Echo Team has a new addition—a K-9, and he’s in need of training . . . Eight-plus years as Echo Three and Chris Hunter is still as mission-focused as ever, continuing to fight for his country as part of a secretive team of operatives serving the President. When Chris decides to rescue a dog for the team, he soon discovers he and the guys are far from K-9 whisperers, and they need help. When Chris seeks a witty and beautiful woman he once met to train his Belgian Malinois, he winds up tripping all over himself to impress the dog handler as well. After a decade of thrill-seeking, Rory McAdams decides to move to New Orleans and put her adventurous life behind her, hoping to pursue her other passion working with dogs. She never anticipates a gorgeous Navy SEAL to knock on the door and hire her for her first job. Training Chris’s K-9 is one thing. Trying not to fall for the dog’s hilarious and handsome owner . . . quite another. But when a dangerous threat from Rory’s past comes back to haunt her, she’ll find herself turning to Chris for help to partake in one final mission—one meant to save her life. It’s an operation like none other, and Echo and Bravo Teams must do whatever it takes to succeed, even if it means working with the enemy. The Stealth Ops Team - Navy SEALS who handle off-the-books operations for the President under the guise of an alias, Scott & Scott Securities. *Each book in this action-packed romantic suspense series can be read as a standalone.
Release date: October 8, 2020
Publisher: Emko Media, LLC
Print pages: 457
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
“Ten years, you’ve been chasing adventures. I’m just having a hard time believing you’ll actually stay this time. We’ve all heard it before. Plus, if you were really going to stay, wouldn’t you have bought this place instead of renting it?”
Shit. He had her there. This was her third attempt at settling down in the last several years. Every other time, she’d taken off into the sunset on a yacht, or boarded a jet and flown away. This time will be different. What choice do I have? She just hated turning her back on work that still needed to be done.
She needed to keep her feet planted to the ground like a hundred-year-old oak, though. She’d like to think she’d be able to do it. Only time would tell.
“I have no choice this time.” She regretted the words the moment her brother’s gaze intensified. How the heck did she allow that thought to slip past the carefully crafted defenses she’d spent years creating?
“What’s going on? Something happen?”
The sound of a car door shutting outside drew her to the front of the house to see who was outside on her property. Her closest neighbor was five acres away, and he was the one who’d shown up with baked goods that her brother had all but accused her of gorging on before her toast.
“Hey, wait.” Jesse caught up with her, and she turned to face him before she could glimpse who was heading toward her door. “Tell me what you meant.”
She raked a hand through her blonde hair, wishing she could take back those words because her brother wouldn’t back down now. “Things got dicey on my last job. I understand now it’s safer to step away from that life.” She nearly clamped a hand over her mouth at her admission. What the hell?
His golden skin blanched, and he clenched his hands into fists. Her brother was a born fighter, which had been both helpful and harmful to him over the years. And based on his locked jaw, he appeared ready to throw down with whoever had placed her in danger.
Me. I put myself in danger. “I’m fine, I promise.” The words came out more laid-back than she’d meant them. But if Carter Dominick’s word could be believed, she’d hopefully be fine.
“Rory.” Jesse tipped his head to the side as a knock, followed by the chime of the doorbell, saved her from continuing the conversation.
“I’ll make you a deal. As soon as you open up and talk about Ella, I’ll talk about my past,” she proposed, hoping that’d shut up her brother.
He brushed past her to the hall in a hurry. Mission success. “Let me get the door. You can’t be too careful.”
She had a security system, but it was constantly going off for the stupidest things since her brother had been staying with her—like his two a.m. snack cravings for toast—yeah, they were definitely related.
Jesse cracked the door, but not wide enough for her to see who was outside. “Whoa, man, what are you doing here?” When he opened the door wider, Rory stumbled back a step at the piercing blue eyes that greeted her.
So, after three months, he finally sought her out.
Then again, she was actually in one place and “sought-able.” Totally not a word, her mom’s voice popped into her head. Rory rolled her eyes. Their mom may have retired from teaching elementary school, but she hadn’t eased up on either of her own kids when it came to proper grammar.
“Hi.” Her eyebrows must have been hovering at the top of her forehead right now. Chris would be able to see her surprise. And why shouldn’t she be surprised? No warning from Ella’s brother, A.J., about his visit. She’d be calling A.J. to give him a good old Southern earful later.
She’d already given A.J. one when she found out he went and eloped with Ana. Their small hometown had been up in arms about it. Robbed of two weddings since Ella had called off her wedding the night before she was to walk down the aisle three months ago. Granted, she did the right thing since Brian was the wrong man for her.
“Hi,” Chris returned. He had on a navy-blue ball cap. Backward. Why was that always so sexy on a guy? His tan forearms became more pronounced as his hands dove into the pockets of his dark-denim jeans, which were matched with dark sneakers. A short-sleeved, light blue Under Armour cotton shirt clung to his frame. Broad shoulders. Chiseled jaw. He was about the same height as her brother. Probably six-two.
He reminded her of another Chris, but as far as Rory was concerned, he was better looking than the actor Chris Evans. But she understood why Ella’s niece, McKenna, had referred to him as Captain America. Did he have the “Ass of America,” too? Rory didn’t have a chance to check out his backside the one time they’d met at the end of June, but it looked like today she would have the opportunity.
But wait. Why are you here? She’d swear her brain was in some type of strange fog. She felt disconnected, kind of . . . light-headed, woozy. Maybe she had a sinus infection? She hated those.
“What are you doing here?” Jesse asked, voicing her thoughts and stepping to the side to allow Chris entrance.
“I was hoping for a word with Rory.” Chris’s question was directed toward her, not so much asking permission from her brother.
Jesse looked back at her, then toward Chris again. He was probably giving Chris the “can I trust him alone with my sister?” look she knew too well.
“I’ve gotta meet up with my friend anyway. I’ll fix the sink later.” Jesse eyed Rory, checking for the okay to leave her even though he knew full well if Chris worked with A.J., he was solid. But her overprotective brother couldn’t help himself. And if he only knew what she’d really been doing for the last few years, he’d have a heart attack. Everyone in her small town would have taken a collective gasp and fainted.
“Thanks.” She waited for Jesse to head out the front door. Being alone with someone who was practically a stranger should have made her uneasy, but it didn’t. She felt warm and tingly and—was it hot in there?
She tugged at the cotton material of her shirt and turned away from him to lower the A/C.
“Sorry to show up like this,” Chris said from behind while she went a bit overzealous stabbing the controls to blast the air-conditioning to arctic temps.
“No apology needed. So what can . . .” Rory whirled to face Chris and stopped mid-sentence. Apparently, this man had never heard the notion of “personal space” because he was all up in hers. Lordy, he was so close she could barely breathe, yet somehow his cologne managed to further muddle her brain.
She lifted her nose, finding and cataloging his scent like a K9.
Sexy. Vibrant and virile. The manliest aroma she’d ever breathed in, and she came from a place of Southern cowboys, so that was saying a lot.
Hints of mint, touches of oak and cedar.
Wow, did he smell good. And look incredible.
Maybe there would be some perks to returning home.
But what if someone discovered her identity, her name? Where she lived?
No relationships. Not anytime soon. Be careful. Cautious. Keep your distance if you don’t want to hurt anyone until you know you’re in the clear, the memory of Carter’s parting warning a sharp stab to the chest. That strange relaxed feeling she’d been experiencing disappeared, and in its place, nervousness filled the void.
Chris may have been a former Navy SEAL, and still gallivanting around the world for his security company, but she didn’t want to endanger him because of the risks she’d taken. It wouldn’t be fair.
“You okay?” he asked as he removed his Red Sox hat and clutched it to his outer leg.
Her back pressed to the hall wall alongside the sideboard, and she did her best not to focus on his eyes. Eyes she was fairly confident could reach inside of her and touch her soul. Light her on fire.
She’d been with passionate lovers in her life, mostly foreign men, but there was something different about this man. Something she couldn’t quite understand or place her finger on.
Meaningless, no-strings-attached sex was all she’d be able to offer and—what am I thinking?
A smirk cut across his full lips like he’d heard her thoughts. His beard was trimmed close to his face but still thick. His hair a light brown, borderline dirty blond, and shorter on the sides. Not quite spiky but like he’d pulled at the strands to make some stand up on the top.
His nose was straight. Distinguished. Those blue, with a touch of green, eyes were set perfectly apart on an angular face. Strong jaw with a mouth that would look brilliant placed on the arch of her throat. Kissing her.
Okay, it’s been waaaayyyy too long since I’ve had sex. That is what is wrong with me.
And yet, the strange mix of nerves and a euphoric state had her imagination continuing to run wild as he stood a few inches before her, observing her with an amused smile and those gorgeous, confident eyes.
The immediate attraction she’d felt the first time they met was present. Sharp. Fierce. And it felt far too good.
“I need your help.” His eyes lowered to her mouth as if he were cataloging her looks the same as she had his, but then he turned away.
It was the reprieve she needed to find her breath. To pull herself together.
The fabric of his tee cinched in the middle as he drew a hand to the top of his head for a brief moment.
“You need my help?”
He lowered his hand, but she’d stepped too close so that when he turned back around, their bodies collided.
He quickly snatched her arm as if worried she might lose her balance.
Feet planted to the ground.
That was the plan, right?
No going anywhere.
No temptation. No thrill-chasing.
But wouldn’t this man be a thrill? An adventure? She felt that deep in her bones, among other places.
“I want you to take me on as a client. A.J. said you’re going to start a business training animals, and well, we got a Belgian Malinois for the company, and we could use your help.” His eyes journeyed to his hand secured around her bicep, then suddenly widened with the realization he’d been holding on to her and let go. He set his ball cap back on, this time the bill facing her way.
“Yeah, sort of.” He scratched his jaw, unease in his expressive blue eyes.
“What do you mean?” What was he hiding from her?
He slapped his palms together in prayer position between them as if prepared to plead his case. One eye closed, head slightly tilted. She’d seen that look on her brother. “What?” she asked, dragging the word out.
“He was going to be a Team dog, but well, he wasn’t exactly motivated to train, so he got the boot. Dubbed untrainable, but I just love a challenge, don’t you?” His innocent smile stretched, and it had an immediate effect on her.
“I do love a challenge.” She hadn’t even been able to hide that bit of truth, even though she knew working with this man after only just returning Stateside was a bad idea.
“So, you’ll do it?” His brows lifted with excitement.
“No,” she quickly responded and started for the kitchen.
She was still hungry for some crazy reason, but there was a sink that needed fixing, and maybe she ought to tap into her brother’s avoidance tactics by tinkering with the thing herself.
Maybe the gorgeous former Teamguy would disappear if she did.
His blue eyes wouldn’t be there when she looked back.
The spine-tingling sensation would be a distant memory, too.
“Why not?” he asked.
Rory crouched in front of the sink and stared into the open cabinet, then snatched the wrench, one of the only tools she recognized, and dipped under to do . . . something with the pipes.
She twisted the wrench, but with every twist, her stomach turned, too.
“What are you doing?” Chris asked, a husky tone in his voice as if he were hiding a laugh.
“Fixing the sink. What does it look like?” she asked, leaning back just as the connection loosened and water sprayed her in the face. Of course.
She smacked her head on the cupboard ceiling as she quickly sat up, then shifted around to her knees and backed up. Water shot every which way.
Chris was at her side in a second, and his hand brushed over her forearm as he took control and twisted the pipe with his bare hand and effectively stopped what was looking like a wet T-shirt contest.
“Shit. Sorry,” she apologized. “I don’t know what I’m doing.” She went to stand, but they bumped heads when they both attempted to rise at the same time.
He clutched her elbows, helping her upright. “Sorry,” he said, his Adam’s apple noticeably moving as he swallowed. “You okay?”
“Oh, I’m used to getting wet.” Her cheeks heated, stained with embarrassment. “Not like wet-wet. I mean, like ocean-wet. I dive.” She stumbled through her words. Never a problem in the past for her. What is wrong with me today? “Haven’t been wet in a while, though. Not wet from sex, I mean. Well, actually, that’s been a long time, too.”
Chris’s mouth pinched tight. An infectious smile crossed his lips.
“Wait, I didn’t . . .” She closed her eyes for a second. “This does not happen to me. I don’t yammer and flounder around when I talk.”
“Normally, it’s me doing that, so I don’t mind being the calm and collected one at the moment.” He angled his head and brushed a wet strand of her hair away from where it clung to her cheek.
“You were a treasure hunter, right? So, you used to dive a lot, I imagine.”
Their shirts were drenched, clinging to their bodies and leaving little to the imagination. The front of his tee showed strong chest muscles and very defined abs. His nipples poked through the fabric. God did not take any shortcuts with you, did He? “I haven’t done the whole searching for sunken pirate ships or lost galleons thing—whatever you want to call it—in years.” Okay, at least that part was true. But please don’t ask me what I have been doing for the last few years. I might tell you.
He reached for a dish towel and handed it to her. She patted her damp face and offered it to him, but he just shook his head and leaned his back against the counter.
The window looking out onto the backyard where Jesse had chopped wood earlier like a lumberjack caught her eye.
For a brief second, the image of Chris out there wielding the ax, his shirtless torso golden and glistening with sweat, flitted to mind.
“What is wrong with you?” she muttered, then turned while sucking in a deep breath. “That was supposed to be an internal question directed at myself, by the way.”
“Well, since you did ask it out loud, I’d love to answer.” His hand went over her shoulder, but she couldn’t turn around, afraid she’d spew more insanity.
She’d climbed Mount Washington.
Swam in the Temple of Doom in Mexico.
Crossed the Sahara.
Faced modern-day pirates and other criminals.
Survived a one-on-one with Carter Dominick.
And now she was acting like a nervous fool. What had coming back home to “settle down and start a new life” done to her?
Who was this person? She’d been just fine five minutes ago. Five minutes before Captain America came into her house looking all swoony and now dripping wet.
Seriously, though, even when he’d been in only his swim trunks the first time she met Chris, she’d managed to keep her cool.
“You’re always wet when I see you,” she mumbled.
In a gentle but quick movement, Chris reached for her wrist and pulled her closer. “Why ‘no’?”
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