Dex & Annabelle
H.O.T. (Hostile Operations Team), Book 10
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!
Read an Excerpt
Five years ago…
Dexter Davidson checked his watch for the thousandth time that morning. It was nearing noon and his bride-to-be was over an hour late. His father stood in the chancel, his rented tuxedo making him appear distinguished and genteel rather than rough and worn like the farmer he was. But the look on his face was what killed Dex the most. It was one of pity and a growing resignation.
“Fuck this,” Dex growled as he clenched his jaw tight and walked down the aisle, between the rows of pews where the guests waited for the ceremony to start. The chapel doors were open to the outside because it was springtime and warm. But it was also raining. A soft, gentle rain, but rain nonetheless.
Perhaps the rain had caused a delay. Dex stood in the open door and took his phone from his pocket. Annabelle still hadn’t answered his texts. He sent another one, just in case, and felt his heart shrivel just a little bit more when no answer came.
He tried calling, but it went to voice mail without even ringing. “Belle,” he said, his throat tight and his eyes burning, “where are you, baby? I’m worried. Please let me know you’re safe. If you’ve changed your mind, it’s okay. Just let me know.”
It wasn’t okay if she’d changed her mind, but what else could he say? Annabelle Quinn had been his girl for the past four years. He’d fallen madly in love with her in an instant. He’d known her most of his life, had ignored her for much of it because she was his little sister’s best friend, but one day, pow! She’d smiled at him the way she had a million times before—and he was done for. He’d been hers from that moment forward.
And now they were supposed to be getting married. He’d come home on leave from the Army at Christmas and asked her to marry him. She’d said yes. She and his sister had planned everything while he went back to Afghanistan and did his best to stay alive. He didn’t know how long he stood there before he felt a presence beside him.
“I’m sorry, Dex.” Katie put a hand on his arm. “She’s not coming.”
He wanted to deny it, but the look on Katie’s face told him all he needed to know. He felt hollow inside. Empty. Because he knew she was right. He’d known it deep in his gut for the past twenty minutes.
His sister’s eyes were shiny. He took the phone from her hand and stared at the text message on the screen until the words blurred together and his heart burned away, turning to ash.
Belle: I can’t, Katie. Please don’t hate me, but I can’t. 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 than this. Tell him.
Dex stood there for a long moment, his gut roiling with emotions he didn’t know how to process. He dropped the phone and strode out into the rain while Katie called after him. He put his uniform hat on, shoved his hands into his pockets, and kept walking down the muddy road, away from the country church that Annabelle had insisted was the place she wanted to be married.
He didn’t know where he was going or what he was going to do when he got there. All he knew was that his life would never be the same again.
Annabelle Quinn-Archer couldn’t get over the feeling she was being followed. She swiveled her head to look up and down the street but saw nothing out of the ordinary. She’d had that feeling a lot in the past month, ever since Eric had died in Africa, but there was never anyone waiting in the bushes to jump out at her. She’d varied her routine, never doing the same thing long enough to get predictable, and she’d hired a private detective to check for anomalies.
He’d found nothing. She’d paid him and sent him on his way, feeling like an idiot for being paranoid. But still, there was something that didn’t feel quite right to her. Maybe she was overworked as her friend Molly had suggested, or maybe she was still reeling from the fact her husband was dead and there’d been almost nothing left of him once the animals were finished with his body.
A mixture of emotions rained down on her, like always, when she thought of Eric. She hadn’t wished him dead, but she also couldn’t be sorry he was out of her life. Guilt sat like a stone in her belly at her inability to care that he was gone. All she could feel was relief that she was finally out from under his thumb. For the first time in five years, she could breathe.
Guilty, guilty, guilty.
Maybe that’s why she thought she was being followed. Maybe it was just the truckload of guilt perched on her shoulder like a malevolent gargoyle that was wearing her down and making her paranoid.
Annabelle ducked into the Archer Industries building and headed for her office, greeting people with a smile that shook at the corners. They were worried about what would happen to their jobs now that Eric was dead, but she intended to fight for their future. They still had a team of talented engineers, and they had a revolutionary—though flawed—product. Development would continue.
When she got inside her office, she shut the door and sagged against it, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath. Life over the past month had been chaotic. Stress lived with her these days.
As if she didn’t feel guilty enough, there was also the fact that he was back in town. Dex. She’d seen him from a distance just two days ago, walking into the Briar City Diner with his sister and her family. Annabelle’s stomach had twisted hard at the sight of him. Of them, actually, since she and Katie were no longer on speaking terms.
She missed her best friend—but she’d had no idea how much she’d missed the man she’d once planned to marry until she saw him again. Dexter Davidson, six foot three inches of pure muscle with dark hair, a five-day scruff, and deep brown eyes. Her first love.
Her first lover.
What would life have been like if she’d married him that day?
“Dammit,” she muttered before opening her eyes and going over to her desk. She had work to do and no time to get lost in maudlin thoughts about Dex. He hated her. And why wouldn’t he? She’d skipped out on their wedding and then married another man three weeks later. And not just any man, but his fiercest rival.
It didn’t matter that she’d had to do it. It only mattered that she had done it. He would never forgive her for it. Katie had tried, bless her, but when Annabelle married Eric so soon after she’d left Dex at the altar—well, that was the end of that.
Her gaze strayed to the photo of the little girl on her desk. Charlotte was her world, her reason for existing. So long as she had her daughter, life would be okay. That’s why she had to fight for Archer Industries and why she had to succeed. Eric’s estate wasn’t as big as people thought. He’d mortgaged everything to the hilt in order to live the lifestyle of a successful CEO.
He’d been counting on this latest technology to make a fortune for the company and for himself. Unfortunately, the Helios project had national-security implications, which meant he couldn’t sell it to foreign governments or entities. But the US government wanted to buy it and they’d offered a very handsome price on delivery. In the meantime, they would fund development.
Eric should have been happy, but he hadn’t been. He’d raged and complained for days, swearing the technology was worth five times what the US was buying it for. She’d stopped listening to his diatribes. Eventually he’d calmed down, and work returned to normal.
But now he was dead, and the project had veered off schedule. Annabelle took a determined breath and started to pick up her desk phone to call the lead engineer, Marshall Porter.
The phone buzzed before she could make the call. “Yes?”
Her secretary was on the other end. “Mrs. Archer, there’s a call for you from a Mr. Lyon. He says it’s in regard to the contract with Washington.”
Her belly sank. “Thank you, Lucy. Oh, and can you call Charlotte’s preschool and see what it is they need for the party next week?”
“Of course, Mrs. Archer.”
Annabelle clicked the button to connect the call while also pulling up a spreadsheet on the Helios timeline and numbers. She didn’t remember a Mr. Lyon from Washington, but she had to be ready for anything. “This is Annabelle Quinn-Archer,” she said as she tapped a couple of keys. “What can I do for you, Mr. Lyon?”
There was a long moment of silence on the other end of the line. Annabelle was already getting lost in the numbers on her screen, formulating her answers to any potential questions, when the voice came through, hard and cold and so menacing it made the hair on her neck stand up.
“You can tell me where the money is, Mrs. Archer. Or you can die like your husband.”
* * *
Dex shoved a hand through his hair and gazed out at the farmland. It was time to cut hay for the livestock, but Dad wasn’t going to be harvesting anything this year. Not after his open-heart surgery last month and the fall he’d taken just a few days ago. He’d hit his head and been knocked out cold. It was hours before the neighboring farmer had found him in the barn, disoriented and in pain from the broken leg he’d suffered in the fall.
The cows were being taken care of by that same farmer for now, and there was a For Sale sign at the end of the drive. The sign was especially jarring, but there was nothing to be done for it. Dad wasn’t getting any younger, and the farm took too much work. It was time for him to retire.
Katie ambled into the room, her eyes red-rimmed as she clutched a framed photo. “I can’t believe it’s come down to this.”
Dex shrugged. “It’s life, Katie. Time moves on and so do we.”
“You could take over the farm—”
“No. I can’t.” His voice snapped into the air between them, and she sucked in a breath. “It’s not me,” he said, softer this time. “It’s never been me. Even if I wanted to, I still have another couple of years on my enlistment. Besides, there’s no future here and you know it. If there was, you’d have had Jessie give up his job at the bank and learn to farm so you could take over when it was time.”
She dropped her chin. They both remembered the lean times growing up, the beans and cornbread every night because there was nothing else. The early mornings feeding livestock, the days in the saddle when it was time to cull the herd, the millions of backbreaking tasks that went with raising cattle. “You’re right.”
He went over and put his hands on her shoulders. “He’ll be all right. Once the stress of this place is gone, he’ll be able to enjoy life again.”
“Farming is Daddy’s life.”
“Not anymore. The doctors say it’s time he stopped or he won’t live another year.”
“I just wish he could stay here in the home he knows.”
“He needs to be closer to town and his doctors.”
“I know.” Katie sighed. “When Jessie and I bought a house with a mother-in-law apartment, we thought it would be for his parents when they came to visit. I never dreamed of Daddy living there.”
“It’ll be an adjustment for everyone, I’m sure.”
Katie’s eyes were shining. “Don’t misunderstand me, Dex. I want Daddy there. I just don’t know if he wants to be there.” She swiped her fingers beneath her eyes. “I need to get back to the rehab facility and see how he’s doing.”
“I’ll be along in a bit.”
“Okay.” She grabbed her purse and headed for the door. “The kids are looking forward to seeing more of their Uncle Dex, by the way.”
Dex laughed. “They’re three and one. I doubt that very much.”
Katie smiled. “Fine, it’s me who wants to see you. So don’t forget I’m cooking dinner tonight, okay?”
“I’ll be there.”
Katie went outside and climbed into her Lexus SUV. She waved brightly before backing out and heading up the driveway. Dex watched her go and then took out his phone and scrolled through e-mail. This was the second time in a month he’d gone on emergency leave from the job, but his team was still in DC and waiting for their next assignment. He hoped it didn’t come before he got back. He wanted to be in the action, risking his life protecting his country and its ideals, rather than here watching the death of the life he used to know.
He might not want to be a cattle farmer, but seeing the old house sold wasn’t as easy as he’d thought it would be. He’d grown up here. Fallen in love here. He hardened his heart at that thought. No good ever came of thinking about Annabelle Quinn—Annabelle Archer now. The thought that she was a widow echoed through his mind, but he shoved it away. He didn’t care. Didn’t care what she did or how she was doing.
Fuck her and all the false promises that had ever issued from her cherry lips.
He put his phone away and let his gaze slide over the worn living room—the ratty couch and rattier recliner, the huge flat-screen television he’d bought his dad for Christmas, the dated wallpaper and creaky floors of the old house. He didn’t know why he was standing here, reluctant to leave. He’d seen this place often enough to have every crack in the wall memorized. He despised and loved this house in equal measure. Once his mother had died, it had gotten even sadder and more worn than it had been when they were still a family.
He gritted his teeth and headed for the door. Time to lock up and get back to his hotel in town. He’d just turned the key in the lock and started across the porch when a blue Mercedes turned into the driveway and rolled toward him.
It was a nice car, an AMG sports car, low-slung and sleek, which meant it had cost the driver a pretty penny. There was no reason for a car like that to be here—unless it was the real estate agent.
Dex leaned against the porch railing and waited for the agent to pull up. Whatever she wanted—and he knew it was a she because he’d paid attention to the name on the sign—it wouldn’t take long because he wasn’t going to let it.
The car stopped but the driver didn’t get out. Dex started to get annoyed, but then he saw the woman’s hands on the wheel, clenching and unclenching like she was thinking about what she wanted to do. He couldn’t see her face because of the reflection off the glass and the angle he stood at. Before he could start down the stairs, she must have made up her mind because the car shut off and the door swung open.
A second later she emerged, blond hair shining in the sunlight, cherry lips glistening with gloss. Dex’s heart was a dead thing, and yet it still managed a hard throb at the sight of her.
Fortunately, that throb went away and anger filled him instead. Hot, hard, swelling anger. “What the fuck do you want, Annabelle?”