Heroes in Uniform
Genre: M/F, Contemporary Romance
Ten full-length books and one novella from NY Times and USA Today Bestselling Authors. A Romantic Suspense and Military Romance boxed set of 11 Sexy Contemporary Alpha Heroes — Soldiers, SEALs, Spies, Agents, Rangers and Cops.
Including brand-new, never-before-published stories: a novella from Gennita Low and a full-length novel from Nina Bruhns.
Kaylea Cross – Danger Close. With his cover blown, former undercover CIA agent Wade Sandberg finds himself, and an innocent woman, the number one targets of the world’s most dangerous terrorist.
Patricia McLinn – At The Heart’s Command. Colonel John Griffin Jr. is a good and honorable soldier who faces the toughest mission of all when he returns home to Wyoming: Protect the woman he’s always loved – especially from himself.
Gennita Low – Dangerously Hot. While working undercover, looking for his missing brother, Luke meets the mysterious Nina who appears to know more than she’s saying. Can Luke charm the sexy and dangerous Nina into assisting him?
Caridad Pineiro – Sins Of The Flesh. Ex-Army Ranger Mick Carrera has been hired to hunt down a woman who is nothing like he expects. As passion erupts between them, danger threatens from those who want to end Mick and Cat’s lives in order to safeguard their secrets.
Sharon Halimton – Cruisin’ For A SEAL. What starts out as a cruise vacation for 9 Navy SEALs and their wives, winds up a full scale Team operation, as they save the passengers from terrorists.
Karen Fenech – Snowbound. FBI Agent Mallory Burke, injured and on the run for her life, is stranded in a snowstorm with a reclusive and secretive cop she’s not sure she can trust but is falling in love with.
Toni Anderson – Her Last Chance. Eighteen years ago the Blade Hunter found his first victim on the streets of NYC. Now, unless FBI Agent Marshall Hayes can stop him, he’s back to finish the job.
Nina Bruhns – Barely Dangerous. Blue Wolf Cooper has a bear problem–as in, he suspects the pretty new USFS fire spotter is part of a vicious bear poaching ring he is trying to shut down. Margarethe “George” Johansen has a bare problem–as in, she keeps dreaming the sexy Fish and Game warden who’s been following her around sneaks up into her isolated tower, strips her bare, and makes incredible love to her…right before he kills her.
Lori Ryan – Everlasting. Katelyn Bowden never imagined coming home would dredge up a twenty-four year old murder and put her life at risk. She also never expected the man to come to her rescue would be the one man she’d resented for years. The one man she wanted nothing to do with.
Cristin Harber – Garrison’s Creed. An injured CIA agent runs into the only man she can never see again–her first love, the one who “buried” her years ago.
Dana Marton – Deathblow. Former small-town football hero turned cop, Joe Kessler never met a linebacker, perp, or a woman he couldn’t handle. Then a troubled single mom walks into his life, and the only place this hot jock will ever see ‘easy’ again is in the dictionary.
Don’t miss this anthology by contemporary romance bestsellers treating you to heroes to melt your heart!
At The Heart’s Command (A Place Called Home #2)
He moved ahead to open the back door for her. “I’ll carry the basket.”
“There’s no need for that.” He followed her out and took the basket, this time using enough strength on his first attempt to overcome her resistance. “Grif – ”
“Go on up.” He titled his head in the direction of the path to the ridge. The railroad ties that had formed rough steps had rotted, but the path was passable, at least on good days like this. “Unless you want to stay here and I’ll hang these myself.”
She’d already started up the path, recognizing Grif’s never-to-be-budged tone. But at the incongruous image, she chuckled and tossed over her shoulder, “How would it look to have a major in the United States Army hanging up laundry?”
“Colonel,” he murmured absently.
“Colonel? You’ve made full colonel? That’s quite a jump in a short time.” She looked back at him, but could read nothing in his face.
At the top, she turned and faced him. “That must have been some assignment you got – the one you left Washington for so suddenly right when…” She took a breath and finished in a different direction. “Before we moved back here.”
“It was.” His quiet answer both filled in the gap she’d left and cut off the subject like a concrete wall at the end of a one-way alley. “Where do you want this?”
She gave up thoughts of trying to break through that concrete, and nodded to a stretch of unfilled clothesline. “Thanks, Grif. Now, why don’t you go see Marti and – ”
He ignored her, pulling out a pair of racing stripe pajama bottoms and shaking them out. “Ben’s?”
“Yes, but – ”
“He must have grown a foot.”
His tone – a crust of sadness overlaying awe – clogged her throat. She nodded, and swallowed. “Meg, too.”
He jammed a clothespin over the waist of the pajamas and the line. He looked over at the items she’d hung earlier, then at his handiwork, and frowned. “That’s not secure.”
“It works better if you pin each cuff to the line – the material catches more breeze that way and dries faster. But, really, Grif, this isn’t necessary.”
As she took out another of Dale’s old shirts that she wore around the house, she used her peripheral vision to watch Grif remove the clothespin, turn the pajamas upside down and pin one cuff. He recognized the new problem immediately. She caught the inside of her cheeks between her teeth.
Trying to keep the unpinned pajama leg from flapping around, he stretched toward the basket for a second clothespin. He should have looked awkward, ludicrous, uncoordinated. Instead, the twisting, reaching motion pulled the knit of his shirt taut across long, ropy muscles in his back, and molded the fabric of his pants around the powerful curve of his thigh and the even rounder curve of his –
No longer tempted to grin, Ellyn jerked her gaze and thoughts from where they didn’t belong, grabbed a clothespin and moved in to help him.
He released the loose pajama leg to her hold, then reached over her shoulder to help keep it in place. With his other hand still on the first pin and with the pajamas in front of her, she was surrounded. She drove the pin home with more power than finesse, and quickly ducked under his extended arm.
“That’s how you do it,” she said once she’d gained some distance. “But, as I said, this isn’t the kind of duty you’re used to, Colonel Griffin.”
“Even a colonel can learn.”
As they both bent over the basket, she to retrieve the shirt she’d dropped there when she grabbed the clothespin, and he to pull out one of Meg’s sweatshirts, she glanced at him, found his eyes on her and looked away.
“You never learned to do laundry? I thought the army made men self-reliant.”
“I’ve washed clothes now and then, but nobody ever taught me the finer points. Mom did the laundry when I was a kid. When she got sick…” His next words were matter-of-fact. “My father could never be bothered with household stuff, so we sent everything out. My self-reliance comes in the form of finding the best laundry in the shortest amount of time in a new place. One good thing I learned from my father.”
A year and a half ago, and anytime in the eight years before that, she would have said that John Griffin Junior was her best friend. Now it struck her that in all the years she’d known him, stretching back to spending most childhood summers on this very ranch with him and the others, she’d heard him mention his mother maybe a dozen times, and his father half that. So exactly how well did she know him?
Certainly not well enough to have avoided being blindsided by his absence these past fifteen months.
She didn’t know how long she’d been mulling that while automatically hanging clothes before Grif’s voice cut into her thoughts. “Why aren’t you using the dryer.”
“Use a dryer on such a beautiful day? That would be a homemaker’s sin,” she said airily.
“I don’t remember you caring much about homemaking sins.”
He must have caught her reflexive wince, because he reached a hand toward her that she evaded by stretching up to secure the corner of one of Ben’s shirts.
“I didn’t mean anything critical, Ellyn. I just remember you not worrying about such things, so – ”
“Of course not. You’re right,” she said lightly. “I was never that kind of woman. A mouse to start, a bit of a tomboy later, then a haphazard housekeeper, and, as a wife – ”
Grif’s hand on her arm drew her around. “You’re talking nonsense – you know that, don’t you, Ellyn?”
“Just quoting Rose Neal Brindford.” And Dale, but Grif didn’t need to know that.
“Don’t. Your mother’s a – ”
She watched him bite back the word she could almost hear on his tongue. He turned away, and his big hand settled on the inside seam of the jeans hanging upside down. Even as kids, he’d always hated the way her mother criticized her. Hated it even worse if she criticized herself with her mother’s words. But that was a hard habit to escape.
“Ellyn.” She couldn’t take her eyes off his hand. In a motion she was certain was unconscious, his hand slid slowly along the inside seam of the jeans – her jeans. “There are some things we should talk about. Get clear.”
The caressing touch of his hand dropped lower along that seam – nearly to the point where the left leg met the right, to the point where – Oh, lord. She spun around, looking for something else, anything else to absorb her attention.
Marti and Kendra were right. She’d been alone too long. Living out here without any male companionship. Letting her libido get so desperate it rioted at the sight of a strong hand sliding down the seam of her jeans, toward – No!
“About why I’m here,” Grif was saying, “and…other things.”
This was not the time for her to try to talk to him about anything, not while images of a hand on a pair of jeans strobed through her brain and bloodstream. She needed something to keep him occupied while she got her mind on a different track…an entirely different track.
“Ellyn? Are you listening?”
She let out an audible whoosh of relief as she spotted exactly the distraction she needed.
Saved by the school bus.
“The kids just got off the bus down at the highway.” She nodded toward two distant figures starting along the ranch road. “I’m going down to wait for them inside.”
And to get away from the unexpected dangers of hanging laundry.
Grif had turned to see for himself, and now he remained looking that way as he spoke. “Maybe you should tell Meg and Ben about my being here before they see me. It could be a shock.”
“A shock?” Her own unsettled feelings sharpened her voice and words. “In the past year and half, we’ve become shock experts, and believe me, this doesn’t count, Grif. Don’t make a bigger deal of this than it is.”
And if he didn’t realize after that little speech that she’d changed, he never would. But somehow she didn’t want to see his judgment of this new Ellyn right now. She started back to the house without looking at him.
* * * *
If the army had Ellyn Sinclair, it wouldn’t need drill sergeants to cut recruits down to size.
Don’t make a bigger deal of this than it is.
That put him in perspective, didn’t it? Grif grimaced as he followed Ellyn’s straight back down the eroded steps.
Well, what had he expected? That she – they – would fall on him like a savior? Just because pulling out of their lives had been like pulling himself off life support didn’t mean it had affected them the same way.
When the four Sinclairs left Washington fifteen months ago, he’d known they’d have support in Far Hills, led by his aunt, Marti Susland. Even when he’d heard about Dale’s death, he’d been certain Ellyn and the kids would be looked after. Still, he’d planned eventually to come to Far Hills to assure himself they were okay, maybe try to pick up some of the threads that had once tied them…when the time was right, when he was sure he was ready.
The time had never been quite right, and he hadn’t been ready.
Then phrases from Marti started to nag at him. Subtle at first, but not for long. Increasingly more pointed phrases about tough times for Ellyn and the kids – tough times emotionally and practically. She’d eventually written it flat out in an email: They needed help.
So it no longer mattered if he was ready.
Cash stretched high overhead. Just another day, making women swoon. That damn shirt hugged his muscles, and her mouth went dry. She tried to swallow around the knot in her throat. Tried to ignore the knots re-tying in her stomach. Even his belt had a look-at-me quality, wrapped around his toned waist. Flashes of his rippled stomach burned through her memory. Whoa, God. This elevator was teeny-tiny. He lorded over it in his corner, watching her watch him, and she needed the emergency escape hatch.
A slow smile flickered across his face. “Nothing to say, sweet girl?”
She shook her head. Nothing to say. Nothing to do except hide in her corner. Maybe dig in her purse a little more or check her phone or… Cash stepped to her. One step. Two steps. She looked at the ceiling, then at the elevator display. Button after button, unlit. Nineteen more floors to go, and Nicola couldn’t move, frozen and frying in his gaze.
He had her. Sliding a finger down the curve of her neck, his finger flicked the purse strap, and with that grazing touch, it dropped.
Loud thud. Intense moment. Pounding want.
Nic’s tank-top-clad back pressed against the cold wall. Her bare shoulders were aware of the barrier. A heat ignited, and anticipation tingled from the perk of her breasts to the tips of her fingers.
He was inches away and closing the distance. Cash palmed the elevator wall on both sides of her head. “I’m throwing lines about in bed, out of bed, and you’re standing, stoic like this is a cold shoulder challenge, and you want to win a trip to the freakin’ Arctic Circle.” He kissed behind her ear. Whimpers escaped her lips, then he whispered again. “After last night, I thought it was game on between us.”
Close enough for him to feel the rise and fall of her chest, close enough for her to smell the mint he’d long-since devoured, Cash nudged at the wall of buttons. Click. The lights dimmed. The elevator stopped between floors.
Just them, stuck in an elevator with the emergency lights on, and now she really couldn’t breathe.
“There are cameras in here. I’m sure there are cameras.” The words came out breathy and wispy and screaming, “Please kiss me again.”
“What is it you think I’m going to do?” He crushed against her. His smooth cheek grazed hers, and his lips brushed against her ear. “What is it that you want me to do?”
Her libido did jumping jacks and her mind, somersaults. All she could see was the deep blue of his eyes. His weight pressed her in place. His palms cupped her face, igniting a fire wherever he touched. Never had a torturing burn felt so damn right.
Cash dipped his head. Soft hair teased over her cheek, and soft kisses turned her stomach. It was a cacophony of cravings. Heat pooled inside her. The very core of her body moaned for his contact.
He repeated what she’d started. “You want…”
She felt his smile on her skin. His full lips thinned into a grin, and his tongue sliced across the side of her collar bone, sweeping the strength out of her legs. Nicola hooked her thumbs into his belt loops. One of her legs snaked up his thigh. Trying to breathe was a wasted effort, and—
Ring. Rrr-ring. Ring.
What was it with the interruptions?
Cash pulled back to stare at the elevator’s phone box, slid his hands down her body, letting one rest on her hip, and opened a small door with the other, grabbing the phone. “Hello.” Amused, he dragged the syllables before he made it to a long oh. A few uh-huhs later, he winked at her, flicked the elevator RUN button back to ON, and said into the handset, “Must have bumped into it. Sorry.”
With the elevator phone back in its box and their ride creeping toward the ground level, they locked in a gaze. Nothing saying. Nothing doing. Just waiting.
The doors opened, and a pudgy security guard waited for them to exit, hands on hips. “You two okay?”
Yup, definitely cameras in the elevator. Just like the CIA: someone’s always watching.
Cash took her hand in his. “Couldn’t be better.”
Snowbound (Protectors Series #2)
“So, how does it feel knowing you’re taking your last ride?”
Mallory Burke didn’t respond to the latest comment made by Hugo from behind the wheel of the sedan, refusing to let him bait her. He’d been doing his best to get a reaction out of her since they’d embarked on this journey into the Adirondack mountains of New York State a few hours ago when Hugo had discovered that Mallory wasn’t just the new bartender his boss Billy Wilder had hired for his strip club, but an undercover federal agent.
Hugo had called Wilder with that newsflash and Billy had ordered that Mallory be brought to his mountain cabin—pronto.
Though Mallory wasn’t responding to Hugo’s running commentary, she was reacting all right. The gravity of her situation had her heart pounding so hard she wondered if Hugo and his associate, Miles Pratt, the other man in the car, could hear it.
Pratt, seated beside her in the back seat, turned to her and smirked. His unibrow looked like a caterpillar crawling across his forehead. His large bulk took up more than his share of the leather bench seat, wedging Mallory in tight between him and the rear passenger door. The door was locked, though with her hands tied behind her back she wouldn’t be able to open it in any case. She was currently working on loosening the knot, but Hugo tied a knot with the skill of a sailor. Lucky for her, she was good at untying knots. This one was just about undone.
The knot wasn’t going to be her biggest obstacle to getting away from these bozos. When she did untie her hands, she was going to have to escape into the snow storm outside. As she thought that, the big sedan skidded and the rear fishtailed.
“Fuckin’ snow,” Hugo muttered.
On this, Mallory agreed with him.
Snow or not, there was no way she was going to the cabin. She’d overheard Hugo and Miles say with no small measure of respect—and fear—that the “Don” would be there. Though she wanted to encounter the “Don”—Paul Considine—with a fierceness that had her pulse pounding, she wanted it to be on her terms. Not like this. Not at Considine’s mercy.
Mallory swallowed hard. Hugo and Miles had been taunting her with all of the things they would do to her when they had her at the cabin. Despite her professional training and years of experience with the Bureau, she couldn’t hold back a shudder at the methods of torture they’d described that were specific to her gender. There was no way she could allow these two to touch her and, she had accomplished her assignment, found out what she’d gone undercover to learn and now needed to take that information back to the Bureau. The lives of twelve young women depended on her. Mallory closed her eyes briefly. She could not fail.
Wind rattled her window. Mallory jerked back, nudging Miles. For once, he didn’t comment. He removed his safety belt and leaned forward in his seat. Eyes narrowed, he studied the near whiteout conditions. The wipers swished across the windshield at full speed, clearing snow for an instant before the glass was pelted again and covered.
“Slow down, man,” Miles said.
“No way.” Hugo swiped a hand across his mouth. “It’ll be my head if we don’t get her up there fast.”
Fast seemed optimistic and foolhardy. They hadn’t come across another car since Hugo had turned down this road. Apparently, others had the good sense to stay away today. Trees that lined this stretch of road swayed, buffeted by the force of the wind. Hugo’s hands, inside brown leather gloves, were clamped around the steering wheel. He was trying to keep the car steady, keep it on the road, Mallory thought as the wind struck the sedan and the car veered off to the right. Just where the road was at this point was a guess. The thick snow clinging to the ground obliterated the road and it was only the line of trees that provided orientation. With the road conditions as treacherous as they were, Mallory might not have to worry about what awaited her at the cabin. She had a more immediate worry that she might not make it out of the sedan alive.
“We need to turn back,” Mallory said. “We can’t go on in this.”
“Hear that, Miles? Little Miss Fed’s got somethin’ to say.” Hugo met her gaze in the rearview mirror and bared his yellow teeth in a smile that made the fine hairs on the back of Mallory’s neck rise. “Save your breath, sweetheart, for when we get to the cabin. You’re gonna need it when you start screaming.”
Mallory wanted to come back with a smart retort, but Hugo’s words struck home and her mouth went dry. Work the knot. Work the knot. She increased the pace on the ropes to a frenzy, twisting and pulling. Perspiration trickled down her brow while she shivered with cold. Panic was setting in and she was losing it. Losing it was the surest way to get herself killed.
She forced herself to stop jerking frantically on the rope. Forced herself to fight back the panic clawing at her. Directing her focus to the task at hand, she went back to working the knot.
Miles had disarmed her, but she could see her gun tucked into the waistband of his black pants. Once she freed her hands . . . done!
She was panting like a racehorse. Adrenaline pumped through her. She would have one chance to grab her gun. One chance. She blocked out the thought of what these two would do to her if she failed.
She glanced at Miles. His attention was all on the road. His shoulders hunched as he leaned forward so he was now perched on the end of the seat, clasping the head rest of the unoccupied front passenger seat.
“Slow down, will ya! I can’t see nothin’ but snow!” Miles’s shout was barely audible above the wind.
Mallory reached out to grab her gun. The sedan went into a spin. The world swirled crazily as the car whirled like a top. Her screams echoed with those of Miles and Hugo.
The sedan struck something—hard. Mallory was flung forward. The seat belt cut across her chest, cutting off her breath but holding her in place. In a blur of movement, Miles was thrown to the front of the car and through the windshield.
Windows shattered, peppering Mallory with slivers of glass. She screamed. She was dressed in jeans and a jacket which protected her body but her head and face were bare. She swung her arms up and hunched her shoulders to protect herself from the spray of glass.
The sedan crumpled. The crunch of metal blended with Hugo’s pain-filled shrieks and then there was silence.
His hands stilled on her back. Just when she expected him to withdraw or push her away, he wrapped his arms all the way around her instead and rested his cheek on the top of her head. He squeezed her once, making her light-headed with the feel of all those muscles contracting around her. “I shouldn’t touch you, but you make it so damn hard to do the right thing.”
“What’s the right thing?” she asked, certain she wouldn’t like the answer, but needing to understand. There were no rules forbidding them from having sex.
“To get up and walk out of here before I do something I can’t take back,” he muttered.
At that she tilted her head back to look up into his face. “Why would you want to take it back?”
The words hung there between them as the fire crackled and raindrops pattered against the windows. Wade’s eyes darkened with longing, his gaze dropping to her mouth, and Erin couldn’t take it another second. She threaded her hands into his hair and brought her mouth to his. Wade made a low sound in the back of his throat, his arms contracting around her, and that was all the answer she needed.
Stroking her fingers through his silky-soft hair, she kissed him with all the hunger and need he created inside her. Her tongue caressed his, tasting him as she ran her hands down his neck and shoulders to explore his ripped chest. One of his hands slid up to cup the back of her neck while the other palmed her ass and pulled her tight to him.
Her Last Chance
“SAC Marshall Hayes? To what do we owe the pleasure, sir?”
Marsh glanced up from his cell phone. A tall wiry Supervisory Special Agent from the Behavioral Analysis Unit in Quantico reached over the local detective’s shoulder to shake Marsh’s hand. Lifting his gaze further, Marsh connected with the cobalt eyes of the woman who haunted his dreams.
His world spun. He gripped the doorjamb tighter, fingernails cracking the smooth black lacquer paintwork. His breath rasped in his throat as the world leveled and relief burst loose inside his chest.
Alive. She was alive.
Dressed in black jeans and a black sweater with a drab army jacket thrown over her shoulders, her skin appeared almost translucent under the fluorescent light. Fear and vulnerability tightened her expression, but she hid it by narrowing her gaze. Her lips curled in their usual scathing manner.
He didn’t care. She was alive—and apart from looking a little shaken up, she seemed as pissed as the last time he’d seen her. She’d pulled her silver-blonde hair back into a ponytail. Her deceptively delicate features were set in a heart-shaped face that disguised a vicious tongue and a mean temper. For the last six months he hadn’t been able to get her out of his mind.
Why her? It didn’t matter why. He’d thought she was dead and it had reduced his life to meaningless ashes.
Marsh wiped the sweat out of his eyes and remembered the SSA’s name. Agent Nicholl. He was a damn good agent.
His heart settled back into a normal sinus rhythm and he took a deep breath absorbing the fact that she was not dead, not bleeding, not hurt. A huge rush of relief swamped him and suddenly it didn’t matter that they didn’t even like one another. Because, despite all the differences between them, despite their complicated unconventional dealings, she was alive and he wasn’t ever letting her go again.
Wendy was heading back into the Ritz Carlton to have concierge call her a cab when Joe Kessler walked out, the after-party still in full swing in the Grand Ballroom behind him. Glittery models, industry people, and paparazzi filled the place, including the foyer and the hallways.
In a sharp tux, he looked good enough for the runway. No, not the runway. He had those wide shoulders, that easy cop walk of his, that athlete’s body. He looked good enough for a spy-thriller blockbuster. The zing she’d felt the first time they’d met was still there, which annoyed the living daylights out of her.
“Can I give you a ride home?” He had a smile that should have been on billboards. Lips that put sinful thoughts into a woman’s mind.A playful glint in his eyes that a person should simply turn away from unless heartache was her hobby.
She put on her coolest, most unaffected model expression. “I’m not going to sleep with you.” Her life was plenty complicated already.
“There’s always next season.”
“Is that some clever football expression?”
He shoved his hands into his pockets and looked her over, took his time, missing no detail of her floor-length gown, not the slit over her thigh or the neckline’s dangerously low dip. His gaze had a life of its own, leaving tingles on her skin.
A cocky smile flickered over his masculine lips. “Odd how sex is the first thing you think of when you look at me.”
As a model, she was good with facial expression, so she managed to keep her unaffected smile.
“A ride?” he offered again. “Nothing implied.”
She glanced through the glass doors at the concierge, where people waited ten deep. Somewhere behind them, Keith was searching for her. He’d shown up unexpectedly.
She turned back to Joe. “Fine. But I’m not inviting you in for a nightcap.”
He nodded, then handed the valet attendant his ticket and a generous tip.
She half expected a police cruiser, but the car brought up was a souped-up black Camaro with red racing stripes, the engine a throaty rumble. The car fit him. When he opened the door for her, she slipped into the black leather bucket seat with appreciation.
“You attend charity balls a lot?” she asked after she gave him her address.
His lips stretched into a mysterious smile.
She refused to acknowledge the tingles. The guy had BIG MISTAKE stamped all over him. She’d already made her big mistake with Keith. She was determined to be smarter going forward, if it killed her.
“Look, I know you probably came because of me. It’s flattering. And, okay, there’s an attraction here, I’m not going to pretend there isn’t. I’m just saying I’m not going to go with it. Under any circumstances. You look like a nice guy. I don’t want to waste your time.”
His smile turned devilish. “You admitted to being attracted to me. And you care. Otherwise, why worry about wasting my time? Attraction and caring.” His dark gaze cut to her with an amused glint. “Sounds like you’re half in love with me. You might be going too fast. I don’t want you to get hurt.”
She might have responded with some travel advice, recommending a hot, dry climate.
“I won’t take offense,” he told her causally. “I know city girls can be a little brash. They lack that sweet hospitality of a good country woman.”
“Maybe you should stick with those country women. Could be you’re out of your league here.”
“Could be,” he agreed, but didn’t look the least disturbed.
In the end, she did invite him in. For a cup of coffee, because it was two in the morning and he still had a long drive ahead of him to get back home to Broslin. He’d given her a ride. She’d been rude to him, presumptuous too, and she wasn’t normally like that. She didn’t know why he got her hackles up so thoroughly.
And then there was the fact that he’d walked her to her door to make sure she was safe, then pulled a small police car from his pocket. “For Justin.”
He’d brought a gift for her son. So really, she couldn’t just say, Go away.
But she gave him the coffee in a travel mug. She wanted him gone and her equilibrium back.
As she handed him the mug, he gently folded his long fingers around her wrist, pulled her to him, and brushed his lips against hers. “Thank you.”
His gentle touch was like a whisper against her skin. Then he pulled back. “I’d like to give you a proper good-night kiss,” he said, asking for permission, and then he waited patiently for her answer.
The man was delicious to look at. What Americans would call “hot.” Tall. Dark-haired. Rakish-looking with that stubble. And, as always, that look in his jewel-green eyes gave her a sudden need for a long cool drink, preferably with vodka.
She’d long passed the point of wondering why he’d affect her this way. Just that he did. And each meeting, she anticipated that gaze, so direct, so damn intimate, and each time, she couldn’t help herself. She winked at him. And then, depending on the situation, they would pick up or exchanged items in the middle or one of them back away, following the unspoken protocol of a first-come-first-serve basis.
It was part of the game. She could play it a bit hotter but knew she couldn’t afford it. It was just too bad they were on opposite sides because she had a feeling it’d be more than a bit hotter.
Scorching, more like.
Her superiors wouldn’t approve any consorting without their say-so. After all, she was their fixer. She couldn’t afford to be seen being friendly with someone who could use it against her.
But damn he was hot. She waited for him to step back did his usual two finger salute to acknowledge that she arrived first this time, but instead, he started walking slowly toward her.
She frowned. This wasn’t their pattern. Nowadays, their respective agencies had agreed to do things with the least casualties as possible. Yes, some peace treaties actually included secret clauses like “first come first serve,” “positional operative compromise” and “negotiable exchange.”
She didn’t back away as he approached. Curiosity stopped her. He had a hand in his jacket, probably a weapon. It occurred to her that she might be a target but she didn’t think so. If he’d wanted to kill her, he’d have done so already from five meters away. Or any number of times she’d bumped into him the last year.
They’d never spoken to each other directly. He’d never touched her. Their long looks at each other had been when there were no witnesses.
She watched, unable to move, as his hands came up and cupped her face. Tilted it up. His thumbs rubbed her cheeks. She didn’t do a thing as his head swooped down and his lips caught hers. His tongue swept into her surprised mouth. Tangled. Tasted. Vodka and lime. Five seconds, tops.
He stepped back and gazed down at her, those eyes cool and unreadable. The corners of his lips lifted slightly, a smile of a man who had just found a secret.
“I’ve wanted to do that for a while now,” he softly said, that husky Southern twang sending a tingle down her spine.
That voice was distinct to the European underground. The Cowboy had a reputation of getting things done his way. But she had a reputation too, a lethal one.
She continued watching him as he disappeared into the shadows. Five seconds could get a man killed. Five seconds could change one’s life.
Katelyn grinned as she turned, eager to see John, but her smile quickly dropped. She felt someone shove her from behind and immediately knew this wasn’t John. This was all wrong. She cried out in pain and shock as her body hit the door she’d just closed and she fought for some semblance of balance. All she found was confusion, panic and pain as her mind whirled.
“Time to leave, Katelyn. You don’t belong here,” came a growling voice in her ear. The person shoved her harder against the door of her studio, slamming her head into the cold metal. The arms she raised to try to block the blow were useless against the strength of the person behind her. The crack of her head hitting metal resounded in her ears. The sound alone would have sickened her but the sharp bolt of pain to her skull brought its own special nausea with it and bile flushed her throat.
She couldn’t see who was pinning her to the door. There was a hood pulled down over his face, and he pressed his arm into the back of her neck preventing her from turning to look at him. She opened her mouth, but no sound escaped. Her mind raced as she tried to control the panic setting in, but the situation was quickly overwhelming her.
She shut her eyes and tried to stop the sob that wracked her body, but she couldn’t. Fear gripped her, building deep in her belly, her heart racing as her throat constricted. She could smell the man’s breath, foul and laden with alcohol. He wreaked of body odor as though he hadn’t washed in days and the realization that he had her so completely at his mercy hit her hard. She opened her mouth to scream, but before she could, he gripped the back of her hair and slammed her head into the door. Once. Twice. Again and again and she began to pray. For what, she didn’t know. For him to stop? For her to be spared the pain, the fear. That he wouldn’t rape her? Kill her.
Katelyn held on for as long as she could, trying to raise a scream to the surface, to call for help. Then blackness swallowed her as she felt herself fall.