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Feeling stronger and more determined than ever, she decided she should do this on her own. She didn’t need anyone at her side.

"Why are you coming with me? You don’t need to," she insisted.

"Yes, I do need to."

"Why?"

"I protect what belongs to me." It wasn’t until the words were out of his mouth that Liam realized what he was saying, and he grimaced inside.

She nodded. "I understand. Because I’m the asset. Phillips keeps telling me that." She sighed. "He says I can be dangerous with a computer."

"Yeah, sure. You’re the bureau’s asset. That’s why." The woman was clueless, and he was thankful for that. Otherwise, he’d have to explain what he’d meant, and he wasn’t ready to do that. He didn’t know his own mind anymore. He was thinking one thing and doing another. He couldn’t stay away from her, and the thought of any other man touching her infuriated him. He wanted her to belong to him and only him. Liam knew he was acting like a caveman, but that didn’t matter.

Damn, he really needed to get it together.

Allison leaned forward and took a good look at Liam’s face. "Are you all right? You’re frowning. Are you worried about tonight? Do you think Brett will cause trouble? Do you-"

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He stopped her before she could get more worked up. "It’ll be fine."

"You can’t possibly know that."

"Sure, I can," he replied. "Noah’s meeting us at the hotel. He promised Jordan and Alec he’d see that there was a recording of the presentation so he could e-mail it to them. He’s already checked with security to make sure their cameras are working. He even checked out the ballroom. It’s not a real big space. A platform has been set up at the far end of the room and serves as a stage. A large screen covers the wall behind it, and there are folding chairs facing the platform with a podium in the center. Brett must have a little educational film for us to see on the screen."

"On what? How to steal and get away with it?" Her voice was filled with hostility.

"But he isn’t going to get away with it, is he?"

He sounded a little too reasonable to suit Allison. "No, he isn’t."

"And when you prove he’s stolen your property, you aren’t going to cheer or gloat, are you? At least not there."

"Oh, all right," she agreed grudgingly.

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"No fighting, no tackling him to the floor, no biting . . ."

"I can’t promise no tackling."

Liam flashed a smile. He couldn’t imagine her hurting anyone. She was so soft and feminine. And gentle and kind. Too kind for her own good. The longer he’d known her, the more he’d learned about the little things she’d done to help others get through school. She was even trying to help that worthless cousin of hers. "Just behave yourself."

"My sister raised me to be a lady," she said.

"You had just started sixth grade when Charlotte left for college. You were on your own from then on, weren’t you?"

She shrugged. "Lots of people are on their own."

"When they’re twelve?"

"I’d rather not discuss my home life now." Or ever, she added silently.

He agreed with a nod. "Like I said, behave yourself tonight."

"What exactly do you think I’m going to do? Don’t worry. I won’t punch him in his phony tan face. I may want to, but I won’t."

He laughed. "That’s my girl."

He pulled into the hotel’s circle drive and parked to the side. The attendant came running, but when Liam waved him off, he turned around and hurried to assist another driver.

"The ballrooms are on the lower level," Liam said as they stepped out of the revolving glass door and into the lobby.

"I know. I pulled up the schematic."

He wasn’t surprised. Allison liked to be prepared. "You didn’t hack into the hotel’s private server, did you?"

"No, of course not. I didn’t need to." She hastily added, "And I don’t do that anymore."

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Noah was waiting for them in a hallway off the lobby. His attire was casual. Nothing in his appearance said FBI agent. He smiled as they approached. "Are you ready for this?"

"She’s ready," Liam said.

They turned and walked toward a service elevator. Allison led the way and the two men followed.

In a low voice Noah said to Liam, "I thought you were supposed to be on your way to San Antonio."

"I gave the assignment to someone else," Liam answered.

"How come?"

Liam didn’t respond.

Allison pretended she wasn’t listening to the conversation, but she wanted Liam to tell why he was still here. He didn’t seem to have an answer for Noah. Would he get into trouble for turning down an assignment? Probably not, she decided. He was too important.

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