The Prince’s Gamble

by New York Times & USA Today bestselling author Caridad Pineiro

Two years ago, FBI agent Kathleen Martinez’s investigation into human trafficking in New York was blocked by lawyers, who represented the Ivanov royal family. The delay caused many women to suffer – and one to die. And Kathleen swore that one day, she would make the Ivanovs pay…

Now Kathleen has been assigned to an undercover operation to investigate money laundering and possible human trafficking at Atlantic City’s newest casino – Russian Nights. And the owner? None other than Prince Alexander Ivanov. He’s cold, imperious… and wickedly gorgeous. And as far as Kathleen is concerned, he’s her prime suspect.

But everywhere she turns, she finds herself fascinated by his contrasting nature – icy cool one moment, then burning hot the next. Worse still, she can’t stop herself from fantasizing about his touch. Because what Alexander wants, Alexander gets… and this is one gamble that could cost them both everything!

 

Information:

Title: The Prince’s Gamble
Author: Caridad Pineiro
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Length: 219 pages
Release Date: November 2012
ISBN: 978-1-62266-800-7
Imprint: Ignite
 
 

 
 

Praise for The Prince’s Gamble:

“I dare you not to fall in love with Prince Alexander. The Prince’s Gamble is a book you won’t be able to put down.”
- Brenda Novak, New York Times Bestselling Author

 

Excerpt:

© 2012 Caridad Pineiro

 

Prologue

Lower East Side, New York

“Did you get the warrant?” Kathleen Martinez asked as her department’s attorney pushed through the sea of FBI agents and local police waiting to rush the warehouse located at the far end of the block.

“Right here, Special Agent Martinez.” The young attorney slapped the papers into Kathleen’s hand.

Unwilling to risk that the case could get tossed due to even one miniscule error in the warrant, Kathleen carefully scanned the papers.

“Would you believe Ivanov’s lawyers were still trying to stonewall us before the judge, claiming their clients were unavailable?” the attorney said.

Kathleen blew out an annoyed breath. “I believe it.”

It had taken them weeks to track down the trail of a white slavery ring. An assortment of wiretaps and round-the-clock surveillance had led the FBI to this warehouse location on the Lower East Side, but for the last three days the warehouse owner’s attorneys had been tossing  one road block after another in their way to prevent their entry into the building.

But no longer, she thought as she finished reading the warrant.

“Nice job, Agent Fleming. We’ve got everything we need here.” She passed it to the police lieutenant who would make the official arrests.

Turning to the men and women waiting for her word, she directed them to various positions based on the blueprint of the warehouse they had gotten from Ivanov’s real estate agent.

“Two people on each door,” she said and gestured each duo as to where to go.

“You two go to the roofs across the street. Signal when you’re in position. I’ll give the call to go in. Remember these are members of the Russian mob, so expect them to be well-armed and extremely dangerous. They may be holding captive at least half-a-dozen women.”

At her go-ahead gesture, her team donned their eye and ear protection against the stun grenades they would be using as they entered. The agents fanned down the block and into place. She looked at her partner. “You ready to roll, Kearny?”

Her partner checked his gun and nodded. “Ready when you are, Martinez.”

She took a deep breath and shifted her bulletproof vest for both comfort and security. She reached down and pulled her Sig-Sauer from her side holster. Made sure the magazine was securely in place and that another few rounds were in easy reach on the weapons harness strapped around her waist.

Engaging her radio, she instructed, “Units, report.”

One by one they confirmed they were ready, and she gave the go order. Once they were in, they would rely on hand signals due to the noise of the flash-bangs.

In practiced synchronicity they surged forward, keeping out of the line of sight until they were close to the warehouse. At another command, they breached the various entrances and announced themselves.

“FBI. Drop your weapons,” Kathleen called out as she entered, gun drawn. When they pushed ahead, a barrage of bullets greeted them.

She ducked behind a tall pile of equipment in wooden crates to avoid the automatic weapons fire. The seemingly endless stream of bullets ate away her protection and sent splinters of wood flying all around. She crouched down low and returned fire, taking out one man as he popped out from behind a corner to shoot in her direction.

From the far side of the building, one of her team members tossed out a flash-bang grenade and she prepped for the disorienting noise and flash. The loud explosion and blinding light from the grenade was followed by excited shouts in Russian and yet more gunfire. The physical concussion of the sound registered more than the sound itself thanks to the ear protection she wore.

She gave the hand signal to move ahead and then charged forward, her partner Kearny providing cover for her until she found protection behind a large pile of pallets. She covered for him, and from the rear of the building came the pop-pop-pop of pistol fire and another powerful flash-bang explosion. A drift of smoke wafted into the air. One of the grenades must have ignited something in the warehouse.

A squat muscular man in a tank top that exposed his tattooed upper body burst from the haze created by the grenades. Riding low against his hip was an AK-47 that he fired ahead of him, indiscriminately sweeping the weapon back and forth to take down anything in his way.

Both she and Kearny fired, catching the shooter mid-body with several shots, and he crumpled to the ground. She rushed ahead to pull the weapon away from him.

“Secure him,” she instructed her partner and moved forward with two other agents who had cleared their way through the warehouse to join them. According to the blueprints, there were a series of rooms in the lower level of the building, but the stairs to reach them were in the center of the space.

The haze of smoke from the small fires the grenades had started obscured her vision. They were done with the flash-bangs and now there was chatter across her radio as her fellow agents advised they were securing the various areas of the warehouse. By the time she and Kearny reached the center stairs, all gunfire had ceased.

“Has the area been secured?” she asked her team members, and one by one they confirmed it.

She looked at the two agents with her and jerked her head in the direction of the stairs. “Follow me.”

Gun held at the ready, she verified that the stairwell was clear and rushed down with the two agents at her back. The stairs took them to a large open space lit by bright vapor lights. That empty space was ringed by a series of small closed stalls. From inside the stalls came an assortment of whimpers and screams.

Female voices, she was certain. The women who they had feared had been taken for the white slavery ring.

A ring with keys hung by the first stall door. She holstered her weapon and glanced at her backup as she approached the stall.

“Cover me.”

She located the key for the first unit, slipped it in, and unlocked the door. She jerked it open and the stench of offal and body sweat was so strong that it nearly drove her back. She rushed into the stall where a woman cowered in the corner, dirtied and scared.

The woman held her hands in front of her face as if to ward off a blow, revealing the weeping sores on her skin from the shackles on her wrists. A long heavy chain connected the shackles to the wall of the warehouse.

Kathleen cursed beneath her breath and approached the woman. Kneeled down before her to offer comfort. “We’re the FBI. You’re safe now.”

The woman began to cry, huge, heaving sobs that wracked her body and tightened Kathleen’s gut with anger.

With each stall they opened, the scene was repeated. Until the last one.

The woman in the corner this time was silent. Immobile. Kathleen touched her arm, but the woman didn’t respond. As she slipped her hand down to feel for a pulse, the woman’s hand dropped away limply and Kathleen found herself staring into dull, lifeless eyes.

Her body was still warm. She had not passed all that long ago.

Rage filled Kathleen’s gut. If they had just gotten here a little sooner, she might be alive. She rose slowly, hands fisted as her partner laid a hand on her shoulder.

“There was nothing you could do, Martinez.”

“We could have gotten here earlier, Kearny. We could have stopped this,” she said, gesturing to the woman’s still body.

“This blood isn’t on our conscience. It’s on the traffickers. And on Ivanov and his damn lawyer for delaying us,” Kearny replied.

She nodded and walked from the room to where her team was aiding the women they had managed to save. A host of EMTs had arrived to care for them as well as those who had been injured in the gun battle.

Luckily none of her people had suffered any serious injuries.

As she and Kearny directed the agents and EMTs on what to do, one thought kept running through the back of her brain.

Ivanov and his cohorts would pay for the delay that had cost that woman her life and added days of misery to the other captives.

No matter what it took, she’d make sure those responsible would get the punishment they deserved.

 

 

Chapter One

Atlantic City, New Jersey

Two years later

“I’ve heard you’re like tenth in line to the throne.”

Prince Alexander Ivanov smiled blandly as the young super model eyed him the way she might a bonbon she wanted to devour. Given the woman’s track record with men, Alexander suspected he would end up in the same place as that bonbon: eaten and then lost in the toilet to avoid the consequences.

“To be honest, I’m not really sure where my family fits into the whole succession scheme,” he replied, his tone as iced as the vodka they were sipping.

“Not possible,” she replied with a giggle he supposed she thought was sexy. She clutched the sleeve of his dinner jacket and leaned in, displaying her surgically amplified cleavage.

“Very possible, actually. I prefer that people judge me not by the Ivanov family name, but by what I accomplish.”

If the gathering in the casino party area was any measure of his success, he was in good shape. A dozen or more A-listers and even more wealthy and powerful New Jerseyans backslapped each other and tossed back drinks. It had only been months since Hurricane Sandy and its destruction.  Reaching this point was a sign that things might be on their way back to normal.

Before his guest could dither another word, Alexander’s security chief slipped in through a private entrance. The set of his face spoke volumes.

“Please excuse me. It looks as if I’m needed.” With a regally dismissive dip of his head, he strode to his chief’s side.

“Still no sign of her?”

Jim Reynolds, his security chief, shook his head. “No sign and no word. That’s not like Vanessa.”

No, it wasn’t. Vanessa Wilson, their chief hostess for the Winter Palace, the upscale restaurant in Alexander’s Russian-themed casino, had never even been late to work. Now she’d been missing for nearly two days.

“You tried her mother?” They eased out of the party room and away from the casino’s vodka and caviar tasting festival.

Jim nodded as they headed to the personnel-only elevators. Alexander slipped in the key to access his private penthouse floor. After they were in the elevator and the door closed, his chief blew out a harsh breath.

“That’s what’s got me worried, boss. Her mom says they’d been a little short on cash, but all of a sudden Vanessa had a wad of bills in her purse.”

Alexander considered the report while they swiftly rose the twenty stories to his office and adjacent apartment. Vanessa was known to gamble at other casinos, and while he hoped the money had been from a streak of good luck, her disappearance warned otherwise.

Once they were safely behind closed doors in his office, he offered his chief a glass of wine, but the man politely refused.

Jim was the consummate professional, but then again, Alexander was much the same way. Some might even say he spent way too much time working and not enough time playing—namely his match-making mother—but Alexander didn’t care. He was determined to make the casino a success.

“What are you thinking, boss?” Jim asked at his prolonged silence.

“I’m thinking that between Vanessa’s disappearance and those escorts who have been visiting a little too often—“

“We’ve got trouble,” Jim finished.

“Can you guesstimate how many chips they’ve cashed in?” Alexander sat down behind his large, black lacquer desk.

Jim’s shoulders did a hesitant rise and fall. “Hard to say. Not enough individually to trigger a currency transaction report.”

“But a tidy sum altogether. Do you think they’re trying to launder money?” Alexander asked, while at the same time hoping his security chief would deny it.

“It’s very possible.” Jim stood before the desk, one hand clasping his wrist, legs slightly apart, in his veteran stance. The Marine MP years showed on his craggy face and the salt and pepper hair kept ruthlessly buzzed close to his scalp. His fighting condition body testified to his disciplined nature.

“We should call in the authorities, even if these women haven’t done enough to trip the reporting requirements.” Alexander steepled his forearms before him, twined his fingers together, and regarded his man.

Jim made a face as if something smelled bad at the mention of the Feds, but eventually shrugged his agreement. “What about Vanessa?”

His hostess’s absence and her sudden cash flow were worrisome. “If she’s involved, she’s in trouble. More reason for us to get the Feds involved immediately.”

Jim nodded and gestured to the phone on Alexander’s desk. “Do you want to make the call or should I?”

“It’s my family’s name on the building. I’ll make the call.”

Kathleen sat in her boss’s office and flipped through the report on Prince Alexander Ivanov—basic bio, assorted school transcripts, family history, and a vast collection of newspaper and magazine clippings. Many touted the opening of his themed casino in Atlantic City, the third jewel in the family’s gaming empire. They also owned casinos in Monaco and Macao. The family’s corporation owned it, but it was clear the casino was the prince’s brain child.

It had also been the prince who had donated not only millions, but his own personal time to help those who had been impacted by the hurricane which had nearly destroyed Atlantic City almost six months earlier. Even though the casino and the boardwalk had suffered damage in the days after the storm, the prince had opened the casino halls and rooms to house those who had been trapped by the surging waters or had lost their homes.

Within a few weeks of feverish work, the boardwalk in front of his casino had been rebuilt and the casino’s damage had been repaired and reopened. Not that you could really call the prince’s endeavor just a casino. Unlike some of the other Atlantic City gambling establishments, Russian Nights was obviously intended to be a “destination,” Kathleen thought as she ran down the list of amenities available to Russian Nights’ assorted guests.

Missing from the report on the prince? Any hint of the FBI’s earlier encounter with the Ivanov family, or why they were once again in front of the Agency.

“Color me confused, sir. What do we have to do with the prince?” she said, and caught another glimpse of his photo. Handsome didn’t quite cut it as a description. Stunning, possibly even beautiful, if you could call a man beautiful. But no amount of handsome could excuse being slime.

She closed the file and forced herself to focus on her boss, Assistant Director in Charge Tom Roberts, as he shifted uneasily in his chair.

“Ivanov called late last night and was routed to me. He has concerns about a missing hostess and a load of escorts cashing in chips,” Roberts advised.

“The chip cashing could be part of a money laundering operation. Has he filed the necessary reports?” she asked. Ivanov should have complied with the Bank Secrecy Act requirements for casinos if he was so worried.

“As far as we can tell, based on some very preliminary investigations, Ivanov is on the straight-and-narrow. But again, that’s very preliminary.”

Kathleen could read between the lines. Until cleared, Ivanov was a suspect. She was on board with treating him that way for her own reasons. “Two years ago in New York, I was involved in a case trying to shut down a white slavery ring.”

“Does this have something to do with Ivanov?”

She nodded. “We located a warehouse in Manhattan owned by one of the Ivanov family corporations. Their lawyers stonewalled us when we asked to search the premises. A woman died as a result. Others suffered longer than they should have.”

Roberts contemplated her and rubbed his chin. “Do you think the Ivanovs were involved with the white slavery ring?”

Kathleen mentally replayed all that she remembered of the investigation, wanting to be accurate. “There was nothing to connect the Ivanovs to the crime, but I never understood why they had their lawyers create such a fuss if they were innocent. I’ll have my old files transferred to us to refresh my memory and see if there’s anything I missed. I can also ask the locals if they have any reports of missing women in the area.” She paused and then plowed on. “That is if you want me on this case?”

Roberts gestured to the folder before her. “We asked you to transfer from New York because of your expertise with crimes of this nature, but since we’re not sure of Ivanov, I’d like you to be a little more hands on.”

“Hands on?” She opened the folder again to see Ivanov’s face staring out at her. She supposed with his looks, money, and royal connections, many women would love to be all “hands on” with him, but she didn’t. She’d already had a taste of the Ivanovs, and it had soured her impression of the family, and of him.

“What exactly did you have in mind, sir?”

Roberts grasped another folder, slapped a thumb drive on it, and pushed it in her direction. “Ivanov sent over quite a lot of information. I had another agent review it and I have no doubt that there is money laundering going on. It’s normally not in our jurisdiction, but combined with the possible kidnapping, it’s been decided we’ll keep the case.”

Kathleen set aside the thumb drive and did a quick flip through the information as well as the notes provided by the other agent. It was clear someone was moving large sums of cash and also funneling some of it to accounts in the Cayman Islands. All the data pointed to money laundering going on at the casino.

“It definitely looks like something we should investigate. If there’s a missing woman, there’s a strong possibility she’s connected to this somehow,” she said.

“That’s why I want you undercover in the casino as a new member of the Russian Nights security staff. That should make it easier for you to walk around and see what’s happening.”

“Twenty-four–seven?”

“Twenty-four–seven. Ivanov is providing accommodations for you. We’ll select additional personnel to assist you. In the meantime, I’ll get others working on the missing hostess and have them report to you.”

Kathleen again flipped through the folder, considering her boss’s request. She normally didn’t do undercover, although she prided herself on being prepared for any situation. Not to mention that money laundering in the casinos fed a number of criminal enterprises as well as terrorist activities. Some of the 9/11 hijackers had been in Vegas before the attack, probably to collect the monies necessary for their sick plans.

Then there was Alexander Ivanov himself. She took out the glossy photograph and stared at his perfect face. She could almost see the silver spoon in his hand and women trailing after him for a taste of what he offered. But nearly four years in the FBI had taught her that people like Prince Alexander thought themselves above the law. Whatever his rationale for calling them in, she’d ferret out the truth—and make sure no one got hurt. Not like two years ago.

She closed the file. “When do I start?”

“I’ll call the prince and tell him to expect you by noon.”

She nodded, but added, “I’ve had some phone contact with a police officer in the area as part of other investigations. Detective Peter Roman. He may have more on what’s happening, as well as on Ivanov. I’ll check in with him first if you don’t mind. We’ll need the locals to help us with the arrests anyway.”

“It’s your case, Special Agent. Whatever you think is appropriate.”

 

 

Chapter Two

The sound of saws and construction reached Kathleen’s ears as she drove along the street on her way to the Russian Nights casino. Even after so many months, parts of the city were still being rebuilt, but bigger and better from what she could see. Pride filled her at the resiliency of the American people and New Jerseyans in particular. In minutes she had parked in the area of the boardwalk that had already been rebuilt, where she was supposed to meet her local law enforcement contact.

Atlantic City Police Detective Peter Roman looked nothing like a run-of-the-mill cop, Kathleen thought as she caught a glimpse of him as he lounged against the boardwalk railing, munching from a bag filled with peanuts. Even the rumpled off-the-rack navy blue suit could not detract from looks which could grace an Abercrombie & Fitch advertisement. Shaggy brown hair framed chiseled features and eyes an intriguing shade of gold-green. His body was lean, tall, and from what she could see beneath his suit jacket, very nicely muscled.

She walked toward him, the smell of fresh wood filling her senses. She hadn’t taken more than a step or two when his cop’s eyes shifted from his perusal of the gleaming new boardwalk area to her. A slow smile spread across his face and he held out his hand as she approached.

“Special Agent Martinez, I presume.”

She dipped her head and shook his hand. “Detective Roman.”

He gave a come-with-me gesture with his head, and they started a slow stroll along the boardwalk, his gaze continuously scouring the area. “I appreciate you meeting me down here.”

“Are you on a stakeout?” she asked and looked around, vigilant for anything out of the ordinary.

He shook his head and offered her the bag of nuts. Candied ones, she noted, but declined his offer.

“No, thanks. So are you looking for someone?”

“Just keeping my fingers on the pulse of what’s happening. It’s been a challenge with all the building and the changes going on,” he answered, his tone droll as he shook out some nuts and popped them into his mouth.

Kathleen smiled and jerked her chin toward an older couple being brushed past by a young man. “You mean like that pickpocket over there?”

“Damn, good catch.” The detective hurried toward the youth as he walked away, but some internal sense must have registered. The thief looked back, saw them, and shot off at a run.

“Stop! Police,” Roman called out, but the youth only increased his pace and started tossing things in their way. Such as an older woman, whom Peter ran around and she hurdled over, gaining a foot or two on the thief. And a pushcart that banged painfully into her hip and made her stumble for a moment before she recovered.

Luck was on their side as a family in one of the rented surreys, unaware of the chase, veered in front of their suspect, knocking him off balance.

Roman used the opportunity to throw himself forward and tackle the suspect to the ground. He had one arm restrained and his knee pushed deep into the suspect’s back when Kathleen arrived next to them. With a quick pull, Roman secured both wrists with a cable tie and warned the suspect, “Don’t move, or I’ll add resisting arrest to the charges.”

He frisked the young man’s clothing and pulled out not one, but four wallets he had lifted. “Been busy, I see.”

“I want a lawyer,” the young man said, a regular in the system to know his rights without them being read. But Roman recited them anyway, then called in for a black and white to take him away.

As they stood there, waiting for the police car, with tourists milling around them to see what was happening, Kathleen said in a low voice that only he could hear, “I understand you’re familiar with Alexander Ivanov?”

“I am. I have personal reasons for keeping my eyes and ears open for what’s happening there.”

The sharp chirps of a siren and flashing lights from the side street off the boardwalk signaled the arrival of the uniformed police officers. They hurried over from their car and Peter gave them instructions on what to do. Once he was done, they resumed their stroll along the new section of boardwalk. Peter stopped to buy another bag of nuts to replace the ones he’d lost during the chase.

She pressed on with her earlier questioning about the prince. “Based on your information, do you think Ivanov’s clean?”

With a determined nod, he confirmed it. “Ivanov keeps a close eye on everything that’s happening and I have no doubt that everything he does is legal. But it’s a big place. Huge, actually. Something may be going on without his knowledge.”

“Are there any other missing women in the area?”

Roman nodded. “We had a serial killer a year or so back we still haven’t caught, but nothing to say he’s at work again. His targets were low level prostitutes.”

“And who cares about them, right?”

“I care,” he said and tapped at his chest. “I care, and I won’t stop until he’s caught.” His determination rang true.

“Anything else?” she asked.

“A few missing younger women. Could be runaways. We’ve been trying to track them down. Are you worried about anything in particular?”

“Money laundering can be connected to a number of illegal activities, but given the missing women you just mentioned, I’m concerned about a possible white slavery ring.”

“One of my colleagues is working the missing women angle. I’ll talk to him and send you what we have.”

“I’d appreciate that.” She reached into her suit jacket pocket and handed Roman her business card. He glanced at it and slipped it into his pocket.

She left him strolling down the boardwalk and hurried back to her car. Ivanov had been expecting her at noon, but she was running a little late. The prince probably didn’t appreciate being kept waiting, but he would soon discover that she wasn’t someone who kowtowed to the rich and famous.

He was going to have to prove to her what kind of man he was in order to earn her trust and respect.

Alexander paced before the floor to ceiling windows in his office and stared down at the activity on the boardwalk. Pedestrians scurried from casino to casino and the hole-in-wall tourist and food shops tucked in between. Others sat on benches at the boardwalk’s edge, soaking in an unusually strong early spring sun. Braver souls had laid out towels on the once again pristine gap of beach that stretched as far as he could see.  In the days and weeks after the hurricane, litter had been strewn all along the sands and what little had remained of the boardwalk.

He smiled as he saw that miles away, the rebuilding of the last bit of boardwalk was almost done. In a few other areas, fresh construction continued, bringing hope as well as needed jobs, homes and businesses.

While he always enjoyed the sights at all hours of the day, he had better things to do right now. He shot another glance at his gold Philippe Patek watch.

Twenty minutes late. Twenty minutes of doing nothing while he waited. He wasn’t a man used to doing nothing. It was why months earlier he had rolled up his sleeves and gotten to work helping others when the need had arisen during the storm.

His phone buzzed. He whirled from the windows and strode to his desk. With a sharp jab of the button, he answered. “Yes, Tabitha.”

“Special Agent Martinez is here for you.”

“Finally. Please send her in.”

Arms akimbo, he braced himself for her entry. Although involving the authorities was the right thing to do, he still wasn’t totally comfortable with the decision. Call it a byproduct of his family history with authoritarian regimes, as well as concern for the casino’s reputation. His family could not afford any negative publicity or possible issues with the Gaming Commission.

Nothing, however, prepared him for her arrival.

Full of urgent energy, she barreled through the door. Her long-legged stride carried her to his desk in short order.

Tall and lean, her tailored black suit hid none of her curves and showed off the tone in her incredibly long legs. Dark chestnut hair gleamed with reddish highlights and hung to her shoulders in fringed layers. It was slightly disheveled and one side of her bright white shirt was pulled out of her pants slightly, as if she’d been in some kind of altercation. The rumpled look didn’t work for him. He generally surrounded himself with people who took great care with their appearance.

The deep hue of her hair contrasted with the creamy tones of her face and eyes that were a kaleidoscope of hazel, blue, and green shards. Downturned corners marred full lips which might be quite amazing if she smiled.

She brusquely stuck out a hand with well-kept, but unpolished, nails. Her palm was warm and smooth as he shook her hand. Her fingers were elegant, her grip powerful. It wasn’t hard for him to picture those strong fingers moving against his body.

Because he needed a distraction from the sudden flare of desire she roused, he pulled his hand from hers and jammed it on his hip again. “I was expecting you nearly half an hour ago.”

Kathleen would not apologize for her tardiness, so she got right to the point. “I understand you have a missing hostess and concerns about some possible money laundering.”

He rocked back on his heels and a momentary flicker of annoyance showed on his face before he schooled his emotions. He tucked the papers into a file and then laid it before her. Gesturing to it with a negligent flip of his hand, he met her gaze full on once more, his features hard and unyielding. Cold as a Siberian winter.

“We’ve put together some information which I assume your boss has shared with you. I hope to have more for you later. My chief of security will be joining us shortly to get you settled.”

Despite his tone and attitude, it was hard for Kathleen to ignore that he was an incredibly handsome man. The pictures and clippings in her file had not done him justice.

Ivanov stood at least six foot two with broad shoulders that strained the expensive fabric of his designer suit. His well-muscled upper body flowed into lean hips and powerful legs.

She dragged her attention back to his face. The muscles in his chiseled jaw clenched with annoyance. It was hard to tell if he had full lips from the angry slash of his mouth. High cheekbones served to highlight winter blue eyes with an exotic tilt. Or maybe his eyes only seemed clear as the sky due to the midnight hair ruthlessly styled into place.

Two gorgeous men in one day, and just her luck they were both connected to her investigation. But while Detective Roman still possessed a hint of boyishness in his features, Alexander was a man with a capital M. Her flare of attraction to him was disturbing on several levels.

First, there was the whole prince thing. She was nowhere in his league, and had never pictured herself as a princess. Add to that the fact that he was a possible suspect and it would be professionally unethical for any involvement. Finally, he had the blood of that dead woman on his hands. Because of all those things, she had to keep her unnerving attraction to him from distracting her.

“There’s no need for a room in the hotel,” she said, and watched the crystalline blue of his eyes chill to an icy frost.

“When my senior security people are on duty, they have accommodations here due to their long work hours. It’s for your convenience and comfort, not mine, I assure you.”

You had to pick your battles and since it seemed this was one she would not win, she nodded. “All right. Thank you.”

Before she could continue, his administrative assistant notified him that Chief of Security Reynolds had arrived.

“Please send him in.” The “please” did little to change the command in his tone, but Kathleen gave him props for at least making the effort.

She did a partial pivot toward the door and the older man who entered. She guessed him to be in his late fifties and definitely either former military or law enforcement, judging from his bearing and the precise manner in which he approached.

“Jim Reynolds,” he said, and shot out his hand.

Kathleen shook it, noting the work-roughened callous on his palm. “Special Agent Kathleen Martinez.”

Alexander acknowledged his chief with a warm smile that evaporated his earlier frostiness. “I was just advising Ms. Martinez—”

“That’s Special Agent Martinez,” she reminded him.

With a condescending nod, he corrected himself. “Jim, please show Special Agent Martinez around. Let her get the lay of the land. I’d like to reconvene at six for a more detailed briefing and then dinner.”

“I can do dinner on my own, thanks,” she said, annoyed by his presumptuousness.

“I insist, Special Agent. It will allow us to get to know each other better,” he replied, although judging from the look on his face, he was no more pleased by the prospect than she was.

“Friday night dinners are kind of a tradition around here. I think you’ll enjoy it,” his security chief advised, sensing the ongoing clash of wills and trying to ease the tension.

“Let’s see how things go during your briefing. I may need to provide my initial report in person to my Assistant Director in Charge,” she explained, and fired a glance at Ivanov.

The chill in his demeanor returned and icy anger had taken hold, as well. “Then I suggest you get going.”

She bit back a retort to his dismissal. She did not usually have a problem with authority, but his superior attitude was really stirring awake her rebellious streak. She reminded herself there was possibly a woman’s life at stake. Because of that, she wouldn’t delay any longer.