When a reality dating show becomes a race for their lives . . .
Charlotte Lennox has spent the last decade on the run, protecting her sister from a past she hopes remains buried. Meeting a handsome and funny stranger, only to discover he’s not who he says he is, prompts her to do what she does best—disappear.
One month and one more wrong-place-wrong-time situation later, Charlotte and her sister wind up on a dating show with Mr. Hot and Humorous.
Quickly realizing they’re both keeping secrets from each other, it doesn’t take Charlotte long to figure out he’s not there for love or money: he’s on a mission.
Jack London, former Army Special Forces and a loyal, trustworthy friend, is also a man who’s given up on love. But a chance encounter with a stunning, mysterious woman gives him hope, along with the most memorable night of his life . . . only for her to slip away the next day without a word.
When an undercover assignment with his private security firm, Falcon Falls, takes Jack to a dating-adventure game in the wild, the last person he expects to see is his dream woman. And they’ve just been coupled up and placed on the same team.
Forced to remain close and learn to trust each other, it becomes impossible to resist temptation, and things quickly heat up in the jungle.
But when their team goes from being under the spotlight to under fire, they discover just how deadly of a game love can be.
From Wall Street Journal bestselling author Brittney Sahin comes a thrilling romantic suspense novel in the Falcon Falls Security series. The Wanted One may be read as a standalone.
Release date: August 4, 2023
Print pages: 450
Reader says this book is...: action-packed (1) strong chemistry (1) suspenseful (1) unputdownable (1)
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The Wanted One
I barely made it two steps in the door before a petite woman in a tight navy-blue dress abruptly blocked my path and slapped a sticker to my chest. “You’re number nine tonight.”
My focus fell to her hand as she traced a manicured nail along the number written in red Sharpie beneath the little words: “My name is.”
“Not ‘my number is’?” I teased, then peered at her face framed by thick, black hair.
Her green eyes glinted as she stepped back and did a quick inventory of my appearance. I’d decided on dark denim jeans and a black button-down with the sleeves cuffed at the elbows. For whatever reason, my friend and colleague—the same person who insisted on this little dating adventure tonight—all but demanded my forearms be on display. Hell if I knew why.
Clearing my throat, I waited for her eyes to return to my face, curious if she’d ever respond to my joke. The woman did have my ego inflating a tad as her gaze continued to linger on my chest. At forty-two, I was divorced and had been single for what felt like forever. So, I’d take the boost when I could get it.
Of course, the woman had to be fifteen years younger than me (or God help me, more). Probably more. And because I was feeling on the awkward-nervous side I went ahead and added, “So, I’m not a ten, huh?”
She stared at me for a beat. Damn. Not even a smile from her, let alone a laugh.
“No names tonight.” Long fingers tucked her dark hair behind her ear as she gave me another once-over before finally setting her sights on my face. “You’ll have to make it to night two before you earn names,” was all she gave me.
Shit, I really was out of my element. I would have felt more comfortable in the midst of a fight with an M4 or a Glock to keep me company. Missions. Operations. Hunting HVTs (high-value targets). My thing. Fuck, that was a list. So, things, plural.
I shook my head and smirked as my mother’s voice popped into my head with a quick lecture about my poor grammar, internal monologue or not.
“Are you okay, sir?” The woman tipped her head in question as her bright green eyes flew down my body again.
Third time checking me out, huh? And damn, not even her intense gaze or the “sir” stirred a below-the-belt reaction. Am I broken? I mean . . . fuck, maybe?
“I’m fine.” That’s a lie, actually. I was about to speed date, so no, I wasn’t remotely fine. “Uh, where do I go? What do I do?” I finally took a minute to look around the dimly lit dining room that’d clearly been reserved for the night. The fact I was just taking notice of my surroundings was more proof I wasn’t acting like myself. Maybe I should leave.
“To table nine, of course.” She stabbed a finger in the general direction of over there. “You’ll hear a buzzer, and the women will rotate to you every fifteen minutes. We’ll be starting soon.”
“Wait, what?” My hand went back to my chest, covering the number. “Since when do the women have to move around? Call me old fashioned, but shouldn’t the guys have to get their asses up and do the walking?”
A light unexpected chuckle tumbled from her lips. “Do you open doors for the opposite sex, too? Walk on the streetside of a sidewalk alongside a woman to keep her safe?”
“Of course. Why wouldn’t I?” It took me a second to realize she’d been sarcastic. Just great.
With her fourth perusal of my body—this time to my crotch—I backed up a few steps.
“How old are you, Nine?”
Did I detect a hint of seduction in her question? And why the hell did I feel like this woman was about to call me “daddy” and mean it in a very different way than I was used to? Time to hit the brakes. “Old enough. But not that old.” That’s all you’re getting from me.
“Mmmhmm.” The peek of her tongue between her lips had me turning to search for my seat among the rows of small tables. Why on earth had I let Mya convince me to try speed dating?
Mya Vanzetti worked with my security company, Falcon Falls, part-time. She also freelanced with a group of Marines, but I had a feeling that’d be ending soon. One of those Marines had feelings for her she didn’t reciprocate, and it was getting awkward for them to work together. At least that’s what Mya had spilled and told me in a slew of drunk texts last weekend.
Finding my spot, I politely nodded at the guy at my nine o’clock who was patting his brow with the bottom of his tie as I settled in my chair.
Anxious, I peered around the room again, clocking every guy in there, assessing for possible threats. Not in the competition-for-a-date department, but more in the “could anyone be an enemy of the state” kind of thing. Force of habit.
The week prior, my team had been in Scotland handling a high-value target, and things went sideways. Really, really fucking sideways. The kind of shit show that had me hanging from the side of a building while my life flashed before my eyes. Thankfully, my teammate, who was now safely back home in Alabama with his wife, hauled me back to the rooftop and saved my ass before I became a permanent fixture on the road fifty feet below.
That moment, though—those precious seconds I kept myself from falling before the rescue—had me sweating less than I was now.
The wild thing? I did want to date. I did want to meet someone and start a family. I was certain my nerves tonight had more to do with me slowly surrendering to the idea I’d never meet my “the one” the way my best friend and many of my teammates already had. Well, for a second last month I thought I’d met her, but then she slipped away before the sun came up, and . . .
My fingers curled inward at the memory of the woman I needed to shake free from my mind if I had any hope of surviving the evening.
But damn, I still wanted her. How in the hell did I let a woman I’d spent less than six hours with get inside my head so much?
The sound of a dramatic buzzer from somewhere behind me snapped my attention back to the moment, and I looked over to see women filtering into the room from a back door.
A brunette wordlessly slid into the seat across from me before I had a chance to stand and pull out her chair. “Hi,” she whispered.
“Hey, how’s it going? I’m, um . . .” No names, right. “Number nine.” I smiled, doing my best to give her one of my better ones.
“Give them your sexy lopsided smile. You know, crook the side of your lip and flash just a hint of teeth. It’ll drive them crazy,” Gwen Montgomery had suggested. She was my best friend’s twenty-five-year-old niece.
Like Mya, Gwen had also been pushing me to “get out there.” She even set up a few dating profiles for me (not that I had asked her to). In fact, I’d begged the opposite. To leave my dating life, or lack thereof, alone.
But she was as stubborn as Mya, and she’d had me matching up with people online before I could protest. I’d been too overwhelmed by all the swiping left, right, fucking horizontal, to ever actually meet anyone in person, though.
Hell, I’d almost given in and asked Gwen to put her hacking and coding skills to better use by helping me find my mystery woman instead.
“I’m number eleven.” The woman gave me a little nod, pulling my thoughts back to the present.
“Ah, nine-one-one.” Another corny joke, really? Exit stage left. I inwardly groaned.
She gave me a shy smile, her red lips parting a touch, and I couldn’t help but smile as well.
Okay, maybe you like corny? “So.” I drummed my fingers on the table, thankful there wasn’t any grease or dirt under my fingernails from cleaning my rifle earlier.
“The no-name thing is . . . probably to protect first impressions.” Her hesitant tone had me curious to ask why.
“So, if my name—”
“Began with a J, for instance, it might be problematic,” she cut me off, and she dropped her forearms onto the table and locked her hands together as if wringing out some tension.
I arched a brow. “J, huh?”
“Yeah, every guy I know with a J name is a heartbreaker.” She proceeded to list off every J name in the book—ironically pretty much every J name but mine.
“I feel slightly offended on behalf of those Js.” I chuckled. “Also, what if they’re not all heartbreakers. Maybe they’re more of the hold-your-heart kind of guys?” Hold? Shit. Now my palms were as sweaty as dude eight’s forehead.
“Why does holding my heart feel a little . . . cringe? Like something a stalker or serial killer might say. Silence of the Lambs, you know?” It was her turn to shrug. This was going great. “Oh, oh, or Dahmer.” She abruptly lifted her hand and snapped her fingers. “J name, too. Jeffrey Dahmer. See.” She smirked, proving her point.
“Right, right.” I nodded, going along with it, because damn, what else was I going to say now? So, I sat in silence waiting for her to go on, and she did. For a solid fourteen minutes. I kept track on my Apple watch. Her shyness had melted away as she began talking about her recent bad dates. None of which had a J name.
The relief that hit me when the buzzer went off was overwhelming. Three more not-so-great “dates” later, and I was finally sitting across from someone who gave off decent vibes.
“So, I’m here to make my mom happy. Why are you here?” she greeted in a direct, no-nonsense tone. Her number was six, and I opted not to make any sixty-nine jokes.
“Truth?” Why the hell not at this point? “I’ve been lonely. My teammates are all falling in love, and I’m getting a bit depressed at the fact I have no one. And I’m supposed to be the comedian on my team, so the blues just don’t work for me, you know?” I spat out. “Then I started to develop what I thought were feelings for a teammate, and that went sideways.” Nearly as sideways as that almost-plunging-to-my-death incident last week. “Mya friend-zoned me hard and fast. But she was right. And it took me meeting, and then losing, the woman of my dreams last month to realize Mya was never the right one for me.”
Woman of my dreams? Way to word vomit that out. Sure, the American I’d met at a bar in Cape Town had officially been occupying my thoughts for twenty-seven days now, but who was counting? She was probably even why I’d nearly gone man-over-building in Edinburgh. She’d been on my mind that day. That laugh of hers . . . God help me that laugh kept playing on repeat in my thoughts.
And how could she not be in my head after the most incredible night of my life? Apparently, it hadn’t been as memorable for her since she ditched me before sunrise.
“Are you okay?”
I blinked, remembering I was on a date with number—what was it again?—then looked up at the blonde who reminded me a little bit of the therapist from the show Lucifer Gwen had made me binge-watch with her this year. “Did I just say all that out loud?”
“You did, but my job is to get people to open up to me, so I—”
“Holy shit, you’re a shrink?” I hadn’t meant to interrupt. My mom had taught me better than to cut off a woman.
“No, prosecutor. I’m notorious for bringing the heat in the courtroom during my cross-examinations, and I always make people crack. Spill their deepest, darkest secrets.”
I swallowed and shifted back in my seat. I had way too many secrets and didn’t need to spill any more with a stranger.
“I honestly didn’t expect you to share the truth with me like that, though.” She stole a look at her thin silver watch. “This has to be a record for me.”
“Well, neither did I.” Before I could summon an apology for my odd behavior, a flurry of movement pulled my attention to the main door. I swiped a hand down my face before looking up at the ceiling while sighing. “Speak of the devil—wait, devils.” I tilted my head toward the entrance. “Mya and Gwen are here, great.”
Mya and Gwen breezed past the woman who’d assigned my number, ignoring her protests, and rushed my way. This can’t be good.
“What are you two doing here?” I pushed back in my seat and stood.
My date, number six—right, that’s it—whispered, “Mya’s the one who friend-zoned you, right?”
Mya’s lips parted, and she gave me a funny look before snapping out, “We need you. Now. Wheels up.”
“Sorry,” I quickly tossed out to the prosecutor, complete with a shrug and what I hoped was a roguish smile. “Time to go save the world.” Another bad joke. But hell, it was probably the truth. Well, save someone’s world. Someone’s life.
“What’s going on?” I asked them once we’d escaped the restaurant and were outside by the street in front of a black Suburban.
“Get in,” Gwen commanded instead of answering as she hopped into the passenger seat, leaving me to slide into the back with Mya.
My teammate, Oliver Lucas, was behind the wheel. He looked back at me and grinned. “Number nine, huh? Really? You’re a solid ten in my book, man.”
I shook my head at his echo of my bad joke from earlier. “Thanks, brother.” I rolled my eyes and peeled off the sticker. “So, what’s the emergency?”
“They won’t even tell me. These two are being cryptic. Just assembling us like we’re the freaking Avengers or something,” Oliver replied while pulling onto the road, joining the traffic.
“Yeah, that’s worrisome.” I frowned and peeked at Mya as she busied herself with texting someone, fast fingers flying over her screen. “Who are you talking to?”
“Mason,” Mya answered without looking my way. “He’s joining us.”
Oliver braked hard at the mention of the Marine, and Mya jerked forward. On instinct, I shot my arm out to stop her from going forward since she was unbuckled.
“Fuck. Sorry. There was a squirrel,” Oliver piped up before driving again.
“Yeah, a squirrel in the middle of the streets of D.C. that you spotted but I didn’t see,” Gwen said with a light laugh, her British accent rolling through her words. “Absolutely.”
“I happen to have great eyesight. And what? There are squirrels in D.C.”
Yeah, sure. Oliver wasn’t a fan of Mason Matthews, and everyone knew why. Mason had once been Mya’s friend with benefits that she was now struggling to work with, soooo, why in the hell was he joining our op?
“We need single guys. He’s single,” Mya said as if that’d clear everything up. Nope. Not even a little bit. “And the rest of his team was pulled away on a last-minute mission, and he doesn’t want me going on this op without him since he was helping me run leads on it, and—”
“Slow down there, buttercup,” Oliver commented. “What-in-the-what are you talking about? This was supposed to be a mission with your Marine crew and we’re your backup plan?”
The man sounded offended. Maybe I was, too.
“It’s their area of expertise. Well, originally, I thought it was connected to trafficking, but I’m pretty sure I was wrong. But yeah, we were working on this thing together. Plans changed, though,” Mya explained, frustration edging her tone.
“Dealing with human traffickers is their specialty, right,” I said grimly, my skin crawling at the mere idea our op would be connected to that subject. Human trafficking was something I so desperately wanted to will away from existence in the world. I’d Jedi mindfuck it gone in a heartbeat if I could. Use my first genie wish on it. Second wish? Bring my parents back to life. Third (but like really not that low on the list)—have my mystery girl never have ditched me that morning.
I worked my top two buttons free, wondering if that’d help me breathe a bit better.
“Like I said, now we don’t think it’s a trafficking op, but we’ll explain everything when we’re with the others.” Mya shoved her phone into her purse wedged between her jeaned legs. “We won’t be bringing everyone with us undercover because our mission is . . . well, it’s a unique one. Single people needed, and a lot of Falcon is now hitched, so . . .”
Unique? “And that means?” I probed, hoping to get more out of the two women before we got to the airport.
Gwen shifted in her seat and peered back at me. “We’re going to Brazil. To um . . .”
“Brazil?” Oliver murmured. “Okay, but why do we need to be single?”
“Well, um . . .” Mya and her damn ums now, too.
Not good. “What do you not want to tell us?” My voice was almost hoarse that time.
“A friend of a friend needs our help, and to help we need to partake in this dating competition thing. Go undercover as contestants,” Gwen said, biting the bullet, dropping the shit news on us. “Mya’s been helping me, and things all kind of came together for the op at the last minute. Like as in today we secured the official invites.”
“Are you for real?” Of course you are, or I wouldn’t be here. But damn. “And by ‘secured,’” I said with air quotes, “you mean you hacked the list and got us on it?”
Gwen nodded. “It wasn’t easy. I’ll explain more at the hangar, but for the show . . . well, think Survivor meets Love Island. Maybe a little Naked and Afraid, too,” Gwen casually tossed out. “Not like The Bachelor, though.”
“Because that’s supposed to make me feel better?” Shit. Speed dating was bad enough. But to go undercover in a dating competition? I hung my head, cursed, then did it again for good measure. “Fuck my life.”
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