Massachusetts State Police Sgt. Nick Houston is as tough as they come, and he and his K-9, Saxon, are hot on the trail of a major illegal gun dealer. But his best lead—the beautiful owner of the Dog Park Café, Andi Hardt––is not cooperating. Doesn't matter how sexy she is or that his dog seems to be in love with her. She’s a suspect, and he won’t cross that line. Ever.
Andi Hardt sank everything into her dream business—the Dog Park Café, a restaurant catering to dogs as much as people. Now everything is in jeopardy because of one extremely frustrating, incredibly hot state trooper. Like it or not, she’s in Nick’s crosshairs, and he’s calling the shots. Her only option: cooperate, or lose everything she’s worked so hard for.
Nick and Andi are catapulted straight into the danger zone, forcing them to make life-altering choices and face their desires. Risking his life for Andi is the easy part. Risking his heart is the toughest assignment Nick will face.
Each book in the Federal K-9 series is STANDALONE:
* Lock 'N' Load
* Armed 'N' Ready
* Dark 'N' Deadly
* Trap 'N' Trace
* Serve 'N' Protect
* Honor 'N' Duty
* Above 'N' Beyond
About the Author
Tee O’Fallon is the author of the K-9 Special Ops, Federal K-9, and NYPD Blue&Gold series. She spent twenty-three years as a federal agent conducting complex, long- and short-term criminal investigations, especially undercover operations, across many agencies at the federal level and multi-state investigations as a police investigator. It felt only natural to combine her hands-on experience in the field with her love of romantic suspense. She has lived in New York State most of her life with a five-year stop in Colorado. When not writing, she enjoys cooking, gardening, chocolate, lychee martinis, and kicking back with her Belgian sheepdogs, Loki and Kyrie.
Read an Excerpt
"No!" Andi cried. Too late.
Stray shook, sending suds flying. A fluffy white dollop of doggie shampoo hit her smack in the middle of her forehead. Uttering an exasperated sigh, she swiped it away. "If you don't stop doing that, we'll be here all day."
Dark brown, soulful eyes stared up at her from a soggy face. Andi narrowed her eyes. "Don't think I don't see right through your tactics, young lady." She pointed an admonishing finger. "You know I can't stay mad at you, and you're using that against m —"
A muffled thump came from somewhere in the house. She straightened and twisted her neck to look through the glass shower door into the master bedroom. Condensation blocked her view, so she cracked open the door, being careful not to let Stray escape. She held her breath, listening, but the only sounds were from the shower spray and Stray's occasional disgruntled snort.
She gave a shake of her head. I'm imagining things.
After closing the door, she leaned over and squeezed another bead of shampoo across the dog's spine. "Now, where were we?"
A shadow fell across the shower stall. Stray stiffened and growled.
Movement caught her eye, and she looked up just as the shower door flew open and whacked against the wall.
For less than a second, she froze. Then, she screamed.
She stumbled backward, flinging out her arms for balance. The bottle of dog shampoo fell from her hand, and her feet nearly skidded out from under her. Somehow, she remained upright and braced her back and palms against the cool tile wall. Beside her, Stray began barking at the top of her lungs.
Oh my God oh my God oh my God. This was like something out of a bad high school movie. A giant black dog with the biggest, longest teeth she'd ever seen, and a huge, hulking man were in her bathroom. And — holy shit — he's pointing a gun at me.
Her heart hammered so hard against her rib cage, she could actually hear it above the pounding spray and the ferocious barking from the dogs. She sucked in quick breaths.
The hulk said something to his dog. In German? It stopped barking but still looked like it wanted to eat her alive. Stray didn't understand German and kept barking and snarling.
The black shepherd's lips curled back, giving her another look at those frighteningly sharp incisors. The man spoke, but with all the noise she couldn't make out what he was saying. Her mind was too busy spinning with the implications of what was happening.
I'm trapped. He's going to rape me. Then kill me. Stray, too.
Do something, idiot. Don't go down without a fight.
She grabbed the bar of soap on the shower shelf.
She hurled the soap at him. A large hand snapped it from midair and flung it behind him, where it made a thunk as it hit the wall.
Andi grabbed a bottle of shampoo and raised her arm to throw that at him, too.
"Police, dammit," he shouted in an incredibly smooth, sinfully rich baritone. "Don't even think of throwing that shampoo at me."
"What?" She widened her eyes, sucking in deeper breaths while her heart beat madly. For the first time, she took in his clothes. His uniform. Blue with triangular patches on his chest and shoulders. Massachusetts State Police.
Piercing, deep-set, gunmetal gray eyes stared coldly at her from a face so hard it had to have been chiseled from rock. Her gaze traveled the length of him from head to toe, noting he was tall and with shoulders so wide they completely filled the shower door opening. Only then did she notice that, somewhere in the middle of all this, he'd put away his gun, the butt of which now stuck out of the holster on his belt.
The giant black German shepherd glowered up at her with glowing, satanic eyes, still looking as if it wanted to tear every square inch of flesh from her bones.
"What are you doing here?" she breathed between gasps, crouching to wrap her arms around Stray's neck and chest. The last thing she wanted was a dog fight in her shower, one Stray would undoubtedly lose. "How did you get in? You have no right to be here."
"Serving a search warrant, through the front door, and yes, I do have a right to be here."
"Sarge, you okay?" another male voice said.
With his gaze locked on hers, he extended his arm, holding out his hand, palm facing whoever was about to enter the bathroom. "Stop."
She caught brief glimpses of two other officers just outside the bathroom door, although she was somewhat protected from their view by the mist-covered shower glass and the hulking body standing directly in front of her. The house has to be crawling with cops.
"I'm good," the state trooper said, still watching her like a hawk. "Get Malloy up here. Now."
"You got it." The other men disappeared.
The black dog growled deep in its throat, and she flinched, hauling Stray backward until they were pressed against the tile wall. Between Stray's incessant barking and the shock, she barely registered the thickly muscled arm that reached into the stall and shut off the water.
"Ma'am," she vaguely heard him say, although everything happening was so surreal she had a difficult time concentrating. "Ma'am." The voice was infinitely more insistent now and laced with a hint of annoyance.
Stray let loose with a series of ear-splitting barks that echoed in the confines of the shower. "No bark," she said, resting her hand on the top of the dog's head.
"What?" She snapped her gaze back to the trooper, who was holding out a towel to her.
Oh, shit. I'm practically naked. In front of a cop. Double shit.
Stray's wet body still trembled beneath her arms, but the dog had calmed significantly and seemed content to stay within the safety of the shower stall.
She snatched the towel from his outstretched hand, quickly wrapping it around her bikini-clad body and twisting the top into a knot between her breasts. Until that moment, she'd been so completely and utterly freaked out by the intrusion of the man and his scary-as-hell dog, she hadn't given a thought to the fact that the only thing she had on was a very old, very skimpy string bikini that barely concealed her ass and breasts. The only reason she'd kept it was for washing dogs. In private, that was.
"Easy girl." She began stroking the dog's quivering body, flattening the hair on her spine where it stood straight up. "Easy now." Stray had stopped barking, settling for an occasional low growl in the back of her throat.
Andi stared up at the trooper. "What the hell is going on? Why do you have a search warrant for my house?" Technically it wasn't her house. She was only staying there for a couple of nights.
His piercing gaze remained securely focused on her face. "As for the what," that deep, clear voice resonated, "like I said, we're serving a warrant. As for the why, all in good time."
"What in the world are you serving a warrant for?" She dug her fingers into Stray's thick ruff, massaging the dog's neck to keep her calm. "This has to be a mistake. You can't just barge into someone's home."
"No mistake." He glanced at the dog that stood obediently at his side, glaring at her with the same intensity his handler did. The shepherd didn't pay any heed to Stray. "Are you the only one in the house?"
"Y-yes," she answered, her body beginning to chill.
"Are you Andromeda Hardt?"
She shivered. "Yes. I'm Andi. Andi Hardt. What's your name?" The name tag on his chest said Houston but didn't have his first name.
He ignored her question and clicked the mic on his lapel. "Tell Cox we have a guest up here. Andi Hardt, owner of the Dog Park Café."
How does he know who I am?
"Copy that," a voice came back.
Sgt. Houston refocused his attention on her. "Where's Joe Myer?" he demanded, more than asked.
"Out of town," she answered truthfully.
"I don't know." A giant knot of fear and worry began wedging its way solidly into her gut. Joe had been unusually cryptic about his most recent business trip. Now state troopers were serving a warrant at his house. This is so not good.
That knot gnawed more at her belly, burrowing deeper and writhing like a mass of snakes.
"I can call him. In fact, I should tell him what's going on here." She glanced down at Stray. "Sit," she said, and when the dog complied, added, "Stay." When she made a move to get out of the shower, she nearly slammed into Sgt. Houston's solid, unmoving chest. "Are you kidding me? I haven't done anything wrong. Am I under arrest?"
He stared down at her, his eyes narrowing to slits. "No," he said in a flat tone devoid of emotion. "You can call Myer later."
"Okay, then. Thank you." It was obvious she had no control over the situation, and that both frightened and bothered the crap out of her. She might not be under arrest, but she sure felt like a prisoner. "Could I at least have some privacy, so I can get dressed?" It might be eighty-plus outside, but with the air conditioning blasting on her wet hair and skin, her teeth were beginning to chatter.
"Sorry, ma'am, I can't let you do that just now."
"Then when can you do that?" she cried with more force than intended. Now that her initial shock was wearing off, reality was kicking in hard and fast, leaving her confused and scared. "And stop looking at me. What are you, one of those perverted voyeurs? A peeping Tom?"
God, what had made her say that? She was acting like a petulant child, which would only make things worse. And actually, she hadn't caught him checking her out once. Not that she'd seen, anyway.
"I'm sorry." She clamped a hand over her forehead. "I just don't understand why this is happening."
His square jaw clenched, then he took a deep breath that made his massive chest even wider. "You will, ma'am. For the record, my name is Sgt. Houston. I'm with the Massachusetts State Police."
She rolled her eyes but kept her big mouth shut this time. They were probably around the same age, and if he called her ma'am one more time, she'd be tempted to slug him. Probably a bad idea.
"Step out of the shower. Slowly." He backed away, as did his dog, although both kept their eyes glued to her, as if any quick movement on her part and she'd find herself in handcuffs, or the main course of that demonic dog's breakfast.
Only now did it register that the dog wore a protective vest over its torso, as did the cop, she assumed. Normally, she loved dogs and they loved her back. Her mother once told her it was a gift. Dogs inherently sensed when someone liked them, and they returned the sentiment a hundred times over. But this dog was a cop, and one of the largest shepherds she'd ever seen. It had to be over ninety pounds.
Hesitantly, she placed one foot on the bath mat outside the shower door, pausing to glance over her shoulder, gratified that Stray hadn't budged, although the dog's ears were laid back, her head lowered. When Andi turned, her gaze quickly took in the rest of the trooper. It was impossible not to. She was around five-seven, and he had to be close to six-three or four. He could easily crush her with one hand tied behind his back.
A muscle in one of his sunken cheeks flexed as he clicked the mic on his lapel. "Malloy, this is Sgt. Houston. I need you upstairs. What's the delay?"
"A little tied up, Sarge," a female voice responded, making her realize he was doing his best to get a female officer on scene.
Seriously chiseled jaws clenched again. "Get up here ASAP."
He made a quick motion with one arm, and his dog trotted out of the bathroom. Next, he surprised her by reaching for the other towel on the rack, extending it to her.
Not understanding, she gave him a questioning look.
He tipped his head to where Stray still sat obediently in the shower. "For the dog."
Well, huh. His unexpected thoughtfulness momentarily fried her brain synapses, and all she could do was stare at him in disbelief.
"You don't want her shaking all over this pricey marble tile." He arched a brow. "Do you?"
"Um, no. Thanks." She accepted the towel then made quick work of giving Stray a rubdown that made her reasonably dry. Oblivious to the seriousness of what was going on, Stray groaned with pleasure at the body massage, then shook. When Andi turned to hang the towel back on the rack, she glimpsed the smattering of water spots on the trooper's uniform shirt. His face remained impassive. Either he hadn't noticed, or he didn't care.
"After you." He indicated the bedroom, and when she started for the door, Stray began to follow. "Probably wise to keep her in here for now."
Andi turned and held up her hand. "No, girl. Stay."
Uttering a low whine, the dog stopped and looked at her with mournful, disappointed eyes.
"Have a seat on the bed," he said after closing the bathroom door behind them.
She stepped into the bedroom to find the black K-9 sitting in front of the door to the hall. No escape.
A chill crawled up her spine as the enormity and seriousness of what was happening sunk in deeper.
Turning, she planted her hands on her hips but thought better of it when the towel began slipping. Grabbing the edges just in time, she held it tightly to her breasts. "Not before you tell me what's going on here. I have a right to know. And I'd really like to get dressed. If you don't mind, that is." Without waiting for a response, she turned and strode toward her unpacked suitcase resting on the luggage rack. She reached for the zipper, and the next instant found herself lifted into the air as if she were no heavier than a matchstick.
"What are you doing?" This is unbelievable.
Strong hands grasped her waist, and her legs dangled as Sgt. Houston walked her back to the bed and deposited her ass-first on the mattress.
"Pass auf," he said to the dog, which came closer, ears pricked high, golden gaze fixated on her every move.
Sgt. Houston pointed at her with a long finger. "Stay."
"Stay?" She barked out a laugh. "I am not a dog, and I don't respond on command."
Chiseled jaws tightened. "Stay. On. The bed."
"Or you'll what?" She raised her chin in the hope it would stop her lower lip from trembling. Being so antagonistic to a cop might not be the smartest move, but this was all scary as hell, and it was the only way she knew to conceal her fear. What was supposed to be a relaxing couple of days at Joe's house while the plumbing at her place was being overhauled was turning into a nightmare.
"Or," he said, towering over her, "I'll have to handcuff you, and if I do, I seriously doubt that towel will stay put." His gaze dipped briefly to where the previously knotted towel now hung practically wide open.
Though she wore a bikini beneath the towel, it didn't conceal much. She snatched at the parted towel and yanked it together, re-knotting it as best she could.
"Ma'am." He took a deep breath then let it out. "A female officer is on her way up here to assist. In the meantime, I'd appreciate your cooperation. It would make this a lot easier. On both of us."
"Fine," she reluctantly agreed, knowing it was the right thing to do. "But you could have knocked before breaking in. I would have let you in."
"We did knock. You didn't answer."
"Well, duh. I was in the shower washing the dog and didn't hear you."
"Andi. Call me Andi. If you call me ma'am one more time, I'll —"
"You'll what?" he asked, throwing her own words back at her.
Oh hell. He's right. If he wanted to call her ma'am all day, there was nothing she could do to stop him. It was just so annoying.
He snorted. "That's what I thought. Look," he began in a tone that was only slightly less patronizing. "You can't touch anything until the room's been searched. Tell me what you need, and I'll get it for you." He went to the suitcase, pausing to look at her before unzipping it. "Got any weapons in here, anything sharp?"
"An eyebrow plucker? A curling iron?" She couldn't help grinning when his brows lowered in obvious irritation. "Oh wait, be careful. I have a box of tampons in there somewhere. Those little things can do some damage if you handle them incorrectly. If I were you, I'd treat them like unexploded ordinance." She smirked, but in reality, her snarky comebacks were a sad effort to mask her growing anxiety.
He gave her a fake smile that crinkled the skin at the corners of his eyes. If the smile hadn't been so facetious, and if he wasn't about to search her personal belongings, she would have said he was somewhat handsome. In a kick-ass, take-no-shit, I-eat-nails-for-breakfast kinda way.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Armed 'N' Ready"
Copyright © 2019 Tee O'Fallon.
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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