“Fantastic characters, scorching sexual tension, and non-stop action make this one of my favorite reads this year!”—New York Times bestselling author Laura Kaye
RITA nominee Scarlett Cole’s Under Fire pairs a hot Navy SEAL with a medical researcher who finds herself in too deep.
Hot, hard-bodied Sixton Rapp is a former SEAL who’s raring to begin his brand-new civilian life. He and his Navy “brothers” start a security firm that offers the kind of services only a team of military-trained professionals can provide. But nothing prepared Six for his new client: an innocent woman on a mission to improve thousands of lives. . . unless someone takes hers first.
Dr. Louisa North knows time is against her as she tries to create a “miracle” medical treatment for a disease with no known cure, until she creates a sample so powerful that the wrong people want to use it as a chemical weapon. At first, Six is unwilling to accept Louisa as his client. But soon he realizes that the danger is real and that there’s much more to this plain-Jane scientist…including a burning passion between them that neither of them can resist. And now that an enemy is on Louisa’s trail, Six will do whatever it takes to protect her—or die trying.
"Cole is a genius at weaving together heart-racing, suspenseful moments with scorching intimacy and real characters." - USA Today
About the Author
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Sixton "Six" Rapp parked his truck but left the motor running, taking a long moment to stare at his first civilian workplace since a lifeguarding gig in college. Never had a nondescript warehouse with peeling paint looked so incredible.
There was no sand here to work its way into every crevice known to man. Just good old American black asphalt and some brown grass in desperate need of the elusive San Diego rain. There was no gunfire, no screaming, and no whirring aircraft propellers. Instead, the sweet sound of Nina Simone singing about sugar in her bowl blasted from his speakers. Most importantly, the building was his. Well, a third of it.
He checked his watch. He was late — a new habit he'd subconsciously developed in the last two weeks since he'd left his Navy SEAL career behind.
"Shit," he said, pocketing his keys and grabbing his gym bag and garment bag from the passenger seat. He threw them over his shoulder as he got out and winced as the straps crossed over the four lines of scratch marks that Lauren ... Lori ... whatever her name was ... had left on his back after an impromptu heated farewell against his front door. Some things were worth being late for.
With a gait borne of over a decade of military conditioning, Six jogged into the building. The smell of still-drying paint lingered in the air as he made his way past the empty reception desk. Hiring somebody for the post had been Mac's responsibility, but he was out on their first real two-week job, finding and retrieving a child who had been abducted by her biological father and taken to Mexico. It was nasty case involving years of abuse and a restraining order that was as useless as the paper it was written on.
It was hard to believe that what they had been working on and saving so hard for over the last few years was finally about to be realized. Five years earlier, when Cabe had floated the idea to start planning and saving for a business of their own for when they were done with the military, Six and their best friend, Mac, had thought Cabe was getting ahead of himself. Still hardcore committed to the SEAL brotherhood, retirement had been far from their thoughts as they'd scoured the dusty, barren foothills of the Hindu Kush for signs of a terrorist cell suspected of using the Wakhjir Pass to gain access into northern Pakistan.
But now, at thirty-three, with a Purple Heart and a healed bullet wound to the stomach, Six appreciated Cabe's foresight. Cabe had invested the money they'd saved from salaries, reenlistment bonuses, jump pay, and special-duty assignment pay. The guy was such a freaking genius when it came to playing the stock market that Six wondered why Cabe didn't just stay home and play Warren Buffett all day. Their modest savings had grown enough to make Eagle Securities a reality, if not a particularly wealthy one.
It was going to take time to build their special-ops reputation and grow their business, and Six stopped to look at the large board that listed events and names, an idea Mac had had to fill the gap. High-end, discreet security services. Nobody would ever call it exciting work, but it would help pay the bills in return for minimum effort until they were fully booked.
"Hello," he shouted into the empty building. There was a slight echo as his voice bounced off the tiled floor and undecorated hallway.
"Down here," a voice shouted from a corridor to his left.
Six followed the sound and found his best friend and former kindergarten carpet partner, Cabe Moss, on his knees underneath the table, fiddling with wires running into the floor.
"I swear to God your ass gets uglier and uglier," Six said, walking into the room.
Cabe crawled from underneath the table. "And I swear to God, your face gets uglier and uglier. Better my ass than your mug." He jumped to his feet and hugged Six. "How've you been, Viking?"
Six laughed at the old nickname. A family project during high school had uncovered the origins of his tall frame and blond hair. His family was descended from the original fierce raiders. And though the guys had always teased him about it, knowing that fighting was in his blood had been a source of incredible motivation in the hours before getting the go on a mission.
"Glad to be back in San Dog. Spent most of the weekend on my board instead of unpacking. Surfing Seaside was one giant welcome home."
"Well, I'm glad you're here, finally. We've got shit to do, man, to get this place ready for business. Let me show you around."
Six followed Cabe out of the room and into a wide-open space the size of a small plane hangar.
"Fitness center is over there," Cabe said, pointing toward a bank of strength-training equipment and some cardio machines. Two treadmills, a rower, a couple of spin bikes, and a recumbent. Six had plans for those later. "Showers are down the corridor to the left. There's a dorm with three bunks in it to the right. Can double as medical. Got basic supplies in there for now."
The guys had obviously been busy. "We doing training in here too?" he asked. The space would be great for it.
"Yeah, folding desks and chairs are in the storeroom over there. And we can project onto this wall over here. Black out blinds and shit." Cabe lifted his chin to the narrow windows that ran along the upper wall. "For when we need to do briefings, unit level training, specialty training, etc."
Six could see it. Teams, missions, debriefings. Their own chain of command, with them ultimately in charge. "Did we end up hiring any of those resumes I screened?"
Cabe led them back down the hallway they'd come from. "We got five on the books and a couple more starting over the next week, including an ex-SAS guy from the UK. Will intro two of them later. Mac took three of them with him to Mexico to retrieve the child. The job only needed two, but he wanted to test them out."
"Good plan," Six said as they stopped in front of a steel cabinet. "Armory?" he asked.
Cabe nodded. "Electronic code lock. The date Brock died, followed by the date we enlisted," he said quietly, entering the number on the keypad.
They didn't talk about Brock often. Especially not with Mac. But the two dates went together, one having led to the other. It had been Brock's dream to become a SEAL, but when he'd died in their final year of college, everything had changed, even their own career aspirations.
"We look a little light because the guys flew out privately with their weapons. Had to fight to get all the permits. We should have set up in the OC. Would have been easier. Or somewhere we're allowed automatics as well as semis."
Six could only imagine the paperwork Mac had had to take care of, and he felt shitty that he hadn't been there to help out. But their separation dates were never going to line up properly, especially with different quantities of terminal leave due, so he'd done what he could from Virginia. "It's good to be home, Cabe."
Cabe looked at him and grinned. "Sure as hell is. Over there you've seen. It's a conference room for meeting with clients. One that still doesn't have reliable Internet. And we also have a smaller one that's completely blacked out for security," he said, taking them down a small corridor. "This is my office, and Mac's is next door." Cabe pointed to the left of the corridor. "And this side is the secure conference room. And, finally, your office."
A sign hung on the door. SIX RAPP.
A phone rang in the distance. "Gotta get that," Cabe said, heading back down the corridor. "But you and me, security detail tonight at a big fundraiser. I'll catch you later with the details. Settle in for a while."
Six stepped into his office. Black shelves and cupboards lined one wall. A large glass desk with chrome legs dominated the space. On it were two large monitors and a laptop with a sticky note.
User id: sixtonrapp
(You can change that->8 characters, 1 number, 1 symbol)
Six laughed. "Asshole," he said. He ran his hand over the cool glass, walked to the other side of the desk, and took a seat in the chair that was probably ergonomically designed, given that Mac had picked it. It was sturdy for his large frame, though, which was all that mattered to Six. He turned to face the window looking out over the parking lot.
He'd not only made it, but he'd survived.
So why did he feel so lost?
Someone has touched my files.
Louisa North blew her bangs out of her eyes and flicked through the folder one more time. There was something wrong with her notes, but she couldn't put her finger on exactly what it was. If she didn't know better, she'd swear someone had been through them. It wasn't anything obvious, but she was anal about lining up the corners of the pages before she closed any binder, and the pages were out of alignment as though someone had hurriedly flipped through them.
In the largest privately funded medical laboratory in San Diego, it wasn't unusual for researchers to collaborate, consult, and borrow information from one another in their quests to find answers to global problems as quickly as possible. But usually people asked permission.
She closed the file and pulled up her notes on her laptop. She bookmarked the article she hadn't yet finished reading on gene silencing and its possible effects on clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats. CRISPR for short. While the findings were crucial to her research into treating Huntington's disease, the acronym always made her think of the salad drawer in her refrigerator.
Everything about her computer files and email looked normal. The last modified date matched the date she could last remember opening them. No emails were marked as read that she hadn't opened. While it was possible that her lab partner, Ivan, who was also the lab owner's grandson, had taken a look at her handwritten notes, it was very unlikely. After all their time working together, he knew better than to mess with her things.
She looked through the glass-fronted cleanroom walls to the two labs across the hallway that faced hers. Six to eight people shared space in each of them, a thought that made Louisa shiver. It had been a condition of her mother's investment in the laboratory that Louisa be given her own lab to avoid having to deal with people on a daily basis. It was a good thing too, because some days it was almost more of a drain than she could bear having only Ivan around. Cognitive behavior therapies had only gone so far in helping her overcome her chronic anthropophobia, but her extreme shyness still took over her life at times. While all the breathing and modifying thoughts enabled her to get out of bed in the morning and come to work, daily challenges like looking someone in the eye remained an issue. It was part of the reason she'd let her bangs grow so damn long, even though it aggravated the hell out of her mother.
Diligently, she straightened all the corners of the pages so they lined up and placed the binder to one side. She couldn't spend more time worrying about it right now, because there were other things that needed tackling.
Louisa pulled up the presentation she was supposed to give at tonight's fundraiser. Her palms began to sweat as she paged through it. It wasn't so much the presentation that made her feel ill, more the crowds who usually came to listen to what she had to say. And she knew she was a double whammy. Researcher who'd dedicated her life to understanding Huntington's — check. Potential carrier of the disease — check. She'd buried her beloved father, Isaiah North, a decade ago, when he'd finally succumbed to the disease, and she was well aware that there was a fifty-percent chance that she, too, was a Huntington's disease gene carrier. Like most potential gene carriers, she'd chosen not to be tested, a decision that those who were not in the line of fire rarely understood. In her mind, there was no point living under a storm cloud when she had the chance to dance in the sun.
The slide with her credentials popped up on the screen. Usually she hated talking about herself, but she knew that if she wanted to stand a chance of convincing some of the attendees at tonight's gala to part with even more of their money, she needed to prove that she knew what she was talking about. Thanks to her parents' generosity, Louisa had been afforded an education most people could only dream about. With an undergrad degree from Harvard University and an MD from Yale, she'd been on the fast track as a neurology resident and ultimately fellow in neuro-therapeutics and movement disorders at Johns Hopkins — until her phobia got in the way. When people asked why she'd chosen to bury herself in a lab, she offered them a vanilla answer about dedication and focus.
She wished she could tell the attendees tonight that her quest for an alternative to Tetrabenazine, the drug that had been developed initially to treat schizophrenia but had proven useful in treating conditions with involuntary movements, like Huntington's disease, had proven fruitful. It would have been wonderful to share with the audience that she'd found one with potentially less-harmful side effects, that her research was on the right track, but in truth, the drug she'd been working on had ended up being more poison than medicine. She'd been convinced that she was on the way to creating a drug that would reduce hyperkinesia, the uncontrollable muscle spasms, without increasing the risk of psychiatric conditions such as depression, paranoia, and suicidal ideation. The same psychiatric conditions that caused her prone-to-depression father to succumb to his despair and hang himself in the garage of their estate in Torrey Pines. But instead, the drug she'd tested had gone too far, causing paralysis in rats while leaving them fully aware of what was happening to them. They'd been unable to eat or drink or help themselves.
Louisa studied each slide in detail. The audience wouldn't have the patience to hear long scientific proclamations, so she used layman's terms, like genes and chromosomes, and explained how everyone's fourth chromosome produced a protein called huntingtin, and faulty genes caused mutant huntingtin, which could ultimately kill. She'd learned over the years to avoid phrases like "basal ganglia" and "C-A-G repeats" because, in truth, no one really cared. People were attending the fundraiser for her work because her mother had asked them to. Because other rich people would be there. Because they needed to be seen doing good. Cancer they worried about because it could affect them at any point in time, but a hereditary disease that they knew their family didn't carry ...
Her eyes caught the clock on the wall.
It was already four in the afternoon. She normally didn't leave the lab until eight or nine in the evening. Fewer people in the lab, fewer people on the roads, fewer people, period. But Highway 5 to her home in Mission Hills was likely to be as congested as a nasal infection, and if she wanted to get home, get ready, psych herself up, and get back into the city for the fundraiser, she needed to get going now.
She grabbed the folders and made her way around the lab, turning off lights and locking up as she went. On her way to the exit, and the small room where they stored their files, Louisa stopped in front of the laboratory refrigerators and looked at the sample, trying to think dispassionately about what had happened on the last test.
But the trays drew her eye, and the same feeling crept over her skin as she'd had when she'd opened her files.
It was impossible to tell if anybody had tampered with it. Were the trays a little off-center? Maybe. Had the doors been opened? Impossible to say. But was it safe to assume this was all in her head? To do nothing?
If someone had been messing with the sample, they'd either found what they were looking for or hadn't finished searching. She pulled out an earlier sample drug that had been equally unsuccessful but had had nowhere near the same kind of side effects as the sample she had just finished testing. Carefully, with her back to the lab across the hall, she removed the labels from both of the samples, switched them, and replaced the samples on the shelf. It was her laboratory, so she could manage the samples any way she liked. Even in a way that might seem — or worse, be — paranoid. Paranoia had been one of her father's earliest symptoms at the onset of the disease.
Excerpted from "Under Fire"
Copyright © 2017 Scarlett Cole.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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