Box Set Bargain of the Month: Dangerous Encounters: Love on the Edge
My novel in the set is The Romantics, a romantic suspense novel with some James-Bondish wit thrown in.
Here’s an excerpt from The Romantics:
Joe touched his earpiece out of habit. He swept a gaze over the roomful of golden people. The place looked the same to him as it always did for an event. The only difference tonight was that he was supposed to be one of those golden people—playing guest instead of security.
As he check-pointed the perimeter, his earpiece chirped to life with the unmistakable voice of his boss. Hell.
“Guests don’t wear earpieces, Allario. At least not at my New Year’s Eve party. Take it out and meet me in the library.” The Governor of Massachusetts signed off.
Joe moved without the hesitation he felt. As he reached the library door, three women surrounded him.
“It’s almost midnight and you’re still alone, Joe. It’s a shame for a hunk like you to waste a romantic night like this—with no gorgeous gal on your arm. We need to fix that right away.” Grace flashed her dimple.
The contagious effect lifted a corner of his mouth in return. She was his favorite of the three, he realized. Warm, bubbly, light and deep all at once. Not that he kept any illusions. He nodded at each of the women in turn. They were all lovely in their own distinctive ways. They all knew he was fond of them in spite of his reticence. He liked that. Grace’s husband, who was the director of the Scotland Yard Exchange Program in Boston, teased him about his reticence, but Joe figured keeping emotionally cool was a safe policy.
“How could I be in better company than with you three lovely ladies?” He went out on a limb, but in spite of his teasing note, he meant it. He meant his warm smile too. They were all striking. And married to a trio of lucky bastards. He shook his head. He considered the three bastards among his best friends.
“You don’t fool me. You’d give your right pectoral for the right woman,” Pixie said. Her redheaded bob swayed playfully around her face. “I see a possibility staring at you from across the room right now.” She gave him a mischievous smile—the only kind she had.
The third woman of the trio, Madeline, the tall glamorous wife of his boss, laughed and assured him. “Pixie is right. That woman is a definite possibility.”
They were all glancing across the crowd in womanly assessment, but before he could turn to appreciate the possible woman, his boss, Governor Peter John Douglas, more commonly known as PJD, showed up as promised. He stepped behind his wife and enveloped her in a possessive embrace. Madeline leaned into him and Joe felt a spark of envy zip through him for their easy intimacy. Shit.
“Afraid I have other plans for our erstwhile bachelor Joe.”
“He doesn’t even get a midnight kiss?” Grace sounded disappointed on his behalf.
“No kiss, but he does get a flight to London. And a mission with the royal protective services.”
He didn’t know if it was the prospect of flying or the prospect of a mission that caused his heart to triple beat, but he stayed cool and returned the steady gaze of the governor.
“Don’t tell me the royals ran out of men to watch out for their assets.” He thought he’d carried off his cool, but Peter raised a brow.
“This is a special assignment calling for an outsider to protect a damsel in distress—right up your alley, Joe.”
Joe said nothing and refrained from taking a deep breath. He even smiled without clenching his teeth. He hated flying. These days he figured if God wanted him to fly, his pockets would be filled with fairy dust and his name would be Peter Pan.
He’d never planned to fly again once he’d returned from the hell in Africa that had been his last special services assignment. On the other hand, how hellish could it be minding a princess?
“Sounds like quite a career-making opportunity, sir,” he said to his boss. He winked at Grace because she looked dismayed.
His boss ignored the sarcasm, as Joe knew he would.
“Can’t he stay until midnight?” Madeline asked.
Peter looked at his watch and said, “In twenty-five minutes at precisely ten past midnight, he’ll be on an army reserve aircraft transport taking off from Hanscom air base and headed for RAF Northolt—an air base in England.”
“Doesn’t leave much time for packing,” Pixie said.
“Don’t worry, he’ll be perfectly dressed in his tux and on time for a royal New Year’s Day reception,” Peter said to the women. He turned to Joe. “When you land, you’ll be picked up by a limo and taken to the reception at Buckingham Palace.”
“Well then—guess we don’t have to feel so bad for our Joe tonight,” Pixie said while Grace and Madeline laughed and congratulated him on his luck.
Peter continued, “We’ve arranged for clothing and miscellaneous sundries for you with your Scotland Yard contact. There was no time to work up a dossier for you, but you’ll be briefed during the limo ride to the palace by the royal family liaison. After the reception our liaison from the Yard will be in touch.”
Joe hadn’t heard Peter sound this way since he briefly served under him on a Special Forces team assignment many years ago. The man hadn’t lost his commanding touch. Joe’s heart rate picked up pace and if he didn’t know better he’d have thought Peter could hear it. The governor probably sensed his hesitation, but there was nothing he could do about that. Nothing but accept his assignment with aplomb. He adopted a cavalier attitude that felt like paper armor against his trepidation.
“The intrigue is killing me, boss,” he said with his tongue in cheek. “Who’s the subject and what’s the mission about?”
Peter’s brow lifted in a knowing quirk.
Joe was so not intrigued by this case that he spun the options in his mind for turning it down. He drew a blank. Coming up with a good reason why he couldn’t go proved impossible. It was too against the grain of his training—against the grain of his very soul to turn away a mission—even a cupcake mission. Although, knowing his boss, it may not be as cupcake as it seemed so far. He waited for Peter’s explanation.
Peter looked at the three curious women, nodded at his wife and turned to Joe. “Let’s take a couple of the few minutes you have left to go over the mission in privacy. Excuse us, ladies.”
He and his boss ducked into the library and shut the door. His adrenaline spiked and he feared the sweat on his upper lip might give away the gnawing alarm he had about this. What the hell was wrong with him? Surely he could handle a measly cross-Atlantic flight to London. He’d been a goddamned special forces soldier in Africa subjected to a hell of a lot worse than a royal damsel in distress at Buckingham-stinking-Palace, hadn’t he? Maybe that was the problem.
“Your assignment is a royal cousin, a young woman who’s been threatened. Her name is Lady Veronica Douglas—and yes, she’s a relative—a cousin on my father’s side. I never met her, but I know of her family story. Her father was a hero of my father’s. When I was young, Dad talked incessantly about the man with great admiration. But never mind that—your mission is, first, to protect her and, second, to apprehend the threat—whoever he or she is.”
“What makes you—or the royals—think the threat is credible? They must get threats all the time…”
“There was a break-in, vandalism and some kind of threatening message left behind. I don’t know any more of the details right now.”
“What about David Young? What’s he think about you involving me in his Scotland Yard program assignment?”
“He called me as soon as he found out the subject was a relation and I asked him to let me send you.” He paused. “You’re the best I know, Joe. Look—I know it’s not an exciting career-making, save-the-world-from-terrorists assignment. Heck, it may turn out to be a bogus threat in the end, but it would mean a lot to me to know you’re on it. Plus they need an outsider—before you ask me why they aren’t sending Miller.”
“Will Sir Miller be my contact in London then?”
Peter nodded and squinted his eyes. “Something’s bothering you.”
“Nothing important. There’s nothing more important than saving a damsel in distress.” If she really was in distress, he thought.
“Spill it. Your ride’s leaving in three minutes.”
“I don’t like flying.” He said it and got no response. “I hate flying.” He would never say he had a fear of flying. He had no fear, right? He’d been Special Forces. He had no fear. Back then.
“When’s the last time you flew?”
“Back to the States after my last deployment.” There was no explanation for it. No reason. No rational cause for him to be sweating this very minute thinking about it. He would have clenched his teeth against the palpitations if Peter hadn’t been staring him down.
“And you’re willing to go now?”
He nodded. The less he said, the better.
Peter nodded back. “You’re a brave man. Let’s get going. And for the record, I won’t tell a soul about…”
His wife Madeline swung open the door.
“You won’t tell your wife?” Joe said without a smile or a look over his boss’s shoulder in Madeline’s direction.
“I especially won’t tell my wife.”
Madeline approached her husband from behind. “Well, that’s just rude. Keeping secrets from me?”
Peter turned and wrapped her in his arms and Joe watched with that familiar sigh of envy welling. Get a grip on yourself. Grace followed through the door and Pixie flitted in right behind her.
“Secrets?” Grace raised a brow at him.
“I love secrets.” Pixie all but rubbed her hands together with glee.
He laughed and felt a weight lift from his soul. He loved these women. If he could bring them with him on the flight, he’d have no problem whatever. He loved the femininity that oozed from their every pore, their easy laughs from sultry to giggles. Though they were serious women, each in their way, they had a lightness to them that never failed to lift his spirits. They reminded him of his sisters.
Maybe he should call up his sisters to come with him on the flight. If they weren’t both married with kids they’d drop everything and do it for him. There was a time when he’d been the center of their lives. Now the only woman to hold him at the center of her life seemed to be his mother. Sad.
“We came to say good-bye, Joe. We couldn’t let you take off without a departing hug at the very least.” Grace eyed him. She knew there was something wrong. No matter how cool and poker-faced his façade remained, she knew. Must have picked that up from her husband. David was flipping uncanny about reading people. Even better than his boss. Scary.
“You’ll have to walk us out through the back hall to the secret escape door where his ride is waiting now,” Peter said as he checked his watch again.
“You weren’t kidding about leaving with only the tux on my back.”
“Not even an overcoat?” Pixie scolded.
“I know where your coat is, Joe—let me run and get it and I’ll meet you at the car.” Madeline rushed off as soon as Peter gave her his nod of approval.
They trooped through the door to the back hall. He marched the short distance down the hall to the seldom-used exit and out the door. The women remained huddled inside the doorway out of the cold and he gave each one of them a hug. Taking in their warmth, he let their comforting natures infuse him with goodwill. His heartbeat returned to normal and he felt his bunched shoulders relax. He suppressed the impulse to ask them to ride to the airport with him.
Since when had he been so needy? He was annoyed with himself on some level, but he didn’t let it spoil his new sense of well-being. Man, did he need a woman of his own.
Madeline squeezed through the huddle of her two friends in the doorway and draped the coat over his arm, reached up and gave him a quick hug and a wink, then scurried back inside, out of the cold Boston air.
“Any last minute instructions?”
“Be careful and remember to behave professionally with my cousin. She’s vulnerable.” Peter softened his command with a grin and a pat on the back as Joe ducked inside the backseat of the limo.
“I feel naked leaving for a mission without a dossier,” he admitted, though the lack of intel was the least of his discomfort as the specter of the flight loomed again.
“You’ll get all you need once you meet with Sir Miller. In the meantime, it’s a good thing for you to size up the players blind.” Peter reached inside, shook his hand and then closed the door.
Either a frog had taken up residence in his gut or the calming effect of feminine comfort had disappeared with the click of the limo door, leaving his adrenaline to run wild. The sudden chirp of his cell phone would have made him jump if he hadn’t been well trained. He took a deep breath and, deciding to live wild, pressed the phone to his ear without checking who was calling him at midnight on New Year’s Eve.
“Happy New Year, Ma,” he said with a smile in spite of his mood. Who else would it be?
“Really? You were expecting your mother to call you at two minutes to midnight on New Year’s Eve?” Chauncey Miller barely contained his amusement.
Joe flipped him the finger out of habit even though he couldn’t see it–his friend would expect it. He said, “What do you have for me, Chaunce?”
“Quickly—you’ll be reporting to my family home in London and my father wanted me to give you a heads-up. My home is yours. Don’t mind the old man—he’s got as stiff an upper lip as a man made of iron, but he’s harmless. After all, he has a soft spot for Mauve, his housekeeper and all around caretaker, so if you want something—she’ll make it happen. Good luck—and Happy New Year.” The phone went dead, but not before Joe heard the merriment in the background. He heaved a sigh. Maybe he should call his mother. He needed something to help him avoid thinking about the impending flight from Boston to London.