Today’s theme is: Ain’t Over Til It’s Over. Since my newest romantic suspense, RUTHLESS, officially came out this week, I thought this was the perfect time to give a peek at the book. Kelsey runs a coffee shop. She’s attacked in the backroom of her shop and in the middle of fighting when one of her regular customers – her secret crush – comes racing in to save the day. Since she thinks the guy is an injured war hero, or that’s the tale she’s spun in her head, she’s not thrilled to figure out he’s some sort of undercover agent who’s been watching over her. When she learns the truth she wants to run away from him but he’s not quite so willing to let that happen.
From the huge brown eyes to the grim line of her mouth, Kelsey looked about two seconds away from striking out. Maybe screaming her head off. Both options sounded bad to Pax. He wasn’t a fan of throwing up either, and the sudden green taint to her skin suggested that was a real possibility.
He reached down to help her up but she shrank back against the wall, her petite frame curling in on itself. In the tucked position, her long hair fell over her shoulders, shielding her face from view and hiding the ripped strap holding her shirt on her shoulder. The denim shorts showed off her lean legs and a red welt right above her knee.
Seeing her injured and scared dropped a black curtain of rage over him. Every cell inside him craved revenge. He seriously considered removing his knife and then plunging it into the bad guy a second time.
But attack mode would have to wait. They had to get out of there, which meant providing a dose of comfort and reassurance. Not two of his strengths, sure, but since joining up with the Corcoran Team he’d been polishing the skills.
“Kelsey, it’s going to be okay.” Pitching his voice low and keeping it as soothing as possible, he said the words even though he knew she was in no condition to hear them.
She glanced at the body on the floor just a few feet away from her thigh and then back to Pax. “How can you say that? Look around you.”
He wasn’t sure what to say or how much to share about his real reason for visiting her shop almost every day for weeks, so he tried to evade. “Admittedly, the attack was a surprise.”
Her eyes narrowed as fire sparked behind them. She added to the angry-warrior-woman stance by brushing her hair off her shoulder and staring him down. “That’s your response?”
So much for thinking she was scared.
She shook her head. “You pretend to be injured—”
“I actually am injured. Well, was.”
“—and you storm in here.”
“By that you mean walked in the front door and ordered coffee, though from your comment I would guess my limp wasn’t as well hidden as I thought.” And didn’t that tick him off.
The cracking sound came the second after she clenched her jaw. “You flew across the hallway a second ago, so stop pretending you’re hurt and tell me who you really are.”
“Maybe we could agree on the term recovering.”
She blew out a long breath as her shoulders slumped. “Are you trying to be annoying?”
In light of her response, Pax wasn’t sure how he should play this. “My brother would tell you that comes naturally. I don’t have to try very hard at it.”
He’d hoped to take her mind off the death choking the air around them by keeping the mood light. Seeing her pressed against the wall a few minutes ago started his mind unraveling. He’d assumed he’d clean up the mess and she’d be grateful. Maybe do the terrified thing and shake and cry, possibly need some consoling.
That was a normal reaction. This was not. She came out swinging. He half expected her to fight off his attempts at calming the situation and punch him in the groin.
Tension continued to zing around the enclosed space. Guns down and his knife still in use in the unidentified man’s stomach, and yet Pax couldn’t let his guard ease. Not when the woman in front of him vibrated with unspent energy and seemed determined to question everything he said.
She didn’t even blink. “So now you have a brother?”
“Technically I’ve always had one since he’s older.” When the mumble of conversation from the front of the shop seeped through the walls and someone banged on the door to this back area asking why it was locked, Pax talked louder to drag her attention back to him. “His name is Davis.”
She waved the comment off. Came very close to knocking against him while she moved her hands around. “I don’t understand who you are or what’s going on. And who are these two guys and why did they try to drag me outside?”
Pax surveyed the carnage. He had to move her off the property before these guys’ friends missed them and came looking for trouble. “All good questions.”
“Care to answer one?”
“Once we’re out of here.” Pax tapped the mic in his ear. “Ben? Finish clearing the shop and close the place it down. Blame a gas leak and then get a medic because we have two down. Joel, I need you back here. Now.”
Her sneakers scraped against the rough floor as she bent her knees and brought her feet closer to her butt. “Really?”
Pax wasn’t clear which word led to the reaction. “What?”
“You’re really doing some sort of spy-act thing in the middle of all this?”
He despised that word. The way Hollywood portrayed undercover agents and people in law enforcement as if they
all used shoe phones and exploding pens was ridiculous. “It’s possible you watch too much television.”
She sat up even straighter, her shoulders coming off the wall and her hands falling to the floor on each side of her hips. “Okay, Mr. Good Samaritan. How about calling the police…and what do you mean by medic? Call an ambulance. I have customers and employees out front and need to know they’re safe.”
From the clear eyes and stronger voice he guessed she’d found her emotional and physical footing. That likely spelled trouble for him.
“Then there’s the mess back here. That one will wake up eventually.” She pointed at the downed man closest to the back door. “And that one is losing blood thanks to your knife skills.”
Pax hoped she didn’t expect an apology. “Yeah.”
“He’s not dead, is he?
“Unfortunately, no. Unconscious and bleeding.” Pax glanced at the other man. “And that one is lucky not to be bleeding. I’m thinking about stabbing him just because.”
She swallowed and made a face that suggested she didn’t like whatever she’d tasted. “In a few seconds I’ll have to go over there and try to help the bloody one, and the idea of touching him after…well, it makes me want to throw up and kind of furious at you.”
Yeah, she’d definitely moved from scared—and that had been pretty fleeting—to ticked off. As the clear target of whatever thoughts bounced around in her head and put that scowl on her face, he dropped the lighter tone. It wasn’t working anyway. Didn’t take a fancy shoe phone to figure that one out.
He held up his hand in a gesture he hoped telegraphed peace and maybe a touch of surrender. “Everything will be handled, but not in the way you’re suggesting.”
Then it started. She slid her hands closer to her body and shifted in a move so slight he almost missed it. He guessed she intended to struggle to her feet and then make a run for it. He was ready for the bolt. He just wished they could shortcut the disbelief and go right to the part where she got in the car and let him take her to safety.
Not that he deserved that level of trust from her. They barely knew each other. Sure, they’d flirted and he’d benefitted in the form of free bear claws now and then, but doughnuts didn’t change the facts. He was there to watch over her, to see if her missing brother made contact.
It was supposed to be a simple surveillance op, since that’s all anyone at the Corcoran Team thought he could handle post-shooting incident. Little did they know the supposed “easy” job would lead to a backroom shoot-out.
“Don’t even think about it.” When she frowned at him, he filled her in. “Whatever big exit plan is in your head? Forget it. You’re not getting by me. We need to get you somewhere safe, and then we can talk all of this through.”
Copyright 2013, HelenKay Dimon
All Rights Reserved, Harlequin Books
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