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Hot SEAL, sexy spy, no limits.

★★★★★ “…the perfect mix of romance and suspense…” ~ Reader review

Man Hunt, SEALs of Shadow Force, Spy Division, Book 1

© 2018 Misty Evans

Defense mapping

Australian outback, Twenty-four hours later

Jaeger was sick. Ryker checked the Jeep’s oil, the itch under his breastbone now a full blown burn. He’d already delayed their departure to look for a new place to live long enough, but it wasn’t fair to the boy to make him travel when he was running a fever and throwing up. Their pace would be slow because of that anyway, and they could end up in a worse situation than if they stayed.

But staying could be dangerous as well. Just that morning, in the early dawn light, Ryker had heard the sounds of a helicopter overhead. The blades beating the air had made him sit upright from his makeshift bed on the floor of Jaeger’s room. He’d barely gotten any sleep as he tended to the boy, and at the sound of the helo he’d panicked, grabbing Jaeger and hauling him out to the Jeep. It was a knee-jerk reaction, his fears of being discovered keeping constant tension below the surface, ready to explode at the slightest threat.

The helo had disappeared to the east, probably one of the local companies taking a tourist on a safari. Occasionally they did fly over this area. If he hadn’t already been nervous about the length of their stay, he probably wouldn’t have given it more than a brief thought.

Poor Jaeger had cried at the rough handling and then thrown up, leaving Ryker feeling guilty and having to clean up the Jeep once he had the boy tucked back into his bed.

Now in the bright light of day, his instincts were on high alert, the warning bells in his head going off with fervor. There was a cave ten miles west. He could load up and get them there in no time, create a temporary place for Jaeger to get better, and allow them to get out of here.

Ten miles wasn’t much; if someone came looking for them and knew the territory, the cave would be the first place they checked after discovering the empty house. Even if he took precautions to remove their fingerprints and DNA, a skilled tracker would know someone had been living there recently. Ryker had explored the cave several months before and left a small cache of supplies, including cash, energy bars, water, survival gear, two guns, and some ammunition in case he and Jaeger ever needed to bug out fast. It was more of a hunker down site, rather than a safe one.

He checked the spark plugs, needing something to do, and took his frustration out on the truck. Jaeger was sleeping, but Ryker would check on him again in a minute to see if his fever had broken. Up until now, the boy had shown remarkable resilience, never falling sick, and it was a bloody good thing, since Ryker sucked at being a nurse.

After that he’d load the Jeep. Hopefully by morning they could take off and get to the cave at least. From there he wanted to head toward Staaten River, maybe eventually hop over to the Wellesley Islands.

Mite watched him from a patch of grass near the cabin, panting in the late afternoon heat. His eyes were sleepy, hooded, as he sunned his bones. There seemed to be more gray around his face today, his ribs showing more than usual as his chest rose and fell.

Damn dog wasn’t helping. Ryker didn’t need extra guilt for leaving the mutt behind, and yet, he knew there was no easy way to ditch him. Jaeger would be stoic about it, never shedding a tear in front of Ryker, but the kid would never forgive him. Another thing to feel guilty about.

He slammed the hood shut and Mite’s head came up. Nap time was over and he now kept a wary eye on Ryker as he headed for the back of the cabin to grab some extra cans of oil from the nearby shed.

Beat it to fit, paint it to match. The ideology his former SEAL commander had insisted they live by. You did the best you could with whatever you had.

Inside, he grabbed a machete for clearing brush, a tactical vest, the pockets filled with miscellaneous first aid items and an extra pocketknife. The Jeep had one spare tire on the back and room for a tent and camping gear. After he packed all of that, he threw in the duffels filled with food, extra clothing, and a few of Jaeger’s personal items. The boy didn’t have traditional toys, or any particular creature comforts outside of his blanket and a couple of wooden soldiers Ryker had carved for him.

Grabbing a plastic gas can to strap on to the Jeep, Ryker scanned the rest of the tools hanging on the shed’s wall. Determining which to take, what possible situations they might encounter, kept his mind off Jaeger’s illness, but he needed to get inside and check on the boy.

With his stash of supplies, he climbed back out of the shed into the daylight. Mite was on his feet, pacing the cabin, his ears pricked. “Shit.” Ryker sprinted past the dog, dropped the gas can next to the Jeep, and half tossed the oil cans into the open backseat. He was three feet from the porch swing when the front door opened.

Jaeger stood in the doorway, his hair a crumbled mess, his tan cheeks no longer a bright pink with fever. He squinted at Ryker. “Papa, I’m hungry.”

Relief swamped him and he grinned. “That’s good. What do you fancy? Some tea and toast or maybe a biscuit?”

“The lady brought popsicles.” He rubbed the sleep from one eye with his fist. “I’d like an orange and a red.”

“The lady…?” Was the boy hallucinating? “It was just a dream, mate. Which is a shame, because it sounds like a good one, but that’s all it was. Let’s get you that toast.”

“Wasn’t a dream, Papa.” Jaeger looked over his shoulder into the cabin.

In the same instant, Mite growled.

The hair on the back of Ryker’s neck stood up, the warning bells clanging so loudly he felt like he was inside a bell tower. With one hand he motioned for the boy to come to him. With the other, he drew his weapon from his waistband. “Jaeger, come to me. Quick now.”

Get him! His pulse hammered in his ears, his highly trained mind playing out a dozen possible scenarios. A woman, popsicles.

The helicopter.

Goddamn it.

Jaeger saw the gun but did as instructed, leaving the porch and coming down to Ryker. He pulled the boy behind him, his gun trained on the doorway. “Get to the Jeep. Go.”

“But the lady said— “

“Go now!”

There had been no sound of a vehicle, no alarm raised. Even as Jaeger walked away, Ryker stalked to the cabin. A tiny part of him prayed the boy was simply confused, that his fever had created a very vivid dream of a woman with popsicles.

But what were the odds it was real? That somehow a woman had gotten inside without him knowing it? She would’ve had to pass through three layers of his security warning system, past the dog even. And before that, trekked through miles and miles of National Park wilderness. There was no actual road here, only a rough, rugged trail through dense forest and craggy outcroppings.

There’s no way. Only a diehard survivalist or one of the aborigines who knew the land like the back of his hand could make it there on foot.

The interior of the cabin was a few degrees cooler than outside and deep in shadows, thanks to the trees surrounding it that blocked the hot afternoon sun. The main floor was less than one thousand square feet, but on first inspection, Ryker couldn’t see anyone inside.

What he did see was a small red and white cooler in the center of the kitchen table.

He quietly cocked the gun and scanned the areas he could see once more. The rooms were small; he had a direct line of sight into the living room, the couch where he slept, the central piece of furniture.

He saw no one.

Staying to the right, he slowly made his way past the table to the living room. There he pulled up short.

In the corner shadows blanketed a rocking chair near the fireplace, a woman dressed in khakis, a single dark braid falling over her shoulder, raised both hands in a show of surrender. “Hello, Ryker.”

Maybe he’d been in the Outback too long, too many days and nights alone, because instead of shooting her where she sat, he caught his breath and took in her beautiful porcelain skin and big green eyes.

The warning bells in his head gave way to a chastising voice. You hesitated. Hesitation will get you killed.

“Who the hell are you and how did you get into my home?”

She rocked forward, coming to her feet, but froze when he aimed the gun at her forehead. Straightening slowly, she studied him with the same scrutiny he was giving her. “As I live and breathe, it really is you.”

That voice. I know that voice, but…

His grip tightened. “Whoever you are, you made a dangerous mistake coming here.”

“Really wasn’t my first choice either, you know. I don’t do”—she waved one hand around the general area of the cabin— “hiking, camping, bugs, snakes.” She gave a hard shudder. “I guess the military training you had before you joined the CIA really paid off.”

His brain was still trying to connect the dots. She was American from the sound of her voice, knew about his past, and had to be CIA, but he knew he’d never seen her before. “You need to leave. Now. And forget you ever found me.”

Her eyes narrowed slightly, the green orbs darkening. “You have the balls to stand there, point a gun at me, and threaten me after I’ve lived for the past nine months believing you were dead?” She took a step toward him, jabbing her chest with a thumb. “I thought I killed you. I lost my job over you. I can’t sleep at night because of the nightmares. Before you toss me out, you owe it to me to listen to my proposition. Barring that, you at least owe me an apology, Gaspard.”

His breath caught again, and a flood of memories came rushing back. Her sexy voice over the phone, strained, begging him to leave Petra and the boy and get out before Kaiser killed him. Arguing, haunting him like his nightmares. “You…”

Her hands went to her hips, defiant. Her full lips pursed. “We never officially met face-to-face. Thought it was about time.”

“Mia Shaine. How the hell did you find me?”

“You weren’t even on my radar until yesterday. Or two days ago. The time zone change has me all mixed up.”

If she had found him, others would too. “I don’t want to kill you, Mia, but I will if I have to. If you came here to force me back to Langley, you wasted your time.”

“The last thing I would do is take you back to the Agency. They can go screw themselves for all I care, although dammit, I miss my job and will get it back and kick some ass when I do. We have bigger things to worry about at the moment, and better people to work for. A friend of yours sent me. She said to tell you she was calling in her marker. Something about her saving your ass in Tel Aviv ten years ago?”

Christ Almighty. His grip on the gun eased. He felt like he’d been hit by a train. “Bianca?”

“She changed her name to Beatrice. Long story. I’ll bring you up to speed once we’re in the air. We’re kind of on a tight schedule.”

Tel Aviv? Man, that was light-years away. It should’ve been an easy mission—get in, grab the target, get out—but a long-time asset on the ground suddenly turned double agent and he’d ended up in an off-the-books prison, his cover blown, and looking at a slow, torturous death in the desert. And people thought Israel was an ally to the United States. Not always.

Bianca had saved him. Somehow, someway, the NSA agent had walked right into that prison, presented papers for his release, and took him out of there like she owned the place. The papers were bogus, of course, but there was something about her that made them cooperate without checking. She had that ability, intelligence, and total confidence. It was almost as if she could hypnotize people into doing what she wanted. “Is she all right?”

“Beatrice?” Mia flapped a dismissive hand. “She’s got it made. New name, running her own business—that’s how I got here, by the way. A team of former SEALs who work for her brought me, we hiked through what I can only describe as hell, and they got me past all your security measures.” She smiled cockily and it lit up her face. A beautiful face, for sure. “Even they were impressed with all the Indiana Jones Temple of Doom shit you put around this cabin.”

SEALs. Great. Brothers-in-arms, only those days were long behind him. Some of his former teammates considered him a traitor to the cause, leaving the teams and joining the CIA.

He should’ve known she hadn’t come alone. “Tell Bianca I’m sorry, I can’t do…whatever it is she sent you here to get me to do. I’m out of the game and not going back. No matter what.”

Mia turned serious. “It’s Kaiser, Ryker. He’s back and more dangerous than ever. He’s been on a tear since Petra and his son—the one I’m guessing is in the Jeep—were supposedly killed. He has a new enterprise and he’s not dealing solely in black market arms any more. He’s dealing in black market kids. Babies. He’s made a lot of contacts in illegal adoptions and child trafficking. Beatrice believes it’s his way of searching for Jaeger in case the boy is still alive. We have to stop him.”

A sick sensation crawled in his gut. He didn’t want to know the details—he really didn’t, but if the bastard was back and now going after kids… damn it. “You stop him. My job is to protect Jaeger. I made a promise to his mother and I can’t go back on it. I won’t. She was trying to leave Kaiser because she didn’t want Jaeger growing up in that environment, becoming a man like his father.”

Mia nodded, seeming to understand. “If you work with me to destroy him and his empire, you won’t have to run from him anymore, and Beatrice has the means and resources to build you and Jaeger completely new identities. Or you can use any of her safe houses—they’re scattered all over the world, many completely off-grid.” She put a pleading hand out. “This is your get-out-of-jail-free card, Ryker. You can keep Jaeger safe and build a new life for both of you.”

Ryker lowered the gun. His mind and heart warring with each other. Destroying Kaiser, giving Jaeger a chance to be a normal kid, fulfilling his promise to Petra…

And wiping his ledger clean with Beatrice.

Could it all work out so perfectly?

Hell no. But did he have a better alternative?

Ditto on the hell no.

Running around here wasn’t the worst life for a kid, but it wasn’t the best either. Being on guard all the time, picking up on Ryker’s paranoia. Never having a decent holiday or birthday.

He motioned Mia back into the chair. “Let me grab Jaeger.” He started for the front door. “Then we’ll talk.”

★★★★★ “Evans knows how to pull at a reader’s heartstrings, even when she writes big bad spies and SEALs. Just add in an adorable little boy and a dog who wants to be loved.” ~ Reader review

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Navy SEAL-turned-spy takes a new agent on her first undercover mission

★★★★★ “On a scale of 5 stars, I give this book a 10 star rating.” ~ Sue, Kindle reader 

Man Hunt, SEALs of Shadow Force, Spy Division, Book 1

© 2018 Misty Evans

Moscow Rules: Don’t harass the opposition

Washington, D.C., evening

It could be worse. Mia raised the tray of martinis above her head, maneuvering between two groups of young and upcoming lawyers. Lawyers, politicians, those who worked for both—all of them intense, watching the others in the bar, especially the more important people, those higher up on the food chain they could not so casually bump into and start a conversation with.

Even with her compression brace, the tendinitis in her wrist and elbow was killing her. Too many trays, too many drinks, too many damn nights in this loud D.C. bar.

“Thanks a lot, Ryker, you bastard,” she murmured under her breath. If it wasn’t for him and that last shitty CIA mission, she’d be undercover in Paris right now seducing some high value target instead of fending off groping hands and serving drinks to competitive assholes intent on moving up the ladder.

Everyone is potentially under opposition control.

Her IQ, experience, and general commonsense were not necessarily better than anyone else in the bar and yet she didn’t belong here anymore than the tall blonde sitting in the corner booth who’d been scanning the bar but always circling back to Mia. Former spook. Has to be.

But not one she knew. Before or after my time?

She was almost to the table when she felt a sharp pinch on her ass. She’d been so focused on figuring out who the woman was, she lost her concentration on the crowd. The pinch hurt and made her jump, two of the martinis tipping and falling, sending their contents over a woman’s head.

She screamed and bolted out of the way, knocking into the ass grabber, who started laughing. Someone shoved someone else and the next thing Mia knew, the rest of the martinis danced and fell, crashing to the floor and sending glass and olives everywhere.

Guess things can get worse.

She bent over to start cleaning and felt the ass-grabbing idiot go in for another cheap pinch.

Pick the time and place for action.

Before he could pull away this time, she grabbed his wrist, fast as lightning, bending his hand back until he dropped to his knees and cried out.

“What the fuck?” he screamed.

His buddies stopped laughing and so did everyone around them. All eyes were on Mia and she hissed into his face, “You seem to think you own this piece of ass, so let me set you straight. You don’t, and you’re nothing but a pig. If you ever touch me again, I’ll cut off your hand and maybe something else a little lower along with it. In fact, if you ever touch any of the waitresses in this bar, you’ll be walking funny from then on out. Do I make myself clear?”

His eyes were wide with fear and pain, the spilled martinis soaking into the knees of his dress pants. “You…bitch,” he snarled. “Do you know who my father is?”

“I do,” she bluffed, not knowing precisely, but figuring Daddy had to be another of the bigwigs in D.C. What was there to know? She’d burned so many bridges in this town already, what was one more? “And frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn. If you’re going to play grab-ass with me, you better be worried about who I am and what kind of torture techniques I know.”

That shut him up, whether it was due to his inebriated brain needing to think the threat through, or some good sense finally kicking in. Either way, Mia gave his wrist one last little tweak before she shoved him away.

She pulled a bar rag from her apron to mop up the liquid, wondering if she’d have a job come closing. Moscow Rules said go with the flow, blend in. She’d certainly blown that tonight.

And wouldn’t that suck if she lost this position too? She was already two months behind on rent, and tuition for the private schooling of her younger sister was due next week. Chloe suffered from borderline autism and didn’t function well in public schools. With their parents dead, Mia was the sole provider.

Great job with that, Mia.

Not only had she lost a good paying job with the CIA, she’d burned her reputation with all the alphabet agencies in this town. No one would hire her now, and she could thank Ryker Baptiste for that.

“No need to worry about that,” a voice said from behind her. Mia looked up to see the woman from the corner booth standing over her. She motioned at the bartender. “Daniel will clean up the mess.”

Most everyone had moved off, once again caught up in their own lives. Mia wiped her hands, realizing it did no good since the towel was soaked. The ass-grabber shot her a damning look from under thick eyelashes a few feet away, where he conversed with friends. She gave him a cocky smile before answering the woman. “It’s my mess, I’ll clean it up.”

Daniel appeared at her side, handing her a dry bar rag. “No worries, Mia.” His eyes flicked to the woman, back to Mia. “It’s time for your break anyway.”

Daniel had been nice to her at one time, and she’d enjoyed it. She hadn’t had any real relationships since joining the CIA. Everything about her job had been top-secret, making them extremely difficult, even those with her parents, God rest their souls. But she soon realized Daniel only wanted to sleep with her, nothing else. She’d turned him down and now he made her shifts as difficult as possible.

To see him nervously bend down and finish cleaning made her reevaluate the person in front of her. Out of everyone in the bar, Mia had the feeling this woman actually had power.

Assume nothing. “Who are you?”

The blonde smiled, motioning to the corner booth. “Let’s chat.”

Mia was torn. Her gut told her to just walk away. Don’t go down the rabbit hole.

Moscow Rule number one: never go against your gut.

But her feet seemed to have a different agenda and she found herself sliding into the booth.

“What would you like?” Blondie asked.

“I don’t drink with strangers, so let’s start with your name and why you’ve been watching me all night. If this”—she motioned at Daniel, finishing the floor cleaning— “is some kind of come on, you should know I don’t play for your team.”

Although it had been so long since she’d even had a nibble of sex, maybe she should reconsider her boundaries.

The corner of the blonde’s mouth tweaked, as if she were fighting a grin. “I’m here to offer you a job.”

“I’m not looking for one.”

Her blue eyes jumped over to the disaster scene. “You should be.”

Mia bit the inside of her bottom lip, refusing to take the bait.

Blondie’s gaze came back to her. “You want to take this, trust me. It will solve a lot of problems for you.”

“How do you know what problems I have?”

The woman only stared at her, confident.

Under the table, Mia gripped the booth hard. This is total bullshit. But something told her the woman wasn’t lying.

She glanced toward the bar and saw Daniel quickly look away.

“I suppose anyone who can get that asshole off my back deserves a few minutes of my time. Let’s start over, shall we? What’s your name and who do you work for?”

“I work for a legend in this business. She’s tough but fair, and believes you deserve a second chance.”

Everything inside Mia went very still. Knew it! “You’re CIA?”

A tiny shrug. “The job offer doesn’t come from them.”

Not the Agency. That still left plenty others—NSA, FBI, DIS, the list went on and on. “In case you haven’t heard, I’m persona non grata in that world.”

“What world would that be?”

“Can we quit playing games? Just tell me what you want, I’ll turn you down, and then I can get back to work.”

“Do you want to return to the Agency?”

Mia swallowed the sudden lump in her throat. Becoming a spy had meant everything to her at one point. “No.”

The corner of the woman’s mouth twitched, another suppressed smile. “How many lie detector tests did you fool during your time inside?”

Seven, but who’s counting?

Mia rose. “Look, this has been fun—not—but tell your legend no thanks, I don’t need the job.”

“Aren’t you even going to ask who she is? Who I work for?”

“Nope.” She caught Daniel staring again, his eyes on the blonde. “Let me guess, you’re going to tell me anyway.”

The woman slid an envelope across the table. “She thought you might require convincing.”

Mia bit the inside of her lip, her fingers itching to see what was inside, her gut telling her to  not even go there.

Keep your options open.

She’d never played it safe, why start now?

Snatching it up, she held her breath. There were two items inside, one a check made out to her for more money than she’d made in a year at the Agency as a handler.

The second, however, was the one that sealed the deal.

It was a note. A note from the legend Blondie claimed to work for.

She lifted her gaze and sat down hard. “Are you kidding me?”

Blondie stared back, unfazed. Spy face.

“What did you say your name was again?”

“I didn’t.” She pointed at the envelope. “My employer goes by Beatrice. Had to change her name because the CIA sent an assassin after her a few years back. She runs a covert Agency called Shadow Force, and I’m in charge of her new spy group, Nemesis. You don’t have to join permanently; the choice is yours. But we have a mission that calls for your expertise, and if you perform to our standards and it is successful, Beatrice will get your job back for you at the CIA, if that’s what you truly want. You really have nothing to lose and everything to gain. You can pay off your parent’s funeral costs, keep your sister in her school, and get your backside out of debt. All we need is your complete cooperation for seventy-two hours, give or take.”

There were five zeros on that check. Enough money, even in D.C., to keep her afloat for the rest of the year. She’d promised her parents over and over again if anything happened to them she’d take care of Chloe.

The Universe was making her keep that promise.

Something had happened, and she’d screwed up with Chloe, putting her in danger, and then again with Ryker. While she blamed him for what had happened in Berlin, she knew deep down it was partially her fault too.

Maybe all my fault.

Just like Chloe.

She’d been responsible for both of them, and she’d failed with both.

Failed her parents.

Failed her little sister.

Failed the biggest mission of her life.

Don’t harass the opposition. The check seemed to burn her fingers. With that kind of money, she could at least keep her promise.

This is insane. Good insane, but still…

“Why would Bianca—Beatrice—trust me?”

“She doesn’t, but that big analytical brain of hers believes you’re the best option she has.”

“Well, there’s a vote of confidence. What exactly is the mission?”

“You can handle it, and let me add, we’re the good guys. Beatrice saved my sister and I not long ago, and that’s why I work for her.”

Sister. Bingo. “I knew you looked familiar. Your sister is that hotshot TV investigator who got herself into a mess with the president a while back.”

Spy face, round two. “Beatrice is not the touchy-feely sort, but she does believe in family. I assume by the fact you’re still sitting here listening you want to be part of that family.”

“You didn’t answer my question. What exactly is the mission?”

The woman held out her hand. “My name is Parker and I’ll be your handler. Your codename in Nemesis is Artemis.”

Mia left Parker’s hand hanging in the air. “Like the goddess?”

“The huntress, yes.”

“Dare I ask what I’m hunting?”

“Not what,” Parker said, pulling up a picture on her phone. She tipped the screen so Mia could see it. “Who.”

Fuck a duck. The handsome face staring back at her haunted her dreams. The gray eyes, the square jaw. The absolute danger that radiated from every pore. “You can’t be serious.”

“Have I misled you about anything tonight?”

Mia leaned forward, pushing the phone away. “He’s dead.”

That earned her a full-blown smile. “Are you sure about that?”

God, she was so cocky, so self-confident. “His star is on the wall at headquarters.”

“Well, if that’s true,” Parker said, sliding out of the booth and motioning for Mia to follow, “then you’re going to make a hell of a lot of money finding a dead man.”

★★★★★ “Misty Evans kicks off her new spin-off series with a fast-paced, action-packed story that has both the romance and suspense that I have come to expect from her. With lives at stake and perhaps a bit of payback to deliver, Ryker and Mia proved to be great partners – both professionally and personally!” ~ Reader review

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Ryker Baptiste is one dangerous man. He’s also dead…

★★★★★ “…this is one that belongs on every TBR shelf!” ~ Margaret, Goodreads reviewer

Man Hunt, SEALs of Shadow Force, Spy Division, Book 1

© 2018 Misty Evans

Research gives you the edge

Shadow Force International Headquarters

Beatrice tapped her Mont Blanc pen on her desktop. Parker had sent a text confirming she’d “successfully targeted and collected the item.”

Translation: Mia Shaine would be in the office momentarily for a face-to-face.

Convincing the former counterterrorism analyst to work for SFI wouldn’t be all that difficult since Beatrice’s profile on Mia showed clear triggers to push for motivation. Her sister, her parents, her guilt. Any of them provided sufficient leverage, the combination of all three guaranteed success.

She punched a button on her phone and waited for the woman on the other end to answer. “Do you have the contract for Shaine?”

“I’ll bring it right over,” Cassandra Donovan, Beatrice’s new Chief Operating Officer and legal counsel, replied.

Beatrice did not engage in missions where success was not guaranteed. Her army of ex-SEALs comprised SFI’s paramilitary group, and some had learned definitive undercover tactics like the CIA employed. They needed to be able to handle undercover operations in order to help those who had nowhere else to turn, fighting underhanded politicians, renegade terrorists, and other criminals preying on innocent people.

In the past year, several missions had required kid gloves and secrecy that went beyond keeping the men’s identities and pasts private. She needed a team of spies to work alongside the SEALs, and women who could handle delicate political situations, going where the men could not, and using their feminine assets to access people and information the badass men couldn’t.

While at the Agency, Mia had been an up-and-coming star, destined to rise high in the counterterrorism group. Sitting behind a desk analyzing terrorists had been her specialty, but she’d shown solid skills in covert ops training as well. Her superior had recommended advanced operative training, which Mia aced. She’d been on a list to transfer to Paris when her whole world turned around. First her parents had died in a car accident, then her sister had… what?

Details about Mia’s sister at a political fundraiser involving democratic Senator Warren Hinch were nil, and yet, something had happened. In Mia’s Agency file—thank you, Rory, for hacking the CIA again—there was an odd notation regarding an event that had transpired that night while Mia was doing human intel.

Senator Hinch had ties to German billionaire Karl Kaiser, a man who dabbled in legitimate military arms deals, as well as a host of illegal black market and Dark Web activities. Only Kaiser was listed as a target in Mia’s case mission folder, but most of the details had been blacked out. In a follow-up report, Chloe’s name was mentioned in conjunction with an “incident” with Senator Hinch.

A senator being groomed to make a run for president and a sixteen-year-old borderline autistic girl. Hmm…

There was a knock and Beatrice summoned Cassandra in. The woman wore her usual work uniform of a dark skirt and white shirt. Her dark rimmed glasses hid delicate features, and her hair was pulled up into a ponytail. “I have included each item we discussed, plus the usual language to protect the others involved in the mission, and the overall company.”

She placed the contract in front of Beatrice who tapped her pen harder. “Thank you. I’d like you to stay during my discussion with her, if you have time.”

Cassandra nodded. “Do you want me to tape the conversation?”

“Won’t be necessary.” I hope.

“I’ll just grab my tablet for note taking.” Cassandra disappeared.

Didn’t take much imagination to figure out what might’ve transpired between Senator Hinch and Chloe Shaine, and it made Beatrice’s stomach turn. The fact the Agency had buried it, not allowing Mia to press charges must’ve sent the analyst into a severe catch-22.

And then her last assignment had blown her career into tiny pieces. Self-sabotage? In a critical mission, there was no room for errors or mistakes of any kind, and Mia had made a fatal one—she’d gotten her undercover operative killed.

Or at least everyone believed Ryker Baptiste, posing as Gaspard Manafort, an international arms dealer, was dead. Beatrice knew differently, thanks to intel the current president, Helene Halliworth Gold, had provided.

President Gold didn’t know the repercussions her intel could—would—create. She didn’t know anything about Baptiste or Mia, but someone working some form of international security for her had stumbled across information suggesting he was alive and hiding in the Australian Outback with a child.

A male child about the same age as the missing Kaiser son, heir to his father’s fortune.

Another hmm

The events of the night in Berlin were fuzzy in all the reports, perhaps intentionally so. Hard to tell with the CIA. Baptiste had requested an exfil for Petra Kaiser and her son, Jaeger. The request had been denied. There’d been an explosion and fire at the mansion, Petra had died. Another body believed to be Baptiste’s had been recovered. The boy, however, had gone missing. No body, no witnesses to a kidnapping. No contact from a kidnapper or reports of the child turning up anywhere else.

Beatrice’s phone buzzed softly. “Yes?”

Connor, working the front desk tonight, gave her a head’s up. “Jett’s on her way up with the package.”

Jett being Parker’s codename. Everyone working for SFI had one.

“Thank you.” She clicked off and tossed her pen on the desk. Cassandra returned, quietly making herself scarce and sitting on the sofa at the back of the room.

The children in this goatfuck bothered Beatrice more than anything. As a mother, she felt a strong stirring to find out the truth for their sakes as much as Ryker and Mia’s. What had happened to Chloe with the senator? Was Jaeger Kaiser alive?

It was well past midnight and she was tired, ready to go home to her daughter, but time was of the essence for this new case. If Ryker was alive, and the information she had from President Gold leaked to anyone else, the secrets Baptiste was keeping would go to the grave with him.

And if he had kidnapped the boy…

Ryker, what have you done?

A knock interrupted her thoughts. Parker walked in, Mia following.

The former agent was curvy, her dark hair in a single braid hanging over her left shoulder and her waitress uniform neat and clean, even after five hours on the clock at the bar. Her eyes took in the whole room in a single sweep, noting Cassandra before her focus came to a stop on Beatrice.

Parker and Cassandra exchanged nods. Parker spoke to her charge. “Mia, this is your new boss—”

“Bianca Marx,” Mia interrupted, sounding a bit star-struck. Or pissed. Beatrice wasn’t sure which.

Ages since I’ve been called that. “It’s Beatrice Reese now.”

“Right.” Mia snapped her fingers. “Because of the assassin Parker told me about.”

“Rory. He works for me now.”

Mia’s eyes grew wide. “He tried to kill you, so you offered him a job?”

That wasn’t exactly how it happened, but the details didn’t matter. Rory was loyal to her, and that was all she cared about. “One of the tenets of operative training, as you may recall, is to never escalate a situation but always attempt to defuse it. I’ve found that guideline to be helpful when dealing with ugly situations, Rory’s last CIA assignment—killing me—notwithstanding.”

Mia laughed, seeming to be at a loss for words. She hiked the thumb over her shoulder. “And with that?”

Cassandra nodded from the couch. “Cassandra Donovan, legal counsel.”

Beatrice wasn’t one for formalities and didn’t proffer her hand. She motioned Parker and Mia into the chairs across from her and pinned her gaze on Mia. “Ryker Baptiste was a friend of mine. I’m only going to ask you once to tell me the truth about what happened that night in Berlin. I have no need to waste your time or mine, so let’s get down to it.”

Mia stayed standing, her lips thinning slightly before she answered. “I’m guessing from this setup” —she waved a hand around the office— “and the fact you sent your employee to bribe me, you already know.”

“I know what’s in the reports. I want your version, the nitty-gritty details, or my offer goes away and you’ll be putting your sister in public school. Neither of us wants that.”

Tense silence, then, “When I worked at the CIA, I saw your name on a lot of missions that crossed my desk, and I wondered why an NSA agent was directing SEAL teams and undercover CIA operations. Your security clearance was so high, I didn’t even know what it was. A little bird told me you have a photographic memory and an IQ that endears you to Mensa, so please, don’t sit there and pretend you care one iota about my sister. I’ll tell you what happened with the mission, but to my knowledge, Ryker Baptiste died that night, and everyone blames me. I’m not sure what it is you want me to disclose beyond that.”

Beatrice rocked in her chair. “You don’t take responsibility?”

“Of course I do. I blew it. His death is on me. If he’s actually dead, which there seems to be some dispute about all of a sudden.”

Beatrice tapped a manila folder on her desk, ignoring the questioning glare from Mia. “According to this, his original handler was found dead twenty-four hours before you took over the case.”

Mia found her way to the empty chair and dropped into it. “Before the mission was dumped in my lap, you mean. I didn’t have time to breathe, much less familiarize myself with all the ins and outs of the operation. Ryker was in deep and demanding an immediate exfiltration of Petra and Jaeger Kaiser. He insisted that his handler’s death was a murder and believed Petra was in imminent danger from her husband. She wouldn’t leave without the boy. I tried to expedite a solution, but my boss put the kibosh on it.”

“Then why do you blame yourself?”

The woman’s gaze dropped. “I should’ve pushed harder. At the same time, I tried to work around the order to not engage and get Ryker some help already in Berlin, but by the time I found an unscrupulous asset who would get Petra and Jaeger out of the country, it was too late.”

The country estate had suffered an explosion during a party, the subsequent fire taking several lives, including Petra’s. Officials had ruled it a gas leak, an accident. The CIA knew differently, and so did Beatrice.

“Guilt is a faulty human coping mechanism,” Beatrice said. “It mires us in the past, and much like regret, serves no purpose. I’ve found that most people forgive others easier than they do themselves. From my analysis, you were not the direct cause of the explosion or the fire, nor responsible for the failure of the mission. Guilt and regret are a waste of emotion and energy. If you want resolution, Miss Shaine, I suggest you help me find Ryker and stop Karl Kaiser from expanding his newest criminal enterprise.”

Mia’s attention came back to Beatrice’s face. “What new enterprise? Why isn’t the CIA handling this?”

Beatrice scooted the contract and an ink pen across the desktop. “The terms of the mission and your compensation are spelled out in detail in this agreement. If you want to work for me, sign your name and date it, and we’ll get down to business.”

Mia held her gaze. “You’ve never felt guilt or regret over any of the missions you sent undercover operatives and Special Forces teams on when someone didn’t come back alive?”

“Remorse over a lost life? Of course. But I’ve found it is more beneficial to seek justice for those lives, rather than wallow in guilt.”

A subtle shift happened in Mia’s body, as if she were releasing a small weight, shedding a layer of armor. Her face softened and she picked up the pen. Staring at the paper, she nodded to herself. Her voice came out muted. “That’s all I wanted. Justice. But the CIA needed a scapegoat, someone to blame for a dead operative, and they weren’t happy about the noise I’d raised earlier over an incident with a senator. But I let them railroad me into accepting that what happened to Petra and Ryker was my fault—and don’t get me wrong, I take responsibility for not going further up the chain of command and pushing harder. Maybe if I had, there would’ve been fewer casualties. All this time, I’ve believed Ryker Baptiste was dead.” Her eyes lifted once more, spearing Beatrice. “You’re sure he’s alive?”

Beatrice gave her a single nod. “This is your chance to wipe your ledger clean. All I’m asking for is seventy-two hours of your life, and in that time, you’ll have the opportunity to resolve your guilt and regrets.”

“Oh, I’m not doing it to relieve my guilt.” Mia scribbled her name at the bottom without reading it. “If Ryker is alive and let me suffer all this time believing I killed him, I’m going to kick his ass from here to eternity.”

★★★★★ “I laughed a lot, I yelled a few times, and I felt my heart speed up with action and suspense. In the end, I finished the story with so much hope and a full heart. I can’t wait to read another Spies of Shadow Force book!” ~ Reader review

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Enemies turn lovers in this hot, romantic suspense

★★★★★ “…fantastic!” ~ Amy, Goodreads reviewer

Man Hunt, SEALs of Shadow Force, Spy Division, Book 1

© 2018 Misty Evans

Deep cover: when a mission goes wrong

Australian outback, close to midnight

A blanket of stars shone in the dark sky, a partial moon hung low over the lake reflecting a swath of light on the dark waters.

A feral dog—a dingo—that had been hanging around howled from the ridge line, the sound eerie and bone chilling, echoing inside Ryker’s heart. Loneliness and loss held in that one note.

I’m dead to the world he chanted over and over in his mind as the weight of his body in the chair grew heavier. Convincing himself or the world of that fact? He wasn’t sure.

Loss was his best friend, guilt too. Both reminding him, like the outcast dog with no pack, that he was on his own. My survival depends solely on me.

First thing in the morning, he’d pack the essentials and clear out the cabin. It had been too long. He’d gotten comfortable.

Comfort was a death sentence.

Time to move.


He toyed with the idea of burning down the cabin, but the land was dry, the northern outback a tinderbox, regardless of the Daintree Rainforest’s status. Too much risk of starting wildfires that would harm the animals and scattered humans in the area. Instead, he’d have to make sure to remove every trace of evidence by his own hand.

No small job.

It could have other consequences too. The fire, even out here, would call attention to the fact someone had been here. Although the world thought he was dead, there were still people looking for him, dangerous ones who believed he might be alive. They needed the information he had in his brain and would do anything to extract it.

In the end, it didn’t matter if they tortured him, he’d offer up the intelligence without any struggle, but he had a mission to complete and a life to save before he died—for real this time.

The mission was the only reason he was still breathing. His life had been over since that night in Berlin—the kid, though…well, Jaeger’s life was just getting started.

As if he’d conjured the boy, he heard a soft voice behind him, the almost silent padding of a child’s footsteps. “Papa?”

He wasn’t the boy’s father, and had never led Jaeger to believe otherwise. However, the kid was stubborn, even at the tender age of five. His mother dead and his biological father not in the picture, the boy had decided Ryker was the best substitute for both.

He was dressed in cotton shorts, his little boy belly hanging over the waistline. His dark eyes mirrored the lake and one of his hands dragged a blanket across the ground.

“What is it, Jaeg? Did Mite wake you?”

Jaeger had named the feral dog after his favorite food, Vegemite, and regularly gave him scraps from the table.

The boy crawled into his lap, blanket and all. A faint sigh teased the air, the boy’s voice laced with a bit of an Aussie accent. “Nah, you did, Papa.”

Ryker hadn’t made a sound leaving the house and had been sitting here, staring at the lake for over an hour, contemplating where to take the boy next. Kakadu? Devil’s Marbles? One of the islands off the east coast? Starting without a solid plan was foolish. He needed to scout some areas before going off half-cocked simply because his anxiety was getting to him. “Sorry, mate. You can’t blame your insomnia on me. You know I’m as stealthy as a ghost.”

“Was it the bad dream again?” Jaeger asked, ignoring Ryker’s plea of innocence. “Did you walk out here in your sleep?”

The kid had some kind of ESP. How many times had Ryker been wakened from the repeating, awful nightmares by calm, gentle hands, and the boy’s soothing voice? For someone so young, Jaeg understood fear, how to pacify a grown man having a full-blown PTSD episode. Ryker’s sleepwalking never scared him like it might other kids.

The PTSD wasn’t so much fear from what had happened, but gnawing guilt and anticipatory anxiety. Fear of what could happen. The wolf was always outside the door.

Tonight, however, it hadn’t been the usual nightmare. Instead, something almost worse. The invisible woman on the other end of the line whose voice was like a balm to his heart. She’d been so calm that night as he spoke to her from Berlin. He’d only known her forty-eight hours but had been in touch with her back at Langley almost nonstop during those two days and nights. He’d believed with all his heart that she was trying to help him, and yet in the end, she’d asked him to sacrifice Petra and the boy to save himself. Something he’d refused to do. She still visited him in dreams, almost like a guardian angel, alerting him when he needed to pay attention to something, change course, or listen to his instincts. Tonight, he’d fallen asleep in the chair for a little while, and she’d come to him, a mystical, sexy embodiment of that voice.

But that dream always ended the same—he’d awaken with a hard-on and a headache. His body wanted what his mind told him he shouldn’t desire. For all he knew, that woman—the new handler who was supposed to help him complete his mission—was the same person who’d ordered his death.

Ryker wrapped his arms around Jaeger’s small, warm body. He’d promised the boy’s mother to protect and defend him no matter what it took and he’d go to his grave keeping that promise.

“We’re starting a new adventure once the sun comes up. I was going over the details in my head.”

Jaeger raised his chin to stare at Ryker. “A walkabout?”

“There’ll be some walking and riding, maybe even a boat ride.”

“Will we be gone all day?”

And then some. Every one of the areas that’d be good for hiding would require hours and hours to get there. Roundtrips might take days. “We’ll pack all your important things and take them with us, okay?”

“Can Mite come?”

I’m not even sure where we’re going. Staying underground with a child was hard enough, bringing a grizzly old dingo along would definitely call attention to them. He’d known better than to let Jaeger get attached to the animal, but Ryker wasn’t the only lonely one out here. The kid needed a friend. “Mite won’t like where we’re going. It’d be best to leave him behind.”

Another sigh. The boy tucked himself into Ryker’s chest. “I’ll leave some roo meat and Vegemite toast for him.”

One of their few pleasures—the Vegemite—and here the kid was giving it to the stray. “We best get you back to bed.”

His breathing was slowing, his eyelids fluttering closed. “Are you going to bed now too?”

There is no sleeping tonight. Not for him. He had to get out his map and decide for sure where to head on their first scouting expedition. Somewhere remote, extremely challenging to get to, but offering an easy escape route in case someone found them. Highly unlikely with his training, but he had to be prepared nevertheless. There was no letting down his guard, no assuming they were safe, ever.

This place had been ideal for the past seven months. Filled with forests, mountains, and wild animals, there were few roads and even fewer people.

“Sure, I’ll head in pretty soon.” The islands on the east coast might be the ticket, although they only allowed one major escape route, and that was over water. He’d need a boat, something fast but sturdy. “You don’t need to worry about me.”

“That means no, you’re not going to bed.” The boy snuggled deeper, pulling the blanket to his chin. “I’ll be staying with you then.”

Jaeger had nightmares as well. He ruffled the boy’s hair, releasing his own sigh. After a few minutes, Jaeger’s breathing grew deeper.

Movement by the woods caught Ryker’s eye, a flash of white disappearing in the shadows of the trees. Mite had heard Jaeger’s voice, no doubt, and came to investigate. He hoped for a bit of food or a pat on the head.

Not this time, mate.

For a moment, Ryker wondered how the dingo had gotten separated from his pack. Why had they left him behind or forced him out? He was old, but still moved well enough. Maybe he truly was a feral dog, belonging to someone who’d lived here before and left or died. He’d probably lived too long with humans to become fully wild, and the dingoes hadn’t accepted him.

Or maybe he’d done something they deemed unforgivable. Ryker had no idea what that might be, but either way he felt a strange connection to the dog. He’d been betrayed by his pack, the CIA, and understood the consequences from the choices he’d made that had put him here with only a small boy and a feral dog to keep him company.

Jaeger snored softly and Ryker lifted him, carrying him to the cabin. For a brief moment, he glimpsed Mite’s face peeking through some brush, watching him. Ryker paused, sending the dog a silent message of thanks for befriending the boy. “Sorry I can’t take you with us,” he whispered.

Mite stared, then shifted and ran, disappearing once more into the dark shadows.

Ryker looked down at Jaeger’s face, his small mouth open, his chubby cheeks moving ever so slightly with each breath of air.

It wasn’t only the promise Ryker had made to Jaeger’s mother that kept him protecting the boy. He’s my son too. Maybe not by blood, but definitely by choice.

As Ryker entered the cabin, a soft howl echoed through the woods behind him.

★★★★★ “Holy hotness! Can I have a Ryker? Seriously, this was a great contemporary read and I do have a soft spot for a man in uniform. Mia is definitely his match whether he wants to admit it or not! Lots of action you’d expect from a spy theme and some super hot M/F action.” ~ Larisa, Goodreads reviewer

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Meet the men of the SOUTHERN CALI TASKFORCE!

The agents of the SCVC Taskforce will take you undercover…and make you risk it all. Meet the men and women from the FBI, DEA, and NSA that make up the Southern California Taskforce! 

“…full of suspense & sexual attraction. The mystery…keeps you enthralled from beginning to end.”

Under the supervision of Cooper “The Beast” Harris, the agents of the San Diego Southern Violent Crimes Taskforce risk their lives every day against drug kingpins, gunrunners, and terrorists. Some of them fall in love along the way, and they will fight to protect the ones they love and gain their happily-ever-after.

This special boxed collection includes four full-length, fast paced, action-packed romantic suspense novels – Deadly Pursuit (a USA TODAY bestseller!), Deadly Deception, Deadly Force, & Deadly Intent – filled with alpha males, strong, kickass females, and sizzling romance. This collection will keep you reading late into the night, enthralled from beginning to end!

“…suspensedangerpassion and a hot romance.” ~ Reader review

“This is fast-paced romantic suspense at its best!” ~ Reader review

About the Series: The SCVC Taskforce novels are thrilling romantic suspense stories with guaranteed happily-ever-afters. Go undercover with the alpha heroes and kickass heroines of the SCVC Taskforce Series today!

Books in the SCVC Taskforce series:

Deadly Pursuit – Cooper and Celina

Deadly Deception – Thomas and Ronni

Deadly Force – Cal and Bianca (aka Beatrice in SEALs of Shadow Force)

Deadly Intent – Nelson and Sophia

Deadly Affair – Cooper and Celina novella

Deadly Attraction – Mitch and Emma

Deadly Secrets – Roman and Brooke

Deadly Holiday – Cooper and Celina novella

Deadly Target – Victor and Olivia

Deadly Rescue – Cooper and Celina novella

Deadly Bounty – Joe and Samantha

Deadly Betrayal – Caleb and Josie (coming Fall 2020!)

★★★★★ Binge read all weekend!

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Your weekend read…with Kali and Rad from Revenge Is Sweet

Today, Kali Sweet interrogates…er, interviews…her half-demon lover, Radison Beaumont.

Kali: Thanks for agreeing to do the interview, Rad.

Rad: (eyeing Kali’s whip):  Like you gave me a choice.

Kali (smiling): So, you’re a Chaos demon. If you could have any power other than the powers you currently possess, what would it be?

Rad: The ability to read your mind like Damon does. I don’t like that he has that power over you.

Kali (ignoring the hard look in Rad’s eyes): How difficult is it to be half human/half Chaos demon? Which one wins out most of the time?

Rad: My two sides are always at war, but I’ve learned to control them. The chaos side comes out if someone I love is in trouble or I’m threatened. The more vulnerable human side comes out when I am with that certain person I love. Sometimes they both come out when we, uh, you know… (winks)

Kali (narrows eyes at him): Moving on. What do you want to dress up as for Halloween?

Rad: Well, Radison Beaumont, rock star, of course.

Kali: Che cavalo, you are so full of yourself.

Rad (grinning): You love me anyway.

Kali:  What is your favorite thing to do on Halloween? 

Rad:  Perform in front of my fans. Halloween rock concerts are the best. Fans dress up, real-life supernaturals come out to play, and the band and I bring down the house with our own version of Thriller.

Kali: Favorite Halloween treat?

Rad: You.

Kali (flicking whip): Be serious.

Rad: I am.

Kali: Besides me.

Rad: Hmm…it’s a tossup between Snickers and M&Ms.

Kali: What would people be surprised to know about you?

Rad:  I love to cook.

Kali: Your shrimp fra diavolo is the best I’ve ever had. Why are you so good in the kitchen?

Rad (wiggles fingers): It’s all in the touch. Like playing a guitar or seducing a woman.

Kali:  Riiight…so what do you like to do when you’re not playing music or chasing down crazy supernaturals with me?

Rad:  Watch sports. Drive fast cars. You know, the usual. I am half human and a guy, after all.

Kali: If you had to pick a fight with another supernatural what kind would he be?  Vampire? Werewolf? Ghost?

Rad: There’s a certain vampire king and an archdemon I’m dying to go a couple rounds with.

Kali (mimicking Rad and wiggling her fingers): Better not hurt your money makers.

Rad: It’d be worth it to get you away from both of them.

Kali: Not gonna happen, and if it does, it’ll be because I kicked their asses, not you.

Rad: We’ll see about that…

Kali: Isn’t it inconvenient to be in love with a demon (points to herself) when you’re a demon hunter?

Rad: Inconvenient? More like a living hell, especially since you’re the number one demon on my hit list. But what’s life without some gritty conflict? (He shrugs.) I make it work.

Kali: Yes, you do. Quite well, in fact, but we really need to do something about that. I can’t keep consorting with a demon hunter.

Rad’s phone rings. He looks at the readout and stands, kisses Kali’s forehead: I’ll take care of the problem in book three. Promise. Right now, I gotta run.

Kali (fingering whip): Satan’s balls, tell me that’s not Parker.

Rad: Parker’s not in my life anymore and you know it.

Kali: Uh-huh. Just watch yourself, Chaos demon.

Rad (grinning): You’re sexy when you’re jealous.

Kali (snaps whip at him): Go. I’ll catch up with you later.

Rad: You better or I’ll hunt you down.

Kali (waving him off and secretly smiling as she watches him saunter away): Promises, promises…

READ Kali and Rad’s story this weekend! (Buy direct and save $5 on the bundle!)

★★★★★ “…hot, hot, hot!” ~ Reader review

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Cooper must risk his career – and his heart – to keep Celina alive

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ “LOVED it! Breathtaking novel of suspense with an irresistible romance.” ~ Goodreads reviewer

Her sting operation put a ruthless criminal in prison…

One year ago, rookie FBI agent Celina Davenport pulled off the ultimate undercover operation…she seduced Emilio Londano – the dangerous leader of the San Diego Mafia – and destroyed his illegal empire.

Now he’s escaped and looking for revenge…

When Londano escapes a maximum security prison and begins picking off Celina’s friends and coworkers, everyone she knows becomes a target. Including DEA agent Cooper Harris, the man who once broke her heart and is now assigned to be her bodyguard.

How far will they go to stop him?

Cooper must risk his career – and his heart – to keep Celina alive. But will their past, with its forbidden passions and impulsive choices, put them directly in the killer’s crosshairs?

***Enjoy this excerpt!

“Take your gun, Davenport.” Chief Forester’s voice was low and ominous, rising out of the back seat of the car where he was hiding. Not an easy thing to do, Celina figured, with so much body mass.

Bending down, she motioned at her partner Ronni in the passenger seat and shucked off her mittens. “Give me your bag.”

Celina rarely carried handbags to work. She hung her badge on her belt like her male counterparts and carried her ID in her back pocket. Her gun was always in a shoulder holster. Now her gun, ID and badge were lying on the Fairmont’s floor. “Avon ladies don’t carry guns,” she murmured to her boss. “At least not in Iowa.”

Ronni handed Celina her brown leather purse and the Avon catalog. “Right behind you,” she said, giving her a wink.

“Take. Your. Gun,” the chief ground out again. His voice carried as much threat in its low volume setting as it did at its ear-piercing level. “You want to end up a goddamned hostage?”

That was her plan. Celina knew when she approached the door, Annie would immediately sense something was up. Something in Annie’s world always involved police. Celina could see no other outcome but a dangerous hostage situation. She doubted Annie would even open the door, but if she did, Celina was going to offer herself as a trade for Annie’s kids. Any mother, even an outlaw one, would look for a way to save her children. Celina was prepared to give it to her.

Slinging the strap of Ronni’s bag over her shoulder, she shut the car door, defying the chief’s direct orders. Not the best idea, but he’d stuck her in a no-win situation and therefore, Celina decided, she was calling the shots. For a split-second she wondered if he and Quarters would transfer her like Cooper had after the Londano case. Where would she end up this time? South Dakota?


Not the end of the world. If I can get the kids out safely, she thought, that will be enough.

Shifting her shoulders, Celina forced her feet to walk up the cracked sidewalk toward the steps of the duplex. She loved her job, wanted to serve her country, but if there was anything she’d learned in the past year, it was that she didn’t always get what she wanted.

Ronni’s car door slammed and Celina glanced at her partner. Her hair was a bright apricot color, her skin darker than Celina’s but no less smooth. As they walked down the sidewalk, the sun popped out, glaring off the new fallen snow. Celina started up the stairs, shielding her eyes against the glare and trying to keep her breathing even. There were fifteen of her counterparts hidden around the block, watching the apprehension and scrutinizing every move she made.

Annie was one honest to God bad girl. Having been on the run for more years than Celina had been legal, Annie was an experienced fugitive. The woman had once shot her partner in his nether region in the middle of a bank robbery because he wouldn’t let her carry the bag of money.

Clearing her mind, Celina tried to think positive. Ronni was by her side and definitely carrying. Chief Forester was right behind her in the car for immediate backup with his Remington, and the other guys were scattered up and down the block. All had extensive training in marksmanship and deadly-force decisions.

Voices from a television filtered through the door. Muffled laughter drifted down from upstairs. Little girl laughter. She had to do this right, not to prove that she was as good as any of the men in the unit, but to keep those little girls safe.

Glancing at Ronni, Celina mouthed Ready? Ronni gave her a nod. Do it.

Celina knocked sharply on the door. “Avon calling,” she said, trying to mimic the singsong voice Ronni had used earlier when they’d decided to approach the house under this outdated guise.

At first nothing noticeable changed inside the house. Then the TV went silent and Celina heard a man’s voice, low but commanding. A man? No one had reported a man being inside the duplex.

Before she could consider who or what she was now up against, Celina saw a drapery move in the window to her right. Instinctively, she shifted her weight and her hand went for her gun.

And came up empty.

Before she could curse her poor judgment, the door handle turned and her eyes dropped to it. Watch their hands, the words of her Quantico instructor echoed in her head. Not their eyes. No one could shoot you with their eyes.

“Don’t want no Avon,” a man’s voice said as the door opened a notch.

A fragment of sun bounced off metal. Instinct had Celina moving before she could think. “Gun!” she yelled, pushing Ronni to the side.

The sawed-off shotgun boomed in her ears and the iron railing gave out as Ronni and Celina toppled off the porch and into the dead evergreens by the house. They landed with a thud on hard ground next to the concrete foundation. A thousand prickly evergreen needles showered down on them as they rolled in unison away from the porch.

Before the spent shells hit the concrete, Celina was hauling Ronni up by her jacket. “Run!” she yelled, hearing the distinctive click of the shotgun snapping back into place.


The sound sent her to her knees, but adrenaline had her back up in the blink of an eye, her legs moving like a runner taking off out of the blocks. More gunshots cracked through the air. Celina heard the Fairmont’s windshield explode.

Crouching with her arms thrown over her head, she ran for the edge of the house where Ronni had disappeared. She rounded the corner at full speed.

And ran smack dab into a wall.

Bouncing back as her feet scrambled for purchase on the late season ice and snow, she grunted when her butt hit the ground. Glancing up, black Magnum boots were in her line of vision. Big boots, laced military tight.

She hadn’t run into a wall. She’d run into a man.

A hulk of a man with very broad shoulders. Celina followed the line of his body up to his face. The sun was reflecting off the house and snow and blinding her. She could make out a few things: a black baseball cap with the letters DEA across the front pulled down low on his forehead, a mean-looking semi-automatic gun in his left hand. His scowl made her already-racing heart shift into warp speed.

When did the Terminator arrive in Iowa?

He shifted his gaze down to her and the look of disgust in it made her, if only briefly, entertain the idea of taking her chances with the sawed-off shotgun.

“Get up,” he ordered, and the sound of his voice and the impatient tone clicked in her brain, but her ears were ringing from the shotgun blasts and she wasn’t sure she’d heard him correctly. He reached down and grabbed her by the knot in her knitted scarf. Hauling her to her feet, he pulled her with him as he backed up against the side of the house. Her legs wobbled and her feet skimmed on the ice. She lost her balance and fell face first into his chest.

His bullet-proof vest was hard, but under it, she sensed a wall of pure, solid muscle. Just like his arms and his legs and everything else hidden under his DEA-approved wardrobe. Celina knew once her adrenaline slowed down, she was going to ache all over, not from falling off the porch but from hitting the Terminator at full speed.

The machine-like DEA agent pulled her closer. “You all right?”


There was a spurt of gunfire from the street and then the sound of more glass breaking. Cooper drew her in tighter. She flinched at the sound of the shotgun booming again. It sounded like a small explosion.

But then Cooper pushed her away, pushed her against the house. She mimicked his position, wishing she could have stayed in the protective embrace of his arms and knowing why she couldn’t. Ronni was a few feet away, sitting on the ground, back against the house with her gun out. Leaning her head back against the siding, Celina let out a breath. They were both a little shook up, but otherwise unscathed.

The gunfire stopped and total silence descended on the street. No birdsong. No traffic noise. Cooper had his eyes on her, sizing her up from top to bottom. “What the hell did you think you were doing?”

On one hand, she was excited to see him. On the other, the tone of his voice and his general man-handling pissed her off. Celina knew the silence around them meant her FBI counterparts were regrouping, while they tried to figure out their next move.

“I was doing my job,” she said to him. She let her eyes run over him in the same sizing-up he’d given her. He looked good. Solid and handsome, and serious as ever. “What are you doing here?”

“Where’s your gun? Or do female Feds in Des Moines carry Avon books as weapons these days?”

Celina shut her eyes for a moment. She had fantasized relentlessly about her reunion with Cooper. Never had her fantasy involved the current scene. Ronni cleared her throat and Celina glanced at her. Her partner was watching the exchange and had a questioning look on her face. Celina mouthed Cooper, and Ronni raised her brows and nodded her nice, very nice look of approval.

“Dickie Jagger is mine, Celina.”

“Dickie Jagger? Annie’s ex-boyfriend?” Celina scanned her memory. Richardson and Jagger had been tight in the late 90’s, pulling off more than their fair share of petty crimes together before Jagger had joined a gang in L.A.. It was probably Jagger who’d fathered at least one of Annie’s kids. “That’s who answered the door?”

“You were expecting the Great and Powerful Oz?”

“I was expecting Annie Richardson or her mother.”

Cooper grunted. “You can have Richardson, but Jagger’s mine.”

Turf war coming up. The FBI and the DEA often overlapped each other’s jurisdictions with criminals, which is why taskforces like Cooper’s SCVC were created. But even though they were supposed to be working together, they were more interested in trying to one-up each other.

Think Big Picture, Dominic Quarters always preached. His Big Picture was now clearer to Celina. Her boss and her boss’s boss wanted jurisdiction over everything and they’d do whatever it took to keep all other agencies in the dark.

She wondered what Forester was doing in the Fairmont, and if he was okay. If he was, she was going to give him and Quarters a piece of her mind when this operation was over. They had sacrificed children and two agents in a hurry to beat the DEA to the house.

“I’m sure Chief Forester would like to talk to you about that,” she said, when what she really wanted to say was, “Where have you been? Why didn’t you call me?”

For months after her transfer, Celina had analyzed Cooper’s behavior out loud while on stakeouts with her partner. Ronni had put it in six easy to understand words: he’s just not that into you.

Cooper did a quick scan of the area again. “Where is he, your chief?”

“In the car.”

His eyes snapped back to hers and the brim of his cap rose with his eyebrows. “The car in the driveway?” He shook his head. “What kind of half-assed FBI unit is this?”

“You should know,” Celina retorted, mad all over again. “You sent me here.”

“I didn’t send you here,” Cooper corrected her. “That was Quantico’s orders after your face was splashed all over Time magazine as the New Face of the FBI.”

“But you kicked me off—”

“This is not the time, Celina.”

Before Celina could reply, Cooper cocked his head, picking up noise inside the house. His hand came up to silence her. For several seconds he stilled; a freeze frame of anticipation. Not even a breath escaped his body, only a prevenient energy radiating from every inch of him. A cat preparing to pounce on a mouse.

Another noise inside the house—this time Celina heard it too—voices and the sharp snap of a shotgun locking into position. Cooper pulled a mouthpiece out of his cap and spoke into it. “Assume take down positions,” he announced quietly to whoever was listening. “We’re going in.”

“There are three innocent people in that house. Kids.” Celina’s voice sounded too loud in her ears. “You can’t just bust in there. Someone could get hurt.”

Cooper pointed one of his fingers at a spot next to Ronni. “Have a seat, Agent Davenport. This take-down no longer concerns you. You shouldn’t be here and if you and your buddies hadn’t screwed this up to begin with, we wouldn’t have this problem.”

“Now, wait a minute,” she started, but Cooper grabbed her shoulder, twirled her around and pushed her down hard on her butt. She gasped from the impact and his incivility.

“Everybody move on my count,” he said into his radio.

Walking to the corner of the house, he locked his gun into firing position under his arm. “One, two, three.” His voice rose. “Go! Go! Go!”

And then he was gone.

Celina looked at Ronni, whose eyes were still on the spot where Cooper had disappeared. “So that’s The Beast, huh?” A silly grin split her face. “That gun powder and Wheaties diet is working for him.”

“Yeah,” Celina huffed, sarcasm blowing out with her breath, “and he definitely wants me. Did you notice how he was practically falling all over himself to see if I was okay?” She pushed herself off the ground to follow him. “Asshole.”

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Payback is a bitch and her name is Kali Sweet…

★★★★★ “Kali is a Buffy the vampire slayer new genre!” ~ Reader review

★★★★★ “Great urban fantasy!” ~Goodreads review

I’m Kali Sweet, the best damn vengeance demon on earth. I work for the supernatural world’s Justice Department and protect innocent humans from otherworldly creatures like me. While I can’t take revenge for myself, I make sure justice is done for others.

But when my latest run-in with Chicago’s vampire king backfires, the fallout leaves me with three big problems: a powerful Undead enemy who wants my head, my boss looking over my shoulder, and three personal blood slaves jeopardizing my reputation.

***Enjoy this excerpt!

Raj Nudra, Vampire King of the Central United States, was waiting for me.
Seated behind a mammoth black desk, Nudra appraised me with flat reddish-brown eyes. Two of his minions flanked his sides, arms crossed, weapons in plain sight. Low level demons, good for muscle but who couldn’t think their way out of a coffin.
Nudra leaned back in his chair, long black hair falling across his shoulders as his feminine lips curved up into a smug smile. “Kalina Dolce, what brings you here? Hoping to score front row seats to the concert?” He pointed to a couple of tickets on his desk and then to a bright orange lanyard with a plastic ID protector. “Or perhaps a backstage pass? Word has it, you were once sweet—no pun intended—on Rad Beaumont. If you’re looking to hook up again…” He let the suggestion hang in the air.
No one had called me Kalina Dolce since I’d left Rome in 1910. Kali Sweet was more modern, more American, and it didn’t remind me every day of what had happened to my family and friends. Didn’t make me catch my breath in fear when someone called me by it, or make my gut cramp with guilt when I saw it written on a random envelope in the mail pile.
I shut down the bloody memory the name called up. Now wasn’t the time to revisit the past. In fact, it was never a good time to visit the past. Under the circumstances, however, I recognized Nudra’s one-two punch. He’d caught me off guard with his use of my old name and knowledge about my relationship with Rad. He obviously had anticipated my visit and planned accordingly.
Blood-sucking bastard.
Rule one when dealing with vampires, always have a ready escape. Leaving the door open, I removed my Bridge badge from the inside pocket of my cape, regaining my composure as I did so. The weight of the shield reassured me. The way the overhead light bounced off the gold reminded me of the responsibility I held. Nudra was king of a bunch of undead vamps. Big deal. I was a member of the Bridge Council and the best damn vengeance demon on the face of planet Earth.
I shoved my badge in his face. Sniffed the air as if he stunk as I flicked the hood off my head. Italian flair, check.
Offense taken, he straightened ever so subtly as I glared down at him. “You’ve crossed the line with humans again, using them as blood slaves. Trafficking them across state lines and selling them to the highest bidders. That’s two strikes this year. One more, and…”
“You’ll send me to my coffin for a time out?”
East Indian charm, check.
“One more, and the next time you see me, I’ll have pliers in my hand.”
His flat eyes sized me up, and then he tsked. “Such an inhumane way to remove my fangs.”
I fished the written warning out of my back skirt pocket and tossed it on the top of his desk. “They’re not for your fangs, buddy boy.” American snarkiness, check. “They’re for your balls.”
I grabbed my crotch to emphasize my point before backing toward the door. Rule number two, never, ever turn your back on a vamp, especially when threatening his vamphood. “I take your balls, you lose your sex drive, and with it your bloodlust will decrease by ninety-nine percent. You’ll stop preying on human girls and boys, and a king with no sac is nothing but a figurehead, so you can wave bye-bye to all this power you’ve amassed. The Council will divide up your kingdom among the other American vampire rulers and your fortune will be doled out to the blood slaves as restitution.”
While his DNA gave his skin a warm tone, the vampire disease paled it. The result was a taupey gray, making it impossible to discern whether or not my words were sinking in.
Nudra leaned forward in his chair. “How surprising the Council sends you, its heart and soul, to do its dirty work.” Instantly, I felt his power rising around both of us. Sexual power, blood lust, desire all mixed together. “I could use someone like you in my organization, Kalina. Someone with your strength, your influence. That zest for humans you have fits perfectly with mine. The compensation, of course, would be exemplary. You would have everything you ever wanted.”
There was only one thing I wanted, and no one, not even God Himself, could give that to me. Once a demon, always a demon.
I stopped in the doorway. “My name is Kali Sweet.” Holding up two fingers, I made snipping motions. “Don’t forget it or I’ll tattoo it into your skin when I cut off your balls.”
My nerves jangled as loud as the music in the walls as I moved quickly into the hallway and continued to back toward the stairs. Threatening a vampire king was stupid, but running a human blood slave business was unforgivable, and if it had been me making the call, I would have staked him on the spot. The Council, however, existed for this very reason. Vigilante justice created more problems than it solved.
No surprise, Nudra’s minions darted out of the office after me a few seconds later, weapons drawn. Vampire king bluster, check. Guns won’t kill me, but bullets will slow me down. And they hurt like hell.
Adrenaline pumping, I hit the bar of the stairway’s door hard with my backside to push it open. I didn’t want to engage the minions, but I reached for my trusty whip, curled around my left arm like a bracelet anyway.
I’d just turned to run down the stairs when I smacked into a solid wall.
Where did that come from, my brain screamed as the impact sent me backwards on my butt, back hitting the cold concrete wall and knocking the wind out of me. A guitar landed at my feet, making a funny twanging noise as if someone had run unskilled fingers over the strings.
A vaguely familiar, surprised sounding voice said, “Kali?” and I looked up to see my daily nightmare standing there in the flesh.
Radison Beaumont, in too-worn jeans and a too-tight black T-shirt, gave me a slow once-over with his beautiful gold-colored eyes before his lips quirked to one side in a smile that sent my already hammering heart into overdrive. Beating like a battering ram inside my chest, it rang in my ears and drowned out the bass drum echoing in the stairwell.
My skirt had flipped up to reveal an expanse of skin between the top of my boots and my underwear and Rad’s gaze lingered between my legs a second too long before lifting to meet mine. Dozens of warnings went off in my head, but damn if I could find my voice or my extensive repertoire of Italian curse words. I couldn’t even find my breath. He looked a little older than the last time I’d seen him, but still perfect to me in every way. Thick black hair, a little too long and mussed, those gorgeous eyes, flawless skin and teeth. Not to mention faultless proportions. Like they’d done every other time I was in the near vicinity of him, my body, mind and heart staged a coup. Traitors.
While it seemed like an eternity before he spoke, it was in reality only another beat of my heart. He held out one long, perfect hand and in his eyes I saw it was more than just an offer to help me to my feet. It was an olive branch. A peace treaty. “I can’t believe you’re here. Did you come to see m—” He caught himself, thought better of it. “Did you come for the concert?”
It would have been easy, so easy, to slip my hand into his. To forget the past under the spell of those mesmerizing eyes and allow him to help me up. Instead, I pushed myself off the ground, keeping my back against the wall and shoved my skirt back into place.
Before I could answer, Nudra’s minions barreled through the door and nearly knocked Rad and me both down the stairs. As the first one reached for me, Rad snapped his fingers and the guitar on the ground jerked upward, tripping the demon and sending him flying face first onto the top stair. Being half-chaos demon, causing trouble was as easy as breathing to Rad.
He turned on the second bodyguard and the demon held up his hands and stepped back. Smart. He must have known Rad could bring the entire building down on him if he wanted to. The demon disappeared through the door, a soft clicking sound resonating in the now silent stairwell as the latch snapped into place. My breathing sounded too loud in my ears. The demon at my feet moaned, but didn’t move.
As if nothing had happened, Rad turned to me, a smile tugging the skin over the fine bones of his cheeks. Two dimples sprang to life. “Your hair. It’s…different.”
“Seriously?” I righted my cape, which had twisted to the left when I fell. I kicked the demon on the stairs out of the way. “That’s the best you’ve got after standing me up at the altar three-hundred years ago? My hair is different?”
“It was two-hundred eighty-five years and three days ago.” His golden eyes darkened and he grabbed me around the waist, jerking me up against his rock-hard body. His gaze dropped to my lips and I was suddenly seventeen again. “And this is the best way I can think of to say I’m sorry.”
Before I understood what he was about to do, il pistolino lowered his half-demon, half-human lips to mine and kissed me.


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Books in the series:

Revenge Is Sweet, Kali Sweet Urban Fantasy Series, Book 1

Sweet Chaos, Kali Sweet Urban Fantasy Series, Book 2

Sweet Soldier, Kali Sweet Urban Fantasy Series, Book 3

Sweet Curse, Kali Sweet Urban Fantasy Series, Book 4


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He’ll sacrifice everything to be her savior, but will she be his downfall?

“Michael Stone has earned his spot in my top three romance heroes!” ~ Reader review

**Winner of the Heart of Excellence Ancient Romance City Writers award for Best Romantic Suspense!

Arlington, VA


The grandfather clock in the corner chimed, its deep baritone vibrating under a sheet of protective plastic. The antique clock, unlike the west wall of Michael Stone’s home office, had escaped damage when the bullets flew. If only his chest had been as lucky.

Michael stopped sanding the section of Sheetrock in front of him to rub the scar under his shirt. For the sixth time in as many months, he was patching and sanding holes, trying to cover up the past. But just like the drywall dust that had infiltrated every corner of his office, reminders of the hostage incident infiltrated every corner of his mind.

The edge of one of the filled bullet holes was ridged. Another had sunk. He should just knock them out and start over. He should do the same with the memories.

Julia. Conrad. Raissi. The names swirled in his brain, making his gut clench and his forehead sweat. No matter how many times he cut out and patched the holes, betrayal, obligation, and failure rose from the dust to mock him.

Starting on the ridged patch, he gritted his teeth as the sandpaper chewed up the dried mud and dust fell to the ground. Time, he told himself, as the grandfather clock chimed again. I just need more time.

Using his shirt sleeve to wipe the sweat from his forehead, he pushed the past behind the carefully constructed wall he’d built in his mind. He should have been at Ella’s school, watching her parade around, all smiles and six-year-old self-confidence in her Wonder Woman costume instead of trying to fix something that couldn’t be fixed.

Halloween had become so dangerous Ella’s school had decided to put on a trunk-or-treat, complete with parade, to keep the students protected. The fact that kids had lost the freedom to enjoy trick or treating saddened Michael. It saddened him even more that he was loathe to go watch his niece enjoy the substitute version because he couldn’t go anywhere in public without a battalion of security. As Deputy Director of the CIA and brother-in-law to the next president—if the pre-election day polls were accurate—his autonomy no longer existed.

These days, it didn’t matter if you were an adult or a kid. Freedom was a precious commodity choked off by criminals and terrorists.

Goddamn terrorists.

Throwing the sandpaper down on the tarp at his feet, he headed for his desk. A week’s worth of newspapers covered one corner. His stuffed briefcase lay next to them. The European Directorate was waiting for his signature on a dozen different projects.

Michael wheeled his office chair out and sat down hard. He booted up his laptop, drumming a staccato on the top of his desk with his fingers as he waited for the opening screen to ask for his password. Before it could flash the message, his attention was drawn back to the wall. Raissi’s smirking face danced over the holes.

Adrenaline buzzed in his veins as he shut the laptop with a firm snap. No way was he getting any work done tonight. He should call Kinnick, his bodyguard and sparring partner, and hit the gym. Fighting was the only way he’d found to jack the energy and the memories from his psyche.

He’d taken up mixed martial arts which combined kickboxing with the two other phases of combat—takedowns and submission holds. Fights required all three types of skills, and knowing which phase would give you an advantage over your opponent gave you control of the fight.

Even outside the ring, control was power.

Thad Pennington, Republican candidate for U.S. President, was mere days and percentage points away from taking control of the White House. He’d already offered Michael directorship of the CIA after the election, but Michael had turned him down. Unlike a majority of D.C.’s political pundits, he didn’t want his legacy handed to him on anything other than merit.

Thad was also Ella’s father. A father on the campaign trail and missing the Halloween festivities. Yet another reason Michael should have been at Ella’s school. She needed a substitute father more and more while her biological one pursued the dream of power.

Across the room, Raissi’s face faded into poorly patched bullet holes once again, standing out in bas-relief from the smooth surface surrounding them. A heavy, burning sensation tugged at Michael’s chest. Letting out his breath, he rocked his chair back and forth, his fingers absently probing his scar.

Holes. His life was full of them. Work, social life, family. His goddamn chest. And every time he patched one, it seemed to have the opposite effect. The holes kept getting bigger, spreading like a disease.

The phone on his desk rang, jolting him out of his thoughts. A vacation from them was such a relief, he snagged the receiver without looking at the ID.



It was only two syllables, but his sister’s high-pitched voice, cracking with strain, brought him up straight. “What is it, Ruthie?”

She sobbed and the hair on the back of his neck rose. “It’s Ella. She’s…gone.” Another sob. “Kidnapped. We don’t know who’s got her. Oh, Michael, what are they doing to my baby?”

The world screeched to a halt. As the next beat of his heart echoed inside his head, he rose from the chair, his body kicking into phase one of combat.


Washington D.C. suburbs

Brigit Kent unlocked the door to her loft, dropped her overnight bag on the floor inside, and flipped on the lights. After traveling nonstop in Europe for the past week, she wanted a hot shower, a pint of Cherry Garcia, and a couple hours of BBC America.

On the kitchen counter she found a basket stuffed with various fruits and chocolates, an official Department of Homeland Security ID badge with her photo and name on it, and a note from her assistant Truman Gunn.

Welcome back to your home away from home. JOE secured your assignment with Homeland. I’ll catch you up on all the spiffy details first thing tomorrow. White House, eight o’clock. Wear the suit.


P.S. TiVo’d Dr. Who for you.

Brigit shed her Burberry trench coat, unwrapped a Godiva and popped it in her mouth. JOE stood for Jolly Old England, Truman’s nickname for her employer, Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service. The Department of Homeland Security thought they were getting a freelance consultant on domestic terrorism, and they were, but while she was working for Homeland, SIS had an undercover job for her.

What neither SIS nor Homeland realized was Brigit had her own agenda while she was in Washington.

She pulled the Cherry Garcia from the freezer and kicked off her boots in the living room. She flipped on the TV, anxious to catch up on her favorite show. Before she could find the TiVo remote, though, a breaking story on Headline News caught her eye. Eleanor Pennington, the daughter of Republican nominee Thad Pennington, had been kidnapped.

Frowning, Brigit turned up the volume and sat on the edge of the couch. A reporter on the scene at Eleanor’s school reported scant details before summoning several people nearby to give eyewitness accounts.

Gooseflesh rose on Brigit’s arms as she listened. No one had actually seen the girl being kidnapped, but she had disappeared from a school function out from under the watchful eyes of adults and Secret Service agents. No contact from the kidnapper had been made except a single phone call—Eleanor’s voice crying for her mother.

Proof of life.

A tremor went down Brigit’s spine and the little girl in her head cried out, the old nightmare of a locked door and the fire surfacing. Her gaze darted to the photo next to the TV. She and her younger sister, Tory, were grinning at the camera, arms thrown around each other’s neck in childhood abandon. A different proof of life.

As if her body had a will of its own, Brigit rose from the edge of the couch and returned the ice cream to the freezer. She slipped on her trench and slid her sore feet back into her boots before retrieving her handgun from her overnight bag and heading for the door. At the last minute, she went back to the kitchen counter and grabbed the Homeland badge. That and the kidnapping had just made her assignment for SIS a slam dunk.

Leaving the lights on in the loft, she closed and locked the door behind her, slipping her handgun into the pocket of her trench coat.

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He makes the rules. She breaks them.

**An Amazon bestseller in Romance and Romantic Suspense in 2010! An espionage and Military Romance bestseller!

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ “Lawson Vaughn is now my fantasy boyfriend.” ~ Reader review

The betrayal began at four-o-three a.m. in an abandoned two-story farmhouse ten kilometers southwest of Paris.

Betrayal was an old friend of Zara Morgan’s. Her mother betrayed her talent and prima-ballerina status to marry a millionaire. Her father, in turn, betrayed her mother by having an affair with the stock market as well as another woman. At fourteen years of age, Zara’s own body betrayed her youth, training, and determination, leaving her with a ruptured Achilles tendon and the shattered dream of restoring her mother’s honor in the world of dance.

So when the guileless tone of Alexandrov Dmitri’s voice raised the hair on the back of her neck, the foreign intelligence officer recognized the sound of betrayal, the feel of it in her bones, even before her brain processed his words coming through the small speaker of her laptop. Tim Owens, her friend and fellow CIA operative, had been betrayed by the most-wanted criminal in Europe.

Zara knew you couldn’t defeat betrayal by wishing on a star, praying to God or pretending it didn’t exist, and as the next few minutes ticked by, her pulse throbbed in a synchronized dance with fear. She could sit in the specially equipped gray van hidden alongside a row of trees and let the coming hours play out like a mise en scène inside the farmhouse, or she could place a call for help.

At four-o-five, she called Langley.

An hour later as she waited in the airless van for the cavalry to arrive, she speculated at the reason for her racing pulse. It wasn’t just Dmitri. When Commander Lawson Vaughn arrived with his rescue team, betrayal would again be her friend. She could feel that in her bones too.

Vaughn was all the things she wasn’t. Older, experienced, solid as granite and tempered like fine steel. Disciplined. Intense. Deadly.

The first time she’d seen him at the Agency’s training camp in Virginia, she was two days from graduating from the Farm. He was between rescue missions. He’d seen her watching him as he practiced hand-to-hand combat with another man on his team. The piercing assessment in his return gaze left a cellular imprint in Zara’s body she couldn’t shake. Didn’t want to. His intense eyes haunted her even now, months later, a thousand miles away from that moment.

From the speaker Dmitri’s bored voice turned sharper, more demanding. He tired of the game he himself had initiated. “Tell me where my merchandise is, Agent Owens, or I will break the bones in each and every finger you have.”

Zara gripped the console bolted to the floor and leaned toward the small speaker. A ball of fear pinged around her stomach.

“Your porn library?” Tim’s voice held measured sarcasm. Sarcasm Zara appreciated. It told her Tim was still mentally strong enough to fight. “Or your collection of feather boas?”

The sucking sound of a fist hitting soft flesh rang in the van and she flinched. Tim’s groan filled her ears and she resisted the urge to throw her hands over them like she had done as a child when her parents’ raised voices had sent her running to her room. How could this happen? How could this simple, straightforward field assignment go so horribly wrong?

Power, greed, lust…the basic motivators of betrayal were the same for fathers, mothers, and criminals alike.

Dmitri chuckled. “Your agents stole my missiles.” He paused, and in Zara’s mind, she saw him taking a draw off the ever-present Dutch cigarette between his lips. She could hear him exhale. “I want them back and you know where they are.”

No, he doesn’t. Zara knew a rich Saudi prince expected Dmitri to deliver the cache of smart missiles and the technology to build more in less than six hours. Dmitri was under the gun, and now so was Tim, but Tim didn’t know the whereabouts of the missiles.

He and Zara had been hunting down a turncoat spy in the Paris Embassy. An asset had led them to the farmhouse with the promise of evidence. Instead of finding the informant waiting for him, however, Tim had found Dmitri, a black market arms dealer the U.S. had been trying to arrest for months.

Trying and failing.

In the van, sweat soaked the back of Zara’s white shirt. Her boss didn’t want the French involved in Tim’s rescue for reasons beyond her clearance level, so he’d called in Pegasus, the CIA’s paramilitary team. Although the five-man squad had been on assignment in Germany, Vaughn had assured her Pegasus would arrive before sunrise.

Zara checked her watch. Sunrise was less than fifteen minutes away.

Fifteen minutes.

The speaker popped as Dmitri snapped his fingers. “Break his fingers.” Another draw on his cigarette. “Slowly.”

Zara dug her fingernails into the console’s cheap laminate as the sounds of a scuffle and the clear ring of popping bone echoed through the receiver. Tim’s cry of pain froze her blood and the ball of fear in Zara’s stomach grew. As a young girl, her mother’s sobs on the other side of her bedroom wall had triggered the same feeling. Helplessness.

She stared at the speaker, her heart in her throat. Where was Team Pegasus? Where was Lawson?

Sitting in the cramped van beside Zara, Annette Newton reached across the mess of wires and gadgets and squeezed Zara’s arm. “There’s nothing we can do, Zara.”

An FBI analyst who worked with the CIA’s counterterrorism team on European operations, Annette had come along to record the informant’s information for French Intelligence as well as the CIA. Now she was recording Tim’s torture.

Zara rubbed her stomach and motioned at Annette’s matching laptop. “Call Pegasus again. Hurry.”

As Annette placed the secure call, Zara looked at the picture of Dmitri taped to the side of her computer screen. The ice-blue eyes stared back at her, mocking her inexperience. Even before Tim had walked into the trap, Dmitri had garnered the Number One wanted position on Zara’s personal list of international bad guys. His criminal network inside Paris and throughout Europe was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent people and yet he was as elusive as the smoke from his cigarette. While Tim had kept Zara in the background learning to cultivate assets, she’d become obsessed with the terrorist no one could catch.

Now Dmitri had fallen into her lap, but she would gladly let him walk away if she could save Tim.

You won’t get away with this, she challenged his image. I won’t let you.

Annette caught Zara’s eye. “No answer. They must be out of range.”

Another cracking noise issued from the speaker. Another scream of pain.

“Out of range?” Zara’s heart beat like a bird trapped inside her chest. “They should be in the field by now. How they can be out of range?”

Annette remained calm in the face of Zara’s frustration. “The satellite might be down due to the storms throughout Europe or the signal is being blocked by the French.”

French Intelligence wanted Dmitri as bad as the U.S. did. Or so they claimed. “FI okayed our presence. Why would they block our communications?”

“Maybe it’s not FI. Could be the National Police or gendarmerie. French agencies are a lot like ours. They don’t always play well together and they certainly don’t play with us. It happens.”

Zara rubbed her stomach again as she heard another of Tim’s fingers pop. She wanted to scream along with him. “I shouldn’t be letting this happen. I should do something to stop Dmitri. Flynn would.”

Conrad Flynn, the new Director of Operations, was a god in the international spy world. A god always on her case, drilling her to be assertive but not too aggressive. It was a tightrope every spook danced on. A rope strung hair-trigger-tight for spooks like Zara in Flynn’s secret army.

Annette fingered the keys on her laptop. “Director Flynn has years of fieldwork and experience with guys like Dmitri. You don’t.”

Flynn had plucked Zara from the other Farm graduates and put her through several weeks of his own special training program. She was one of Flynn’s new army of spies. An army few people, including Annette, knew anything about due to the delicacy of the job. “Flynn trained me. I should know how to get Tim out of this situation…”

Dmitri’s voice hissed from the speaker and both women fell quiet. “If you do not tell me what I need to know, I will shoot you and leave you for the rats to eat. They start with your eyeballs and your testicles…” His voice trailed off and amused laughter of the men in the room filtered through. “Think about it, Agent Owens. You have five minutes before you become rat meat.”

Five minutes? Zara glanced at her watch. Ten agonizing minutes to sunrise. Dmitri now planned to kill Tim, not just torture him.

In five minutes.

Closing her eyes, she offered up a prayer to her god of a boss back at Langley. She needed to channel Flynn and she needed to do it now. Move, his voice commanded in her head. Take control.

But how? What would he do in this situation? The three point triangle he always preached appeared in Zara’s mind—delude, deceive, distract. Her eyes flew open.

The only way to defeat betrayal was to meet it head on. She would have to distract Dmitri until Vaughn arrived. Glancing at her watch, she set the timer. Then she reached behind her for the gun in the waistband of her pants.

Annette raised an eyebrow and Zara pointed at the satellite phone. “Keep trying Vaughn.”

As she checked the clip in the compact SIG Sauer 9 millimeter, she scrambled to the end of the van, grabbing a bug bot—one of the tiny microphones the CIA’s geek squad handed out like candy—from a cache of electronic equipment by the door.

Annette swiveled her chair to follow Zara’s path. “Where are you going?”

“Vaughn said he’d be in position by sunrise, but Tim doesn’t have that long. I’m going to distract Dmitri until Pegasus gets here.”

Annette’s forehead creased in a frown. “And get yourself and Agent Owens killed in the process?”

“You got a better idea?”

“Yeah, wait for Vaughn.”

Zara shook her head. “Tim’s as good as dead right now if I wait. We don’t even know for sure Vaughn and his group are in the field. I won’t risk Tim’s life because of a nonfunctioning satellite dish or a pissing match between Sûreté Nationale and French Intelligence.” She pushed open the van door. “I have to do something and I have to do it now.”


Closing the door on Annette’s high-strung voice, she slipped out into the shadowed countryside.

The manic bird continued to beat against her rib cage. She leaned her back against the van for a moment, trying to draw in a deep breath. Was she about to make matters worse?

How could they get any worse?

Ignoring her jack-hammering heart, she secured the bug bot in the lining of her bra and buttoned the top two buttons of her shirt. A storm moving in from the west buffeted her with wind. Strands of hair whipped around her face as the air cooled her back where the sweat-soaked shirt clung to her skin. Shoving the stray hair behind her ear, she scanned the horizon and wondered if this was her first and last mission for the CIA. Wondered if she could save Tim or if they’d both end up rat meat.

Zara secured her gun back in her waistband before swinging her leg over her motorcycle sitting next to the van. She kick-started the engine and shot out of the woods headed for the farmhouse. It was time for a personal face off with betrayal.


At five fifty-six a.m. Lieutenant Commander Lawson Vaughn pulled himself forward another inch on the ground and listened to a dove welcome the approaching sunrise with a low call. The night was not yet in full retreat, and in five minutes—technically four minutes and ten seconds—Lawson and his four-man squad were going to use the fading darkness and the approaching storm to take the terrorists in the rambling white farmhouse by surprise.

Rescuing a hostage was delicate work done with a sledgehammer. Time-consuming preparation for split-second decision making. Careful, deliberate negotiations laying a trail for guns and brute force.

In his career, Lawson had saved fourteen men, six women, three children and half a dozen bystanders. He kept track of those he lost too. Some people couldn’t be rescued, couldn’t be saved, no matter how hard he tried. The towers fell before his plane touched down. The cancer spread during the third course of treatment. The person had a death wish.

Every rescue op contained variables. Some were controllable and he could plan for those. Relentless training covered the rest. What delicacy couldn’t handle, the sledgehammer would.

Team Pegasus had already completed the delicate part of this mission, moving through the field south of the house with deliberate care. Each man had become a shadow in the night as they covered a half mile of dense trees, checking every inch for tripwires and infrared alarms. Now within a few yards of the house, they had found nothing except a one-man security patrol walking the grounds.

Careless of you, Dmitri. A spot between Lawson’s shoulder blades twitched. Alexandrov Dmitri was nothing if not paranoid. The terrorist did not make mistakes when it came to security. So why had he seemingly failed to do so this time? Why pick an abandoned farmhouse in the middle of rolling hills to take a spy hostage instead of driving thirty miles farther south to his compound?

The cricket chorus was dwindling, and the first streak of sunrise broke the horizon even as the storm moved in. Dark clouds hung just above the horizon and the wind had kicked up hard enough to bend the trees over Lawson’s head. At this point, it was a waste of time to analyze Alexandrov Dmitri’s poor decision-making skills. The plan was straightforward. The suits in the States and here on the ground in France had concurred on all the important facts. Pegasus was activated.

In four minutes, Lawson had to get his men into the farmhouse, cover the CIA asset and arrest Dmitri. Agent Morgan’s intel report stated there were four terrorists inside with Owens. Now one was out doing guard duty, leaving Dmitri, his lieutenant and another man inside. Even if Dmitri had something up his sleeve, Team Pegasus was skilled and experienced. Neutralizing four terrorists would be a simple takedown.

In his peripheral vision, Lawson saw his point man, Johnny Quick, retreat several feet and tuck his body into the shadows of the barn as Dmitri’s security patrol sat on the porch step and lit a cigarette. The barn’s floodlight illuminated the drive and a portion of the house. After a moment, Johnny gave him the clear sign. Lawson’s other men, Teddy, Rooster and C.J., waited impatiently for his command. Like him, they were raring to go, even though the last mission was only hours behind them. Every dove call, every blip of his digital watch, fine-tuned Lawson’s attention.

Above the rustling tree leaves, he heard the drum of a motorcycle engine. The guard on the porch heard it too, rising to his feet as the cigarette dangled from his mouth and his rifle came up. Ten seconds later, a finely tuned Ducati shot up the road with a woman driving it. Strands of long blonde hair blew out behind her as she ignored the driveway, hopped the ditch and jerked the bike into an abrupt skid ten feet from the cigarette-smoking terrorist’s feet.

The cigarette fell and the rifle locked into place.

“Dmitri!” Her voice echoed off the house and into the woods as she killed the bike. She dropped the kickstand and raised her hands in the air.

Zara. The sledgehammer landed right between Lawson’s shoulder blades.

Zara had no time to think or plan what was coming. The guard’s gun was trained on her. She ignored him and his command to fall to her knees as she kept her focus on the living room picture window and yelled again. “Dmitri! I know where your missiles are. I’ll take you to them.”

The guard grabbed her by the back of her shirt and pulled her away from the bike. She let him push her to her knees, the end of his AK-47 digging painfully into her back. He yanked her gun from her waistband and ejected the clip. It bounced on the ground to her left.

A second later, the door to the farmhouse opened and Dmitri stood in its frame, his face in shadows.

Cold fear ran over Zara’s skin like gooseflesh. He said nothing, nor did his lieutenant behind him. For several heartbeats, she knelt rigid, willing him to take her bait.

A modicum of guarded relief flooded through her when he ambled down the porch steps in his expensive Italian loafers. But the relief changed course as he crossed the yard to stand in front of her, the paleness of his eyes evident even in the half-gray light of the approaching sunrise. His gaze cut to the road behind her, to her Ducati and back to her face.

Through the years, Zara had perfected a myriad of personas to deal with her family, the press, the public at large. Like the different ringtones on her cell phone, she had one for her father, one for the coworker who made a pass at her in the halls of Langley, one for the psychiatrist who administered lie detector tests. It was a crucial skill in her line of work.

Dialing up her impersonal, model-spy face, she willed her voice to stay calm, sound cool. “I know where your weapons are. I’ll take you to the cache myself.” She paused before offering him the key to success. “If we leave now, you can make your deadline to your buyer.”

Dmitri said nothing, only cocked his head a millimeter to the side, studying her as if she were a curious oddity. Strands of his dark hair rose and fell on the wind. His gaze flickered over her, lingering for the briefest of seconds on the gold chain around her neck before lazily climbing back to her face. Another slight nod and the guard hauled her to her feet.

“Are you a complete fool?” he said in French.

It wasn’t the question she was expecting, but she didn’t miss a beat. Seconds were passing. “Non,” she answered him face-to-face. She switched to English. They would do this negotiation on her terms. “And neither are you. Accept my offer and let’s get out of here. Prince Abkhahar will not wait one minute past the deadline.”

Dmitri’s gaze bore into hers. He switched to English as well. “Do you know how much I hate Americans? American women. American spies.” He spit on the ground at her feet.

Thunder boomed in the distance and Zara jumped. A flicker of amusement danced in the madman’s eyes. She used the gall it ignited in her stomach to stay focused. “Business is business. Abkhahar needs those missiles to funnel to Hezbollah. You fail to deliver them and he’ll kill you. If you’re ever going to be the ruling tycoon in the international world of black arms dealers, you need this deal to go down smoothly and on time.” She met his gaze without flinching. “I can make it happen.”

“Tell me where the cache is, and you can go free with your comrade.”

She didn’t actually know where the cache was. Even if she had, Dmitri would never let her and Tim go once he had the location. “I take you to it or there’s no deal.”

He stepped forward, his face far too close for comfort. He was handsome in that French bad-boy way. Many women found the combination of devilish looks and cruelty appealing. Zara found it repulsive. “Do you know who I am, spook?”

Terrorist. Assassin. Certifiable nutcase. A ruthless businessman who enjoyed the sport of killing whether it was to further his political agenda, his philosophical views or just for the act itself. He loved cat-and-mouse games, toying with his prey until it was exhausted mentally and physically before he lost interest and finally had it killed. Rarely did he pull the trigger himself unless it was to purge one of his own men. He didn’t trust many people and occasionally, even those in his inner circle were eliminated without hesitation.

Yes, Zara thought, I know exactly who you are.

But she also knew who she was.

She raised her chin a notch. “You’re wasting time. Deal or no deal?”

The corner of his mouth lifted in a comma at the challenge. Seconds ticked by in unison with the beat of her heart, but this time when the thunder boomed again, closer, she didn’t move a muscle.

Dmitri snapped his fingers at his gun-toting guard. “Bring the car around.”

“Let’s take my bike. It’s faster.” She motioned at the others. “Your men can follow in the car.”

Dmitri glanced at her bike and did an abrupt nod of his head, but her success was again short-lived. “Bring me Owens,” he said to his lieutenant. The man left the doorway.

The hair on the back of her neck stood up again. Her bones vibrated. “Why?”

This time Dmitri smiled fully. He reached out a finger and touched the chain at her neck. “A little game I like to play.”

Tim staggered down the porch stairs in front of Dmitri’s lieutenant and another guard. His hands were tied behind his back. His face was bruised, haggard. When his eyes met hers, she saw a spark of admiration mixed with surprise but he shook his head at her in disbelief.

He doesn’t believe I can pull this off.

Glancing at Dmitri, Zara could see he was thinking the same thing. He pulled a heavy black gun out of his shoulder holster and held it out to her, butt-end. “Kill him,” he ordered.

The model-agent persona faltered. Dmitri was demanding she exterminate his witness. He was ordering her to kill her senior case officer. As a wave of panic threatened to undo her, her Farm training kicked in. If I can just grab his gun…

Dmitri’s guard cleared his throat, reminding Zara his rifle was locked on her chest. Her gaze flew to Tim’s and true panic squeezed itself like a python around her heart.

Her mouth dry, she forced her attention back to Dmitri. Flynn’s advice rang in her head. Don’t let him make this personal. Stay detached. “I don’t play games.”

With swift movements, Dmitri grabbed her hand and smacked the gun into it. Then he twisted her around, wrapping his left arm around her rib cage and slamming her back against his chest. He turned their bodies in unison, pulling the gun up to aim at Tim.

The contact was brutal and she jerked hard, but Dmitri’s arm was a vise. He rested his head next to hers as lightning cracked above them. The smell of cigarettes, expensive cologne, and male sweat mixed in her nose. His hand closed around hers, forcing the gun to point at Tim’s head.

“Let me help you,” he murmured in her ear, seductive as a lover. “Ready?” He trapped her finger on the trigger. “One, two—”

Beep. Beep. Beep. The timer on Zara’s watch went off.

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