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The woman was the first thing Special Agent Max Carpenter noticed when he powered into the FBI conference room breathing fire.
The sight of her reversed his own burning anger on himself like a backdraft.
She stood by the window that overlooked downtown Los Angeles illuminated by the light that caught the highlights in her mahogany hair, intensifying every fiery strand.
Cut in layers around her face, it fell in long waves across her shoulders and down to the middle of her back. Her almond eyes, a striking amber color that swirled with remembered pain, peered at him. Her face had a wild, out-there beauty and the cuts and bruises on her face and arms did nothing to detract from her loveliness. As soon as he saw the injuries she'd suffered, he went all tight inside, his fists clenching.
Had the Ghost done this to her?
He could see the abuse she'd suffered in the smudges beneath her eyes and the pinch in her full, soft-looking lips.
One of her graceful hands was wrapped around her rib cage as if to support her torso. The other was braced against the frame of the window.
Large enough to hold twenty people, the room served as a gathering place for staff meetings and high-level conferences. The elegance of the room always surprised him. Comfortable black chairs lined up like soldiers around the long, polished maple table. A credenza with a water pitcher and glasses stood at one end of the room and a state-of-the-art wide-screen monitor and projector at the other.
The only other man in the room was someone Max recognized as the director of the DEA, Russell Sanford. What could the DEA directorwant with him and what did it have to do with this woman?
In the world fight against terror, it was now common for the DEA and FBI to work closely together on matters that affected national security, so interagency collaboration wasn't a new concept to Max. The timing was bad because he was so close to a breakthrough on the Ghost, a notorious arms dealer and number one on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List. But for Max, apprehending the Ghost was personal. The Ghost had recently put his sister, Allie Carpenter, in mortal danger and now her twin, Callie, intended to go undercover to bring him to justice. Callie worked for a top secret branch of Homeland Security called Watchdog.
Max wasn't willing to take the chance his completely competent sister wouldn't become another victim of the Ghost.
Max's supervisor, Michael Drake, had escorted him to the conference room and now stood near the door like a sentinel. Whatever the director wanted, Max was sure Michael was here to guarantee Max agreed. In fact, Michael had ordered him to the meeting when Max was hell-bent on following up on the last lead he'd had for the Ghost.
"Agent Carpenter, I'm Russell Sanford, Director of the DEA."
"A pleasure to meet you, sir," Max replied. He kept the woman in his sight, not only because his awareness of her was like a buzz in his brain, trailing down his spine like the whine of a chain saw set on high, but also because she looked like a stiff wind could blow her away at any minute.
"I want you to protect one of my best agents, Rio Marshall."
Max turned toward her again. This delicate, stunning woman was a DEA agent? She was about one hundred and ten pounds soaking wet. He couldn't imagine her elegant hand wrapped around a Glock, let alone taking down a man with her bare hands. But he could imagine her hand wrapped around him. Those soft hands could cause a lot of friction moving over his flesh. Bad thoughts. Bad, bad thoughts.
She focused on him, but almost as an afterthought. She didn't want to be here any more than he did.
"With all due respect, sir, why the FBI?"
"We believe there's a mole in the DEA and we don't want to take the risk that whoever is leaking information will give away Agent Marshall's position. She's still recovering from her injuries and is at risk."
The woman snorted but said nothing.
"Why me?" Max asked, breaking the suddenly tense silence.
"You come recommended."
Max just didn't buy it. There were agents at the bureau who had more experience and others who would be better suited as a bodyguard. And why was the DEA director here instead of her division boss? The chain of command had been breached, but Max didn't know why. He kept his questions to himself, well aware he could jeopardize his job if he decided to rock the boat just a little bit more.
"What happened?" Max addressed the question to Rio, but she turned toward the window.
Sanford answered for her. "She was on a mission in Colombia and it went down bad. We rescued her last week. Unfortunately, her memory is sketchy regarding the incident, but she remembers seeing the Ghost. At this time, she can't recall any details of his face, but in time we're hoping she regains her memory."
At first Max had been totally against babysitting, but now he realized who she was and what the Ghost had done to her, he couldn't say no to protecting her from harm. The information she had locked in her head would be valuable in tracking down and eliminating the Ghost once and for all. The Ghost would cease to be a threat to Callie and Max would get justice for what he'd put Allie through.
"What is the plan?"
"We booked you into a private hotel for the next two weeks," Sanford said.
"In L.A.?" Max asked.
"No, Hawaii. We'd like you off the radar and out of California altogether."
"So you think the Ghost will try to kill her?"
"Yes, we do. No one's ever seen his face. He's taken great pains to keep his identity a secret. We know he's courting Eduardo Fuentes and Agent Marshall was just recently a prisoner of Fuentes's," Sanford said, pouring himself a glass of water and taking a sip.
Max stared at Sanford and let that bit of 411, with all its implications, sink in to his suspicious mind.
"Two weeks?" Max said. A private hotel, for cripes sake. An island retreat with Rio Marshall? What would be the hard part?
Oh, yeah, keeping her alive and keeping his hands off her.
Sanford nodded. He glanced at Max's supervisor, then at Rio. She stared impassively back and still said nothing.
His hyperawareness of her climbed a notch every time he looked at her. He shifted his shoulders and rested against the conference table.
"We should have everything wrapped up by then and it should be safe for her to return."
"Wrapped up?" Max repeated.
"A car is scheduled to pick you up in fifteen minutes."
"I haven't packed…." Max found it interesting Sanford had no intention of telling him what would be wrapped up.
"You can get what you need in Maui. Agent Marshall has what she needs. Isn't that correct, Agent Marshall?"
"Yes, sir," she answered, emphasizing the "sir," her lush mouth pulling into a sullen grimace.
The sound of her husky voice was like embers from a fire. Embers that burned inside and out. Damn. Not convenient. He was supposed to protect her… and not from himself.
"Thank you for your dedicated service, Agent Carpenter." The DEA Director shook hands with Max and then his boss. He left the room.
"Why don't you make yourself comfortable and I'll have my assistant let you know when the car is here," Max's supervisor said.
Max nodded and his supervisor left, closing the door behind him.
Once Sanford had left the room, and the conference door closed, Rio doubled over like a puppet whose strings had been severed. She gasped softly, her face going a shade paler, if that was possible. Max reached her side in seconds and steadied her as she teetered.
Wrapping his arm around her, he held her so she could get her bearings. Splaying one of her hands on his chest, her palm warm against his dress shirt, she closed her fingers around the material as if to anchor herself. His altruistic urge got blindsided by the attraction he found he couldn't shake, even as he realized she was injured more than she was letting on.
He held her tightly, but gently. When her eyes met his, they captured him like a net and for a moment the world faded and it was only the two of them, him giving her what she needed and her giving acceptance.
In his attempt to support her, his thigh slipped between her legs and for a moment she rode him, her sexy skirt bunching and revealing more of her creamy thigh… and more bruises.
Emotions tumbled through him. Anger that she'd been so mistreated, protectiveness and the need to soothe her, kiss away the pain she must have endured. The force of the emotions startled him and he pivoted on his heel and measured how far it was to one of the conference chairs.
"I'm okay," she said softly as if it hurt her to breathe.
"Like hell you are. You don't have to pretend for me, Agent Marshall."
She clutched at her ribs. "You don't have to Agent me, Max. Just call me Rio." Her voice sounded compressed, as if she were forcing words out of her throat.
"Like a son of a gun," she said with a brief smile.
"I get it. You didn't want to look weak in front of the DEA Director."
"It shouldn't matter that I look like a delicate little flower. I can hold my own and have on many occasions."
Grit. He liked that.
He watched her close her eyes and try to breathe around the pain. When she opened them, for a moment, he was lost.
Damn she was beautiful. He couldn't help but stare as her words washed over him like air currents.
"Your supervisors ever heard of steel magnolias? There are plenty of men, especially bad men, who don't think much of women and underestimate them all the time. A plus for us," Max said.
"The powers that be at the DEA say I'm better suited using my womanly wiles undercover rather than brute force."
She had the kind of hair that made a man want to run his hands through it to see how silky it was. It accentuated her fine, high cheekbones.
And that mouth. Lush, full lips made for a man to kiss. Plump and inviting.
"Like I'm some kind of Mata Hari."
"You've got the looks for it."
"My skills are just as deadly as yours, Max. Make no mistake about that. It galls me to have to admit I need help."
"It's not weak to admit it, Rio. Maybe you should sit down. I'll get you some water."
Please don't let him be nice, Rio thought as he walked over to the credenza and poured water from a pitcher.
She'd felt poleaxed when he'd walked into the room. Tall, dark and handsome had nothing on him. Those broad shoulders, tapering down to his trim waist, didn't help. The blue of his suit brought out the blue of his eyes and his dark, curly hair only accentuated those eyes all the more.
When he made eye contact, she sighed. There was something in those killer baby blues, something so open, so easy, so… so… compassionate. As if he cared about her without really knowing her.
What she had to do would be hard enough without having to like the guy, too.
He brought the water over and flashed her a smile. She reached for the glass and their hands touched. For a moment, he stared at her.
Like taking candy from a baby. She'd always had the ability to make men swoon, and even though her stepbrother had cautioned her on using her beauty to get what she wanted, she found herself using it constantly in her job.
She'd seduced many a criminal with only her charms and gotten plenty of them to give her exactly what she needed to fulfill her mission. Bringing them to justice had given her a lot of satisfaction.
Unfortunately, this assignment they'd given her wasn't going to give her any satisfaction at all.
They had been desperate. The director played on her loyalties to the agency. Max Carpenter was a wild card and could disrupt a very delicate, top secret mission, as well as endanger a key undercover DEA agent who was currently working in the field. She hadn't been privy to the mission particulars. All she knew was that the mission had something to do with the Ghost and the director wanted Max out of the picture.
Rio knew all about Max's family and how just recently Allie Carpenter had saved a very important undercover operation. Allie's twin sister, Callie, worked for Watchdog, an agency that brought illegal gunrunners to justice. When Allie was posing as her undercover persona, Gina Callahan, to snag the Ghost, a rival gunrunner tried to kill her and put her out of commission. Without Allie spearheading the deal, the whole sting would have been a wash. Watchdog recruited Callie to step in to cover for the hospitalized Allie. Drew Miller had trained Allie for the mission and that's how they met. Drew Miller had been the agent who had saved Rio from Fuentes's compound.
So Max had the same motivation as Rio. Rio wanted to get justice for her stepbrother, Shane, and Max wanted revenge on the Ghost for putting both his sisters in danger.
She had told her boss that it would just be easier to fire him rather than go through all these machinations, but her boss said that short of jailing Max, it wouldn't have stopped him from his pursuit of the Ghost. The matter for Max was more personal. Rather than lose Max as an agent, they just needed him distracted for a short period of time until the mission was over.
Now that she'd met him, she could understand why Max's supervisor and the director were so worried. Max struck her as the kind of man who did not give up on what he believed. He was tenacious, principled and noble all wrapped up in a lethal, intelligent package.
Duping the really sharp, drop-dead-gorgeous special agent wasn't going to be a cakewalk.
She'd earn brownie points, though. She'd need them. She'd screwed up in Colombia. She'd screwed up bad. She wouldn't rest until the man who'd killed her stepbrother was brought to justice. Eduardo Fuentes had to pay.
Posted August 26, 2014
Dangerous Curves by Karen Anders
Undercover Lovers Book Two
Max Carpenter is out for blood. The Ghost has to be caught. His sister Callie would be going undercover to resume catching the gunrunner and his other sister Allie, Callie’s identical twin, almost lost her life standing in while Callie was injured. He was closing in on the guy when suddenly he was thrown into a babysitting job. His fury left in a hurry when he laid eyes on the babe he’d be sitting.
DEA agent Rio Marshall has a debt she’s determined to have paid. A drug lord killed her brother and she was going to take the murderer down and see him pay for his crimes. Her first round at it didn’t go so well, but as soon as she could...she’d be back at it. After her undercover job with the hunky FBI agent.
These two agents find that their simple job wasn’t so simple. What was going to be an easy two weeks in Maui turns sightseeing through the areas they’d preferred not to. Especially since they were being chased by goons. Their attraction to each other wasn’t halted one bit. They found plenty of time in between running and hiding for “other” activities. Book one is Allie’s story; Up Close and Dangerously Sexy and the the third book is Callie’s story; Deliciously Dangerous.
**Strong sexual content and language
Posted June 21, 2011
No text was provided for this review.
Posted November 12, 2009
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Posted March 26, 2011
No text was provided for this review.
Posted December 29, 2011
No text was provided for this review.