Book 3 in the Holton Woods Series
She doesn’t depend on anyone for anything. He intends to make her his completely.
Natalie Udall thought her position at the CIA was secure—until protecting her team earned her an armed escort into certain danger. Natalie can’t stand the idea of being secreted away in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, especially since it means sharing close quarters with the controlling bodyguard enlisted to keep her alive.
Gabe MacIntosh joined the military to support his son, trained as a sniper and dealt with death on a regular basis. Now retired and operating a security firm, his first assignment is to protect a CIA agent on the run. She’s strong willed and difficult—and all Gabe can think about is exerting his domination and stripping her of every expectation she has.
Natalie has no intention of giving in to Gabe’s straightforward demands of dominant sex with no attachments—even though the very idea of giving up control thrills her like nothing ever has…
Book 3 in the Holton Woods Series
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Tuesday at six fifteen. That’s when Gabe MacIntosh’s patience officially expired.
He’d been listening to Natalie Udall argue her case for over an hour. The woman sure could talk. She sat in the office chair and swiveled the seat back and forth. Tapped her fingernails against the conference room table. Ignored the water bottle he put in front of her more than thirty minutes ago while she battled every point he made. Treated him to her whole I’m-pissed-off woman routine while repeatedly making it clear she thought she was in charge.
Smart and sexy but so wrong.
“Are you almost done?” he asked, hoping to wrap up the discussion and move onto the protection part of the program. He had to get to work. Much more non-bodyguard time alone with her and it would be a race to see which one exploded first, his brain or his dick.
The whole mind-wandering thing was new to him. He’d never had trouble concentrating or staying focused during an operation. He’d been trained by the best. An untold amount of government money had been spent, years consumed, honing his skills and turning him into an ace sniper. He could hunker down in a field for hours with hostiles lurking nearby, almost stepping on him, and never make a sound. Not until he was ready. Not until he decided to unleash a rash of fury and fire.
With her, something shifted. He noticed too much. Thought about her when he should have been concentrating only on her safety. Everything about her reeled him in. The straight long blond hair he dreamed about wrapping around his hand while he entered her. The way her slight southern accent slipped in when she rushed her words or got really pissed off.
The first time they met she wore a suit. The skirt had hit just above her knees and had his brain misfiring as he dreamed about running his palms up those pale thighs. Wrapping those lean legs around his waist. Today, weeks later, she wore pants but the impact on him didn’t lessen one bit.
No question the strong female type appealed to him. So did that body, fit yet curvy. Hips that would fit his hands. Every other part of her perfect for licking and tasting. He never fucked on a job. He viewed an assignment as just that, a file he memorized and a body he watched over. Emotionless and straightforward. But with her he saw a woman, smart-mouthed, determined not to be a victim, competent and hard to scare.
So fucking hot.
But he’d been hired to protect her and that put her on the off-limits list . . . no matter what his dick thought.
She’d left her black-ops position with the CIA after a lengthy negotiation through her attorney, and an extraction agreement stored in a vault somewhere proved it. The pages of legalese spelled out her rights and responsibilities, and acted as a supposed guarantee that she would not be harmed. They both knew better. A pile of papers wouldn’t stop some ticked-off asshole in power from taking her out. From deciding she knew too much or made a wrong move.
Back when she had a job she’d been brave and determined. Refused to take a seat when the idiot men in her office had insisted she be quiet and blend in. That kind of shit made enemies. Which was why she needed him right now. Just for a short time. His presence as bodyguard added some assurance no one could get to her. That was the theory anyway.
Now he just had to convince her of his value.
He would watch her while his brother Andy and the rest of his team looked for signs of an impending attack against her. Once they were convinced the extraction agreement would hold and she’d remain safe, she could go lead whatever life she wanted and he’d go back to the office and his next assignment. Simple and efficient. He’d played this game many times. Unfortunately, Natalie didn’t appear all that excited about her role as potential target.
As if she read his mind, she started talking again. “I don’t need your protection.”
She’d been saying the same thing for what felt like hours. So many times that the refrain ran through his brain even when she wasn’t talking. “I heard you.”
“Then unlock the door, let me out and point me in the direction of my house.”
Thanks to all her time at The Farm, the CIA’s top-secret training facility in Virginia, and who knew where else, Gabe guessed she’d get along just fine with so little direction. She’d somehow find her way back their undisclosed location to wherever she intended to go to hide. Then she’d probably get shot in the head.
Yeah, not on his watch. “You’re staying with me.”
“You don’t get to decide.”
“I actually do.” He had a work contract in his office back at his company, Tosh Industries, that trumped her denials. She might not like the protection but her friends, concerned friends who were players among the Washington, D.C. power elite, had arranged it for her, paid for it, and she agreed in front of them. Now she was stuck. Gabe intended to see the operation through even if he had to lock her in a closet and sit in front of the door to keep her there and safe.
She continued to tap those fingers against the tabletop. “I’m a grown woman.”
“Believe me, I know.” He’d eyed every inch of her. Watched her walk and studied her file. He hadn’t seen her naked, but he could guess. That confidence, the swish of those hips. It all played in his mind on an endless loop until he ached with the need to strip that proper navy suit off her.
She froze in her chair. “I make my own decisions.”
“Not right now.” He did. He was in charge. He meant for work, but the idea of taking control in every other way appealed to him, too. Way more than it should.
“What is that supposed to mean?”
He suddenly needed to say the words, to clue her in that she had him on edge. “Your body belongs to me.”
Tension flooded the room. Quick and without warning. Heat surged through him. Her big blue eyes blinked. She didn’t say anything, which should have been a relief, but Gabe felt anything but calm. His skin drew tight, felt stretched, his stomach hollow. The need to fuck her gripped him.
She leaned forward, not a big change in position. No, very subtle, almost imperceptible. “Excuse me?”
He cleared his throat. “For now. Until we know you’re out of danger. I decide what happens with you.”
Adding the context didn’t help to settle the energy pinging around the room. He shifted in his seat across from her and tried to rein in the thoughts bombarding him. She was a job, and an annoying one. When the first mental reminder failed, he tried again.
Most people appreciated his protection once they got over the shock of the cost. He didn’t do everyday shit. His business focused on covert, need-to-know cases. He didn’t advertise or go looking for work. Jobs came to him by reputation and through people who knew all the dirty little secrets. And the never-ending flood of those in Washington, D.C., kept him very busy.
He eyed the water bottle in front of her, thinking she’d have to take a breath or a drink soon. “I can name three members of your old team at the agency – the team you ran for the CIA – who are now dead.”
She shrugged. “Things happen.”
Like a fireball written off as a gas explosion. A murder-by-vehicle explained away as a fluke car accident. Accidental shootings, random robberies gone wrong. Gabe had seen it all, and so had she, which was why she needed to stop fighting and let him help.
“I’m not in the mood for games.” He needed to stand up, pace around. He forced his body to stay still.
“Which means what?”
“Give me some credit and don’t pretend I don’t know how your business works.”
She finally grabbed the water bottle. Held it. Tapped the bottom against the desk. “My old business. I’m unemployed. I followed my instincts, protected my team and my boss pulled my security clearance. I couldn’t even get the okay to take a public tour of the building these days.”
He’d picked this office building as a neutral stop before they took off because it sat miles away from her condo in Washington, D.C., and her office at Langley. Outside the metro area. He’d hustled her out and kept her under wraps. But they needed to keep moving. They actually had a plane to catch. Not that she knew that, but it meant they were on a timetable and if she didn’t work with him soon he’d have to take drastic steps.
Just thinking about what that meant started a countdown ticking in his head. “You have five minutes.”
“Then what?” She rolled the water bottle between her palms. “You shoot me?”
This woman never stopped. He pushed, she pushed back. He just wished he knew why he found the back and forth so fucking hot. “Tempting.”
“Keep in mind I’m an expert with weapons.”
If he were the eye roll type, now would be the time. Since he wasn’t he stood up instead. If he needed to implement Plan B he wanted to be on his feet. “I’m better.”
Her gaze followed him around the small conference room. “Are you trying to intimidate me?”
“I’ll ignore that.” She stopped playing with the bottle and unscrewed the cap. A ripping sound cut through the room as she broke the seal.
Thanks to that death grip he half expected the plastic bottle to explode in her hand. “You now have four minutes.”
“It doesn’t matter, because in three minutes I’m going to get up and walk out of here.” She took a long drink then refastened the lid. “Without you following at my heels.”
She managed to make something so mundane look sexy but at least she finally drank from the damn bottle. Gabe mentally switched back to Plan A. “If you look around you’ll see a lack of windows and one door.”
“You have to get through me before you can get out, and I think you’re too smart to pick that option.” But suddenly he wanted like hell for her to try.
She stood up and her balance faltered. Slightly and just for a second. With a hand against the table, she righted her body again. Then she came straight at him. Stopped right in front of him and in her high spiky heels almost met him eye to eye. Their bodies didn’t touch but the thin layer of air between them didn’t act as much of a deterrent.
She leaned in until her mouth hovered next to his. “You think I’m that easy to take?”
Son of a bitch. “I don’t know Natalie. Do you want me to take you?”
She pulled back. “You assume because I’m a woman I’d be submissive during sex.”
Jesus, she went there. “Who said anything about sex?”
She snorted. “Oh, please.”
Just as he thought. They were finally on the same page, and it was the wrong damn page. Sure as hell the wrong time. “I know what I like.”
“I can guess.” She tipped a bit to the side and grabbed on to his shirt in a rough hold to stand upright again. “You demand complete dominance.”
Her body began to list to the side and she blinked a few times. “What did you . . .” She visibly swallowed as she shook her head. “What’s happening to me?”
“I think you know.” He slipped his hands around her elbows in a gentle touch. The room was going to sway for her and he needed to be ready.
“I don’t . . .” Her knees buckled as her grip on his shirt tightened. A second later her gaze flew to his. “You—”
“Drugged you.” He nodded as his gaze searched hers, trying to figure out how far gone she was at this point. “Yes.”
Before she could answer, her head tipped back and her body went limp. That hand dropped from his shirt and her body fell as if her bones had disintegrated.
He caught her before she hit the floor. Scooped her right up in his arms and stared down at her. Enjoyed the feel of her in his arms far too much. But he didn’t mind the sudden quiet. “Now you’ll follow my directions.”
The lock clicked and the door opened. In walked Gabe’s younger brother Andy.
“Talking to unconscious women.” Andy shook his head. “Is that your thing now?”
Gabe refused to get diverted by bullshit talk. “Our scheduled transport should be here. We need to get moving.”
Andy glanced at Natalie then back to his brother. “I thought she’d never drink the water.”
That made two of them. The rush of relief stole some of the stiffness from Gabe’s shoulders. Since the alternate plan involved knocking her out, he’d been pretty damn grateful she got thirsty or nervous or whatever caused her to reach for that bottle.
“She’s careful.” He admired that. Admired so much about her.
“Really worried there for a few minutes that I’d have to listen to a lengthy discussion of the type of sex you preferred.” Andy shivered. “Not interested in that, by the way.”
At thirty-six, Gabe was six years older than Andy but sometimes felt like the grandfather of the company. He kept them on task. So, treating his brother to a front row seat of the attraction kicking his ass was not Gabe’s idea of a good time. “She was testing boundaries. A smart strategy, actually.”
Andy smiled. “Boundaries?”
Enough standing around and talking nonsense. That wasn’t Gabe’s style anyway. “Do you want to die today?”
“Are you tough all of a sudden?” Andy pressed in the code and unlocked the door again. Opened it to the private area leading to the emergency stairs and the helicopter waiting on the roof. “To be honest, I was more concerned she’d get the drop on you, then I’d get stuck trying to get her out of town.”
“You’re hysterical.” Gabe followed his brother out the door and down the long hall.
“I’m not sure why you think I’m kidding.”
He held her close with her head tucked under his chin. The smell of her shampoo, something floral, filled his senses. “I can handle her.”
Unable to reach out and punch in the code, Gabe stopped at the door to the exit. Looked down at her face and that mouth. “Meaning?”
Silence pounded around them. Andy didn’t make a move for the door or say anything. The quiet had Gabe’s head snapping up. He looked at Andy, shorter with more of a runner’s build. He worked with a quiet confidence, but this time something else moved in his eyes. Concern, maybe?
They didn’t have time for this. The helicopter would take them to a private airstrip, then they needed to get on a jet and disappear.
Gabe was about to bark out orders when Andy piped up. “You’re looking at weeks alone with her in a snowed-in cabin.”
A fact that gnawed at Gabe. The close proximity would test the limits of his control, but he could not admit that. “I’ll refrain from strangling her.”
Andy’s eyes narrowed. “Maybe, but will you be able to keep your other body parts away from her?”
Good fucking question. “She’s a job.”
Andy typed in the code and the emergency door opened. “You keep telling yourself that.”
That was the plan. Gabe just hoped he could stick to it.