Wyatt Chandler straightened his Navy dress uniform collar and took a deep breath. He didn’t want to walk into that church, didn’t want to see the casket of his teammate with the American flag draped on top. Mostly, he didn’t want to see Danny’s wife and baby girl. He didn’t want Lisa to see the guilt in his eyes.
Guilt because he hadn’t been able to save Danny from the sniper’s bullet that had ended his life. Wyatt shoved a hand through his hair, cropped short in proper military style for a change, and sucked in another breath.
“Just get in there, dammit, and do your duty,” he muttered.
He shoved the door open and walked into the church. It was darker than he’d expected. It was overcast outside, and the meager light coming through the stained glass windows cast a muted glow on everything.
But of course it was gloomy. Candles flickered, but they couldn’t replace the light the world had lost when it lost Danny.
Wyatt stopped in the back of the church and took everything in. The gloom. The sobbing. The sadness. The utter despair of a life cut too short and the pain of those who had to go onward. The little girl playing down front who was too small to understand what was really happening and why her daddy was never coming home again.
A lump formed in his throat. His eyes stung. He’d sat through a funeral when he was not much older than Danny’s little girl. He didn’t remember much about it, but he remembered Gran sobbing while Gramps sat with his arm around her and tried to tell her it would be okay.
But it could never be okay. She’d lost her son and daughter-in-law. Wyatt and Gramps were all she’d had left.
Now it was only Wyatt because Gramps had died two years ago. The sobbing down front grew louder and Wyatt clamped his jaw tight at the anguish in it.
If he stayed in the Navy, would he go home in a casket too? Would Gran have to sit through another funeral, sobbing her heart out like Danny’s family was doing?
Soon he was going to have to make a decision about his future. But not today. Today was about honoring Danny, and about learning to live with this guilt that was eating him up inside.
He strode down the aisle toward the flag-draped casket. He was here to pay his respects. One last time.
Four months later…
Wyatt slid into the booth at No Man’s Land, the diner located on a portion of the Sentinel Bridge, and picked up the menu even though he didn’t really need it. The HALO pancakes topped with snow and drowned in rocket fuel were his favorite item on the breakfast menu. As a Navy SEAL, he’d done enough HALO jumps out of airplanes over enemy territory to get quite the kick out of pancakes named after what was essentially a very risky venture.
“Hi, Wyatt, how’s it going this morning?”
Mandy stood there with her order pad and a pen, smiling at him with that pretty smile of hers. He thought he should feel a hint of interest in her, but he didn’t. He should probably worry about that, especially since he’d been out of the SEALs for nearly two months now and had yet to kiss a woman—much less spend the night with one—but he couldn’t seem to care.
In truth, he had a hard time caring about much of anything right now. Except Gran, of course. Gran, who was at her doctor’s appointment and refused to let him join her. When he’d dropped her off, she’d told him to go get some breakfast and stop skulking around.
“Pretty good,” he said with a smile and a wink. “How about you?”
She said it shyly and he wondered if she was sweet on him or something. He hoped not, because he was so not the kind of man for a girl like her. Innocent. Nice. Probably naïve.
She cleared her throat. “Do you know what you want or should I just get you some coffee first and come back?”
He handed her the plastic menu. “I’ll take the pancakes and some coffee. And a side of scrambled eggs.”
“Sounds great. I’ll be back with your coffee. Food will be up soon.”
Wyatt knew from experience that he was about to get a lot of food. But he’d been doing manual labor off and on for Garrison Construction the past few weeks, so he didn’t worry about an expanding waistline. Construction wasn’t the same as humping through the jungle in full ruck, but it was still pretty hard work. It was also satisfying, like when he’d helped Adam Tucker turn the boathouse into a camp dorm over at A To Z Watersports.
The door opened and Zane Tucker, Adam’s twin, wandered in. He lifted his chin when he saw Wyatt and made his way over, flopping down in the chair opposite.
“How’s it hanging this morning, Wyatt?”
Wyatt raised an eyebrow. Ever since Zane had gotten cozy with the town librarian, Miss Harper Grace, he’d been smiling more. He was smiling now, matter of fact, and while it grated on Wyatt somewhere deep down, he was also happy for his friend. Zane was the jokester of their group—they didn’t call him Insane Zane for nothing—but Wyatt had always thought the joking hid deeper feelings of inadequacy. Maybe because Zane had been sickly as a child.
Well, he wasn’t sickly now. If anything, he was radiating health and happiness.
“It’s hanging. Lower than yours.”
Zane snorted. “Asshole. I’m still not sure I’ve forgiven you for the Wonder Woman costume. You aren’t working very hard to get back on my good side either.”
“I’m still on your good side. Without me, you might never have admitted you loved Harper.”
“Oh, I definitely would have. Without the costume, though.”
Wyatt flicked a gaze at the Snake River flowing below them. Eagle’s Ridge was beautiful this time of year. The foliage was lush, the river rolled against the banks, bringing water sports and good fishing, and the Blue Mountains soared against a clear sky.
Danny would have loved it here. He was crazy for good fishing. He’d told Wyatt all about his family farm and the bass ponds there while they were high up in the Hindu Kush, searching for insurgents and tracking down a terrorist leader. They’d survived that mission, just like they’d survived so many others.
Until one day when it all went wrong.
“What’s the bug up your ass this morning?” Zane asked, frowning.
Wyatt didn’t answer because Mandy chose that moment to return with the coffee.
“Hey, Zane—you want some coffee?”
“Sure thing. And give me the Two NCOs with Train Tracks,” he added, ordering the scrambled eggs and bacon. “Add some hash browns, too.”
“Be right up,” Mandy said as she jotted on her order pad. A few seconds later she was back with a second coffee cup.
When she left this time, Zane took a sip and waited. He clearly hadn’t forgotten his question, or Wyatt’s silence.
“There’s no bug,” Wyatt said, knowing Zane wouldn’t give up. They were too close for lies, so Wyatt went with evasion instead. “How’s Harper?”
“Nice try. She’s fine, by the way. But you aren’t. We’ve all noticed it.”
Wyatt’s gut twisted. “Why would you say that? I’m exactly where I want to be, doing what I want to do. I’m the definition of fine.”
“You’ve been in town for almost two months, and all you do is the occasional construction project for the Garrisons, or odd jobs for whoever gives you something to do.”
“I spent a solid week pasting photos into Gran’s albums, don’t forget. Gave myself a paper cut.”
Zane wasn’t fooled by the attempt at humor. “What’s going on with you, Wyatt?”
Wyatt’s hand tightened on the mug. “I’m fine, Zane.”
“Yeah, but you left the SEALs—and you won’t tell any of us why.”
Wyatt kicked back as if he were the most relaxed guy in the world. “It was time, that’s all. Gran’s sick. She needs me—”
“That woman does not need you, bro. She hasn’t slowed down a bit since her diagnosis. About all I’ve noticed is she doesn’t stop at the bakery for donuts anymore. Type 2 diabetes isn’t a death sentence. It’s controllable with medication and diet, and she’s doing just that.” Zane leaned forward, elbows on the table. “So what really gives, huh?”
Wyatt hesitated for a long moment. But his pain was his alone. He wasn’t going to burden his friends with any of it. Ryder, Adam, and Zane were happier than he’d ever seen them. He didn’t know about Jack, couldn’t get him to commit to anything more than a few phone calls, but he suspected Jack was dealing with something serious of his own. Then there was Noah, who was dealing with some serious family shit, and Ford, who seemed determined to stay on the other side of the country even though his family wanted him home and had a construction company for him to run.
Nope, nobody needed to listen to his shit so he wasn’t going to talk about it.
“Nothing, man. I’m just tired. I saw a lot overseas, a lot of bad stuff…” He hesitated. “Gran is the only family I have left. I thought I should come home and be around for her.”
Zane’s gaze searched his. He could tell the moment his friend decided to quit digging. Knowing Zane, however, it was only a temporary reprieve.
“Fine. But what do you plan to do with yourself in the long run? You’re too young to retire, and you need more than odd jobs here and there to keep you alive.”
Wyatt shook his head and grinned. “I saved a lot of combat pay. I’m good for a long time to come.”
Zane didn’t seem convinced. “I’m glad you won’t be panhandling or anything, but I still think you need to find your calling. Whatever that is.”
The food arrived then and Wyatt’s mouth started to water at the sight of all those pancakes. Nobody made pancakes like these. Not only that, but Sam Tucker’s homemade maple syrup was the taste of Wyatt’s childhood in a bite.
Zane tore into his eggs and bacon, and Wyatt forked up a bite of fluffy pancakes before meeting his friend’s eyes again.
“It’s cool, Zane. I have some ideas, but I’m not ready to jump on any of them yet.” It was a lie, but Zane didn’t need to know that.
Zane nodded. “Let me know if I can help. When you’re ready.”
“I definitely will. You owe me a few.”
“Pretty sure you owe me after the Wonder Woman incident.”
After breakfast, they parted ways. Zane returned to A To Z, and Wyatt shoved his hands in his pockets and walked back to his truck. It was still a good half hour before he had to pick up Gran. He leaned against the truck, one leg crossed over the other, and studied the picture the mountains and river made.
Eagle’s Ridge was beautiful. The scenery was practically the only thing that gave him any measure of comfort these days. When you stood beneath mountains so glorious, your troubles didn’t seem nearly as big as you thought they were.
His cell phone buzzed in his pocket. He slid it out and glanced at the screen. It was a Maryland number, but not one he recognized. He thought about letting it go to voicemail, in case it was a telemarketer or something, but since he had time to kill he decided to answer.
“Hey, Wyatt. This is Hawk,” a voice said in response to his clipped greeting.
Wyatt blinked. Hawk, whose real name was Jack Hunter, had been a legendary sniper in the Hostile Operations Team, the special terrorist hunting unit Wyatt had been a member of for the past three years. Hawk had left HOT to start his own security firm protecting high-end clients like his wife, pop superstar Gina Domenico. Wyatt had met the man a couple of times, but didn’t really know him.
“Hey, Hawk. What can I do for you?”
“I understand you’ve left the unit,” the other man said. “And I was wondering if you’d like to put your special skills to use.”
Special skills was code for the ability—and willingness—to use lethal force in a variety of ways. Wyatt frowned as he gazed at the mountains. There was a peak up there where the eagles nested that gave the town its name. He hadn’t been up there in years. He really needed to go see it again…
“I don’t think so,” he said. “But I appreciate the offer.”
“You haven’t even heard the offer yet,” Hawk replied. He sounded amused rather than annoyed.
“Yeah, well, I gotta tell you the truth—I think I’d be tempted. And I don’t want to be.”
Because yeah, he did miss the high octane thrill of operations. He missed the adrenaline rush, the highs of a job done well. He missed being a SEAL, and he missed HOT, a place where only the best of the best gained entrance.
Still, he’d made his decision. He was done.
“Look, it’s pretty simple really,” Hawk continued. “I have a client who needs guarding in Eagle’s Ridge. Nothing more complicated than that. You interested?”
He didn’t want to be. He really didn’t. But he could listen, right?
“You have my attention.”
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Y'all, I just can't believe that Colonel Mendez's story is almost here! Which means, of course, that I've finished writing it. But I'll tell you a secret – I wish I'd written it twice as long.
I did NOT want to give Mendez up. I can't believe that it's over. I'm SAD. How crazy is that? But I love this character. When he first appeared in HOT PURSUIT, I had no idea he'd gain a following. He was just some old crusty full-bird colonel with gray hair who oversaw the Hostile Operations Team and ran it with an iron fist.
Little did I know how SEXY he was. How that gray hair was salt-and-pepper gray, and how he was really in his 40s rather than his 50s. That's right, I DID NOT KNOW THOSE THINGS WHEN HE FIRST APPEARED. He was a minor character to me, but with a lot of mystery. Matt didn't really know him. Nobody did.
And then he appeared in other books, always so cool and in control, always with more knowledge than his guys had. More experience. If that's not sexy, I don't know what is! And y'all started asking for his story. That amazed me, but then I started thinking about it. WHY couldn't the sexy, 49-year-old colonel have a story? WHY NOT?
For years, New York publishers told us what we could do. I wrote for Harlequin Presents (and loved those books!), and it's possible they would have let me write a 49-year-old. But most publishers wouldn't. Too old, they'd say.
Well, hell, really? Because y'all ladies certainly have wanted Mendez's story. What amazes me about that is at least half of you have told me he's old enough to be your dad, but you don't care. 😉 You wanted him anyway.
He'll be here on Tuesday, July 18, 2017. And I'm so thrilled! But I miss him. I just can't tell you how exciting his story was for me. The scenes – oh, the scenes! The things I got to write. Some of those scenes unfolded and I could barely keep up. I had the playlist on a loop (see below) and I could not write fast enough! It happened too quickly. I want to take it all back and keep spending my days and nights with the colonel.
Mr. Harris began to wonder, I'm certain, if I'd ever finish. Or if I'd keep telling him night after night that I was too busy to watch television with him. I wasn't sure I'd finish either. I kept pushing my editors off, kept on working. I hated to let go.
But I finally did. I'm happy with the result — though don't be surprised if Mendez gets more adventures in the future. For the first time ever, I understood wanting to write a character who gets multiple books. And he might — who knows! With Kat, of course, because they deserve their happily ever after.
I hope you love him as much as I do! I'm bereft it's over. But proud of the result. Not everyone will agree — but I hope most of you will. Hugs and love. 🙂
HOT ADDICTION is out TODAY! I'm so excited that I wanted to give some shiz away. Check this out, and be sure to tell your friends about this HOT, sexy military man and the lady who broke his heart. This book is a wild ride, I swear!
From New York Times bestselling author Lynn Raye Harris comes the next explosive story in the Hostile Operations Team series!
Tell Dex I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have let it go this far. I’ve thought for a while that marrying him wasn’t right, that I’m not the woman for him—I should have been brave enough to say so. He deserves more.
When Dex “Double Dee” Davidson was abandoned at the altar by the woman he loved, he threw himself into his military career, training hard enough to get accepted into the elite Black Ops unit known as HOT. The love he felt for Annabelle Quinn burned to ash in the face of her betrayal—so when she crashes back into his life and begs him to save her, he has no problem laughing in her face.
Blackmailed into jilting Dex and forced into an abusive marriage, Annabelle never thought she’d escape the hell of the last five years. But her husband died a month ago and she’s finally free. Except she isn’t. Someone claims that Eric stole a fortune—and they want it back. If she doesn’t return it within twenty-four hours, she’ll be dead—and so will her young daughter. With time running out, Annabelle has no one to turn to. No one except Dex.
When Dex learns that Annabelle’s husband committed treason against the US by selling a top secret military project to the Russians, he has no choice but to get involved. He’ll protect Annabelle and her child, and he’ll find out who’s threatening her. But he won’t fall for her intoxicating sensuality ever again. And if he discovers the secret she’s been hiding from him? It’ll be game over for good…
Another explosive, high-octane thrill-ride from New York Times bestselling author Lynn Raye Harris!
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As a member of the elite Hostile Operations Team, Jake “Harley” Ryan expected that deadly assignments were a part of the deal. What he didn’t expect was to be sent on a suicide mission.
There were three men in the room besides him. Colonel John Mendez, the bad ass HOT Commander; Lieutenant Colonel Alex Bishop, the quieter but no less lethal Deputy Commander; and Declan MacKenzie, the legendary founder and leader of MacKenzie Security, a firm with government contracts and operatives around the world. That a private contractor was here in the HOT command center didn’t surprise him. That a private contractor was here to request his help did.
“You want me to go back to Georgia and pretend the last seven years didn’t happen? Just waltz up to the clubhouse and act like nothing’s changed?” He cocked his head as he stared at the three men. “What makes you think the Brothers will take me back? It’s more likely they’ll kill me on sight.”
Declan MacKenzie exchanged a look with Mendez. Then he shoved himself off the table he’d been leaning against and reached for a folder. He took out a sheet of paper and handed it to Jake.
“They might kill you, sure,” Declan said. “But I think you’re smart enough not to let that happen. And the colonel here is smart enough to make sure you get sent home under less than honorable circumstances so everything looks legit. Play your cards right and they’ll take you back.”
Jake glanced at the paper in his hand—and his gut twisted. Judge Harold Mason, aged sixty-four, widely believed to be on the short list for a Supreme Court seat, lay in a coma in an Atlanta hospital after a single car crash. His wife had died. There was a picture of the accident scene. It wasn’t pretty.
“That’s the judge who offered you a choice, right?” Declan asked. “Prison or the military?”
“Yeah.” It was more complicated than that, though. Judge Mason was responsible for who Jake had become—and who he hadn’t become. Jake had been young and angry when he’d faced the judge. Hell, he’d even been stupid—but his court-appointed attorney had not. Jake had barely been eighteen, and he’d figured going down with the Brothers of Sin was simply a rite of passage. He was still a recruit at that point, but he’d have done anything to belong to that group of badasses and earn the right to be a full-fledged Brother.
His attorney, along with the judge, had convinced him otherwise—Jake still didn’t quite know how—and here he was. An elite soldier. The best of the best. A man who could face overwhelming odds and win every time. Who stared death in the face and fucking laughed at it.
“He’s still in danger,” Declan said. “Unless we can get Brandon Cox and the Brothers on murder charges for Mrs. Mason and attempted charges for the judge.”
Jake set the paper down. “Look, I’d do anything for Judge Mason. He saved my life—but I wasn’t a witness to the crime. How can I possibly do anything to prove the Brothers had a hand in it?”
“You can’t. But there’s a woman who can.”
Another piece of paper was thrust into Jake’s hand. A woman’s face stared back at him. She wasn’t smiling. She had a faraway look that spoke of sadness and determination. She was climbing from a car, her long legs bared as her skirt rode up. She had long dark hair and blue eyes. She also had a wealth of tattoos, all in shades of black and gray—on her arms and legs, across her collarbone, over her belly where the cropped top she wore exposed the skin. There were words on her thighs.
It wasn’t ugly, though. On her, it was beautiful. As if she were made to wear ink.
He shook himself. “Then why aren’t you talking to her? Why ask me to get involved?”
It wasn’t that he wouldn’t throw himself on a grenade for the judge, but he wasn’t quite seeing how this worked yet. Why they needed him.
“We’d love to talk to her—but she won’t talk to us. Her name is Eva Gray. She’s twenty-four, a tattoo artist. She does work for the Brothers. Hell, she may even be involved with one of them, though we don’t know that for sure. But I can’t get any of my guys close enough without putting her in danger. You, however, could walk in as a Brother and get what we need.” Declan paused, his gray eyes growing troubled. “She’s in danger too, Jake. If my FBI sources are right, she’s the only witness willing to finger them. We have to get in there and get her out—and we have to convince her to talk or she’ll never be safe again.”
Jake glanced down at the photo. “She doesn’t look worried. She’s probably someone’s old lady. Maybe even Brandon’s. How do you know she’ll talk at all?”
“She called in an anonymous tip to the FBI. She’s willing but she needs some persuasion. Time is running out.”
Jake stood and handed the photo back to Declan. This woman had dared to break the code and call in a tip. It might have been anonymous, but clearly the FBI knew who’d done it. And the Brothers had ways of finding out things they shouldn’t know. When they did, they’d eliminate her.
“When do I go in?”
* * *
Eva Gray shook her hair from her face and bent back to the arm of the biker she was currently tattooing. It was a colorful tattoo, one with skulls and roses and twining vines. The dude gritted his teeth as she set her needle to his skin again. The inside of the arm was one of the worst possible places to get a tattoo. The skin was thin, the nerve endings were abundant, and it hurt like a motherfucker.
“You gonna make it, Duke?”
The old bastard snorted. “Yeah, little girl, I’ll make it.”
Eva laughed as she continued her line work. “I think you will. Tough man.”
She kind of liked Duke, as much as it was possible to like any of the Brothers. Which, for her, wasn’t much. But he was nice enough and never tried to cop a feel the way the others did.
The door to the studio opened and a chill breeze rolled in. It was October, so the days were getting cooler, but that wasn’t the source of the coolness in the room. At least not for her. Without looking up, she knew that Brandon Cox had walked in.
Yeah, she had to take it easy. Because she’d gone through a lot to get this close to the Brothers—to Brandon—and it wasn’t over yet. Years of work. No sense rushing when she was on the verge of victory. Patience was a virtue. It had served her well for seven long years of preparation, and it would continue to serve her well until she achieved her goal.
“Hey, baby, how you doing today?”
Eva glanced up at Brandon and gave him a sugary sweet smile even though he made her stomach turn. “Just great, Brandon. How about you?”
He swaggered over and leered at her. He wouldn’t touch her. Not yet, though she suspected his patience was beginning to wear thin on that score.
“I’m great, baby. Be even greater if you’d let me taste those sweet lips of yours.”
Revulsion slid down her spine like rancid grease. But she smiled anyway. “Can’t do that, man. You know I don’t mix business and pleasure.”
When she’d started tattooing the Brothers six months ago, she’d made it clear that if they wanted her art, they had to respect her rules—which had become doubly important when she moved to the compound a little over two months ago. Since she was damn good at what she did, they went along with it—other than the various attempts at copping a feel, which she always stamped down hard.
“Honey, there are other tattoo artists.”
“But none as good as me.”
Duke snorted. “She’s got you there, boss.”
“Yeah, yeah, all right. Shame to waste that body though.”
“Is there something you wanted, Brandon?” she asked. “I’ve got another hour on Duke before I can get to you.”
“Not me, baby.” He turned and made a motion and another man walked inside. “Need you to do something for my man Jake.”
Eva’s heart skipped as her eyes met cool amber ones. Her jaw felt as if it had dropped to the floor. She swallowed.
Jake Ryan. Dear God. He’d been a Brother all those years ago when Heather was still alive. She knew it because, before he’d joined a motorcycle gang, he’d been in her high school. She’d spent hours staring at Jake from behind her glasses. Hours imagining pressing her mouth to his and tasting him. He’d been a bad boy, moody and just this side of delinquent, and she’d been oh so fascinated. Her and every other girl.
He hadn’t made it through their senior year, however. At a certain point, he’d left school. She’d seen him around town in his cut, the jacket that proclaimed him a Brother. How he’d gotten a motorcycle she’d never known, but just seeing him rumble through town on his Harley had been enough to set her heart racing.
Her heart was hammering now, and not because he was gorgeous. She told herself that he wasn’t going to recognize her. No one had. No one. Not the people she’d known in school, not her aunt who still lived in town, not a single person. She’d changed that much. Deliberately.
Who she’d been before was dead, and there was only Eva Gray in her place. It had to be that way.
But she still dropped her gaze from Jake’s and focused on Duke’s arm. She’d bobbled the line she was working, but she could fix it.
“All right, sure. What’s he want?” she asked.
Brandon clapped Jake on the back. “He’s going to need the Brothers of Sin freshened up. It’s faded a bit since he left us for the military.”
Military? She’d wondered where he was when she’d returned to town and he hadn’t been in the club anymore. Thought maybe he’d gone to prison or something. So many of the Brothers rotated through the system like it was a revolving door that she didn’t think he’d be any different.
And she certainly hadn’t cared that she’d be taking him down along with the rest of them when the time came.
“Sure thing. Just have to finish Duke first.”
“Take your time,” Jake said. His voice was so unexpected that it hit her like a splash in an icy pool. Deep, resonant, filled with all that sexy promise she’d worshipped back in the day.
After Heather had gone inside the club, she was only allowed out with an escort. She’d visited Eva and their mother as often as she could, and sometimes Jake was the one tasked with accompanying her when she did. He wouldn’t come inside the house, but when Eva took him a drink on the porch, he was nice to her.
“I intend to,” she said. Because she couldn’t afford softness with these men. They were predators. One whiff of weakness and they’d rip her throat out.
He snorted. “I see why you hired her,” he said to Brandon. “Sexy and bitchy. She’d make a great old lady.”
“Don’t go gettin’ any ideas,” Brandon said gruffly. “Eva treats her body like it’s a sacred temple or something. She won’t fuck a Brother. Will you, baby?”
She didn’t glance up. “Nope. I gotta stay true to my art.”
“See? Crazy bitch, but she’s good with the ink.”
“Love you too, Brandon,” she deadpanned.
One of these days she’d go too far, but for now the leader of the Brothers of Sin only laughed. Evil, murdering bastard.
“You let me know when you’re ready for some real lovin’, baby, and I’ll give it to you good and hard.”
Not if she gave it to him good and hard first. And she wasn’t talking about sex.
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