At the opening of Butcher's tense, fast-paced latest, First Light Foundation do-gooder Lana Hancock is still recovering from being kidnapped and tortured 18 months before in Armenia. Covert Delta Force operative Caleb Stone, who allowed her to come to harm instead of blowing his cover, learns that the group that tortured Lana is still active, and comes to alert her and see if she remembers anything. Lana doesn't trust or forgive Stone, and withholds the identity of one of her attackers. As the two grapple with their growing feelings for each other, evildoers bent on killing her to protect their own identities close in. Lana's PTSD and quiet strength are believable and gut-wrenching, while Stone is more of a studly caricature. Their chemistry, however, is excellent, and the other Delta Force men have a nice rapport. On the whole, Butcher (No Regrets) is in control. (Feb.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
No Control (Delta Force Trilogy Series #2)by Shannon K. Butcher
NO HIDING. Lana Hancock knows all about danger--and betrayal. Eighteen months ago, she was captured by a terrorist group known as the Swarm while one of its members, a rugged man with sinfully dark eyes, did nothing to help her. Now when she's freed and desperate to put it all behind her, the unthinkable happens. The Swarm is targeting Lana once/strong>… See more details below
NO HIDING. Lana Hancock knows all about danger--and betrayal. Eighteen months ago, she was captured by a terrorist group known as the Swarm while one of its members, a rugged man with sinfully dark eyes, did nothing to help her. Now when she's freed and desperate to put it all behind her, the unthinkable happens. The Swarm is targeting Lana once again and the man who stood silently by has become her protector. But can she trust him? NO ESCAPE. Delta Force operative Caleb Stone will never forget the hatred shining in Lana's eyes. Ordered to take down the Swarm by infiltrating its ranks, Caleb couldn't blow his cover to save her--no matter how much it haunted him. Now, gifted with a second chance, he vows to move heaven and earth to protect her...and fulfill her every desire. But the Swarm has reorganized. It's more powerful than ever and hell-bent on revenge...NO CONTROL.
Tortured and brutalized in Armenia by a terrorist group known as the Swarm, Lana Hancock is shocked to be rescued by one of her captors. What she doesn't know is that Caleb Stone had infiltrated the group in order to bring it down. It doesn't really matter-she still doesn't trust him. Now, months later, the Swarm has reemerged with a more ruthless leader who will stop at nothing to see both Lana and Caleb dead. Explosive passion and a touch of tenderness combine with fast-paced action and gritty, vengeful violence in this high-speed thriller that is blissfully reminiscent of some of Suzanne Brockmann's terrorist romances. This is Butcher's (No Regrets) second novel, and it's a winner. She lives in Missouri.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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By Shannon K. Butcher Forever
Copyright © 2008
Shannon K. Butcher
All right reserved.
Chapter One Columbia, Missouri, eighteen months later
Caleb Stone had no business being this close to the woman he'd nearly killed eighteen months ago. Just the thought of having to face Lana Hancock again made him break out in a cold sweat. This assignment was going to be as much fun as taking a bullet in the gut.
Lana's office at the First Light Foundation was nestled in the middle of a run-down line of small one-story leased office spaces, between a walk-in clinic and a print shop. The long prefab building was cheaply constructed and badly in need of a fresh coat of paint. Early morning sun filtered through the line of trees adorning the front of the parking lot. It was late July in central Missouri, and even with the shade the decorative trees offered, Caleb's car was already beginning to grow uncomfortably warm.
He didn't shift to crack a window or turn on the air. With all the mistakes he'd made, he figured he was headed for hell, anyway. Might as well get used to the climate.
Caleb's body tensed and his stomach flooded with acid. This was not going to be fun.
She got out of her Saturn, putting Caleb no more than fifty feet away from her. It was too damn close, and every corner of his soul screamed for him to back away slowly before she got hurt again. But backing away wasn't an option. Colonel Monroe had ordered him to come here. The bastard.
If Caleb had thought for one second that Lana was in danger, he would have been the first one in line to play human shield, but that wasn't the case. Monroe was just being paranoid over a bit of random chatter the CIA had intercepted. Monroe was worried that the Swarm was back, but that couldn't be true. That particular terrorist group was gone. Caleb had been on the team that took them out six months ago. They'd made sure no one survived.
Monroe was convinced something was going on, so here Caleb was, up close and personal with the only living reminder of the worst three days of his life. Lana Hancock.
She looked a lot different now than she had the last time Caleb had seen her. She still had the same rich brown hair, but it no longer fell down her back, tangled and matted with blood. She'd cropped it shorter so that it swung in a shiny wave that ended just above her shoulders. Her face was no longer swollen or bruised from repeated beatings, and he found himself staring at her, drinking her in, trying to replace this new, healthy image of her with the horrible one he'd held in his head for too many months. He hadn't been able to tell when she'd been lying unconscious in that army hospital bed, but now he could see how pretty she was, and that the fullness of her mouth hadn't been totally due to swelling.
A man pulled his Honda into the lot and waved at Lana. She smiled and waved back, and Caleb caught a glimpse of deep twin dimples in her cheeks. He'd never seen her smile before, and until now he hadn't realized what he'd been missing. The only expressions he'd seen on her face were ones of terror and pain. He'd stayed by her bedside for three long days and even longer nights, and neither the terror nor the pain had lessened. When he'd been forced back to work, every day he'd expected to hear that she had died, but that word never came.
Even though he'd kept tabs on her recovery, this was the first time he'd seen her since, and watching her walk around was like witnessing a miracle. It soothed him and eased some of the tension that had been growing in him ever since he'd been ordered to come here.
Caleb watched with a mixture of respect and awe as she crossed the hot asphalt to her office. Her walk was smooth and steady, her hips swaying slightly beneath her faded jeans. If he hadn't known for a fact that it had taken her months to learn how to walk again, he'd never have believed it by watching her move. There was nothing hesitant in her stride, no hitch of pain or jarring movement. She was all rolling grace and swaying strength.
Her functional white T-shirt and matching tennis shoes were completely without frills, and there wasn't a single glitter of jewelry on her body or a speck of makeup on her face. She used a green canvas backpack instead of a purse, and that looked like it had seen better days. But even without the bells and whistles, even though she was nothing like the glamorous women he usually dated, she still had more pull on him than all the women he'd known combined.
And if that wasn't fate's way of slugging him in the gut for fucking up, he didn't know what was. No matter how much she appealed to him, she'd probably rather spit on him than look at him. Which was probably safest for both of them.
Caleb forced his breathing to even out into a steady rhythm while he willed his heart to slow its pounding pace. He'd known that seeing her again would affect him, but until now, he hadn't realized just how strongly. He'd never known anyone who'd come back after being that close to dying, and he'd known a lot of strong, highly motivated men.
Lana was one hell of a woman. If only he'd met her under other circumstances, things might have been a lot different between them.
If only. Caleb squashed that line of thinking before it could gain a foothold. If onlys could get a man killed.
* * *
Lana hadn't even had time to pour a cup of coffee before the first crisis of the day hit. She rubbed her temples in an effort to stave off the tension headache that was growing by leaps and bounds with every passing hour. But headache or not, she had a fundraiser coming up in two weeks and it wasn't going to plan itself. "Are you sure he said canceled?" she asked Stacie Cramer, her assistant and friend.
Stacie was a petite, consistently well-dressed woman who was quick to smile even though life's tragedies had tried to strip away her sense of humor. She was old enough to need reading glasses but young enough to resent them, so more often than not, they hung on a beaded chain around her neck, ignored.
She squinted at the message pad, holding it out at arm's length. "His exact words were, 'Tell Lana-darling that I simply must go to Milan. My muse has left me, the bitch, and I will surely find her there, whoring herself out to other men.'"
"Great," said Lana. "So now that His Artistic Majesty, Armand, has abandoned us, the rest of the artists are going to see our fundraiser as more of an obligation than an honor."
"That's what I was worried about," said Stacie.
"I should have forced him to sign a contract like the rest of the artists."
"You tried and he refused, remember?"
Lana sighed, trying to release some of her frustration. She was putting on this fundraiser for a good cause, so couldn't fate just cut her a freaking break for once? "How many artists have committed to donating their work so far?"
"Twelve. Sutter canceled this morning before signing his contract."
"So, the word that Armand has canceled is already out." Lana stifled a curse before it spilled from her lips. If she let it out, Stacie would give her one of those motherly frowns of disappointment, and Lana didn't need any more of those in her life than she already had.
Getting her foundation, First Light, off the ground had been both more difficult and more rewarding than she'd ever imagined. Of course, it wasn't technically off the ground yet, but it was close-almost hovering. The art auction would breathe enough monetary life into the foundation to help her hire another permanent staff member, which would free up Lana's time to work on expanding First Light's reach.
The focus of First Light was simple: to give kids a safe place to go after school and during the summer months so they wouldn't be as tempted to occupy themselves with drugs and violence. She gave them art and music and games to keep them busy in the hopes that there would be no time for the other stuff. They also offered help with homework, organized sports, and worked one-on-one with some of the more troubled or at-risk kids. Dozens of local volunteers gave their time and talents to help her make this happen, and she was proud of the work she'd done, even though it wasn't nearly enough.
Her family thought she was wasting her life on a lost cause. She had no business doing something so stressful and financially risky in her "fragile" state-as if she hadn't been strong and healthy for months now. Her mother didn't understand why Lana felt the need to get involved when it would only put her in contact with troubled kids. Why did she want that burden?
Then again, Madeline Hancock had never met Eddie-one of the men who was on a similar physical therapy schedule with Lana. He'd been a narcotics officer before a ten-year-old boy's bullet had shattered his femur, basically ending his career. Not only had Eddie forgiven the boy, he'd adopted the orphan, and now Eddie spent his time going from school to school talking to kids about everything from drugs to sex to gangs.
Lana had been so inspired by Eddie's passion for helping kids, and so desperate for a reason to get up in the morning, that she decided to join the cause. She didn't care if her parents approved. She was doing what she thought was right, and even if she helped only a handful of kids, it was enough for her.
She'd done good. Maybe not much, but some. If this art auction went well, she'd be able to do even more. Maybe she'd be able to move her work into St. Louis or other, smaller cities. Maybe she'd even get to travel enough that no one could be able to predict her movements. She'd be free from always looking over her shoulder, wondering if whoever she'd seen on that hillside in Armenia was still watching her.
She would give almost anything for that kind of freedom.
Certainly, if that person wanted her dead, she'd already be six feet under. She was silly to keep worrying about nothing. Life was finally getting better. Why couldn't she just accept that gift and move on?
An almost paranoid sort of anxiety pulled at her, but she forced it away with a cheerful smile that probably looked as fake as it felt. "What's the status with finding an auctioneer?"
Stacie's shoulders slumped, wrinkling her perfectly pressed blouse. "I've called six, and none of them are willing to donate their time."
That tension headache grew a little tenser and achier. She hadn't been sleeping well, not that it was anything new.
"I'll see what I can do with the rest of the auctioneers on our list," Lana said. "I can make some money available if I put off the electric bill a few days. That might be enough to tempt someone, especially if I give them a prime advertising spot in the auction book."
Stacie nodded and peered down at her paper again, squinting. "I'll make the adjustments to the auction listings courtesy of Armand. The layout for the auction book is nearly done. We should be able to send it to the printers as soon as we hire an auctioneer. They said it would take three days to print, so there's still time."
"That's something, at least," said Lana, pushing her slippery hair behind her ears so she could rub her temples to ease the throbbing. Two more weeks until the auction and then she could relax. "I'll get onto our website tonight and post the updated artist list. I'll deal with finding an auctioneer today, or I'll sign myself up for a class and do the damn thing myself."
"And when will you find time to take a class-even a one-day class? You're already working seventy-hour weeks. Maybe more. What about going to the youth center? The whole reason you started this foundation was to help the kids, and you haven't seen them in days. They miss you."
"I'll find a way to fit that in, too."
"You can't do it all." Stacie gave Lana her best maternal frown.
"I'm not trying to do it all. I just want to get through this auction without emptying out the foundation's bank account. Every hour I put in is one I don't have to pay someone else to do."
"If it helps, you don't need to pay me this month."
Lana snorted. "You work for next to nothing. If I can't afford to pay you, then we're in big trouble."
"I checked the books. You've been without a paycheck for three months."
Lana winced. She didn't hide the financial records from Stacie, but there wasn't usually a need. Stacie hated anything to do with numbers. She'd been a pampered executive's wife most of her adult life and had never had to so much as lift a calculator. Until her husband and son were killed in a car accident. That had ended Stacie's days of pampering.
"I won't take another paycheck until you do," insisted Stacie.
Stacie arched a brow. "Liar."
Lana felt a smile play at her lips, and she gave in to it. "You're not supposed to call your boss a liar."
"For what I make, I've got to find my fringe benefits where I can," teased Stacie. "I mean it, Lana. You can't run yourself into debt to keep this place going."
"I'm not in debt." Yet. But man, was it close. She had enough to pay her bills this month and buy some groceries, but that was it. After that, she had no idea what she would do.
"Uh-huh. When's the last time you bought yourself a new pair of shoes, or even a new shirt? I swear I see you in the same clothes every week. And that backpack you use as a purse is ghastly."
"I'm clean. I'm decent. That's enough. Besides, I set the dress code around here, so lay off."
Stacie shook her head, making her bun slide around on the back of her head. Lana had no idea how she kept the thing in place, but it had never fallen. "Just don't stretch yourself too thin. I know you want to make this work, but without you, it won't. If you go pushing yourself too hard, you'll end up broke and sick, and our health insurance plan sucks."
"What health insurance plan?"
"Exactly my point."
Lana held up her hands in an effort to ward off any more mothering. She got enough of that on the weekends as it was. "Okay. I'll be good."
"Good," said Stacie as she rose to her feet and straightened a stack of papers into a file folder. "Then you'll be leaving with me tonight. No more staying late."
Lana was saved from having to lie to Stacie by the jingling of the bell on the office door.
She squinted against the sun as the tinted-glass door swung open. The transition from dim to bright light still brought back a rioting swirl of emotions, the same way that some scents brought back vivid memories. It had been a long time since she'd been carried out of that cave into the sunlight, but she had never forgotten the way it felt to know she'd been rescued from her nightmare. Even though her body had been bleeding, broken, and knotted with pain, her heart had soared with the knowledge of her freedom. Every time she saw the sun, she was reminded of that joy all over again. She welcomed the light, reveled in the fact that she was alive and free enough to enjoy it.
That brief feeling of freedom was short-lived, however, because as soon as she saw who'd walked in, she knew she was in trouble.
Lana would have known him anywhere, whether he went by Caleb or, as she'd first come to know him, as Miles Gentry, amoral mercenary and demolitions expert for hire.
He was a huge man-not just tall, but big everywhere-and nearly overpowering just standing there a few feet away. He was well over six feet and a whole heaping pile of muscles over two hundred pounds. His thick legs were braced apart, and his hands were fisted at his sides as if he were expecting a physical blow.
Shock stilled her mouth, and her pen fell from her hand onto the floor. Her heart squeezed hard, and dread flooded her system. He couldn't be here. This had to be some kind of sick joke-a trick of her mind. Another nightmare.
"Ma'am," he greeted her in that deep, soothing voice of his.
This was no nightmare, or rather it was, but she wasn't asleep. This was real. He was here, torturing her all over again, bringing back those first few days when her world had been only pain and the sound of his voice. He'd been beside her, demanding that she live, compelling her not to give up. She was too weak to do anything but listen, too confused to do anything but obey his commands, and because of that-because of him-she'd lived.
Sometimes she still hated him for that.
Lana struggled to remain calm. He was watching her expectantly, waiting for a response to his greeting. What could she say? She wanted to scream at him to leave, to drive her fists into that solid body of his until he'd never dare show his face again.
Excerpted from No Control by Shannon K. Butcher Copyright © 2008 by Shannon K. Butcher. Excerpted by permission.
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