Hard Beat (Driven Series)

Hard Beat (Driven Series)

4.6 13
by K. Bromberg
     
 

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From the New York Times bestselling author of Sweet Ache comes a blistering new novel filled with danger, secrecy, and a desire that can’t be sated…
Foreign war correspondent Tanner Thomas is addicted to living on the edge. Needing the adrenaline rush of his job to help him cope with a personal loss, he throws himself back into the

Overview

From the New York Times bestselling author of Sweet Ache comes a blistering new novel filled with danger, secrecy, and a desire that can’t be sated…
Foreign war correspondent Tanner Thomas is addicted to living on the edge. Needing the adrenaline rush of his job to help him cope with a personal loss, he throws himself back into the game, concentrating all his energy on getting the next big story. But when he meets his new photojournalist, Beaux Croslyn, he can’t help but feel like he’s losing his focus—and maybe risking more…
With secrets she won’t address, Beaux is far from your ordinary woman. Determined to keep her distance, she’s willing to pull Tanner in closer and hide behind the sparks flying between them. But as Beaux’s past begins to put their relationship—and their lives—at risk, Tanner’s determination to find the truth puts them both in jeopardy. 
He's ready to chase her to the ends of the earth to find out if what they had was real, or if the danger surrounding them was just an exquisite heat fated to burn out….

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 09/21/2015
Bromberg expertly captures the voice of a man caught between his tender heart and macho confidence in her standalone seventh romantic thriller in the Driven series (after Sweet Ache). Foreign-war correspondent and alpha male Tanner Thomas is recovering from the death of his photographer partner. He convinces his boss at Worldwide News to send him back to the Middle East, and sparks sizzle when he and sexy freelance photographer Beaux Croslyn meet in the correspondents’ hotel bar and hook up for a one-night stand. The next day, they discover that they’ve been assigned to work together. Adrenaline is an aphrodisiac for them, and more tension explodes from the pages when they’re embedded in military missions. But things are not always what they seem with the mysterious Beaux, and seasoned reporter Tanner struggles to distinguish facts from his anxious fears. A surprise ending adds another twist to this gripping journey in a dangerous land. Agent: Amy Tannenbaum, Jane Rotrosen Agency. (Nov.)
From the Publisher
"The audio narration is good, with the narrator giving the character a voice that fit the situation and his age." —Fangs, Wands & Fairy Dust

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780698406742
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
11/03/2015
Series:
Driven Series
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
400
Sales rank:
11,298
File size:
643 KB
Age Range:
18 Years

Related Subjects

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

A hand slaps me firmly on the back. It’s one of many in an impromptu celebration in the bar of the hotel to greet me.

“Welcome back, you crazy fucker!”

Burn out, my ass.

I turn to see Pauly’s familiar face: broad grin, hair falling over his thick glasses, and belly leading the way. “Man, it’s good to see you!” As I turn to shake his hand, I’m instantly pulled into his arms for a rough embrace.

He pulls back and cuffs the side of my cheek. “You okay?” It’s the same look that everyone has been giving me, and it’s driving me fucking insane. Pity mixed with sadness. But Pauly is allowed to look at me like that since he was there before all the shit hit the fan; he loved her like a sister too. And coming back here, I feared this moment—meeting him face-to-face—as if he’d judge me, think it was my fault . . . but all I feel right now is relief.

It feels so damn good to be back here, with people who get me, who understand why I’d return to work when so many others think I should have given it up to stay home for good. They don’t get that once you’re a nomad, you’re always a nomad. Or that home isn’t where your house is necessarily; it’s where you feel comfortable. And yes, that comfort can alter over time—as your needs shift and wants change—but in the end, I feel more like myself right now than I have since Stella’s death.

I pull my thoughts back to the here and now, to Pauly, the stale cigarette smoke that hangs in the air around me, and the pungent scent of spices coming in through the open windows of the bar.

“I’m better now that I’m back here.” I motion to the barstool next to me for him to sit down.

“Thank God for that. Took Rafe long enough.”

“Almost four months.”

“Shit,” he says in sympathy, knowing what a big deal that is to someone like me.

“Yeah. Tell me about it. The first two months were a mandatory leave of absence. Then once I threatened to go to CNN, he said he was speeding things up . . . but then, fuck, they made me take another Centurian course.” It’s a course for foreign correspondents about what to do in a hostile environment and how to handle the multitude of things that can go wrong at any given time. “And then I was told they couldn’t find a photographer who wanted to travel to this paradise. . . . It was one damn thing after another.”

“So in other words, he was dragging his feet so he could get you back here on his time frame.”

“Exactly.” I nod and tip my bottle up to my lips. “He thought I needed a break, said I was going to burn out.” I motion to the bartender to bring us another couple of beers.

“We’re all going to at some point. In the meantime . . .” He taps the neck of his beer bottle against mine. “Might as well get our fix.”

“Amen, brother. So, tell me what the hell has been happening while I’ve been gone.” The need to change the subject is paramount for me right now. I know Stella is going to be everywhere here, but I need a way to make her not so present in my mind so that I can focus on doing my job.

At least it’s a good theory.

“I’m hearing that some new players have moved into the game and that there’s a high-official meet in the works, but we can talk shop later. Right now, we need to welcome you back properly.” Pauly raises his voice to shout the last few words. In agreement, the crowd of people around us, mostly men, raise up a glass and call out a few aye, ayes.

The excitement around me feels palpable. It doesn’t take much in this place to give people a reason to celebrate. We all live on that razor-thin edge of unpredictability, so we take the chances we get to party because who knows when we’ll get another one. For all we know, tomorrow we could be on air-raid-siren lockdown in the hotel or out in the field in an embedded mission with a military unit.

When I turn back around, the bartender is busily filling the row of shot glasses on the bar top in front of me with Fireball whiskey. History tells me that this row is the first of many in tonight’s welcome-back celebration. My inclination is to chug back the first shot and then slowly work my way out of the bar and to my room.

It’s been a long ass few days. Between flights through multiple time zones and then a transport into the heart of the city, plus trying to reconnect with my sources to let them know I’m back in town, and grease their palms some, I’m exhausted, exhilarated, and feeling a little more like myself back in the thick of things, doing exactly what I love.

“C’mon, T-squared,” Carson yells with a slap of his hand on the counter. Hearing the nickname referring to the initials of my first and last name is like a welcome mat laid before me, and right then I know there is no way in hell I’m skipping out on this party.

“I’m game if you’re game!” I raise a glass up to him and wait for everyone close to us to grab a shot. The jostling of more people patting my shoulders accompanied by welcome-back comments causes the amber liquid to slosh over the sides of the shot glass.

“Shh. Shh. Shh,” Pauly instructs our friends as he stands on the seat of his chair, holding up his own glass. “Tanner Thomas . . . We are so glad to see your ugly ass back in this shithole. I’m sure once you hand our asses to us time and again by getting the story first, we’ll want you to leave, but for now we’re glad you’re here. Slainte!” As soon as he finishes the toast, the room around us erupts into cheers before we all toss back the whiskey.

I welcome the burn and before the sting even abates, my glass is already being refilled. When I look up from the pour, my eyes lock on a woman I hadn’t noticed at the other side of the bar. The momentary connection affords me a glimpse of dark hair and vibrant eyes as she lifts her drink in a silent nod to me, but as soon as I register she’s doing it on purpose, someone moves and blocks my view of her.

But I keep my eyes fixed in that direction, wanting another glance of the mysterious woman. She doesn’t look familiar, but at the same time something more than curiosity pulls at me. It’s been four long months—she could be anybody—but for a guy like me always in the know around here, it bothers me that I don’t have a clue who she is.

“Ready, Tan?” Pauly’s glass taps against mine, pulling me from my thoughts.

“Bottoms up, baby.” God, it feels good to be back. Listening to the guys’ war stories, getting up to speed on the shit that’s happened at the grassroots level that no one back at home has any clue about.

The whiskey goes down a little smoother the second and third times while our crowd gets bigger from people coming in after fulfilling their assignments. And each wave of people joining us ushers in another round of shots.

Maybe it’s the alcohol, maybe it’s the familiar atmosphere, but soon I feel like I can breathe easier than I have in months. I think of Stella intermittently through the night, mostly how much she’d have loved this show of unity amongst all these people competing for the next big story, and for the first time in forever I can smile at her memory.

“So how long you here for this time?” Pauly asks.

“I don’t know.” I blow out a long breath and lean back in my chair, tracing the lines of condensation down the glass of water in front of me that’s still full. Whiskey tastes so much better tonight. “This might be my last time. . . .” My own words surprise me. A confession from the combination of the nostalgia and my own mortality examined through the alcoholic buzz.

“Quit talking like that. This shit is in your blood. You can’t live without it.”

“True.” I glance across the room while I nod my head slowly in agreement. “But dude, a dog only has so many lives.”

“I guess that’s why I prefer pussies. They’ve got nine of ’em.”

“Christ, Pauly.” I choke on the words. “I prefer to eat it rather than live it.”

His arm goes around my shoulder as his laugh fills my ears. “I missed the fuck out of you, Thomas. Speaking of . . .” His hand grips me tighter before he lifts his chin to direct my line of sight. “The hottie at two o’clock has been eyeing you all night.”

I shrug the comment away, even though a small part of me—one that I’m not too happy with right now—hopes that he’s referring to the woman I’d glimpsed earlier. I’d told myself that she’d left. But secretly I want to be wrong. “I’m sure as hell hoping when you say ‘hottie,’ you’re referring to a woman and not an IED.”

“Cheers to that truth. Scary shit,” he says, tapping the neck of his bottle against the rim of my empty glass, “and no, I’m referring to dark hair, great rack, killer body—”

“No thanks.” I cut him off, but my eyes dart to where I saw her sitting earlier, and immediately I chastise myself.

“You still seeing what’s-her-name?” he asks with the same indifference as I felt toward her.

“Nah . . .” I let my voice drift off as my thoughts veer to our last fight when she accused me of cheating on her with Stella. “She took an assignment monitoring North Korea.”

“She thought you and Stella were messing around?” he infers.

The thought brings a bittersweet smile to my face. Memories of Stella and me, young and in love, flash through my mind. It feels like forever ago. Probably because it was. Two young twenty-somethings on their first assignment with no one else to help occupy their time. Lust turned to sweet love and then the slow realization that we weren’t any good as a couple. Then came an awkward phase where we had to get over the bitterness associated with lust gone wrong. The passage of time allowed us to realize we were really good at the best-friend thing which in turn made us a great team, reporter and photographer. Inseparable for almost ten years, except for the odd assignment that took us to other places of the world and despite the introduction of significant others.

“Yeah. I get it. I’d probably think the same thing, but . . .” I shrug. “You’ve seen us together. Know how Stell and I were—”

“Mutt and Jeff,” he mumbles as we both fall into a short silence thinking of her. “I liked what’s-her-name.”

“No, you didn’t.” I laugh loudly because his comment was the farthest thing from the truth. He nods his head in agreement—everyone knew they didn’t get along. “But thanks. I think it had run its course before she changed assignments. You know what relationships are like with what we do.”

“Man, do I know it. What am I on here? Wife number three? Four? You’ve got the right idea with the let’s-have-fun versus the let’s-get-hitched mentality . . . but uh, she just looked over here again and fuck me, I’d make her wife number five for the night if she’d let me.”

The deep belly chuckle he emits pulls a reluctant laugh out of me, and it takes everything I have not to glance in the woman’s direction. Resistance is futile. Eventually I give in to curiosity and glance up, planning to avert my eyes before she looks our way again.

Intriguing eyes meet mine. Her dark hair is pulled back into a messy knot that should look unkempt but somehow makes her sexier. When our eyes connect, her lips fall open in surprise in an O shape before they correct themselves into a slow, soft smile. I nod my head at her and then casually look away, both hating and loving that pang in my gut that stirs to life.

Something about her—yet nothing I can put my finger on—tells me I should steer clear. So why the fuck do I glance back up to see if she’s still looking? And why do I care?

“I’m sure you would,” I finally answer Pauly, a little slow in my response.

“She’s hot. I mean how often do we get someone that fine in this neck of the woods? Damn, dude, her eyes are back on you now. She’s seriously checking you out.” He snickers.

“Yeah, and she’s probably some sheik’s wife. No thanks . . . I’ll keep the hand they’d cut off just for looking at her.” I toss my napkin on the bar at the same time the barkeep slides another round in front of us.

“Better your hand than something else,” Pauly deadpans.

“Got that right.” I laugh.

“I might take the risk for her.” I glance over and look him up and down. He can’t be serious. “Okay. Maybe not.”

“Maybe not.” I scrub my hand over my clean-shaven face, knowing the smooth skin will soon be replaced by the scruff that just kind of happens when you live here. “She one of us?”

“She’s been here about two weeks. Freelance, I think. Don’t know much about her—heard she’s a loose cannon of sorts. Always off on her own, taking unnecessary risks and getting into people’s business. I’ve steered clear other than a nod in the lobby.”

That’s what I intend to do, steer clear of her. Too many newbies come in gung-ho, trying to get the next big story, and end up getting someone hurt. Just like what happened to Stella.

“Well, for what it matters, loose cannon or not, I think you should go for it. She’ll probably be gone sooner rather than later, which is always a good thing. . . . Prevents attachment, and shit, you never know when your next chance to taste those nine lives will be.” He winks and I can’t help but snort.

“Thanks but I’ve got enough to worry about with my new photog coming in tomorrow.” I roll my eyes and bring the shot glass back to my partially numb lips as my mind veers back to the fact that it’s been ten years since I’ve had to break in anybody new. I’m not looking forward to this.

“Well tough shit, man,” he says, patting me on the back, “because she’s making a move for you.”

The resigned sigh falls from my mouth at the same time she slides into the chair next to me. Gone is the distinct scent of this crowded bar when the clean and flowery scent of her perfume surrounds me. I keep my head down, eyes focused on the scratches in the wood counter, acknowledging that I don’t want the small zing I feel to flourish. At all.

But of course the longer we sit there, with me looking down and the full weight of her stare on me, I know I’m in a losing battle. I’ve got plenty of fight in me, just not for her right now. I need to head this off at the pass.

“Whoever you’re looking for, I’m not him.” I try not to sound too hostile, but my voice lacks any kind of warmth. I’ve been here, done this before. The newbies try to butter me up to get the scoop on everything inside town—and coming off the heels of the mess with Stella, I’m not giving anything to anybody.

“I don’t believe I’m looking for anything.” Her voice sounds smooth as silk with a hint of a rasp. How did I know she was going to have a sexy voice?

“Good.”

“Whiskey sour,” she says to the bartender, and I have to admit the order kind of surprises me. “And put it on his tab.”

I immediately look up to catch the smirk on her face and the taunting glimmer in her green eyes. Intrigue has me keeping my gaze on hers because I admire that she came back at me with her own line instead of scurrying away to lick her wounds. Can’t say the freelancer doesn’t have some chops.

“I don’t believe I offered to buy you one.” And the truth of the matter is I don’t give a flying fuck about the drink. I would’ve bought it anyway out of plain manners, but something tells me I just walked right into her well-maneuvered game, and fuck me if I’m going to stay there.

“Well, I don’t believe I asked you to be an asshole either, so the drink’s on you.” She raises her eyebrows as she brings the cocktail to her lips. And of course my eyes veer down to watch her run the tip of her tongue over the rim of her glass to the drop of liquid that falls there.

My mind drifts to the pleasure she could bring with her mouth and her tongue . . . purely out of male fascination.

“Then I guess you should steer clear of me and neither of us will have to worry about me being an asshole.” I grunt out the words, unsure why I’m pushing her away so hard when she’s done nothing wrong.

“So you’re the one, huh?”

Her comment stops me with my drink midway to my mouth, and my thought process falters as I slowly look over to her, trying to figure out what she means. “The one?”

“Yep, the one that every reporter in this room hates and wants to be all at the same time.”

I take in the glossy black hair pulled back so that little pieces fall down to frame her face and soften her strong cheekbones as I mull over her comment. When our eyes meet, there’s defiance laced with amusement in hers, and as much as I want to face her challenge head-on, I won’t. Not here, not now—and definitely not with a room packed with other journalists who are watching my every move to see if I’m going to fall apart in some way or another.

I motion to the bottle of Fireball sitting across from me and look at the bartender as I slide my money across the counter. He picks up the bottle and sets it in front of me at the same time as I scoot my chair back. When I grab the neck of the bottle, I look back and give her a half-cocked smile. “Yep, I’m the one.”

And without so much as another word, I head out of the bar. The guys give me shit as I walk past about being a pansy-ass until I hold up the whiskey bottle to show them I’m not really turning in early. Pauly catches my eye and nods, knowing where I’m headed and that I need the solitude I can find there.

The fucking problem, though, is even as I ascend the stairs up the dank stairwell, the only thing I can think about is her.

Chapter 2

The door is stuck.

A part of me likes that fact because it means that possibly no one has been up here, and another part of me appreciates the physicality it takes to get it open when I put my shoulder into it.

The metal door slams back and clanks against the concrete wall behind it. The sound cuts into the silence of the night as I stand there, momentarily cautious for some reason, even though in this place I’ve found more peace than anywhere else in the strife-torn country.

I was worried how I’d feel coming up here—wasn’t sure I’d be able to face this the first night back—but standing here, I know it’s for the best to face the memories head-on. To fight the ghost of her that’s been haunting my dreams with reliving the memory of her in “our” place.

The noise from the city streets below is faint and comforting, but I don’t notice much beyond the dust particles floating in the stream of light from the open door. I have to talk myself into stepping over the threshold. After making sure the door is secured so I don’t get locked out, I make my way across the rooftop to a little section on the far end. I walk around the stem walls erected in the shape of a plus sign that protects some air-conditioning units on three of the four sections to see if it’s still here after almost five months.

When I turn the corner to see the tarp folded beside the covered mattress and the sign—a piece of paper taped to the wall bordering it that says welcome back, tanner, I laugh aloud. At first the sound is one of amusement, and then it slowly fades off in relief when it hits me that the guys downstairs still drinking kept this up here for me. They preserved my little place of solitude in this crazy-ass world because they knew how much I needed it. And how much it meant to me.

Dropping to my knees on the mattress, I sit with my back against the wall so that the sign is beside my head. Once I’ve gotten comfortable, I look out at the lights of the city beyond that calls to me like a curse and a blessing. A necessity to make my blood hum with that adrenaline I thrive on and a damnation for the dreams it suppresses for so many others. Lights twinkle in the distance, beacons of life in a minefield of hopelessness and destitution.

When I bring the bottle of Fireball up to my lips, the burn feels good, reminds me that I’m still here, still alive. And that Stella isn’t.

“Oh, Stell,” I say into the night with a shake of my head. “This feels so weird sitting up here without you.”

The bittersweet memory of the last time I sat here comes back with a vengeance, and it blazes ten times stronger than the sting of the whiskey.

“Do you ever wonder if you’ve missed that once-in-a-lifetime, Tan?” Stella looks over to me, the smear of dirt from the day riding with the embed like a badge of honor across her cheek. She has that look in her eye, the one that makes every guy in existence roll his eyes because it means his woman is going to talk about shit he doesn’t want to address. But first off, she’s not my girl, and second, I kind of want to know what she’s talking about.

“You’re not going to get all sappy on me now, are you?” I pass the Styrofoam cup filled with Kahlua and coffee her way. She rolls her eyes and takes a sip, hissing when it scalds her tongue.

“Zip it, Thomas. You’re stuck with me.”

“Explain, then.” I shake my head when she tries to pass back the coffee to me. It’s been a rough day; I need something stronger than a keoke coffee, but I’ll meet up with Pauly later for that. Right now I just need our routine, our wind down after a fucked-up day out beyond the city’s walls of misconceived protection.

Stella’s sigh pulls me from the images of blood-soaked camouflage and the sound of gunfire. I know she hates when I get all lawyer-ish on her, as she calls it, and so that’s why I phrased my comment that way, needing to get us back to what has been our norm over the past decade.

“Never mind. You, Mr. I-fall-in-love-with-everyone, would not understand what I’m talking about,” she says with a roll of her eyes, but I can tell something’s bothering her.

“I don’t fall in love with everyone. I prefer to call it infatuation.” I try to lighten the mood by bringing up one of our long-standing conversations.

“Ah.” She laughs aloud. “But it’s such a short, slippery slope for you . . . one that lasts a whole two dates before you hit the barrel of love.”

“Barrel of love?” I can’t help but laugh at that, even though I don’t appreciate the comment. “Fuck. Am I really that pathetic of a sap?”

Stella stares through the darkness before turning her face to the city beyond us. “No. You’re not a sap. . . . You just have a good heart.”

“That’s what it’s called nowadays? I guess I’d better work on changing that.”

“No, it’s endearing. This big alpha male with a soft heart. You’d never guess it was there beneath all of that testosterone.” She falls quiet again, and I know whatever is bugging her is just beneath the surface, and yet here we are speaking about me. She reaches out and grabs my hand. “Don’t ever change that, Tanner. Someday someone is going to appreciate that in you. Your quick love and big heart.”

My mind immediately thinks to crack a joke about something else that I have that’s big, but when I recognize the conflicted sorrow in her eyes, it dies on my lips. “What’s going on with you, Stell? Talk to me.”

“It’s nothing.”

Fuck. The most dreaded words in all of existence for a man to hear other than “I’m fine.” “I’m not buying it. What did you mean about a once-in-a-lifetime?”

She refuses to look my way, so I poke her side until she starts talking. “I meant that one person that you’re supposed to be with forever. The person that you’re fated to love.” She falls silent as she peers over the steam of the coffee cup to the city down below. “What if you’ve met that person already and screwed it up somehow? Or even worse, what if you met that one person but just at the wrong time in your life?”

I stare at her profile for a bit while I ponder what she’s saying, taking in the slight upturn of her nose, and find comfort in the familiarity of her beside me. Is she right? It’s not like I’m old, but I’m not getting any younger either. My life is transient at best and a mind fuck at its worst . . . but is there really such a thing as a once-in-a-lifetime? “There has to be more than one person in the universe you’re fated to be with. That’s just cruel if the powers that be only give you one shot, you know?”

“Yeah. I guess.” She sounds less than convinced.

When I see the glimmer of tears welling in her eyes, I reach over and squeeze her hand. Who knows what’s going on in that mind of hers. After all this time, if I can’t figure it out, I know to stop trying. Her stubborn ass will tell me in her own time, when she wants to.

But when she doesn’t squeeze my hand back, I scoot next to her and put my arm around her, pulling her in tight to my side. “Well, we both know that I’m not your once-in-a-liftetime,” I tease with a laugh and press a soft kiss into the top of her head, but for some damn reason I question my own statement.

“We were a hot mess, weren’t we?” She laughs softly as my mind flickers to the year we dated only to find out we were miserable as a couple. Explosive tempers leading to hot sex may be memorable but definitely not sustainable. How we broke it off but then were forced together because of our careers and in the end found out we could be incredible friends to each other.

“The Dynamic Duo.” I reiterate Rafe’s nickname for us, photographer and reporter, best friends and confidants. She looks up to me and holds my gaze through the night’s darkness. “What?” I ask, trying to figure out what her expression is saying.

“I don’t know. Sometimes I wonder if my being here, living this life we lead . . . if I’ve ruined my chances for it, that’s all.”

“Stell.” I grab at straws to comfort her about a topic that makes me feel completely awkward. And even more disconcerting are the thoughts her damn question has stirred in my mind. She’s my best friend. After a decade she knows all of my quirks, my pet peeves, everything. . . . What would happen if we tried a relationship now?

I bite back the laugh at the thought. Stella is like my sister, Rylee, to me. Well, all except that Stella and I had sex way back when we were actually dating.

But the thought lingers in the back of my mind, what if we are right for each other but met at the wrong time? A backfire on the street down below has the both of us flinching, our instinctive training to duck at the sound of gunfire taking over.

We laugh at how ridiculous we look and how only here, only with us, would this be normal. “Look,” I tell her, “if in ten years we are still nomads, still single, then we’ll revisit this conversation.”

“What about it?” she asks, her eyebrows narrowing as she tries to figure out what I’m saying.

“If we are each other’s once-in-a-lifetime.”

Her sharp inhale makes me realize what I just said, the stupid inferences she could make from it. But at the same time, when she laughs, I hear her nervousness, and the look in her eyes is so real, so vulnerable, that when I glance down to her lips, I’m forced to swallow over the lump in my throat.

It has to be the moment, a simple slice of time where two friends who have lived a lifetime together as a result of their volatile careers fall into that trap of need mixed with comfort and a splash of loneliness. The minute I lean forward and brush my lips to hers, I hate myself for it, and yet at the same time, the immediate recoil I thought would happen on my part doesn’t happen. It’s just a whisper of a kiss, but my lack of reaction scares the fuck out of me.

I rest my forehead against hers. “Sorry,” I murmur, my hands threading through her hair.

“Well that wasn’t exactly the birthday present I was planning for you tomorrow, but . . .” Her voice fades into a laugh.

“I told you I don’t want anything,” I say to squash that argument again, but then feel the need to repeat it. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. After ten years, that’s the only time we’ve ever crossed that line.” The heat of her breath hits my lips and tempts me when I’m never tempted by her.

“I guess we have ten more years to see if it happens again.” I can hear the smile on my lips in my tone, and even though we both are in agreement that what just happened shouldn’t have, we sit in the darkness for a minute—foreheads touching, lips so close—almost as if the both of us knew what was going to happen the next night.

How this moment was going to be the lasting memory I used to get me through the darkness her death would bring.

“Here’s to you, Stell,” I say as I lift the bottle of whiskey up to the sky and take a long pull on it.

The circuit of thoughts that have etched a goddamn groove in my mind start again. Hell yes, I loved her . . . in my own way. I just wonder if her absence has made me read more into that emotion than it really was. People place those who die on pedestals, forget their misgivings with a bat of an eyelash, and become more connected to them since they can no longer tell them what they feel. Is this what I’ve done to Stella and our friendship? Is this why I’ve held tight to this last kiss we shared even though it was a stupid move?

I’ve been through the seven stages of grief. You name each one of them, and I’ve fucking done them more times than I care to count. But when all is said and done, I’m here and she’s not. Guilt is a goddamn vise squeezing out of me every ounce of emotion I never wanted to feel.

Plain and simple, I miss her. The easy banter, how we could sit comfortably in silence, that I could predict her remarks before she made them. We were a team and now I feel lost, wondering why I pushed so hard to get back here. So focused on getting out of my house, I didn’t think about how many damn memories were here waiting to haunt me.

I just need to get back in the game. Meet my photographer tomorrow and get back in the swing of things, use the hunger I feel deep down to propel me through the flashes of sadness that still come. Then I’ll be better. Besides, it’s not like I have any other option.

Plug and chug.

The memories continue to come, the good, bad, and horrific, and who knows how long it’s been when I lift the bottle to find it empty. Suck it up, Thomas. This will be the only fucking rooftop pity party you’re allowed to have. You wanted back; now you’re here.

“Fuck,” I say into the emptiness around me as I rise on unsteady feet, and I let my buzz filter through my limbs. Once the mattress is covered up by the tarp to protect it from the dust that blankets everything like an irrevocable stain, I make my way back downstairs.

I smell her before I see her. That subtle scent of hers, which seems so out of place in the air heavy with spices, fills the stairwell when I hit the eighth floor. She’s coming up as I’m coming down. Our eyes meet and hold across the dimly lit concrete landing.

Anger fires within me. She’s stupid for being here alone. Does she know how much fucking danger there is in this country? The disrespect that’s shown to women simply because of their gender? Add to that, she’s American. I think of how many times Stella and I went round and round on this topic before she just gave in and allowed me to be at her side most of the time.

And I don’t want to care about this loose cannon of a woman, but my feet are glued to the floor as an indescribable current shoots through the empty space between us. I try to deny it, want to deflect it somehow, but we stand there, gazes held, and remain silent.

“Did you want something?” I ask, eyebrows raised, impatient.

“Hmm,” she murmurs. “No. I thought I did . . . but now? Not hardly.”

She starts to brush past me. Something about that haughty tone of hers with a subtle accent I can’t place pushes buttons I don’t want pushed, and I reach out and grab her upper arm. The force of my hold pulls her body into mine so that our chests touch, and the sharp inhale of her breath is unmistakable since it presses her breasts further against me.

Our eyes lock, breaths mingling over each other’s lips, and that straight shot of lust spears to my lower gut and takes hold. We stand in a silent battle of wills. The same woman I was irritated at for wanting me earlier, I’m now pissed at for wanting to walk away.

Talk about a confirmation that my head is a cluster fuck of emotions. Jesus Christ. Let her walk the hell away, Tanner. Bygones.

But my fingers don’t relax. They hold tight just like the invisible grip she seems to have over me.

The air thickens, and the sexual chemistry that I felt earlier at the bar—the zing I tried to avoid by leaving the festivities—sparks and lights up the space around us like an exposed live wire. The sad fact is I know I’m about to get burned but don’t let go.

“Just for the record, Loose Cannon, I would have bought you a drink.” I grit the words out, angry at myself for even saying them.

She eyes me with caution, trying to figure out what the hell I mean by Loose Cannon. “It’s BJ, and I prefer to stay off the record,” she says with that little fuck-you lift of her chin as she asserts her obstinacy despite her quickened pulse beneath my fingertips.

And fuck . . . I have to bite back the laugh on my lips because isn’t that a fitting name for a woman with lips like hers. Images flash through my mind of what she’d look like staring up at me while her mouth is wrapped around my dick.

She pulls me from my lewd but damn fine thoughts when she tries to jerk her arm from my hold. My spine stiffens some because hell if I’m up for resistance right now. I’m emotionally drained, exhausted, and as much as I don’t want to feel that grenade of desire sitting low in my belly, I still want to pull its pin so I can lose myself for a bit in the soft curves and sweet taste of a gorgeous woman no matter how fucking insolent she is.

I clench my jaw. A fleeting show of resistance before I give in to my need and the sexual tension. She gasps when I release her arm only to bring it up to her neck at the same time I crash my lips to hers.

And fuck yes I’m a dick for not letting her push me away, for letting my own need for this woman who will most likely move on by the week’s end control my actions, for taking without asking, but goddamn her small display of independence turns me on something fierce.

I brand my mouth to hers, press my tongue between her lips as she parts them. Her hands push me away, but the movement of her tongue tells me she wants more. She’s a clear contradiction in all meanings of the word. Soft and supple body, but I can feel the toned muscle beneath. Between kisses she tries to pull back, but a soft moan in the back of her throat when my free hand cups her ass tells me how much she wants this.

Her hands fist in my shirt at the same time my hand takes hold of the loose bun at the nape of her neck to tilt her head back and look into her eyes. But her mouth stays right where I want it because I’m nowhere near done with her yet.

“I don’t like you,” she claims through gritted teeth. Our hands run possessively over each other, but derision laced with defiance glimmers in her eyes.

“I beg to differ.” I laugh at the ludicrousness of her statement, considering the predicament we’re in. She tries to step back, but when she doesn’t release my shirt, I know she still wants more.

And fuck, I’m definitely all in. I need this outlet more than I ever realized until I was in the thick of it. I’ve kept to myself at home, fought with my sister when she attempted to fix me up with one of her friends, punished myself, and now with the heat of a woman’s body pressed up against me and the taste of her kiss seared in my goddamn brain, there is no way in hell I’m walking away now.

“I don’t like you,” she reiterates.

“Too bad,” I tell her as I go in for the next kiss. One that’s full of angry desperation and irresistible need with teeth nipping and tongues meeting and that ache deep in my balls taking hold of me. My hips pin her against the cold cinder-block wall behind her.

Her fingers dig into my shoulders as she tears her mouth from mine, our chests heaving. And then just when her protests stop and her tongue starts to dance with mine again, I pull back.

“You’re arrogant and—”

“You don’t have to like me to fuck me,” I say, cutting her off. “You just have to want me.”

She protests, and I cut her words off with my mouth on hers at the same time my hands grab her wrists. Even as I gain the advantage, I feel like she’s pulling out the ground from beneath my feet. “Fuck you!” She manages to get the words out between fervent kisses.

I chuckle against her lips before pulling back and looking straight into her desire-laden eyes. “That’s the plan.”

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
“K. Bromberg is nothing short of an absolute genius.”—Romance Addiction
Praise for the Novels of K. Bromberg
“Irresistibly hot.”—# 1 New York Times bestselling author Jennifer L. Armentrout
“An emotionally charged, adrenaline-filled, steamy, and passionate read.”—TotallyBookedBlog

Meet the Author

K. Bromberg is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Driven series, including Sweet Ache and Slow Burn. K. lives in Southern California with her husband and three children. When she needs a break from the daily chaos of her life, you can most likely find her on the treadmill or with e-reader in hand devouring a good, saucy book. 

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Hard Beat 4.6 out of 5 based on 2 ratings. 13 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a long book that l feel could have maybe been shortened. Gives a view of our war correspondents and how they live to bring the news back to us from war zones, the boredom in down times and the competitive spirit to get it first. Also shows the relationships they forge among themselves while all going after the same stories.
bigreaderMF More than 1 year ago
Hard Beat was an epic read!!!! This book had me on a roller coaster ride with all of the different twists and turns. There are so many things you will never see coming until they happen. I laughed, I cried, I cringed, I sighed, I even wanted to throw my IPad at times. Once I started reading, I just could not put this book down. Kristy Bromberg has written a book that is totally different from The Driven Trilogy, but a fabulous read that will keep you guessing. You will be thinking about this book long after you turn the last page.
Anonymous 7 months ago
This book for me was long and slow. It didn't pack the punch of her last books until the pasy 100 pages or so.
tsmb02 More than 1 year ago
This story is about Tanner Thomas, Rylee's brother. He is a Foreign war correspondent who loves to live life on the edge. Tanner had been in Egypt when his photographer partner, Stella was killed. He feels very guilty because he was not with her when it happened. They tried the romance thing once, but really were just best friends. After being sent back home to recover, Tanner is itching to get back to Egypt. After his boss finally agrees to let him go, Tanner gets assigned to a new photographer, Beaux Croslyn. Their first meeting was great! I loved they way it played out for both of them! Tanner is trying to deal with a new partner and his guilt over Stella's death and having a hard time of it. Add in his attraction to Beaux and it makes for an interesting ride. This story had a lot of emotions in it. There were times I laughed, cried and swooned. The final twist at the end was not expected and VERY emotional. Overall these both were two strong willed characters, each fighting their own demons. I loved their happy times together....they were great!
voraciousreaderKB More than 1 year ago
Hot War Correspondent! http://www.cocktailsandbooks.com I was given an advanced copy of this book to write an honest review for Netgalley and Cocktails and Books. HARD BEAT is the seventh book in the Driven series and is a standalone. This story is about Tanner Thomas, a foreign war correspondent. Tanner is a smart, tough, handsome adrenaline junkie and even though he has not recovered from a recent tragedy, he insists on returning to work in the Middle East. Working is the only way Tanner knows how to deal with all the emotions he is feeling. It is in the war torn Middle East Tanner meets Beaux Croslyn. Beaux is a woman with many secrets and Tanner’s new photographer. From the moment they meet there is a constant push and pull between them with lots of verbal foreplay. Beaux is feisty and tough; she can hold her own and doesn’t let Tanner get away with anything. Tanner is protective and attracted to Beaux and he is also frustrated with her because he doesn’t understand why she so secretive. There is a lot of sexual tension between Tanner and Beaux but they both hold back and are afraid of what they are feeling. I admire Beaux. It takes a lot guts for a woman to work in the Middle East, although I didn’t understand her motives for being so tight lipped. This story is told from the male POV. So I understood Tanner but I did not know what Beaux was feeling or thinking, so I never connected with Beaux. My favorite parts of the book were the relationships between all the reporters on assignment in the Middle East. They all hang out together and drink and play games to pass the time in their hotel, as they wait for something to happen and hope to be the first to get the story. This book is filled with tension and unexpected twists and turns and is completely different from the rest of the Driven series. Overall I liked the story, but I had a hard time connecting with the characters, especially Beaux.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book grabs you from the very beginning and doesn't let go until the very end then it leaves you saying I need more Tanner! As with all things by Kristy Bromberg you won't be disappointed, she has out done herself this time. I absolutely love Colton, Becks, and Hawkin but something about Tanner has me loving him just a bit more and I never thought I'd say that. Thank you Kristy for a truly wonderful fantastic epic read. I race all things you write!
khulseman More than 1 year ago
Hurry up and wait. You are waiting expecting something, anything to happen. Secretly you hope so. And very soon. Whatever happens, it needs to be big. It needs to be brash. And you are the very first to know. This is the life of an embedded reporter. Just watch the evening news. Days even weeks go by with nothing but status quo. Then the big news. It's all over, sudden, terrifying. What a rush they must feel after being so tightly stretched like a piano string. "Are you on a suicide mission, now?" To the unknowing person, Tanner and Beaux have landed themselves in hostile territory on purpose. No one trusting anyone least of all those who you think you should. Tanner and Beaux first meeting is explosive. Once it's the morning after and plans are revealed, each one of them is untrusting of the other. Yet, there is an attraction. Ms. Bromberg allows her characters a careful dance, each giving just a little, earning maybe just a little more trust. Or do they really? The first half of the book as the reader you feel the slow burn of this tightrope walk the relationship builds. Just when you think they are headed to a HEA, well, life has other plans for them. If you are a K.Bromberg fan, she delivers on her writing and story telling. Yes, it's a departure from the 'norm' as it's slow, underlying tension driving the story the characters live in. If you are a new reader, this is a bit different from her other books, but still a very enjoyable read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Love this series.
LMDryden More than 1 year ago
K. Bromberg is an amazing writer who creates a world you so believe and want to be in. Hard Beat was a step in a different direction, but the emotions of Tanner grab a hold and pull you in. So much, you can't and won't put the book down until you gather every last bit of her written word. Then, you crave for more. Each book in her Driven series is an amazing ride. Enjoy.
SOldfather More than 1 year ago
Holy hotness!!! Kristy did it again!!! Hard Beat by K. Bromberg lived up to my expectations and more! It was exciting, steamy and so very sexy. I loved Tanner and Beaux. Everything about them from the beginning caught my attention and kept me reading. I just might need more of them! Bravo Kristy! **I received this book as an ARC in exchange for an honest review.**
ReadingInPajamas More than 1 year ago
Blog Tour, Review & Giveaway: Hard Beat (A Driven Novel) by K. Bromberg http://wp.me/p3d0RZ-3fO Genre: Contemporary Standalone Romance Publication Date: November 3, 2015 Reviewed by: Reading in Pajamas/ Cori Rated: 5 Stars #TopFav2015 REVIEW: Wow! Just wow! I loved this book! Loved it! I loved Tanner. I loved all the twist and turns this story took and all the emotions I felt while reading it. Hard Beat is a new favorite and will be on my #TopFav2015 list. K. Bromberg delivered another epic love story I won't soon forget. I wanted to read it again as soon as I finished it. Hard Beat is part of K. Bromberg's Driven Series, but it is a standalone romance. It is told entirely from Tanner's POV. You don't need to read the series to fully enjoy the book. I love the series though and highly recommend it. I can't say enough good things about this book. Just trust me on this one. Go grab a copy and devour it! *Review copy provided by Penguin in exchange for an honest review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago