The Mercenary
  • The Mercenary
  • The Mercenary

The Mercenary

3.8 60
by Cherry Adair

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Victoria Jones was a lousy liar. Not that the sensible bookkeeper was accustomed to lying--or anything else that would have disrupted her safe, dull existence. But her world took a terrifying turn when her twin brother, Alex, an agent for T-FLAC, the elite antiterrorist task force, went missing.

Now she'll do anything to find him...lie, cheat, even subject

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Victoria Jones was a lousy liar. Not that the sensible bookkeeper was accustomed to lying--or anything else that would have disrupted her safe, dull existence. But her world took a terrifying turn when her twin brother, Alex, an agent for T-FLAC, the elite antiterrorist task force, went missing.

Now she'll do anything to find him...lie, cheat, even subject herself to the predatory advances of Alex's T-FLAC partner, Marc Savin, if it will help get her brother home safe.

But trusting the sexy, brooding operative might just be the risk of a lifetime.

The Mercenary is back, and better than ever!

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Nervous perspiration prickled her skin.

Even though she couldn't hear breathing other than her own, her heightened sense of fear let her know she wasn't alone. Someone was watching her. Victoria Jones lay very still, eyes closed, heart pounding an uneven tattoo beneath her sore ribs.

Needing a few moments to orientate herself she tried to keep her breathing steady. A log flaring in the fireplace. There hadn't been a fire when she'd come in. But now she felt its heat and saw the dancing orange light through her eyelids.

To still her panic she counted to a hundred and twenty, then added another fifty for good measure, then slowly opened her eyes. The library was dim, but flickering firelight illuminated the lower half of the man sitting in the shadows across the room. Boots, long, jean-clad legs…the rest of him disappeared into darkness and shadow.

Heart lodged in her throat, she struggled to sit up. She'd accidentally fallen asleep, and now she was groggy and disoriented and at a distinct disadvantage.

The fact that the man wasn't saying anything intimidated her and made her feel defensive and automatically in the wrong. But she could be overreacting. Fear and exhaustion had taken up permanent residence in her body.

Her hair had come loose and floated around her shoulders and down her back as she swung her feet to the floor. Searching with her toes for her shoes, she tried with one hand to tame her hair back into its customary bun.

The man, and Tory knew he was Marc Savin even though he had yet to say a word, observed her without comment, increasing her unease. Still, her grand-mother's strict teachings came to the fore and she said in a prim, polite voice, "I'msorry. I must have fallen asleep."

Giving up on her hair, she pushed her feet all the way into her low heels and stood, despite her shaky knees. Piercing the darkness to gauge his reaction to her un-invited presence in his home, Tory felt marginally more in control with her shoes on. The silence stretched uncomfortably. He wasn't going to make this easy for her.

Why should he? He didn't even know her. Fidgeting, she realized that it was silly actually, standing or sitting, barefoot or not, the amount of intimidation radiating from him was all consuming. Tory had no clue how to deal with such a…a…presence.

The men she normally encountered in her day-today life were academics. Intelligent, cultured and extremely…low-key. Meek. But not Savin. She was fairly sure he didn't have a meek bone in his impressive body. Which was precisely why she was there. "What happened?" he asked lazily. "Miss the exit for the Holiday Inn?"

His rough, deep voice startled her. His mockery added to her misery, and she waited for him to throw her out of his home. Not that she was going. She was a woman on a mission, she reminded herself, adding a little starch to her spine.

"I have jet lag. I didn't realize…" She tugged self-consciously at the hem of her jacket. "I didn't realize you'd be so long…." The man who'd let her in—reluctantly—had said his boss would be "right in." That had been—she glanced subtly at her watch—four hours ago.

"Did we have an appointment?"

"Um… No. We didn't. I'm Victoria Jones." She held her ground while a flush of heat betrayed her. His presence was larger than life and seemed to fill the room with a pulsing sensuality that made her extremely uncomfortable.

"And?" Marc said drily. He'd found that out by checking the driver's license in her purse. Her name meant nothing to him. When he'd bent to retrieve the tote from the floor beside her he'd gotten a lungful of a floral fragrance that had teased at his dormant libido. Ridiculous, of course. Even in the dim light, he knew this repressed-looking mouse wasn't his type at all.

The name and San Diego address on her license didn't reveal much. But what was mildly interesting was how hard she was trying to pretend she didn't have a cast on her left arm. It was barely visible beneath her sleeve, but its bulk was hard to miss.

He flipped on the light to get a better look at her. She looked like a throwback to the eighties, dressed as she was in a butt-ugly and unflattering business suit. Navy. The jacket boxy, the skirt neither tight nor loose. The hemline hitting just below the knee. Her sensible black shoes were polished and sported a modest heel. Christ, from the neck down she looked like a freaking stereotypical librarian.

Marc concentrated on her unattractive clothing, and kept his attention away from her soft mouth, and the mile of uncooperative dark hair she was trying, unsuccessfully, to cram back into a bun at her nape with one hand.

"Whatever you're selling, I don't need," he jabbed to see the spark of reaction. "Unless you're here about an overdue library fine?"

Her cheekbones flamed, but she didn't drop her gaze. Maybe not a mouse, then, he reevaluated, wondering just who in the hell she was. He'd never met her before, he was sure, but there was something vaguely familiar around the eyes….

Could her skin possibly be as soft as it appeared? It was pale, silky and looked as though it tasted like cream. Damn it, he needed to get laid. Soon.

"Snap it up, would you? I've had a bitch of a day. I'm cold, tired and hungry, and you're standing in the way of a hot shower and a meal."

"Are you Marcus Savin?"

"The one and only." He didn't bother to conceal his annoyance as he stepped from the shadows into the circle of light.

Tory blinked. In a flash she tried to take him in. Her world slowed its spin—a peculiar, terrifying feeling. Dread tightened her throat. Marc Savin wasn't anything like the man she'd envisioned.

He was about twenty years younger than she'd anticipated. And taller. Taller and broader, and disconcertingly male. His hair was thick and dark and tied back, revealing a winking diamond—a diamond!—in one ear. Good grief. His jeans were old and faded, the cream-colored fisherman's-knit sweater he wore looked soft and well-worn. The sweater was the only soft thing about him, she thought, mouth dry.

He looked like someone who'd stepped out of the pages of a magazine. What the casual yet well-dressed, brooding predatory male wore. Her eyes met his. Gray. Not the soft warm gray of a kitten or the comforting gray of a favorite blanket. His eyes were the cold, icy-pale gray of the sky just before a frost, the bleak soulless gray of bare tree branches frozen for all time. Tory shivered despite the blazing fire.

She could sense dismissal coming. Straightening her spine she stepped forward onto the thick Persian carpet between them, her hand outstretched. "Mr. Savin, I'm—"

"You've already told me who you are, Miss Jones. I just don't know what you're doing here."

For a moment her hand stayed poised in midair until she realized he had no intention of taking it. Her arm dropped to her side, and she flattened her damp palm against her thigh. Despite all the hours of rehearsal on the plane coming here, she was suddenly tongue-tied.

She knew what she must look like—an exhausted woman, with mussed dark hair and wrinkled clothes. She absently touched her face where the cushion had left an indentation on her cheek and forced herself not to fuss with her clothing. Her injured arm throbbed. But not for a moment was she going to let him see just how terrified she was. Girding herself, she tilted her chin and met his stare.

His gaze raked her body from head to toe. His eyes narrowed when he noticed the cast on her arm, and everything inside her froze as he asked grimly, "How did that happen?" She'd thought her sleeve covered the blasted thing.

"I fell." Into a wall. Unadulterated fear made her go icy cold all over. Don't think about it. Don't think about it. Do not think about it.

"Take off your jacket." He didn't move, but his words felt sinister.

She gave him a startled look while her heart pounded beneath her rib cage like a trapped animal. "What on earth for?"

"Because I say so."

"I'm a guest in your home, Mr. Savin. I won't be bullie—"

"Guest? Guests are invited. Don't make me strip it off for you. I'm too tired for games."

He was unyielding. As much as she hated obeying, Tory choked down her pride and shrugged off the jacket. It hadn't been easy getting the fiberglass into the sleeve, and it wasn't any easier getting that arm out. Bunching her jacket against her body, she held up her arm, shooting him a fulminating glare. Which might have been effective on some level if she hadn't felt her chin wobble.

She would not cry in front of him. She gritted her teeth. "Satisfied?"

"Far from it." His eyes took in the grubby cast showing beneath the edge of her white cotton sleeve, then scanned her face. It took every ounce of willpower she possessed not to touch any of the bruises she'd so carefully covered with foundation to make sure he couldn't detect them.

A muscle clenched in his jaw. "Who did this to you?"

"I told you. I fell." Often and hard. Oh, God. He was going to know she was lying through her teeth. She was lousy at it, and he seemed to be able to see directly into her brain with those pale, unamused X-ray eyes of his. Tory felt the heat in her cheeks get hotter and her gaze skittered back to the pattern on the carpet before she forced herself to meet his eyes.

"Let me put it this way, Miss Jones. I'll ask the questions. All you have to do is supply truthful answers. If I don't like what I hear, you'll be out of here so damned fast your head will spin. Got it?What happened to your arm?"

Tory licked her dry lips. "I was mugged at the airport."

"No abusive boyfriend or husband following you?" Hateful man. "I'm not married." His lips twitched. "Now why doesn't that surprise me?"

Tory tried to make her arm inconspicuous and bent to pick up her purse from the floor where it had fallen. Her mouth was dry and perspiration beaded on her skin. She was so tired of being scared. And he scared her to death. There was just…so much of him.

His hair, as dark as her own, was tied back in a short ponytail and the diamond stud flashed in one ear. His scuffed cowboy boots were set apart, his arms loose at his sides. He didn't look like a spy or a mercenary. Not that she'd had any idea what one looked like, but surely not like a cross between a GQ model and a predatory animal.

Obviously not impressed by what he was seeing, he said, "What can I do for you, Miss Jones? It must be something compelling to get you to stand here when you'd rather be anywhere else." His eyes shifted to the indented cushions on the sofa behind her and then narrowed on her face.

Victoria had never had a man look at her like that. It was disconcerting. She shrugged back into her jacket, despising herself for almost asking his permission to do so. But she didn't ask, and he made no comment as she buttoned the serviceable navy serge up to her throat.

The wind sounded mournful as it whipped the bare tree branches and rattled the window. The perfect setting for the nightmare she found herself living. Jerking her gaze away from the night sky, she turned back to him.

It didn't matter whether she liked him or not. Whether he scared her or not. She was here for one thing, and one thing only. "I need your help."

"Why should I help you?" He asked over his shoulder as he strolled to the built-in bar across the room and poured himself a drink. "I don't know you."

"May I have a drink, too, please?" His shoulders tightened before he said in an amused voice, "Sure. You've already slept on my couch. What'll it be?"

She supposed that he had every right to his irritation. "Whatever you're having, I don't want to be a bother, really." She walked over to the French doors and rested her hand on the icy pane.

It had started snowing. The snow looked pretty illuminated by the lights from inside the house, soft, white. But snow was another unknown. She shivered. Already unnerved by too many weeks of the scary and the unfamiliar, Tory gritted her teeth and turned back into the room.

It was warmed by the blazing fire in the hearth, which caused reflections of dancing amber light from the highly polished dark-wood floor and the smooth surfaces of the two black leather sofas that flanked it. Wall-to-wall mahogany bookcases rose to twelve-foot ceilings. Victoria moved from the door to trail one hand across the tempting bookbindings before casting an anxious glance at the man across the room.

Having counted all the books on the left-hand wall after she'd arrived hours ago, she was about to start on the right when he came up behind her. She almost jumped out of her skin as he handed her a glass. The touch of his warm fingers across hers made her breath catch.

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