Remember Ramsey by Cynthia Eden
Observation notes: Day one. Initial observation begins tonight. My goal is to slip into the bar and assess the subjects inside. My sources have told me that a great deal of illicit activity occurs within the confines of the bar owned by the mysterious Ramsey Hyde. Everyone knows about Ramsey’s reputation.
If I’m lucky, he’ll never even know I’m there.
Dr. Whitney Augustine took a deep breath and offered a tentative smile to the bouncer who sat on the old, wooden stool just outside of the bar.
He didn’t smile back. He glared. “Lady, what the hell are you doing here?”
“Looking for a drink?” Her brows climbed. “This is a bar, isn’t it?”
His gaze slid over her. He took in her loose, flowing top. Her jeans. Her high heels.
“Uh, is there like…a cover fee or something that I have to pay?” This was getting awkward. She’d watched other people slide inside the bar with no problem. The bouncer had barely glanced at them. But when she’d tried to stride boldly past him, he’d lifted up his hand to halt her progress.
“We’re at capacity.” He pointed over her shoulder. “You should get back in your ride and head down the road. I’m sure there are more bars open. Try finding a place on the beach.”
Her shoulders squared. “I don’t want another bar. I want this place.” Whitney released a long breath before saying the phrase she was about ninety percent sure would get her inside. “There is business I must conduct in Ramsey’s. I’m looking to hire someone for…a bit of work that I have.”
He stared back at her. Just stared.
He was in his early twenties, with long, brown hair and clad in a black t-shirt.
Whitney kept her chin up as she waited for his response. The intel she’d obtained had told her that Ramsey’s bar was a front. Inside, all sorts of dark deals were arranged. If you went in Ramsey’s, you were either a criminal or someone looking to hire a criminal.
Despite the words she’d just given to the suspicious bouncer, Whitney did not actually want to hire a criminal. She just wanted to study one. Or a few. Up close.
It was her job, after all. She was a psychologist, and her major area of focus was criminal behavior. She needed to understand the criminal mind. Needed to learn as much as she could and—
“I’ve got just the guy for you,” the bouncer surprised her by saying.
“What? You—you do?” Excitement pumped through her blood. Yes.
“Uh, huh.” He rose from the stool. “Follow me.”
She scrambled to keep up with him. “You’re just leaving your post? Is that all right? Your boss won’t get angry?” She didn’t want him to get in trouble because he was helping her.
The bar was packed. Music blared. And excitement had her whole body shaking. She’d planned for this immersive experience for weeks. To actually be in Ramsey’s had surges of nervous energy pumping through her.
“Oh, I don’t think the boss will be angry with me at all.”
She barely heard his words because a large, hulking figure had loomed in her path. Whitney quickly side-stepped that figure, only to draw up short when she realized the bouncer had stopped. He stood next to a man with thick, black hair. A man who wore an absolutely ancient-looking jacket.
“Got someone for you to meet,” the bouncer drawled. “A lady looking to hire someone to do some special kind of work.”
Her stomach twisted in knots. She’d done her research ever so carefully. Now this, this was finally it. It was one thing to just do research from the safety and comfort of her office. It was quite another to be in the field and get first-hand exposure. And it had been far too long since she’d journeyed into the field. Definitely time to get busy again.
The man at the bar slowly turned toward her, and every single bit of breath seemed to leave her in a whoosh. Whitney could not look away from the darkest, deepest eyes she’d ever seen in her life.
The noise around her seemed to mute as her heart launched into a triple-time rhythm. The man before her was dangerous. The waves of danger seemed to roll off him. He was also drop-dead gorgeous. His head tilted as he studied her, and he lifted a shot glass to his sexy mouth. His hand gripped the glass easily, and he drained the clear liquid in one gulp. Tats covered both of his hands. Swirling, fierce tats.
He put the glass down with a soft clink.
His gaze swept over her. Slowly. The bouncer had studied her, too, but this man’s gaze was different. It felt different. It felt like he was undressing her.
And she should have been completely pissed off.
She had never in her life been attracted to dangerous men. She studied those sorts of men. Wrote research papers on them. Lectured on them to her students at the college. She didn’t feel attraction to men like that. She certainly did not sleep with men like that.
Whitney had a rule. When it came to her personal life, she preferred nice, safe men.
One look at the stranger, and she knew there was nothing nice or safe about him.
“So…I’ll just leave you to business.” The bouncer. She’d almost forgotten he was there. “Have fun.” He sauntered away.
The stranger kept staring at her. At least his gaze had returned to her face. That was something. And her breathing was semi-normal again. That was something else.
He quirked one brow at her. “You gonna stand there or you gonna hop up on the stool and have a drink with me?”
She liked his voice. She should not have liked his voice because she wasn’t there to get drawn to some dangerous man. But his voice was low and rumbling and sexy. The kind of voice that would whisper to a woman in the dark and—
Nope. Stop it. Focus. You are a professional.
She’d never, ever had a reaction like this to someone she had just met. What in the world was wrong with her?
He leaned forward and patted the stool next to him. “I promise, I won’t bite.”
“Well, of course not,” she rushed to say as she hopped up on that stool. “I certainly didn’t think—”
“Unless you want me to bite. I mean, if you’re into that.” He gave her a slow, sensual smile. “Not quite sure what you’re paying me to do yet. Is it to fuck you? Is that what you want? You came in, and you’re looking for a guy to—”
“No!” Heat burned through her cheeks. This was so wrong. She grabbed his arm. Hello, muscles. “I am most certainly not here to hire someone to—to—”
“To fuck you?”
“Yes, that. Thank you.”
He laughed. “Too bad. For you, I would have offered a discounted rate.” He winked.
Her flush got worse. She yanked her hand away from his muscled arm and gave herself a quick fan with a flutter of her fingers. “It’s rather warm in here, isn’t it?”
“Not particularly.” His tattooed fingers drummed on the bar.
Trying to be casual, Whitney slid her hand into her purse and pulled out the four twenties she’d prepared. Then she inched that money toward his drumming fingers.
His eyebrows lifted. “What in the hell is that?”
“Eighty dollars. Eighty dollars is worth an hour of your time, isn’t it?” Surely it would—
“Not normally, no.”
Oh. She’d rather thought eighty would be a good starting point. “Maybe I should tell you about the job.”
He grunted. “Maybe you should.”
She risked a glance around. No one seemed to be paying them much attention, yet she had the weird feeling that everybody in that place was aware of her conversation with the stranger. Crazy, of course. But…
She pulled her stool closer to his. Their shoulders brushed. “I just want to sit with you.”
“It will be the easiest job of your life, I promise.” Her words came out in a fast, soft rush.
“You smell like raspberries.”
“I—” She got caught by his eyes. “Scented soap.”
“It’s fucking delicious.”
Whitney swallowed. Her gaze drifted over his face. A line of stubble covered what was truly a phenomenal jaw. Strong. Hard. His thick, dark hair was swept back from his high forehead. And his eyes weren’t just brown. They were golden brown.
“Back to business,” he murmured.
Oh, crap. Had she just been staring at him? How embarrassing. And unprofessional.
“You want to pay me eighty bucks so that you can sit with me. That’s a new kink.”
“It’s not a—” Her breath huffed out. “If I’m with you, then no one will look twice at me.”
“Don’t be too sure of that.”
“They’ll think we’re conducting business, and I’ll be left alone.” Her brilliant plan. She’d figured she’d be the one who picked out her partner-in-crime, so to speak, but the helpful bouncer had done the job for her. “Then I can do my work.”
His face hardened. “And what exactly is your work?” A new note had entered his voice. A low, harsh note that sent chills skating down her spine. “You a cop?”
“No! Nothing like that!” Once more, she glanced around. “And I don’t think you should be throwing out the ‘C’ word in this place. You don’t want to get us in trouble. If Ramsey hears you saying that, he’ll probably throw us both out.”
“Doubtful. I’m pretty tight with him.”
“Well, I’m not.”
Her gaze darted back to him.
He was watching her. “You don’t look like a cop. Don’t have cop eyes.”
“That’s because I’m not a cop.”
“Then what are you?”
She leaned in even closer to him. “I’m a psychologist.”
“No, I really am. And I want to have the chance to observe the behavior in this bar because I am—”
“Crazy?” he interrupted.
“No, not that, either. Thanks for asking.”
“You sure?” He hadn’t taken her cash. He had turned fully toward her. “To me, it seems like you must be nuts. Because otherwise, why the hell would you walk into this place? You must know how dangerous it is.”
Of course, she did. “That’s why I’m here.” This wasn’t an official study. Not sanctioned through her college. This was an observational process that she wanted to do for herself. She’d been shut away in the classroom too long. She needed to get out. To experience the real world.
“You know the bar is full of criminals.”
“I have heard that, yes.” Which went back to…That’s why I’m here.
“And you want to play with them? What the hell? You get off on screwing dangerous people?”
“I’m not here to screw anyone! Why do you keep getting fixated on that point?” Her breath huffed out. “Never mind. You are obviously not interested in helping me. I’ll just take my money and find someone else.” Her fingers closed around the cash.
His fingers closed around hers. A surge of heat flew from her fingertips all the way through her body. One of those electric jolts that people wrote about in books but that had never happened to Whitney before in her entire life.
“You’re not finding anyone else.”
Their heads were close. Their mouths were close. Why was she thinking about kissing him?
She licked her lips. His gaze followed the movement of her tongue, and she could have sworn that his stare heated. Whitney tried to de-escalate what felt like a majorly tense situation. “I’m not looking for trouble.”
“Could have fooled me.”
“I just want to sit here. I want to observe.”
“You want to run a freaking experiment on the people in the bar. People who are armed and dangerous and could hurt you in the blink of an eye. Did you even think about that? Did you think about how easy it would be for you to be hurt before you sashayed in here in those tight jeans and those screw-me shoes?”
“I have mace in my purse.”
His eyes squeezed shut. “Not going to fucking help you much.”
“I’m not helpless.” Her spine stiffened. “I know self-defense. And I’ve been in plenty of dangerous situations.”
His eyes opened. “That does not reassure me.” A pause. “Your name.” It was an order.
“Whitney Augustine.” She stared at him.
“Uh, this is the point where you are supposed to tell me your name,” Whitney prompted.
“How about we take a walk?”
“But I just got here. If you’re not going to take my job—”
“A walk.” He closed his hands around her waist and lifted her off the stool. “We’re going to take it now.”
“I am not going anywhere with you!” Whitney snapped even as she tried to ignore the heat that his touch had just generated. Why was she reacting this way? “Kindly take your hands off me.”
His hands dropped from her waist, but he didn’t back away. “You think this is the type of place where some white knight will rush to your rescue if you get in trouble?”
Actually, no, she rather believed the opposite. She suspected this was the kind of place where people ignored most types of trouble.
“That’s what I thought.”
Wonderful. He seemed all smug and satisfied. Good for him.
“How about this…” he murmured. “How about I promise to be on my best behavior with you? I will keep my hands off you, and we can go into the back and have a polite, private conversation. Sound good to you?”
No, it most certainly did not sound good. “You must the crazy one if you think I’ll just wander into a back room with a stranger.” Especially one as muscled and dangerous as he appeared. “My job was simple. I wanted you to just act like we were conducting business. We would have stayed right here where we were surrounded by plenty of other people. It should have been easy.” Then he’d gone and complicated things.
“I don’t think anything about you is easy…”
Was that an insult? Or a compliment? She couldn’t tell. “Just forget it. I’ll find someone else.” Whitney marched a few steps away from him.
“I don’t think I can forget you.”
“Try. Try really hard.” Her gaze was already scanning the room. Who would be her partner? Who could she pay to—
“I don’t want anyone fucking touching her.” His voice boomed out behind her.
Horrified, her head—and body—whipped around, and Whitney gaped at him.
“She’s mine, and no one will put a finger on her, no matter what wild shit she says.”
Whitney could only shake her head at him. “Do you have some sort of…issue? Like, should I call someone for you?”
She thought his lips might have twitched. Before she could say anything else—
“Sure thing, boss,” one guy called out. “We hear you.”
Her heart slammed into her chest.
Another hard slam.
This couldn’t be right. No, no, no, this had better be wrong. The handsome devil with the tatted hands and taunting, sexy grin…he could not be the boss. Granted, there were surprisingly few pictures of Ramsey Hyde online. The man had no social media presence, and the mug shots she’d found had been taken when he’d been barely legal. Those old photos looked nothing like the guy in front of her. This man could not be—
“I guess this is the part where we finish the introduction bit.” His grin stretched. “I’m Ramsey Hyde, and your sweet ass does not belong in this bar.”