"My aunt. I had an argument with my aunt and uncle today" was all she said.

"These are the people who raised you?"


"No, my sister, Charlotte, raised me. She took care of me and protected me from them."

She gazed out the window again while she gathered her thoughts. She suddenly had this bizarre desire to pour her heart out to him, yet at the same time she didn't want him to know how screwed-up her life had been . . . and how pathetic. His opinion of her mattered, and for the life of her she couldn't understand why. On the other hand, he already knew she was a criminal-she'd admitted breaking the law countless times-what difference did it make if he also knew about her personal problems?

Liam waited for her to explain further. When she remained silent, he sat back and watched her. He was trying to figure out why he was so drawn to her. Yes, she was incredibly sexy and attractive. Yeah, right. Attractive? She was a sight more than simply attractive. She was stunning. Every man's head had turned as she walked to their table. She didn't notice. He sure as certain did. He'd dated a lot of beautiful women, but to him there was something special about Allison, and it had nothing to do with her looks. He liked the fact that she was so damn smart. He didn't like seeing her so vulnerable, though. The overwhelming urge to protect her returned. That wasn't unusual, was it? He was an FBI agent, and wasn't it his job to protect and serve? Damn right it was.

Where did wanting to take her to bed fall under his job description? He really needed to get it together and stop thinking about how good it would be with her. But first, he was going to have to stop staring at her mouth.

"What are you thinking about?" she asked.

He wondered how she would react if he told her the truth. "Why do you ask?"

"You looked so intense. Not so much now, though."

Jim stopped by to say hello again and to find out what they wanted for dinner.

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"We're really slammed tonight," he remarked in his thick Boston accent as he pulled out a chair and sat, never taking his eyes off Allison. He reminded her of an old sea captain. There were deep lines in his face from exposure to sun and wind.

Liam made the introductions. Allison smiled and said hello, but Jim appeared to be tongue-tied. He finally found his voice and said hello to her. Then he turned to Liam and said, "She's pretty, isn't she?"

"Yes," Liam agreed, then changed the subject. "What's on the menu tonight?"

"You'll want the chowder."

Allison didn't have much of an appetite, and she would have been fine with a couple of crackers, but she followed Jim's recommendation. As soon as she tasted the chowder, her appetite came back. It was absolutely delicious. She ate every bit of it, and when she was finished, she sipped hot tea while she watched Liam devour a second bowl of chowder. She had never met anyone like him before, and she'd certainly never been this attracted to any other man. She was beginning to feel she didn't have to be on her guard every second.

Though she tried, she couldn't stop thinking of how it would feel if he kissed her. She'd probably melt in his arms. The crazy idea made her smile. She was letting her imagination get out of hand, she decided. So, to take her mind off her silly fantasy, she turned her thoughts back to the serious issues in her life, not the least of which was the fact that she and her sister had been lied to for years.

As though reading her mind, Liam broke into her thoughts. "What happened today?"

His question caught her by surprise. "Why do you think something happened?" she asked.

"The look on your face when you opened the door. You were upset. You said you'd had an argument with your aunt and uncle."

"It was a bad day. That's all."

"Tell me," he said. He started to add, "You'll feel better," but caught himself in time. He had the feeling she'd get her back up. Or bolt. She was already sitting on the edge of her chair. 

"Do you have any idea how bossy you are?"

"Yes, I do," he answered with a smile.

The dimple in his cheek was messing with her concentration. She wondered how he would react if she jumped across the table and kissed him. Probably put her in handcuffs and take her to the nearest mental ward.

"It's always stressful whenever I have to go back to Emerson," she told him, her voice hesitant.

"I would imagine so."

Just how much had he dug up researching her background? He sounded so understanding. Maybe it was his sympathetic tone or the tenderness she saw in his eyes that made her want to tell him everything. She paused for a second and then did exactly that. She didn't embellish; she simply explained what life had been like living with her relatives and how she had finally broken ties with them.

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