The sexy heroes of Black Ops, Inc., a covert private security team, sizzle in New York Times bestselling author Cindy Gerard's electrifying new romantic suspense series.
THE SULTRY HEAT...
Only two things can compel journalist Jenna McMillan back to Buenos Aires after terrorists held her captive there just months before: a rare interview with a shadowy billionaire and the memory of the dark and dangerous man who saved her....
HIDES THE DEADLIEST THREATS...
Bad guys, bombs, and bullets are Gabriel Jones's way of life. But he'll never forget the brash redhead he rescued not so long ago...or the passionate kiss they shared before he sent her packing....
AND EXPOSES THE DEEPEST DESIRES.
Now, forced together by a bombing at the National Congress, Jenna and Gabe confront the urgent longings that simmer between them. But this surprise meeting is no coincidence. A ruthless enemy stalks them with deadly precision. The question is...if they make it out alive, will Gabe turn his back on Jenna...again?
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Nine years later
"Okay, problem child. Back you go," Jenna McMillan murmured when a white-faced calf made a break from the herd. Then she hung on and let the sturdy bay she was riding have his head.
A week ago, on the first day of the cattle drive when they'd started moving her dad's herd down the mountain, Jenna had learned that the gelding didn't need her help. The horse knew exactly what he was doing and like he always did, he cut that little doggie off at the pass.
Not so long ago, Jenna had known what she was doing, too. Now, not so much, she thought.
Dewey Gleason rode up beside her and flashed her one of his contagious grins.
"What are you smiling at you old trail dog?" She tried to sound put out with her dad's long time foreman, but she couldn't stall her own grin.
"You, baby girl. I'm just smiling at you."
Dewey was one of those born on a ranch, work-on-aranch, die-on-a-ranch cowboys. The genuine article. He'd been with her dad for close to thirty years now. Dewey sat a saddle like a train sat a rail. Jenna strongly suspected that her rusty horsemanship was the source of his amusement.
"So I make you laugh, do I?" she asked. "You and the boys weren't laughing last night when I cleaned you all out at the poker table." Cleaned out to the sum total of eleven dollars and twenty-three cents from the lot of them. Big spenders all, she thought, remembering Dewey counting his pocket change and deciding whether to call.
"I ain't laughin', Jenna Rose. Just thinkin'."
"Now there's a scary notion."
"I was thinking," he went on, "that before you went off to see the world and write your news stories you were a real cowgirl," he said, but not unkindly.
"Tell me about it," she agreed, shifting in the saddle to relieve the trail-weary ache in her butt.
Yeah, once she'd been a real cowgirl. Now she was just playing at it. Playing and passing time as she rode along with the real drovers. Still, her pride was wounded.
"Do I really look that green?"
Dewey shifted leather reins from one gnarled hand to the other. "You'll always look good to me, Jenna Rose," he said, then true to form when he realized he was waxing a little sentimental, Dewey blushed to his ear tips.
"You're still an old softy, Dewey Gleason."
Jenna would always have a soft spot for him. He'd taught her to ride. Taught her to rope. Taught her that the measure of a man wasn't determined by education or how much money he had.
Yup, Dewey was the real deal. She loved that about him.
Like the gentleman he was, when another stray tried to run, Dewey tipped his fingers to the brim of his old stained Stetson before kneeing his mount and giving chase.
Her gelding decided to follow. The bay lunged and did a little crow-hop, almost unseating her.
See, Dewey, she thought, dredging up a small kernel of satisfaction, I still sit pretty tight in the saddle.
"Don't be lookin' too smug there, Missy."
There was a hint of amusement in her dad's warning as his voice drifted through the fall chill and the dust two hundred odd head of Angus stirred as they ambled down the snaking trail from the high plains and summer grazing to the south pasture where they would spend the coming winter.
"That little bay's got spunk." He reined in his buckskin to keep pace beside her. "He'll dump you yet if you don't watch him."
Because he wanted her to smile, Jenna grinned at her dad and gave him a thumbs-up sign. Unlike Dewey, who looked like a piece of scarred, worn leather, her dad was still a handsome man despite the deep creases etched around his eyes from sun and time and smiles. But like Dewey, her dad had reason to be concerned about her riding. She was rusty, and they all knew that she'd been dumped from the back of a horse more than once. X-rays would show a hairline crack in her left forearm to commemorate one of those falls.
Long time ago, she reflected, buttoning the top button of her shearling jacket and turtling deeper into the wooly collar to ward off the cold.
Not so long ago, she'd been dumped again, she mused as she and her dad rode in companionable silence. Well, not so much dumped as dismissed. In her book, that amounted to pretty much the same thing.
Gabriel Jones had despised her at first sight, on general principle and because he was a narrow-minded, heartless alpha dog. She'd walked away from him and Argentina nine months ago. She hadn't been able to get him out of her stupid head since.
It royally ticked her off.
So did her reaction to the note Hank Emerson, her editor at Newsday, had sent by overnight mail two days ago. Guilt. Hank had managed to make her feel guilty. He wanted her back on the job.
I need you down there, Jenna. You're the only one who can do this story. Maxim asked for you. Said he wouldn't trust it to anyone but you. Besides, you know the territory.
Yeah. Jenna knew the territory, all right. That's why the thought of going back to Argentina scared her.
And yet, the story enticed her.
Hank was right, Emilio Maxim was big news. There was a story there. Maybe a big story. It was a story she could nail if she could just dredge up the guts to go back and face a contingent of demons.
"How long are you going to distance yourself from the hard news with those little fluff pieces you've been turning in, Jen?" Hank had asked yesterday when he'd followed up his note with a phone call. "I don't want the plight of the caribou in Alaska from you. I don't want to know what you know about the disappearing honey bees, for chrissake.
"I want a Jenna McMillan story. Something with teeth. Something with fire."
He'd softened his tone then and Jenna could almost see him raking his fingers through his gray hair. "Jenna. What the hell happened to you down there?"
What happened in Argentina was something Jenna had never shared with anyone. That wasn't going to change. Hank would never know. Neither would her parents.
How could she tell them that when she'd been in Buenos Aires searching for a man by the name of Edward Walker, she'd been abducted, blindfolded, and driven to a dust and adobe village in the middle of nowhere then locked in a six-by-six-foot, vermin-infested cell without food or water for days?
How could she confess that just when she'd thought she was going to rot there, she'd been hauled away again by rifle-toting thugs who had thrown her in the back of a battered pick-up and taken her to a camp full of their warthog kind?
She shivered. The bastards had had all kinds of vile acts in mind for her before she'd finally been rescued.
By Gabriel Jones.
Then the real nightmare had begun.
But don't cry for me, Argentina, she thought sourly.
She'd been doing enough crying on her own, thank you very much. All of that boo-hooing and poor-meing had turned her into a cowardly, spineless wimp.
That knowledge stuck in her craw like glue because the old Jenna McMillan didn't quit. Didn't cower. Didn't back down. Her mom was fond of saying that Jenna had been all of two years old when her dad had set her on the back of a horse and she'd been galloping full speed at life ever since.
If she fell off -- and she'd fallen off plenty in both her career and her personal life -- she always climbed back in the saddle.
Where was that woman? she thought grimly. And when is the old Jenna McMillan going to report for duty?
She forced a bright smile when she realized her dad was watching her with a puzzled frown. "So, how ya doing?" she asked before he could ask her.
She already knew the answer. He was getting older, that's how he was doing. So was her mom. Jenna worried about them. The difficult Wyoming winters and hard work had taken a toll. A lot of years had passed while she'd been off to college as a nursing major before switching gears. A stint as a volunteer for the campus newspaper had led her into journalism and an unending chase to capture stories around the world.
Haven't chased too many stories lately, though, have you, hotshot?
No, not so many, she thought with a defeated breath. Hank was right. She'd checked out. Bailed out. And now she was hiding out.
"I'm doing fine, Jenny. I was about to ask the same of you."
She shot him a wide grin. "Me? I'm great."
She breathed deep of the crisp mountain air, looked skyward, watch a jet trail heading south dissecting the pristine perfection of a vast blue sky. Once she'd have been itching to be on that plane -- on any plane -- following the next big story. Chasing the next big lead.
She wasn't chasing anything but dust now, much to Hank's dismay. She'd been his go-to guy for several years, covering assignments in every political and wartorn hotspot on the globe -- Mogadishu, Beirut, Gaza, Kabul, Baghdad, to name a few. Many of those stories had been for Hank. She'd thrived on the action and adventure. Even relished the very real threat of danger.
Argentina had gotten to her. Argentina had debunked the myth of "fearless Jenna McMillan."
The standard joke among her colleagues was a takeoff on an old breakfast cereal commercial: "Let's get Jenna to try it. She'll try anything once."
Well, she wasn't fearless now. She was gutless. After Argentina, she'd turned down stories baby reporters would wet their pants over.
What the hell happened to you down there? And when are you going to get over it?
Yeah, that was the question, all right. And that's why last week she'd thrown a few things in a bag, locked up her D.C. apartment, and come home. To get over it.
Only no Houdini type had shown up to make the boogie man magically disappear. Which meant that she was the only one who could make it happen.
The brim of her dad's brown Resistol shadowed his face from the autumn sun but didn't hide the concern in his eyes. Even before he spoke again in that slow, thoughtful way he had, she knew he had her number.
"If you're so great, what are you doing here, sweetie?"
She'd never been able to lie to him. She felt weary suddenly. And guilty again for lying now.
"I'm resting, Dad. Just resting." She hedged because she couldn't tell him that she'd lost her nerve. About a lot of things.
"Hold that thought." Her father veered off to reunite a mother and her calf.
Jenna rode on. The sound of shuffling hoofs, lowing cattle, and crooning drovers, the scent of cow dung and autumn faded into the background and damn if thoughts of Gabriel Archangel Jones didn't rise out of the dust to complicate things even more. Just like thoughts of him had been complicating her life since she'd left him.
Gabriel Jones. They called him the Archangel, but she'd figured out early on that there was nothing an gelic about that man. Or the about the Arc-Angel Butterfly knife perpetually strapped to his side or to his leg or wherever he could get to it when he needed it.
Jenna was tall. Five-nine. Gabe was taller. Possibly six-five. A very big man. He probably weighed a good two-twenty, two twenty-five pounds, and he had the skills to use his size to lethal advantage. She'd seen him in action, and she had no doubt that he knew how to deliver a fatal blow to virtually every vulnerable area on the human body, both in theory and in practice.
The man was dangerous. Times ten. The truth was, Jenna didn't really know much about him other than he knew how to operate damn near every kind of weapon in any army's arsenal, knew how to stage an assault that made mincemeat out of the bad guys, and that he could piss her off with a look.
Oh, yeah -- and that he could kiss like no man had ever kissed her.
Not that she'd admitted it to him. You didn't give Gabe Jones any advantage. He'd use it to cut you off at the knees.
Weak knees, she thought grimly and ducked low over the pommel to avoid an over-hanging aspen branch. God, he was something.
He wasn't only a big man, he was a hard man: hard, brittle eyes, hard, deep scowl. He was also darkly attractive and perilously intense.
Even before she'd met him, she'd heard rumblings about the Archangel on the streets of Buenos Aires. Some reports had said he was dead, killed in Colombia in a raid on a drug cartel stronghold gone bad. Some said he was a ghost. An angel come back to avenge those who had dared cross him. No doubt he found it amusing and to his benefit that he was somewhat of a legend on the Patagonia and the back streets of the city.
She'd seen how men stepped aside when Jones walked within striking distance. At the airport, before she'd left for the States, she'd seen how women responded to him. They'd watched him with sexy cat eyes, clearly wondering what it would take to tame this man with the darkly alluring aura of the devil.
Jenna could have told them. One long piercing glare from his hard, dark gaze, and she'd understood: No woman was going to tame the Archangel.
Not that he'd have trouble finding willing bed partners. He attracted interested looks the same way he attracted danger. Make no mistake, though, and she'd thought about this a lot: Gabriel Jones would not make love to a woman. He'd have sex. Sweaty and rough. Raw and primal.
Another shiver ran down her spine that had nothing to do with the chill mountain air and everything to do with an image of Jones, naked, needy, and demanding, in her bed.
It made her think about the last time she'd seen him. The Argentinian sun had glinted off the sheen of his thick dark hair; his broad shoulders had cast a long, imposing shadow across the tarmac at Ezeiza, the Buenos Aires International Airport. He hadn't had much to say. His lips had been compressed in thought, his jaw unyielding, while a look fathoms dark, coalmine deep, masked any emotions that might be seen in his eyes.
Yeah. A very hard man. Not to mention mysterious and cynical. Maybe in another lifetime, she'd thought then, she might have wanted to get to know him and find out what he hid behind that warrior's face that gave away nothing.
Her dad, astride his buckskin, ambled back to herside and picked up on their lapsed conversation. "You know that old sayin', Jen? The one that goes, 'you can't go home again'?"
She looked at him sharply, distancing herself from the vivid memories of Jones.
"Well, the thing is," he went on when she didn't respond, "there's more than a grain of truth to it. At least you can't go home to the 'home' you knew as a young'un."
"Home is home," she said, feeling defensive suddenly as the herd meandered down the ravine. "The sky's still blue. The mountains are still high. You're still my dad."
"And you said good-bye to all of it a long time ago."
Yeah. Because she'd had things to do. Worlds to conquer.
"You know you're always welcome here, darlin'. Your mom hasn't stopped smiling since you showed up. Well, except at night. After you turn in, she looks at me with those worried eyes of hers and tells me to talk to you. To find out what's eatin' you."
They were too perceptive, her mom and dad. She felt bad that they worried about her.
"Me, I figure you're hiding out," he went on in that wise, gentle way he had. "From what, I don't know. And that's your business."
Way too perceptive.
"But I do know one thing," he added in his steady, reassuring tone. "Whatever's working on you, you aren't going to find the answer here. And you aren't going to fix it by running away from it. The thing about you, girl, is that no matter how many times you got thrown off a horse, you always climbed back in the saddle. It's not in your nature to deal with a setback any other way."
Moments passed to the creak of saddle leather and cattle sounds. And in those moments, Jenna thought of her friend, Amy Walker, and the horrors Amy had endured at the hands of Abu Sayyaf terrorists in the jungles of the Philippines. What Amy had endured would have broken most women. Yet Amy, at great risk and at great cost, had confronted an even bigger threat and come out stronger for it.
Amy hadn't hidden out.
Like Jenna was hiding.
"What if that's changed?" She fixed her gaze on the distant horizon. She couldn't look at her dad and let him see the uncertainty in her eyes. "What if I've lost my nerve?"
"There's no shame in that," he said after mulling over her confession. "We all get tested in this old life. The shame comes from not trying to find it again. I say that only because I know you. You aren't going to like yourself much until you square yourself away, and that's not going to happen playin' cowpoke around here."
But I want to play cowpoke, the pouty little girl in her whined. She wanted to stay right here, pretend the rest of the world didn't exist, and pray for some obscure sense of safety to kick in. She wanted to recapture the security of her childhood that had cushioned all the hard blows and cocooned her from life's ugly truths.
She wanted to forget about the nightmare she'd discovered in Argentina. Stop seeing the flames as the MC6 compound had exploded. Stop smelling the stench of burning flesh and the scent of blood from the bodies that had fallen around them.
And she wanted to quit thinking about Gabriel Jones.
But guess what? So far, none of that had happened, had it? The truth was, somewhere in the back of her mind, she'd known it wasn't going to. Not hiding out here. She just hadn't wanted to acknowledge that her comfort zone wasn't all that comfy anymore.
Her dad was right. She had to find her nerve again, and Hank was offering her the opportunity to do it. Which meant -- God, she hated to admit it -- that she had to suck it up and get herself back to Argentina.
Something her dad already knew. Something she'd known but just hadn't wanted to admit.
"How'd you get so smart, Daddy?"
Her father chuckled and resettled his hat. "I married a smart woman. Stands to reason that some of it would rub off after all these years." Copyright © 2008 by Cindy Gerard
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