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Hard to Protect
Black Ops Heroes
By Incy Black, Tracy Montoya
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2017 Incy Black
All rights reserved.
Don't laugh ... Don't laugh ... Do. Not. Laugh ... Don't ... The very idea of him obeying an order to shag on demand like a prize stallion put out to stud was as hilarious as it was offensive.
Not yet half a morning back on the job after five interminable months on sick leave, and Special Agent Will Berwick — British Intelligence Service, Black Ops — was fast losing grip of his Fudoshin — the Samurai warrior's enviable state of complete composure and mental serenity he'd spent a decade mastering.
Him, bait a honey trap? Seduce Dr. Treherne, his Service mandated psychotherapist? Not bloody likely. He'd give his life for queen and country — damn near had on his last routine undercover op, taking a bullet to the gut and one to the chest — but he drew the line at pimping his body.
"It's imperative we find Dr. Treherne's brother," Godfrey Butters, the full-of-shit usurper sitting at the commander's desk continued, his too posh accent stripping the red from Berwick's blood.
And usurper, because the opportunity to fill in for Commander Fisk during his six-month absence should have been Will's — by right: due to his number of years in service, intellect, and political adeptness. His chance to prove that though he came from nothing, he was the best man to face down the darkest challenges to national security.
"Dr. Treherne and her brother are close. He's disappeared with some highly sensitive files we want back. Though she denies it, I believe Dr. Treherne knows full well where her brother is hiding. Your job is to get her to spill the current location of Rhys Treherne — even if you have to take her to bed to do it. On this occasion, the rule prohibiting sexual relations between colleagues is suspended —"
Will was forced to choke his spurt of laughter behind a rough cough. Few agents adhered to that ridiculous rule. When death stalked you, as it did most undercover operatives working out of the Cube — headquarters for the "plausibly deniable" Black Ops units of the British Intelligence Service — getting hot and sweaty with a like-minded woman who appreciated the down-to-the-bone honesty of just sex was an instinctive celebration of survival.
Butters smirked. "Consider it an assignment with fringe benefits. After all, Dr. Treherne is rather tempting."
She was — if you liked your women uptight, which Will did not. And, if you were happy to risk getting your bollocks frozen off, which he was not.
But that's not what offended him. He had a rule about snowing his partners-in-lust. He didn't do it. Ever. He warned, up front, that forty-eight hours was his relationship limit. His motto: Have fun. Move on fast.
"No need to be too much of a gentleman about it, Berwick. Just fuck her, in every sense of the word. The lying bitch deserves it. Pretending sweet innocence, she's been obstructing us for weeks. I won't have some cheeky bint thinking she can outsmart me. No one makes a fool out of me and gets away with it unpunished."
Don't hit him ... Don't hit him ... His tonsils are fine just where they are ... The egotistical twat doesn't need you driving your fist down his throat ... Think of your career ...
Gluing himself to the hard seat of the interview chair, Will reached for inner calm. He couldn't afford another black mark against his name — his mother's profession, his reputation for challenging those in power when he knew their decisions were half-baked, the way he'd turned to the bottle for a while after Diana, his fiancée, had died.
Even if he evaded instant dismissal for giving Butters a well-deserved punch, he'd be suspended. An inquiry would ensue. Uncomfortable questions about his fitness for duty would be asked.
And, even if he survived that, he'd be busted down so many ranks, he'd need written permission to use the photocopier. He'd lose leadership of his team. His license to carry a weapon would be yanked. His chance of one day succeeding to the position of Commander-in-Chief of Black Ops would plummet to zero.
Shit. But he still had his right to refuse an assignment, a privilege reserved solely for members of his team: the Assassins. The elite, known-to-few unit within Black Ops tasked with carrying out the dirtiest of dirty jobs — on the condition the blood spatter didn't stain the Establishment, of course.
Maintaining his staring contest with the obnoxious little turd, he slipped a deliberately insolent smile. Butters was a little too arrogant and a lot too comfortable sitting at the boss's desk. The man clearly didn't understand the concept of temporarily in charge. "Sorry, but I'm keen to get back to the front line, and I don't do the frilly stuff. The Commander knows that."
Butters's expression tightened to lemon-sour. "Except he's on sabbatical, and according to the Ministry of Defense, I am in charge."
"Yeah? Good for you ... But my refusal still stands."
Given the number of citations and commendations in his file along with the shiny medals he chucked in his sock drawer, Will could risk a charge of dumb insolence. Hell, he'd frame the reprimand, if it came to that, and hang it in his loft along with the handful of others he'd collected over the years.
Butters flushed purple. "Careful, Berwick, or the only line you'll be joining is the unemployment one."
Will's eyebrows shot north fast enough to gift him a facelift. "Excuse me?"
"New management. New rules. Things needed tightening up around here, discipline, in particular. The special privilege enjoyed by the Assassins to refuse an assignment has been withdrawn. So, just to clarify, that wasn't a choice I was giving you; it was a direct order. Go fuck the information we need from Dr. Treherne, Berwick. Without protest, and no excuses."
Will forced his inner Zen warrior forward. He would not react. He would not give Butters the satisfaction of knowing his temper hung by a fast-fraying thread.
Christ, he'd only been on sick leave for five months — six weeks of abject tedium in a military hospital, followed by months of physical punishment to rebuild his fitness. Plus, the indignity of twice-weekly sessions being psycho-probed by the ultimate snow queen, Dr. A. Treherne, as now ridiculously mandated for any undercover agent injured in the line of duty, should the stress prove too great, and PTSD rear its ugly head.
And now this — an idiot despot at the helm.
It was time to change tack. "Why me?" Not that he gave a shit. Circumventing orders he didn't like was his forte. He could get what he needed from the doc without sleeping with her.
"Because, Berwick, if the whispers circulating the Intelligence community are to be believed, the triple-O prefixing your Service serial number not only denotes your license to kill but also your ability to give orgasms."
His anger instantly checked out. He hadn't caught that particular piece of gossip.
Powerless to hold it back, his laughter ripped free.
Until pain seared his abdomen.
Fuuuuuck. He needed to move this little tête-àtête along fast, so he could double dose on the elephant-grade painkillers Zac McAllister — another Assassin and his best friend — had promised would work. The lying bastard.
Zac might swear by the ancient art of Chinese medicine and the herbal remedies available over the counter in Chinatown, but his pain-zapped gut screamed snake oil fraudulent.
"And, rather than being difficult, you should be thanking me," Butters chided him — not gently. "Without this light duty, you'd have no assignment. You failed your psych assessment. Dr. Angel Treherne has slapped a question mark over your state of mind."
The hell she had. Not a year in post, straight off a double doctorate program in mind voodoo, that woman didn't know her arse from her elbow.
Butters fiddled with his gold cufflinks, flicked imaginary flecks of fluff from the dark of his pinstriped suit, then smiled the smile of a lizard that had just tongue-lashed an insect. "Still want to refuse the assignment, Berwick?"
Bollocks to that. He'd never failed anything in his life. And Angel? That woman's name was Angel? He'd spent those asinine psych sessions distracting himself with guesses as to what the initial A might stand for. Arctic had been a frontrunner. Attila, too, the way she'd tried to rout his emotional privacy. But Angel? What of? The bloody polar ice caps?
Emotionally extinct, the woman wasn't even human — And, she'd had the nerve to red flag him?
He might draw the line at sleeping with her, but he was far from averse to teaching Angel Treherne a lesson. No one messed with his career. No one. "How long has her brother been missing?" "Six weeks."
That was worrying, considering Butters had to have thrown the full resources of British Intelligence into finding the doc's brother before resorting to Will. "And the files in his possession?"
"Stolen. Downloaded to a thumb drive, the originals erased and irretrievable."
"And the subject matter of the files?" Christ, drawing the details from Butters was akin to pulling wisdom teeth with a corkscrew.
The hairs at the back of Will's neck pricked. Classified? His sweet arse. He had "Top Secret" clearance, the highest security grade available to a Service operative. Call him a cynical paranoid, but in his experience, the withholding of information from an agent with his seniority generally meant something had gone wrong and a cover-up was in play. "So what can you tell me? Because I'm going to need something."
Butters made a drama out of staring at the high ceiling.
He imagined the trajectory of a bullet hitting the bastard's exposed walnut of an Adam's apple.
"Rhys Treherne has an IQ in the stratosphere," Butters finally conceded. "He graduated from Cambridge with a first in bio-chemistry at seventeen, and by the time he was twenty, he'd already secured sufficient funding from the World Health Organization to set up his own chemical research laboratory, with the development of vaccines his expertise. Three years ago, his funding dried up, and he contracted with the Ministry of Defense to work ... ah, Special Projects."
Special Projects? Definite euphemism for something so fucked up and illicit, none dared put a name on it.
"The data on that thumb drive is politically sensitive and poses an acute national security threat," said Butters, his face no longer lemon-sour but rather cat-arse creased tight. "Finding Rhys Treherne is the key to getting it back. But, despite vigorous questioning, Angel Treherne — world-class liar that she is — continues to deny all knowledge of his whereabouts. Furthermore, exercising her right as a civilian, she's threatening a lawsuit unless we back off harassing her."
Will didn't like the doc, but good for her for sticking it to Butters.
Butters reached sideways, slid open a desk drawer, and withdrew a package. Macho-black with heavy red and gold flourishes. He set it on the desktop and, with an obnoxious chortle, edged forward the bumper-sized box of condoms. "Break her, Berwick. Let me down and ... Well, let's just say, your buttocks will never hit the surface of this particular chair."
Berwick slow-blinked at the man. He'd been very careful never to confide how much he coveted the seat behind that huge walnut desk, wide and long enough for two men to sleep on. He wasn't stupid. Gift anyone that advantage, and they'd use it against you.
Just as this bastard was doing.
Fine. He'd play along — for now. But the payback of a certain Dr. Angel Treherne wasn't the only little revenge he'd enjoy. Butters, too, would be going down hard. "Okay, but I should warn you, I don't rate my chances with the Doc too highly," he lied. He'd yet to meet a woman he couldn't charm, if he put his mind to it. "She loathes me, and frankly, she doesn't exactly ring my bell, either." Not a lie. "How long have I got to defrost her?" "Given your alleged sexual prowess, I expect her to be well-screwed and singing like a nightingale before that box runs out."
Ignoring the condoms — not his brand — Berwick pushed to his feet and sauntered to the door. To extricate himself from this assignment, which had clusterfuck stamped all over it, he needed more information. The Sink — the aptly named staff canteen — was his best bet, hive that it was for whispers and shady gossip.
Opening the door, he paused on the threshold. "Always happy to oblige, Sir."
"Excellent," Butters smacked back. "I take it you've heard about the budget cuts. Fail and ... Well, it's a lonely walk to the front door and damned cold on the outside."
He'd take cold, lonely, and unemployed over this nasty bastard's reign of ineptitude any day, but it wasn't permanent, so he'd deal.
Not that he planned to fail. Something stank about this whole setup, and he hadn't spent the best part of ten years busting his behind just to watch his career flush away.
"Oh, and Berwick, after retrieving the thumb drive from Rhys Treherne ... delete him."
* * *
Three mugs of thick canteen coffee later, his sternum aching from too many rough chest-bumps and welcome-back man-hugs — and having learned not one damn thing further about Angel and Rhys Treherne — Berwick reclined low and deep on the battered leather sofa in the Ice Queen's office.
Stone silent and fully aware his drilling stare and resolute muteness was tweaking the Doc's last nerve. Good. Because he wanted that fiercely self-contained composure of hers well rattled.
"You've been sitting there for twenty minutes, Agent Berwick, and you have yet to say one word. May I remind you that I didn't request this impromptu session; you did?" the Doc finally rebuked him, her pissy tone making it clear she really didn't like him.
A laugh threatened his throat. "Busy, are you, Doc?"
He knew no one visited the psych suite unless mandated to do so. Just as he knew that Angel Treherne filled her time filtering applications from agents wanting a shot at Black Ops, her role more HR than therapeutic.
Her eyes narrowed. Twin shards of gray ice.
He increased his slouch, crossed his ankles, and extended his legs fully.
The Doc, sitting prim and ramrod straight in an armchair opposite, immediately angled away her quite excellent, tightly clenched knees.
Judging by her frown, she must have caught his lip-twitch. So, he repeated it.
Her pen beat a more frantic tattoo against the page of her notebook. "Aside from wasting my time, Berwick, what is it you want?"
What he wanted was an explanation as to why she'd nixed his return to active duty. He grinned, instead. "You seem more piqued than usual by my silence, Doc. Pre-menstrual tension?"
No flinch. No sharp intake of breath. She didn't even blink. But the sudden chill she threw damn near caused his balls to retract.
Then, like an assassin's blade in the dark, she sliced. "Suffered any symptoms of impotency since your injury, Berwick?"
Perversely, his groin heated. Well, apparently, if he wasn't going to dignify her surprising and utterly unprofessional counterchallenge with a response, his dick would. Odd, when to-date, this woman hadn't stirred so much as an extra pulse-throb from him.
Not that she was unattractive. On the contrary, her classical beauty could launch ships. Flawless bone-structure. Complexion creamy, lustrous as a pearl. Fathomless gray eyes intent enough to make a man's soul hum. Wide mouth. Generous lips, blush pink and ripe. Hinting at dirty.
Her demeanor though — do-not-touch frigid.
Jesus, if someone had told him a Nordic God had carved her out of ice and then had second thoughts about getting close enough to breathe some warmth into her for fear of forevermore ejaculating snowflakes, he wouldn't have argued.
Without breaking eye contact, he vaguely imagined what she might look like with that tight French braid of hers loosened, the tips of her breasts peeking through the untidy fall of blond tresses, as she lay naked, writhing beneath his hands.
And gave himself a mental slap.
Never going to happen. No way would he take this woman to bed. Even if he survived the encounter, he doubted she would. Someone, or something, had damaged her. No woman wrapped herself in that many layers of frost without good reason. She may have crossed him, and for that she would pay, but he didn't want to break her, for Christ's sake.
He'd shattered Diana, and in return her death — suicide — had shattered him. A joyride through hell he preferred not to repeat.
No, he'd cajole the whereabouts of Treherne's brother from her in a way that didn't require physical contact or, at least, not deep physical contact. The odd affectionate caress he'd allow, purely as a sign of friendship. He had a feeling she could do with an ally. "What would have to happen for you to agree to have dinner with me?"
Excerpted from Hard to Protect by Incy Black, Tracy Montoya. Copyright © 2017 Incy Black. 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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
48 Hours Although this is the 3rd book of the Hard to..series, it’s the first one I’ve read as well as the first Incy Black novel, but I look forward to not only reading the first two books, but waiting for more! While each book is it’s own standalone story, they revolve around the black ops within the British Intelligence Service. This book is full of mystery, suspense, betrayal, heartache, as well as love, with a surprising twist at the end that I didn’t fully see coming. Be warned, once you start reading, you won’t want to put it down, I surely couldn’t! Dr. Angel Treherne a psychotherapist or better known as the Ice Queen by Special Agent Will Berwick of the black ops—British Intelligence Service, has been ordered to seduce and sleep with her to get information on the whereabouts of her brother. Angel is suspicious of his sudden turn around. First he’s hostile then charming… He’s up to something and she will figure out what it is! Although sexual sparks fly between these two from the beginning, neither of them are wrestling to act upon them, or will they? You’ll have to read Hard to Project an action packed, suspenseful HEA love story to find out! I voluntarily reviewed an ARC copy of this book via Tasty Book Tours through NetGalley for an honest blog tour review. This book uses stone British/UK spellings and references. Due to sexual situations and adult language, this book is recommended for readers 17 and older!
This is book 3 in the Black Ops Heroes series and it features special agent Will Berwick and Dr. Angel Treherne. After reading the first two books in the series, the wait for Will's story was worth it. Their attraction was not instantaneous and they both fought it but when it burned, it was scorching! It wasn't until he was FORCED to see her as a person instead of just a therapist who controlled his career, that he started to feel a draw towards her. The story line regarding Angel and her brother Rhys, was painful, heart wrenching and full of twists and turns. All in all it's a great story that kept me guessing as to who the bad guys were. Full of family loyalty, deceptions, betrayal, tons of shoulder-sagging guilt and finally love.
A dark, danger filler, gritty tale filled with unexpected plot twists and intriguing characters in the darkest shadows of the British intelligence. With the authors unique and original voice the story takes noir tendencies while telling the tale of the ultimate betrayal in the world filled with deceit and lies, where finding love and living fulfilling life meant finding another profession and learning to live with the number of kills on your name. This story took me for an unforgettable ride, with the darkness of the souls of the characters as well as the streets and underground tunnels, it pulled me in and mesmerized my mind. It is very different from the romantic suspense that I normally read, yet it was vastly entertaining, and the author's creative mind while building the plot and the characters is admirable. Are characters likable and relatable - no, can't say that. They are crude, grim and sinister. Tender feelings don't come easily to them. They have faults, weaknesses, and roughness around the edges that is needed in their jobs, but that made them even more entertaining, enthralling, and hard to let go. It seemed everyone had issues that were earth shattering. The things they had seen, things they had experienced, the things they had done themselves just to survive in the ominous world they lived in were unimaginable. Blood ties, soulmates, and best friends had a little meaning and weighing to them. The tension is high or escalating through the story, no moment of a lull from the fatal action or the constant threats. If you love the deep, dark noir suspense stories filled with uncontrollable passion and very little sweetness, that will entice your mind and might seep into your dreams, you are going to love this author's voice and Hard To Protect. ~ Four Spoons
"Hard To Protect" was an exhilarating ride of mystery, romance and suspense! Both Special Agent Will Berwick and Dr. Angel Treherne are searching for her brother, but for very different reasons. The level of mistrust between them is impossible to overcome until a truce is made, but will it save she and her brother, who now have "kill orders" on their backs? This was an awesome read, impossible to put down, and the end will leave you stunned! I was gifted a copy of this book by Net Galley and am volunteering my honest opinion.
This book took me by total surprise. Not fully knowing what to expect, if I had an expectation, it blew it out of the water. This is one insanely good book. My first book by this author, won't be the last. This series takes place in England. Will is a Black Operative who is still on recoup leave having failed his psych eval, his own doing because he refuses to co operate. Angel Treherne is the Dr who is in charge of the Pysch Eval's among other things and also works for the government in this specialized group. Will is called in to the acting Chiefs office given an assignment but the very dirty and underhanded chief. Seduce Dr Treherne and find out where her brother is. Her brother is a scientist (chemist) who has been working for the government developing a new drug, which was first said to be a flu vaccine, which morphed into another description... you get the picture. Even the guys in Black Ops don't know what he was working on. Rhys her brother ghosted a couple months ago with a thumb drive that the gov't wants their hands on. Badly. Angel and Will already know each other as Dr and patient. Neither give an inch. And especially now since he's flipped his demeanor and trying to seduce her. Even he thinks she's protecting him. This is one hell of a book and I did not put it down. There are so many twists and turns, there's some steam going on here, but suspense and mystery override that. Trust me, you won't miss the sex. The characters are more than enough to keep you glued to the pages. This book help my attention, captively. Some books just don't. You can read, but kind of skim along because it's the same sort of trope and you're not going to miss much. Not so with this gem. You have to stay in the game here and Incy keeps you engaged, totally. There were moments here that were honest to goodness breath holders. You couldn't tell what was going to happen at all. So many questions, oddities and plain old what the hell was that? I can't recommend this book highly enough. It was a great read and one I'd read again. I liked the relationship between Will and Angel. Even when I didn't like him. :) She's so snarky to his dickishness that it's perfection. I loved it. Can't say it enough. I'd love to see more from Ms Black!!! This book was aces. Read this book!! ***arc from NetGalley and published in exchange for a fair review***
Loved this book! Will is a special agent just returning to work after an injury when he is tasked with seducing a psychotherapist, Angel, to get info on her brother. Her brother is a scientist on the run from Will's agency for creating something dangerous and then knowing too much information that he has become a danger to those in power. Angel is a ice queen that Will dislikes, but will use to get the information the agency needs. As he tries to chip away at her icy facade, he starts to like the woman revealed....just in time to appreciate just how precarious her situation is. This is a very sexy story with many twists and turns that kept me guessing. I loved the push-pull chemistry between Will and Angel. Fans of the genre will love this book. I've added the author to my must read authors' list
This is the third novel in this series and I had previously read the second one, Hard to Forget, and found it an enthralling 5* read so I jumped at the chance to read this one and it was just as great IMHO! Special Agent Will Berwick is the leader of the secret Black Ops Assassin squad, based at The Cube, a team deeply hidden and working within the British Secret Service. Returning to work after he was almost fatally shot, Will has to be seen by Dr Angel Treherne, a forces psychotherapist. He’s resentful and uncooperative but then his temporary commanding officer orders him to woo and bed her to gain information about her missing brother. Will doesn’t like the idea one bit but is told orders must be obeyed and he’s to use his reputed charisma to good effect to discover more about her brother and his whereabouts. Angel is worried about her brother, Rhys, but understands why he’s disappeared. She’s loyal, too, and puts up an icy veneer whenever anyone tries to get close to her or asks about her brother. She’s also determined not to date Will but eventually succumbs to going to the ballet with him – more as a punishment than date as they both hate the ballet! However, fate is determined to intervene and she’s also willing to turn the tables on Will. From their highly antagonistic initial relationship they This is no cosy mystery, it is a gritty, action packed thriller with great characters, a plot that full of surprises and suspense and an unexpected ending! It is a real page turner, one in which both Will and Angel have survived tragedies in their past and their back stories are slowly revealed as they impact on both their actions and reactions. I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys fast paced thrillers written by a highly talented author and packed with suspense, sexual tension and the unanticipated! Thanks to the publisher for enabling me to read a copy of this via NetGalley. This is my honest review.