It was supposed to be simple. All Navy SEAL Nathan Malone had to do was rescue three young girls from a Colombia drug cartel, then allow himself to be captured just long enough to draw out a government spy. That was before his mission went disastrously wrong…and before his wife, Bella, was told that Nathan was never coming home.
Bella's mourned her husband's death for three long years. But she has no idea he's still alive. Forced to assume a new identity, the man Nathan was is now dead. If he can get back to his wife, can he keep the secret of who he really is…even as desire threatens to consume them? And as danger threatens to tear Bella from Nathan's arms once more?
About the Author
Lora Leigh is the author of Live Wire, Forbidden Pleasure, and Enigma, among many others. Writing is her passion, her peace, and her lifeline, and she can often be found daydreaming and plotting and planning with the varied characters that fill her imagination. When she isn't writing, she tends her flower gardens, watches horses romp outside her home, or spends time with the family and pets she fills her life with. She lives in the rolling hills of Kentucky.
#1 New York Times bestseller, LORA LEIGH is the author of the Navy SEALS, the Breeds, the Elite Ops, the Callahans, the Bound Hearts, and the Nauti series.
"Lora Leigh writes compelling, red-hot romance." --Sacramento Book Review
Read an Excerpt
By Lora Leigh
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2008 Lora Leigh
All rights reserved.
Nine months later
Nathan Malone stood in the clinical white office he had been brought to. He was six months past the most horrific nightmare he could have imagined enduring. Six months. He knew how many days, how many hours, how many minutes and seconds had passed since he had "died."
Since the day he walked out his front door and headed into hell. The mission was supposed to be simple. Rescue three young girls from a cartel drug lord in Colombia and allow himself to be captured just long enough to draw out the government spy working with the cartel lord, Diego Fuentes.
There had been an electronic tracker in his heel that he could activate the moment he saw the spy. Unfortunately, the spy had known that. His heel had been sliced open before the spy ever appeared. Before Nathan could realize the danger he was in, he had been strapped to a hardwood table and the first of a series of synthetic drugs pumped into him.
Whore's dust. A powerful, blinding aphrodisiac. Hell. Because there had been no relief. Because Nathan, enraged, crazed, animalistic, had been unable to break the vows he had made to his wife. No matter the amount of drugs. No matter the provocation.
He stared back now at the small group of men who had rescued him from Diego Fuentes's hell. Three doctors, an admiral, some scowling bastard in a suit, supposedly a JAG representative, and his uncle Jordan Malone.
Jordan wasn't in uniform. That was telling enough. His resignation from the SEALs three months before had surprised Nathan when he'd heard about it. Of course, there wasn't much left to do but listen to rumor in the highly secured, specialized private clinic he had been recovering in.
Surgery after surgery to repair his body and his face. They'd fixed what had been damaged. They'd rebuilt what couldn't be reset. But his mind still felt broken. The man he had once been was no more than a dream.
He was still a SEAL. He hadn't resigned. But he had a feeling he wouldn't be one for long.
"Lieutenant Malone." The admiral nodded back at him, his lined, weathered face drawn in worry and concern. "You're doing well."
Like hell he was.
He stood to attention, but this was fucking shit. He felt like he was being stretched on a rack of fire.
The three doctors watched silently. The psychologist assigned to him made a few notes. Damned bastard was always making notes.
"Thank you, sir," he finally managed to say. Hell, he just wanted to get back to the exercises he'd been doing. The ones that pushed his body to exhaustion, that made the hellacious arousal that still cursed him lessen.
The admiral frowned back at him.
"Are you in pain, son?" he asked him.
Nathan forced patience. Forced patience didn't sit well right now.
"Yes, sir, I am." He wasn't going to lie about it either.
The admiral nodded. "That explains your borderline disrespect. Maybe."
Nathan gritted his teeth. "Sorry, sir, protocol isn't my strong suit these days."
He expected a snap in the admiral's reply; he didn't expect the old man's face to smooth out or the understanding that lit his gaze.
Admiral Holloran had once been not just his superior officer, but a man he respected.
"Sit down, Nathan." The admiral nodded to the chair behind him before taking his own seat.
Nathan glanced at Jordan. His uncle was sitting, all protocol pretty much abolished where he was concerned. But it wasn't disrespect, it was an arrogance, a confidence that had only been thinly veiled until now.
Nathan sat down gingerly. He was still having trouble with one leg, but it was strengthening. As were the muscles in his back that he had worked to rebuild.
The admiral finally sighed as silence filled the room.
"I attended your funeral," he stated then. "I grieved, Nathan. Seeing you now" — he shook his head — "makes me wonder sometimes at the decisions that are made behind my back. I wouldn't have approved that mission."
"I agreed to it."
Simple. It was supposed to have been so simple. He still had the hole in his heel to prove it hadn't been.
"We'll discuss that another day," the admiral growled. "We're facing another problem."
"Has my wife been informed I'm alive yet?" The words felt torn from his ruined vocal chords.
His voice was rougher, darker than it had been, but hell, at least he could talk.
"Not yet," the admiral answered.
"I still prefer she not be told."
Nathan stared straight ahead now. He was aware of the bandages that still covered his face, the wounds that were still healing on his body. But even more, he was very much aware of the effects of that fucking whore's dust those bastards Fuentes and Jansen Clay had pumped into his body.
Eighteen months of it. He had been the guinea pig. The SEAL to break with the black evil they forced into him. But he hadn't broken. He'd become a monster instead.
"Sabella's been grieving, Nathan," Jordan said then. "She's still grieving. She still cries for you."
"She'll stop crying. Sabella's tough." He shrugged as though it didn't matter and glimpsed the admiral and Jordan's exchanged look from his periphery.
He was lying. His Bella wasn't tough. She was soft and sweet and he swore he heard her cries in his dreams, in his nightmares. The ragged wound that was his soul would never heal, because he couldn't get the sounds of her screams out of his head.
How much worse would her screams be if she saw him now? His gentle little Bella had loved his body. When he had walked out the door that last day he had been strong, powerful, but even more, he'd been a man who knew how to be gentle. That man didn't exist anymore. There was nothing gentle in the dark, twisted dreams he had now. Dreams of death. And dreams of Bella. And a hunger he knew he would never restrain if she came to him.
"I'm dead," he told them, his voice cold as he thought of the consequences of trying to return to her. "I'll stay dead."
The psychologist was scribbling furiously on his pad. Nathan's gaze jerked to him. As though he could feel the spikes of fury aimed his way, the balding little man lifted his head.
His shoulders shifted beneath his ill-fitting suit jacket, and behind his plain glasses, his brown eyes flickered nervously.
Nathan's eyes jerked back to the admiral. "Would you get him the hell out of my sight, sir."
Admiral Holloran stared back at him for long seconds before nodding to the doctors and jerking his head to the door. They all filed out quickly. None of them were comfortable in his presence. They never had been. Of course, they'd had to deal with an animal for the first three months that he had been under their care.
Admiral Holloran sighed wearily and stared back at him.
"Last chance, son," he said softly. "Let us call your wife. Send someone for her."
He bared his teeth in fury. "No, sir." The "sir" was habitual, the growling rage in his voice wasn't. It was pumping through him, numbing his mind, filling his senses with the echoed images of his nightmares.
"Enough." Jordan spoke into the silence. "I warned you he wouldn't change his mind."
"Your respect has gone to hell, Jordan," Holloran snapped.
"So has my patience," Jordan bit out. "I was given complete control of this unit, Admiral, and that supersedes even your rank."
"If he changes his mind then he can't go back," the admiral argued. "Is that what you want for your nephew, Jordan?"
"If he changes his mind then that decision is mine to make, not yours or anyone else's." There was a hardness to Jordan, a bleak anger Nathan had never seen in him before. "He'll be transferred to the command center tomorrow and the doctors there will work him with the others."
"You haven't even asked him if he's willing!" The admiral was in Jordan's face now. The two men nose to nose, two incredible wills clashing. It would have been amusing if Nathan had been in the mood for it.
He rose to his feet and headed to the door.
Nathan paused before turning back to face his uncle. Jordan had once been not just family, but a superior officer, when they had both been SEALs, when Nathan had been a man rather than the animal he had turned into.
He stared back at Jordan. "Make it quick. I have exercises to finish this evening."
Jordan got to his feet. "There are other options than the SEALs."
"Oh yeah?" Nathan arched his brows. "What's better than the SEALs, Uncle? Hell? Been there, still take trips."
Jordan nodded slowly. His brilliant blue eyes, wild Irish eyes, his grandpop had called them, stared back at him. "There are other options, Nathan."
"Really?" Nathan stared between Jordan and the admiral.
"Yeah." Jordan nodded. "You walk out of here as a SEAL and you walk out as Nathan Malone. You walk out with me, and Nathan Malone ceases to exist."
The admiral moved from his chair with a jerky movement and paced to the other side of the room.
"You leave with him and the SEALs won't exist for you anymore, Nathan. The only men you'll have contact with are those in your old team under Commander Chavez, to retrain. You'll be dead forever. Nathan Malone will no longer exist. Not for you. And not for your wife."
Nathan stared back at him, but it was Bella he saw. She hated a broken nail, she worried about wrinkles. How would she handle a husband who was little more than a monster?
He turned to Jordan. "So where do I sign up?"
Three years later
Jordan Malone stood in his office and stared through the privacy glass at the exercise room. His hands were shoved in the pockets of his jeans, a scowl on his face as he watched his nephew.
Nathan, now known as Noah Blake to the world, was only five years younger than he was. Jordan had been a surprise to his parents, a shock to his older siblings. And he had been more like a brother to the man pouring with sweat beneath the weights in the other room. The change in Nathan over the past years was nothing short of miraculous. Hell, the first six months, the very fact that he had survived had been miraculous. It had been the first three years that had been the hardest though. The nightmares and effects of the whore's dust in his system had nearly driven Noah insane.
But had he survived? Sometimes, Jordan wondered if the man who had taken that final SEAL assignment was the same one he was staring at now.
His face was different. The plastic surgery had made it leaner, the bone and muscle more defined. Fuentes had done a job on Nathan's face while he was a captive. Bones had been shattered, the repairs had been extensive. The change drastic. No one who knew Nathan Malone before would guess at his identity now. His build was different. His body was leaner but more powerful, rock hard, and his will was steel. He was a cold, icy-eyed killer.
He wasn't Nathan Malone anymore. He was truly Noah Blake, because Noah had made certain nothing of Nathan existed.
Noah's training with Reno Chavez's unit in the past years had worried Jordan. Where once the Navy SEAL Nathan Malone had pulled his punches and killed only when he had to, now ... Jordan shook his head. Noah killed with deadly, silent efficiency.
Jordan remembered the night they had rescued the man who had been Nathan from Fuentes's hold. Nearly every bone in his body had been broken at some point. He had been wasted away, nearly starved, and pumped so high on whore's dust his eyes had glowed like a demon's. And he had fought. He had fought not to rape the girl locked in the cell with him, he had fought to protect her. And he had fought to walk out rather than be carried out.
Jordan had been certain his nephew would never survive the withdrawal of the drug and the effects to his brain. He'd never imagined Nathan would come back, stronger than ever rather than broken. Darker than ever, and so different that his identity change rarely blipped Jordan's radar anymore.
"He's never going to be the same, is he?" Lieutenant Ian Richards said somberly, admitting what none of them had dared say aloud over the years. Ian was part of that SEAL team, had stood with the other men who had spent the past years with the man they called Noah.
It had been harder on Ian in some ways, because he had been closer to Nathan than even Jordan had been. Nathan had only been ten when he heard young Ian's screams echoing through the desert landscape of their ranch. He had awakened his father, harassed that mean-assed Grant Malone out of the house, and found the young boy whose mother was dying in his arms.
Grant, in a surprising display of compassion, had helped the young woman and her child. Grant had his moments, Jordan thought, they were just few and far between.
"No, he's never going to be same." He admitted the truth to Ian, as well as to himself. "This man isn't Nathan Malone anymore, Ian. He's truly Noah Blake. We may as well accept that."
"He's a machine now," Ian stated heavily, his expression saddened as he watched Nathan work out. "He's the best damned killer I've ever laid my eyes on. Silent as a thought."
Jordan turned to Reno Chavez, the commander of the group.
Reno shook his black head. "He's not a SEAL any longer. He questions orders continuously, lays in backup plans out the ass, and always has a plan if that one goes bad. If he feels he needs to deviate, then he deviates. He's not insubordinate, but he's a leader now. He won't follow easily unless he's assured the plan is the only way to go. He's a wild card, Jordan, but he's a damned efficient one. Like a shark. Cold-blooded. Focused. And deadly."
Jordan nodded. "Thank you, Reno. I appreciate the report."
"You have my written report as well." Reno nodded to the file that had been laid on Jordan's desk.
The monthly reports hadn't deviated in years. Nathan was barely a man any longer. He often reminded Jordan of a robot, little more.
"Jordan, he's not going to survive like this," Ian said quietly, turning back to the window, watching the man that had once been his friend. "He'll self-destruct. One of these days, he'll put a bullet in his own head."
As though Noah had heard him, sensed him, he sat up on the weight bench and grabbed a towel. His gaze sliced past the two-way mirror and stared back at them. His eyes were darker, wilder than Nathan Malone's had been. Searing navy blue in a dark, sharply defined face. His black hair was thick, long, nearly to his shoulders now. He refused to cut it. As he turned his back Jordan glimpsed the black sun pierced by a red sword that had been tattooed on the left shoulder blade of Noah's back.
The emblem of the Elite Operational Unit was another reminder of how Noah had shed his past as Nathan Malone. He had signed his life over to a unit that at times could be little more than a suicide mission.
"He'll survive." Jordan kept his response cool, but what he felt inside was anything but cool. "He's not finished yet. He just thinks he is." Nathan hadn't returned to his wife yet, and Noah, the man he was, hadn't forgotten that woman. He wouldn't find himself until he did.
Jordan had pulled his nephew into this unit because he knew the man he loved like a brother would have never survived intact if he'd had to face the world after his release from the clinic. Or if he'd had to face his wife.
The psychologist had agreed. Nathan would have taken a walk one day and just never returned. He hadn't been ready. Noah might still not be ready either. But Jordan was going to end up testing him anyway.
Three years later
"It won't be easy to get him to agree to it," Ian Richards warned Jordan as they watched the six-man unit of the Elite Ops working out in the gym through the two-way mirror that looked into it.
Noah was stronger than ever. Lean. Powerful. Cold.
"He'll go," Jordan said softly. "He'll not let her remain in danger."
Ian blew out a hard breath as they stared at the man they all knew as Noah now.
"Would she want him back like this?" he asked.
Jordan had questioned that one himself. For six years Sabella Malone had been without her husband. In the past three years, she had finally begun living again. Dating again. There was a chance Noah could lose the wife he never admitted he had, very soon, to another man's arms.
"We'll find out, won't we," Jordan mused.
"We'll be your backup in the Alpine mission," Reno told him then. This small group of men had been assigned to the Elite Ops; partly privately funded, partly government backed, the unit was a test unit, a group of dead men, of rogues. In the past years they had become a highly advanced, specialized unit dealing in operations that other agencies couldn't touch either because of political sensitivity, or the level of danger involved.
Jordan nodded slowly before watching Noah once more.
"We'll meet up at the command center set up in Big Bend National Park," he told them. "You'll receive your orders within the next day or so."
Ian and Reno nodded and left quickly, heading out to prepare for the coming operation. All that was left was getting Noah Blake to go along with it.
Jordan sat down at his desk, picked up the file he had on the mission, and called Noah into his office.
Excerpted from Wild Card by Lora Leigh. Copyright © 2008 Lora Leigh. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Fraking awesome ! End of story ! Loved the hero n heroine ! N the story its self had me at the edge of my seat !
My first book by Lora Leigh and im offically hooked!!!
The storyline made me buy it--A MAN who can be given a drug to make him crazy for sex but yet he overcomes it and remains FAITHFUL to his wife!!! I LOVED it. I had issues with him deciding to hide his identity and decieve his wife but it all worked out in the end. Of course being Lora Leight the sex is often and very HOT.
One of the best love stories that I have ever read.
This book is amazing! It is absolutly sad at the begining and had me in tears by the 20th page. You will not be disappointed with Lora Leigh.
I'm not sure what it was about Lora Leigh's latest, "Wild Card", but something just didn't hit all my pleasure buttons with it. Maybe it was the hero's stubbornness that lasted just too long for me not to get irritated with it. Or maybe it was his push/pull tactics that drove me nuts...Either way, I just wasn't as thrilled with this book as I usually am with most everything Leigh writes.
Bella lost her soulmate three years ago when her SEAL husband didn't return from his last mission. Since then, she's had horrible nightmares and has only recently returned to 'living'...only to battle to save what's left of their life together, their home and business. So why now, when she's finally trying to move on, does she meet another man who makes her blood sizzle and reminds her in so many ways of her dead love?
Nathan was held prisoner and pumped full of drugs for months on end. When he was finally rescued, he was more animal than man. Even though his dreams of his wife were all that kept him alive, he decides to remain 'dead'. Instead of returning to his 'other' life, he undergoes innumerable surgeries and comes out a new man with a new identity...and he refuses to 'taint' his wife with the dark creature he is now. But when his wife is unknowingly dragged into danger, he can't NOT help her. And once, he's near her, he can't NOT want her. But if he won't reveal his past, how can the two of them have anything?
As I said, this book is very intense. The connection between the hero and heroine is at times a bit mystical, and always red hot. The difference between their 'younger' lives and their current lives provides a harsh glimpse of the reality of some relationships. And it's not until each individual can reveal their true selves, and be accepted by the other, that a relationship can really become deep and solid. I appreciated this extra hint of realism on Leigh's part. But by golly, I spent an awful lot of this book wanting to kick Nate's ass! His actions and motives seem awfully selfish for a full 2/3 of the book and I hated that. Of course, I DID keep reading and I will continue to read Lora Leigh's stories. She manages to touch something in me and bring something to her tales that other author's can't quite touch. So, Alpha jerks or no, I'll keep looking for her titles...
Highly entertaing sexy seal drama with great story content
Warning graphic sexual content. This book does tug at your heart though. I think its my favorite of Lora Leigh's books.
This book was simply...... amazing. Suspensful, hot, sad and somtimes, funny.
Very good book. Loved the story line. Cant wait to read the next book.
I loved this book! I am a big fan of Lora Leigh's Breed series but I think this book was even better than those if that's even possible. If you're looking for a great story and lots of romance then this book is definitely for you! I loved it from beginning to end!
I love everything this author writes but nothing beats the first in a series. Lora Leigh is an amazing writer with a style that really helps the reader visualize and imagine what the characters are thinking and feeling. Nathan Malone / Noah Blake is a red hot sexy blue-eyed ex Navy Seal with a hard demeanor and an even harder body. My kind of man, yum!
I just couldn't get into it, started out real good and then it got so boring I stopped half way.
I have read over and over again all of the Seal series and Elite Op series.... Absolutely the best, well written. Such passion in all the pages, you get lost in all the books. Noah' s and Bella story is my favorite the love they have is every women's dream. The Irish blue eyes are a haunting dream. Kept away for 6 years and still a happy ending is the perfect ending. A must read over and over again
I was excited about this book but I was pretty disappointed. It was mostly sex, and the sex scenes were kind of repetitive. The plot was just kind of there, and it didn't really meet my expectations. I thought the story would be more interesting but it just seemed like an excuse to have more and more sex scenes. "Damn" and "God damn it" and "damn it" are her favorite words to use and every character says one of these at least once per page. I prefer more imaginative writing than that.
This book was more porn than romance. Too much graphic, crude sex and no real connection between the characters. Where was the laughter and fun two people in love enjoy? Just page after page of graphic sex. Just too much.
Had a great story line, but the only problem was the sex. Dialog of sex was in every chapter and at times an entire chapter. Other than that, awsome story line and you get drawn in quick...
The entire series is fabulous! Great action, suspense, good charactor development and awesome romance...once you start i promise you will have to read them all & you will love every book in the series!