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Lion in the Shadows is here!
Tuesday, August 21st, 2018

After a night at home, I’m back at the hospital. Dad’s recovering, and we’re hoping they’ll release him into rehab soon. It’s hard on all of us being this far from home.

In the meantime, I have a book out today! If you’re looking for a very sexy paranormal, you’ll want to give this one a try! It’s available at Amazon and is FREE for Kindle Unlimited subscribers—for a limited time only!

Lion in the Shadows

Lion in the Shadows

When a teen dies inside an unexplored cave, it’s Lani Kimmel’s job to bring him out. Though not a pleasant job, it’s one she’s handled many times as a member of the local fire department and an expert in cave rescues. The trek into the cave awakens a creature that will push this no-nonsense woman’s boundaries of belief and test her newly emerging love for one man.

Rafe Chavez, the new sheriff in this small Texas town, has already staked a claim on Lani. He’s a man with a goal in his sights, and he’s not letting anything get in his way—until he dreams about an Indian brave who died in that unexplored cave, savaged by a mountain lion. When his dreams cross into reality, Rafe realizes he may be possessed by the Indian’s spirit—but the spirit isn’t alone, and it wants Lani.

Just when Lani’s resistance to his sensual persuasion crumbles, Rafe must push her away to protect her from another creature that has also cast its gaze upon her…

Get your copy here!

Flashback: Through Her Eyes (Contest–2 winners)
Sunday, August 12th, 2018

I can’t believe it’s mid-August! Where did the summer go? Yesterday was the first time the pool felt cool. 🙁 I’ll be lucky to get a full month more of swimming. And, tomorrow the kids go back to school—including the almost-5-year-old. Her mom and I are feeling a little sad about that. The baby’s growing up. Double- 🙁

In the meantime, I have plenty on my plate to keep me too busy to cry, and I’d better get to it. Hope you enjoy the excerpt and the contest!

For a chance to win one of my Uncharted SEALs stories,
winner’s choice, answer me this…
I
f you were dating a SEAL, where would you prefer to vacation?
Mexico? Destin? Fiji?

Through Her Eyes

Through Her Eyes

Ex-SEAL and expert sniper, Wolf Kinkaid, is taking a little downtime while he considers his options. Being wooed by two elite spec ops groups, he’s enjoying Charter Group’s beach house in Cancun while he considers his options. A loner by nature and occupation, he wonders if he’ll ever really be able to connect to people around him. Afraid his loner nature will sentence him to spending his life alone, he’s not even sure he wants to continue looking down a scope, even if the pay’s good.

Bounty hunter Piper Ames loves the adrenaline rush she gets from her high-stakes hunts, but, now, she has time on her hands as she waits for her collar to pop up his head, so she can take him down. While she’s waiting, it doesn’t hurt that a big, buff, ex-military type is staying right next door. Not the least shy about going after what she wants, she’s surprised when he’s equally as aggressive. Their chemistry is off the charts, and the sex is the hottest she’s ever had.

While Wolf and Piper connect in the only ways their independent natures allow, danger lurks. When, at last, her target arrives, guns blazing, Wolf and Piper have to pull together to make it out alive.

Order Ebook: Kindle | Nook | Kobo | iBooks

Excerpt

Wolf hated the wait. Especially in the white-hot heat. Even at this elevation, the sun was merciless. Hot wind gusting through the pass provided no relief.

Sweat dripped from his hair down the side of his cheek, but he ignored it. His muscles cramped. His eyes grew dry. And still, he kept staring through the scope of his Macmillan Tac-50, watching the long line of insurgents trudge along the goat trail of a road below his position. Waiting for them to get close enough…

“A thousand yards. They’re coming within range,” came the voice of the mission commander through the comm in his ear.

Wolf reached for his box magazine, sitting on a rock beside him. He’d been heating the rounds in the sun to increase their range, but now, the time had come to lock and load.

Below were a couple dozen of the enemy, seemingly unaware of the weapons trained on them from above. All fresh from a battle in Ghazni. Intel said his target, Khalil Alam, would be among the group. So far, he’d searched every face but hadn’t found one that perfectly matched the grainy photo lying beside his mat.

The soldiers were all dark-haired. All wore beards or had the lower halves of their faces covered by cloths. His mark should be a little taller and gaunt. He’d spent months hiding in the mountains, orchestrating attacks from afar—a high-ranking Taliban commander who’d stepped out of the shadows to lead their latest attack, which left half a dozen Marines dead and fifteen more wounded, some maimed for life.

Again, the silence was broken. “Crosswind from the east.”

Wolf didn’t have the luxury of waiting for the wind to die down. He might have only one shot. One kill. If he was lucky.

Beside him, his spotter shifted, crunching the sand. “I see him,” he whispered, although they were nearly a mile away from the rag-tag army ambling through the mountain pass. “He’ll be coming over the hill, facing you. Best time to clip him. Nine hundred twenty yards.”

Quickly, Wolf rechecked the data he’d entered in his scope. He’d maxed out the windage. Maxed out the elevation drum. He’d need a one mil lead—aiming just ahead of the target for the four seconds the .50 Cal round took to travel.

Five seconds later, a tall angular figure climbed the trail. A weapon was slung over his bony shoulders. His robe billowed outward, caught by a sudden breeze.

Wolf kept his sight trained on the enemy’s center of mass—he’d aim for his heart. The distance was too far to even attempt a head shot. But he wasn’t the only sniper on this mission, although his was the most important target.

“Snipers, everyone found their mark?” their commander’s voice sounded. “Chime in when you have your target.”

In quick succession, the snipers called out.

“Sniper One, ready.”

“Sniper Two, ready.”

Wolf squinted down his scope at the tall Afghan he was about to take out. “Sniper Three, ready.”

He kept his breathing even, readying for the command to kill. All shots had to break at the same time, or the group below would scramble for cover and the opportunity would be lost.

“This is Foxtrot One. I have control. Shoot on my command.”

Wolf expelled a quick breath then drew in a long one and held it.

“Three…two…one…execute.”

He pulled the trigger and stared down his scope.

Beside him, his spotter cursed. He’d followed the vapor trail of the round Wolf fired and watched it splash in the dirt. He called out adjustments, which Wolf made in a second.

Still staring down the scope, he watched as everyone around Khalil Alam dove for cover. Not his target. The Afghan insurgent stood still, his head raised, his gaze narrowing as though he could see Wolf where he lay with his rifle, hidden in the shadows of a large rock. And then he did a strange thing.

Khalil Alam raised his arms out to his sides and bared his teeth.

Again, Wolf took aim and fired.

This time, his target dropped.

But so did the much-smaller figure behind him. One with a beardless, bloodied face…

 

Wyatt “Wolf” Kinkaid awoke and threw off the covers tangled around his legs. Sitting on the edge of the mattress, he set his elbows on his knees as he drew in deep, cleansing breaths.

He didn’t know why that particular kill haunted him. He’d killed kids before. Some intentionally. But that one…

Maybe because of the shock frozen in the young boy’s eyes. Khalil Alam’s son, he’d been told later. No blame, no censure came from his team. The boy was a terrorist in the making, following in his father’s footsteps. A “preemptory kill” someone who’d been trying to be helpful said. And yet, the memory still sickened him.

He wiped a hand over his face. Sleep-time was over. Daylight was burning. Not that he was on any kind of schedule. The sound of surf washing against sand in the distance reminded him he was as far from Afghanistan as a man could be. Rising, he strode to the window overlooking the beach. The large sea-side villa hadn’t impressed him nearly as much as the sight of the strip of pristine white sand. By the placement of the sun, he’d guess the time was around nine AM. He’d slept a full nine hours. And he wasn’t dead.

The peaceful view didn’t do a thing to slow his heart rate. To shake off the last sticky spider webs of his nightmare, he turned, rifled through the duffel sitting on the floor beside him, and pulled out his spotting scope. Cupping the compact Hensoldt in his hand, he stared through the lens.

If he’d needed confirmation before, he knew he was losing it when a few adjustments brought the surf closer, and, at last, he stopped hearing his pulse pound against his temples. Maybe he wasn’t meant to be up close and personal with anything. Ever.

The name he’d been given by the Team—Lone Wolf, which had been shortened over time—had never felt truer. Read the rest of this entry »

What will you read for free?
Thursday, August 9th, 2018

Hint #1, it’s coming in this weekend’s newsletter. Are you a subscriber? No? Click on this link to join!

Hint #2 is this puzzle!

Still puzzled? 🙂 Sorry about that. Well, you’ll just have to join then wait and see.

 

Too many irons in the fire…and a Lion in the Shadows!
Saturday, August 4th, 2018

This is a busy, busy time for this author.

I have the usual family duties stepping into high gear—kids getting ready for school, which means tons of babysitting while my dd buys school supplies and clothes and runs the boy to football practice.

My dd and I have made a new friend in the nearby subdivision who’s into arts and crafts like we are, so we’re gearing up to produce stuff! Yes, I’ll be making more jewelry! I’m prepping to reopen my Etsy store and get ready for a Fall chock full of art fairs. So, my first priority is to organize my art room, which fell into complete disarray this past year. Good God, it’s a huge task.

My editing biz is in high gear. I have more clients now than I really want, but I think that’s a good thing. I’m busy, busy.

I have a very tight schedule for new releases. Books on pre-order that aren’t yet written! Gah! And more with luscious covers I can’t wait to share! How about the titles, huh? Any strike your fancy? Short stories: Stepbrothers Stepping Out — With His Client, Taking Dicktation. Books: S*x on the Beach ( a SEAL story!), Montana Bounty Hunters: Hook, Montana Bounty Hunters: Wolf, Montana Bounty Hunters: Animal

As for the writing? I still have a few books left from the closings of Kindle Worlds, Ellora’s Cave, and Samhain to revise and get out the door. Which leads me to this…

Lion in the Shadows

When a teen dies inside an unexplored cave, it’s Lani Kimmel’s job to bring him out. This is not a pleasant job, but one she’s handled many times as a member of the local fire department and an expert in cave rescues. The trek into the cave awakens a creature that will push this no-nonsense woman’s boundaries of belief and test her newly emerging love for one man.

Rafe Chavez, the new sheriff in this small Texas town, has already staked a claim on Lani. He’s a man with a goal in his sights, and he’s not letting anything get in his way—until he dreams about an Indian brave who died in that unexplored cave, savaged by a mountain lion. When his dreams cross into reality, Rafe realizes he may be possessed by the Indian’s spirit—but the spirit isn’t alone, and it wants Lani.

Just when Lani’s resistance to his erotic persuasion crumbles, Rafe must push her away to protect her from another creature that has also cast its gaze upon her…

Pre-order your copy here!

LIS is a strange little story—highly erotic, mixed with touches of action and horror, and it’s got a foursome, kinda. I almost go there…

You’ll have to read it to see what I’m talking about. 🙂

 

What do the Ferryman, the Fates, and the King of the Underworld have in common?
Tuesday, July 17th, 2018

You’ll just have to pick up a copy of Gargoyle’s Embrace to see! Do you love mythology as much as I do? Greek, Norse, Egyptian… I could get lost for hours in books about mythical heroes! So, I wrote one. It’s very naughty! Consider yourself warned!

Gargoyle’s Embrace

Gargoyle's Embrace

Lust trapped them in darkness…only love can free them…

Petra Pedersen has lived as a recluse all her life thanks to a shameful power inherited from the father she will never know—the power to incite lust in men and women with just a touch. Exploring the garden of the mansion she’s just inherited, she comes across a fascinating stone gargoyle whose raw, passionate expression draws her to caress its powerful body. Her imagination follows her fluttering fingers. As she closes her eyes and gives herself up to the arousal, something shifts beneath her touch.

Long ago, failure to stop a demon battle trapped Octavius in a prison of stone. Freed by the woman’s incendiary touch, he doesn’t hesitate to unleash his pent-up rage and desire in a blistering fury. Yet once the haze of lust clears, he discovers he isn’t really free after all. They are both trapped in another realm where he must choose between his last chance for redemption or returning Petra home…

Warning: Sex with inanimate objects, lusty m/m/f ménages with gods… It’s all good when the reward is freedom.

Get your copy here!

And…what readers are saying about Cochise?

“This series of books [Montana Bounty Hunters] is one of the author’s finest.”

“Cochise (Book 4) was exciting, fast paced, scary, filled with plot twists…”

“Heart pounding action and a VERY satisfying read!”

A hunt deep in a national forest forges bonds between a bounty hunter and a woman desperate to find her sister…

Get your copy here!

Gargoyle’s Embrace releases next Tuesday! (Contest)
Saturday, July 14th, 2018

UPDATE: The winner is…Nancy Gilliland!
*~*~*

I’m releasing a story I wrote a while ago that was part of a series, but I’ve revised it to stand on its own. It’s one I loved writing, because I let my imagination run wild inside the stories I read when I was a child and completely in love with mythology. This is mostly based on Greek mythology and, of course, the reader gets to meet the dark and dangerous God of the Underworld, Hades. Well, you get to see quite a bit of him, actually. 🙂

Be sure to enter to win the contest, and read the very naughty excerpt I’ve included below…

Contest

Comment for a chance to win a $5 Amazon gift card! 

Is there a particular country’s/region’s mythology you love best?

Gargoyle’s Embrace
Gargoyle's Embrace

Lust trapped them in darkness…only love can free them…

Petra Pedersen has lived as a recluse all her life thanks to a shameful power inherited from the father she will never know. The power to incite lust in men and women with just a touch.

Exploring the garden of the mansion she’s just inherited, she comes across a fascinating stone gargoyle whose raw, passionate expression draws her to caress its powerful body. Her imagination follows her fluttering fingers. As she closes her eyes and gives herself up to the arousal, something shifts beneath her touch.

Long ago, failure to stop a demon battle trapped Octavius in a prison of stone. Freed by the woman’s incendiary touch, he doesn’t hesitate to unleash his pent-up rage and desire in a blistering fury. Yet once the haze of lust clears, he discovers he isn’t really free after all.

They are both trapped in another realm where he must choose between his last chance for redemption or returning Petra home…

Warning: Sex with inanimate objects, lusty m/m/f ménages with gods… It’s all good when the reward is freedom.

Pre-order your copy here!

It will be free to KU subscribers for a limited time!

Read an excerpt…

At the end of the path, she exited the dense, tall foliage into a clearing. A gazebo, its lattices intact but in need of paint, stood against the darkening forest. To her left a stone bench sat next to a large statue. The fading sunlight limned the statue and lent its surface a pearlescent sheen. The figure of a winged gargoyle, its massive body upright, its arms and wings outstretched as though ready to take flight was so exact, so detailed, she couldn’t help but stare. “Oh, my.”

She crept closer. Oddly, the large statue wasn’t supported by a sturdy base. Instead, the feet of the mythical creature were mired in dirt and grass. Vines crept up the thickly hewn calves and thighs, curling around and around. Leaves like ivy and blooms of honeysuckle entangled to clothe his naked body, even twining around the masculine appendage rising between his thighs.

She wondered how such a large statue remained supported by only the two feet planted in the dirt and thought the artist must have been truly gifted to achieve the balance. Entranced, she could only stare in awe at the massive object.

Shadows accentuated the outline of the long muscles cloaking his legs; light sparkled on the bulging, straining curves; veins tracked along arms and thick, leathery-looking wings.

While she stared, she realized there was nothing stopping her from touching it with the bare pads of her fingertips. She’d touched intimately only one masculine body in her life and had learned to her dismay the dangers. But this figure carved in stone couldn’t respond to her curse, and she could indulge her curiosity about his masculine form.

Timidly, she touched his knee, opening her palm over the cap. Surprised, she pulled back her hand. The stone wasn’t cool to the touch. Perhaps it had soaked up the warmth from the sunlight. The surface was so smooth it had felt real, almost pulsating.

The allure of the forbidden was too great to resist, and she pressed her hand against his thigh, trailing it upwards, admiring the sleek, hard muscle. But vines impeded her exploration.

She reached up and took the uppermost strands and peeled them away, one by one, exposing his body to the fading light, unwinding them as she moved around him. “Almost like undressing a man,” she mused whimsically.

When the vines lay in long tendrils on the ground, she stepped between his bent thighs and stared into his face. Here wasn’t the bug-eyed gargoyle she’d expected, but rather he wore a warrior’s fierce grimace, frightening in its intensity.

She smoothed her fingertips over his heavy brow, caressed the sharp blades of his cheekbones and blunt nose, and traced the curve of his thinned upper lip and the surprising fullness of the lower.

“How would such a man’s lips feel beneath mine?” she whispered.

She glanced over her shoulder at the house that seemed farther away than it had when she’d first entered the garden but found no curious glance trained her way through the windows.

She shook her head, her mouth curving slightly. “If Mr. Spalding sees anything, I will tell them it must have been someone else.”

Turning back, she gripped the tops of the figure’s broad shoulders, stood on her toes, and grazed his mouth with hers. The texture of the warm stone was soft, deceptively malleable, but perhaps it was only the give of her own lips as she brushed over his again.

She dropped down, her glance following the flow of her hands as she cupped and molded the densely muscled chest, swept over the hard whorls of hair, marveling over the detail. The abdomen, a study of tautly ribbed slabs, caused her breaths to deepen and her imagination to imbue them with life that rippled gently beneath her caress.

Downward she trailed her hand, halting just above the whorls framing the phallus, and again, she noted the veins tracing along the long shaft, the finely carved cap, so smoothly sanded there wasn’t a single rough edge or bump to mar the surface. Her hand smoothed up, then down, then dropped away. She’d gone too far.

The engorged state of the statue tempted her beyond common sense. Beyond her own natural modesty. Moisture dampened her sex. Her heart fluttered. Her breaths betrayed a ragged texture.

Waning sunlight glimmered through the trees, flashing bright orange, then faded. Darkness settled around the garden, and still there were no lights beaming from the house.

No one could see her in this dark, lonely garden. No one would be disgusted or repulsed by the impulse that burned inside her.

She’d lived alone so long, repressed desires that were natural for a woman, due to the curse that kept her separate from others.

Her touch couldn’t arouse this beast-man, couldn’t incite him to rape. For once, she could pretend she was any other girl, learning the wonder of completion with something other than her own fingers. She could pretend she held a lover inside her embrace, one who wouldn’t be so consumed with lust that her pleasure was forgotten. She could take what she desired to serve her own needs.

Petra stepped backwards and dropped her gaze from his stony, unseeing glance, nevertheless embarrassed by what she contemplated. Just once, she’d heed the urge. Just once, she’d dare something indescribably erotic. Tomorrow, she’d be surrounded by the workers the executor had hired to complete refurbishing the house, and again, she’d hide her true nature within gloves.

She opened her blouse, her fingers gliding down the row of buttons. Her bra opened with a deft twist, and she dropped both items onto the ground beside her. She stepped from her slide-on mules, unbuttoned her jeans and pushed them down her hips.

When she was naked, she succumbed to the urge to cover her breasts as she approached the statue. At the last moment, she reached behind her head and removed the clasp, letting her hair fall like warm silk between her shoulder blades.

The bend of his upper thighs made a convenient perch, and she stepped onto one thigh then slid her left leg around his waist. Holding his shoulders again, she squatted over his cock, finding the nudge of the warmed marble, and circled her pussy over the blunt tip.

The feeling was indescribable. And almost enough to send her over the edge. She did it again, moaning when liquid seeped from inside her to anoint the rigid tip. Growing more breathless, she knew she must slow down, must breathe, must savor this moment because she didn’t know if she’d ever find the courage to try this again.

Wrapping her hands around his thick neck, she leaned toward him, kissing his open lips, sucking on the lower, pretending he was alive and responsive to her overtures. And she sank, slowly, her slick folds consuming his cock, inch by inch, her moisture and warmth heating up the thick phallic stone she rode as she began to move on him.

Her heartbeats quickened, growing louder. “Can you hear them?” she whispered. “Can you hear my heartbeats? How they tremble for you, my gargoyle?”

Petra rose and fell, her body melting inside and out, growing slick with desire and sweat. Her breasts rubbed against his stone chest, chafing softly, her nipples blooming. Her belly undulated, rocking slightly forward and back as she thrust downward, her inner walls stretching to surround him.

He filled her, the notches of his hips and the strength of his shaft supported her as her limbs weakened the closer to release she climbed.

Her eyelids fluttered downward, and her mouth gaped open as fine ripples began to climb along her inner walls, vibrating around his solid cock. And then her mind flew, imagining a pulsing tension emanating from the cock lodged so deeply inside her, imagining that the stone gave slightly as she sank then rocked, shallowly stroking inside her.

It wasn’t until something soft caressed her shoulders and back that she opened her eyes.

The expression of her stone gargoyle was no longer gray and frozen, but dark and taut; his dark eyes stared back at her. The wings were no longer spread, but folded forward, surrounding her in heat and trapping her against his body as he brought her to the ground.

But it was too late to scream because her orgasm erupted, bowing her back, shoving her pelvis hard against her demon lover’s as the rhythmic pulsing swept over her body, causing her to tremble and moan.

With the corners of his lips curving upward, Petra’s heart thudded against her chest. Indeed, her curse was so vile she’d incited lust and awoken a stone god.

Flashback: Before We Kiss (Contest–3 winners!)
Thursday, July 5th, 2018

I love my Uncharted SEALs series. All have rugged, alpha heroes. All have strong heroines. Humor. Action. All the ingredients that make the stories fun for me to write, and hopefully, fun for you as well.

With Uncharted SEALs, I experimented a bit. For the first time, I did sequels with the same characters—for the simple reason I couldn’t say goodbye to them. I wanted to see inside their Happy Ever Afters. Through Her Eyes and Between a SEAL and a Hard Place share the same main characters, as do Dream of Me and Heart of a SEAL. Big Sky SEAL gave birth to my Montana Bounty Hunters, introducing Jamie and Reaper, who as a result of their work in Big Sky earned their own satellite office of MBH.

A fun theme I used in two of the stories was a cruise ship. Both Before We Kiss and Hard SEAL to Love are set on the same ship, and have the same supporting characters. You’ll meet the old guys in the scene below. Hope you enjoy it!

Watch Over Me   
*~*
Baby, It's You Before We Kiss Special Forces: Operation Alpha: Between a SEAL and a Hard Place 
*~*
  Head Over SEAL

Click on the covers to learn more!

Contest

Win your choice of one of my Uncharted SEALs stories! There will be 3 winners! All you have to do to enter is answer me this…

If you could go anywhere in the world, what would be your cruise destination?

Before We Kiss

Before We Kiss

Navy SEAL, William “Wiley” Coyote, should have known his “piece of cake” assignment would go sideways in a hurry. But he’d been lured by the promise of an all-expenses-paid cruise. A nice “fluffy” assignment after the last one spent escorting freighters through pirate-infested waters in the Strait of Hormuz.

A general’s daughter, Poppy Shackleford, wasn’t some spoiled daughter of a man made famous for defeating insurgent forces. She’d endured her own tragedies—the loss of her mother when she was young and her father stationed in Afghanistan, and the loss of her fiancé after he’d sustained wounds in Iraq—not from the physical wounds that had claimed his two legs—he’d taken his own life. His death was why Poppy was involved in Soldiers’ Sanctuary, a non-profit that helped disabled soldiers adjust to their new circumstances. Her mission in life is to see that no veteran of war would ever feel so alone, so hopeless he’d choose her dead fiancé’s path. Which was why, despite the current threats against her father, she was on this cruise, assessing the ship’s ability to accommodate the soldiers rather than sending a surrogate.

However, the first threat doesn’t come from terrorists with an axe to grind. Mexican banditos stop her tour bus heading toward Mayan ruins to shake down the passengers for their money and belongings. When one snaps a picture of her, he soon figures out there’s a much bigger payday. She knows she’s going to be kidnapped, but she didn’t know someone was on that same tour bus who had her back.

Wiley’s unconventional takedown of her would-be kidnappers exposes the fact her father didn’t honor her wishes to fly under the radar. And now that the cat’s out of the bag, Wiley’s made it clear he’s moving into her suite for the rest of their time at sea to keep her out of harm’s way.

Excerpt from Before We Kiss

William “Wiley” Coyote should have known the “piece of cake” assignment his team leader, Deke Warrick, offered him would go sideways in a hurry. But he’d been lured by the promise of an all-expenses-paid cruise. A nice “fluffy” assignment after the last one spent escorting freighters through pirate-infested waters in the Strait of Hormuz. He was due a vacation, and he’d envisioned slipping into a chaise on the cruise ship’s deck while his target sunbathed nearby. Something his team leader had warned him might not be in the cards. After all, Deke’d had a similar, simple assignment when he’d been tasked with protecting a girl. And look what it had gotten his buddy. Shot at. Then married. Happily, it seemed.

Not that Wiley had marriage on his mind. No, sir. Not him. Everything he owned was stuffed into a duffle bag. He lived in hotel rooms, tents, and, now, a cruise boat cabin. No, he had nothing to offer a bride. Marriage wasn’t something in his cards. And certainly not to some celebutante who couldn’t keep her picture off multiple social media sites on a daily basis. That sort of exposure, even by association, would be deadly in his line of business.

He’d listened intently when Deke outlined his assignment, determined to keep this job all business, despite the photos that had spilled from the envelope during his initial briefing.

“Every time she steps out of her suite, the room attendant will buzz you. You keep on her tail, but not close enough she notices. Her daddy said she’d raise hell if she knew he’d hired security after she refused a special detail.” At that point, Deke had grinned. “I think he’s a little afraid of her.”

Wiley hadn’t smiled. Instead, he’d grunted. General Shackleford wasn’t any lightweight desk-jockey. He’d seen his share of action.

The ship had barely left the Port of Miami before Wiley understood. The woman never stopped moving. Or talking. Sometimes loudly, if she didn’t like what she heard. If he could have worn earplugs, possibly his first impressions of her would have been very different.

Poppy Shackleford was a pretty little thing. Blonde-haired, blue-eyed, lightly tanned, curves in all the right places. And maybe five-foot-two in her espadrille sandals. He’d had a girlfriend charge two pairs to his credit card years ago, so he knew darn well what they were and how much the cork-heeled things cost. Although he could appreciate the sexy curves the three-inch heels gave her toned calves, he wasn’t risking getting any closer. So far, he’d managed to operate under the radar. He had no doubts she’d know exactly what he was there to do if she got one good look at him. Nothing escaped her attention. Not the too-steep ramps leading onto the ship when they’d embarked. Nor the undercooked steak she’d been served last night in the dining room.

He’d begun to think she was deaf because she talked so loudly, but then he’d realized her complaints were on behalf of her fellow passengers, and this cruise had been billed as senior-themed. Most of the thousand passengers on board were over seventy. The dinner conversation surrounding him last night consisted of tracking blood sugar levels as his companions pricked their fingertips and fed droplets of blood into their readers. Afterwards, their conversation drifted to the best fiber to promote healthy bowels and where the captain would store their bodies if they happened to pass during the night.

“No kidding?” Deke had said after Wiley’s status update early that morning.

Wiley’s jaw ground shut at the snickering no hand over a receiver could muffle. “The Countess cruise line’s security seems pretty tight. Someone is always nearby, although they’re better at blending in than I am.”

“You mean you didn’t pack any Hawaiian shirts?”

“Don’t own one,” he’d gritted out.

“How are you keeping from blowing your cover?”

Wiley grunted. “I haven’t shaved, and I have on my cowboy hat and boots.”

“So you’re sticking out like a sore thumb.”

“She won’t expect a security detail to blend in quite like I do.”

Deke grunted. “Just remember you have people positioned around the ship. Channel two if you need them.”

Which would be great if his assignment was actually aboard the ship. The farther into the jungle their tour bus drove, the deeper his concern grew. They were on an excursion to view Mayan ruins. Anywhere along their route would be a great place for an ambush. The two security people provided by the cruise line to accompany his target were in good shape, but he could tell neither was armed. Conventional weapons were impossible to smuggle aboard the ship, and the weapons kept under lock and key aboard the vessel wouldn’t have been permitted for this little jaunt.

And why were they out here? If he remembered right, the pyramids weren’t exactly wheelchair-friendly. But he knew Poppy was thorough, that she took her tour coordinator job seriously. No stone would be left unturned. No tour unvetted, personally, by her.

He’d read the dossier Charter Group had put together. Poppy Shackleford, daughter of Lieutenant General Randall Shackleford, wasn’t some spoiled daughter of a famous man. She’d endured her own tragedies—the loss of her mother when she was young and her father stationed in Afghanistan, the loss of her fiancé after he’d sustained wounds in Iraq, although not from the physical wounds that had claimed both his legs. Frank Sutton, who’d been despondent over the loss, had killed himself.

His death was why Poppy was involved in Soldiers’ Sanctuary, a non-profit that helped disabled soldiers adjust to their new circumstances, whether supporting wounded vets with additional therapies the VA was slow or unable to provide, or seeking the latest in prosthetics and mobility devices. And the organization provided mentorship, one wounded soldier to another, to ensure no veteran of war would feel so alone, so hopeless, they’d choose Frank Sutton’s path.

Wiley understood and admired her for not simply crying then moving on, but embracing a cause that might help others. However, today he wished she wasn’t quite so determined to make it impossible for him to protect her. Not that she had a clue he was there. If she’d glanced toward the back of the air-conditioned bus, all she might have noted was one dark head amid a sea of white, gray, and blue.

The fellow seated next to him gave another narrow-eyed, flinty glance.

Wiley aimed a frown his way, hoping the old guy would mind his own business. The man was burly, surprisingly muscled for an old dude.

He leaned sideways in his seat and whispered, “Name’s Joseph Olinsky, but you can call me Joe. I’m a Marine.” He nodded toward the head of the bus where Poppy stood beside the tour guide, asking questions. “She someone important?”

Not as invisible as I thought. Wiley blinked. “No, sir. I think she’s just another passenger. A noisy one.”

Shaking his head, Joe grunted. “She has a detail. That guy with a clipboard ain’t a cruise director. I’d say he’s ex-Navy, probably a SEAL. Has a trident tattoo on his upper arm. Saw it when he was stowing her backpack into the overhead.”

Knowing there was no use convincing Joe he was just a guy on a trip to see a pyramid, Wiley gave him another look. He recognized the type—his dad had been the same steady, patriotic sort. Once a Marine, always a Marine. Maybe he did need backup, should shit go sideways. “You’re right,” he murmured. “The cruise line provided her security.”

“What about you?” his gray-haired companion asked.

“Name’s Wiley, and I was Navy.”

“A SEAL,” he said, nodding. “Can’t hide that look. Everyone else, besides her, has been taking a nap. Not you. You’ve been watching the road ahead. Expect trouble?”

“Not expecting, but prepared.”

Joe nodded. “Don’t get along as well as I used to,” he said, patting his right knee. “But I can be another set of eyes. And I do know who she is, son. She’s the daughter of that general ISIS wants taken out. They had his face and his daughter’s plastered all over Facebook faster than Homeland and the FBI could take down the pages.”

Wiley almost smiled at how in tune the old guy was. “Nothing much gets past you, does it?”

Joe lifted his chin toward two older gentlemen seated across the aisle from them.

Wiley glanced over to find both old codgers staring back.

“We were in the same division, the 3rd, during Vietnam. We’re all that’s left of our company. Try to take a trip every couple of years. Went to Nam five years back. There were eight of us then.”
Wiley nodded his understanding.

“That’s Morty,” he said, pointing at the thin one with a round belly. “The other one’s Sly.”

Sly gave him a grin that displayed unnaturally white teeth.

Wiley gave both men a nod then turned his attention back to the front of the bus.

“She know you’re tailing her?”

How had the old guys figured out he was there for Poppy? He remembered how the old men had jostled him, cutting him from the rest of the group when they’d boarded the bus. He’d thought it unintentional, but now knew they’d meant to be seated beside him. Admiring their cunning, he shook his head. “She doesn’t know. Not yet, anyway.”

“Need a better cover,” Joe said, eyeing his boots and the scruff on his chin. “Could tell folks you’re my grandson.”

Wiley chuckled. Sounded like a better plan than the one he’d started with. “Just don’t get in the way. If things go down…”

“You could use another set of eyes—between the three of us, we might just make one good pair.” Joe tilted his head toward his buddies.

This time, Wiley laughed.

Joe grinned and gave a slow nod to his companions, who settled back in their seats and now directed their attention to the job at hand—and the woman wearing the pretty blue dress at the front of the bus.

Suddenly, the bus shuddered and slowed. Cries arose from those seated near the front.

“Fat’s in the fire now,” Morty said, pointing forward.

Wiley cussed. A pickup was parked sideways in the middle of the road. He began to rise, but then he noted the four men standing in front of the truck. All dark, but with features that were clearly Mestizo. So, bandits rather than terrorists. He settled back in his seat. He’d let this play out a bit before he gave himself away. As long as no one was hurt, he’d keep his cover.