There aren’t many places to get a cool drink in the middle of the New Mexico desert, and divorced bar owner Blue Delgado likes it that way. Little to no competition means that she gets to call the shots: her cantina, her rules. But there’s something about her new cook that sets her senses tingling—and it’s not just the way Diego fills out his jeans. When an old friend warns her that her life is in danger, Blue realizes she doesn’t know anything about her new employee—except that Diego excites her to the core. Could a man she is so attracted to be trying to kill her?
All Diego Santerra has are his instincts, honed to precision as a member of an elite tactical squad. He keeps no personal ties that could compromise his missions: no family, no friends. His work is his life, and his new case is no exception. But the moment Diego lays eyes on the woman he is assigned to protect, he realizes that everything is about to change. As trained killers set their sights on Blue, Diego knows it’s going to take everything he has to keep her alive—and to make her love him.
Includes a special message from the editor, as well as excerpts from these Loveswept titles: Deep Autumn Heat, Callie’s Cowboy, and About Last Night.
About the Author
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Diego Santerra made a killer salsa.
He also made a pretty damn good killer.
This was the first time he could recall getting paid to do both.
He pulled the dusty green Jeep around the side of the small stucco building and parked next to the shiny black Harley Fat Boy he knew belonged to the cantina’s owner. Blue Delgado.
He knew everything about Blue a person could learn from constant observation. The briefing he’d received in Miami three weeks before heading here to New Mexico had filled in the rest. Yes, he knew more about Blue Delgado than the Villa Roja residents who’d known her all her life.
Except for one thing. When would Jacounda strike? That was why he had agreed to abandon his anonymous surveillance and step inside the dimly lit little bar in search of a job. As a cook, of all things.
Diego hadn’t counted on the job being the one, and probably only, thing he did for himself, for whatever little pleasure there was in it. But he’d kept silent, agreed to the cover. He made it a rule to give away only what was absolutely necessary. And he had damn little to start with. So cook he would. Along with anything else that became necessary to get the job done.
It was that unshakable personal code that had made him first choice for Seve “Del” Delgado’s elite tactical squad, known since shortly after its formation as Delgado’s Dirty Dozen.
No one had to remind Diego that, almost ten years later, less than half the original team remained alive. And if Diego didn’t complete this mission successfully, the next to fall would be Del himself.
He pulled his black Resistol down over his forehead a bit farther and pushed open the door to the bar. Even though it was barely ten o’clock in the morning, there were two men occupying barstools, sipping beer. Three more were playing pool on one of the two worn tables wedged into the space between the door and the bar. Several small vinyl-covered tables lined the wall by the front window, but they were empty.
Diego glanced once at the men, then dismissed them. He strode over to the end of the bar, propped his foot on the rail, and pressed his hands on the teak surface.
The bartender was an older Latino gentleman. Diego knew him to be Blue’s uncle, Tejo Delgado. The older man continued to wipe down a glass with the corner of his apron as he moved toward Diego.
“Cervesa, señor?” he asked, his accent noticeable, but not overwhelming. “Coffee?”
Diego shook his head. “I’m here about the job.” He nodded to the hand-lettered sign taped to the front window. It had been put up only two hours earlier. “You need a cook.”
Of course, the old man didn’t have to know that Diego had known about the job opening yesterday. Del, or more likely another member of the Dirty Dozen, had seen to that little detail.
“Sí, that is true,” Tejo said, “Señor …?”
“Santerra.” Diego straightened and offered his hand. “Diego.”
Tejo smiled, revealing one gold-plated incisor amid a host of gleaming white teeth. “Ah, Don Diego. Just like in Zorro.”
It wasn’t the first time he’d been reminded of his fictional namesake, and would likely not be the last. He hated being back in the Southwest. “Something like that, yes,” he muttered.
If the old man was aware he hadn’t exactly flattered Diego with the comparison, he didn’t show it. “Tejo Delgado.” He extended his hand. “My niece Blue, she’s the one you need to see, amigo.”
Diego gave his hand a brief shake. He knew the man to be in his late sixties, a good ten years Del’s senior, but there was plenty of steel in his grip. Diego wasn’t surprised. Just as he wasn’t surprised by the intensity of the quick yet thorough once-over Tejo gave him before releasing his hand. Diego expected nothing less from Del’s brother.
“She have an office?” Diego knew the layout of the cantina as well, if not better, than the owners did, but he waited patiently for Tejo to answer.
He nodded to the side. “Past the end of the bar, third door to the left.”
Diego nodded and pushed away from the bar.
“Knock first,” the old man added.
Diego paused at the sudden edge in the otherwise friendly tone. He respected that. He also knew that there were few women on earth who needed that protective instinct less than Blue Delgado.
Until now, anyway.
He looked over his shoulder, dipped his chin once, then headed to the back of the building.
The door to the small office was old, scarred, warped from the heat … and standing open at least a foot. The room beyond was one large mass of clutter, in which the desk in the center seemed to serve as nothing more than an oversized paperweight. Keeping his word, he rapped the door once with his knuckles.
The woman seated behind the desk, nose buried in a stack of what looked like old-fashioned record books, didn’t so much as flinch. He wasn’t surprised. As far as he could tell, nothing fazed Blue Delgado.
“Enter at your own risk,” she said, not looking up.
He’d heard her voice before, but only from a distance. Up close, there was a texture he hadn’t heard before. One that slid across his nerve endings like a taut bowstring. Not only was it warm and deep, but there was a rough quality, as if she’d used it once too many times the night before.
He stepped inside and found a relatively empty space of floor near the front of her desk. Not in the least unnerved by her continued silence, he took the opportunity to run a once-over of the room in the daylight. The room was a bonfire of paper begging for a match.
And the potential for that to “accidentally” happen—preferably with an unaware Blue inside at the time—didn’t escape him.
“In a moment.” She flipped one book closed and shoved it aside to get to another one.
The hairs on his arms lifted in pleasure. He allowed himself the luxury of the sensation. It was all he’d likely get out of this job, and he wasn’t a man to ignore life’s small pleasures. His life didn’t offer up any other kind.
Watching Blue Delgado for the past three weeks had not been a hardship. She was an incredibly striking woman. And she knew it. Diego respected that too. He never understood why anyone wasted time pretending to ignore the obvious.
Not that she flaunted the sleek waterfall of black hair that flowed down her back, or did anything to emphasize the prominent cheekbones and dark eyes handed down to her from her Spanish ancestors. She was of average height, but the rest of her body was a masterpiece of design. The clothes she chose were functional, not flattering, though he had to admit she could wear burlap and twine and still turn heads. Certainly his.
No, Blue Delgado’s awareness of her fortunate genetics wasn’t obvious. He knew by the way she moved. The way she spoke. Laughed. The way she rode that Harley of hers as if it had been built to be put between her legs for her exclusive use and pleasure.
She slapped the book shut and looked up. “What do you want?” The question was straight and to the point. Blue Delgado in a thumbnail description.
“The job as your cook.”
She looked him over. The examination was swift and thorough in a way that would be the envy of some officers he’d had the displeasure of being interrogated by in past years. He didn’t mind it in the least this time.
He was tempted to ask what his appearance had to do with his cooking ability, just to hear her answer. But he knew her sharp observation had little to do with the label on his jeans and everything to do with assessing the man that filled them. Something else he respected.
“You cook?” she asked.
She didn’t smile, but the gleam that entered her black eyes was reward enough. “For more than one person at a time?”
“When I’m lucky.” She was as sharp as she was beautiful.
Oh, this woman would be fun to play with. He’d known that after less than twenty-four hours on the job. He just hadn’t expected to find that tantalizing bit of knowledge so difficult to ignore.
But then he hadn’t expected he’d have to deal with her personally. Much less work for her.
None of which changed the bottom line. He’d broken more rules than he’d ever followed, but one he kept sacred was the division between work and play. Playing on the job got people dead.
She stood. He sighed inwardly. A damn shame, though. A real damn shame.
“The kitchen is through that door.” She motioned across the hall behind him. “Lunch is in an hour. If you’re still here by six and no one has threatened to shoot me.” She paused to run her gaze over him again. It was totally impersonal and all the more erotic for the easy nonchalance. “Or you,” she added, “then you have the job.”
Diego held her gaze for just a split second beyond what was acceptable. At the door he looked back over his shoulder. “No ID or tax information?”
Her attention was already back on the open ledger in front of her. “If you’re still here at six, I’ll worry about it then.”
“You don’t even know my name.”
She glanced up and nailed him with a steady look that made him glad he was on her side.
“You made it past Tejo,” was all she said, then looked down again. She flipped open another accounting book, shutting him out more completely, more effectively than anyone he’d ever encountered.
Except perhaps her father. Diego’s boss.
The man she and Tejo thought had died thirteen years ago.