Five years ago they fell in love after one whirlwind summer. Now she's an internationally famous musician and he's officially out of the military, but when their worlds collide, can they keep things strictly professional? Sweet, thrilling, emotional, and sexy, fall in love with Megan and Jax in USA Today bestseller Sidney Halston's Kiss Marry Kill.
He's been chasing a memory . . .
It was just supposed to be a regular Thursday afternoon…and then he saw her. Sitting in seat L214, one seat over from his at the baseball game, right next to her douche of a soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend. An impromptu kiss for the kiss cam, and Jax knew his life would never be the same. Five years and a tour in Afghanistan later, Jax is back stateside running his own private security firm, Iron-Clad, with his best friend. He isn't the man he used to be... but Megan isn't the sexy and sweet, though sheltered, twenty-two-year-old he left behind, either. And she's in trouble.
...but now they're on the run.
Megan Cruz has made something of herself. She’s turned her dreams of pop stardom into a reality. But when a deadly stalker breaks into her home claiming to be her number-one fan, the only person she can turn to is the boy who got away. But Jax isn’t the same carefree charmer who stole her heart, then broke it when he joined the military. This man is seductive, hard, guarded. And he'll do anything to protect what's his.
"I rooted for this couple right from their hysterical meet-cute! This hot, overprotective action hero will leave you swooning.” - Tessa Bailey, New York Times Bestselling author
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Kiss Marry Kill
By Sidney Halston
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2017 Sidney Halston
All rights reserved.
"Promise me, you'll be happy," he sang from the other side of the door. "Promise me, you'll always sing. Promise me you'll never settle...." He jiggled the door handle. "Meggy? Where are you, my little mouse?" he said in a singsong voice, sounding nice enough. Soft enough. Safe enough. But Megan Cruz knew better. The man trying to lure her out of her enormous walk-in closet was deranged.
Megan huddled in a corner behind all of her cocktail dresses, her knees pushed up and a butcher knife in one of her trembling hands. Just waiting. Waiting for the cops to show up, or for Ryan to finally find her. If she could stop breathing, she would. Trying to stay perfectly still and utterly quiet was an impossible feat with her hands shaking so violently. Surely he could hear her fear from where he stood on the other side of the door. If he walked deep enough into the closet, the dresses that served as a barrier between them would not be sufficient to shield her. And the fact that he'd broken into her house in the middle of the night was a good indication that he did want to hurt her.
Twenty minutes earlier she had been sitting on her bed, completely immersed in writing some lyrics in her notebook, when she heard the sound of a window shattering downstairs. Her house may have been huge, but it wouldn't take long for whoever had broken in to find her, especially since her room was the first one up the grand staircase, even more obvious because of its huge double doors. Not about to sit and wait to find out if it was her stalker or a robber who had broken in, she immediately sent a text to her parents who lived close by, praying they'd understand the message: Break in. 911. Help! Then she silenced her phone and tucked it into her bra. She had also grabbed the enormous butcher knife she'd hid under mattress six months ago when Ryan had started sending her disturbing emails and letters. At that time she'd thought he was just an overzealous fan and had worried she was being overly cautious, but now, as she cowered in fear, she realized how wrong she'd been.
Megan actually held her breath when she heard the squeaky noise of the hinges of her closet door. He was inside now. Sweat dripped down her back and her heart pounded so loudly it seemed he had to have heard it. It felt as if it was going to physically come out of her chest, together with the sandwich she'd eaten a few hours ago. Peering under the hanging clothes she could see green Converse sneakers moving closer to where she sat curled into a small ball, her arms around her knees.
"Oh, Meggy, where are you? Sing for me, my naughty little mouse. Just one song. Just 'Promise Me,' that's my favorite." As he stepped closer, she tightened her grip on the knife. "You're supposed to make your fans happy." His voice was louder and more agitated this time.
She could hear the fabric running through his fingers as he caressed her clothes, shifting the fragile curtain of dresses and shirts she was hiding behind.
"Oh, this is what you wore to the Grammys last month!" He pulled the dress out, and Megan tensed when a sliver of light cut through her hiding place. The small gap where the dress had hung made her more visible, and if he happened to look down he'd undoubtedly see her on the floor behind the rest of the clothes. She shut her eyes.
"This is perfect. You can wear this when you sing for me at my house. Does anyone else know how much you love the chase, Meggy? Am I the only one that knows your secret? I have your new room all ready for you. We can play and sing all the time. ... It'll be so fun, Meggy." His feet were moving slowly, as if he had all the time in the world.
She could tell he was directly in front of her now by how close the sound of his heavy breathing was and by the way the rubber soles of his sneakers skidded against the wood floor.
She shut her eyes harder and braced herself.
She didn't need her eyes open to see him — the memory was burned into her brain. His face was unassuming and his body unimposing. White skin, rounded cheeks, kind-looking face, maybe even cute, if he wasn't a complete sociopath. He wasn't too thin or too large, not too tall, not too short. Just an ordinary-looking guy. One you would smile at in line for coffee or at the grocery store. The nonthreatening Good Samaritan who helped you with your flat tire. Completely harmless, completely average, except for his eyes, gray eyes that were a bit too large and had a slight tilt upward, reminding her of a cat. Gray eyes that could be considered attractive if it weren't for the coldness behind them.
Megan didn't want to die looking into that coldness. She didn't want to die hiding in her closet, with the creepy man asking her to sing the song that was about the best four days of her entire life. The four days that also changed the course of her life. Ironic, she would potentially die thinking of those memories.
"Come on, Meggy, where are you hiding? Don't make me get upset at you. I don't think I want to play anymore." She opened her eyes and the green Converses turned as if he was going to leave, but stopped. The tips of his shoes were mere inches from her bare feet, which were tight against her body. She pressed her heel even closer to her butt. Oh, how she wished she was more flexible or had been consistent with her Pilates classes. Because right now, she had no place to go. She was cornered, and she couldn't make herself any smaller than she already was. All that separated her from the nightmare was the clothing hanging between them. His rank smell of perspiration filled her nostrils and made her want to gag, causing her to breathe through her mouth instead of her nose. She was afraid to look up and find him staring back at her with those deranged gray eyes. Fear bubbled up in her throat, and holding back a terrified scream was nearly choking her.
A sudden banging from downstairs made her jerk, and she saw his feet move quickly out of the closet. There was another bang and then another loud noise, like her front door being rammed open, followed by voices. She had her hands over her ears and her face tucked into her knees. Then it was quiet.
* * *
Jackson "Jax" Irons sat in the situation room of Iron-Clad Security watching two of his best recruits get ambushed in the middle of the Syrian Desert.
"Fucking hell, Josef!" Jax barked, standing up and leaning forward, his eyes monitoring the dots in motion on the multiple screens. It was pitch-black in the desert at this time and even with the infrared satellite imaging it was impossible to see more than colored dots, each of which represented one of the insurgents — colored dots that were getting closer and closer to their team. It was like a shit version of an eighties Atari video game, but in this game the loser always got dead.
"Damn intel!" Josef, Jax's best friend and the co-owner of Iron-Clad Security, threw down his headset. "This shit happens with Fed jobs every fucking time!" He typed something into the computer that brought up a wider aerial view of the location on one of the monitors. Mountains ringed their men from the back and to the west. Essentially, they were trapped.
"They just need to stay alive for two more goddamn minutes, Joey," Jax shouted — as if Josef had any control over the FUBAR scene playing out in front of them. Leaning into the conference call system in the middle of the table, Jax pressed the speaker button that connected him to his team abroad. "Hang tight. Cavalry is ninety seconds out." Jesus, he was getting too damn old for this shit. Sweat trailed down his back and his heart beat rapidly against his chest as he stared at the screens in front of the room. ICS hadn't lost a man yet, and today wouldn't be the day.
Joey stood by the table, looking at the dots come closer and closer to their men as the insurgents neared.
Where the fuck was backup? Jax ran a hand down his face and gripped his beard. These guys had families, wives, kids. The in-and-out mission was supposed to be simple, easy, meant to get the new recruits' feet wet. He'd practically guaranteed his team's safety when he'd recruited them for the job.
But nothing about this damn op had gone according to plan. He should've been there with them. He'd taken on and planned the mission, and he normally went himself. Except that his leg had been acting up and like a pussy, he'd heeded Joey's advice and sent Brian and Jason instead.
They never went on a mission blind, but here he was, blind as a fucking bat.
"ETA?" Joey barked into the phone. Then the sound coming from the speaker changed and his pulse calmed at hearing the familiar whop whop sound of helicopter blades cutting through the air. "Jesus, they're finally there," Joey sighed, turning back to the speaker. "Heads up, boys. Bird incoming to your east."
Jax tensed when the sound of a firefight erupted through the coms. "Fuck!" he roared, pressing the speaker button. "Heads down. Asses on the chopper. Don't get fucking shot!"
"Goddamn clusterfuck," Joey said, typing into the screen to zoom closer to the scene unfolding.
Instead of the voices of the crew assuring them of their safety, a jumbled cacophony of noises — gunshots, men cursing, and the blades from the approaching helicopter — came in through the com.
Joey and Jax looked at the screen with bated breath, red flares indicating firing, either from guns or from explosives. The muffled voices of their men and now the crew in the sky made it difficult to ascertain who was under attack. After agonizing minutes, the noise cleared.
"We're on," Brian's voice called out from the speaker. "Target in hand, minor injuries, nothing serious. All men accounted for."
Joey slammed his palm on the table and slid down into his chair. "I just aged ten years. It was too close this time. A few more minutes and they'd have come back in body bags."
Jax pressed the button on the speaker. "Good job. Get some rest. We'll touch base when you get back." Then he too slid down into the nearest chair. Normally, they had other members of the team at the ready but this was supposed to be an easy mission. No muss no fuss. Mister X had a USB drive with info from a high-level Syrian official that he was willing to sell to Uncle Sam by way of ICS for the right price. The fucker was being paid millions by the US of A. The team had been assured he was trustworthy and had been vetted carefully. ICS was hired merely to connect up with Mister X and retrieve and extract the USB drive. Simple enough.
An ambush two miles out of the city had not been part of the motherfucking plan.
"I've been here for twenty fucking hours. I'm out. Need a drink," Jax said, slapping Joey's shoulder before leaving his best friend and partner to handle the debrief.
* * *
Ten minutes later, Jax sat in a corner of Yellowstreet, a dive bar a block from his apartment in Miami, nursing a beer. It was the bar he always went to after long hours at work — it reminded him of the shitholes he'd frequented with his unit years ago when they were on pass for the weekend. The stale beer, old nuts, sticky floor, and smell of cigarettes were comforting. It was the first time in weeks he'd been able to have a moment to himself, and downing a beer at Yellowstreet was how he wanted to spend it.
His leg had been acting up for a while, but today the metal plates felt like razor blades rubbing against his muscles. Why did he always do this to himself? He must be some sort of masochist, because between the bullshit mission earlier today and the pain in this leg, Yellowstreet would do nothing but serve as a reminder of all that he'd lost. And damn it, he'd lost a lot.
His second tour in Iraq had been cut short fourteen months ago due to an ambush at base that killed five of his seven guys. He himself had suffered extensive injuries to the right side of his body, injuries that had led to half a year in a German hospital. Eight months ago he was honorably discharged and came back home to Miami with a slight limp, recurring hip pain, and a shitload of survivor's guilt. The only souvenir he'd gotten in return was all the metal used to fuse together his femur. And Miami's humidity made it probably the worst possible place to live with all that metal. But Miami was home, so now, together with his best friend and US Marine brother Joey Clad, he co-owned Iron-Clad Security.
* * *
ICS had been his unit's dream — their exit plan once they left the military and the godforsaken heat of the Middle East behind. A dream of opening a security firm stateside that would utilize each of their specific skill sets, from overseeing the security plans for a new company, to an unusual hacking request from a spurned wife, to corporate espionage or bodyguard work for a dignitary or a movie star. But then most of his men — his friends — hadn't made it back alive and so the eightman security firm became a two-man team. And since Jax was six foot two and excelled in hand-to-hand combat, he was the muscle behind ICS while Joey was the brains. When there was a request for a bodyguard or security detail, Jax did it. When there was a cyber-security issue or a need for surveillance or infiltration, Joey was the man for the job.
Stretching his hurt leg, Jax leaned back in his booth to watch the Miami Marlins play the Red Sox, something that always brought him joy. Just last month he'd gone to the home opener, like he did every year except for the few times he'd been abroad. But lately even baseball made him nostalgic, bringing up too many memories. Memories of times that could never be recreated.
Feeling melancholic, Jax had a beer mug up to his lips when the baseball game on the flatscreen was interrupted by the local news.
We are just getting reports that local celebrity Megan Cruz, lead singer of TNT, was assaulted in her home on Star Island about an hour ago. It is uncertain whether Cruz is hurt. Cruz has previously reported two incidents involving a stalker. It is unclear whether those two incidents are connected to this one. What is known, however, is that the perpetrator was able to escape through a window before being apprehended by the authorities. Stay tuned for more information on the eleven o'clock news. If you have information you are urged to call ...
Jax almost dropped his beer. A stock photo of Megan was staring back at him on the television.
Megan Cruz? My Megan Cruz?
When he'd known Megan, she was an ultraconservative, sheltered twenty-two-year-old about to start law school. He wasn't sure which of the two statements — stalker or singer — shocked him most, but the stalking was definitely what had him immediately on the move.
His heart faltered. What if she was hurt? Even though it had been too many years since he'd last seen her, knowing she was out there somewhere had helped get him through some rough days. She was an idealized memory of a perfect time and place. Always, he pictured her in a house with a white picket fence and children surrounding her. In his vivid imagination, she was always content. And even if it hurt him somewhere deep and hollow that her imagined happy life did not include him, it was okay because he'd always wanted the best for her.
But a world where there was no Megan Cruz? That was a world he wanted no part of. And of all the things he imagined she was up to, all these years later, her being hurt — or worse, dead — was never even in the realm of possibility.
The news hit him like a two-by-four to the head.
Without a second thought, he tossed some money on the table and jogged out of the bar, a surge of anxiety hitting him all at once. Not bothering to put on his helmet, he hopped onto his Harley Fat Boy and took off for Star Island, which was just a few miles away. His heart was beating so rapidly he had to literally close his eyes and count to ten at a stoplight, just like he'd learned in therapy.
What was he even doing? Barging in on Megan because of a report he'd seen on the television? It had been too many years. She probably didn't even know who he was. Was he insane?
Fuck yeah he was.
When it came to Megan, he'd always been off his game. But he was going to go see with his own two eyes what the hell was happening. If nothing else, he could offer her his services: ICS was, after all, the best security firm in Miami.
Yeah, that's why he was hightailing it to Star Island, because he wanted to work for her. Who was he kidding?
On his way, Jax used his Bluetooth to call Joey and tell him to put together all the information possible on Megan. Joey was, after all, the best damn hacker the military had ever honorably discharged. He needed to know everything he'd missed in order to help her, assuming she needed help. But he couldn't do that if he had absolutely no clue who she was anymore.
Excerpted from Kiss Marry Kill by Sidney Halston. Copyright © 2017 Sidney Halston. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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