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The ghost from her past is about to get his cold-blooded revenge

Secrets can get you killed in this riveting story in the SCVC Taskforce romantic suspense series by USA TODAY Bestselling Author, Misty Evans.

He killed her best friend when they were only girls…but she got away.

Now he’s hunting her again.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ “Oh, wow, Deadly Secrets is GOOD! Fast-paced, action-filled, and scorching-hot-romance.” ~ Wiken, Goodreads reviewer

 

Three ambulances pulled away in quick succession as Roman drove up to the blocked off area near the church and parked. None of them had their lights on.

Bodies.

They were too late to save anyone.

Before they’d left the hotel, Roman had insisted Brooke change out of her dress and pick up shoes. He wasn’t taking her to a crime scene with nothing on her feet. She hadn’t said much on the drive over and he could see how deeply disturbed she was at the idea of checking out the multiple suicide-homicide with him.

Yes, the parishioners had all committed suicide, but it was the work of The Reverend who’d brainwashed them into doing it.

The Rev wasn’t the first cult leader to convince his followers to do so. Jim Jones was probably the most remembered, convincing over 900 people to commit “revolutionary suicide” and drink poison. Not many years ago, just outside of San Diego, the Heaven’s Gate members had killed themselves in order to enable their souls to jump on board a spaceship following the Hale-Bopp comet.

But Roman didn’t believe The Reverend was a true cult leader—he didn’t spend time gathering a flock and preaching to them or trying to take their money or possessions to amass his own. His targets had neither. He moved swiftly, from one group to the next, seeming to exact some kind of vengeance or justice. He was a serial killer, pure and simple, trying to rid the area of nonwhites, it seemed.

Polly, standing inside the barricades with her tablet in hand, waved him over. He flashed his badge at the police guard and guided Brooke past a group of law enforcement and crime scene techs.

Frizzy hair flying, Polly met them halfway. Roman made quick introductions, Brooke distractedly shaking Polly’s hand as the DTT’s crime scene expert smiled good-naturedly, not missing a beat that Roman had brought her and welcoming Brooke to the team. Brooke didn’t respond other than to ask if they were sure this was the work of The Reverend.

Behind Polly, the small church, once abandoned, looked shabby and rundown in the glare of the lights.

Polly handed Roman the tablet with the details laid out in bulleted points the way he liked. She recited the details out loud for Brooke’s benefit.

Death toll: 34 and rising.

Survivors: none.

Method used to kill victim(s): lethal dose of cyanide in the sacrament cups of grape juice served to each member present.

“Pastor Luke? That’s what they called him?” Several other points were listed, but Roman’s eyes skipped over them and he handed the tablet back to Polly. “Matthew, Mark, Luke. He’s using the apostles in the New Testament. We should have seen that correlation earlier. Put out an update to the team. We need to find any and all pastors that pop up along the coast with a disciple name.”

“First, middle, or last,” Brooke added. She stared at the front of the church where the double doors were propped open and crime scene techs were going in and out. “He may use the apostle name as any of them. John will be next, and I’m guessing there will be a lot of Pastor Johns to vet.”

Roman rubbed his knuckles across his beard. He needed a shave. “If he continues in biblical order.” After the last few days with only five hours of sleep in sum total, he could use an energy drink to offset the exhaustion humming in his veins. “He may not.”

“He will.” Brooke seemed certain. “But it will be a few weeks before he starts amassing his next group of displaced immigrants and nonwhite flock. You’ll have a hard time finding him because of that very type of population. They stay off the grid and, by virtue of their secrecy, so does he.”

“Right,” Polly said, lifting one covert brow at Roman. “Do you want to go inside?”

As her answer, Brooke marched toward the open doors. Roman fell into step beside her and Polly caught up, walking backward and typing on her tablet as she spoke. “Same scene as the previous two. There are sigils on every victim’s forehead, a burnt offering was made, and of course, it’s a full moon.”

They were at the doors; Brooke pulled up short, gaze going skyward. “Burnt offering? Full moon?”

“That’s part of The Rev’s MO.” Polly ushered her through the doors, pointing to a wall just inside the vestibule with a painting of the moon in its various phases. Blood cut a swath across it. “He follows the moon’s cycle and apparently smears someone’s blood over the painting before he leaves.”

Brooke studied the painting. “That’s new.”

The comment was so soft, Roman wasn’t sure he’d heard her correctly. “New? Both of the previous groups had the same painting. He convinces his parishioners that the Second Coming will arrive the night of a full moon and it’s God’s Will that they meet the angels coming to collect their souls.”

Brooke studied the picture. “That’s not biblical though. There are mentions of the moon in the Bible, but not exactly corresponding to sacrifices or the Rapture.”

“The sigils he carves on their foreheads aren’t biblical either.” Polly shot him a look and Roman conceded, “At least, we don’t think they are. That’s why we could use you to confirm it.”

“Are the bodies still here?”

Polly paled slightly. She was a CSI, and damn good at her job, but examining a mass suicide was a lot to stomach for anyone. “In the sanctuary. He delivered communion there.”

Brooke started toward the sanctuary, face a grim mask. “And once they’re dead, he mutilates their bodies and disappears.”

An official police CSI tech with a camera hanging from her neck strap brushed past them. She’d worked with the taskforce before and she called over her shoulder, “Sending the pictures to you, Polly, as soon as Detective Clyffe gives me the all-clear.”

“Thanks, Ferne!” Polly called back.

The green commercial carpeting led them to the sanctuary. Here, too, the doors were pinned open.

“Detective Clyffe?” Brooke asked Roman. “Why is San Diego PD handling the case? Where is the FBI?”

“The Reverend is our case.” He stopped, seeing Clyffe at the head of the main aisle speaking on his phone to someone. Around him were empty wooden pews, the back ones displaying laid out bodies covered with white sheets. “We’re stretched thin so the locals do the discovery work for us and help where they can.”

Brooke hmm’d under her breath and Roman heard the criticism in her tone, although he didn’t know why she cared.

Above the podium, Christ hung on the cross, staring down with sad eyes at the dead who’d died in His name.

“If you don’t need me,” Polly said, clutching her tablet, “I’ll hang out here and notify the rest of the team about the apostle thing.”

Roman nodded, then took Brooke’s elbow to escort her in while waving at Clyffe. “You sure you want to actually look at a body?”

Cooper Harris’s words about Brooke not being a field agent rang in his head. He’d inadvertently lured her here, but now wondered if this was a good idea. All he needed was his potential new expert to go lights out on him once she saw the body. “Polly can show you the pictures. Might be…you know.” Less graphic.

“I’ll be fine.” Brooke’s gaze was glued to the nearest white sheet. Her throat constricted as she swallowed hard. “I need to see what he did to them.”

Her tight voice told him there was something more, something personal here, and it hinted at the doctor already knowing more about this case than he did. Was that possible?

She started forward and he gently touched her arm to stop her. “Have you come across The Rev’s work before?”

“I…” Her hesitation was accompanied by a gray pallor that washed over her face. “I’m familiar with his ritualistic killings.”

Familiar, hell. She looked like she’d seen far too much of this bastard’s signature work. “You’ve worked on a case related to him? Was it for the FBI?”

“Not exactly.” Her throat constricted again. “Let’s just say, I’ve studied him to a certain degree.”

On one hand, Roman knew this was a score for him—finally, he had the expert he’d needed for the past year to complete his team and bring The Rev in.

On the other hand, there was no way he wanted to subject Brooke to the nightmares that accompanied the job he did. The things he’d seen that couldn’t be unseen. Until this moment, he hadn’t realized she might be in the field with him. He’d planned to keep her safe behind a desk, researching homegrown terrorists and those like The Reverend, who committed mass murder on American soil. The Reverend was no different than the Urban Warriors, a gang who blew up federal buildings, or the Outlaws motorcycle gang who killed cops up and down I-5. They all believed they were true Americans, and that those who weren’t should be exterminated.

He let his hand linger on her arm. “Studying him is different than seeing his handiwork up close and personal.”

She scrutinized his face for a moment, her eyes searching his. A ghost of emotion chased across her expression. “Thank you for trying to protect me. I assure you I will not lose it when I see the body under that sheet.”

Tough, controlled, determined. Yep, she was going to be one hell of an asset to his team.

If he didn’t scare her off.

Taking her hand seemed like a natural thing to do as he led her to the body she wanted to examine. At first her fingers stiffened, then she stepped forward with him, her hand cool in his much warmer one. He released her, as together they bent down, he at the victim’s head, and she next to the shoulder.

“Ready?” he asked, because he had to make sure. He knew what waited for them under the sheet.

She took a deep breath and seemed to hold it, giving him a nod.

With a silent prayer for the deceased, he crossed himself—his Irish catholic upbringing still in his blood. Then he peeled back the sheet slowly, revealing the woman underneath.

Dark hair and eyes, probably in her early forties. Blood had dried on the woman’s forehead, outlining the sigil that had been carved there. Her eyes, still open, had a bluish tinge to them and were rolled up into her head. Her mouth showed burns from the poison she’d consumed.

Brooke’s breath came out in a rush. “This poor woman.” She gently touched the woman’s shoulder, and Roman saw a hint of tears in her eyes as she studied the bloody sigil.

Detective Clyffe ended his call and headed their way. Abruptly, Brooke stood and whirled around, heading out of the sanctuary.

“Broo—Dr. Heaton,” Roman called, replacing the sheet and straightening as Clyffe caught up to him.

Brooke kept boogying, leaving him behind. “I’ll be in touch,” she called.

So much for not losing it.

And how exactly, did she think she was getting back to her hotel?

Clyffe shook his hand and started reeling off the facts Polly had already shared and Roman tried to give the man his full attention. His focus, however, kept going to the open doors, waiting for Brooke to come back.

She didn’t.

With a sigh, Roman keyed in on the tired, rumpled detective and got to work.

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He’ll risk everything to keep her safe from a serial kill

Secrets can get you killed in this riveting story in the SCVC Taskforce romantic suspense series by USA TODAY Bestselling Author, Misty Evans.

He killed her best friend when they were only girls…but she got away.

Now he’s hunting her again.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ “It was hot and sexy and real at the same time.” ~ Amy, So Many Reads book blogger

Nearing midnight, Brooke sat in his Jeep as Roman covertly finished signing off with the locals, Feds, and Cooper Harris. Harris’s taskforce had been working on a budding crime syndicate from Guatemala that had teamed up with MS-13 and he’d called Roman to see if he still had contacts inside the vicious Mexican gang. Not only did he still have a CI inside, he knew exactly which one wanted out of MS-13 and would flip on them.

He just hadn’t realized Cornell and his biker gang had expanded their territory until he’d seen the man and his goons enter the bar.

In the end, however, Roman had saved Augie and taken down Cornell, who was still alive but not going back to his gang anytime soon. Both men would receive medical care, and Augie would get off with a light sentence if he helped Harris and his team with info on the Guatemalan gang.

“Thanks, man.” Harris slapped Roman on the shoulder. They stood out of sight of the cop cars and bystanders. Since Roman couldn’t publicly take credit for Cornell without blowing his undercover identity, Harris would get the credit.

Works for me. “Augie’s not a bad kid, just mixed up in this crap because it’s been part of his family for generations. Try not to get him killed.”

Harris tilted his chin in Heaton’s direction. Roman’s Jeep was in the corner of the parking lot, away from prying eyes. “Sure she’s okay?”

One of Harris’s taskforce members, Ronni Punto, was in the Jeep talking to Brooke. They’d worked together, Dr. Heaton consulting on several SCVC Taskforce cases involving violent crimes and religious terrorists. Roman was just a little jealous. “I offered to have her checked out and she refused. Claims she’s fine and just wants to go back to her hotel.”

Which sounded perfect to him, even though he had a snowball’s chance in hell of getting himself invited to her room.

“If she were working a case for me,” Harris said, “I’d require a psych eval. The good doctor is a tough cookie, but she’s not a field agent. Being shot at is not in her usual line of duty.”

“That’s just it, she’s not on the DTT. I can’t require her to do anything.”

Harris frowned, crossing his arms over his chest. “She wasn’t working with you tonight? And here, I thought you’d stolen her from me, which by the way, sort of pissed me off.”

Roman shook his head. “Don’t get your panties in a bunch, Harris. She’s doing a lecture circuit at SDSU. Apparently, she came out with some of her nerd friends tonight and bam. Right time, wrong place.”

“Didn’t you try recruiting her?”

“Tried, yes. I need her on The Reverend case, but she won’t take my calls.”

“Huh.” Harris grinned good-naturedly. “She always takes mine.”

The jealousy in Roman’s stomach amped up a notch. “She doesn’t seem to like me, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out why.”

“You saved her life, tonight.” Harris winked. “My guess? She’ll be more than happy to take your calls now.”

Roman’s mood lifted as he gazed at the car. “You think?”

Harris chuckled. “I sense that you’d like Dr. Heaton to do more than consult on your taskforce.”

Boy, would he. “If my Bruce Willis act tonight didn’t seal the deal, nothing else will.”

“Take it from me, she’s more of an Indiana Jones kind of gal. You might try that instead.”

Indiana Jones, huh? Roman stuck out his hand. “Thanks for the tip.”

Harris shook it. “Good luck, man, but I’d be lying if I said I was happy about sharing her.”

As Harris walked away, Agent Punto emerged from the car and headed toward Roman. She slowed as she neared him, but didn’t stop. “She’s totally lying about being okay.”

“Is she hurt?”

“She’s freaked.” Punto stopped a few feet away, watching two Feds talking near the crime scene tape. “You need to put her to work.”

“Contrary to popular opinion, she’s not on my taskforce.”

“Then get her on it,” Punto said. “She needs a case to get her mind off what happened here tonight, and we don’t have any that require her expertise at the moment. If she sits in her hotel room and stews, she’ll never feel safe helping any of us again.”

She shot him one searing look and went to join Harris.

Roman turned back to his vehicle and saw Brooke in the front seat, staring at him. Her hair had come loose from the bun and curly strands grazed her shoulders. She looked shell-shocked. Or was that her pissed expression?

What choice did he have? One way or another, he was going to get Dr. Brooke Heaton into bed with him.

Figuratively speaking, of course.

***

Roman Walsh had just saved her life.

Brooke’s head swam, her ears still ringing from the gunshots inside the bar. Ronni—sweetheart that she was—thought Brooke’s brain fog was the result of hitting her head, or maybe shock.

Shock was a possibility, but she had not hit her head. Dr. Walsh had made sure of that, his strong, capable hands cradling her skull after he’d jerked her off her feet.

All of her SDSU compatriots were safe. Scared, but not injured, outside of a few cuts and bruises from the mass exodus.

As Roman headed to the car, she saw the normal swagger in his step was off ever so slightly. The flashing lights from patrol cars and two ambulances silhouetted his lean but muscled frame. He glanced at her through the windshield as he approached, then his gaze darted away and he scanned the area around them.

The memory of his body against hers, his lips murmuring in her ear, sent a shiver down Brooke’s spine.

Have mercy.

She’d never dreamed she would be held in those strong arms of his, much less hugging him tight and curling a leg around him, but that’s exactly what had happened. She’d lost her ever-loving mind, her body betraying her as bullets rained down, and her nice, comfortable world had become one she didn’t recognize.

“I don’t know whether to thank you for saving my life,” she said as Roman climbed into the driver’s seat, “or be appalled at the way you yanked me off my feet in there.”

“Too Cro-Magnon for you?” He grinned with all the nerve of a confident, egotistical shark.

“Neanderthal perhaps.”

“I caught you, didn’t I?” He started the car, the rumble of the Jeep dropping into a solid purr. “And I did warn you to exit the premises before the shooting began.”

“Yes, I had all of three seconds to do so. Thank you so much.”

His face glowed blue from the tricked out dashboard. “Are you seriously pissed at me right now?”

She held up her lone shoe. “You owe me a new pair of Steve Maddens. My other one is still in the bar.”

“I’ll take you shopping tomorrow. What time do the stores open? We can grab breakfast on the way.” He put the car in drive. “On one condition, of course.”

Oh, boy. Like she didn’t know what that was. “No.”

Seemed like that was one of the few words she didn’t have any trouble saying to him tonight.

His gaze swung her way. “Come work for me, Dr. Heaton. I need you—your expertise.”

And, oh that irritating grin was more than her heart could handle after the recent shock of the shooting.

I need you. The words sent her pulse skipping as erratically as when she’d been shot at.

A part of her wanted to smile back, maybe even grab him and kiss him to say thank you. The other part—the sane good girl, professional academic—wanted to whack him a couple times with her shoe. “I’ll send you the bill for the new pair of shoes I pick out. On my own.”

The grin fell. He shook his head and sighed, pulling out of his space. “Why won’t you consult for the West Coast DTT?”

Because you scare the hell out of me. “I’m about to leave for a dig.” The excuse came easy. “Besides, you have plenty of experts on your team.”

He drove them out of the parking lot and away from the pulsating red and blue lights, quiet for several blocks. “Are you really that vain?”

Vain? “Are you really that rude? Why would you say such a thing?”

“You won’t consider working for me because I have other experts on my taskforce? Your ego needs the spotlight that bad?”

Brooke squeezed the shoe in her hand so tightly her fingers cramped. “Rejecting your offer has nothing to do with my ego. I’m more than happy to work with the caliber of experts on your taskforce. Your ego, however, could be one of the reasons I’ve repeatedly declined your offer in the nicest way possible. Since that has been completely ineffective, let me state my refusal more clearly: no way in hell will I work for you.”

“With me,” he corrected. “You wouldn’t work for me, Dr. Heaton, only with me.”

“Your ego can’t handle it.”

He chuckled. “My ego can handle anything you dish out, sweetheart. I welcome the challenge.”

The look he flashed her confirmed his statement, his eyes made even more intently blue in the dashboard light. The shoe clenched in her fingers didn’t get a reprieve, but her solid grip was for an entirely new reason.

The devil on her shoulder liked this cat-and-mouse game. Liked how Roman was as at ease trading banter with her as he was saving her from a rain of bullets.

I need you.

How long had she waited to hear those words? From anyone?

Plus, she was actually talking to him while in the close confines of his car where she could smell the not intolerable scent of coffee and male sweat under the alcohol he must have splashed onto his shirt to convince his contacts that he was drunk. Maybe if she kept him on his toes and their dialogue laced with her honest irritation at him, she could stop feeling like a ridiculous teenage girl.

“You may enjoy a verbal sparring match, Dr. Walsh, but I find most of them to be tedious and unnecessary.”

“Is that so, Dr. Heaton?”

He was just as mouthwateringly gorgeous in profile as he was full on. The right side of his mouth quirked as if he were holding back another insouciant grin. He may have been reining in the smile, but his voice was full of mocking humor.

All right. Walsh wasn’t the only one who liked a good challenge. She was known for her stubbornness. “Look, Dr. Wa—”

“Call me Roman. I did, after all, save your life less than an hour ago.”

He wasn’t going to let her forget that she owed him. The tiniest bit of guilt sizzled in her belly.

I do owe him.

She dropped her head back against the headrest. She’d love to call him by his first name, but that evoked a level of friendship, an intimacy, they didn’t share, regardless of his heroic act in the bar. “Even if my current work schedule wasn’t already maxed, providing consulting services to the DTT would present a challenge for me. I’m already consulting with the SCVC Taskforce when needed. There could be a…conflict of interest.”

“Conflict of interest?” He snorted. “Cooper Harris and I are on the same page. Our cases often overlap and we share resources, just like tonight. Thomas Mann’s CI inside the MS-13 group recently went missing so I stepped in and used mine. Yes, Harris and I report to different directors, but we’re all on the same side.”

Arguing with him was getting her nowhere and they were nearly to her hotel. “Why me?”

The question seemed to catch him off guard, which was exactly what she’d intended. “Why not you?”

“No, I mean it. Why me specifically? Why are you so determined to get me on your team?”

She wasn’t sure what she expected to hear, and she watched his expression intently to see if he had to comb through the reasons.

He didn’t. As he pulled into the hotel lot, he put the Jeep in park and turned to her. “You’re the best on the West Coast, Dr. Heaton, in all areas of your expertise. Maybe in the entire country.” He gave her that irritating grin once more and took the Madden from her hand as he leaned in close. “And I only ever allow the very best on my team.”

Before she could respond—she was once more speechless anyway—his phone rang.

The Jeep’s in-dash nav system was linked to his cell by Bluetooth. The sexy nav voice told him the incoming call was from Polly. Did he want to answer?

Polly, of course. Probably his girlfriend. Brooke reached for door latch. “Thanks for the ride.”

She started to get out, but the door was locked. A hand landed on her arm as he answered the phone.

“What’s up, P?”

The woman’s voice sounded young, a little anxious. “You okay, boss? We heard about the gunfight with Merton.”

“All limbs intact, although I’m on the hook for a pair of shoes by some guy named Steve Madden.”

“O-kay. I can help you with that if you need it.” Her confusion vanished and she went into business mode once more. “We’ve had another incident, looks like the work of The Rev.”

“Shit.” Roman shook his head, his hand on the steering wheel balling into a fist. “What happened?”

As Polly, obviously from the DTT, relayed the details of a massacre at a small church just outside the city limits, Roman put the Jeep back in gear, his face grim.

“At least thirty dead, half of them children.” Polly said softly. “All were undocumented. One of the victims left a suicide video on his phone, detailing what they were doing. He referred to The Reverend as Pastor Luke.”

Brooke’s stomach churned. Roman punched the steering wheel. “Send the address to me. I’m on my way.”

He disconnected, then turned to Brooke. In the depths of his eyes, she saw the distress at the deaths of thirty-some people, including children, underlined with determination to find their killer. “Have you heard of The Reverend?”

She’d heard of him all right. He was a serial killer targeting those in the area whom he considered ‘unclean.’

Twenty years ago, she’d gotten up close and personal with the same sort of man.

“Just drive,” she said. Whether she wanted to or not, she was about to help the DTT tonight. “I’m going with you.”

 

READ the rest NOW!

Buy direct and SAVE! https://mistyevansbooks.com/product/deadly-secrets-scvc-taskforce-book-7

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Your hot weekend read… Deadly Secrets

Secrets can get you killed in this riveting story in the SCVC Taskforce romantic suspense series by USA TODAY Bestselling Author, Misty Evans.

He killed her best friend when they were only girls…but she got away.

Now he’s hunting her again.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ “Roman is hot, sexy and a genuine hero…”  ~ Elisa, Goodreads reviewer

Raindrops plunked loudly on the bar’s metal roof as if a giant were dropping pebbles on it.

Nursing an iced tea, Brooke Heaton wished fervently she’d declined the invitation from the San Diego State University religious studies academics and headed back to her hotel room. After three days of lecturing at the university, she was ready to get back to the real world.

She discreetly checked her phone under the bar overhang for the umpteenth time, hoping for a text or call of any kind to give her an excuse to bug out. But there were no missed calls, no messages. Maybe she could pretend differently and tell her hosts that she needed to go back to her room.

But what kind of anthropological emergency would require her to beg off the company she was with?

Bars just weren’t her thing—especially since at this particular one, it seemed to be prime time for Stephen Colbert-wannabes who thought their standup comedy routines were a stepping stone from San Diego to L.A. Her companions laughed at the latest joke from the young man on stage, who just happened to be a grad student from their department. Brooke smiled obligingly. For a religious studies major, the guy sure knew a variety of interesting ways to work the word “fuck” into his routine.

She’d been hungry for companionship and had erroneously thought her academic colleagues meant for their night out to include a decent meal and in-depth discussion about religious symbols of the Mayan culture. Boy, had she been wrong.

Maybe I’m just getting old. She’d much rather be in the king size bed at the hotel, eating horrible room service food and reading her latest Journal of Forensic Anthropology, than here listening to jokes about bathroom habits and the current administration in the White House.

Although, the two subjects did have some things in common these days.

Oh, who was she kidding? She wanted to get back to reread her favorite romance novel.

She checked her watch and blew out a sigh. Making sure no one noticed, she pulled out her cell from under the bar overhang to text a cab service.

Now all she had to do was come up with a polite excuse to bail.

There was always the universal go-to—I have a headache. At the rate she was going, she would indeed have one soon.

If only she didn’t have yet another morning of lectures at the university the next day, she could pretend she had an early flight back to L.A.

But no, three departments had banded together to pay her speaker fee. Plus, the university had generously comped her hotel room and loaded her down with Fighting Aztec everything. No way could she carry all of it on the plane; she’d have to ship most of it home or find someone to donate it to. There was at least five pounds of shirts, scarves, coffee cups, and paperweights with the school’s mascot on them to haul back.

Did anyone actually use paperweights anymore?

It was nice to be wanted, but she’d left the world of academia for a reason—she wanted to marry the past with the present. To show modern-day men and women how instrumental learning about their ancestors could be. The university bubble was comfortable and safe, and for years, it had been the perfect hideaway for her. She’d thought she could do exactly what she wanted—turn young minds onto her love of anthropology. Unfortunately, it hadn’t been quite what she’d expected, and most of her students had simply taken her classes as an elective, thinking they could use religious studies and anthro class to nab an easy A.

Eventually, she’d had to break free and do something. Writing a book about famous fossils, and a high-profile media tour several years ago, had made her an anthropological star for about three months. A well-known Hollywood producer had taken a chapter from her book and made a web series based on the famous Lucy find of fossils from a 3.2 billion year old hominin species Australopithecus afarensis.

Anthropology meet pop culture.

Social media had given her another popularity boost for a few months. She’d loved seeing fossils and past cultures getting some notoriety, but it had been a strain on her personally. She’d determined she wasn’t cut out for the spotlight.

An unexpected bonus had come from her brief dance with fame. She’d never dreamed she’d end up consulting for law enforcement, but with her forensic anthropology experience, research into various religions stretching back to the Sumerians, and her criminal justice degree, she’d ended up helping out Cooper Harris and his SCVC Taskforce.

There’d only been a couple of cases so far, but they’d fit into her schedule nicely and provided extra funds for her travels.

Speaking of travel… Tomorrow, after her last lecture, she’d be off to Utah and an area so remote it could only be reached by donkey. Ten miles on an ass to the dig site would be no picnic, but at the moment, it sounded like absolute heaven. Plus, it was a highly prized dig, headed by Dr. Borgman of the Smithsonian Institute. The whole situation was very exclusive and required kid gloves due to the fact the bones and artifacts were ancestors of a Native American tribe, maybe two.

From behind her, she heard loud male laughter that was out of sync with the comedian on stage. Glancing over her shoulder, she skimmed the three men making all the noise. Her gaze came back to one boldly staring at her and her stomach dropped.

Oh, no. Not him. What is he doing here?

The licorice black hair and searing blue eyes weren’t to be denied. Neither was the cocky smirk on his face as he looked her up and down.

The trimmed beard was new. So was the longish hair pulled up into a man-bun. The tight T-shirt, showing off his tattoos, revealed his muscled arms and chest. He looked downright criminal.

Or the ideal model for the cover of Muscle & Fitness.

Roman Walsh. Dr. Roman Walsh. The criminal justice PhD and Homeland agent was either slumming or undercover.

Or he’s stalking me.

Again.

She might have a use for that paperweight after all.

For six months, he’d been calling and emailing her, wanting to “talk shop.” Last month, on a panel about domestic religious terrorism, she’d switched their seating arrangements so she was at the opposite end of the long table the panel sat at. It hadn’t stopped him from openly seeking her out during the social event later that night and flirting with her. He’d told her he wanted her to consult for his taskforce.

He certainly couldn’t be interested in her as a woman—a man like Roman Walsh dated models and actresses, not frumpy workaholic analysts who loved dank old libraries, dig sites, and hundred-year-old churches. But there was something beneath his invitation—both the verbal and nonverbal. She just couldn’t put her finger on it.

Why do you keep turning him down? the devil on her shoulder complained. Why don’t you give him a chance?

From across the way, his attention returned to his friends and she saw him flip one of his thumbs over his shoulder in her direction. The other men in the group looked over at her, two sets of hard eyes sizing her up.

Brooke quickly refocused on the comedian on stage, heat lacing up her neck.

I’ve got to get out of here.

This was why she’d refused to answer his emails or sit next to him on a panel. Working with his West Coast Domestic Terrorism Taskforce might be right up her alley; the experts on his team were top of the line. They analyzed bad guys and figured out ways to put criminals in jail and save US citizens, just like the SCVC Taskforce.

Unfortunately, there was no way in Hades she could be on his team. He made her a nervous wreck. His voice alone made her panties wet, not to mention that killer smile of his.

No man should be that mouthwateringly gorgeous. No man should be that…perfect.

Perfect men like Roman Walsh didn’t flirt with women like her. She was a good girl, a professional academic who buried her head in ancient civilizations and religious rituals. Outside of her brief brush with fame over her book, she was a nobody.

Roman Walsh was a hero. High IQ, a body ancient Greeks would envy, and an arrest rate of criminals that wowed her. If he knew how to handle a trowel, I might actually ask for his autograph.

Behind that sexy smile and Superman complex, however, there had to be a volcano full of secrets. One that would erupt all over her and leave her heart fossilized.

And that was what scared her right down to her toes.

There weren’t many men in her fields of study that actually made her drool. Most were older, balding, or at the very least, too pompous for her to tolerate. There were plenty of young, attractive co-eds who hit on her every time she visited a campus, but at thirty, she wasn’t interested in stroking their egos by playing the cougar. With three failed relationships under her belt, she might just be done with men altogether.

Plus, she liked a man to be more than his looks, and while a few of the grad students who’d hit on her recently certainly had the brains, they were still a bit too young and idealistic for her taste. They believed they could save the world through studying about it.

Roman, on the other hand, was actually doing just that. He seemed determined to protect his country and her citizens with every breath he took.

A real, honest-to-God hero.

Just not my hero.

Because every time she even thought of saying something to him—her throat completely locked up. His intense blue eyes would lock on her and bam…it was like she’d been hit with a stun gun.

Her, a highly-educated, award-winning anthropologist and published author, who regularly spoke to auditoriums filled with students across the US, as well as to fellow anthropologists and religious leaders, struck dumb by a man?

Go figure.

It just made no sense that she couldn’t handle a simple conversation with Dr. Walsh.

But there it was. She was too wise, and had been through too much in her life, not to at least be honest with herself.

Drool-worthy or not, men with secrets were a no-go. Her life had already been turned upside down by them and she wasn’t about to offer her heart up to another person who would betray her.

A fresh roar of laughter went up from Roman and his pals. She told herself not to look, but the devil on her shoulder made her turn anyway.

He was eyeing her again with a fiendish look on his face. Was he drunk?

Her phone lit up, a text letting her know that a cab was on the way. Estimated pickup time: five minutes.

Good. She needed out of this place and fast. It had become entirely too hot in here.

She slipped off the bar stool and began making her excuses to the professors with her. They balked good-naturedly, and she feigned exhaustion and explained she needed to go over her notes before tomorrow’s lecture.

Mission complete, she turned to go when a hard body smelling of whiskey stopped her.

“Hello, gorgeous.” Roman invaded her personal space, pushing her up against the bar. “Damn, but you clean up nice.”

He topped six foot easily and, even in her heels, she had to look up to meet his gaze. She opened her mouth to say, “What the hell are you doing?” but as per normal, her lips moved and nothing came out.

The gazes of her companions were on her and her cheeks flamed as if on fire. Say something! “No.”

No?

Brilliant, Brooke.

“I believe the appropriate response to hello,” Roman said, placing his hands on either side of the bar, blocking her in, “is a return greeting.”

He was so close. All that masculine energy. Those sharp, intense eyes. She swallowed the lump in her throat. “Wha…?” Oh, lord. Get it together! “What…what are you doing?”

The words came out soft and breathy, but Roman apparently had no trouble hearing them. “My buddies over there bet me I couldn’t get you to kiss me.”

Holy cow! He was definitely drunk. “Ki…kiss you?”

His gaze dropped to her lips and he grinned like she was a medium-rare steak and he was one hungry man. “Yeah, kiss me, gorgeous. What do you say? Help a guy out so he doesn’t lose a hundred bucks?”

He’d bet a hundred dollars that he could get her to kiss him? The nerve!

Laughter over something the comedian said erupted around them. Roman leaned in, putting his lips next to her ear, “Play along, Brooke.”

Goosebumps skittered down the back of her spine. She grabbed one of his arms and pushed. It was warm and very firm. “No.”

He didn’t budge.

One of his hands slid behind her neck, gently grasping her by the nape as he looked deep into her eyes. The laughter and clapping in the bar receded and she saw a flicker of concern. “Things are about to get dangerous,” he murmured, his lips so close to hers, she could smell his breath. It smelled like ginger and mint—not whiskey. “You need to get the hell out of here.”

And then, without warning, he brought his lips crashing down on hers.

It was brutal and heavenly at the same time. Her brain raged for half a second before shutting down completely.

Her eyes closed, the devil on her shoulder hooting as her bones went molten. Roman’s demanding tongue had no trouble parting her lips and slipping inside.

His muscled body pressed against hers, holding her to the bar. Against the wishes of the few brain cells still firing in her cerebellum, Brooke grasped his shoulders and pulled him closer.

And then he broke away, but his lips barely moved from hers.

“I’m serious,” he said so low she almost missed it in her lust-induced haze. “Get out of here, now.”

He released her as fast as he’d pinned her there, and she had to grab the edge of the bar to keep her weak knees from giving out.

As Roman returned to his friends and raised his hands in a Rocky gesture of conquest, they cheered. Still staggered from the kiss, Brooke could only watch as both men at the table slapped money into Roman’s hand as he returned to his seat.

He wasn’t kidding. They’d bet he couldn’t get her to kiss him.

Technically, he kissed me.

The devil on her shoulder snickered.

From his chair, Roman sent her a hard look.

Get out of here, now.

Right. Something was about to go down. The kiss had meant nothing to him, just a way to warn her and not blow his cover.

Wow, some warning. Her knees shook again with something akin to disappointment.

What is wrong with me?

Brooke scanned the patrons, most watching the comedian or talking with their companions. The scandalized professors on either side of her made concerned noises and offered her another drink. She ignored them.

One guy wasn’t watching the comedian or talking to his companions. The burly, bald-headed man wore a leather jacket with a local motorcycle club emblem on it. His focus was solely on Roman.

Oh crud.

Brooke turned to her companions from SDSU. “Why don’t you guys share my cab? If you want, we can hit another club on the way…”

Before she could finish the sentence, the MC member stood and pulled out a nasty-looking weapon.

He fired into the crowd.

***

Bam, bam, bam, bullets poured out of an Uzi, peppering the place.

Roman was no stranger to the report of gunfire, the way it reverberated inside his chest as if someone were ringing a bell between his ribs. The way his mind cleared of all thoughts except duck and cover.

After discovering this bar was in Merton Cornell’s territory, Roman had been expecting the gang leader to raise some hell. Only a couple of months ago, the bar had been neutral territory, but things had definitely changed since his last undercover op in San Diego. The thing that hadn’t was the fact Cornell didn’t like trespassers like the two MS-13 gang members Roman was sitting with.

Had been sitting with. At the moment, under the blaze of gunfire, he was crawling his ass as fast as possible across the floor to the bar.

Because even though he’d told her to get the hell out, Dr. Brooke Heaton was still here.

Standing at the bar, no less, with a look of sheer terror on her face. A deer caught in headlights.

Glass broke, wood splintered, people screamed. Instead of ducking, Heaton threw herself in front of one of her companions as bullets cut through the air around her.

Stupid woman.

Beautiful, brainy, accomplished woman, but obviously not one with enough common sense when it came to her own safety.

Her sexy ankles were in sight as he shimmied under the cover of a table toward her, other people’s feet making haste in the opposite direction. Even under fire, the slender feet in the heels just high enough to emphasis her calves made him salivate. The conservative skirt that hit below her knees did nothing to dampen his very vivid imagination of what the rest of her legs looked like.

In his fantasies, they were just as shapely and toned as her calves. She spent long days in the field, digging up bones and other old shit, and the job kept her body in great shape.

A window broke. More screaming ensued. It was almost a shame he was going to have to grab those sexy ankles and drag her down.

Almost.

He reached for the leg closest to him, stretching to grasp it. His fingers skimmed her calf and, the next thing he knew, she kicked him, the heel of her shoe digging into his palm.

“Ow!” He jerked his hand out from under the dagger, reached another inch, and wrapped his hand around her narrow ankle. “Get the fuck down!”

She bent slightly to look at who was grabbing her, covering her ears and shutting her eyes as more shots rang out. The long, narrow skirt helped his cause as he yanked her foot out from under her. Like a tight rubber band, it kept her legs together and jerked the other out from under her as well.

“Ack!” she yelled over the commotion as she fell into his waiting arms. “Help!”

He cushioned her fall, her ass barely hitting the floor before he slid her toward him, moving them both back under the table. Her companion—the one she’d been shielding—ran for the exit at the back of the bar.

She gasped for air, kicking at him without realizing who he was, feet flailing and her hands smacking him. “Let me go!”

He was on the receiving end of several of those kicks, one coming dangerously close to his balls under the cover of the wooden table.

“Brooke.” He shook her a bit as he locked eyes with her. “It’s me.”

Her rigid body went soft as they lay facing each other, her chest heaving as those beautiful turquoise eyes of hers grew rounder. “What are you doing?”

God, her lips were perfect, so pink and ripe for kissing. Her honey-colored skin invited the touch, a sprinkle of freckles across her nose and cheeks. “Saving your incredible backside, sweetheart. Now stay down.”

Most of the people had evacuated and the gunfire had died down, but Cornell had one of the MS-13 gang members pinned against a wall. Augie already had a bullet in him, as indicated by the blood running down his right arm, and Cornell had relieved him of his weapon. Augie’s compatriot was bleeding out on the floor near the kid’s feet.

Cornell pointed the Uzi at Augie’s chest and started in with his customary rhetoric about whose territory it was, and what were a couple of “no-good wetbacks from MS-13” doing here, etc., etc.

Roman slipped the handgun from his ankle holster and placed a finger to his lips when Brooke gasped.

Tugging her closer with his other hand, he aimed at Cornell’s broad back.

Understanding what was about to go down, Brooke wrapped her arms around Roman’s chest, clinging for dear life. Her breasts smashed against his ribcage, one shoeless foot wrapping around his leg. The act was so intimate, his vision went fuzzy for a second. How many times had he fantasized about the two of them being in this exact position?

Minus the gang members and the flying bullets, of course, but what was life without a little excitement?

Her lips brushed the lobe of his ear, making his cock dance. “Don’t miss,” she whispered. Her hair smelled like coconuts and fresh lemons. “Take him down.”

Adrenaline buzzed in Roman’s system, a thousand happy bees. He touched her hair, bringing his mouth close to her ear and breathing in her clean scent. Just like she had when he’d kissed her minutes ago, her body melted into his. “My pleasure, Dr. Heaton.”

Roman fired.

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