Book 3 in the Corcoran Team: Bulletproof Bachelors
HE WAS OFF-LIMITS UNTIL HER LIFE WAS ON THE LINE…
Agent Shane Baker has denied his attraction to his best friend’s younger sister for years. But when computer guru Makena Kingston’s latest online investigation stirs up a series of break-ins, Shane isn’t about to let the vulnerable beauty fend for herself. Makena refuses to be seen as anything but the alpha male’s equal…even as she finds comfort in his protective arms. But soon they uncover the threat to Makena is closer than either of them expected. With Shane’s bodyguard instincts on overdrive, he knows keeping his professional distance will be nearly impossible. Because even the most highly trained operative has his breaking point.
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Makena Kingston had spent most of her life waiting for Shane Baker to wake up and notice her. Tonight she waited for him to pull into the guest parking space so they could have dinner.She’d called him on a whim. A simple “Come over and we’ll eat.” It seemed innocent enough. He had a few days off from the Corcoran Team, the undercover squad where he worked with his best friend, her big brother, Holt.She’d asked this morning, and the hours since had ticked by in painful slowness. Now she glanced out the window over her kitchen sink, looking for Shane. Glanced—as in looked for the five hundredth time.
From this position she could see the steps down to a small lawn area and a much bigger gravel-covered spot. The brightly colored cottages sat in a row, close together, allowing for some privacy but not much. The close quarters and general lack of updating helped her afford the place.
Maybe fifteen feet separated her deck from the one next door. Sometimes she could hear her neighbors, a young married couple, argue. They did that a lot, and about everything. Makena often thought marital longevity might not be on their side.
The night fell over Lannaker Estates, the fancy name for the development of cozy single-level homes perched on a small hill overlooking the Chester River. This part of Maryland, the Eastern Shore, possessed the bucolic feel of a university town, which it was. Small and quaint, close to the Chesapeake Bay and about an hour and a half from Washington, DC. Nothing much happened in Chestertown, and she liked it that way.
For the five hundredth and first time, she glanced out back on her Shane watch. This time she saw a dark SUV parked parallel to the neighbor couple’s back porch. She couldn’t make out the exact color thanks to the fading early fall sunlight. Probably just someone coming to referee the fighting couple’s newest argument.
She could make out two people…wearing all black. That struck her as a little much for this time of year. They’d moved out of shorts weather, but the cool breezes hadn’t started yet.
Yeah, all black and…she balanced her palms on the counter and leaned in closer. She blinked a few times as she tried to figure out what she was seeing. It was as if the two people—men, she thought from their wide-shouldered builds—stalked the house. They separated. One stopped at a utility box attached to the house and did something. She couldn’t quite tell what. The other went to the back door and dropped down on one knee.
Then they raced. Stormed the back of the neighbor’s house. She switched from the window at the sink to the one on the side of her house. With her back to the wall, she peeked around the window frame and watched a bulky figure run through the back of the house next door.
Her heartbeat thundered in her ears, and her chest ached from the force of her heavy breathing. When a bang rang out in the quiet night, she gasped. She fought to drag air into her lungs, but her body stopped working. As if the messages from her brain just kept misfiring.
She stood, frozen, as her gaze searched from window to window, looking for any sign of movement. Thoughts jumbled in her muddled brain and she tried to think. It was as if someone had thrown a blanket over her, slowing down every movement and blocking every thought. She needed to do something. She should…the phone.
She patted her back pockets but couldn’t feel her cell. She didn’t have a landline, so she depended on the cell. Fear clogged her throat and a frantic desperation made her movements jerky. She glanced around and forced her brain to reboot. The family room. That was where she’d left it, so if she could get there she could call out.
A weird sensation washed over her. Her head whipped around and she saw him. A looming figure standing in the window directly across from her. He had the edge of the curtains in his fist. Even with the mask she could feel his furious glare.
Then he was gone.
She took off at a dash. Crossed the threshold and stopped at the fireplace. She threw the stack of magazines on the floor and ran around the coffee table. Laptop. Remote control. No cell.
She heard knocking in her head. A deafening series of thuds. It took her a few seconds to figure out the noise came from outside the cottage, not inside her mind. The back door crashed in. Wood splintered and the glass of the small window at the top of the door cracked.
Footsteps echoed around her. She could barely make out any sound over the clipped panting escaping her throat. She turned around and slammed her knee into the table but kept moving. Standing still meant death. Holt and Shane had drummed that into her head. Fight back. Scream.
She started to do just that.
“Help!” Her voice cut off when the attacker slammed into her.
She felt the force as if she’d run at high speed into a steel wall. Her teeth rattled and her head snapped back. The breath left her body. No mattered how she fought for balance, her feet slid across the floor.
Arms wrapped around her waist in a crushing band. The room spun as she fell back. She waited for the punishing thump against the floor, but it never came. Her butt bounced against the couch cushion just as the attacker’s body came toward her.
Tension choked the room. She went from thinking and feeling to autopilot. Before the attacker could use his weight to press her down, she scrambled. Pivoted to the left and kept going. She reached out to stop her fall, but it was too late. She kept going until she landed with a jolt on her hands and knees.
Something crunched under her leg. She grabbed it as she tried to run. She got maybe a foot before a hand latched on to her calf. A tight hand squeezed her muscle until she cried out in pain.
The aches mixed with the fear as her heartbeat kicked up even higher. She felt the burning in her palm and looked down. She didn’t know when she’d found her cell, but she held it.
She kicked out against the grip on her leg. Looked around for something to throw. Tried to keep her mind engaged as terror took off inside her.
The attacker regained his balance and climbed to his feet, never letting go of her leg. She hopped as she tried to make the call. Her eyes focused long enough for her to see the terrifying message: no signal.
She was on her own.
Dizziness hit her out of nowhere. He yanked on her leg and sent her sprawling backward. This time she missed the couch. The free fall ended with a hard smack against the hardwood floor. Her elbow made contact first and her hand went numb. The useless cell dropped and bounced.
She tried to turn over and he fell on top of her. His legs straddled her sides and his hand tightened on her throat. Seemingly using almost none of his strength, he flipped her over onto her back. Dead black eyes stared down at her.
“Move and you die.” He slipped a knife out and flashed it in front of her eyes. “Do not test me.”
“I don’t have anything.” She tried to shake her head, but he kept her locked against the floor. “I work at the university. I don’t—”
He tightened his hand. “Shut up.”
Survival instinct kicked in. She grabbed for the hand, trying to pry his fingers away as he choked off her breath. Desperate to gain traction, she shifted her hips. Her feet slipped across the floor.
Fear clamped down on her. The adrenaline pumping through her gave her a burst of energy. She slapped against him, against the floor. Her gaze whipped around the room as she looked for something to make into a weapon. Anything.
“It’s over.” The ominous threat sounded even worse in the attacker’s flat tone.
“No.” She said the word as much to herself as to him.
She had to stay conscious and clear even as panic bombarded her. It became harder and harder to breathe. He outweighed her. His strength far surpassed hers. Which meant she had to depend on her smarts.
But she was running out of options and air. As her vision darkened around the edges, she remembered the fireplace and the poker. While she wrestled with the hand crushing her windpipe, she shimmied. Moved on her back as he shifted and increased his grip.
With one last surge of energy, she threw her arm out to the side. The move nearly wrenched it out of the socket, but when she didn’t touch anything she did it again. This time she knocked over the small vase holding the fireplace tools. The poker hit the back of her hand and rolled. The handle slipped away from her fingers, but she lunged and caught it. Cool metal filled her palm.
She tightened her grip and prepared to swing.
SHANE BAKER ARRIVED in Chestertown an hour before Makena’s suggested dinnertime. He broke a few traffic laws getting to her, speeding being one of them. But instead of going in right away, he parked at the opposite end of her cottage complex and walked along the river, trying to clear his head.
Makena was off-limits. He’d done the marriage thing once and failed miserably. The idea of trying something light and no-strings with Makena might work if she weren’t his best friend’s baby sister and a woman he knew would expect more than a few nights of meaningless sex. She deserved more. Deserved better than him.
He worked long hours and traveled all the time. He loved his job with the Corcoran Team, the off-the-books undercover group that took on high-risk rescue jobs for companies and governments. He lived with danger. Thrived on it.
Dragging Makena into that life, no matter how hard it was to forget her face even as he traveled thousands of miles away, would be a mistake. Dinner wasn’t even a good idea, but he couldn’t say no. Holt was out of town, enjoying some time off with Lindsey, his new girlfriend. Shane rationalized his presence at Makena’s back door as he walked toward it. He needed to watch over her. No kissing. No fun. Just two old friends talking.
Now if he could only get his brain and body on the same page.
He rounded the far corner of the complex. Heard the crunch of wood just as he saw Makena’s back door implode. Before his mind could process, he took off. He ran along the edge of the hill and sprinted to the porch. Up and inside just as he heard her scream, then voices.
His heart hammered in his chest as he silently hoped he wasn’t too late.