New York Times bestselling author Cindy Gerard's red-hot new romantic suspense series features the irresistible men of Black Ops, Inc., a special team of heroes with a taste for living on the edge....
A Dangerous Attraction...
Abbie Hughes no longer trusts men, but despite her cool indifference, her long legs and showgirl face still draw plenty of attention. Between working as a blackjack dealer, going to school, and keeping an eye on her younger brother, Cory, there's no time for romantic adventures -- until the night a sexy, mysterious stranger places a wager at her table.
Spurred by revenge...
Sam Lang left Black Ops, Inc. when tragedy struck his family. Although he's determined to retire his M-16 rifle to lead a quiet life on his ranch, a vengeful quest will send him on a manhunt for the ruthless multimillionaire who murdered his sister.
...Reveals a savage threat they can't ignore.
Though Sam suspects Abbie is in on a lucrative gem-smuggling deal her brother made with the enemy, their attraction is undeniable. Now Cory is missing, and together they search the wild Honduras backcountry to find him. With danger on their trail, they must trust each other completely or face certain death alone....
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Las Rosas, Honduras
A gecko, low slung, forked feet flying, skittered across the sill of an open window, hauling ass as if it actually had somewhere to go.
Lucky little bastard.
Sam Lang watched him through world-weary eyes -- jealous of a damn lizard because at the moment, Sam had exactly nowhere to go. And nothing to do.
Nothing but sit here, slouched at a crude wooden table in a shadowed corner of a crumbling adobe cantina, like he'd sat here for the past three days. Nothing but amuse himself watching insect-eating egg-laying reptiles and wishing he were anywhere but Las Rosas, Honduras, on yet one more wild-goose chase.
No, he was not having fun yet.
While the action in the cantina was stagnant and slow, years of caution and force of habit had Sam sitting with his back to the wall. Thirst and boredom had his fingers wrapped around a lukewarm can of Polar. He wiped his cuff over the lip of the can, then tilted it to his mouth as the gecko shot away again.
Fast little sucker. Speed-of-sound fast compared to the rest of the populace in this dusty and rodent-infested hamlet where time crawled, stalled, and stopped dead in the noon heat of the Central American sun. The gecko obviously knew something Sam and the handful of patrons of this squalid, sweltering cantina didn't because, hell, even the flies didn't bother to buzz over pools of stale, spilled beer. Nope. Not a lot of action -- with the notable exception of the gecko and the X-rated show taking place in the middle of what could loosely be called a dance floor, where a man and a woman performed what could loosely be called a dance.
Sam had known better. He should have dragged his partner, Johnny Duane Reed, out of this dive three hours ago when they'd officially decided their guy wasn't going to show. So far, the "tip" that they might get the goods on Fredrick Nader hadn't panned out. With each tick of a very slow-moving clock, it became more apparent that they'd run up against one more dead end.
Big surprise. Sam had been tracking the elusive German for months. He'd set trap after trap, harassed the hell out of Nader, whose "legitimate" international enterprises were merely fronts for every type of terrorist activity known to man. Drugs, weapons, bioterrorism -- you name it, Nader was in it ass deep. Yet his blueblooded lineage and the bottomless cache of payola that came with it kept every international agency off his back.
That's where Sam and Black Ops, Inc. came in. Nader was an off-the-books operation. Sam had finally found the man's Achilles' heel. The pompous bastard had a penchant for sparkly things -- Nader craved stolen gems -- which Sam was counting on to be Nader's downfall.
Last week in El Salvador, Nader had gotten a little sloppy and Sam had come within minutes of nailing him -- only to lose him one more time. Just like this last attempt had turned out to be one more lost cause.
"We've been here for three frickin' days," Reed complained earlier when Sam had decided to give up the ghost and get the hell out of Dodge. "Another hour or two isn't going to change the course of the world. Besides, we deserve some R and R."
Deserve, in this case, was Johnny Duane Reed-speak for "I've been eating dust and drinking mud-thick coffee for three days and I'm ready for a beer -- or ten."
Three hours ago, Sam had been hard-pressed to argue with Reed's stand, but that had been three long hours ago. Now he realized the error in that line of thinking. He glanced toward the dance floor again. Shook his head. Reed was a pretty boy, but Sam knew from experience that there was strength in those broad shoulders, speed in those lean legs. He'd relied on the former marine despite his smart mouth, Rambo strut, and weakness for the ladies in more than one dicey situation. The kid had never let him down and he delivered few surprises. That's why it came as no shock that nothing good would come out of a situation when Johnny Duane Reed had time on his hands and a yen for alcohol and a woman.
A scratchy merengue played from a dusty jukebox as Sam watched Reed through dim light and a haze of sweet-smelling smoke. Both the smoke and the scent hung in the air like fog. No one mistook the scent for anything but what it was: prime Colombian weed. Just as no one mistook the woman with the swaying hips, barely haltered breasts, and sex-and-whiskey laugh for anything but what she was: a past-her-prime Honduras whore.
No one but Reed, who'd been without the company of a woman way longer than the cowboy liked. Give a fisherman a hook and he'll catch dinner. Give Reed a beer and he'll catch a hooker.
Reed was in lust. He was also bolo -- drunk off his ass. It made for a perfect combination. Or a perfect storm.
If Sam didn't break the lip-lock the hooker had planted on the tall blond cowboy, whose hands were now kneading the hell out of her ass, dawn would find Reed rolled, robbed, and in need of a good delousing.
He heaved a weary breath, then couldn't help but grin at the cowboy's sloppy attempt at a salsa move. Sam tried to remember the exact point in time when he'd been appointed Reed's keeper. Somalia? Beirut? Sierra Leone? Hell. Could have been any one of a hundred third world hellholes. Years ago, as team members on Uncle's top secret Task Force Mercy, they'd saved each other's lives more times than Sam could count. More times than he wanted to.
Lot of years ago when they'd been lean and green and full of God and country. Hoo-rah!
Years ago, when they'd been soldiers.
He drew deep on his beer. At least Sam had been a soldier. He'd been Delta Force, U.S. Army. Reed was Marine, Force Recon and in or out of uniform, he'd be a marine -- not a soldier, he was quick to point out -- until the day he died.
Sam squinted through the smoke. They'd all paid a price through the years. Which was why, from time to time, they needed to let off a little steam. Case in point was stumbling around on the dance floor, probably not as drunk as he wanted everyone to think he was.
"You want to party, too, gringo? Maybe a private dance? Vaya pues? Okay?"
A pouty brunette had sidled up next to Sam and wrapped herself around him like a faded ribbon on a Maypole. Once upon a time he might have taken the ladina woman up on her offer. Once upon a time when she'd been young and pretty and he'd been young and stupid. A time when better judgment and discerning taste had been no match for randy youth, raging hormones, and the superior intellect that could be found in a bottle of tequila. Before control had become the name of Sam's game and the mantra that he lived by.
Sam wanted to ignore her, but his mother had taught him better manners. "Not tonight, darlin'."
While he'd thought he'd been gentle, he could see by the look in her eyes and the way she'd skittered away that he'd done it again. Scared the shit out of her with one hard look. Apparently it was the same look that Reed was always telling him was more intimidating than an M-16.
He headed for Reed. The cowboy may have tipped a few but that didn't negate the fact that Reed was still six lean feet of solid muscle and sinew. Thirty-plus years of stubborn warrior blood pumped through his veins. And he was horny.
This wasn't going to be fun.
And it wasn't going to be pretty.
But it was going to get done.
Sam tapped Reed on the shoulder. "Yo. God's gift. Time to roll."
Reed's response was typical and expected. It was also remarkably articulate given the fact that his tongue was buried halfway down his lady love's throat. "Get your own woman, Sammy. This one's mine."
"I said, let's go." Sam stood, hands on hips, waiting for it to seep into Reed's alcohol-soaked brain that he'd just been issued an order.
"Aw, come on," Reed actually whined when Sam didn't buckle.
Lolita, or Rosalita, or whatever the hell her name was, spewed a string of Spanish curses in Sam's direction when she realized her customer was slipping away.
"Yeah. Things are tough all over," he agreed and pried her arms from around Reed's neck.
"But our guy didn't show," Reed pointed out, hopeful it would buy him a little more time.
"It's not happening. Let's go."
As sure as two plus two equaled four, Reed drunk plus horny equaled belligerent. Lang had no expectations that either his math or his take on Reed were anything but dead-on right.
The cowboy didn't disappoint. "Fifteen minutes. That's all I need."
As only a drunk can, Reed squared off in front of Sam, bleary eyes narrowed. "You ain't the boss of me."
Sam couldn't help it. He grinned. "That's the best you can do?"
Reed sniffed. Cocked his chin. Shot for a glare. "I don't want to have to drop you, Sam."
This time Sam actually laughed. It was as much bluff as amusement because even drunk, Reed was one of the toughest, meanest, dirtiest fighters Sam had ever seen in action.
Sam pulled the older, meaner, wiser, bigger card out of the deck. "Yeah, that's gonna hap -- "
He never finished his sentence.
A car roared to a screeching stop outside the cantina and grabbed his full attention, jarring him straight to red alert.
He was already diving for the dirt floor, dragging Reed down with him when the swinging cantina doors burst open to a hail of AK-47 fire. Together they rolled, overturning tables as they went, scrambling to reach their go bags, where Sam had stashed an H&K MP-5K and Reed had packed a mini Uzi.
Wasn't gonna happen. The gunmen's fire steered them in the opposite direction, where they finally found cover behind a thick wooden support post and a half-baked adobe wall near the bar. They bellied down on the floor behind it as the deafening burst of automatic-weapon fire sprayed through the cantina. The women screamed and everyone ducked out of the line of fire.
Beside him, Reed was all business now as he unholstered his gun. "What the fuck!"
Nothing like an AK to snap a man out of a drunken stupor.
Sam peered around the wall for a quick look-see, then ducked back behind it when another round of fire slaughtered the bottles lined up behind the bar, shattering them into oblivion along with the cloudy mirror. Gunpowder and guaro -- rotgut whiskey -- stank up the air as Lang cut a glance to Reed. Like Sam, Reed had flipped to his back with his pistol in a two-handed grip, waiting for a break in the action.
It came as fast as the barrage of gunfire.
Silence -- acute and potentially deadly.
Unexpected silence, except for the ringing in their ears and the creaking swing of the cantina doors.
Car doors slammed, an engine roared, and a vehicle sped away.
Sam glanced at Reed. Nodded.
Sam rolled left, Reed rolled right, flat on their bellies, Sam's Kimber Tactical Pro 1911 A1 and Reed's Sig Sauer 9mm aimed at the door -- where they met nothing.
There was nothing in the cantina but residual smoke, broken glass, spilled booze, and quietly weeping women.
A single mason jar sat in the threshold beneath the cantina doors.
"Party's over?" Reed croaked, carefully assessing the bar for any remaining threats, his Sig still in a two-handed grip, muzzle pointed down and at the ready.
Sam stood slowly, did the same with his Kimber. "Seems so."
He glanced around the room. "Anyone hurt?"
One by one, figures emerged in the gloomy and hazy light. Except for a glass cut on the bartender's face there appeared to be no casualties. The conclusion was clear. With that much firepower, they should have all been dead, which meant the bad guys hadn't been aiming to kill.
They wanted someone's attention.
Reed nodded toward the dirty jar. "I'm gonna take a wild guess and figure that's for you."
Sam grunted, his footsteps crunching on broken glass as he walked across the room. He chanced a careful peek over the top of the chest-high doors. The walkway outside was littered with spent cartridges. Other than a boiling dust trail, the street was empty.
He stared down at the jar.
It was exactly what it looked like. An old, scarred, and well-used mason jar. He slipped his Kimber into his waistband, squatted down, got a better look.
"There's a note inside."
"There always is," Reed said, rubbing at bloodshot eyes.
Sam picked up the jar, cautiously fished out the sheet of paper and unfolded it.
All the blood drained from his face when he read it.
Eyes wild, he sprinted for his go bag, unaware of the gecko scrambling for his life to get out of the way.
"What?" Reed pushed aside an overturned table, racing to catch up with him.
Sam shoved the note in the general direction of Reed's chest. "I need the SAT phone."
"Christ, Sam." Reed's eyes were watery with shock and disbelief when he finished reading.
Sam dug into his bag, shoved the H&K, ammo, and a dozen other pieces of equipment aside until he finally found the satellite phone. His fingers shook as he dialed the number, heart thudding, breath choppy.
"Dad." He forced himself to calm down when his father finally picked up. "Dad...it's Sam."
The moment of silence before his father spoke told the unthinkable truth.
"Sam..." His father's voice was weak. Shaken. Sam's chest tightened into a mass of white-hot lead. "I...I've been trying to...to get a hold of you, son." Then he dissolved into desolate weeping.
Sam gripped the phone tighter. Waited, eyes burning, while his father composed himself and confirmed what Sam feared.
Wild with rage and grief and guilt, he disconnected, then burst through the cantina doors, staggered outside.
So he could breathe.
So he could think.
Only when Reed touched his shoulder did Sam realize the younger man had followed him.
A dust devil spun down the debris-strewn street, scattering powdery grit in his eyes, burning until tears ran down his face.
"Come on, Sam." Reed's voice, painfully gentle and rock solid sober, made Sam's chest ache.
"Come on," Reed repeated and urged Sam toward their car. "We need to get you home.
Sam knew he was dreaming, did his damnedest to wake up. But he was mired in images and sensations that sucked him deeper into the nightmare.
He felt like he was swimming through mud. Slogging through quicksand. Watching a movie in slow motion through a distorted wall of glass. Behind the glass, traffic shot by on the bustling Las Vegas Strip. A blur of color and motion.
On the other side of the glass wall, he saw his sister, Terri. She was walking toward her car. Laughing at something his brother-in-law, B.J., had said. Love in her eyes. Fun in her heart. Completely unaware of the danger.
He had to get to them. But he couldn't get through the mud and the quicksand and stop them before it was too late.
"Terri!" Through an echo chamber he heard his sister's name.
A man's voice shouting. His voice. Begging.
Then roaring. "Stop...stop...for God's sake, stop!!!"
But she kept going. Straight for the car.
He could still stop this. Maybe he could still stop this.
Frantic to get to them, he pushed through air as thick as foam and finally reached the distorted glass wall. Behind it four lanes of city traffic crawled in an eerie, choreographed dance. Cars sped then slowed, transformed to jeweled and painted carousel horses that danced and spun in a kaleidoscope of dazzling prisms, brass rings, and gilded manes.
Rhythm and light, glowing and golden -- perfection out of place with the horror that was about to happen.
He rammed the wall. Slammed hard with his shoulder...again, again, again...until finally, glass shattered and parted, flew around him in glittering, knifelike shards.
He sprinted past it. Sank into more quicksand. More mud, as Terri opened the passenger door and B.J. slipped behind the wheel.
Oblivious to his shouts.
Sweet and pristine and good with the sun on her face, the breeze in her hair, and the heat of the Las Vegas morning baking down.
Sweat trickled down his back, ran into his eyes as he dodged a minivan, then rolled over the hood of a fast and flashy red sports car.
Fast like life. His sister's life.
Red like blood. His sister's blood.
His sister, who he could see reaching for her seat belt as B.J. shoved the key into the ignition.
He ran faster, shouting her name, praying he'd still make it in time...
Then time stopped. Life stopped.
The car exploded in a blast of fire and smoke and a breath-stealing concussion that blew him off his feet...
Sam shot awake like a bullet. Heart hammering. Drenched in sweat. Aware of someone talking.
Talking to him, he realized after several moments.
He blinked. Blinked again, focused on the FASTEN SEAT BELT sign lit in red on the bulkhead in front of him. Heard the clunk and shift of landing gears.
"I'm sorry to wake you, sir."
A sense of time and place finally assembled. He was on a plane. On a flight from Tegucigalpa, Honduras, to Vegas.
"We'll be landing in a few minutes. Please return your seat to the upright position."
He dragged an unsteady hand over his jaw, nodded absently to the cabin attendant, did as she asked.
He glanced up at her. Barely noticed nice blue eyes, a cover-girl complexion. Her name tag identified her as Dana. She was smiling at him. Expectant. Flirtatious.
"Terri? You were calling her name. While you were sleeping. Is she someone special?"
He felt himself go cold beneath the clammy layer of perspiration dampening his back.
Dana must have taken his silence for affirmation. And a rebuff. "Well...hope she knows how lucky she is."
With a wistful, regretful smile, she headed down the aisle.
...how lucky she is.
Sam stared at the seat back directly in front of him. He fought the burn of tears that had been pushing since he'd talked to his father yesterday.
...how lucky she is.
Yeah. Terri was lucky.
Lucky enough to be dead along with her husband.
Lucky enough to be buried in two days.
Lucky enough to have been killed by a bomb delivered as a message for Sam to back off.
He reached into the breast pocket of his shirt. Unfolded the dog-eared scrap of paper delivered with the help of AK-47 fire and a fucking mason jar.
He reread the words that still made his heart lurch, his breath catch, his hatred coil like a snake in his belly.
"Better call home. Boom, boom. She's dead."
Guilt washed through him. Weighty. Desolate. Acute.
His sister was dead. Because Sam had pissed off the wrong person.
There was no question in Sam's mind that Nader was behind Terri's and B.J.'s deaths. Nader's signature was all over the hit.
Nader wanted Sam to back off. When he wouldn't, and because Nader couldn't get to Sam, he'd found a way to hit Sam where it hurt the most.
The bastard murdered Sam's kid sister with a fucking car bomb.
As a warning.
As a means to ensure that Sam understood: Back off or Nader's organization could get to any of his family members anytime he wanted and Sam couldn't do a damn thing about it.
Not one thing but bury his kid sister. Copyright © 2008 by Cindy Gerard
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"Romantic suspense at its best." Kay Hooper, New York Times bestselling author