Special Ops Bodyguard [NOOK Book]

Overview


"I have a mission—and you're not it."

Is it the honey–blond hair? The blue eyes? Gage Prescott can't put his finger on it, but something about the Maple Cove waitress is both sexy and innocent. Not that it matters. The battle–scarred ex–Army Ranger has come to this Montana town as bodyguard to Senator Kelley, not to let a pretty face distract him.

Kate Rogers has her own mission. If, while on assignment, the handsome Gage can assist with her sister's abusive husband, she'll ...

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Special Ops Bodyguard

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Overview


"I have a mission—and you're not it."

Is it the honey–blond hair? The blue eyes? Gage Prescott can't put his finger on it, but something about the Maple Cove waitress is both sexy and innocent. Not that it matters. The battle–scarred ex–Army Ranger has come to this Montana town as bodyguard to Senator Kelley, not to let a pretty face distract him.

Kate Rogers has her own mission. If, while on assignment, the handsome Gage can assist with her sister's abusive husband, she'll accept that gratefully. But will their growing passion interfere when their duties involve life and death?

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781459209558
  • Publisher: Harlequin
  • Publication date: 8/1/2011
  • Series: Kelley Legacy Series , #1668
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 157,003
  • File size: 319 KB

Meet the Author


Award-winning author Beth Cornelison has been writing stories since she was a child. A University of Georgia graduate, Cornelison worked in Public Relations before becoming a full-time writer. She has won many honors for her writing, including the coveted Golden Heart, awarded by the Romance Writers of America. She lives in Louisiana with her husband and son. For more information, visit her website at bethcornelison.com.
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Read an Excerpt


If experience had taught Gage Prescott anything, it was that looks could be deceiving. An isolated and empty road in Afghanistan could be hiding IEDs and well–camouflaged Taliban fighters. Even on a quiet evening, an ambush and the slaughter of your team could happen in blinding seconds.

Likewise, Maple Cove, a sleepy Montana town nestled at the foot of the Absaroka Mountains in the shadow of Mount Cowen, might not be the safe escape his client was looking for. The U.S. Senator from California, Henry "Hank" Kelley, had retreated to his son Cole's ranch just outside the idyllic–looking small town after riling his enemies and having numerous mistresses come forward alleging affairs. Hank Kelley's life was in shambles, and the senator feared for it— which was why his son Dylan had hired Gage and another bodyguard to protect his father.

While Bart Holden, Hank's other bodyguard, had the night shift guarding the senator, Gage had taken the opportunity to do a little reconnaissance.

He parked the ancient pickup truck he'd borrowed from the ranch hands and sent an all encompassing glance around the main street of Maple Cove. He half expected to see a whistling man and his son strolling down the street with fishing poles, a la Mayberry.

A yellow moon rose above the jagged mountains and cast an eerie glow over the red maple trees lining the main street. In the dim evening light, the fall foliage took on a blood–red cast, and images of gore and the cacophony of gunfire and agonized screams prodded his memory. His heart thundering and a fine sheen of sweat rising above his lip, Gage squeezed the steering wheel and shook off the haunting sights and sounds.

This quiet hamlet was a far cry from the barren and dangerous landscape where he'd last worked, but the chill in the October evening air burrowed into Gage's bones and warned him all might not be as calm and safe as it seemed.

Slamming the truck door behind him, Gage headed down the sidewalk, getting a feel for the town. As he passed a small diner, the aroma of fresh baked bread and savory beef wafted out to the street, and his stomach rumbled. Deciding Ira's Diner was a good place to start meeting the town's citizens and scoping out potential hazards for the senator, Gage stepped inside. When the bell over the door announced his arrival, a blond waitress behind the counter looked up from the register's cash drawer and shot him a smile filled with sunshine.

"Hello there," the honey haired vision said, her lilting voice as bright as her smile. "Make yourself at home. I'll be right over to get your order."

Gage arched an eyebrow, intrigued by the beautiful waitress. He wasn't sure what sort of women he'd expected to find in the small town, but this perky blonde certainly hadn't been on his radar. He chose a stool at the lunch counter and picked up the sticky menu to peruse the diner's offerings.

"Howdy, stranger. What brings you to our humble town?" The blonde slid a glass of ice water in front of him and used a rag to wipe the counter.

Gage glanced up from the menu, and his breath caught in his lungs. The waitress's wheat colored hair was streaked with gold and framed eyes as clear and blue as the Montana sky. For a moment, he could only stare, his body humming with a purely male interest he hadn't experienced in more months than he could count.

"Sir? Everything all right?"

Her question nudged him from his daze, and he frowned, embarrassed to have been caught gawking. "Yeah, fine. I'll, uh…have the roast beef and potatoes. Coffee. Black."

He handed the menu back to her, and she grinned. "Good choice. The beef around here is the best you've ever had. Guaranteed." She scribbled his order on a pad, then hung the sheet on the order wheel for the kitchen. "One of the advantages of living in ranching country. Prime beef."

He tipped his head in acknowledgment but kept his expression neutral. "What are the advantages if you're a vegetarian?"

She sputtered a laugh, and the twinkle of amusement in her gaze made his pulse dance a little two–step. "Then I guess you'd have to find your pleasure in the scenic beauty and the friendly people of our fine state."

"I agree the scenery—" he paused meaningfully and lifted one eyebrow "—here is more beautiful than I'd expected."

Her eyes narrowed, but her lopsided grin kept her expression light. "Why, sir, are you flirting with me?"

Gage pressed his lips in a hard line just short of a scowl.

"I don't flirt, ma'am. If I were interested in you, I'd let you know. No games."

She rocked back on her heels, and her smile faded. "Oh, I— Sorry." She seemed inordinately rattled by his gruff response. An endearing pink tint filled her ivory cheeks, and she caught her plump bottom lip with her teeth. She was sexy innocence personified, and he felt like a first–class heel for his curt reply.

Flapping a hand toward the other end of the counter, she took a step back. "I'll just…get your coffee."

Gage gritted his teeth as she hurried away, leaving the scent of vanilla and cinnamon in her wake. He savored the sweet aroma and kicked himself for driving her away. What was wrong with him? Just because he was on assignment and had no business entertaining any ideas of female company didn't mean he couldn't be friendly. Or at least civil. People didn't generally use the term friendly in regards to him. He didn't do warm and fuzzy. Two tours in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army Rangers had hardened him, jaded him. His last mission had scarred him. Both physically and mentally. He found it hard to be hearts and flowers when his best friends' blood was on his hands, and the dying moans of his Rangers team echoed in his nightmares.

Still, his lousy past wasn't her fault, and he might need an ally in town, a resource for information about the people and politics in Maple Cove. Perhaps a better tactical move would be to enlist her help rather than keep the tempting treat at arms' length.

She set a steaming mug in front of him but offered no smile this time. "Coffee. Black."

"Thanks," he grunted, and before he could form a question about the residents of the town, she'd spun away and returned to the far end of the counter.

Sighing, Gage turned his stool so he could lean back

against the counter on his elbows and take in the rest of the diner. The buttery–yellow walls and high ceiling lent the otherwise dark decor a feminine touch, much the way his perky waitress had shone her light on his grim mood tonight. He angled a side glance toward her and caught her furtive glance in his direction. Jerking her gaze away, she ducked her head, blushing to her roots, and gave the counter a harder wipe.

Gage's cheek twitched in an almost grin. She so blatantly wore her heart on her sleeve, he wanted to laugh. Her openness and lack of pretense was refreshing.

Looks could be deceiving.

He groaned internally. Always staying guarded, wary and suspicious grew tiresome, but in Gage's world, relaxing your defenses or showing your deeper self meant leaving yourself open to attack. Weak. Vulnerable.

Near the diner's door, an elderly gentleman scraped the last bite of pie from his plate while reading a Bozeman newspaper. "Delicious as always, Kate!" he called to the blonde, who responded with a wide grin.

A few tables away, a young couple with a whiny baby packed up their belongings and called a good night to the cook through the open kitchen door. Across the room, another waitress, also an attractive blonde, though not in the same league as Miss Sunshine, wiped tables, then sent him a curious look as she carried a tray of dirty dishes from the dining room.

"Order up, Kate," the cook called as he slapped a plate up on the shelf under the order wheel.

Miss Sunshine scurried over, flashed the cook a bright smile, and called, "Thanks, Pete."

She gathered a set of silverware and a napkin before she carried Gage's dinner to him.

"Can I get you anything else?" She added a quick smile, though the light didn't reach her eyes.

You hurt her.

He shook his head, and as she turned to leave, he said, "Business."

She faced him, a curious crease in her brow. "Pardon?"

"You asked me earlier what brought me to town. I'm here on business. On assignment."

Her expression warmed, clearly taking his answer as the apology he intended. Following his cue, she leaned her hip against the counter, and her smile lit with the sunshine with which she'd first greeted him. "What kind of assignment? Are you a reporter?"

He cut himself a bite of the beef and shook his head. "Security specialist."

She blinked at him. "Which means.what?"

"I'm protecting a client."

Her eyebrows shot up, and her cornflower eyes widened. "As in a bodyguard? Who for?" She leaned closer, lowering her voice to a titillated hush. "Is there a movie star in town?"

He shoved the meat in his mouth. "No. Not a movie star." The tender beef and perfect seasoning of his dinner registered as he chewed, and he couldn't suppress the groan of pure satisfaction.

His waitress's grin turned smug. "Told you it was the best you'd ever have. And wait until you try my apple pie. I just took it out of the oven before you walked in here. I'll cut you a fat slice if you'd like."

Gage stabbed another bite. "Maybe."

"Wait a minute." She sent him a speculative look. "Cole Kelley's dad is a U.S. Senator." She tucked a handful of silky, honey blond hair behind her ear and canted toward him. "So… is it Senator Kelley? Is that who you're protecting?"

Gage cut a glance toward her as he launched into the creamiest mashed potatoes he'd ever eaten. "You know Cole?"

Even though he avoided answering her question directly, he knew by the lift in her blond eyebrow that she'd deduced she was correct.

"Everyone in Maple Cove knows Cole. He runs the Bar Lazy K ranch. He comes in here to eat pretty regularly— especially on Thursdays when I make chocolate layer cake. Great guy. Handsome, too."

A pinprick of jealousy jabbed Gage, though why he cared about her opinion of Cole Kelley's looks, he couldn't say. He wasn't in town to get involved with any of the locals. He had a job to do, and when he finished that job, he'd leave Maple Cove. No attachments, no entanglements.

"And I understand he has a twin brother in California who's a silent partner in the Bar Lazy K," she added.

Gage nodded. "Dylan."

He'd been fully briefed on the whole extended Kelley clan and their roots here in Montana. Henry's brother Donald had started Kelley's Cookhouse, a barbecue restaurant that had flourished and become a nationwide chain.

The other waitress bustled through the kitchen door and headed their way. "Kate, if we're going to get out of here any time soon, you need to stop pestering the customers and get this counter in order."

Kate. Gage made a mental note of the name the other waitress had called Miss Sunshine. He hitched his head toward the other end of the counter. "You go on. I don't want to get you in trouble with your boss."

Kate snorted. "She's not my boss. She's just bossy," she said, loudly enough for the other woman to hear. "That's my older sister, Janet, and I'm Kate Rogers."

Janet sauntered over and snapped a damp dish towel at Kate's bottom. "Who are you calling bossy, brat?"

Kate laughed, the sound as musical as wind chimes. A sweet thrill raced through Gage's veins, and he gritted his teeth, suppressing his reaction to Kate.

Get a grip, soldier. What was it about this woman that made him wax poetical like some lame…well, poet? Sure, she was pretty and friendly and a refreshing change from the ball buster sort of women he usually met, but he had no excuse for losing his head around her.

"Janet, this is…uh, I'm sorry. I never got your name."

"Gage Prescott." He offered his hand to Janet, and they shook. When he would have withdrawn his hand, Janet clung to his fingers, meeting his eyes with a come–hither look that startled him. Her lack of subtlety was bad enough, but when he spotted the wedding ring on her left hand, he became distinctly uncomfortable.

"So, where are you from, handsome?" Janet asked.

"Bozeman, most recently." Giving her a quelling look, Gage extricated his hand, but not before she had let her fingers stroke his palm as she slid her hand from his. He cut a glance to Kate, who either hadn't noticed her sister's behavior or chose to ignore it. "I lived all over the world while I was in the army."

Janet's eyes widened. "Really? Like where? Paris? Rome?"

"Uh, no. More like Baghdad, Manila, Guam."

Janet's expression deflated, then she shot him a horrified look. "Have you ever killed anyone?"

More than I want to think about.

Kate flushed and swatted at her sister. "That's a terrible thing to ask!"

Janet's reply faded to background noise as Gage flashed on the bloody Afghan road where his recon had failed to protect his team from ambush. The deaths of more than a dozen good soldiers, men he called friends, were on his head. Nausea swamped him, and a fine sheen of sweat gathered on his brow.

"So why does Senator Kelley need a bodyguard?" Kate asked, pulling him out of his haunting memory. "And what's he doing in Maple Cove? Last I heard, there was no love lost between him and Cole."

"I'm not at liberty to say. The senator's relationship with his son is only my business as it relates to keeping the senior Kelley safe."

"I saw on the news where all those women came forward claiming he'd had affairs with them." Janet leaned forward, a conspiratorial gleam in her eye. "So is it true? Did he sleep with all those women? What did his wife say?"

Gage scowled. "That's not for me to say."

Kate scooted closer, partially wedging herself between Janet and Gage. "Please excuse my sister, Gage. She failed Tact and Manners 101 in school." She gave her sister a meaningful look. "Don't you have some tables to wipe or something?"

Janet's mouth puckered as if she'd tasted something sour. "No. I've finished my work. Have you?"

Kate sighed her exasperation but plastered on a patient smile. "Almost."

Straightening her shoulders, Kate offered Gage a rueful grin as she turned to gather the sugar dispensers behind the counter.

Studying the two sisters, Gage couldn't help but notice the differences. Both were physically beautiful, yet Janet's attitude toward her sister, her graceless flirting and untoward questions made her unattractive. Kate, on the other hand, had a glow and magnetism that shone from inside, raising her outward appearance to pure radiance. Gage found himself drawn as much to that inner warmth as to her bright blue eyes and feminine curves.

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