Willing Target

Willing Target

by Kathleen Mix

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Overview

The last thing covert operative Mitch Weaver wants is to be partnered with a gorgeous, reckless newbie. Still reeling from the death of his former partner, Mitch doesn't need the responsibility of keeping anyone else alive, especially when they volunteer to be a killer's target. Not to mention, his attraction to the too-perky blonde is the kind of distraction that could get them both killed in their line of work.

Andrea Carnegie's first assignment isn't going quite as she planned. Her partner might be sexy but he's completely frustrating with his determination to keep her out of danger. Masquerading as a billionaire's sister to bait a possible killer is her chance to shine. But if she wants to catch the person threatening their client, she’ll have to find a way to work together with Mitch while still keeping her distance. Even as the air between them sizzles, Andrea knows the worst possible thing she could do is fall for her partner.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781682812891
Publisher: Entangled Publishing
Publication date: 09/26/2016
Pages: 300
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.67(d)

Read an Excerpt

Willing Target


By Kathleen Mix, Alethea Spiridon

Entangled Publishing, LLC

Copyright © 2016 Kathleen Mix
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-63375-751-6


CHAPTER 1

Andrea Carnegie swung open the weight room door expecting to follow her normal routine for the rest of Sunday afternoon: pump iron, jog ten miles in the crisp November air, fire a few dozen rounds at the shooting range, then spend an hour practicing Russian or Arabic before sitting down to savor a medium-rare steak.

"Damn it, Carnegie! Throw the ball."

She froze as someone shouted her name in the break room across the hall. A second later, picturing the all-too-familiar scene, she let her shoulder muscles relax. Some of the other operatives must be watching the big game. Her superstar brother Damian was in as quarterback and scrambling to avoid a tackle.

Was Damian about to eat dirt? Hope trickled down her spine, quickly followed by a torrent of guilt. She should be rooting for her own flesh and blood.

She huffed out a breath. In a normal family, that would be true. But the Carnegies were anything but normal. After twenty-six years of living in Damian's shadow and fending off his venom, she couldn't help but wish he'd be fallible. She hustled across the hall and pressed her back tight against the wall, listening.

A groan erupted inside the break room. "Shit. He's down. There goes the game."

Yes! More hope surged. Could Damian's team actually be losing?

The commentator announced a time-out. Her colleagues in the break room debated the coach's options: go for a field goal or give Damian a chance to throw.

"Give the ball to someone else. Go for the kick," Andrea mumbled.

Damian's head was already bigger than Texas. If he pulled this game out of the Dumpster, he'd add the story to his repertoire and she'd be forced to endure never-ending replays of another moment of glory at every family get-together. He loved nothing more than bragging about games he'd won or spewing graphic accounts of his sexual exploits.

"There's the decision, folks. Carnegie's coming back out, going for a Hail Mary pass." The men in the room whooped in celebration. Andrea's balloon of hope deflated.

The commentator went on, "Okay, they're lining up. There's the snap. Carnegie's got the ball and falling back. Looking. Jogging right to avoid a tackle. He's found a receiver. Wiggs is open in the end zone! Carnegie throws. Wiggs has it! Touchdown!"

Crap. Why couldn't Damian ever botch a throw? Just once, she'd love for one of her brothers to drop a ball, trip over his feet, or draw a penalty. Right now, if the guys in the break room changed the channel, another of her brothers would probably be making a spectacular catch while a commentator gushed about his fabulous speed or ball control.

Andrea shook her head in disgust. She'd never had any hope of keeping up with her NFL superstar brothers. She was the only offspring who'd failed to exploit Coach's athletic perfection gene. And as the youngest of four and the only girl, she'd been at a disadvantage from day one.

In other families, a girl living with three older brothers and her father might have been protected and prized. In her family, ridicule, cruel practical jokes, bullying, and nicknames like pipsqueak and runt had lashed the little kid who'd been dumb enough to worship her siblings. Toughness and competition had been rewarded. Crying or a hint of compassion scorned.

She reminded herself of her vow to never be vulnerable again and rolled her eyes at the crazy idea that she'd once wanted to be like her brothers. Being like them was aiming low, settling for being cold and unfeeling. She'd be different and better, make her own mark. She wanted to matter somehow, and she would. Just not in their game.

Squaring her shoulders, Andrea turned to leave.

A voice in the room said, "Shit, I really need to date Andrea so I can meet her brothers and father. I bet she can get prime seats at any game, even the playoffs."

She spun back. Why did all men have to be such users? She concentrated on the voice. The gravelly tone and slight Southern drawl verified the speaker's identity.

No way would he ever get near her. Two things disqualified any man from a date with Andrea Carnegie. Number one, being a football fan. Number two, asking her if she was related to Damian, Xavier, Jordan, or the great Coach Buck Carnegie. She'd established the rules after "the Phil fiasco" her freshman year of college. Not dating users or football fans eliminated most men old enough to shave and not yet on Social Security, but who needed a guy whose ulterior motive was access to her father or brothers?

She thought of life's other lesson: loneliness and celibacy were preferable to being a fool. For as long as she could remember, she'd listened to her brothers gloat about their conquests. Lesson learned: men couldn't be trusted to be discreet or keep anything a girl said or did private. So even if she met a fellow operative who wasn't a football fan, sleeping with a coworker would be dumb. He'd talk. She'd become the brunt of jokes and have to quit, or worse, work with men who didn't respect her and were snickering behind her back.

The opening bar of her ringtone echoed in the hallway, jolting her from her reverie. She grabbed her phone from her belt to silence it and raced around the hall corner. Keeping her voice low, she moved farther away from the break room. "This is Andrea."

"I'm getting married in June! I want you to be a bridesmaid!"

The voice of the youngest of her four female cousins. Crap. Not another wedding. Why hadn't she thought to check caller ID? Andrea choked out the socially acceptable response that was also a blatant lie, "That's great news, Suzie. I mean, congratulations."

"He's the most wonderful man. Wait until you meet him. You're going to love him. He even has a brother who'd be perfect for you."

Andrea doubted all of it. "I'm happily unattached, thanks. My career is enough for me."

Her boss's assistant, Nick O'Shea, turned the far corner and walked down the hallway toward her. When he stopped a few feet away, as if waiting for her to finish the call, she tensed. For another twenty-three days, she was a trainee and on probation. No way did she want anyone in the elite, covert ops Brisbin's Rangers organization, and especially Nick, to overhear talk of a wedding. If rumors traveled back to Mr. Brisbin, and he misunderstood and doubted her long-term commitment to her job, he might hesitate to send her into the field.

"Listen, I'm busy," she told her cousin. "I have to go. I'll call you back tonight."

As she disconnected the call, Nick announced, "You're wanted in the conference room, Ms. Carnegie. Five minutes." He turned and left.

Her heart jumped. The conference room? Could that mean she was getting an assignment?

She called a quick, "Yes, sir," at his back, then rushed toward the locker room.

Was she about to get an opportunity to prove herself? Optimism put a bounce in her step. She grinned and pondered the possibilities. Maybe she'd get to shoot terrorists in a South American jungle. Or rescue someone important from kidnappers. Maybe she'd do such a fabulous job and earn so much praise that they'd forgo the remainder of her probation and make her a full-fledged Ranger. Maybe she'd be training the next new recruit and no longer be the low operative on the totem pole and presumed-inferior newbie.

How perfect would that be?

She stuffed her phone into her backpack. Maybe her stars were aligning, and she was about to get a chance to come out of the shadows. As she hurried to shed her sweats and slip into jeans and a T-shirt, she prayed today would be the day she'd been waiting for all her life.


Andrea walked through the conference room doorway at the stroke of three and instantly felt a wave of discomfort. Mr. Brisbin, Nick O'Shea, and her training supervisor were already seated at the glossy oak table. The three men in the room, and the stranger present via Skype, all wore impeccable business suits.

She tugged down the hem of her NC State T-shirt to smooth out the wrinkles. A little advance warning and time to plan her outfit would have been nice. Nothing in her wardrobe was business formal, but she could have worn a newer pair of jeans or a tailored shirt with a blazer, anything to look less like a cheerleader and more like a skilled professional.

Get over it. You don't need to dress for success to crawl through a swamp, set up a sniper location, outmaneuver a drug trafficker, or camp out in a jungle.

She nodded to the men at the table and walked to the nearest chair. Was it her self-consciousness or was the stranger looking at her oddly? She shook her hair off her face. Probably another of Dad's fans.

When she met people for the first time, they frequently told her that they'd pictured her entirely different. Men who'd heard her name and discovered her relationship to Hall of Fame coach Buck Carnegie jumped to the conclusion that she'd be a foot taller than her five foot three and at least ninety pounds heavier than her one hundred five. She was supposed to be built like her brothers and walk around wearing shoulder pads and cleats. At a minimum, they seemed to expect her to slap people on the back and babble like a rabid football fan.

Fat chance.

As soon as her butt touched the chair, Mr. Brisbin said, "Thank you for joining us, Ms. Carnegie. May I introduce Stone Industries CEO, Dillon Stone?"

She nodded to the Skype image. "Pleased to meet you, Mr. Stone." Her mind raced through the recent news headlines. Why would a multimillionaire — some reports said billionaire — need to hire the Rangers? His merger announcement had sparked protests, but patrolling fences to keep out protestors was the domain of lesser security companies. The Rangers were trained for tougher jobs. Covert ops. Challenging assignments involving life and death.

Brisbin's voice broke into her musings. "Mr. Stone has a problem. Mr. Stone? Would you care to take over and explain?"

Dillon Stone said, "Certainly. As you've probably seen in the various media, I recently announced plans for a merger. Some labor union extremists are enraged that pending layoffs will destroy their livelihood and families."

She nodded in acknowledgment. The headlines had screamed that up to six thousand people could lose their jobs. A good reason for Stone to be unpopular. Hell, if the truth be known, her reaction when she'd heard the report was loathing for his anything-to-increase-the-bottom-line tactics and his lack of sympathy for his employees. Far too often, the financial ramifications of losing a job were devastating. And with the holiday season only weeks away, Stone's timing couldn't have been worse.

He continued. "What hasn't been reported in the news is that one or more of the extremists, or a disgruntled employee, has threatened to kill my family, specifically my only sibling, Karli."

Andrea's eyes widened, and she snapped to attention. A death threat. Now this was getting interesting. Even the most despicable CEO didn't deserve to have his family murdered. Stone might deserve a good slap upside the head, but why should his sister be threatened because of an accident of birth? No one could control the family they got stuck with. Andrea knew that as well as anyone. She blurted, "How was the threat delivered?"

"By mail. The letter was postmarked in Queens the day before yesterday."

She turned to Mr. Brisbin. "Maybe we can get a print or trace it, sir."

He shook his head. "That's not why you're here. Please allow Mr. Stone to continue."

Cringing at the subtle criticism, she pressed her lips tightly shut and returned her attention to the screen.

Dillon Stone went on. "Karli is very special to me, Ms. Carnegie. I'm worried the threats are credible, and I've asked Mr. Brisbin to keep her safe. She needs protection, starting immediately."

Andrea studied the man's dark eyes and tense jaw muscles. Beneath his controlled exterior, she sensed seething anger. Because he truly cared about his sister or because he believed himself to be all-powerful and someone had dared oppose him?

Mr. Brisbin passed Andrea an envelope. "This is a photo of Karli Stone."

Andrea pulled the picture from the envelope, and her eyes shot open wide again. Holy crap! Karli Stone had dark brown hair worn in a wavy, feminine style, dark brown eyes, and a Cindy Crawford-like mole on the right side of her mouth. Karli had a more suave look, but their facial characteristics and build were the same. With hair dye and brown contact lenses, plus a little make-up, Andrea could pass for her twin.

"I also noticed the resemblance," Mr. Brisbin said. "That's the reason you've been invited to this meeting."

She looked up at her boss, pulse jumping with hope. "Could you please elaborate, sir?"

He smiled cryptically. "The best way to protect Miss Stone is to remove her from danger immediately. But if she disappears from sight, her would-be murderers will either lie low and wait until she returns or choose another target. So what I'd like to do, and am proposing to you, Mr. Stone, is that we replace your sister with one of our Rangers as soon as possible. Her replacement will serve as bait to apprehend the people who've threatened her before they can harm anyone."

Andrea blinked. Bingo. He wanted her to masquerade as Karli Stone.

His gaze bored into her. "Of course, an assignment like that would be dangerous, and any Ranger who we put in that situation would have to volunteer."

Nick O'Shea spoke for the first time. "I'd like to caution against this, sir. Ms. Carnegie isn't experienced enough, not ready. And she doesn't have the polished look to pull off being a socialite."

Her spine stiffened, and she clenched her teeth. She could do anything she put her mind to, and this was her big opportunity to prove she could be a better-than-average operative. Even though she hated stiff social events like weddings and fussy designer clothing, she'd spend time in hell pretending to be Satan's mistress to earn her superiors' respect.

Mr. Brisbin eyed Nick and laced his fingers together on the table, as if he were inviting debate. A tingle of panic nipped at her nerves. Damn. Nick O'Shea's opinion carried a lot of weight, and his doubts could leave her sitting on the bench. He was a legend and highly regarded in the Rangers. The only reason he was temporarily working at a desk here in Boston was that his wife — who was an important senator's daughter and oozed the inborn sophistication of a socialite — was pregnant and due to deliver any day. He'd requested safe, home-based duty until after his son was born.

Dillon Stone's authoritative tone took control of the debate. "I suppose putting in a substitute might work. But the plan has both pros and cons. The pros: Karli would be safe, your people would be there to watch out for her stand-in, and any attempts would lead to capture. But on the reverse side of the coin: a Ranger could be injured or killed, having someone pretend to be Karli won't be easy, and Karli, who is rather obstinate at times, would have to agree to drop out of sight." He tapped a finger on his shiny desk. "Ms. Carnegie does bear a striking resemblance to my sister, but I wouldn't want her put into a situation beyond her capabilities."

Andrea saw another naysayer erecting roadblocks and acted fast.

"I'm confident I can impersonate Ms. Stone and help capture her would-be assassins." Then she turned to Nick O'Shea and raised her chin in defiance. "I spent four years at an internationally famous boarding school in Connecticut and, thanks to an old-fashioned etiquette instructor, I can handle myself quite well in any social situation. I know which fork to use for my salad, shrimp cocktail, main course, and dessert, and I can hold a wineglass in three fingers. And despite what you might think based on how I'm dressed at the moment, I clean up pretty good."

Nick said, "Your background may be stellar, but we don't know what you're capable of professionally just yet. I'm only concerned for your safety."

Brisbin chuckled and addressed her training supervisor. "What do you think, Brad? You've seen her progress firsthand. Has she had enough training to be able to keep her head down and work behind a team of experienced Rangers?"


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Willing Target by Kathleen Mix, Alethea Spiridon. Copyright © 2016 Kathleen Mix. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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.

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Willing Target 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous 13 days ago
Enjoyed Andrea and Mitch. Good story
BookFidelity More than 1 year ago
I don't read much romantic suspense (romance suspense? suspense romance? What is this called???), but I found myself intrigued by this story. Andrea wants to be taken seriously in her job, and agreeing to play a billionaire's sister in order to bait a killer is going to help her climb up that career ladder. Mitch is a veteran of the force, but finds himself drawn to Andrea - a very dangerous mix. I am a fan of mystery-thrillers by themselves, so reading this story brought together two of my favorite genres. I appreciated that the romance did not overwhelm the plot - it didn't make us forget what was going on. If you're like me and don't know much about this genre, but enjoy a good mystery - definitely try it out!
jenababy13 More than 1 year ago
What a high-stakes fairytale of a ride. Willing Target constantly keeps you on the edge of your seat and rooting for Mitch and Andrea every step of the way. Once I finally had the time, I whipped through this book. Andrea Carnegie is easy to like right from the beginning. She is a hard-worker who truly just wants to excel in her line of work. She's not petty and understands that you need to work for what you want. On the other side, Mitch Weaver also is extremely likable however for different reasons. Mitch has a tough exterior yet is super soft on the inside. His line of work has somewhat bruised him, yet he still gives it all he's got. I loved watching the scenes with Mitch and Andrea together and really appreciated that the author gave us dual viewpoints. I'll admit I was definitely guessing who our "bad guy" was up until the end. I had to follow along with our characters and piece together the clues to figure out what they ultimately do. Overall, Willing Target was fun, suspenseful, steamy, and a super cute read that I adored. If you're thinking of giving this book a shot, you should!
aprilrenee1976 More than 1 year ago
Coworkers to Lovers make a great read Andrea's an operative in training , wanting to prove herself as a covert operative and make it out of of training and on to exciting cases but things take a turn. She is thrust into this case where she pretends she is a billionaire’s sister who has received a death threat. Why, you ask? She looks just like, exactly like the socialite so off she goes to play this girl while the tension between her and her partner, Mitch, skyrockets. He sees her as a liability yet he is so sexy and hot. He sees her as damaged and not worth being on this case for he would have to protect her because she is not a full agent yet well, that grates on Andrea and she is bound to show him different. The tension makes for some hot action and sexual tension. On top of trying to figure out who is trying to kill the billionaire’s sister. There is more to that than meets the eye. There is twists and turns before the ending of the book. I liked the HFN ending but I would have like a more resolute ending so I would know how they eventually ended up. Overall, this has a nice mystery/action/suspense/romance angle to it and I would be interested to see what the author has next out. My rating: 4.0 stars **** **I was given an ARC by the publisher in exchange for an honest review***
gigiluvsbooks More than 1 year ago
Lorizen More than 1 year ago
Andrea is in the last days of her probationary period with the elite protection force known as the Rangers. She's called to a special assignment by the head of the Rangers when a well known and wealthy businessman's sister receives death threats. Since he's in the process of a merger/takeover the assumptions are made that the source of his beloved sister Karli's threats stem from that. Andrea is called up to take the assignment because she's a dead ringer for his sister. So they spirit Karli away and place Andrea in Karli's shoes, aboard her brother Dillon's yacht anchored in the Virgin Islands. Enter Mitch, another Ranger operative just off a long mission in Columbia where he loses his partner and best friend and blames himself. He's not happy being saddled with new girl and makes it clear this is his show and she's to obey. Andrea's backstory was sad for me, a girl raised with a nationally renowned football coach for a father, three older brothers who treat her like she's non signif, and she grew up listening to their conversations about their conquest with women. Andrea doesn't trust men and has an understandable wall that she throws up, keeping her few sexual encounters to one night stands, leaving no one to talk about her with someone else. The group assigned with Andrea and Mitch were great guys, even though they remained in the background most of the time, they did their jobs and had a role in the story. Mitch and Andrea slowly fell for each other and finally ended up in the rack which was nicely done. I liked the minimal angst and slow easy sensuality of their encounters. Andrea felt she had something to prove, that she needed a place (this job) to call her own, to fit in. Not so much to her family but to herself. I pretty much pegged the culprit in the story early on, yet there were still so many unknowns, the suspense was just enough to keep you on edge. I liked watching the story unfold and the twists and turns. I felt the characters were well developed and the plot was solid. And the end was perfect. This was a great read, my only peeve was that I felt it was a little slow at times, there's plenty of dialogue and you don't want to miss that. The story really lies within that. That's the kind of book I like. Nice work Kathleen!! Hope we see a sequel to this book! I recommend this book highly. **arc from NetGalley and Entangled** in exchange for an honest review
Nelsonaa More than 1 year ago
Willing Target by Kathleen Mix has a promising premise and setup. I'm usually down with romantic suspense involving covert ops, and the cover blurb was intriguing. The technical aspect of the writing is sound. What didn't work for me was the pacing, plot development, and characterization of the heroine. I would categorize this book as very "light" romantic suspense. Good setup, poor execution. The plot unfolded so, so slowly, with very little action. I didn't feel any real sense of danger or suspense. Any information that moved the plot along suddenly appeared, rather than evolving naturally. My interest waned, and I struggled to stay at all invested. On the character side, the initial setup and background on the hero/heroine was detailed and provided good info for their motivations, etc. As the story progressed, inconsistencies in Andrea's character were distracting for me, and I just didn't like her. She vacillates between strong agent, timid girl, and bitter woman. In one scene she's eager to please and goes along with everything, then the next scene she makes rogue, really dumb decisions. She repeatedly purposely ignored pertinent information, coming very close to TSTL territory. I understand her character is on her first mission, and is trying to figure it all out, plus impress her supervisors, but I wish she had been smarter. Andrea's family is set up as a very negative influence in her life, the reason for her distrust of men, but we never meet them to see for ourselves. We have to rely on her telling instead of showing, which was another crutch device throughout the book. The hero Weaver was ok, but nothing about him made him stand out, and his condescension of Andrea was unappealing. No significant character development for any of the supporting players. There was potential with the real Karli, and I was disappointed that there was no re-visit with her at the end. For a suspense book, the plot was very simple. All the details were telegraphed or flat out given away. My first (early) guess at the "bad guy" was ultimately correct. One slight twist about two thirds in was a surprise that got my attention, but it wasn't enough to save this book for me. I wish the author had dug deeper. The romance was, sadly, as boring as the plot. Not enough time or interaction to make it plausible or authentic. I did not feel any heat or chemistry. The insta-love at the end had me literally saying blah. I really like the vibe of the cover, it's sexy and draws me in. Unfortunately, this book did not. 2.5 stars. *ARC received from Entangled Publishing via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Linda__ More than 1 year ago
Loved this book! Andrea is an undercover operative impersonating a socialite that's received death threats. Andrea's partner for the assignment is Mitch, an almost too sexy to be real operative that Andrea is instantly attracted to. Complicating things are her horrible upbringing and inability to trust men. Mitch is equally smitten and he wants to protect Andrea at all costs....even from doing her job. While Mitch and Andrea are dealing with their attraction, the socialite continues to get threatening "gifts" and they have to keep their focus on solving the investigation and stopping the threat. This is a quickly moving novel that kept me turning pages just as quickly as possible. This is a must read book that fans of the genre will love. I have added the author to my must read authors' list.
FizzaYounis More than 1 year ago
It's a romantic mystery. I loved the story. There were enough twists and turns to keep one intrigued. Al the characters are also amazing. It's written in a lighthearted manner which is quite enjoyable. Andrea is ready to prove herself. Living under the shadow of her father and brothers, she can't wait to show the world that she is more than just Coach's daughter or her famous brothers' sister. So she is willing to take some risk. She know that her job is dangerous but she also feels that she is ready. Now is is a willing target for someone who is trying to kill her look alike sister of a billionaire. Her job is to take her place and draw her to-be-killer out. The rest of the team will then catch him or them. But it's hard for her to play 'damsel is distress'. She will have to try though. Mitch has lost one partner and he isn't about to lose another. It's his job to keep Andrea alive so that's what he is going to do. It doesn't matter that she is an extremely attracted woman who is having his thoughts jumbled. No matter what he must stay focused on the job. As soon as they can catch whoever is behind the threats the better. Although things don't go as planned and there are many surprises they have yet to face... Quite interesting story, I enjoyed reading it and would recommend to all readers.