The Kelly Group International (KGI): A super elite, top secret, family-run business.
Qualifications: High intelligence, rock hard body, military background.
Mission: Hostage/kidnap victim recovery. Intelligence gathering. Handling jobs the US government can’t…
A man who shoots first and asks questions later…
Most people would take an all-expenses-paid trip to the beach in a heartbeat. Garrett Kelly only accepts to keep tabs on Sarah Daniels, who’s in hiding after witnessing a murder by Marcus Lattimer, her half-brother—and a personal enemy of KGI. This gig may be beneath a disciplined soldier like Garrett, but if he gets a shot at Lattimer, it will all be worth it…
…and the ultimate moving target.
But Garrett hadn’t counted on falling for Sarah. He’d considered seduction as a tactical maneuver, but when he glimpses Sarah’s dark past, he feels an urgent desire to keep her safe—even after she disappears on him. Garrett doesn’t know exactly who, or what, Sarah’s running from, but whatever it is, she’s running for her life…
Garrett made a smooching noise through the phone and then hung up. He finished the half-eaten sandwich and chugged the last of his beer before ambling over to his window to peer down the beach at Sarah’s cottage.
He frowned and leaned closer when he saw her sitting on her steps, head down. She looked utterly defeated, her shoulders slumped, the ends of her hair lifting and blowing this way and that in the steady ocean breeze. Had she ever gone into her cottage?
He wasn’t sure what bothered him about her. It could be she was sitting out, enjoying the day, but after what had happened earlier, he couldn’t quite believe that. He’d expected he wouldn’t see her again for a while and that she’d hole up in her cottage.
She moved but it was only to bury her face in her hands and then her fingers slid over her forehead and into her hair. Hell. She was crying.
His stomach tightened and he turned away, unsettled by her obvious distress. This was a prime opportunity to go over and be sensitive or whatever it was women liked for men to be. But he’d rather go another round with the shithead Didier than face a woman’s tears.
He sighed and blew out his breath. He was going to have to go over there. If she did hole up, he probably wouldn’t see her for days. And he couldn’t very keep an eye on her if she wasn’t in sight.
Vacation or not, he’d prefer to be knee-deep in a jungle viewing the world through his scope. At least he knew what the hell to do in those kinds of situations. Shoot first, no questions later. That was easy. Figuring out how to gain the trust of a woman scared shitless? Yeah, he was fucked.
Chocolate. Weren’t women supposed to be rabid predators of chocolate? He’d waved a chocolate bar in front of Sophie’s nose more than once and been forgiven for all manner of transgressions.
He went into the bedroom and dug into his pack. There were plenty of protein bars but he always had a stash of the good stuff. Chocolate caramel bar. No, he wouldn’t sacrifice that for the cause. He opted for the plain milk chocolate and tossed the pack back onto his bed.
Feeling like a genius, he headed out to the beach and glanced in Sarah’s direction again. She hadn’t moved so he set off at a brisk pace. He wanted to get as close as he could with his chocolate before she bolted inside.
He was just a few yards away when she looked up and saw him. She reached for the bag at her feet and wrapped her hands around the strap like she thought he was going to make a grab for it.
He was wrong. She hadn’t been crying. She was, however, upset. Her face was raw and her eyes glittered with . . . grief? Slowly she released her grip on her bag. She rubbed her face and hastily shoved her hair back, then put her hands down on the steps like she was bracing herself for attack. Hell, he couldn’t blame her after the morning she’d had.
“Hey,” he said casually. “I saw you were still out. I brought you a present. My sisters-in-law inform me that a woman can refuse no man bearing chocolate.”
Her brow wrinkled in confusion as he held out the chocolate bar. She glanced up at him then back at the candy, clearly baffled. Then her face crumbled and she dropped her head again.
“I can’t go in,” she said in a low voice.
Taking the chance that she wouldn’t kill herself backing away from him, he eased onto the step beside her. “Your cottage?”
She nodded, her hair falling forward again to partially obscure her face. His fingers were up to brush it away before he got ahold of himself. He dropped his hand back to his lap and stared over the water.
Casually he extended the candy bar sideways so it crossed her vision. After a hesitation, she took it and held it, her finger stroking over the aluminum wrapping. He felt like a man trying to tame a wild animal with a food offering.
“Yeah, my cottage,” she finally said. “Oh God, I feel so stupid. I stood there in front of the door and couldn’t go in.”
Her head dipped lower and she gripped the candy bar with enough force that coupled with the hot sun, she was going to have a handful of chocolate syrup.
“Fear,” she said in an aching voice. “God, I hate it. I feel so . . . powerless.” She turned her head, her eyes blazing as she sought his gaze. “Do you have any idea what that feels like?” Then she gave a derisive laugh and looked away again. “Probably not. You don’t look like you’ve ever been scared of anything.”
“Crying women scare me,” he admitted.
She laughed. “Lucky for you I used up all my tears months ago.”
“Plenty of things scare me. Pregnant women scare me.”
She turned to face him again, her lips twitching. Some of the wildness had faced from her eyes. “I’m getting the impression that women, in any form, scare you.”
He shrugged. “They’re the more violent species. And unpredictable. I’d rather take on a wild boar. You can’t shoot women.”
This time her laugh came from deep within. It was full and throaty and so fucking beautiful that he simply stared at her, gutshot over his reaction.
“Okay, be serious. Aren’t you ever afraid of anything?”
“Plenty of times,” he said softly.
“Even when what you’re afraid of defies all logic?”
“Especially then. It’s been my experience that fear doesn’t have a set of parameters. We can’t turn it off just by realizing we shouldn’t be afraid.”
She nodded, a rueful twist to her lips.
“Tell you what. Why don’t you let me go into your cottage first. I’ll check it out. You stay on the porch. I’ll kick the shit out of any bogeymen and then you can come in.”
Her head swung up again and the relief in her eyes staggered him. Shit, she’d really been scared. Her fingers were curled into tight fists in her lap, so tight that her knuckles were white. He took in the dampness on her forehead and at her hairline. No, not just scared. Terrified.
Unable to resist, he reached with a tentative hand to touch her shoulder. Though she didn’t outright flinch away as she had before, she tensed and trembled underneath his fingers. Not wanting to cause her more stress, he pulled quickly away. He rose and then reached a hand down to help her up. He stood there, waiting for her to accept the gesture, allowing her to touch him on her own terms.
Finally she reached up and slid her damp palm over his. She wrapped her other hand in the strap of her bag and hauled it to her shoulder. He curled his fingers around hers and pulled as she got up from the steps.
“You don’t mind?” she asked nervously.
He smiled. “Not at all.”
Her shoulders lifted and then sagged as she breathed out. “Thank you. I know this is stupid. Irrational even. I—”
“Shhh,” he said, cutting her off in mid babble. “It’s not stupid and it’s not irrational. You had a hell of a scare earlier. Now, wait here while I go in.”
He started for the door when suddenly she bounded up the step after him.
“I forgot to tell you about the cat,” she rushed out. “Don’t let her out, I mean watch out for her. Her name is Patches.” She broke off then took a step back and sighed. “I’m babbling again.”
He smiled to reassure her. “I’ll look out for Patches and make sure the bogeyman didn’t get her either.”
“Oh, the key. You’ll need the key.” She hastily dug into her bag, her face drawn into a frustrated frown. Finally she pulled out a key ring that sported three keys and thrust it in his direction. “You’ll need them all. I mean, there are two deadbolts and the regular lock.”
He raised an eyebrow but didn’t say anything as he turned to the door. She was careful. He’d give her that.
After a few moments of figuring out which key went where, he pushed open the door and stepped inside. Patches meowed from her position on the couch and then laid her ears flat when she figured out Garrett was a stranger.
Garrett glanced around, noting the bareness of the room. It wasn’t much more updated than his own, though he did note she’d gotten the better draw. And she had a TV. Silence blanketed the house. Only the sounds of his footsteps echoed as he made his way down the hallway to the bedroom. He peeked in the bathroom, surprised that it wasn’t littered with girly paraphernalia. Then he entered the bedroom, taking note of the pristinely made bed and the fact that wasn’t so much as a shoe on the floor.
Neat freak. God save him.
Nothing out of place. In fact, nothing was in place. He glanced at the still-packed suitcase to the side of her bed. She was living out of her suitcase. Not even her toiletries were unpacked and in the bathroom.
She was prepared to run at a moment’s notice.
If he thought she wasn’t fully aware of the situation she was in, he was wrong. Resnick was wrong. This was a woman who knew full well that her time could be limited. She lived and breathed fear, waiting each minute for her world to upend.
Christ, that was no way to live.
Anger boiled up in his throat until the taste of acid was strong on his tongue. And frustration. He was intensely frustrated by not knowing everything. Resnick hadn’t done his job worth shit, because Garrett was faced with a woman with secrets. And he needed to know every damn piece of her past if he was going to figure out the best way to handle Sarah.
If she’d witnessed a murder, it wasn’t all that had happened. Someone had hurt her or scared the hell out of her, and it enraged him. Yeah, she was a job and he took each and every job seriously. He took his duty damn seriously. But the surge of protectiveness he felt whenever he looked at this scared, fragile woman went beyond that of a job. And he was at a loss to explain it.
He turned and finished his sweep of the house. Though he noted the two deadbolts on the front door, the windows in the house were completely unsecure. It would be a cakewalk to get through any of them, although he did notice that she’d moved the dresser directly in front of the window in the bedroom. It blocked any and all view, but then she wasn’t here for the scenery.
He walked back outside, where Sarah stood clutching her bag like a lifeline. “All clear.”
Her shoulders drooped and relief washed over her face. “Thank you.”
He waited for the inevitable dismissal. For her to walk past him, go inside and close the door behind her. But she just stood there, staring at the entrance like she was trying to gather the courage to take that first step.
“Hey,” he said gently, “I have an idea.”
Her gaze swung to him and she blinked, almost as if she’d forgotten his presence.
“I stocked up on groceries after I got here. I think I wiped out most of the meat from the market. Why don’t I head over, get all the fixings then come back and grill us a steak. You like beer? I have a good stock of that.”
She was surprised by his offer and equally unsure of what to say. She frowned and then pressed her lips together. She glanced down the beach at his house then back to him as she battled her indecision.
“Thought it might be good to have company until you’ve settled down from your fright. It’ll make your cottage less scary.”
“Yes,” she murmured. She took a deep breath. “Okay. Thank you. A steak sounds nice.”
The full series reading order is as follows: