Four years ago, Major Jack Ballentyne followed Special Agent Lowry Fisk into a death trap. Fortunately, both of them lived to tell the tale, but when he had Lowry drummed out of the British Intelligence Service for her own safety—and his own peace of mind—he knew she'd never forgive him.
Lowry Fisk knew, she just knew, that the Service had a mole, and it was up to the Assassins, the secret black-ops unit of the Service she and Jack belonged to, to find him. And as the Assassins leader, Jack should have believed her, even though she had little evidence beyond a gut feeling. But when he hadn't, she'd taken it upon herself to find the traitor—and ended up assaulted, shot, and left for dead. Jack had come to her rescue, but it had been too little, too late. Now all she wants to do is forget the attack, the Service, and the sexy, steely-eyed Major with the power to make her feel weak.
But the mole is on the move, and he's coming for Lowry to finish what he started. Jack has to get the stubborn, dangerously gorgeous woman to let him back into her life and allow him to protect her—without allowing her to worm her way into his heart.
Each book in the Black Ops Heroes series is a standalone story that can be enjoyed out of order.
Book #1 Hard to Hold
Book #2 Hard to Forget
Book #3 Hard to Protect
About the Author
It took a swan dive from a roof to convince Incy (aged 5) she wasn't an avenging fairy and that no, she most certainly couldn't fly. Bruised but undefeated she retreated deeper into her make-believe world populated with heroes, heroines and super villains, where good always triumphs over evil--eventually. When her imagination gets too crowded, and the voices in her head too loud, she depopulates by spilling her characters and events onto paper.
Born in Zimbabwe but raised in a most peculiar village in Dorset, she hates camping and traveling (unless it's first class), having spent two years, and every cursed weekend and holiday for ten years thereafter, traveling round Europe in a VW camper van with her parents and two brothers.
When not fighting injustice and righting wrongs on 'Planet Incy' she works as a Marketing Director, and slaves as a cook, cleaner and homemaker. Unfortunately, her law degree (University College, London) languishes unused, the distinction between good and evil proving too worrisome in real life.
Now living in Berkshire, her five children are well versed in what scares her (most things) and delight in pushing her neurotic buttons--at their peril.
Read an Excerpt
Hard to Forget
By Incy Black, Tracy Montoya
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Lindsey Hughes
All rights reserved.
The Wainwright Gallery, London.
Four years later.
His back to the jostling guests, Jack Ballentyne studied the wild spread of vivid canvases lining the expanse of whitewashed brick wall. Lowry's work was good. Damn good. The colors strong and vibrant. The brush strokes bold and unhesitant, spirited even.
He hadn't broken her, not completely.
For the first time since the order had come through for him to get back in contact with her to deliver a warning, the knot in his gut eased. Turning his back on the paintings, he leaned against a faux-rusted iron girder — one of twelve such vertical supports lending an artisan chicness to the excruciatingly fashionable gallery.
He scoured the heaving throng of guests for his target — Lowry -bloody- Fisk. Finding her in this mob wouldn't be easy. But then, when had she ever done simple?
Certainly never in the two years she'd spent under his command. Not even for one goddamn day.
That she had compromised him as a professional, he could forgive — just. That she had compromised him as a man? Not. A. Chance.
He'd unashamedly shagged half of London to lay her ghost to rest. Yet still she haunted him. Four fucking years of her drifting into his mind uninvited. One thousand four hundred and sixty disturbed sleeps — those stormy gray-green eyes of hers dark with pain. Accusing him of betrayal, of letting her down. Small wonder he was an insomniac.
Irritated, suddenly impatient, he re-scanned the press of bodies. The rich, the titled, the celebrated. Standout colors of couture frocks hurt his eyes. The heavy mix of competing scents and colognes curled his nostrils. Before joining the Service, with his pedigree, he'd been destined for a lead role among the socially elite. Thank fuck he'd rejected it.
Now where the hell was she?
As if warned of his darkening mood, the throng magically parted.
And all breath slammed from his chest.
Lowry-bloody-Fisk. Standing surrounded, yet isolated. Her eyes, wide and watchful, darting over her guests in an exclamation of distrust and suspicion. Her body, long and lithe, delicately turned with tempting soft curves, taut and under strain, poised for imminent flight.
Fuck. A tethered goat, helpless bait in a lion's den, could not have looked more panicked. Was he to blame? Is that what he'd done to her? There was no denying he'd been tough on her. He'd had to be — she'd redefined pain in the ass. And, not content with taxing his patience and testing his temper, she'd had to go and tempt him. Tempt him into giving a damn, when he'd long ago vowed never again to allow anyone to get close enough to make him care. He'd only screw up. Best way to keep them safe? Get them to stay the hell away.
Lowry's head swung in his direction, a stray tendril of her hair catching in the crease of her lips.
His lungs kicked back into action. He spun on his heel fast. Oh, they'd duel tonight — but not yet. Not until he had a grip. Not until he remembered he was not supposed. To. Give. A. Fuck.
Teeth clenched, he rolled his back muscles against the knot bridging his shoulders. Christ, he needed a drink. Something strong to scorch on the way down, then slow-burn like a sonofabitch when it hit his gut.
He'd first hyphenated her name on learning she'd been assigned to his team. Within a week, his curse had strengthened to the unprintable. Across the seven languages and innumerable dialects in which he was fluent.
Her first public challenge to his leadership, he'd laughed off. Her second, third, fourth, and fifth, he'd let pass with a sharp reprimand. He'd benched her for the sixth, insisting she be anchored to a desk. Even then she hadn't quit. If anything, she'd become even more of a pain in the ass. Imagining subterfuge and corruption where none existed. Quietly defying his orders as if they were nuns' farts, best politely ignored.
Her seventh challenge had finished her — he shot her. Fuck near killed her.
His gut twisted. The memory of her — prone, her blood leaking a lake between his fingers, the pearl-blond of her hair a halo against the filthy concrete floor — as crystal clear as the night it had happened four years ago.
Some man, all soft, sweaty, and city slick in tailored pinstripes, staggered against him carelessly, jolting him back to the present.
Without thought, Jack shouldered back hard. No apology. Not even when the man stumbled and would have fallen, had his indignant companions not caught him.
Deadpan, he stared the group down, not giving an inch until they shambled off. Idiotic, because his orders had been simple, but specific — stay the fuck off radar. But Lowry had him ready to split open his own skin. A minor contretemps eased the pressure.
A silver tray floated into sight. He snatched a flute of pale gold liquid, the bubbles still rising and breaking in a soft hiss. Bloody champagne. He'd have sacrificed his right bollock for something a lot stronger.
The pretty server — body like a goddess — paused, checked him out, and, judging by the blatant invitation in her eyes, she liked the view.
Jack saluted her with his drink and slow-grinned his own appreciation. His eyebrows slowly climbed of their own volition when she winked in an unspoken promise that she'd be back to collect ... and he knew she wasn't referring to his glass.
His body tightened in anticipation. Maybe a few hours solace in the arms of a beautiful woman was just what he needed — because his job sure wasn't providing the distraction he craved like an addict. It hadn't for a while.
He scoured an open palm across the length of his face and grimaced when his fingers met the two- or maybe three-day-old stubble shadowing his chin. Shit. Casually — and, he had to concede, carelessly — dressed head to toe in black, from his grandfather's battered leather flying jacket to his scuffed, albeit hand-tooled leather boots, he had to look like an over-aged delinquent with a Goth complex. Not that he cared, but he couldn't afford to be memorable. His job might not be cutting it right now, but it was his life, and recognition would see him flying a desk faster than Alice from Data Retrieval shucked her panties.
Shit. Shit. Shit. When the order had come through to warn Lowry off, he should have delegated. Sent in someone with whom open combat wasn't a given. She'd only have to suspect he was close, and she'd bristle and spit, her tight little body quivering with fury. Not good, when his own body was already revving in hungry anticipation.
He looked down, saw his hand was less than steady, and clenched his jaw tight enough for the crack to be heard above the hubbub of the chattering masses.
Jesus, one glimpse of her, Lowry Fisk — the first in four years — and he was as twitchy as a raw recruit, first time under fire.
Sonofabitch and to hell with this. He'd confront her. Caution her, then get the fuck out of her orbit. Is wasn't like he hadn't done it before.
In a single belt, he downed his drink, making no effort to hide his grimace. Reaching forward, he placed the now-empty glass, with its impossibly delicate stem, on the waiting tray. The flirty server, as wickedly promised, had returned.
With a forced grin as close to civilized as he could muster, he shrugged a flattered-but-not-tonight-darling apology, which earned him a disappointed pout. Hell, the foul mood he was in, Miss L.W.A — luscious, willing, and able — should count herself lucky for the narrowest of escapes.
Lowry-bloody-Fisk, on the other hand, had just run out of time.
* * *
Lowry had taken refuge near the rear of the gallery. Butterflies with blades for wings swooped in her stomach. She wrapped her arms across her midriff, her hands rubbing her upper arms against a sudden chill. Someone was watching her, tracking her; she could feel it. Or it might just be another hated flashback, brought on by the pressure of her opening night.
Adrian, her agent, would kill her if he discovered she'd deliberately released the lock to the back exit. A wise precaution to her way of thinking, but he wouldn't agree. His priority was to protect property. Her only concern, escape — should the need arise.
She tried measuring each inhale and exhale of breath against a slow countdown from a hundred. Maybe if she just focused hard enough, she could pretend her skin didn't itch and her spine wasn't threatening to rip free and leave her to her own damned fate.
Suddenly conscious of the pathetic impression she must be giving, she straightened her shoulders and forced her arms to her sides. Not quite sure what to do with her hands, she fisted them tight. Better that than allow her fingers to clutch and twist the slate-gray silk of the dress skimming her thighs.
Her throat, already as dry as week-old toast, tightened. She snuck out the tip of her tongue to moisten her lips. God, she didn't want this. Not the tittering. Not the strangers. Not the fear.
Especially not the fear.
What the hell had she been thinking? Tonight — the solo show, the blaze of publicity — huge mistake. If her little foray into the public eye backfired, it could finish her. For good this time. Four years was a long time. Long enough for her attacker to forget her? The lighting in the warehouse had been poor, but what if he recognized her? What if he didn't trust her to keep her mouth shut? What if he came after her to make sure that she did?
Gritting her teeth, she damped down the gnawing anxiety fast. Losing control wasn't an option. Not when she'd only just seized it back.
Her history didn't exactly qualify for a cheer or even a hesitant ripple of applause. But she hadn't let it beat her. Change her, yes. But not beat her. And that was what tonight was all about — vindication.
Only mildly emboldened by that reminder, she darted quick little glances at her milling guests, trusting not a one of them.
The tiny hairs at the nape of her neck pricked. The little pants escaping her mouth puffed at loose strands of her hair. To hell with the promise she'd made herself not to run. To stop hiding. She could smell the threat in the air.
She twisted her body, her hips going one way, her shoulders the other, and it was all she could do not to claw at those obstructing her path as she attempted to thread a fast exit through the crowd.
A heavy arm draped around her lower back and pulled her in tight for a quick squeeze.
"Seventeen red stickers, only six left to sell. Unbelievable!"
She stared blankly at her agent. Couldn't Adrian see she had more important things to worry about than the sale of a few pictures?
Survival for a start.
His brow puckering, Adrian dipped his knees to better capture her line of sight. Then, his eyes rolling heavenwards, he reached forward and positioned his forefingers at the corners of her mouth. The gentle pressure he applied was upward in direction. "I know this isn't easy for you, but could you at least pretend to smile?"
"Someone's watching me — I need to go," she blurted, thrusting him aside. He was blocking her view.
"Lowry, sweetheart, everybody's watching you. What did you expect? They're insanely curious about the hermit-girl responsible for the paintings. You've worked hard for this; we both have. Don't blow it, not after you've come so far. Please, cupcake, your adoring public awaits."
Sweetheart? Cupcake? She bit back a sharp reprimand. Adrian didn't know about the man who, while holding her down, had used those same sweet nothings and a whole lot more besides. No one did. Not even the staff at the PTSD hospital after her last mission with the Service, who — clueless about anything beyond her bullet wound and fracturing mind — had thought it comforting to shower her in obscenely affectionate endearments.
Adrian, clearly determined to draw her back into the melee, seized her hand and tugged. She dug her heels deep, resisting. She also freed her fingers and scrubbed her palm against her thigh as if contaminated.
His look, ever patient but pitying, flooded her cheeks with color. She hadn't meant to be rude, but touching was a no-no. "Fifteen minutes more, then I leave," she warned him quietly, hoping to make amends.
"Make it an hour, and I'll not only call you a taxi, I'll even cover the fare," he pleaded.
Her nerve endings flashed worse than any lightning storm. Another sixty minutes? Could she last that long? One quick look at her best — her only — friend's excited face, and she knew she didn't have a choice. "Okay, lead on," she agreed weakly.
Smiling hurt. Her cheeks ached with the strain, as did her muscles from the effort of trying not to jerk and recoil at every stranger's touch. With no wall to protect her back, people hovered dangerously close, outside of her line of vision; the brush of their unknown bodies jolting bolts of anxiety the length of her spine. Where the hell was Adrian?
Not for the first time, or even the fourth or fifth, she smoothed a moist palm against the silk of her dress and ran through her particular fashion "must" list for reassurance. All pieces dark in color to blend with shadows, check. Skirts and dresses short and cut loose to allow uninhibited flight, check. Stiletto heels — normally avoided — a half-size too big, so she could kick them free and run, check —
From behind, a hand clasped her shoulder.
She squirmed free, staggered forward, quickly stifling the squeal on her lips in case the touch had been an innocent mistake. Deafened by the sound of blood gushing through her head, she spun around, her arms instinctively raised somewhere between attack and defense.
Her assailant swore and raised his palms to calm. "Easy ... I didn't mean to startle you."
Battling the palpitations threatening to crack her chest, she pushed the humiliating weight of paranoia aside and forced herself to make eye contact, an apology for her skittishness ready on the tip of her tongue.
Her vision cleared, and she stopped herself just in time. "You!"
That past she'd buried? She should have staked it first. Dead center through the heart. It might have prevented its resurrection.
"Yes, me." Jack, visibly bracing his shoulders, closed in. Probably to halt a line of braying men from cutting between them. "I take it you have yet to forgive me?"
With the crowd tight behind her, she couldn't run. She couldn't even step back. "Damn right. So piss off." Language she hadn't used since being tossed out by the Service, but in this man's company, the coarseness flooded back. Some words, however ugly, said it all.
She stared fixedly at his long fingers, now curled around her wrist. "Let go, Ballentyne, or so help me, I'll scream, and a man like you doesn't need the attention."
His grin was lazy. Deliberately provocative.
Her heart dithered with indecision. Speed up, or stop beating altogether?
"A man like me? And what kind of man is that, Lowry?"
A rash of invisible pinpricks danced the surface of her skin. She leaned back into the crowd behind her. Distance from Jack Ballentyne, more imperative than any danger strangers might pose. "A stained man. A violent man. A heartless, brutal, scary bastard who —"
"Okay, okay. I get it," he interrupted, one palm back up. "You don't like me much."
"Wrong. I don't like you at all. You embody everything I abhor, what any decent, person would abhor." That should cut his misplaced amusement off at the knees.
She jerked her wrist.
His fingers squeezed, his grin slipping into a hard, straight line. "Point taken, Fisk. We'll keep this short. I'd appreciate a word. Somewhere less public."
Her lungs flattened. The gallery spun, colors swirling, the disconnected snippets of chatter from her guests, too loud for her ears. "Appreciate away. This is as private as I ever want to be with you. Now get the hell away from me."
"Not until you hear me out."
She opened her mouth to make good on her threat to scream. Closed it again when his fingers tightened further and he jerked her flush against him.
Excerpted from Hard to Forget by Incy Black, Tracy Montoya. Copyright © 2014 Lindsey Hughes. 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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