Charmed: A Masters and Mercenaries Novella
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Nina Blunt is pretty sure she’s cursed. She worked her way up through the ranks at Interpol, fighting for every step with hard work and discipline. Then she lost it all because she loved the wrong person. Rebuilding her career with McKay-Taggart, she can’t help but feel lonely. It seems everyone around her is finding love and starting families. But she knows that isn’t for her. She has vowed never to make the mistake of falling in love again.
JT comes to McKay-Taggart for assistance rooting out a corporate spy, and Nina signs on to the job. Their working relationship becomes tricky, however, as their personal chemistry flares like a wildfire. Completing the assignment without giving in to the attraction that threatens to overwhelm them seems like it might be the most difficult part of the job. When danger strikes, will they be able to count on each other when the bullets are flying? If not, JT’s charmed life might just come to an end.
**Every 1001 Dark Nights novella is a standalone story. For new readers, it’s an introduction to an author’s world. And for fans, it’s a bonus book in the author’s series. We hope you'll enjoy each one as much as we do.**
Release date: June 23, 2020
Publisher: 1001 Dark Nights Press
Print pages: 198
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Charmed: A Masters and Mercenaries Novella
“You need to get laid.”
Nina Blunt bit back a groan at the words and held her hand up to indicate to the bartender that she was definitely going to need another glass of wine. She adored Sandra Croft, the woman sitting beside her at the bar, but sometimes she could be a lot to take. She’d met Sandra months before when she’d shown up at the London office of McKay-Taggart and Knight with her daughter and granddaughter. Like many people Nina knew, Sandra was ex-military, and it showed in her no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners style of conversation.
“I’m not here to get laid. I’m here to do a job, and that job starts tomorrow afternoon,” Nina pointed out, sliding her empty wine glass forward so the bartender could pour out some more Pinot Noir.
Sandra turned in her chair, her hand on the beer she’d ordered. “When was the last time you got laid? I’m thinking it’s been a couple of years. Fess up. I’ve got a bet on this.”
This rarely happened in London. There was a reason she didn’t come work for the Dallas team often. Ever, really. It was her first time working directly with Ian Taggart’s team, and this was what she got. “It’s absolutely none of your business.”
“I totally disagree. I have to go undercover with you. I’m your backup. I need to make sure my girl is loose and ready to rumble. I’ve got some thoughts on hookers.”
Sometimes with Sandra she just had to go with it. Often with Sandra, things got so over-the-top awkward it was amusing. “I think they’re called gigolos when they’re male.”
Sandra shook her head. “I refuse that terminology. Look, a doctor’s a doctor whether said doc has lady bits or dangly parts or anything in between. A pro’s a pro. If there’s one thing my daughter’s generation has right, it’s sexual fluidity.”
Sometimes it was utterly fascinating to watch Sandra go. It was one of the reasons she was kind of excited about the upcoming job. Sure, it was a fairly simple catch-the-corporate-spy-in-action job that she’d done a hundred times, but Sandra was her backup and that meant the world might explode. “So you think I should call up an agency and tell them I’ll take whatever they send. Girl parts. Boy parts. Doesn’t matter.”
“I’m only saying these people are professionals and strap-ons exist.”
The bartender nearly dropped the bottle of wine she’d been pouring. That happened a lot around Sandra. The woman had no filter and absolutely no fucks to give. Still, she had to smile. Many good things had come out of the mission that had finally brought the Lost Boys full circle, but meeting Sandra had been a blessing to Nina. Sandra had become her friend, and she needed a friend who took no bullshit and told no lies. It was refreshing, even if sometimes challenging. “Well, I will certainly keep that in mind if I feel like I need a good snog.”
“You need more than a snog,” Sandra pointed out. “Your shoulders are up around your ears. You know they’re not supposed to be there, right?”
She couldn’t help it if she was a bit on the Type A side of the personality scale. It had served her well in her profession. Well, mostly. “What do you think the wine is for?”
Sandra considered her for a moment. “I think you’ll have two glasses of wine, and even though you might want a third, you’ll refuse. Like at dinner. You wanted dessert but turned it away. You’ll drink the amount of wine you’ve agreed you can have and then you’ll be in bed by nine alone. You’ll read a romance novel but when ten o’clock strikes, no matter how much you want to read more, you’ll close the book and turn out the lights because you have a schedule.”
Well, put like that her evening sounded boring. Yes, she’d wanted the cheeseburger and settled for the grilled chicken salad sans dressing. Yes, she’d wanted a taste of chocolate cake, but a taste tended to lead to eating the whole thing, and then she might gain a pound and he would…
She wasn’t really thinking of Roger, was she? She wasn’t still making choices based on the humiliation he might heap on her. Shame washed over her, the horrible cycle of a terrible relationship so ingrained in her being that she hadn’t even realized she was still going through it. “Maybe I’ll have a third glass of wine. But I should go to bed early. I have to deal with Big Tag tomorrow. That requires all my faculties.”
Sandra’s face softened. “Big Tag is the easiest person in the world to deal with if you don’t mind a little sarcasm. Honestly, he’s the single most tolerant human being I’ve ever met.”
“Are we talking about the same person?”
Sandra grinned. “Oh, he’ll call out dumbassery wherever he sees it, but there’s a kindness to the man if you look for it. Most of the things he does are because he gives a damn. Look, I think I know where you are.”
“Dallas.” She could be sarcastic, too, and she rather wanted to avoid this particular talk. One of the things she liked about Sandra was she kept things light.
But wasn’t that what she’d wanted for years? Keep things light so she didn’t have to get hurt again. Shallow friendships she didn’t have to be honest about, didn’t have to admit her flaws and mistakes because they were all about having a laugh.
Sandra ignored her. “My husband left me for a younger woman when Roni was five years old. I wasn’t woman enough for him. His words, not mine. To him a woman was soft and feminine in a very traditional sense. Feminine to him meant wearing pretty clothes and ensuring his comfort and making him feel like a man because he wasn’t strong enough to be one on his own. I made a mistake when I married him. I wouldn’t take it back because I got two amazing kids out of the asshole, but he wasn’t good enough for me. Now since then I’ve come to realize I’m good at being me. I like myself. I like being on my own. I don’t think I’ll ever get remarried, but I’m going to have a lot of fun before I go out. Sweetie, you aren’t having fun.”
“I wasn’t married to him.” To Roger.
“He still cost you a lot.”
He’d cost her everything, including her self-esteem. “It was my fault. I was an Interpol agent and I didn’t see that my partner, the man I was sleeping with, was working for the enemy, was using my work to help out his real boss.”
And now that she was a year away from the fact, she could see how he’d distracted her. He’d used her own need-to-please nature against her.
Sandra sighed and put a hand on her arm. “No. That’s where you’re wrong. It wasn’t your fault. You got used. You went into a relationship with all the right intentions. He was an asshole. Don’t let him ruin the rest of your life. We’re going to a beautiful tropical island soon. Think about finding some pleasure in it.”
“I’m working. I’m there to find a corporate spy, not a shag.”
“I don’t see why you can’t do both. As far as I can tell everyone else on the team has. It’s kind of a thing they do,” Sandra said, pulling her phone out of her pocket. “And I’ve seen some of the guys and ladies on staff. They are hot. You should consider it. I know I’m going to. I’ve got my eye on one of the bartenders. All of twenty-four. I can teach that boy something. But first, I’ve got a date.”
Sandra hopped off her barstool.
It was easy to see her friend was making the most of her time now that her daughter and granddaughter were happily ensconced in their new home in Wyoming. Sandra had spent years protecting them after she’d lost her oldest child to a killer. She deserved every moment of pleasure she could get. Sandra had done everything right.
But she herself hadn’t, had she? That was why she no longer trusted herself to do anything that wasn’t on a rigid schedule. She made decisions based on a matrix she studied over and over to ensure she wasn’t stepping out of line again.
She stopped. “I really am punishing myself, aren’t I?”
Sandra slapped her on the shoulder. “Yes. You totally are punishing yourself, and that means the asshole wins. You know how he loses? If you have wicked-hot revenge sex. Not hate sex. Hate sex is something you would do with him, and then he gets to have an orgasm. No. you need revenge sex. Find someone hot and do him or her hard. Do that person until your eyes roll to the back of your head and you can’t remember your name anymore. That kind of banging. Hey, there are actually a couple of really hot guys on the Dallas team. There’s this guy named Boomer. Gorgeous. Not a brain in his head, but I would bet his dick works just fine. Buy him dinner and…well, he would probably follow you around for life. He really likes food. There are others. Michael. Hey, he’s very sexy, and he’s the son of our client for this mission.”
She was not going there. “I do not shag where I eat. No. No one from McKay-Taggart, and definitely no one connected to Malone Oil. But I might think about the rest of it. Tell me about your man?”
Sandra’s eyes went wide and she started to back up. “Not mine. I’m only playing with him for the night. They’ve got these apps now. Another great thing the young people have made. I can find a guy with a couple of swipes.”
She shook her head. “Absolutely not. Online dating makes me…very ill.”
“Not really dating. All right, my friend, I have to head out. I’m flying to the resort tomorrow afternoon with Hutch. We’re getting out there early to set stuff up for our Agency contact. Vomit. I’ll see you out there in a week. It’s going to be fun to get some sun.” Sandra slung her messenger bag over her shoulder. “Hey, you know there are a couple of single dudes here. Nothing wrong with dragging some tail out of a bar.”
The waitress walking by had a sudden coughing fit.
Sandra had made it to the entrance and gave her a salute. “Use condoms.”
How had Roni ever survived her teen years with Sandra as her mum? She waved as Sandra went off to find her fun for the evening.
“Your friend is funny.” The bartender was shaking her head.
Despite the fact that the bar was attached to one of the more exclusive hotels in Dallas, it had a down-home feel. Oh, the drinks were expensive, but she didn’t feel as out of place as she had in the lobby bar.
“She’s very amusing.” She also might be right. Was she letting Roger win? She’d been invited to dinner with Taggart and his group tonight. They were at a restaurant owned by Tag’s little brother, and she would have met the whole team. Yet she’d told him she was getting in late and needed to rest. It was eight p.m. here, but it was two a.m. in London.
What she hadn’t told him was she’d been preparing for the time difference for a solid week. She’d gradually adjusted her sleep time so she wouldn’t feel the jet lag so keenly. She wasn’t sleepy. She was perfectly awake and wondering if she would lie in bed like Sandra had guessed she would. She wasn’t quite as bad as that. She would read an extra chapter from time to time.
She would lose herself in a sexy book because she refused to trust herself to find anything good in real life.
“If you were looking for someone to spend some time with, there’s the single most gorgeous man I’ve ever seen in my life sitting behind you,” the bartender said. “I would keep him for myself, but I don’t swing that way. I was actually thinking about getting your friend’s number, but then she intimidated me with the strap-on talk.”
Sandra intimidated a lot of people. A lot. “I think I’ll have this glass and then go upstairs.”
The bartender shrugged. “All right, but that one is something special, and he has been checking you out.”
Well, now she had to look. Didn’t she? It wouldn’t change anything. She would still do exactly what she’d planned. She would finish her second glass of wine, though she wasn’t anywhere close to even being mellow, pay her tab, and go to her room where she would read the latest Kristen Ashley book until it was time to turn out the lights and go to bed.
This bloke wouldn’t change a thing.
She turned her barstool slightly to the left, back to the tables that lined the window facing the street. There were several groups at the tables, but her eyes laser focused in on one. She’d briefly wondered if she’d be able to tell which man the bartender had been talking about. There were lots in here, and Texas men weren’t exactly unattractive as a group. They tended to be quite masculine and lovely.
Oh, this was so much more.
Raven dark hair and a jaw carved from granite. Piercing eyes and broad shoulders, but beyond that there was an air of authority around the man. He would be the boss in whatever room he walked into, but he wouldn’t force it. He wouldn’t yell and bludgeon his way through. No. He would be quiet, and everyone would fall in line. Everyone would do his bidding, hoping the king smiled their way.
Hoping the king held out his hand and welcomed a commoner to join him. At his table. In his bed.
She’d been reading way too many romance novels.
“Yep, that’s kind of the reaction I had, and I’m not even straight,” the bartender replied with a chuckle. “He’s been watching you. I’ve seen him in here a few times. I don’t think he’s married.”
That was good for him and good for whatever woman he ended up taking to his room tonight because it absolutely wouldn’t be her.
Why? Why not go over there and talk to him? Why not be bold and ask for the things she wanted? Did she have to be this pent-up, closed-off person she’d become forever, or could she take back a bit of herself?
All she would do was talk, spend maybe an hour with him if he was nice. She wouldn’t go to bed with him. Probably not. Definitely not. He might not want to go to bed with her. But even if he did, she wouldn’t. Probably.
Or maybe she would. Maybe she would give herself one night off from guilt and worry.
“I do believe I’m going in.” She said the words out loud. “Should I take him a drink?”
The bartender quickly poured out a beer. “This is what he’s drinking. And I’m here until close if you change your mind and need an easy way out.”
She picked up both drinks and took a deep breath. It was time to see if she could claim a bit of herself back.
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