In the Line of Duty – Cathryn Fox
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His Strings to Pull

Book Cover: His Strings to Pull

In the Line of Duty, Book 1.5 novella

A whirlwind affair…or a headlong plunge into the deep end of forever?

As lifeguard Jenny Anderson keeps one eye on the rambunctious kids at the community pool, she can’t help but keep the other one trained on the gorgeous, tattooed hottie peeling his shirt off near the lounge chairs. And she isn’t the only woman at the pool drooling.

Right about the time her gaze drops to check for a wedding ring—which, from bitter experience, she knows doesn’t mean squat—one of those kids plows into her from behind. Sending her in an ungraceful belly flop right into the deep end.

When the sleekly tanned lifeguard literally falls into his arms, her mouth opening and closing like a landed fish, Ving Duncan’s special forces training kicks in. It’s clear she needs air, and she needs it now.

The moment their lips collide, he wants her, all strings attached. By the time he finds out who she is—his comrade’s little sister—it’s too late. He’s hooked, and he’s already planning his next mission: to get her to say yes. To a date. Maybe to forever…

 

His Reason To Stay – 2/16/16

Book Cover: His Reason To Stay - 2/16/16

In the Line of Duty book 6

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They made one beautiful mistake. The consequences could haunt them for life.

In the Line of Duty, Book 6

From the moment the Nelson brothers took a lonely young girl from the wrong side of the tracks under their wing, Rachel Andrews loved them both with all her heart. But it was James who won her hand.

Now widowed, she’s trying to pick up the pieces for her daughter’s sake as well as her own, but once again loneliness is her closest friend—until James’s brother comes back to town. The man she secretly wishes had asked her first.

Army ammunitions expert Kyle Nelson would rather face live fire than face the raw reminder that the woman he loved chose his brother over him, but he’s tired of running. And ready to step up to be the man everyone needs him to be—especially the young niece he’s never met.

As time runs short before Kyle ships out again, the desire Kyle and Rachel have suppressed breaks free in a fiery rush. Tempting her to reveal a secret that could give him a reason to stay—or burn their love to ash.

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His Best Friends Girl – 10/27/15

Book Cover: His Best Friends Girl - 10/27/15

In the Line of Duty book 5

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With a little help—and a little kink—from her friend, she might just get her man.

Skylar Redmond’s Sky Bar is regularly wall-to-wall hot soldiers. Yet she is alone—and getting tired of it. Forget about finding a man who’ll rock her world in the bedroom. She’ll settle for a guy who’s stable, kind and compassionate.

Too bad that guy still sees her as the pigtailed girl from their youth, not the strong woman she is today. But maybe, with a little help, that’ll change.

As an ex-military field ambulance technician, Matt James excels at performing under pressure. Pretending to be interested in Skylar to help her capture the attention of his best friend? Piece of cake—because he won’t be faking it. He’s been in love with her since their school yard days, but never pushed it. She deserves someone who can offer her more.

A touch leads to a kiss, and a kiss to a night that throws a kink—or three—into Sky’s plan. Leaving her wondering if she’s going for the wrong man…and letting the right one slip through her fingers.

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“What I wouldn’t give for a piece of that.”

Skylar Redmond, owner of Sky Bar in downtown Austin, glanced at Kat Stiller, who was licking her lips and looking at Skylar’s best friend like he was a fresh slab of meat and she’d just come off an all-veggie diet.

“You’ve got a thing for Matt?” Sky asked as she refreshed Kat’s strawberry daiquiri and slid it to her from the working side of the bar.

“Yeah. He’s so hot.” She fanned her hand in front of her pretty face, her big green eyes wide as she admired Matt from afar. “Just look at him. All that muscle, those blue eyes, the hair and those hands. God those hands… I bet he really knows how to use them to get his kink on in the bedroom.” Kat sighed and spun on her padded stool to glance around the room, one filled with hot soldiers who frequented Sky Bar on a regular basis. “Too bad he’s more interested in that book he’s reading than he is in getting laid.”

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“He’s studying for his MCATs,” Sky explained, stealing another glace at Matt as he focused intently on the pages in front of him, oblivious to everyone and everything around him as he huddled at the far end of the bar. She looked at the jar of peanut butter beside him. Honest to God, if he didn’t start eating properly he was going to get sick. He might be crazy busy seven days a week, switching careers from an army field ambulance technician to a civilian medical doctor, but no man could live off of peanuts alone. She grabbed her iPad and punched in an order that went directly to the kitchen. When Matt wasn’t in class, studying, or helping with the training of service dogs, he worked at the bar with her, and every cent he made went toward saving for med school. But as his best friend since childhood, and current boss, she was not going to let him starve.

“You think that’s all it is?” Kat asked, crinkling her nose.

Pool balls banged and laughter and ribbing could be heard from a half a dozen or so ex-soldiers standing around the pool table. As Sky listened to the camaraderie among friends, she grabbed a cloth and began wiping down the glassware that Dean had brought from the dish pit out back.

“What do you mean?” Sky asked. “What else would it be?”

“I mean, maybe he’s not…you know…into women.” She shrugged. “Not that there is anything wrong with that. But it could account for his lack of interest.”

Sky nearly burst out laughing. Kat was right, there was nothing wrong with that, but she knew Matt. In their teenage years, he was one the biggest hound dogs she knew. He and their other best friend, Caleb Roth, had to fight the girls off with a stick. Those two bad boys from the wrong side of the tracks had their pick of girls. She would know, since they all hung out in Caleb’s basement and she’d accidently walked in on them with their girlfriends a time or two.

“No, you’re wrong. He likes his women. Believe me, back in the day he had his fair share.” Then again, Sky hadn’t seen him with anyone since he returned home from his tour overseas a year ago, and plenty of girls at Sky Bar had tried to get his attention. She could only chalk up his lack of enthusiasm to the important entrance exam he was studying for. Switching careers at this point was no easy task, and everyone knew the MCATs were hard to pass, even when prepared.

Kat took a sip of her drink and toyed with her straw. “Or maybe he’s already into someone else.”

“Yeah, probably the girl in his anatomy book,” Sky said, grinning. “That’s the only action he’s been getting lately.” She placed the polished glass on the rack and reached for another. “Besides, I thought you and Josh Mansfield had a thing.”

“Yeah, Josh is great, and we’ve been having some fun, but…I don’t know, maybe I’m looking for something more, you know?”

“More?”

She rounded her shoulder and hugged her belly. “I think my biological clock is ticking. Every time I hold Tallulah’s sweet baby girl Lexi, all I can think about is having my own child.”

Sky nodded as the kitchen bell sounded behind her. “I know what you mean.” She grabbed Matt’s sandwich from the serving shelf and slid it down the counter to him.

It hit his textbook with a thud, and his head lifted. He took note of the sandwich, then his glance went to her. He gave her a big smile and Sky just laughed, pointed at his plate and said, “Eat.”

She turned back to Kat, who was studying her carefully.

“So if you know what I mean, does that mean you want to be in a serious relationship too?” Kat asked.

“Sure,” she said, then closed her mouth, not wanting to admit that she was approaching thirty and the one guy she wanted she couldn’t have. But she didn’t want to go down that depressing road. Instead she redirected the conversation and asked, “I take it Josh isn’t the settling-down kind?”

“No, but Matt sure seems like a forever kind of guy, doesn’t he?”

She turned and looked at Matt as he bit into his sandwich. He followed it with a swig of soda, then licked his fingers clean—an action that seemed to have Kat squirming on her stool. Honestly, she’d never thought about Matt in that sense before. He’d just always been Matt to her. Playful, laid-back and easygoing most times, yet serious when he needed to be, like when he was studying.

“Yeah, I guess he could be a forever kind of guy,” she said with a shrug.

“You guess?” Kat arched a perfectly manicured brow. “Shouldn’t you know? You are best friends, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, we are.”

Kat gave her a once-over, a sly smirk spreading across her face. “Unless there is something more going on between you two that I don’t know about. I mean, you are constantly together and he’s always giving you piggyback rides.” She planted her elbow on the table and opened her palm toward the ceiling. “Like I said, he’s a guy who knows how to get his kink on.” She went quiet, thoughtful for a moment, then wagged her index finger back and forth between Sky and Matt. “Is there something I should know? Are you two…you know…getting your kink on?”

Sky nearly laughed again. “Hardly. We’re just friends. We go way back.” Matt, Caleb, her—the three musketeers. “We’re not getting our…” she paused and did air quotes around the words, “…kink on.”

Kat wagged her eyebrows. “But you want to, right?”

“No! And for the record I’m not into kink.”

“Well I am, and I want the whole package. A good, stable guy who knows how to rock my world in the bedroom.”

Sky would settle for the good, stable guy. She’d never had anyone rock her world in the bedroom, and a kind, caring man was more important to her than that. “And you think Matt is that man?”

“You tell me. You’re his best friend.”

“To be honest, I’ve never thought about Matt and marriage in the same sentence before.” Nor did she ever think about Matt and kink, but for some strange reason now that Kat had planted that idea in her head, she couldn’t quite seem to get it out. “I guess I just never pictured him wearing a tux and standing at the altar.”

Kat frowned into her drink. “That’s because you didn’t see him at the wedding last year.”

“What happened at the wedding?” Matt was the best man at Jenny and Ving’s wedding last summer, and Sky was still upset she had to miss the ceremony. She’d come down with a serious stomach flu and no way would she fly to Mississippi under those circumstances and risk giving her germs to anyone in the bridal party. Jenny had sent her a copy of the video but she’d yet to find the time to watch it.

“He looked so good. Definitely like he belonged at the altar. Women were throwing themselves at him, and he was always so kind, polite and gentlemanly when he declined.”

As Sky eyed Kat, and took in the gloom on her face, she guessed the girl was talking from her own personal experiences with Matt. “He’s different than most guys.” Kat twirled her straw around her mouth and angled her head to see him. “He’s not a player, at least not anymore. And he was so fiercely protective of Jenny and Ving, making sure they had everything they needed and stayed stress free during the entire time. I just bet he’d be crazy possessive of his woman too, inside the bedroom and out.” She gave a wistful sigh and added, “The stories he told at the dinner party were funny yet so sweet, you know? I really think he is the whole package.”

Sky couldn’t help but smile, because Kat was right. Matt was funny and sweet and extremely protective of those he cared about. With no mother to raise him and an abusive father who continuously told him he’d never amount to anything, Matt was anything but a chip off the old block. In fact, he swore he’d never be anything like his old man. He’d spent many nights sleeping in Caleb’s basement when his father went on a rampage. Caleb’s parents might not have had much to offer, but they opened their hearts to Matt and gave him whatever they could.

“Kat?” she asked, unable to get Kat’s assessment of Matt out of her head.

“Yeah.”

“What makes you think Matt is into kink?”

A small, knowing smile curled up her lip. “I have a knack for these things, and believe me, he’s the kind of guy who knows how to hold a girl down hard and give it to her good.”

Oddly enough, a fine shiver moved through Sky, even though she wasn’t into that kind of thing. In an effort to disguise her sudden interest, she pointed to the door when it opened. “Tallulah and Garrett are here.”

Kat smiled and waved Tallulah over as her husband, Garrett, made his way to the pool table. Like Sky and Matt, Tallulah and Kat also went way back to childhood. Kat had only recently moved to Austin and started working at the hospital as a physical therapist so the two could be closer—and also because, according to her, the guys were way hotter in Texas.

Garrett joined his comrades as Sky went to work on making Tallulah a daiquiri. Tallulah slid onto the stool next to Kat. “What’s up?” she asked. “You two looked like you were in a serious conversation.”

Kat twisted on her stool and gestured with a nod toward the end of the bar. “Oh, I was just questioning Matt’s sexual preferences.”

“His sexual preferences?” Tallulah’s dark lashes blinked rapidly as she rolled her eyes. “Is this because he never paid you a lick of attention at the wedding last year and keeps himself holed up in that corner studying?”

“Can we not talk about Matt and licking in the same sentence?” Kat groaned. “And if you want to know the truth, then yes, it is because of that. No matter how hard I tried, I could not get that man’s attention.” She frowned. “I’m starting to think I’m losing it.”

Sky looked at the flamboyant, gorgeous woman with the long, thick, chestnut hair that never went frizzy in Austin’s humid weathers. “Losing it? Hardly. You’re gorgeous, Kat. I wish I had…”

Her words fell off as the heavy oak door opened once again and Caleb Roth sauntered in. Sky’s body warmed all over when he shot her a panty-dropping smile that traveled all the way to her toes, stopping in a few erogenous areas along the way. Unable to help herself, she let her gaze slide downward to take in his easy gait and the familiar way he kicked out his long legs with the same lazy ease Sky remembered from their youth. When Caleb had joined the army years ago, he left their hometown of Austin a boy, but he came back a man. A hot, sexy man who would never think of her as anything more than the pigtailed tomboy who used to climb trees with him and Matt.

“Ah, Sky…”

“What?” she asked, turning back to her friends as they both looked at her with wide-eyed curiosity. She resumed wiping down the glasses, busying her hands and pretending Caleb’s mere presence hadn’t thrown her off her game.

Tallulah tapped a manicured finger on the oak bar top. “Don’t what us.”

Sky reached for another glass, avoiding Tallulah’s raised eyebrows. “Meaning?”

“Meaning, what the hell was that all about?” Tallulah asked.

“I’ll tell you what that’s all about,” Kat piped in. “Sky here has the hots for Caleb.”

Tallulah’s brown eyes widened. “Oh my God, it’s true, isn’t it? When did this happen? Tell me everything.”

“What’s true?” Amber, Sky’s head waitress and good friend, asked as she came back to the counter with her tray in hand.

Sky’s mind raced as three sets of eyes stared at her. She could lie, but what was the point? They’d all see through it anyway. “Okay, fine, it’s true. I have the hots for Caleb. It started when he returned home from overseas last year. There, I said it. Are you happy?”

“Like hell I’m happy,” Amber said, planting one hand on her hip in usual Amber fashion. For a minute Sky thought Amber was upset because she wanted Caleb but then her friend’s lips quirked and she pointed a finger directly at Mr. Hottie himself as he walked over to talk to Matt. “I’ll be happy when you go over there and do something about it.”

“No way.” Sky grabbed Amber’s wrist and lowered her hand as she shot Kat a glance. “You’re not the one losing it, Kat. I am.” She gave a disgruntled shake of her head. “Honest to God, I swear the only way I can get a guy to look at me is to tie a pork chop around my neck.”

Her friends laughed and she couldn’t help but laugh along with them, even though it was the sad truth. She hadn’t been with a guy in ages, and if things didn’t pick up soon, she was going to give up hope and start hoarding cats.

Then again, it wasn’t like she’d been putting herself out there. After finishing four years of college, switching from an English degree to a business degree so she could successfully take over her father’s bar when he suddenly passed away from a heart attack a few years back, all she did was work. Her mom died during childbirth and it had been just her and her father growing up. They were very close and keeping the bar a success was important to her. Not only because it was his pride and joy and he’d named it after her, but because he’d entrusted her with it. That meant everything to her. Someday down the road she could get her English degree and write the book she always wanted to, but right now she needed to put all her energy into the bar and making it a success.

Her heart ached as she thought more about her late father, who she missed dearly. He was one of a kind: smart, successful…a man who started out working in the dish pit, saving every penny he had until he could buy the bar and make it his own. He was kind, giving and cared a great deal about others, even offering his friends odd jobs when they were down on their luck. Her whole life she knew she wanted to marry a man who was as compassionate as her father.

She stole a quick glance at Caleb as he walked to the pool table and picked up a stick. She suspected he was that man. He’d come from very little and had worked hard to get where he was. Now he was an army doctor working up in the San Antonio clinic, giving back to the community and caring for the sick. He usually traveled to Austin on the weekends to hang out with her and Matt. When the weather was good and everyone could get the time off, they all often took off to his cottage at the lake.

“If you like him, then do something about it,” Kat said, like it was just so simple. If only it were. “Wouldn’t it be worse if you never tried?”

Sky lowered her voice, not wanting anyone to overhear them, even though no one else was sitting near them at the bar and Matt was at the other end, out of earshot. The last thing she wanted was for Matt to know how much she wanted their other best friend and make him feel like the third wheel, uncomfortable and out of place.

“He doesn’t see me as anything more than a friend,” Sky said. “And he never will. He still calls me Skywalker. As in Luke Skywalker. You know, like I’m one of the guys.”

Tallulah leaned to her side and nudged Kat with her shoulder. “Then make him see you as a girl.” She shared a smirk with Kat, like the two had a dirty little secret. “Believe me, if anyone can school you on seduction and teach you how to get a guy to notice you as something more, it’s our Kat here.”

Kat grinned. “You’re not opposed to bending over a lot, are you?”

Sky sucked in a quick breath as her mind envisioned her doing just that. God, how naughty, wicked and…kinky that sounded. “You’re joking, right?” Sky asked. Both girls knew her well enough to know she wasn’t bold, like Kat, and had never come right out and seduced a guy before. But dammit, she was tired of going unnoticed.

“No. You have a great ass and it’s time he knew it.” Kat slid a napkin across the bar top. “Go over to the pool table and drop this in front of him. When you bend to pick it up, be sure to arch your back and let that little skirt you’re wearing ride up.” Kat winked. “Then you’ll have him right where you want him. And believe me, girlfriend—” she snapped her fingers, “—he’ll be hard as that stick he’s holding.”

Sky laughed along with her friends. While that sounded devious, and getting him hard would be nice, she truly wanted him to like her for more than her “great ass”. She wanted what Kat wanted and Tallulah had—a forever kind of guy—because settling down with a family someday sounded just about right. While sex was nice, it wasn’t her main priority. Finding the right man to settle down with was.

“Well, are you going to go for it?” Tallulah asked.

Sky let loose a long, slow breath and planted her hands on the bar top. “So let me get this straight. You want me to go over to the pool table, drop this napkin, and bend over to show off my ass because you think that’s what it’s going to take to get Caleb to finally notice me as something more than his tomboy friend.”

All three girls inched back a bit, a strange look coming over their faces. Kat and Tallulah turned their attention to their drinks and Amber scurried off to attend a table.

“What?” Sky asked, wondering if she’d said something offensive. Then again, that whole scandalous setup was their idea, not hers, so she had no clue as to why they were all of a sudden acting aloof.

“Thanks for the sandwich,” Matt said from behind her, his mouth near her ear, his warm breath fanning over her skin.

She spun around and when she came face-to-face with her childhood best friend, she knew in an instant he’d overheard their private conversation.

With an almost tortured look on his face, Matt looked down and said, “I…ah…I think you dropped something.”

She followed his gaze to the floor to find the napkin lying across her shoes like it was some clandestine clue in a secret, devious plot—which of course it was.

And now Matt knew about it!

 

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His Moment to Steal

Book Cover: His Moment to Steal

In the Line of Duty, Book 4

Ex-military security specialist Luke Phillips would like nothing more than to walk away from his latest job, especially when he realizes the upscale market owner is the daughter of the man responsible for his year spent in juvie.

Except he promised the kids at the community center new and updated equipment. He has no choice but to keep to himself and try not to get mixed up with Emery Vincent. No matter how sweet and sexy she is.

One look at Luke starts Emery’s heart fluttering—along with other specific body parts. But she knows better than to act on those urges with a bad boy who looks at her like he’s been living off rations and she’s the market’s hot lunch special.

But when he rescues her and bandages up her scuffed knee, the heat between them explodes. While a future between them is impossible, hot, sweaty sex is guaranteed—at least until the job is done. Unless Luke can let go of the past and risk it all for love.

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She inched her skirt up a tiny bit, and that’s when it occurred to Luke that he had to be some sort of damn masochist. What the hell was he thinking? Being this close to her, between her long gorgeous legs, nonetheless, was an exercise in frustration. His cock jumped, warning him that he was setting himself up for failure.

He coughed to hide the moan rising in his throat.

“You okay?” she asked, her knees clenched tightly together.

Christ, he was anything but.

“Yeah.” He lightly brushed one knees, removing the small pieces of gravel. She winced. “Sorry.”

When he went to work on the other, she leaned forward and her hair flared around his face. “How does it look?”

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“You’re scuffed a bit, but once I clean and bandage it, you should be okay.” He ran the cloth over her again, and her knees relaxed. He slowly widened them, and he was almost certain he noticed a change in her breathing as he washed and checked for injuries in between her legs.

He set the cloth aside, and grabbed the alcohol. “This is probably going to sting a bit too.” He poured the alcohol onto a cotton ball and dabbed it onto her raw flesh. She let go of the hem of her skirt, and gripped the edge of the tub. He cast her a quick glace. “Okay?” She nodded, and trying to lighten the mood, he said, “You’re kind of tough.”

“Maybe you’re just good at what you do?”

Damned if he didn’t want to show her what he was really good at.

When he looked back down her skirt had slipped over her knees. As she continued to squeeze the tub, he slid his hand under the hem, pushing it up, just a tiny bit higher than she had it before. His hands trailed along her creamy thighs, so soft, and smooth all he could think about was widened them even more and running his tongue over her, tasting her sweetness as his mouth traveled higher and higher, to the warm spot that had been pressing against his lower back on the ride over.

“Jesus,” he cursed, and clenched down on his jaw to get his shit together.

“What?” she asked, sounding breathless.

Not realizing that he’d said that out loud, he looked up at her, and when he saw desire reflecting in her eyes, it became his undoing.

He looked at her mouth, and she wet her bottom lip with her tongue, like she was preparing her mouth for him.

Walk away, dude. Just walk away.

A long strand of hair fell forward, and her warm, sweet scent reached his nostrils, shattering his last vestige of control. Jesus, he wanted to fuck her. Wanted to push her skirt up over her hips, tear off her panties and pound in to her so hard and so fast that he forget she was one them, that they didn’t belong together. His blood pulsed as sexual heat flooded him, driving ever sane thought away.

Sexual tension arced between them and engulfed the room. Hanging like fog, it was thick and heavy enough to obscure a battlefield, and camouflage the enemy. His glance moved over her face, and every reason for staying away from her suddenly seemed so insignificant.

Why was sleeping with her was a bad idea?

His hands travelled higher on her legs and his desire for her mounted as she leaned into him. Just one taste. That’s all he’d take. One simple taste.

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His Taste of Temptation

Book Cover: His Taste of Temptation

In the Line of Duty, Book 3

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One affair, thirty days.

Since his last relationship blew up in his face, bomb expert Brad Crosby has lost his appetite for “permanent”. But his kid brother’s best friend? Now there’s a curvy morsel he could wrap his lips around.

For years Brad has been the star of Madison Graham’s fantasies. If only she were the kind of put-together girl he prefers, not a pastry chef whose makeup consists of a dusting of powdered sugar on her nose. A belief that’s confirmed when her apartment floods and he offers to let her sleep in his bed—alone.

Wrapped in Brad’s sheets, she dreams of his touches, his kisses, the feel of his body on hers. Except her dreams feel like reality—and come morning, she realizes it wasn’t a dream at all.

Soon the two are burning up the nights. But as Madison’s sweet love grows on him, Brad can’t help but think of extending their time together.

Too bad Madison keeps reminding him their affair has an expiration date.

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Jesus Christ, Madison was going to be the death of him.

He’d been hoping to avoid her when he showed up to collect his brother, and the last thing he expected was to find her in a goddamn wet T-shirt, looking so fucking hot he almost shot off a load then and there.

Brad drummed his fingers on his steering wheel and shifted in his seat, uncomfortable as his cock pressed insistently against his unforgiving jeans. Christ, seeing her in that T-shirt, blinking up at him with those dark bedroom eyes of hers as the lush swell of her body beckoned his touch—his cock—had damn near done him in.

Fuck.

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He’d be lying if he said he didn’t want her in his bed. Every time he looked at her all he could think about was caging her beneath him and fucking her long and hard, driving balls deep until she screamed out his name. Oh yeah, he’d make her scream, and when he did—contrary to what Sophie thought—everyone would hear it.

Maybe then he’d be able to stop thinking about her when he was alone at night. Hell, who was he kidding? He thought about her even when he wasn’t alone.

He’d always liked his kid brother’s best friend, but six months ago, after returning home from a long overseas tour, he suddenly began to see the sweet girl next door in different ways.

Sinful ways…

But he wasn’t going to act on his urges, not when she had something going on with Jonah. Shit…

Truthfully, Brad wasn’t sure what kind of relationship the two had, considering he’d seen them both date other people over the years. But from the comfort level between them, to the way they took care of each other, even going so far as to sharing a place when Jonah had finished his last tour, he knew there had to be deeper feelings involved, and he wasn’t about to take her to his bed, no matter how much he wanted her naked and beneath him. Or naked and on top.

Or just plain naked.

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His Trouble in Tallulah

Book Cover: His Trouble in Tallulah

In the Line of Duty, Book 2

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When faking it takes on a whole new meaning...

Tallulah Duncan is excited about her brother's upcoming wedding in Louisiana, but what she's not looking forward to is facing the man who will undoubtedly be waiting for her. Years ago she and an old boyfriend made a pact. The next time she comes home, if she's still single, they'll get engaged.

He's a nice guy, but Tallulah doesn't love him—or the idea of being an undertaker's wife. And the smokin' hot guy next to her on the plane is a loud-and-clear reminder that her biological clock is on the fritz.

Security specialist Garrett Andersen is pretty sure the gorgeous woman next to him on the plane is about to have a panic attack. And when he tries to distract her, she does the most enchanting, adorable thing he's ever seen. She blushes.

Since they're headed to the same wedding, he finds himself agreeing to step into the role of adoring fiancé. In real life, she's his comrade's kid sister, so it's hands off all the way. Except behind closed doors, her all-out campaign of sweet seduction is burning that strategy to ashes...

Warning: This book contains some very hot, very steamy sex, with a smokin' hot security specialist who knows just how to hit his mark-and make it explode. Did we mention it was hot?

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Dumbfounded, Tallulah stared at Garrett, hardly able to believe what he was suggesting.

"So what do you think?" he asked. "Are you up to pretending we're engaged for the next month or so?"

"I don't know." She turned to look out the window, trying to wrap her brain around this unexpected turn of events. "This is all coming at me rather fast."

"But you do think it will work, don't you?"

She shook her head. Was he for real? "You can't be serious."

"Why not? It will get your ex off your back and give your parents the engagement they wanted."

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She turned back to him and all teasing was gone from his expression. She took in his dark hair, slightly longer than military standards, and sapphire-blue eyes as they stared at her, waiting for her answer. Her gaze moved to the crescent scar running along his right cheek, but it did little to distract from his good looks. In fact it made him looked rugged, sexy, a man who'd go to battle for what he believed in.

"Because I don't even know you," she said.

He glanced at his watch. "We have time."

"My brother..."

Garrett screwed up his handsome face, and it made him look so damn cute she nearly swooned. Thank God she was buckled in, otherwise she feared she'd drop to the floor, or float to the ceiling.

"Yeah, I know he's going to kick my ass. But if we can convince him we're madly in love then he'll back off." He squared his shoulders. "And if not, I'm pretty sure I can handle a beating." He snorted, and a grin curled his lips like was remembering something from the past. "He probably owes me one anyway. Besides, when this is all over and we tell him the truth, we'll all have a good laugh over it. In the meantime we can have some fun with him."

"And how do you suggest we convince him we're in love?"

He shifted closer, and the warm heat of his body wrapped around her in the most enticing ways. She tried not to stare at those broad shoulders and hard body of his, but by God, she was only human, and this guy had hot, thigh-melting sex written all over him. Not that she'd ever indulged in that kind of sex before. No, her experiences weren't anything to write home about. They were clumsy and awkward and something she endured, not enjoyed. But she'd read about hot sex before, and damned if she didn't want to experience it. Just once.

Too bad she wasn't a one-night-stand kind of girl. Her hand went to her stomach. If she was, then she never would have considered following through with the pact she'd made with her ex—a pact that would lead to a quick marriage and possibly give her the one thing in life that she really wanted before it was too late.

"I guess the first thing you should do is try not to flinch when I touch you."

Oh, Gawd...

"You're going to touch me?" she croaked out.

That bad boy grin on his face tightened her nipples. "Oh yeah, lots."

Her pulse leapt as she thought about this guy touching her for the next few days, months even, with those huge work-roughened hands. She envisioned his palms sliding over her bare skin and pleasuring her in ways she'd only ever dreamed about.

"Tallulah," he said, pitching his voice low. "Are you okay?"

"Yes," she lied, trying for calm as she forced that one word past her lips. "So this touching, what will it involve?" she questioned, far more intrigued than she really should be, seeing as this was just a ruse and he had trouble written all over him.

"When we're in public we'll have to be touching all the time. You know, to convince everyone we're lovers."

"And when we're not?"

"Then I'm afraid you'll have to try to restrain yourself," he teased with a smirk. "You'll have to keep your hands to yourself behind closed doors."

"That shouldn't be a problem," she lied. "You're not my type."

Ignoring her comment-and no doubt seeing right through it-Garrett took her hand in his and ran his finger over the inside of her arm. A warm shudder moved through her.

"That's a good start," he murmured.

"What?" she asked, her thoughts fragmenting as her skin came alive beneath his fingers.

"You didn't flinch. In fact, you almost made me believe you liked it."

"I...uh...just trying to do my part," she said as his glance dropped to her mouth.

"Tallulah," he murmured as she moistened her lips.

"Yeah?"

"I think you should touch me."

Her eyes slid over his chest. "And here you accuse me of trying to rush things along," she mumbled under her breath.

He grinned and placed her hand on his chest. She could feel the rhythmic beating of his strong heart beneath a layer of packed muscles. As though moving of their own accord, her hand trailed lower, taking pleasure in his hardness and the rippling waves along his washboard stomach. She stopped before she reached the buckle on his jeans, even though her fingers itched to go lower, to discover if he was just as hard...everywhere.

A low groan crawled out of his throat, the heat between them tremendous when she pulled her hand back and murmured, "That's good, Garrett. Very convincing."

"High school drama club," he said without missing a beat and moved closer. As he pressed his arm and leg against hers in scintillating ways, everything inside her urged her to step out of character, to throw caution to the wind and have her wicked way with him. "Oh, and there'll have to be kissing. Lots of kissing."

She swallowed.

"We should probably practice that too," he suggested.

While she sat there trying to wrap her brain around what he was suggesting, he dipped his head, his mouth hovering close.

"But-"

"You do want to get this right, don't you?"

"Yes, but—"

Before she could finish, his lips closed over hers, taking full possession of her mouth. Heat thrummed through her bloodstream and, despite her better judgment, she found herself opening for him, welcoming the kiss and all he had to offer. Somewhere in the back of her mind she registered his soft moan, the increased pressure on her lips and the blazing fire licking over her thighs.

His tongue slipped inside to play with hers, and tension grew in her body, her heart racing wildly. One hand gently cupped her face and everything in the way he held her felt deeply intimate, highly erotic. Her body quivered, beckoning so much more from this hot, heroic soldier, a guy who went to war for his country and all the people in it.

The fresh scent of his recently showered skin curled around her, fueling her hunger in the most frightening ways. If the man kissed this good, she could only imagine how skilled he'd be between the sheets. And imagine she did…

A moment later Garrett eased away and she found herself leaning toward him as he inched back. Then she drew a ragged breath, forcing oxygen back into her brain before she did something she might regret later, something like ask him to initiate her into the mile high club.

"Another good start," he said, running his tongue over his bottom lip as though savoring the taste of her.

"Garrett?" she asked, barely able to string together a coherent sentence.

"Yeah?"

"Why would you do this for me?"

He pushed deeper in to his seat and once again offered her that sexy lopsided smile that nearly turned her inside out. "Because I need a favor too."

"Ah, I get it. You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours."

His grin widened, and his voice came out a little deeper when he said, "Sure. If that's what you want."

Want? Good God, he had no idea... Then again, he was a man of experience, so maybe he did.

"What I want to know is what I have to do in return."

"Pretty much the same as we'll be doing during the wedding. When we get back to Austin, I'll need you pretend to be my fiancée in order to lock down a security job I'm vying for. I'm in competition with a guy named Phillip McNeil. He's a stand-up guy, married, kids, the whole package. The kind of character the Committee is looking for."

"What will we have to do?"

"We'll have to attend a few dinners where you'll meet the Security Committee in charge of putting together the new team, and help me convince them we're in love and that I'm the better candidate. Nothing too serious. Besides, I'm sure we'll have the part nailed by the time we return."

Nervous anticipation moved through her as she thought about what she was getting into with Garrett Andersen. According to her brother and a few other soldiers she'd once heard talking about him, he would protect the brotherhood at all costs, and die for any one of his comrades. She also knew he helped his comrades train service dogs and put them into the hands of soldiers who were working to defuse munitions that had been left over from former training camps during the wars. But when it came to women he was a playboy with a different set of rules. Ones that didn't involve long term.

Not that she was looking for long term from him. She wasn't. But she couldn't deny that Garrett Andersen made her think of sex—hot, wild, rattle-the-headboard kind of sex that would forever rock her world. And Lord, that kiss. It was pretty damn incredible and left her dormant libido craving so much more from him. She nibbled her lip and started to rethink this dangerous game they were playing.

Steeling herself, she pulled her hand away. "Maybe this isn't a good idea."

"It's your call, Peaches," he said, putting the ball in her court.

She took a long moment to mull things over. While she might have had a moment of weakness where her ex was concerned, understanding a quick marriage could give her the baby she always wanted—before her endometriosis got any worse and she ended up in surgery that would forever leave her barren—she knew she didn't love him or want to spend the rest of her life in a small town with preconceived notions of women's roles.

Then there were her parents. They were strict disciplinarians and she'd learned to do what was expected of her. She'd never been taught to stand up for herself and always tried to please them. Right now they wanted her to come home, because, like everyone else, they thought they knew what was best for her. But Tallulah loved her job in the city and was in line for the director's position. And as much as she hated to deceive them, this would give them the engagement they were looking for and help cement her reasons for staying in Austin. Her glance moved over Garrett, and to the way those perceptive eyes of his were watching her too carefully.

Garrett certainly wasn't the local boy they'd want to see her with, and her folks would undoubtedly praise the good Lord when she eventually told them it didn't work out. But in the meantime a pretend engagement with this seriously attractive guy would buy her some time until she really did find a fiancé. Plus, she wouldn't have to sit through a family intervention where everyone insisted it was time for her to come home and get married.

Oh, and there'll have to be kissing. Lots of kissing.

She exhaled slowly and continued to think things over. She considered her choices, and while one was less than appealing—she stole another glance at Garrett-the other held a promise of excitement. And kissing. And touching.

At least in public.

"Okay, Garrett." Good God, she could hardly believe what she was about to do as she checked her watch. "Tell me everything. Starting with where you were born."

COLLAPSE

His Obsession Next Door

Book Cover: His Obsession Next Door

In the Line of Duty, Book 1
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Once the fuse is lit, there's only one way to extinguish the flames.

Years ago, Cole Sullivan made a battlefield promise sealed in a dying man's blood—to take care of his best friend's little sister. Now he's forced to live with the fact that Gemma Matthews is completely off limits.

Though Gemma's always had a crush on the darkly handsome, far-too-serious explosives expert, she can't forget the sting of his rejection. Now here they are, ten years later, with Cole still stubbornly in the role of protector. But when she catches him watching her from his house next door, she jumps at the opportunity to show him everything he's been missing.

Cole can barely keep his cool at Gemma's bedroom window performance. He's never been a risk taker, but her all-out campaign of seduction ignites a fuse that can only blow up in his face.

All thoughts of backing off are swept away in the heat of reckless passion. Leaving him wondering how he will live with himself amid the razor-sharp shards of his broken promise.

Warning: Contains a smoking-hot explosives expert and enough heat to set an ammunition depot ablaze.

Published:
Publisher: Samhain
Genres:
Excerpt:

"What's gotten into the puppies tonight?" Veterinarian Gemma Matthews asked her assistant as she finished securing the last howling pooch into its kennel.

Victoria gave a mock shiver and shot a nervous glance toward the shelter window. "It's the moon. It'll be full tomorrow night."

Despite the uneasy feeling mushrooming inside Gemma, she laughed at her assistant and followed the long column of silver moonlight illuminating a path along the cement floor. She reached the front lobby of her clinic, now eerily quiet after a demanding day of surgeries, and turned to Victoria. She gave a playful roll of her eyes, and said, "You've seen too many scary movies."

Victoria dabbed gloss to her lips, smacked them together and countered with, "Hey, it could happen."

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Gemma arched a brow, humoring the young girl she'd hired straight out of veterinary college. "You think?"

"Sure." Victoria's long, blonde ponytail flicked over her shoulder as she gestured to the no-kill shelter attached to the clinic. "That's why the dogs are barking." Her green eyes widened and her voice sounded conspiratorial when she added, "They can sense the big, bad wolf out there, ready to shred a human's heart into a million tiny pieces."

"I hate to break it to you, Victoria," Gemma said, grinning at her assistant's antics, "but werewolves don't exist." Even though Gemma didn't believe in the supernatural, there was nothing she could do to ignore the jittery feeling that had been plaguing her all day. The truth was, the dogs weren't the only ones feeling antsy and out of sorts on this hot summer night.

Her assistant held her arms up and jangled the big, silver charm bracelets lining her wrists. "Well I'm not taking any chances, which is why I've armed myself with silver."

Before Gemma could respond, the office phone started ringing. As Victoria turned her attention to the caller, Gemma dimmed the lights and made her way to the front door to stare out into the ominous night. She stole a glance skyward and took in the mosaic of stars shimmering against the velvet backdrop. Even though the Austin night was calm, with not a cloud to be found in the charcoal sky, deep inside Gemma could sense a strange new ripple in the air. It left her feeling ill at ease. She placed a hand over her stomach, unable to shake the feeling that all was not right in her world.

Honestly, she had no reason to feel apprehensive or troubled, considering she finally had everything she ever wanted—her own clinic in the city, a no-kill shelter to help re-home animals, and an upcoming banquet that would hopefully raise enough funds to expand her animal sanctuary before she had to start turning pets away.

Swallowing down her edginess, Gemma set the deadbolt and was about to switch the sign from Open to Closed when a tall, dark figure stepped from the inky shadows. She sucked in a quick breath and felt a measure of panic as the very male, very familiar figure came into view.

Speaking of the big, bad wolf.

"Oh. My. God," she rushed out breathlessly.

"Is everything okay?" Victoria asked from behind the counter.

Instead of answering, Gemma's shaky hands went back to the deadbolt, certain she had to be hallucinating. The bell overhead jangled as she pulled the door open and the second she came face to face with the man from her past, the same man who'd rebuffed her seduction days after her seventeenth birthday, she feared nothing would ever be okay again.

Moving with the confidence of a man on a mission, he came closer, the long length of his powerful legs eating up the black sidewalk in record time. Even in the dark she'd recognized that hard body of his, developed from hardcore military training rather than endless hours in some sleek gym. Her gaze took in the leather motorcycle jacket stretched over broad shoulders before traveling back to his chiseled face. Dark, penetrating eyes—harder now from having seen too much carnage—locked on hers, and the raw strength of the impact hit like a physical blow.

He came barreling through her front door. "Gemma," he rushed out breathlessly. The urgency in his voice had the fine hairs on the back of her neck spiking with worry.

"Cole," she somehow managed to say around a tongue gone thick as she stumbled backward. "What…how…?" She choked on her words as she glanced past his shoulders to see where he'd come from. She'd been positive that after the funeral last year she'd never set eyes on this man again, and if she did, their chance meeting wouldn't go down like this.

Worried eyes full of dark concern cast downward. "Gemma…it's…it's Charlie…he's hurt…" Cole's fractured words fell off and that's when Gemma's gaze dropped.

Her heart leaped into her throat and she instantly snapped into professional mode when she caught the silhouette of the Labrador Retriever bundled in his arms. "Follow me." Jumping into action she turned and found Victoria rushing down the hall toward Exam Room 1, already a step ahead of them.

Gemma moved with haste and worked to quiet her racing heart. "Tell me exactly what happened." She kept her tone low and her voice controlled in an effort to calm Cole and minimize his anxiety.

Keeping pace, he followed close behind her, his feet tight on her heels. "We were out for a run in Sherwood Park," he began. "A squirrel sidetracked him, and he veered off the beaten path. He was jumping a log and didn't see the sharp branch sticking up."

She stole a quick glance over her shoulder and when dark, intense eyes focused on hers, her stomach clenched. "It's going to be okay, Cole. I promise." She drew a breath and gave a silent prayer that it was a promise she could keep. Gemma pushed through the swinging door and gestured with a quick nod toward the sterile examination table while she hurried to ready herself.

Understanding her silent command, Cole secured the whimpering dog onto the prep counter. Gemma's heart pinched when he placed a solid, comforting hand on the animal's head and spoke in soothing tones while Victoria went to work on preparing the pre-surgical sedative.

Gemma scrubbed in quickly and put on her surgery gear. She gave the dog a once-over before she dabbed at the blood to assess the depth of the wound. Angling her head, she cast Cole a quick glance. "Why don't you take a seat in the other room. This could take a while."

"I'm staying," Cole said firmly, their gazes colliding in that old familiar battle of wills.

Uncomfortable with the idea of him watching while she worked, and fully aware that he was a distraction she didn't need during surgery, she urged, "It could get messy."

"I've seen blood before, Gemma." With his feet rooted solidly, he folded his arms across his chest. "I'm not leaving him."

"Cole—"

"I'm fine."

Not wanting to waste time with a debate and knowing Cole was a bomb expert who'd seen his fair share of blood in the field, she gestured toward the chair in the corner. Once Cole stepped away, she cleansed the animal's wounds and continued her assessment.

She checked temperature, pulse and respiration before evaluating Charlie's gums. She shot Victoria a look as her assistant secured the blood pressure cuff and waited for the go ahead on the pre-surgical sedative.

"He's already trying to crash," Gemma said. "We have to go straight to surgery."

Working quickly, Gemma hooked the dog to an I.V. catheter and induced anesthesia while Victoria began the three-scrub process to shave and sterilize Charlie's skin.

Once the dog was clipped and scrubbed, Gemma reassessed. "He's lost a lot of blood, but I'm not seeing any visible organ damage. We'll have to flush the cavity to clean out the debris before we stitch."

As Gemma sprayed the area with warm saline, Victoria called out, "Pulse ox dropping, heart rate down to forty-five."

Damn, this was not good. Fearing she was missing something, she sprayed the area again and gave the cavity another assessment. That's when she noticed the tree had nicked a vessel on the liver. Gemma's heart leaped and worry moved through her as she exchanged a look with Victoria. Keeping her fingers steady and her face expressionless for Cole's sake, she worked quickly to tie the vessel off before it was too late. Once complete, she rinsed the area, and when the bleeding came to a halt, she exhaled a relieved breath.

She turned her attention to her suture. A long while later she glanced at the clock, noting that more than an hour had passed since Cole had first stepped foot in her door. Gemma secured the last stitch, wiped her brow and stood back to examine the dog.

"Vitals are good," Victoria informed her. Gemma gave a nod and took off her surgery garb. She quickly washed up and let loose a slow breath, confident that the dog would recover.

"Will he be okay?" Cole whispered.

Gemma's skin came alive, Cole's soft, familiar voice sending an unexpected curl of heat through her tired body. She turned to him and he stepped closer, the warmth of his body reaching out to her and overwhelming all her senses. As he looked at her with dark, perceptive eyes that knew far too many of her childhood secrets, she jerked her head to the right. "Let's go into the other room."

She pushed through the surgery doors and Cole followed her into the lobby where she could put a measure of distance between them.

"Is Charlie going to be okay?" Cole asked again, raking his hands through short, dark hair that had been cut to military standards.

Gemma rubbed her temples and leaned against the receptionist's counter. "He's lucky you got him to me when you did."

For the first time since stepping into her clinic, his shoulders relaxed slightly. "He's going to be okay?"

"Yes. He's going to be fine." She drew a breath and stared at the man before her, hardly able to believe that he was here in her clinic. Shortly after her botched seduction some ten years ago he'd enlisted in the army and had gone out of his way to avoid her.

As she considered that further, she decided to brave the question that had been plaguing her since he'd darkened her doorway. She waved her hand around the front lobby. "Why did you bring him here? There are other clinics closer to Sherwood Park."

Silence lingered for a minute, then in a voice that was too quiet, too careful, he said, "Because you were here, Gems, and I wouldn't trust Charlie's care in anyone else's hands but yours."

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