From bestselling author Susan Stoker comes a sizzling new series about four former military operatives who rid the world of the worst of humanity while fighting to protect the best part of their lives: the women they love.
Former military operative Carson “Bull” Rhodes hasn’t dated seriously since he and his teammates left the army. Since then he’s opened Silverstone Towing—which is a front for his other job: hired killer. When kindergarten teacher Skylar Reid calls for help while stranded on the side of the interstate, the attraction is instant. The problem is Bull’s career has jaded him. Skylar’s innocent, and he wants to keep her that way.
Cautious by nature, Skylar never expected to fall in love with her tow truck driver. Even so, once Bull reveals what he really does for a living, she’s not sure she can handle it. When Skylar faces threats that have nothing to do with Bull’s job but are just as deadly, the stakes are higher than ever.
With the help of the Silverstone team, Bull will use everything he’s learned over the years to bring the woman he loves home—because the alternative is unthinkable.
Release date: December 1, 2020
Print pages: 317
Reader says this book is...: emotionally riveting (1) heart touching (1) strong chemistry (1) strong heroine (1) suspenseful (1)
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Carson “Bull” Rhodes walked slowly and silently toward the target building. He knew his fellow Delta Force teammates were close behind him. They had his back, just as he had theirs.
They’d snuck into Pakistan to find a high-value target (HVT) the Army had assigned them to eliminate. Fazlur Barzan Khatun, the leader of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen terrorist group, had claimed responsibility for the ambush and killing of forty-seven American and British soldiers in Afghanistan the year before. The State Department had also learned the group was actively planning large-scale massacres in both the United States and France as well.
Khatun was at the top of the FBI’s Most Wanted list.
Bull’s heart was beating double time in his chest, and he felt energized. He and the others were good at their jobs. They were the best of the best, which was why the Army hadn’t hesitated to send them undercover into hostile territory. The team had been dropped near the Pakistan border twenty-four hours ago and had reached the last place Khatun had been seen.
Bull motioned for Smoke and Eagle to take positions on the left and right of him. They’d cleared buildings like this more times than they could count. With Gramps taking up the rear, the four of them were a well-oiled machine, moving silently into the two-story building.
They could hear voices from above, and without a sound, the men entered the stairwell and started climbing. Holding up his fist to stop his team, Bull peered around the corner once they’d reached the second floor. Upon seeing no one in the hallway, he gestured for everyone to follow.
He paused outside a door, where they could all clearly hear a lively discussion taking place. They couldn’t understand the words, but that didn’t matter. Their job was to find Khatun, kill him, and retreat. Their body cameras would record the conversation, and linguists would later translate everything that was said.
After looking back at the best friends he’d ever had, Bull nodded at Eagle. He was the most important member of the team at times like this. He had the uncanny ability to recognize anyone after meeting them or seeing their picture only once. He had a near-photographic memory. If Khatun was inside the room, Eagle would know it. It wouldn’t matter if he’d cut his hair or otherwise tried to change his appearance, no one tricked Eagle. There’d been more than one op when Eagle had prevented them from killing the wrong person or had been instrumental in making sure the target didn’t get away with saying he was someone else.
Bull pointed two fingers at his own eyes, then pointed into the room. Eagle nodded and raised his rifle.
Looking back at Smoke and Gramps, Bull saw they’d crept up behind Eagle. The team was ready to breach the room. Taking a deep breath, Bull cleared his mind. The second they stepped into the room, all hell was going to break loose. Since he was leading the team, if the occupants were armed, it was likely he’d be shot first. But he couldn’t think about that. He was wearing his body armor and had a job to do. Namely, to kill Khatun.
Lifting a hand, Bull held up three fingers. Then he counted down.
Three. Two. One.
Bull kicked in the door, and he and his teammates burst into the room.
Chaos erupted immediately.
There were around ten men in the room and a handful of women. The men immediately stood up and reached for weapons that had been leaning against the walls around them.
“Don’t move!” Bull yelled in a tone that was meant to be obeyed. Of course, no one listened, so Bull did what he did best.
He aimed and fired.
Bull had received his nickname in basic training because of his ability at the shooting range. In his weapons qualification course, he’d had a perfect score. It didn’t matter what weapon he was using, he was perfect every time. Pistol, rifle, even the grenade. Wearing a gas mask on the night range? Perfect. Everyone had started calling him Bullseye, but over the years, it had been shortened to Bull.
And that was the reason he was leading the assault into the room filled with terrorists. He always hit his target. Always.
Taking his time, Bull shot the hand off one man who was reaching for a gun and immediately turned his attention to the man next to him and did the same. The shots were loud in the room, and the screams and yells only added to the chaos.
After what seemed like ten minutes, but in actuality was under sixty seconds, Bull held up his fist to alert the team to stop firing. The second the scene was secure, Gramps strode over to the nearest man and shoved him toward the others. Smoke assisted, and before long, all ten men were on their knees, all bleeding in some shape or form but not mortally wounded, glaring up at Bull and his team.
“Fazlur Barzan Khatun?” Bull barked, knowing the coward wouldn’t admit who he was but wanting to give him a chance to save the others anyway.
As he thought, none of the men indicated they were who the team was looking for.
“Third from the right,” Eagle said in what some people might’ve thought was a bored tone. But Bull knew better. His friend was deadly serious. There was no discussion or questioning Eagle. If he said the man was Khatun, the man was Khatun. Bull and the others had no doubt whatsoever.
Without hesitation, and without giving the man time to deny he was the FBI’s most wanted terrorist, Gramps lifted his rifle and shot the man between the eyes.
The man swayed on his knees for just a moment before falling backward, his eyes staring sightlessly at the ceiling.
The other men immediately began wailing. Bull wanted to roll his eyes at the commotion, especially considering they were probably Khatun’s most trusted advisors and neck deep in blood they’d shed themselves.
They’d successfully completed their mission, but Bull wasn’t about to exit without making sure they didn’t leave behind someone who was just as deadly and ruthless as Khatun. “Eagle?” he asked, knowing the other man would understand what he wanted.
As the remaining men glared at him, Eagle stepped forward and studied each of their faces carefully. He pointed to the last man in the line. “Nabeel Ozair Mullah.”
If Bull hadn’t been looking directly at the man, he would’ve missed the look of surprise that crossed his face. But he didn’t miss it. It was as clear as day that Eagle had correctly identified the man.
Mullah was also on the FBI’s Most Wanted terrorist list. He was currently ranked at number six, but with Khatun now dead, the entire team knew he was next in line to take his place in the terrorist organization.
“No! I not him. I Muhammad Amir. Servant,” the man said in surprisingly good English.
Eagle snorted. “And I’m the king of England.”
The man moved surprisingly fast, getting the drop on all four Deltas.
He leaned over and grabbed the arm of a young woman who’d most likely been serving the men before the meeting had been interrupted. She shrieked and struggled against Mullah but was no match for the man.
Gramps, Smoke, and Eagle turned their rifles on the other men, yelling at them to stay where they were, while Bull’s attention stayed focused on Mullah and the now-crying woman. She was desperately tugging on the arm around her throat, trying to get free and probably to get air into her lungs.
“I kill!” Mullah threatened, and Bull knew he could easily kill the young woman with his bare hands.
“Let her go,” Bull ordered, dropping his rifle to hang around his torso and pulling out his pistol. He had no fear that one of the other terrorists would shoot him. His teammates had his back. His only job right now was to take out number six—now five—on the FBI’s list, preferably before he broke the young woman’s neck.
Mullah shook his head. “You not allowed in Pakistan,” he said.
“And yet, here we are,” Bull said calmly.
“US pay for sticking face where it not belong!” Mullah protested.
“You and your cronies shouldn’t have killed our countrymen,” Bull told him.
“They deserve. Should not have come,” Mullah sneered. “They die like coward. Crying like baby!”
The teenager in Mullah’s arms had closed her eyes, and Bull could see that she was on the cusp of passing out. He had no more time to listen to this asshole’s disparagement of the brave men and women he’d had a hand in killing. Mullah was using the woman as a shield, but there were plenty of places on his body that weren’t hidden behind her.
Bull fired his weapon, taking off Mullah’s ear.
The man shrieked, and as Bull had thought he’d do, one hand flew up to immediately cover the bleeding mess on the side of his head.
As Mullah moved, Bull shot again, taking off several of Mullah’s fingers. His grasp on the woman loosened, and she did the sensible thing by dropping to her knees and crawling away from her captor.
And that left Mullah without protection from Bull’s lethal bullets.
Taking three shots in a row, Bull hit the ruthless terrorist twice in the heart and once in the forehead. Mullah dropped like a stone, face-first to the floor.
The other men didn’t make a sound. It was almost eerie how quiet the room was. It was as if everyone recognized they were one word, one movement away from having the barrel of Bull’s gun zeroed in on them.
“Incoming,” Smoke said quietly.
Nodding, Bull holstered his pistol and reached for his rifle once more. In tandem, all four men took a step backward toward the door to the room.
No one spoke. No one moved.
Bull knew Gramps would’ve taken the necessary pictures to prove they’d eliminated two of the most evil terrorists the world had ever known. They hadn’t been tasked with killing Mullah; they’d just been lucky to find him there. Two ruthless terrorists had been eliminated rather than just one.
The four quickly headed back down the stairs and out of the building. They could hear sirens in the distance, but because of the time of night and the upper-class neighborhood they were in, no one was lurking about.
As the team disappeared into the Pakistani night, Bull felt proud of what he and his team had accomplished. When he’d joined the Army, he hadn’t thought he’d ever look forward to killing another human being, but after seeing firsthand what men like Khatun and Mullah were capable of, the destruction they left in their wakes, he had no problem killing to protect his country and all the innocent lives at stake.
He had no illusions—innocent lives were at stake. Killing the two men tonight wouldn’t be looked at very favorably, but it probably set back any terrorist plan to attack US citizens on American soil at least a decade. The Harkat-ul-Mujahideen would have to regroup, put new leadership in place, and that could take years. The infighting and power struggle within the organization would be immense and would cause chaos for the group.
Bull grinned. Yes, he and his team had dealt the terrorist organization a blow they wouldn’t easily recover from tonight. And even though few back home would ever know about it, even though their actions would never be praised on the nightly news, they’d done their patriotic duty.
* * *
Bull stood at attention next to Smoke, Eagle, and Gramps, trying to comprehend what the fuck was happening.
How had they gone from being high on their success a month ago to standing in what amounted to an Article 15 hearing now?
Instead of being thrilled with the outcome of their mission, their commander had been livid that they’d killed Mullah. It made little sense, and the more Bull and the others had tried to explain the importance of the man’s death, the more upset the Army brass had become.
Apparently, one terrorist ending up dead was acceptable, but two at the same time? In a country the US wasn’t supposed to be in? That was suspicious. Accusations from the Pakistani government that the United States had deployed spies into their country had flown, and the president wasn’t happy that he’d had no idea what was happening.
Personally, Bull thought the man was simply pissed he couldn’t take credit for both Khatun and Mullah being dead, but that was purely speculation on his part.
As a result of their actions, Bull, Smoke, Eagle, and Gramps had been brought up on charges of disobeying a superior officer and had to defend their actions from the mission in Pakistan.
It was utterly ridiculous, and Bull was beyond pissed.
“After reviewing the body cam footage of your actions, it’s been decided that while you successfully completed the original mission honorably, you subsequently made decisions that were detrimental to the overall safety of this country. You killed a man you were not one hundred percent sure was a terrorist and jeopardized international relations between the United States and the Middle Eastern nations. It will take years before any of the governments in that area of the world will trust the US Army again.”
Bull ground his teeth together and forced himself to stay quiet. Everything the general was saying was bullshit. Everyone in the room knew it. They needed a scapegoat, and he and his team were the logical targets. Everyone was fucking thrilled Mullah was dead, but they couldn’t admit it publicly. He forced himself to pay attention as the general continued speaking.
“Because the man you eliminated was Mullah, it’s been decided that you will not be punished by a reduction in rank or being chaptered out of the Army.”
Bull inwardly breathed a sigh of relief but stiffened when the general continued.
“But as a result of your actions, it’s been decided to break up your team. You will all be given a permanent change of station to different bases. You won’t be allowed on any Delta Force teams in the future and will be integrated into various infantry units. You will report to the captains in charge of your new teams, and while we aren’t stripping you of your ranks, you will be under a suspension of favorable actions and will not be allowed to reenlist once the end of your current term in the US Army is over. Any questions?”
Bull could barely believe what he’d just heard. They were splitting up him and his team? Was this a joke? He didn’t care that they’d be forced out of the Army; after everything that had happened, he wasn’t inclined to stay in anyway. But separating them from each other was a huge blow.
“If there are no questions, you are dismissed.”
Bull turned without saluting the man—fuck that, he didn’t deserve his respect—and filed out of the room. He looked at his friends and saw the same disbelief and shock he was feeling reflected back in their eyes.
“Fuck,” Smoke said under his breath.
“I won’t do it,” Eagle swore.
“We don’t have a choice,” Gramps replied with a sigh. “None of us is up for reenlistment. We’re at their mercy until we can get out.”
Bull wanted to say something positive, to lead his team as he’d done for as long as they’d been together, but the words wouldn’t come. He couldn’t imagine not seeing these guys every day. He trusted them with his life and knew he’d never have that kind of bond with any other team. As far as punishments went, what the general had done was worse than stripping their ranks and making them work extra duty . . . and the bastard knew it.
Doing his best to pull himself together, Bull took a deep breath. “Tonight. Meet at Hank’s. We need some time to process, then we’ll discuss our next steps.”
The other three nodded, and with chin lifts goodbye, all headed for their own cars in the parking lot.
* * *
Four hours later, Bull, Eagle, Smoke, and Gramps sat in a dark corner of Hank’s Bar and Grill near Fort Hood. It was a crappy bar in a crappy part of town, but it was private, and they wouldn’t run into anyone they knew from the base. The bar was actually off limits to Army personnel because of the number of fights and drug busts that had happened there, but Bull and his team didn’t give a shit. They needed to discuss their future, and this was as good a place as any.
“This is such bullshit,” Eagle said in disgust.
“They can’t do this to us,” Smoke agreed.
“Unfortunately, they can. And did,” Gramps said, then took a long swig of his beer.
Bull wished he could tell them he’d come up with a plan in the hours between when they’d learned their fate and now, but he was still at a loss. They all knew within a day or two they’d get their PCS orders and be sent to opposite corners of the country. And being put in ordinary infantry units was a step down. Since they were under a “suspension of favorable actions” reprimand, they weren’t permitted to take leadership positions and would end up serving in minor staff slots.
While the infantry were badass in their own way, they weren’t Deltas. It was like sending a professional flutist to play in a high school orchestra.
Bull opened his mouth to say something, he wasn’t sure what, when a voice interrupted. “May I sit here?”
All four men looked up to see a man standing next to their table. He was wearing a pair of black slacks and a white shirt buttoned almost all the way up. Only the top button was undone. He had on a shiny pair of black shoes and actual cuff links. The man looked as out of place in the seedy bar as a homeless man might’ve looked in a fancy country club.
“Who the fuck are you?” Gramps asked.
The man didn’t seem upset at his tone and merely raised an eyebrow and nodded to the empty seat at the table.
Bull smirked. He had no idea who this guy was, but he had to give him credit. He had some balls. Bull kicked the chair out and nodded.
“Thank you,” the man said and sat, as if he didn’t have a care in the world. He placed his drink on the table in front of him—whiskey, if Bull had to guess—and leaned forward.
“So,” the man said. “Heard you didn’t have the best day today.”
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