A routine mission…
Sean Taggart is hunting a deadly terrorist, and his only lead is the lovely Grace Hawthorne. She's the executive assistant for an employment agency Sean suspects is a front for illegal activities. To get the truth, he is going to have to get very close to Grace, a task he is all too eager to undertake when he discovers her deliciously submissive nature.
…turns into a dangerous seduction.
Soon, Grace Hawthorne is living a double life. By day, she is the widowed mother of two college-aged sons. By night, she submits to Sean's every dark desire. She's living out her wildest fantasies of pleasure—intimate acts of trust she's only read about. As passion engulfs her, a murderer strikes, and Grace learns that Sean has a deeply hidden agenda. Will Sean choose his mission and break her heart or be the Master of her dreams?
A Masters and Mercenaries Novel by Lexi Blake
Release date: September 25, 2011
Publisher: DLZ Entertainment
Print pages: 373
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The Dom who loved me
Sean Taggart watched the quiet one. Of the three men sitting across from his team in the cool, ultra-modern conference room, the dark-haired man who hadn’t spoken once snared his attention. He was perfectly silent, listening in what appeared to be a submissive fashion. That was only right and proper since he was supposed to be a lowly assistant. Except that he was a lowly assistant wearing thousand dollar shoes. Sean had been in the covert business long enough to know that the little details usually gave a person away.
“The bastard has hit three of my facilities in the last year.” Elliot Lincoln, the head of a lumber consortium, slapped at the heavy wooden table.
Sean hid a small smile as he risked a glance at his brother. Ian’s right eyebrow was practically in outer space.
Anyone who knew Ian Taggart would have backed off, but the CEO just kept on. His fist came down on the table again. “That son of a bitch isn’t costing me another dime, I tell you.”
Oh, but he would if Lincoln hired McKay/Taggart Security Services. That bastard, as Lincoln called him, would be costing his lumber company far more than a dime. Sean looked briefly at the men and woman who formed the core of the very selective security team. Ian sat at the head of the table, with his partner Alexander McKay at the other end. McKay looked vaguely amused at Ian’s annoyance. Liam O’Donnell sat to Sean’s left. O’Donnell’s eyes were red. He’d almost certainly been on another bender. They happened more and more often. It wouldn’t affect his work, and that was all that mattered. Eve St. James, resident tough chick, took a long drag off her ever-present latte and drummed her perfect fingernails on the table. Only Jake and Adam had been permitted to miss this little mess of a meeting.
“Perhaps you would like to explain exactly what you need, Mr. Lincoln.” Ian’s voice sent a wash of icy disdain across the room. Big brother was not in a good mood. Sean saw that his brother was also looking at the tall man in the expensive suit. The man was pretending to stare at his notes, his eyes surreptitiously glancing around the room, taking in everything. Sean exchanged a glance with Liam. The Irishman rolled his eyes and shook his head. Sean knew just what he was thinking. Government bureaucrats couldn’t do undercover to save their lives.
Lincoln waved a hand at the second man he’d brought with him. It was the arrogant command of a boss to his lackey. The lackey smiled good-naturedly and passed out folders. “Hello, everyone, I’m Gene, Mr. Lincoln’s personal assistant. I have dossiers on both of the Wright brothers. Matthew is the younger of the two. He’s the one we’re asking you to investigate, though obviously we’re trying to get to Patrick.”
“And Patrick Wright is a member of the Earth League.” Ian’s statement was made without a hint of question behind it.
Gene responded with an apologetic shrug. “My research isn’t perfect. That’s why we felt it was important to bring your firm in. As far as I can tell, Patrick Wright is the head of the Earth League. The group sprang up about ten years ago. They started out benignly enough, protesting pharmaceutical companies, lumber companies, big real estate developments, and SUV manufacturers. Then Patrick Wright joined up and took over. You have to understand, this guy changes names and identities as often as the rest of us change underwear. The police have questioned his followers, and the name of the group’s leader always changes. He’s probably had plastic surgery as well.”
Lincoln’s voice filled the room. “That son of a bitch! Fucking monkeywrenching cost me five million in the last three years alone, and now he’s threatening to bomb my goddamn house.”
The businessman continued to rant. Sean could see Ian‘s patience was wearing thin. It would be nice to see big bro toss this asshole out on his rear. The last thing Sean wanted to do was sit outside this jerk’s house trying to catch some “Save the Earth” whackadoodle. He had better things to do with his time, like perfecting his gnocchi recipe. It was almost there. It just needed a little more oomph to put it over the top. Sean forced himself to focus on the job at hand rather than his hobby. Despite the fact that he couldn’t stand executive types, they did pay well. And he was curious about the government man sitting so still across from him.
He turned to Liam. “Monkeywrenching?”
Liam spoke softly, but Sean could hear him even over the moans and complaints of Lincoln. “It’s a term for the way ecoterrorists mess with big business. They spike trees marked for cross cutting. It destroys very expensive saw blades. Often they destroy machinery. And sometimes they flat out torch places. E.L. is known for getting into places the timber industry thinks are secure and lighting it up. They’re branching out a bit though. Other types of businesses are getting hit.”
Sean nodded at Liam and settled back in his chair to glance through the myriad of photos Gene had collected. There was an old photo of Patrick Wright. He was a large guy in a band uniform. Sean chuckled to himself. If they were using his high school yearbook photo, this Wright guy was damn good at keeping off the radar.
There were several pictures of Matt Wright. He was thirty-nine, a well-dressed businessman. He was blandly good looking, in an all-American-apple-pie fashion. The photos were obviously taken when the subject didn’t know he was being photographed. PI, Sean figured. His hand stopped on one of the pictures. It was Matt Wright walking out of his office building. A woman walked behind him, her head down. She looked a bit plump, soft. Of course, Sean couldn’t tell for certain, given the bulky clothes she wore. Everything she wore was dark, from her slacks to the voluminous sweater that hid every curve. Her eyes were covered with sunglasses, and she carried a nondescript briefcase. The one bit of color on the woman’s body was the bright yellow of the stilettos peeking out from her sensible trousers.
Fuck me shoes. Damn. Any woman who wore those shoes had a streak of the unexpected. He wondered what her underwear looked like. Something delicate and lovely?
Suddenly interested in the case, Sean sat up, flipping through the file looking for any pertinent information. It was well put together, filled with carefully thought out analysis. It almost certainly hadn’t come from that prick Lincoln. “Matt Wright runs a temp agency?”
Lincoln was guzzling down coffee. It gave Gene a chance to respond. “Yes, one of the largest in Texas. His base is in Fort Worth, but his people work all over the state, as well as Louisiana and Arkansas. A couple of years back, he started brokering deals with temp agencies in India for information technology services. He’s branched out to include everything from temporary white collar workers to janitorial services. He’s been very successful.”
“Who is this?” Sean slid the photo of the woman in stilettos Gene’s way.
A smile tugged at Gene’s thin lips. He pointed to the woman in question. “Grace Hawthorne, Matt Wright’s admin. She’s worked for him for six years.”
“Nice shoes.” Liam’s accent sounded flat and Midwestern.
Sean stared at him for a moment. Liam wouldn’t want to give the U.S. government a damn thing to tie him back to Ireland. Only a select group of people got to hear his native lilt.
Liam wrinkled his nose, obviously dismissing the photo. “The rest of her is a bit boring, but it looks like she’s got nice breasts. Is anybody going to have to pork the assistant? She’s older than my usual.”
“Asshole.” Sean stopped just short of punching him. The Irishman wouldn’t know a real woman if she slapped him across the face, and given his predilections, that had probably happened numerous times. Sean enjoyed Liam’s company, but he was a jerk when it came to women. If a woman wasn’t barely eighteen and serving hot wings in shorts that rode up her ass, she wasn’t really female to Liam. Sean far preferred women over girls. If Liam wasn’t eager to take Grace to bed, Sean would be more than happy to.
There was a lot of boring back and forth. He ignored it and stared at the picture. Later, he would read Grace’s bio, all the little numbers, facts, and dates that made up her life, yet told him nothing about who she was as a woman. He wished there was a picture of her without the sunglasses. He’d like to know what color her eyes were. Green, he bet, or hazel. Her skin looked very fair, almost luminous. She’d pulled her darkish hair back in a pony tail. In the picture, her style appeared somewhat nondescript, just like everything about the woman. Except those shoes.
“You suspect that Wright is laundering money for his brother’s group?” Liam’s question brought Sean out of his thoughts and reminded him there was a job at hand. He flipped the file closed.
“Suspect is all they can do,” Ian murmured. “Otherwise they wouldn’t be here.” He turned his icy blue eyes to the elephant in the room. “And what does the CIA want with Mr. Patrick Wright?”
Lincoln gasped, but managed to hold on to his coffee cup. Sean turned his attention blatantly to the “lowly assistant” in the expensive shoes. Now that Sean really looked at him, he noticed the man’s watch was a Rolex. Another tell.
The man in question flushed deeply. “I should have changed my shoes.”
“It wouldn’t have mattered. You look like a spook.” Ian spit the words, as if that was the worst thing a person could be.
“He’s not a spook.” Liam yawned as though the entire conversation bored him. “He’s a paper pusher.”
The man in question sighed and leaned forward. “Look, you guys are all ex-military or ex-agency. You know the drill. You’ve worked for us in a quiet capacity before. Feel free to refer to me as Mr. Black.”
“Original.” Sean had known several Mr. Blacks over the course of his military career, and he’d learned not to trust a single one. The CIA always protected the identities of its agents, even from the military personnel who did their dirty work.
This particular Mr. Black seemed unfazed by Sean’s disdain. “I’ll leave a cell phone number in case you need to contact me. I’m not officially here, and if anyone asks, I’ll disavow any and all knowledge of this operation.”
“Yeah, you types are good at that.” Sean heard the bitterness in his own voice. He knew what it felt like to have his own CO stand in front of a military judge and flatly lie about the men he was charged to lead.
The spook ignored him. “The CIA is interested in certain connections Patrick Wright potentially made on a trip to Chile a few years back.”
“Drug cartels?” Liam asked. He seemed much more interested now.
“Jihadist groups. They’re popping up all over South America, and it seems they have mutual interests with our homegrown terrorists. I can’t prove anything, but I believe Wright is potentially acting as a go-between to facilitate meetings between the South American groups and the Earth League.”
“That’s a pretty big leap,” Ian frowned as he studied the man in front of him.
Mr. Black sighed and seemed a little weary. “You’re not the only one who thinks that. No one believes me. Until I have concrete proof, I can’t do anything. Because my proof is more than likely here on American soil…”
Sean knew this drill well. “You need someone without the strictures of the Agency. Why not the FBI?”
“And deal with all the interagency crap? No. Mr. Lincoln is amenable to bankrolling this whole op if it gets the Earth League off his back.”
Sean chuckled. “You get the proof you need for a much wider op, and he gets to continue to rape the planet without interference.”
“Fuck you.” Lincoln looked like he was going to come over the top of the table.
“Sir.” Gene tried to contain his boss.
“I wouldn’t if I were you, Lincoln.” The spook’s voice seemed to make the CEO think twice. “That man you’re about to assault is Sean Taggart. He’s a former Green Beret. His brother is the gentleman at the end of the table. You read the file on both of them. I doubt he would kill you here, though you might wish he had.”
The CEO sat back, the arrogance on his face fading for the moment. “I just want you to catch the bastard.”
Ian’s fingers steepled as they often did when he was thinking. “I can’t promise you anything, Mr. Lincoln, but if Matthew Wright is involved with his brother’s activities, we’ll do our best to bring them both down.”
* * * *
Two hours later, Sean sat looking at the file.
“I’m sending you in, Sean.” Ian stood over his desk, his shadow long, but Sean was used to being in his big brother’s shadow. Though he was thirty-two years old, six foot three, and weighed two hundred twenty pounds, everyone on the team still called him Little Tag. Ian was Big Tag.
Sean tapped the photo he’d been staring at for an hour. Something about the set of her mouth fascinated him. He’d learned she was forty and a widow. She’d raised two boys and seemed to have no life outside her family and her job. According to the file, some of her co-workers whispered that she was sleeping with her boss. “She’s the key, you know.”
Ian leaned his big body over the desk. “Of course she is. You get to her, you find out everything about the place. An admin knows everything about her boss. It’s why I don’t have one.”
Something made him hesitate. She looked almost sad in the photo. “Maybe you should send in Jake and Adam. Their pretend gay act always wins the women’s trust.”
Ian burst into a rare fit of laughter. “I’ll be sure to let them know you appreciate their undercover efforts. As it happens, Jake and Adam will be your backup. If you can’t manage to get close to the woman, perhaps they can. A lot of women like to be in between those two.”
“I’ll handle it.” No way was he letting those two get close to Grace. There was something about her. “I’ll get what you need.” Let that be it. Walk away now, big brother.
“You need to think about dating.” Ian’s voice grated like broken glass underfoot.
“Fuck me.” Sean’s head hit the top of his desk.
“Yes, that would be the point. It’s been a year since you last took a sub.”
Sean groaned. “Would it work if I told you this is absolutely none of your business?”
Ian shrugged. “Probably not. I just don’t understand. Rona was a lovely sub.”
Rona had been a clingy, whiny painslut who didn’t want the heavy burden of anything so difficult as choosing her own clothes for the day, much less having an actual job or ambitions. “I’m not like you, Ian. I don’t want a slave.”
“You don’t want the responsibility.” Coming from Ian, it sounded like an accusation.
Sean felt his eyes narrow. His brother just didn’t understand. Not everyone was as utterly hard-core as Ian. “I love taking care of a woman, you know that. I’m just not attracted to the clingy ones who need me to do everything for them. I want her to need me, but not need me for everything, know what I mean? I want a smart, independent woman who just happens to enjoy submitting to me sexually. Is that too much to ask?”
There was a snort, and then his brother’s sarcasm came spilling out. “It can be your eHarmony ad, bro. Wanted: smart, independent woman to play at D/s. Must like handcuffs, spankings, and anal sex.”
Sean fought the urge to growl. “Don’t make fun of me. At least I haven’t run through every submissive at the club.”
Ian’s easy shrug let Sean know he wasn’t getting to him. “Some of them twice. Unlike you, I have realistic expectations about how a relationship is going to go. It’s best to keep things short and sweet, with a contract in place, so everyone knows how to behave.”
Yes, Ian would think that way. Of course, he hadn’t always thought like that. Ian had been engaged once. No one talked about Holly anymore, not if they wanted to keep their head attached to their body. “Just stay out of my love life.”
“As you don’t seem to have one, I think that will be easy.” Ian stood up. His blue eyes were not unkind as they looked at Sean. “I’m going to head out to the club. I’m meeting the rest of the team there. Why don’t you come with us? You don’t need to start this tonight. Your meeting with Wright won’t be for another few weeks or so. You’ll be in deep cover. I talked to a friend in Chicago, and you’re all set. You’re going in as a man negotiating a contract for labor services. You’ll need to work at Kelvin Incorporated for a few weeks to make it look good.”
Yes, a couple of weeks as a corporate drone sounded very exciting. He should go to the club with Ian. He could pick up a sub for the night and spend a few hours forgetting the fact that the next several weeks would be dull as dirt. Of course, the last couple of years had been long, tedious jobs punctuated with the occasional person who tried to kill him. He was used to boredom. His hand found the file, and the words were out of his mouth before he could stop them. “No, I want to read over this.”
Ian shrugged. “All right, little brother. Jake and Adam are heading to Fort Worth tomorrow. I’ve already gotten them interviews. Luckily, Wright is always looking for sales staff. Liam is going down to do recon and set up a little base of operations. They’ll make contact when you get there. We can go over it tomorrow. Don’t stay here all night.”
Sean huffed to let his brother know he didn’t need the parenting. One by one his co-workers came by and offered to keep him company. They said goodnight when he turned them down. Sean smiled and went back to his research. She was the key. Grace Hawthorne would break the case; Grace with her sad mouth and those intriguing yellow shoes.
It was a long time before he left his desk.
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