Read an Excerpt
The Perfect Hostage
A Super Agent Novella
By Misty Evans, Sue Winegardner, Heather Howland
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Misty Evans
All rights reserved.
In the past two months, CIA operative John Quick had ridden a camel through the rough terrain of Afghanistan, set off a bomb under the Kremlin in Moscow, and spent time undercover inside a Mexican prison.
Standing in front of the Morgan family retreat in upstate New York, none of those special ops missions compared to the personal nightmare on which he was about to embark.
His finger hovered over the doorbell. The Morgan family home — one of six owned by the billionaire financier, Charles Morgan — was more than your average vacation house. From the intel John had gathered — and he never went into enemy territory without knowing the layout — the multi-story log and glass home situated on Otsego Lake boasted five bedrooms, an equal amount of bathrooms, a theater, a wine cellar, and a complete spa. The six acres surrounding it contained a boat dock, tennis courts, a pool, and a zip line in the woods behind the house.
The type of home Lucie Morgan — the woman of his dreams — belonged in. Not his simple, unadorned one-bedroom apartment in D.C.
From inside, he heard conversation and laughter. Soft music, the clink of glasses and silverware. The sounds of family and friends.
What the hell was he doing here?
You're on vacation.
Vacation. Normal people liked vacation. They looked forward to it. Sleeping in, hitting the beach, spending time away from their jobs.
Normal people left town and went to fucking Disneyland.
While he wasn't actually a spook for the CIA, he wasn't exactly your average Joe, either. Had never set foot inside Disneyland. An ex — military operative with the highly trained and efficient Team Pegasus, he hunted down lost spies and brought them home, rescued those trapped in foreign prisons, and acted as a bodyguard in third-world countries when certain covert deals were going down. Like all the men in Pegasus, he was on call 24/7.
Vacation or not, he didn't belong here. He was adding fuel to the fire of his relationship with Lucie. His non-relationship with Lucie. Rehabbing an old house into a dance studio and spending a few nights together here and there when he was in the States was not a relationship, though Lucie wanted it to be. He'd squashed that crazy idea any time it came up, but here he was, because he just couldn't stay away from her.
He lowered his finger from the doorbell and cast a glance over his shoulder. On the sweeping driveway, his four-wheel-drive truck, rusty and ugly in the midst of BMWs and Mercedes, stood positioned for a quick getaway. It wasn't too late to turn around. Not too late to text Lucie and claim he'd been called away on a job —
His phone rang.
Maybe it won't be a lie.
Caller ID showed Lawson.
He hit the button. "Hey, man. I was just going to text you. Flynn's worried about one of his spies stuck in Syria. I'm heading back to D.C. in case Pegasus needs to perform an extraction. The team and I —"
"Aren't going anywhere," the Pegasus team leader said. "Get your ass in here with that six-pack, Johnnie boy, or I'm coming out to get you. That's an order."
John instinctively looked up. Lawson stood in front of a floor-to-ceiling window on the second floor. Inside enemy territory.
Lawson, Lucie's soon-to-be brother-in-law, waved.
John waved back with his middle finger. "I can't do this."
"You can handle a simple party."
"A party with a bunch of strangers who mean nothing to me? Nothing I love better." He'd slapped a red bow on a six-pack of Bud as a gift to the expecting parents. They were going to need a whole case when the kid was born. "A party with Lucie's highfalutin' family? Send me back to Afghanistan, man. Shit, even another goddamn Mexican prison would be a fucking picnic compared to this."
"Suck it up."
How many times had they demanded that of each other in the past five years since John had taken over as Lawson's operations captain? "This isn't even a party party. It's a freakin' baby shower." He was so out of his element here, even his fingernails were sweating. "Family, babies ... kill me now. Nothing I did with the Berets prepared me for this. I'm getting hives thinking about it."
"You want to see Lucie, don't you?"
Did soldiers love guns? "Awww, hell, Law." His Texas drawl turned one-syllable words into multi-syllables. "You know I do, but this is —"
"Normal. Family get-togethers and baby showers are normal. You should try it."
In Lawson's world, this was normal. In John's? "Sucks to be you."
A lie. John envied Lawson's upcoming nuptials and impending fatherhood, but no way could he see himself in Lawson's sitch. He'd seen other operatives lose their edge, worrying too much about those they'd left behind. He wasn't about to second-guess every decision in the field because he didn't want to leave a wife without a husband or kids without a dad. So even though he'd wanted that elusive something more with Lucie since he'd rescued her from a terrorist the previous year — what a way to meet — it wasn't going to happen. She unraveled him ... screwed with his brain, his emotions, his ... everything.
He couldn't — no, he wouldn't — settle down. Not for her. Not for anyone. Whatever fantasy she was cooking up about them enjoying a future like Lawson and her sister, Zara, had planned was just that — a fantasy.
No matter how much he wished it could be reality.
"Do it for me."
Low blow. John turned his back on the door, on Lawson. Scanned the frozen lake lined with snow-covered trees. Picture postcard and all that shit. Stalling, he tried to think of something witty to say. "Who knew Flynn would allow one of his super agents like Zara to get pregnant?"
"Believe it or not, Director Flynn cannot control everything."
Dark gray clouds hung low in the distance. Another Canadian front swinging in. That could work to his advantage. A few minutes of face time at the party where he could drool over Lucie and log some mental pictures for future fantasizing, and then he could use the approaching storm as an excuse to cut and run. In and out in under an hour.
Disneyland was nice this time of year, right? Warm weather, Mickey Mouse, and not a Morgan family baby shower in sight.
Bailing on Lucie, after all she's been through, would be a shit-ass thing to do.
Not to mention disappointing Lawson, his best friend.
Good thing John was an ace at disappointing people.
"Is that the best you could find to wear?" Lawson's voice held a slight air of exasperation.
Lowering his head, John looked down at the tips of his worn-out cowboy boots. Snow clung to the edges of his olive drab BDUs. Though he was no longer Army, he still wore the pants with T-shirts and flannels. They were as much a part of him as his social awkwardness around Lucie. Maybe today she'd finally see him the way he really was. He didn't belong in her world, and he wasn't about to change in order to fit in with the Morgan family, no way in hell.
"I came straight from Dulles. No time to run home and put on my fancy clothes" — never mind that he only owned a total of one dress shirt and one pair of black slacks — "but, hey, if I'm not dressed good enough for you and the future in-laws ..."
Lawson issued a heavy sigh. "Speaking of in-laws, the sharks are circling in here. Lucie's sinking fast. She needs you, John."
The call to duty. She needs you.
Goddammit. Of all the people and relationships he'd walked away from in his life, he couldn't walk away from someone who needed him.
And Lawson — the damn Yankee — knew it.
Facing the door, John glanced up at his boss. The man he followed into the fire on a regular basis. The man who'd saved his ass more than once.
John owed him. He owed Lucie, too. "You better not be fucking with me, Boy Scout."
Three fingers rose in the air.
John shook his head, snorted. As if Boy Scout honor meant anything to him. If the Morgans were giving Lucie a hard time, he'd clean the deck with them.
For kicks, he gave Lawson the Klingon hand signal. "De Oppresso Liber, man." To Free the Oppressed, the Beret motto. "I'm coming in."
Before he lost his nerve, he pocketed the phone and raised his mental shields — he had issues about his own dysfunctional family he needed to keep suppressed. Up went his impassive poker face, the one he preferred for awkward social events.
He raised his finger to ring the doorbell. Put it back down.
Fuck the doorbell. Guerilla warfare worked best when you took the enemy by surprise.CHAPTER 2
John Quick was hot.
So hot, in fact, Lucie nearly dropped the tray of punch-filled champagne glasses when he entered the great room without even knocking.
Lucie's sister, Zara, all big belly and goofy smile, sat forward on the sofa and yelled, "John! You made it."
A fire crackled in the large stone fireplace. Her father and Agent Saunders, the FBI agent who'd been so kind to Lucie and her sister after their ordeal with the terrorist, Alexandrov Dmitri, last year, stood in front of the fireplace discussing stock options and gold futures.
Zara's mother sat on the sofa next to her daughter, the two of them surrounded by aunts, nieces, and cousins talking about strollers and applying for private schools.
Lucie, kept at arm's length all day by everyone but Zara, had been passing out the nonalcoholic punch and holding back an eye roll. The baby wasn't even born yet and the Morgan clan was in an uproar over which private school the kid would attend. Agent Saunders, sensing Lucie's exasperation, had winked at her and grinned. He was good like that ... making her feel at ease in uncomfortable situations. He'd rescued her from plenty of those after the kidnapping when she'd had to recount what happened over and over to various government agencies.
A good guy, just like John ... the man she daydreamed about on an hourly basis now standing in the entryway, trailing in snow and staring straight at her.
Some of the women giggled behind their hands. Her father's face fell. Regardless that John was a hero, her father didn't like him. On the two occasions the men had spoken, John had refused to talk about his family, his education, or his job history — the very cornerstones of the Morgan family. Everything her father held dear. From that point on, he'd made no secret that he thought John was using Lucie to get to the Morgan money.
John didn't seem to care what anyone thought. He wore camouflage pants, a knit hat with a hole in it, and cowboy boots. His jaw was covered with a couple days' worth of stubble, his long hair peeked out from the hat, and he was carrying a six-pack of beer with a red bow on top.
Framed by the open door and surrounded by the rugged backdrop and falling snow, John looked completely at home. For a long moment, Lucie simply stood and soaked him in.
"Lawson!" Zara yelled at the top of her lungs. "John's here."
Behind Lucie, their father cleared his throat. Morgans did not yell.
While he'd fathered them both, Charles Morgan had never married Lucie's mother, and Zara was the only Morgan who treated Lucie as blood relation. So while the head of the Morgan clan and his "legitimate" family claimed to accept Lucie as one of them, they hadn't really accepted anything other than the fact Lucie was getting a big fat trust fund payout on Monday when she turned thirty. Few seemed happy about that.
Like turning thirty wasn't daunting enough.
Zara struggled to get her pregnant self on her feet to greet John, and Lucie hastily set down the tray on the large glass coffee table. As she grabbed one of her sister's hands, John strode across the wood floor, dropping snow as he went, and gently took Zara's other hand. Together, the two of them helped her stand.
Zara, always amenable and outgoing, had become even more so during her pregnancy. Hormones, Lawson claimed. She threw her arms around John and hugged him hard. "We're so glad you came."
Lucie felt a spurt of jealousy. Not because Zara and John had become friends, but because her sister had no reservations when it came to saying and showing what she felt. Not even in front of the stuffy, no-public-displays-of-emotion family they belonged to.
John wasn't a PDA type of guy either, but he accepted the hug with grace. Over Zara's shoulder, he met Lucie's stare with his brilliant blue eyes and an embarrassed smile raising the corners of his lips. "Lucie invited me. How could I say no?"
The sound of his deep voice with its slight Texas drawl, combined with that look, sent Lucie's pulse into the red zone and her mind into the past. It had been nearly two months since the last time his full lips had teased her mouth into submission. Two months since that lazy drawl had laced his voice when he'd murmured in her ear, "I can't wait to get that sweet little body of yours under me."
She shivered. Yep, John Quick was hot.
A hot, sexy hero who'd saved her the previous year from Dmitri, and still invaded her dreams on a daily basis. With his long, lean frame, blue eyes, and sly smile, he regularly took center stage in her daydreams, her night dreams, and every spare second she wasn't trying to fit into the Morgan family's way of life.
There were dreams of him in nothing but his cowboy boots pounding her against the bedroom wall. Dreams of his strong arms holding her up as they had sweaty sex in the back of his truck. In the shower. On the kitchen table —
Another throat-clearing from behind her interrupted her lascivious thoughts. She blushed and John smiled for real. Did he know what she'd been thinking?
Plastering on her practiced Morgan face, she took his hand as he broke away from Zara's embrace. "Everyone, this is John Quick, the man who rescued me last year. John, this is my family."
John tensed and Lucie wondered if she'd said something wrong. Having grown up in France with a French mother, she often mixed up her words in English. Not as much now as when she'd first moved to America, but sometimes she didn't understand the subtleties of American culture or slang. She said the wrong thing, implied the wrong meaning.
To the Morgan clan, it was another reason to dismiss her, and one of the reasons she stayed quiet around them. Once she got her trust fund, they'd realize she didn't care about the money. She intended to give most of it away and the rest she would use to help out the kids at the ballet studio. What she wanted was a family.
Zara, coming to her rescue, patted John's arm. "He and Lawson are both heroes, but they hate hearing it."
Her father stepped forward, hand outstretched, even though he looked like he'd rather shake a rat's tail. "John."
No "good to see you" or "glad you could make it." Just the briefest acknowledgment that sounded like a warning.
Agent Saunders also shook John's hand. "It's been a while."
"Good to see you again, Matt," he replied.
Oh, right. They knew each other. Agent Saunders probably knew more about John than she did, since they'd worked together. Lucie tamped down another spurt of jealousy as she told John, "Agent Saunders was in New York for a meeting and was available to drive out to join us."
The man smiled at her. "Kind of you to invite me, Lucie. It's good to see you and Zara and your family under such enjoyable circumstances. The party is a nice getaway for me, and I'm glad I could make it."
At that moment, Zara's own hero entered the room. Lawson and John embraced, slapping each other on the back. "About time you arrived, Johnnie boy. I was starting to think you'd chickened out."
John smiled but it resembled more of a sneer. "Wouldn't miss it for the world, man."
Liar. He and Lawson exchanged some kind of nonverbal message and Lucie bit the inside of her bottom lip.
John didn't want to be here.
I should have known he wouldn't want to come.
But she'd needed him. Needed to talk to him. He was so committed to Pegasus, their relationship had never had a chance to develop. John had told her he didn't like commitments, that they were doomed before they started because of his job, and yet, it was the only thing she thought about these days. A relationship. With a man who didn't care who she was or what her last name was. A relationship with John.
And that's why she'd invited him.
That and the sex dreams.
Getting him to the cabin wasn't just about Zara and Lawson's baby. Or having John meet her family. If things went her way, Lucie was going to kidnap him for the weekend. She had everything planned, right down to making Lawson swear on a bible that John wouldn't get called for a mission. Although John had insisted he didn't want a relationship, Lawson had told her he was just scared.
Well, she was scared, too. Relationships were difficult and painful and sometimes even self-destructive. But they could be healthy and fun as well. Good things, including friendships and closer ties to family, could come out of tragic events and unfortunate past circumstances. She had to persuade John that not only could he have a loving, long-term relationship, but that he deserved one.
Excerpted from The Perfect Hostage by Misty Evans, Sue Winegardner, Heather Howland. Copyright © 2014 Misty Evans. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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