right? One of your best detectives? That doesn’t speak highly of your company in my opinion.”
A loud masculine groan followed as Eve gave into the urge to stomp her foot down on his polished shoe. “She could get hurt playing these games, Paul. Professional? She just smashed the damn heel of her boot on my toes. I can’t feel three of them at the moment. Yeah, well she also pulled a knife on me earlier. Care to try explaining that away? You want to talk to her? Be my guest, but keep this in mind. Either you or Jean takes over this case, or I will find some way to solve it myself. It won’t be on my head if she gets herself killed while playing like she’s one of the boys.”
Raymond handed her the phone. Eve hesitated for a moment, picturing her older brother sitting at his desk, fuming. “Before you start, you should know your best friend is a sexist jerk. Well, I didn’t use the knife on him, dammit. Yeah, well maybe he should wear steel toed shoes if his big feet are so sensitive. What are you supposed to do? Oh, I don’t know. Maybe you could try telling him he can shove his warehouse case… Listen to reason? Sure, start spouting some bits of reason and I’ll be glad to hear you out. Oh, we will definitely finish discussing this when I get back to Lake Charles,” Eve promised before she ended the call.
“Pulling me off this case will come back to bite you in the ass, Raymond Becnel,” Eve announced as she tossed his phone back to him with a bit more force than necessary. Fuming and embarrassed, Eve grabbed her things and started for the door, hoping to muster a bit of grace with her exit.
“I assume our date for tonight will have to be rescheduled,” Raymond called out.
Turning back to face him, she thought of a million ways to explain just how royally he had screwed up. She would never allow herself to spend time with him again. “It will snow in New Orleans before I ever consider going out with you again.” She slammed the door on her way out.