Here’s what readers love about SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY, book 7 in my Super Agent Romantic Suspense Series, now available.
Here’s what readers love about SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY, book 7 in my Super Agent Romantic Suspense Series, now available.
Merry Christmas & happy holidays! It’s been such a weird year, but I hope you and yours are safe and enjoying some needed fun before the year is over. I hope you’re finding time to read!
December is the month I slow down on writing and editing and plan for the coming year’s releases. I outline books (4 done, 2 to go) and pencil in release dates on my various calendars (6 scheduled so far).
I enjoy Christmas movies and songs, as well as holiday themed stories. White Christmas is my favorite movie, and Santa is Coming to Town by Bruce Springsteen. Both bring back special memories for me.
Do you have a favorite movie or song that instantly puts you in the holiday spirit?
Santa visited early and brought me the one gift I’ve been wishing for – a new sewing machine. I’m a crafter at heart and used to sew all the time. I even made quilts. It’s been fun to get back into the swing of things (see the two items I’ve made so far below) and I’ve spent hours on Pinterest finding more projects.
I’ve also made dozens of bracelets and candles (all sold!) and I have more beads and wax waiting.
I’m ready for more interaction with my readers and a spirit of community, so I’ve started a private readers’ group on Facebook. Members will get to see more of “me” the person, and get to see my works in progress (read excerpts as the books are written!), learn about sales, and have early access to release. I won’t be doing much with it until January, but if you’d like to be one of the first, founding readers, you can ask to join here: www.facebook.com/groups/223349495973783/
Wishing you and yours a peaceful season filled with love and fun,
Misty & family (including Athena, Thunder, and Princess Zoey!)
My sewing organizer with multiple pockets. It zips up and has a carry handle. Great for makeup, nail polish, essential oils, office supplies, and crystals! I call this my Busy Bee pouch. It has two pockets with fun inner linings and heavy duty zippers.
Investigative reporter Savanna Bunkett digs into a rumor about a top-secret government project producing “super soldiers” and finds herself on an assassin’s hit list.
Navy SEAL Trace Hunter—the only soldier to survive the project—must become her bodyguard. He needs her to set the record straight with the entire world about who he is, and he’s her only chance at survival.
When their mutual enemy closes in, can they put the past behind them and trust each other? Or will secrets, lies, and forbidden passions cost them everything?
“Cover ups, intrigue, life and death situations and romance? Yes please!” ~ Reader review
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✩ Apple Books → http://apple.co/1WgSWKI
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Being Savanna’s bodyguard is the last thing Trace wants to do, but she’s his one chance to set the record straight—and he’s her only chance at survival. When their mutual enemy closes in, will secrets, lies, and forbidden passions cost them everything?
Enjoy this excerpt!
Navy SEAL Lieutenant Trace Hunter stood outside the Witcher prison walls in nothing but his underwear and stared at the gray Virginia skyline.
You wore the same clothes leaving prison that you wore coming in; hence his lack of street clothes.
Eighteen months since he’d been a free man. Since his world crashed down like a Black Hawk hit by a surface-to-air missile.
He drew a deep breath, the cold November air searing a line straight down his throat and into his lungs. Yes sir, the guard hadn’t been lying.
“Brisk out there,” he’d told Trace as he’d handed him a pair of sweatpants and a jacket and ushered him out a rear service door not far from solitary.
The normal guards had been missing, the numerous doors and gates opening for the two of them as if by magic. But Trace was a lifer. He didn’t understand why he was getting out, or why he wasn’t going out the front gate.
Leaving Witcher had never crossed his mind when he’d entered, so he didn’t argue as the guard directed him through the last gate. He did, however, ignore the kindness of the clothes and bugged out as fast as his feet could carry him.
Thanks to his stubbornness, his skin was now pebbling in the frosty air.
He’d briefly considered there would be a car waiting for him, or more likely, there would be a sniper on the hill and a bullet with Trace’s name on it.
Forty yards from the prison, he came to a fork in the road. According to the sign, north lay Rileyville, Population 899. South lay Murder Creek, unincorporated. Either way was a long walk in his skivvies.
Rocks and debris on the road bit into the soles of his feet as he put his head down and headed south. He’d taken off the cheap flip-flops Witcher had provided upon entry and thrown them as far as his arm allowed. He’d survived tougher conditions in hellholes like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Peru. North Korea had been a ball of laughs, too.
At least those places had been warm.
Who got me out?
Leaving the prison, he’d kept wondering if it was a joke, and that once he finally got to the last gate where the laundry trucks came and went, the normal guards would arrive back at their posts, laugh and tell him to turn the fuck around and go back to solitary.
He’d spent a lot of time there. No way in hell he’d been released early for good behavior.
When he’d asked why he was free to go, the guard with the clothes wouldn’t answer him.
He loved his country. Had done a lot of shit to keep her safe, but there was one thing he’d refused to do and it had cost him his freedom and his reputation. He knew a secret that could destroy the sitting president. Linc Norman’s enemies would give Trace anything he wanted for this tidbit of info.
He wouldn’t give it to them. None of them.
He also wouldn’t follow the last order his commander-in-chief had issued.
So he’d been branded a rogue operative, a traitor. His story—a false one—had been plastered all over the highly-rated The Bunk Stops Here and then been picked up by news stations around the world. He’d become the face on dozens of cheap tabloids, usurping the Royals’ latest baby and stealing the limelight from the current Disney star-turned-porn princess, all thanks to Savanna Bunkett, the host of TBSH who’d broken the story on him.
The all-American, girl-next-door Savanna did a three-show segment on his fall from war hero to traitor, crucifying him and calling into question every mission he’d been on, every SEAL who’d worked with him.
Not a lawyer in the country would touch him, and even if one had stepped forward to take on the U.S. Attorney General, they wouldn’t have won. He was a dead man walking. Thanks to some back-door dealing, he didn’t even get a trial; he was sent straight to Witcher, the hidden government installment built especially for high-risk prisoners like him. Prisoners who’d been the best at what they did. Highly-trained operatives and military personal who knew every trick their government had up its sleeve and how to get around all of them.
Behind him, the sound of tires on pavement broke him out of his reverie.
SUV, four-wheel drive, twenty-five miles an hour tops.
Trace didn’t turn or acknowledge the vehicle’s presence. It was traveling too slowly to be a casual traveler on his way to Murder Creek unless the driver was a blue-hair. Of course, a man his size walking on the side of the road in nothing but his underwear could cause any normal driver to slow so he or she could gawk.
Trace knew the driver wasn’t an old lady or a curious traveler. The person or persons approaching carried danger. Probably someone working for the president or Command & Control. Maybe the person who’d gotten him cut loose from Witcher so they could gun him down on the side of the road.
Hell, the president had already had him in the perfect spot to end him. People inside had tried, but he was better, faster, more deadly than his fellow inmates. He’d sent more than a few of them to the infirmary, knowing they had only come after him because the president had offered them early release if they took him out.
He’d been well-trained for evasive maneuvers. The tree line next to him would make for good cover if he needed it. He could disappear before the driver blinked. Disappear forever and reinvent himself. Go to the Caribbean, meet some sweet native gal and start a new life. Or maybe Italy. He’d always wanted to visit Italy.
Bonus, Italy was one of the few countries where he’d never killed anyone.
The SUV cruised by him, accelerating ten yards out. Cadillac Escalade. Not official government unless the mayor of Virginia was paying a visit.
Maybe it is a blue-hair gawker.
Tinted windows. All-season, heavy duty tires. If he had to guess, he’d say by the sound of those tires on the cold highway, the vehicle was carrying some reinforced side panels.
His gawker was either incredibly rich and paranoid, or Beyoncé had heard he was out and had come to pick him up.
Doesn’t matter who’s in the car. Only matters what I’m going to do about it.
Escape scenarios were limited. There was one road, the road he was walking on, and the trees.
He liked things simple.
Sure enough, the Escalade made a U-y in the valley and stopped, pointed back toward him.
Fight or flight?
While he’d kept himself in good condition inside Witcher, he was tired of fighting.
Flight it is.
He glanced over at the tree line. The shadows beckoned. The anonymity. A fresh start.
Nah. Running wasn’t his style. Instead of bailing from his very exposed line of sight, he stood stock-still and eyed the SUV, still idling a quarter mile away.
He’d pushed through pain, through war, through prison. Had gotten back up every time someone knocked him down.
Even the goddamn president of the United States.
That’s what soldiers did.
There was no point in running. The prez would come for him again and again and again.
It was time to make a stand, even if it was his last.
* * *
Savanna Jeffries Bunkett looked up from the notes on her lead story when a knock sounded on her dressing room door. She scowled at her reflection in the large mirror over her table. She needed her roots touched up.
Scribbling a reminder on the top sheet, she called out, “Yes?”
Lindsey Fey, the assistant to the assistant director at The Bunk Stops Here and Savanna’s studio-assigned assistant, poked her head in. The headphones she used to bark orders to the cameramen and crew lay around her neck. “You have a visitor.”
The word “visitor” held emphasis. Lindsey’s eyes danced and she was smiling.
Lindsey was always smiling. She ran her butt off, organizing everything from the scriptwriters to the coffee machine and her energy and aggressiveness had helped make TBSH an Emmy winner. She had Executive Producer in her sights and Savanna didn’t have the heart to tell her she was too young and lacked specific equipment between her legs to go that far with the news channel. She was related to one of the producers, however, and in the world of cable news, that would be Lindsey’s ticket to success.
Lindsey never took off her headphones while on set. Maybe not even when she was off set; Savanna couldn’t be sure, since she didn’t hang out with the staff and crew, was never invited out for drinks after filming or to the DC parties the rest of them always seemed to rush off to.
Lindsey’s smile, along with the word emphasis, made Savanna’s pulse speed up. “Is it Parker?” she asked.
Blonde eyebrows drew together and the smile flattened. “Your sister? No.” As Savanna’s hope died, Lindsey’s smile returned. She leaned in, stage-whispering, “Someone big.”
Big in television news or something else? From the excited countenance Lindsey was sporting, it could be Hollywood’s latest action star or the Dalai Lama. Hard to know. The girl was wowed by everyone.
When a recent spike in watchers made TBSH the largest cable investigative news show since Nancy Grace, Savanna’s popularity also skyrocketed. To her embarrassment, she’d become a regular face on E! News and grocery store tabloids as Americans criticized her hair and weight and wondered who she was dating since her breakup with Junior Senator Brady Garrison. Few seemed to appreciate her investigative skills and hard-hitting stories about corporate and political corruption.
Savanna looked back down at her notes. “Unless it’s the Pope”— or Parker. God, where are you? —“I don’t have time for a meeting. Whoever it is can wait until after the show.”
She heard a scuffle and, assuming Lindsey was ducking out, continued to review her notes on the latest political scandal she was about to blow the whistle on.
A moment later, however, the room behind her filled with an unmistakable presence and the scent of the man’s designer cologne. Sharp, musky, reminding her of old leather and fresh betrayal. “Not many people say no to me.”
Savanna’s stomach dropped. She clenched her fingers around the pen she’d been using, the typed words on the script in front of her blurring.
“What are you doing here?” she said without lifting her gaze. Her voice sounded steady even though she was shaking from head to toe.
A crystal vase plunked down on the dressing table next to her, overflowing with a lush mix of summer flowers. Roses, hydrangeas, sunflowers. He’d figured out all her favorites.
Damn him. She’d never be able to enjoy her favorite flowers again.
Linc Norman leaned over her shoulder, ran a finger along her hairline, and pushed a coiffured lock out of the way. “What is this I hear about you doing an exposé on Westmeyer?” His breath landed on the top of her ear and revulsion snaked through her. His Alabama drawl thickened. “Tread lightly, sweetheart. I need them come next November.”
Was he seriously throwing down a gauntlet?
Anger replaced her revulsion. He was drawing a line and daring her not to step over it.
We’ll see about that.
Savanna bit the inside of her cheek and stared holes into the paper in front of her. She’d never taken kindly to threats, and wasn’t about to now, even if the man threatening her was the president of the United States. “I told you, I won’t be your lackey. If one of your supporters is committing criminal acts or fleecing the American people in any way, I’m going after them.”
“Like you did your boyfriend?”
Low blow, but then, what did she expect?
“You’ve always been too focused on principles, Van.” Norman let his fingers travel under her chin, forcing it up. “Look at me.”
Savanna glued her eyes on the flowers, not willing to meet his eyes in the mirror.
He pinched her chin between his finger and thumb, forcing her to raise her gaze. “You don’t give me orders or deny me anything. Loosen up your journalistic ethics or I’ll burn you at the stake.”
Finally, Savanna locked eyes with him in the mirror. “I won’t abandon my principles. Ever. So let me get you a match.”
His eyes were several shades lighter than her deep blue ones, with gray streaks that mimicked the ones in his hair. He smiled, the corners of his eyes crinkling as if he were teasing her instead of threatening her.
But the threat was real, coming from the most powerful man in the world. “Where is my sister?” she whispered. “What have you done with her?”
The president’s smile turned tolerant, the smooth Southern charm now mixing with the perfect touch of pity. If he’d been a television emcee or talk show host, he would have been her toughest competition. “Parker works for National Intelligence. Who knows where she is or what she’s working on.”
Perhaps Parker was on assignment, but she was a cognitive scientist who’d found a niche studying the brains and behaviors of terrorists. Her work for NI was more analyst and profiler than anything else. Occasionally, she traveled out of the country, but she always texted or called Savanna beforehand to let her know she’d be quiet for a few days or weeks.
They were close; normally they talked every day. They made time for weekly lunches, and once a month, they met their parents for Sunday dinner.
Parker was dedicated and loved her job. While she never shared intelligence or sensitive information, she had been more secretive than usual for the past year and a half.
And now, she was gone.
“If you’ve hurt her…” Savanna let the threat hang in the air. Was she really doing this? Threatening the president of the United States? “If you made her disappear, I will find out, and when I do, I will let everyone know exactly who and what you are.”
Releasing her chin, Linc Norman put his face next to hers, their reflections in the mirror looking like the Greek theatre faces of comedy and tragedy. He thought this was a joke—her fierce love and loyalty to her sister.
But the president wasn’t one to take a threat sitting down. He ran his hands over Savanna’s arms, his attention dropping to her cleavage. Holding the gaze a moment longer, purposely trying to make her uncomfortable. “You’ve pissed off a lot of high-powered people in your time at the news desk. Ruined a lot of lives and brought whole companies to their knees. Wouldn’t want any of them to retaliate, now, would you, Van?”
A master at intimidation, he closed his eyes and breathed deeply, as if soaking in her scent before he leaned his forehead against her temple. “You and I both have a role to play in leading the American people and making them feel secure. Parker had one job and she blew it. Don’t follow in her footsteps, Van. Do what I tell you and everyone will be happy.”
Her hand now shook so hard, she had to lay down the pen. It was either that, or she’d stick the pen in his eye socket. “I want my sister back.”
“We don’t always get what we want.” He chuckled and rose to his full height, checking himself out in her mirror. He straightened his tie, brushed a lock of hair off his forehead. “Except me. I am, after all, the leader of the free world.”
Savanna held his gaze, refusing to kowtow regardless of the fact that he could ruin her career, her very life, with the snap of his fingers. She mentally cursed herself that she didn’t have a way to make the bastard come clean.
But that was her forte. Digging in and unearthing dirt that could bring anyone, no matter how much power they had, to their knees. She’d known this confrontation was a strong possibility and had already taken measures to start fighting back.
He didn’t see the fire in her eyes, or, knowing him, took it as compliance rather than defiance. Everyone gave him what he wanted when he turned on the charm.
“Remember, lay off Westmeyer.” He winked and patted her back. “And enjoy the flowers.”
Two Secret Service agents closed in around him as he left. At least, she thought they were SS. They could have been his thugs. Parker had once told her Norman used various tunnels under the White House to come and go covertly on a regular basis. Often his own chief of staff had no idea where he was or what he was doing.
“The White House bad boy,” the press had nicknamed him. Savanna knew his antics hid a much deeper, much more sinister side.
Trembling, she took the vase of flowers and smashed it against the wall.
Light reflected off something among the shattered heads of the hydrangeas. Savanna stepped gingerly though the broken glass in the designer heels the audience wouldn’t see behind her news desk. Bending down, she picked up a tiny, flexible, opaque disc.
Listening device? Camera?
Throwing it down, she ground her heel into it. Small satisfaction, but she imagined it was Norman’s face.
Back at her dressing table, she withdrew her cell phone from the top drawer. No calls or texts from Parker, but there was a text from a blocked caller.
A long time ago, Parker had given Savanna a number to text, a person who went by the moniker ON16. A person—man or a woman, she didn’t know—who could help Savanna if she couldn’t get hold of her sister. Extreme emergencies only, Parker had said.
Savanna had never needed it before.
ON16’s text was two lines: a name and a phone number.
Savanna stared at the name, bells going off in her head. Emit Petit. Where had she heard that name before?
Lindsey popped in without knocking. “What did the president say? Are you going to interview him? Please say he wants to do an interview at the White House!”
She was giddy until her attention dropped to the shards of glass and limp flowers on the floor. “Oh, my God. What happened? Are you okay?”
Savanna stood, dropping the cell phone back into her drawer. She smoothed the front of her jacket and grabbed her notes. “Let’s go,” she said, hustling Lindsey out of the room. “We have a show to do.”
And then I’m going to find my sister.
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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!
“…suspense, danger, passion 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!
Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B017Y979DA
Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B017Y979DA
Amazon CA: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B017Y979DA
Amazon AU: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B017Y979DA
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ “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?
“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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★★★★★ “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.
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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
“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!
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.
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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**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.
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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In this fifth book in the SEALs of Shadow Force series, Colton and Shelby face family issues, a serial killer bent on revenge, second chances, and are joined by Connor and Sabrina from Fatal Love!
“The love scenes were smokin’ hot!”
Colton swung back into the kitchen, two shirts in hand. He eyed the buttons on her blouse. “You need a hand getting that off?”
For a second, Shelby wasn’t sure if he was serious or just teasing. The look in his eyes—the same heat from before—told her he was serious all right.
He wanted to unbutton her blouse and help her out of it.
Not because he was being nice or thought she couldn’t work the buttons on her shirt.
Evil man. “Just because my leg is screwed up doesn’t mean I can’t dress myself.”
He tossed the fresh shirt on the table, then reached out to finger the collar of her blouse. “Was thinking more about the undressing part. Can you do it on your own?”
Her nipples hardened and she licked her lips. “Is that part of my therapy? Showing you I can unbutton my shirt?”
A wicked grin lit his face. “I need to do a full evaluation of what you can and can’t handle.”
The desire pulsing at the base of her spine moved lower. At the same time, she undid the top button.
This was such a bad idea, but this is what they did—teased, played, and had fun. Until the fun was over and reality came calling.
When it was just the two of them, they were perfect together. As soon as her family, friends, or job entered the picture, there was nothing but anger, hurt, and arguing.
As if he could see the mental war going on in her head, he upped the ante—he shucked off his own shirt.
And oh, my. What a beautiful man he was, even with the scars crisscrossing his chest and belly. His broad shoulders bunched as he wadded up the coffee-stained shirt and tossed it on the table, his steely gaze once again challenging her in a totally different way.
Her hand went to the second button on her blouse, toying with it, watching the effect the promise of something more had on him. He knew as well as she did that nothing good could come from them lowering their defenses and seeking comfort in each other’s arms, but hell if that had ever stopped either of them from giving in to their passion.
Sex with Colton had always been good—not just good, great. Eighteen months was a long time to go without that kind of pleasure, without him, yet she hadn’t even considered hooking up with anyone else. Couldn’t consider starting over with someone new.
Jaya had tried setting her up more than once. Shelby appreciated her friend’s compassion and determination, but most times, she never even made it to the first date. Same with her mom, pushing her toward Daniel. A good man, but no one else was Colton.
Even now, he knew she needed to control the flow and pace of this dance with the devil. She was no amateur—she knew the price of crossing the point of no return with him. He wasn’t about to push her into anything. This was her choice. All he was doing was putting it out there. Offering to make her a very happy woman for a few hours.
Was she willing to let him?
Her body screamed yes, yes, yes. Goading, demanding. It remembered all too well how amazing he could make her feel.
Her heart, though…that was an altogether different thing. Wait, wait, wait, it cried. It didn’t want to be hurt again.
Because surrendering her body to Colton was one thing, but she couldn’t separate her heart from it. If she plunged into heedless abandon with him, her heart would pay the price.
Logic attempted to marry the two, reminding her that a drop-dead gorgeous man, one who wanted to protect her and maybe still loved her, was standing there in front of her, half-naked and willing to do anything she wanted.
Shelby was no fool. She reached for him.
He caught her hand, intertwining his fingers with hers, and once again went to his knees in front of her.
A rush of pure, unadulterated power ran through her veins. Having this man—a former SEAL and the most incredible lover a gal could ask for—kneel in front of her was as thrilling as any moment she’d ever had on the beauty pageant circuit, as intoxicating as any case she’d ever worked for the FBI. He was hers. All hers. He might have teased her relentlessly about being a beauty queen, but he loved giving her anything she wanted.
Right now, she wanted him.
And he knew it.
Slowly, she drew him toward her, leaning down to offer a kiss to seal her pact with the devil.
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