Command Performance (Harlequin Blaze Series #770)

Command Performance (Harlequin Blaze Series #770)

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by Sara Jane Stone

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Subject: Chief Warrant Officer  Hunter Cross 

Mission: Keep Margaret Barlow distracted…using any means necessary! 

Ranger Hunter Cross is the army poster child—excitement, danger and no strings in sight. And he's been in town exactly three hours before a curvy blonde named Maggie flashes him a look that says "You belong in

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Subject: Chief Warrant Officer  Hunter Cross 

Mission: Keep Margaret Barlow distracted…using any means necessary! 

Ranger Hunter Cross is the army poster child—excitement, danger and no strings in sight. And he's been in town exactly three hours before a curvy blonde named Maggie flashes him a look that says "You belong in my bed." It's a night of wicked satisfaction. And it's a night they can never repeat…. 

All Professor Maggie Barlow wanted was an orgasm—or three— from the dead-sexy Ranger. Having him as her official army  liaison while she works on her new book? That wasn't in the  plan. Especially when she learns that Hunter has orders to "control" her. Little does the army know that when it comes  to their deliciously naughty nighttime activities, Hunter is at Maggie's complete command…. 

Uniformly Hot!  The Few. The Proud. The Sexy as Hell.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Fresh from a broken engagement and spurred into action by her best friend, reserved sociology professor Margaret Barlow abandons her comfort zone and shares one incredible night with Special Forces army ranger Hunter Cross, a man she picks up at a car show and knows she will never see again. And then he shows up as her liaison to the Special Forces team she is interviewing for a book that is sure to guarantee her tenure. Maggie knows that nothing but her strict sense of purpose and carefully honed control can keep her on track and out of his arms. But Hunter has been charged by his superior (with the hint of a promotion) to keep Maggie from learning the truth about the team’s mission. As Maggie searches for answers and Hunter struggles to keep her off balance, the tension between them becomes much more than sexual. Trust, responsibility, and control are key themes in this lively, steamy tale that adds some interesting backstory and family addiction issues to the mix but, as expected, keeps the action keenly centered on the two main characters.

Verdict A pair of career-focused, relationship-wary protagonists have their worlds upended when their one-night stand has unexpected results. This sexy, explicit Blaze title lives up to its incendiary series name and is a red-hot debut for the Brooklyn-based Stone.—Kristin Ramsdell, Emerita, California State Univ. Lib., East Bay
(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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"Goodbye, control," Maggie muttered, her hands trembling with a mix of excitement and nerves. "Hello, fantasy."

She stepped into the car show refreshment tent and paused, her fingers playing with the clasp on her purse. Fans blasted, but she still feared she might break into a sweat. And wouldn't that be attractive?

She forced her fingers to still. Sexy women, the ones who left men desperate to touch, possessed confidence, not anxiety. If she kept playing with that clasp, her bag might fall open and expose the box of ribbed-for-her-pleasure protection Olivia had given her in the car. Turning red with embarrassment wouldn't help her confidence.

Why shouldn't she feel confident? She was a careeroriented author and professor. And she knew she looked good tonight. She had big breasts and a trim waist—both of which were on display thanks to the backless green shirt Olivia had chosen. Wearing it meant Maggie had been forced to leave her bra at home.

She glanced down at the full D-cups pressing at the front of her shirt as if screaming to the room look at me! Had anyone noticed? Had one of these men caught sight of her and said, "Wow! I bet she would look great topless and bent over the hood of my car"? She scanned the tent and spotted a couple of men staring at her, their eyes never drifting above her chest.

"The shirt. It's working," Maggie murmured to her best friend.

Olivia stood half a step behind her, blocking the exit as if she feared Maggie might bolt at any moment. "Of course it is. Now all you have to do is walk to the bar and order a drink."

Maggie nodded, squared her shoulders and wobbled to the bar, silently cursing Olivia for insisting she wear the four-inch heels. Her feet ached for her sensible, everyday flats. But she needed the height advantage. Without the stilettos, all five foot three inches of her would be lost in the sea of towering males.

And there were definitely Men here. Capital M. At the tables, on the folding chairs, leaning against the makeshift bar—muscular, don't-mess-with-me Men. The type of guys she'd always admired from a distance, as if they were part of a display with a little sign that read Look, But Don't Touch.

Tonight she wanted to touch.

Some wore uniforms, but most were dressed in civilian clothes. Still, their military-issue haircuts gave them away. They might be wearing jeans and T-shirts, but they were soldiers. Not that this was surprising. It made sense that a car show near a military academy would be overrun with soldiers and cadets. Most men liked cars. The guys in this tent probably spent 50 percent of their free time rebuilding their engines.

Not Maggie. She'd never even changed a flat tire. Not once.

Her nerves kicked into gear again. Her fingers drummed against her thighs as she picked her way through the crowd. She fought to quiet them and focus. She was on a mission. And it had nothing to do with car parts and everything to do with hard-bodied males.

When they reached the temporary wooden counter, Maggie signaled the bartender. "Vodka tonic, please."

Olivia raised an eyebrow but didn't say anything before adding a glass of white wine to the order.

Their drinks arrived and Maggie took a long sip from hers. She couldn't remember the last time she'd ordered hard liquor. She rarely drank the stuff, always afraid she might have inherited her father's love of booze, and when she did have a drink, she generally preferred a glass or two of wine, or a beer on a hot summer afternoon. One sip of vodka and she was feeling warm and a little tipsy, which was surprisingly pleasant. It even dulled her desire to drive back down to Manhattan and hurl something at her ex. A few more of these and she might have the guts to follow through with Olivia's crazy plan.

"Liv, you do realize most of these guys are soldiers. Probably half either teach at or attend West Point." Maggie noticed she'd downed half her drink. "What if I end up having to deal with one of them while researching my book?"

"Relax, you won't." Olivia shook her head. "Anyway, I thought the men you were interviewing were based in Tennessee."

"They are, but the generals are in town."

Olivia reached over and patted her hand. "I promise I'll make sure he's not a general."

"But I could never date a soldier."

"It's only for one night," Olivia reminded her. "Why should you care what he does for a living if you're not planning on seeing him beyond tonight? Maybe you'll get lucky and find a mechanic. This is a car show."

Maggie drained the rest of her drink. "What if I pick a guy and he turns me down?" Her nerves—and the vodka—sent her stomach into somersaults. "What if I make a complete fool of myself? It's not like I have a lot of experience with men."

"Look at me." Olivia leaned closer. "You can do this. Now. Tonight. If you don't, then duty, responsibility, your need to be the best at your job—it will smother you."

Maggie held on to the bar with one hand as Olivia's words sank in. Her sense of duty had started smothering her years ago when her father began drinking. This was her chance to escape. If she didn't act now, she might lose the part of herself that craved orgasms. The part of herself that wished she'd told her fiance she wanted wild sex on his desk and so much more.

"You're right," Maggie said softly.

Olivia smiled and signaled the bartender for a second round. "Now, look around. See anything you like?"

Feeling the vodka pulsing through her, Maggie boldly scanned the refreshment tent. What was she looking for? Muscles. The kind that came from the hard work required to transform a man into a soldier or from lifting engine parts. But four out of five guys in here looked like they could bench-press her one-handed. And thanks to her breasts, she wasn't one of those hundred-pounds-soaking-wet women.

She took a second look and mentally eliminated about half of them. Too young. She wanted a man who knew things about sex. She wanted an orgasm that left her breathless, boneless and begging for more.

Her gaze landed on a green polo, tight but not too tight. And those biceps? They shouted touch me. Her eyes drifted over his shoulders to his face, framed by straight brown hair. She'd always liked brown hair. Staring at his profile—he was deep in conversation with an equally handsome but not quite as sexy man across the table—she could see his mouth curving upward in a half smile. Those lips. He had the type of mouth that begged a woman to say kiss me lower down, please.

Maggie clutched her drink and drew her gaze away from his face. Twelve months of unfulfilling sex had driven her mad if she was thinking about his lips kissing her there before she'd even said a word to the guy. She blinked and took in the rest of him. She could see the endless length of his legs stretched out beneath the table.

Her body tingled as she drank in the sight of him. With a long, sculpted body like that he must know how to do things, deliciously sinful, wild things that previously only existed in her fantasies. He turned and looked right at her, and then smiled. She tightened her grip on her nearly empty drink. Those eyes. That mouth. She'd bet her inheritance that man knew ten ways to give a woman the best orgasm of her life. If he looked at her like that much longer, she might come right here. Her thighs tightened at the thought. This man would say yes. He wouldn't turn her down. Not after that look.

Maggie blinked and turned to the bartender. "Cancel the vodka tonic. Just water, please."

The liquor had made her bold, maybe even a little reckless, but if she wished to remember every detail about tonight, she needed water. "Do you remember George Clooney when he was young? When he was on ER?"

"Oh, yeah." Olivia took her wine from the bartender. "He was on the show when we first started watching it in high school."

"Green polo, blue jeans at eight o'clock."

Olivia raised an eyebrow. "He's not your usual type."

"He has George Clooney's eyes. Bedroom eyes." Maggie reached for her water and drained half the glass. "Tonight, he's my type."

Chief Warrant Officer Hunter Cross knew a come-on look when he saw one. A look that said, I want you naked in my bed. Tonight.

He leaned back on his rickety wooden folding chair and let a slow smile spread across his face, a move he'd perfected at sixteen to get the captain of the debate team into the backseat of his mother's car. He'd always had a thing for supersmart girls. Of course, he'd moved beyond sex in the backseat since high school, but not much. Commitment was a dirty word in his mind, and long-term made him shudder. Not even the woman at the bar with her soft shoulder-length curls or touch-me breasts would tempt him to change his mind.

Across the room, the blonde pursed her lips, unsure if she should proceed with their unspoken dance. That expression. It was a mix of bold and innocent, an intoxicating combination that went right to his crotch. He let his eyelids lower slightly.

"I know that look isn't for me," Riley, his friend and former team leader, said from across the table.

"The blonde at the bar. She just gave me a green light."

Riley chuckled. "You've been in town for less than three hours and you've already found a woman."

"Hey, I've been laid up in a hospital for two months." Before that, he'd been in Afghanistan. He would have left unscathed if his team hadn't been ordered to rescue three female aid workers traveling to a remote clinic. And thanks to a teammate's mistake, he'd taken a bullet in the process.

"How's your arm?" Riley asked, his expression serious.

"Fine." Hunter rolled his shoulder. It still ached. Nothing the blonde couldn't fix.

"Logan feels awful about how it all went down."

Hunter started to say it wasn't Logan's fault, but stopped. They both knew it was. His friend and teammate had been distracted after losing his young wife to cancer before they shipped out, and as a result he'd messed up—and Hunter had been shot.

"Any thoughts about getting out? Resigning your commission?" Riley asked.

"Hell, no."

"I heard one of those private security companies offered you a job," Riley said quietly.

"Yeah, but you know me. I live for being a Ranger. Hell, I'm hoping they'll give me your old job." With Riley bowing out as head of their team, Hunter was in line for the job he'd always dreamed of and a pay hike. A small one. "I could sure use the extra cash."

"Trust me, the pay bump is so small you'll barely notice. It's nothing compared to what those private companies pay." Riley pulled out his wallet. "But I can help you out tonight. The beers are on me. I need to be getting home."


"I like to be in bed with my wife before she falls asleep,"

Riley replied with a smile. "If you ever settle down, you'll understand."

"I think I'd take another bullet before relinquishing my freedom."

"Someday you're going to eat those words. When the right woman comes along, you're going to fall so hard you'll give up everything to be with her. Everything."

"Did they brainwash you when you made those vows?" Hunter joked. Riley didn't know he'd already sacrificed everything he had for his sister. He had nothing left to provide for a wife and family of his own.

Riley laughed.

"Listen, I think it's great what you've got," Hunter said. "But I'm committed to the army. I'm dying to get back to active duty. Married life? It's not for me."

"If you say so." Riley set a twenty on the table and stood. "Think you can catch a cab back to the hotel if things don't work out with your green-light girl?"

That's no girl, Hunter thought. She has "woman with needs" written all over her. "Don't worry about me. I'll find my way to bed."

Riley slipped his wallet into his back pocket. "If you end up sticking around the area for a while, give me a call and I'll drive down for another drink."

"Will do. But next time I pick the venue. Not that I didn't enjoy picking out replacement parts for your wife's truck."

Riley patted him on the shoulder, his good one. "Deal."

Hunter's gaze shifted to the cash on the table as his friend headed toward the exit. In the past, he'd have insisted on paying for his own beer. But right now, his cash flow situation was pretty dismal. If he hadn't been ordered to fly up here when he'd been released from the physical therapy center, he would be crashing on one of his teammates' couches until they were deployed again. With his sister back in rehab and all the bills coming to him, he could barely afford the beer in his hand.

Hunter took a long sip. In his book, family came first. Always. His sister was the only family he had left. He refused to lose her to a meth overdose.

"Mind if I join you?"

The soft words yanked Hunter away from his thoughts. The woman from the bar stood with one hand on the chair next to his, her blue eyes wide and uncertain. Her other hand maintained a death grip on her glass. Nerves, he guessed. She might be playing the part of the brazen blonde tonight, but he'd bet his next paycheck that casting come-hither looks at strangers wasn't a habit.

Hunter smiled and stood to pull a chair out for her. "Please." He extended his hand. "Hunter Cross. And you are?"

"Maggie." She shook his hand and then slipped into the chair. He'd noticed the smooth expanse of skin exposed by her backless shirt when she'd been at the bar, but seeing her up close made him want to touch, to run his hand over the place where her bra line should be, but wasn't. He moved back to his chair to admire the view from the front. Little Miss Maggie's taut nipples strained against the thin fabric.

God help him, he loved breasts. And full braless breasts? They drove him wild.

The woman who now stood beside him looked as if she'd gotten lost on her way home from a cruise ship. "Three questions and then I'll leave you two alone."

Little Miss Maggie's friend had rushed over to "help."

Great. But he didn't try to send her back to her ship. He merely nodded, prepared to face the interrogation. "Okay."

"Are you married?" she demanded.

"Fair question." He didn't take his eyes off her face. He could understand a friend looking out for her own. "No, ma'am."

"Are you a soldier?"

Hunter hesitated. He knew lots of women picked up soldiers. As a rule, he tried to steer clear of them. Women on the hunt for a hero wanted commitment no matter how much they pretended otherwise. Marriage might be perfect for Riley, but the last thing Hunter needed was another person to support.

He glanced at Maggie. The brazen blonde who'd approached him sat biting her lower lip, her brow furrowed as if she was trying to decide whether she should punch her friend or turn tail and run. He lowered his gaze to her chest. Hunter wanted her to stay. Badly.

"Yes, ma'am." He met the friend's challenging gaze.


His interrogator frowned and turned to Miss Maggie. "He's not a mechanic."

A mechanic? Seriously? He'd never heard of women trying to pick up mechanics. Maybe New York ladies were more practical. Why snag a soldier when you could have someone around to fix your car?

But he couldn't let Miss Maggie walk away because he didn't take apart engines for a living. He smiled. "I'm not. But I know how to change a tire."

"Great," Maggie said, her brow relaxing.

"Are you a general?" her friend demanded.

He let out a bark of laughter. A general? What the hell?

Sure, some women went after navy SEALs. Maybe some even wanted army rangers. But autoworkers and generals? "No, ma'am."

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