Sun
Nov 10 2013 1:00pm

H&H Reads: Wild Card by Lora Leigh (Part 6 of 6)

Wild Card by Lora LeighToday, we're excited to bring back our H&H Reads program, with the book that introduced us to Lora Leigh's Elite Ops—Wild Card!

Every Wednesday and Sunday from now until November 10, we'll be posting Wild Card in six easy-to-read (if not so easy to wait for!) parts. Right before each new part goes up, we'll be taking down the previous one, so make sure you don't miss a single piece of the book. Whether you're a long-time fan of Lora Leigh, or brand-new to the world where dead men don't talk, we hope you'll read along and then discuss each section of the book with us!

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Don't think you can wait? Catch up on the whole story now. (See the links at the bottom of this post for more info on where you can get your copy of Wild Card.) Then, come back to share your thoughts!

WILD CARD BY LORA LEIGH

It was supposed to be simple. All Navy SEAL Nathan Malone had to do was rescue three young girls from a Colombia drug cartel, then allow himself to be captured just long enough to draw out a government spy. That was before his mission went disastrously wrong…and before his wife, Bella, was told that Nathan was never coming home.

Bella’s mourned her husband’s death for three long years. But she has no idea he’s still alive. Forced to assume a new identity, the man Nathan was is now dead. If he can get back to his wife, can he keep the secret of who he really is…even as desire threatens to consume them? And as danger threatens to tear Bella from Nathan’s arms once more?

Need a refresher? Find out what happened previously in Wild Card before jumping in to Part 6...

Chapter 27

“You’re gettin’ pretty close to him, huh?”

Sabella turned her head and stared at Rory. God, he looked so much like Nathan used to look. Rugged features, the perfection of male beauty paired with wicked blue eyes, thick heavy lashes, and long black hair.

He was almost Nathan’s twin. So close to him in looks that for nearly two years Sabella had been unable to look him in the face.

“Shouldn’t I be?” She knew Rory was aware of who Noah was. She could feel it to the marrow of her bones and it hurt.

She was past mad. It just hurt now that Noah had trusted his brother rather than his wife. The woman he had sworn his heart to. He’d dared to whisper those words in their bed, after he thought she slept. Dared, dared to whisper that vow in Gaelic, in their bed, while he was lying to her. Lying to her with every touch, every kiss, every rasping word from his lying lips.

Rory finally shrugged. “Do you think he’s going to stay?”

She would have gotten angry at that point if she hadn’t heard the regret, the somber realization in his voice, and seen it in his face.

Sabella turned and stared out the window. She watched as the town passed by, as everything familiar to her suddenly seemed alien and strange.

“No.” She finally whispered the truth, to him, and to herself. “I don’t think he’ll be here much longer.”

She looked down at her hands, touched the wedding band, and slid it slowly from her finger before tucking it into her purse. Sienna would ask too many questions if she saw it. It could raise too much suspicion.

“You know, Belle.” He cleared his throat, his hands tightening on the steering wheel. “I love you like a sister. You know that.”

“No advice, Rory.” She could feel it coming. As he pulled in to the doctor’s office parking lot and parked beside Sienna’s car, she realized her control wasn’t strong enough to endure even Rory’s well-meaning advice.

He nodded as Sienna jumped from her car, stylish in gray capris and a sleeveless T-shirt. Her long nut-brown hair fell past her shoulders in carefully styled waves, her green eyes sparkled with the same excitement and love of life she had always known.

“There you are.” Sienna laughed, hugging Sabella as she stepped out of Rory’s truck. “And there’s one of the handsomest men in town.” She sighed, her expression creasing in sudden somber realization. “He looks just like Nathan, Belle.”

She mirrored Sabella’s earlier thoughts.

Sabella looked to Rory and saw the flash of pain on his face.

“No, Rory looks just like himself,” she said softly. Close. He was close. But not just like Noah. Not anymore.

“I can’t believe you nearly forgot about your follow-up appointment,” Sienna grumped at her then. “You were too sick, Belle. You need to take better care of yourself.”

She had been sick. That last flu bug had been a vicious one.

“I’m working on it, Sienna,” Sabella promised with a smile as they entered the doctor’s lobby, signed in, and took their seats.

She wondered if that bug was coming back. She hadn’t felt her best the last few days. She felt off. Out of sorts. But emotionally she was on a roller-coaster ride that threatened to drive her insane.

“They’re looking at me,” Rory muttered as she took a seat beside him.

She smiled, shaking her head. “’Cause you’re cute.”

He grimaced. Then grinned. “I am, ain’t I?”

And she just shook her head at that Malone grin, the twinkle in his blue eyes. He was a heartbreaker. Her friend. Her brother.

“I’ll protect you,” she whispered.

Then he stared back at her in surprise. “I want to be protected?”

And Sabella could only laugh.

She wasn’t laughing over an hour later though, she was close to sobbing, to screaming in joy. And in fear.

“I’d venture a week, perhaps a little longer,” Dr. Amy Aiken said softly as she sat on the stool in front of the exam table. “The shot was low dose to begin with, because you stated you weren’t involved in any sexual activity. You’re over a week late returning for the shot, and with the antibiotics . . .” The doctor shrugged. “It happens, Sabella.”

She was pregnant.

Sabella pressed her hand against her stomach. This time. This time, God had heard her prayers, he had given her a part of Noah to hold on to, a part of everything she loved to see her through the pain.

She swallowed tightly. “Could you not tell your nurses?” she finally said. “Could we keep this between us? For a while?”

The nurses were notorious gossips. Sabella had always suspected it was one of the reasons Dr. Aiken often ran many of the less complicated tests herself. The blood test had been done in the exam room while Sabella waited. Dr. Aiken was conscientious, she was personal. She was a friend to the women who came to her. And she knew her nurses.

“Is there a problem, Belle?” the doctor asked her gently.

Sabella shook her head. “I want a chance to believe it myself,” she said softly. “Before anyone else knows.”

Dr. Aiken sighed at that. “It’s a very small town.” She rose and collected the data on the test before folding it and pushing it into her lab coat. “I can wait a few weeks before I add it to your file.” She winked. “I forget these things sometimes.”

She sat back down on the stool. “Do you want this baby, Sabella?” she asked gently.

Sabella’s head snapped up. “More than anything,” she breathed out roughly. “I didn’t consider.” She paused and shook her head. “I didn’t think. I’d forgotten about the antibiotics. Things have been crazy at the garage.” In her life. The shock of having Nathan back had dulled her senses.

Dr. Aiken smiled, her serious hazel- and blue-flecked eyes somber. Concerned. “I want you back in three weeks. I’ll rerun the blood tests then and we’ll do a full workup. You weren’t pregnant when you were in here last month, you’re no more than a few weeks along.”

Sabella shook her head. No more than weeks. But she knew. She knew she carried Noah’s baby. She knew it was growing inside her. She swore she could feel it now. That unknown feeling that had plagued her the last few days, the sense of being off balance, not entirely certain why. It wasn’t just because of Noah. It was their child, letting her know he was there.

“You can get dressed now.” Amy rose to her feet. She paused again and looked at her. “If you need to talk, you know you can call me anytime. Or come by the house. We’ll have coffee.” She smiled suddenly. “Though it’s decaf for you.”

Decaf worked for her. She was already planning revised menus. She would have to eat better. Eat more often. No more caffeine and she didn’t even give a damn.

She was carrying Noah’s baby.

She dressed quickly, floating, feeling as though a surge of euphoria had taken hold of her mind and refused to release it. She stopped as she buttoned and zipped her jeans, and touched her stomach again. Just felt it. Needing to feel the life growing inside her.

She and Nathan had talked about starting a family after he returned from that last mission. They had wanted children, but they had wanted a stable environment to bring one into. They were going to pay off some of the bills. They were going to talk about it when he got home. But he hadn’t come home, until now.

Her lips curled softly, though sadly. She could keep him, she thought. She could tell him about the baby, he would never leave her . . . She shook her head. No. She wouldn’t hold him. If he left, he would leave without knowing. And then she would have to leave as well, because Rory and Jordan would make certain he knew. They would never keep that information from him. And she would be back where she started, with a man who had returned, not for her, but because of their child.

Besides, if he knew about the baby, and he left anyway? It would destroy the love she felt for him, and that she couldn’t bear. Noah was the best thing that had ever happened to her. Loving him had been the greatest fulfillment of her life. Until now.

She finished dressing, then left the exam room, and went back to the lobby.

“Everything okay?” Rory came to his feet as she stepped back into the lobby and moved to the counter to pay her bill.

“Everything’s fine.” She smiled back at him, forcing herself to keep the curve of her lips restrained. “I’ll be ready in a minute.”

The nurse took her check. She was busy inputting information into the computer and, thank God, didn’t ask about the shot Sabella hadn’t received.

“I thought you would be in there forever,” Sienna teased as they left the doctor’s office and emerged in the parking lot. “She never takes that long.”

“She wanted to make certain I was over that flu bug.” Sabella shrugged.

She was dying to tell someone. Why wasn’t she telling Sienna? Rory? Why wasn’t she shouting it from the rooftops? She was pregnant. Finally pregnant and it was her husband’s baby.

She inhaled slowly as they turned the corner of the building and headed across the back lot to Rory’s truck. She was lost in the happiness, trying to hide it from Rory and Sienna. She kept her head down, and she didn’t see the van.

“Sabella!” Rory’s yell had her head jerking up as he tried to grab her, to pull her back from the black van that suddenly stopped beside them.

Sienna was jostled into her, throwing her closer to the wide door that was flung open. Black masks. Black clothes. A gun aimed at Rory, a muffled report sounding as Sabella tried to scream over the hand that covered her mouth, tried to fight the ruthless force that tossed her into van.

Her last sight of Rory was the horror in his face and the blood pouring from his shoulder as he went down. Then the doors slammed closed, locking her and Sienna into the back of the van as it squealed out of the parking lot and accelerated as it headed out of town.

Horrified, terrified, she fought against the hands holding her. Her arms were jerked behind her back. Oh God. Her stomach was undefended. She couldn’t cushion it, couldn’t protect her baby like this.

Cuffs were snapped on her wrists and tape slapped over her mouth as she stared at her friend, her best friend, in shock.

Sienna wasn’t being cuffed or gagged. She was settling herself into the lap of one of the masked abductors, a smile curving her lips as she tilted her head and regarded Sabella like a distasteful chore.

Sienna stared at her for long moments then she got up, braced her hand on the ceiling of the van, and before Sabella could process it, Sienna backhanded her with enough force to send her head bouncing against the side of the van, stars exploding in front of her eyes as she crumpled to the floor.

Sabella didn’t bother lifting herself from the floor. She blinked, felt the blood trickling from her nose, and stared back at the woman who smiled with cool, calm arrogance.

“You stupid fucking bitch,” Sienna drawled. “That’s for all the years I’ve had to put up with babying your whining ass because Rick insisted I should worry about you. And for marrying Nathan. Whore. You should have left the hometown boys to the hometown girls.” She settled back on the lap of the man who had held her moments before.

Brown eyes glared at her from behind the mask. Mike Conrad’s brown eyes. His gaze was malicious, satisfaction filling them, hatred glittering in them.

Sabella curled herself in a ball, her knees lifting to protect Noah’s child. And she stared at Mike and Sienna in disbelief.

Mike she could believe. But Sienna? Sienna who had been there when Nathan’s casket was buried. Who rocked her when she cried, who had forced her out of the house over the years and had played the part of the loving friend so convincingly.

“Look at her.” Sienna laughed. “Didn’t I tell you, lover? I’m the best. No one ever suspected.”

Sabella hadn’t suspected, but she knew in that moment, that a part of her had known, unconsciously, that this woman wasn’t her friend. Just as she knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Sienna intended to see her dead.

But she knew no matter how hard they tried to hide, no matter how deep they might bury her body, Noah would find them. And when he did, he wouldn’t let the fact that Sienna was a woman save her. Mike Conrad’s past friendship with Nathan wouldn’t even be a memory.

He’d kill them both. And he would make it hurt.

She just prayed he found her before they managed to kill her.

 

Noah stepped from the garage as they heard the sirens in the distance and the squeal of tires, the sharp blasts of a horn.

He was aware of Nik moving behind him, the other mechanics as well as Toby stepping out to the parking lot. He was aware of a cold core of ice freezing inside him when Rory’s truck slid around a corner and raced to the garage, the sheriff, lights blazing, riding on his ass.

He stood stiff, still, as Nik cursed behind him. He heard the Russian cursing, felt the tension suddenly building in the air as Rory barreled into the parking lot, the truck fishtailing as he put on the brakes, slamming to a stop.

He wasn’t aware of moving. He wrenched the door open and caught his brother as he fell into his arms, blood staining his shirt, tears washing his face.

“Noah!” Rory screamed out, hysteria brightening his eyes. “Ah God. Ah God, Noah, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Noah held his brother, dragging him into the garage and then the office as Rick rushed in behind them. He could feel Rory’s blood soaking his shirt, his skin.

“Where’s Sabella, Rory?” He put his brother in a chair before grabbing a handful of clean mechanic’s rags and pressing them to Rory’s shoulder. “Tell me where Sabella is.”

Rory sobbed. His head fell back on the chair and he howled in rage. “They took her! Took her and Sienna. Noah, I tried to grab her, but Sienna stumbled. And they took Sabella.”

Noah stared at him. Something beyond rage took hold of him.

“What the hell do you mean, they took them?” Rick tried to push past Noah, rage echoing in his voice. “What the fuck is going on here?”

Nik hauled him back, jerked the handgun from his hand, and snarled down at him. Noah didn’t pay attention. He didn’t give a fuck about Rick.

“Who has her, Rory?” His voice was calm. “Did you recognize anyone?”

“Masks.” Rory shook his head furiously. “They were wearing masks. When I tried to grab for Sabella, one of the bastards pulled a gun. It was silenced. I jerked to the side and kept trying to get to her.” He held his shoulder and rocked forward. “Ah Christ. I’m sorry, Noah. I’m sorry.”

“Nik, get on it,” Noah ordered quietly.

“Calling now.”

“Rory.” He gripped Rory’s jaw. “Rory, look at me. Tell me what you saw.”

Rory stared back at him, dazed with pain and blood loss. His shirt was soaked with blood.

“Tan van.” He shook his head, tears still filling his eyes. “Black masks. Black clothes. Pulled to a stop beside us and Sienna stumbled.” He shook his head again. “I don’t know why. She knocked into Belle and they both fell toward the door while I was trying to grab Belle. They jerked her inside. Mud on the tires, on the frame. It looked fresh. No plates, I checked. They were gone. Brown eyes.” He stared up at Noah. “The guy that took Belle. He had brown eyes. Really dark eyes. I know those eyes.”

Conrad’s eyes.

“Nik, ambulance,” Noah said softly. Rory was going to need help. He turned back to his brother. “Did they say anything? Tell me, Rory, did any of them say anything?”

Rory was panting now, shock taking over. He stared back at Noah, dazed, fighting back unconsciousness.

“Said. Said something about good hunting. As the doors closed. Someone laughed, and said it would be good hunting.”

“Teams moving,” Nik reported. “ETA is twenty minutes.”

“How long ago, Rory?” Noah questioned him then. “When did it happen?”

Rory was shaking now. He looked at his wrist. Blood coated the face of his watch. Noah wiped it off, watching his brother carefully. The false calm that filled him was just a prelude. The ice was coming. Noah could feel it coming.

Rory sobbed. “An hour,” he whispered. “Christ, Noah. An hour. I blacked out, and the lot was nearly empty. No one saw. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“Nik. What’s Travis reporting?”

“Movement on Leon,” Nik stated. “There was a pullout five minutes ago. He’s trying to track but T lost signal.”

T. Tehya.

Noah turned and stared at a silent Rick. He was watching Rory, watching Noah.

“You’re supposed to be dead,” Rick said faintly. “I watched them bury you.”

A man ran a risk when returning to his hometown, pretending to be someone he wasn’t, and claiming the wife he had left.

“I still am. Dead.” He bared his teeth at Rick. “You’re in. But God help you if you’re a part of this.”

Rory shuddered as Noah turned back to him.

“Noah, she called him ‘baby.’ ”

Noah sharpened his focus on Rory. “Who?”

Rory frowned. “When the door closed. Sienna. Brown eyes jerked her inside. She said ‘baby.’ ”

“You misheard,” Rick objected behind them. “You had to have misheard, Rory.” But the objection was faint and filled with bitter pain.

When Noah turned back to the sheriff, he was staring at Rory in horror, in knowledge.

Rick shook his head as though clearing a fog and stared back at Noah, his tobacco-brown eyes filled with anguish. “He misheard.”

Rory hadn’t misheard. There was a leak in the Alpine sheriff’s force. That leak was Sienna, not Rick as they had first assumed.

“Nik, what do we have?”

“Ambulance pulling in.”

Noah jerked around, pinning him with his gaze as Nik grimaced. “We got nothing yet, man. The team’s pulling in. Trav is tracking and T is working comm. That’s all we have.”

“Who the hell are you?” Rick grabbed Noah’s arm.

Slowly, more to control the impulse to rip the sheriff’s throat out than for any other reason, Noah turned back to him. Then he smiled.

He could feel the blood pumping through his veins, his muscles hardening, tightening. His vision edged with red, with blood, and the monster was free.

“I’m the BCM’s worst fucking nightmare,” he said softly. “I’m a dead man walking, and I’ll take every damned one of them to hell with me.”

 

Chapter 28

Rory had been transported to the hospital under duress. He hadn’t wanted to go. He had begged Noah not to make him go. The team was assembled, quietly, in the apartment after that. No one had seen them enter, no one knew they were there.

Rick stood at the back door, staring through the narrow window, tense, prepared, as he listened to the team assemble the gear the other Elite Ops agents had brought in. Trackers. Communications. Weapons.

Noah was listening to Travis Caine’s report from his attempts to track the van that had transported the FBI agent Chuck Leon, when his cell phone rang.

Silence filled the apartment when Noah pulled it free of its holder, and mouthed, Sabella’s cell.

He attached the electronic GPS tracker into his phone, then flipped it open.

“Blake.”

“I’m sorry,” Sabella whispered.

She was crying. Noah could hear the huskiness in her voice, the tears.

“It’s okay, baby,” he told her gently. “Are they there?”

“They want to talk—” Her voice cut off, and if he wasn’t mistaken, he heard her cry out.

His nostrils flared, the need for blood exploding, pounding in his head.

“The sheriff is with you, we know that.” A mechanical voice came over the line.

“He is.”

The thin, distorted chuckle did nothing to disguise the glee in the abductor’s voice.

“Tell him to stay there. If he leaves, they both die.”

“Very well.”

There was silence. “You’re being agreeable. That’s very good.”

He remained silent.

“You went over the truck, didn’t you, Blake?” the voice drawled. “You found the evidence and turned it in. Didn’t you?”

“I did.”

They knew. He knew. He would give them that much.

“Yeah, that putz agent we questioned just didn’t convince us that he found it. He’s still alive, by the way. Do you care?”

“Not particularly.”

Another chuckle. “You’re not an agent, are you? What are you then?”

“Let’s say, a concerned bystander,” he drawled. “My mother was Mexican. She wouldn’t have liked you very much.”

It was a lie. His mother had been pure blue blood.

“Then your mother was a whore. We kill whores.”

Noah waited. A heartbeat. Two. Three.

“What do you want?” He kept his voice calm, cool. It was icy. There was no burning rage. There was no impatience. He had known they would call.

“Belle is a beautiful little whore too.” The voice was smug, taunting. “She’ll make a nice play thing when you’re dead.”

“You have to kill me first,” Noah pointed out.

He didn’t look at the men in the room. He stared at the single picture that Sabella had kept in the apartment. A picture of them before they married.

His arms were around her shoulders as they stared into the camera, her expression soft, vulnerable. Loving. He could almost smell that day. The scent of her perfume, the scent of sex still clinging to them.

“Yes, we do get to kill you first.” Laughter trickled over the connection. “It’s good that you’re alone except for the sheriff. All your mechanics in place as they should be. Everyone just busy little beavers, aren’t they, Mr. Blake?” We’re watching, you know.

“That’s their job,” he agreed.

No emotion. He felt nothing. He kept staring at the picture of him and Sabella. No, the picture of Sabella and her husband. The man he was then didn’t resemble the man he was now. There was no fear, no worry. There was a sense of death, a knowledge that no matter the outcome, blood was going to spill and it wouldn’t be all his. None of it would be Sabella’s.

“You’ll make an interesting hunt,” the abductor said to torment him. “A nice little addition to my trophies. That wasn’t nice of you, poking your nose in where it wasn’t wanted”

He nodded slowly. Here it came. Finally. The end of the road.

“Here’s what you’re going to do, Mr. Blake. And you’re going to do it alone. If we see anyone else leave the garage, then the girls die. If you don’t follow directions exactly, they die. If you’re late, they die.”

Melodrama. Fuck, he hated the wait.

“Yeah, I breathe the wrong way and they die. I got it.”

He was aware of Jordan wincing, the looks the other men gave him.

Another chuckle. “Do you know the national park?”

Like the back of his hand. “Not very well. I haven’t had time to do much sightseeing.”

There was silence. Noah waited it out. He let it flow over him, refused to consider the risks. He was a nobody here. They didn’t suspect anything. He was a mechanic, nothing more.

“Do you know where they found the little female FBI agent? I know you been in town long enough for that.”

The canyon was about an hour away.

“I know.”

“You’ll be met. You have an hour after this call disconnects to get there. Would you like to tell your little girlfriend bye?”

“If you want your hunt, I’ll see her alive before it begins. She’s of no use to me dead.”

Laughter again, grating, knowing.

“Sure. You can say your goodbyes in person. You’ll be met. You have one hour.”

Noah disconnected. He dragged his jacket from the back of a chair. He was already outfitted in the chaps. The butter-soft leather conformed and moved easily with him. Hiking boots. Skin tag locator on both shoulders. Belt buckle equipped with a locator as well. All deactivated until needed.

“You’ll have to slip out with the others,” he told Rick as he moved for the door.

“Like hell. If she’s in on this, then I’ll take care of it.” The sheriff’s eyes burned with anger as he caught Noah’s arm.

“Grip my arm again and your throat comes out.” He peeled the sheriff’s hand from his arm. “You’ll come in with the others. And she’s the only way they could have taken Sabella so easily. You know it, as well as I do.”

Rick’s jaw clenched, a muscle ticking furiously at the side.

“We need someone to prosecute, Noah,” Jordan reminded him. “Remember that when the hunt starts. We’ll be in place and ready to move. T will track you from the rendezvous.”

Noah nodded and left the apartment, slamming the door behind him.

He could feel the eyes on him. By time he made the rendezvous, it would be nearing dark. The others could slip into place then. Getting them out of the garage wouldn’t be a problem.

Noah had been a SEAL. He believed in escape routes to hell and back. And Jordan knew them all.

He straddled the Harley and set the motor to throbbing before kicking into gear and tearing out of the parking lot.

The wind whipped through his hair, and he heard Sabella’s light laughter, her passion moans. The sound of tears in her voice when she called.

She was frightened. He could hear the fear. But he heard something else too. He had heard trust. There hadn’t been hysteria. She hadn’t begged him to save her. She had known he would come for her. He had heard that in her voice. Her knowledge, her trust.

She was a woman any man could be proud to call his own. But Sabella was still tender, still vulnerable. She was a woman who loved with everything inside her. And that was how she loved the man he had been.

With everything inside her.

He kicked the gas to the Harley and let it tear down the road. He knew exactly where he was going. He’d tracked the area after the unit moved in and canvassed every inch of it. The female FBI agent’s body had been found at the base of one of the small rises, her body dug up by scavengers. The area had been widely publicized.

For a second, just a second, an image of Sabella flashed in his mind, eyes wide in death, her face white, lips bloodless. He twisted the gas and let the Harley tear down the road. Rage bit at him, hard, fast, before he countered it, before the icy hunger for blood overrode it once again.

He wasn’t a husband. He wasn’t a lover. He was a dead man. And he was about to have company in hell. It was that simple. That was how he had survived for the past six years and. It was how he had rehabilitated, it was how he rebuilt himself.

He was a husband. A lover. And what belonged to him had been threatened. Taken. It wouldn’t happen again.

Dusk was settling as Noah pulled in, only feet from where the dead agent’s body had been found. Three black-masked shadows waited on four-wheelers at the base of the rise.

Noah kicked the stand on the Harley, turned it off, and dismounted slowly. He stared back at them. None of them were Mike Conrad. But there was Delbert Ransome, those watery brown eyes gleamed like a rat’s. The other two men he identified by the shape of their faces and the color of their eyes. One was a ranch hand from the Malone ranch. The other was the sheriff’s deputy, Hershel Jenkins. Damn. Rory was going to be pissed. He and Hershel had been drinking buddies at one time.

Hershel moved from his four-wheeler and pointed to the small rack behind him. In his hand he carried plastic restraints.

Noah moved to the back of the ATV, slid on, and let the son of a bitch cuff his wrists to the edge of the rack. Seconds later, they were tearing off through the night.

He felt the first electronic skin tag tracker on his left shoulder heat up. It had a five-minute range. Eyes were already watching. He could feel them. The SEALs would be in place. Reno, Clint, Kell, Macey, and Ian. They would have been deployed from the bunker the minute they knew the rendezvous point and they’d be tracking.

Satellite would be trained on the ATVs’ progress. The ATVs’ headlights cut through the darkness, but Noah knew there were others watching as well. Militia members, to make certain there was no backup.

There was plenty of backup.

They’d thought Noah would be taken, not Sabella. The outsider coming in and taking over something it was rumored the militia wanted. That being the garage. He had controlled it, controlled its owner. They hadn’t expected Sabella to be taken.

Noah held on to the rack, braced himself, and flowed with the hard thumps, the deliberately rough ride. These boys thought they knew how to hurt. They didn’t know anything about pain. About madness. About death.

Noah knew. And he knew they had no idea what monster they were bringing into their midst.

The night vision contacts were working, though not as well as goggles would have. The faded green aura of the landscape was clearly visible. He could see another of Gaylen Patrick’s ranch hands in a pickup as they passed it, tucked into the shelter of a small grove of pines.

He saw the shadow behind it and smiled. Yeah, there were a lot of shadows moving in these mountains tonight.

Ten minutes. Fifteen. Twenty minutes.

Finally, the ATVs turned off into a small canyon and pulled in front of an opening into the base of a nearly sheer cliff.

They hadn’t known about this one. It was perfectly hidden by the brush and bramble in front of it and the ledge of the cliff over it. There was a faint light coming from inside.

The restraints were cut and a rifle shoved in his face as he was pointed to the opening.

How easy it would be to shove the barrel of the weapon up the deputy’s ass while he took out the other two. Silently. It could be done so silently.

He grinned instead and turned, walking into the entrance and waiting for the contacts to adjust as the light deepened. Sabella’s abductors’ precautions against the light showing from the outside allowed the contacts time to adjust until his vision was clear when he turned into the main cavern.

He stepped in, his gaze finding Sabella immediately.

Someone had hit her. Her cheek was bruised, blood still marred her nose. Her gray eyes were dark with anger. And fear.

The cavern was large enough. She was tied to a small cot, her wrists cuffed to the metal frame, though she had been left sitting.

Across the room Mike Conrad grinned back at him. He hadn’t bothered to cover his face. Sienna sat between his splayed legs, playing with the ends of her hair as she stared back at him maliciously.

“All that leather just looks hot,” she drawled. “Come on, Mike, let me make him fuck me before you go hunting. That illegal ass you kidnapped last month did it. His wife cried so pitifully. I want to see Belle cry while her lover fucks me. Just like her husband did.”

Noah had never touched her. There had always been something about Sienna that just put him off. There had been no challenge. No sense of depth.

“Strip.” He shrugged, staring back at her. “I have time if you do.”

Head games. He knew head games.

She pouted and sniffed. “Not on your life. You’re probably diseased after fucking that heifer.” She nodded to Sabella.

He lifted his shoulder negligently and turned to Mike.

This had once been his friend. Strange, he’d never seen the bloodthirstiness in Mike’s eyes before now. What had changed? What had changed him?

Mike grinned. “As you can see, she’s alive. She’s not very talkative though.”

He glanced over at her as he felt the tracker on his right shoulder heat. He shook his head at the setup, looking around again.

Mike and Sienna watched him, obviously less than pleased at his reaction.

“I told you the bastard wasn’t as easy to intimidate as you thought he was.”

Noah didn’t tense. He didn’t turn. He stood still, relaxed. Yeah, he knew that voice. Gaylen Patrick. He waited long seconds before turning just enough to see the other man.

He waddled in, his thick lips creasing into a smile, followed by the shorter, trimmer form of Federal Judge Carl Clifford and the paunchy Marshal Kevin Lyle.

“Quite a little group,” Noah drawled.

Smug satisfaction filled Patrick’s beady hazel eyes.

“Yeah, we have some pretty good boys that like to play.” He walked over to Mike and Sienna. When he reached out and twisted one of her hard nipples she moaned like a bitch in heat and leaned into him.

Camp whore. Damn, he just hadn’t seen this one coming.

“I want a minute with Sabella alone.” He stared at Patrick, aware of who was running this show.

“Why would I do that?” Patrick stared back at him in amusement.

Noah smiled. The smile of a man with more confidence, more ability, than those around him suspected. And Patrick’s eyes gleamed at the challenge.

“This is a hunt?”

“Boy, we’re gonna be hunting you.” Gaylen laughed. “If you can keep your ass alive until dawn, then we’ll just put a bullet in your heads. We won’t rape her and we won’t make you watch if you’re still alive. Real simple. You get caught before dawn, or dead. Then she’s a nice little plaything, just like that female agent was.”

Noah nodded and held his smile. “You’ll want a real challenge then.”

“We love a challenge,” he chortled.

“Give me a minute alone with her. I’ll give you your challenge.” He let his voice lower, let the monster inside him echo in his voice.

Sienna shivered as though in arousal. “If you catch him before dawn, do I get to rape her first?”

Gaylen stared at her, rather like a man stared at his favorite pet.

“We’ll hold her for you,” he promised before turning back to Noah.

“You think you’re a challenge, do you?”

His brow arched. “You’ll never catch me.”

Gaylen grinned. “Other men have made that promise.”

“I’m not other men.” He was already a dead man, and he knew who was going to die tonight.

Gaylen’s fat lips widened before he nodded shortly. “You have three minutes. I’m gonna be nice about it. Let you kiss her real sweet before she gets to listen to you die.”

He nodded to the radio set up in the corner of the cavern. “She’ll get to listen to you scream like a pig.”

Noah just stared back at him.

The old bastard laughed before wrapping his arm around Sienna’s shoulders. “Come on, sugar. You can blow me before we head out.”

She giggled like the damned cheerleader she had been in school.

Noah moved to Sabella. Knees bending, he hunched down in front of her and cupped her cheeks. Tears filled her eyes. And for just a second Noah allowed himself to feel.

He went past the rage that threatened to overwhelm his control. He went past the murderous fury at the thought of how frightened she was. And there, tucked into his soul, was the love he had felt for Sabella since the moment he had seen her.

She had strode into his garage, her smile flashing in the sunlight, her eyes mysterious and watchful. He’d had eyes for no other woman since that day.

He leaned close, his forehead against hers, and smiled back at her confidently.

“They’ll die,” he promised her, every one one of them.

Her lips trembled and more tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Be ready.” He kept his voice low, for her ears only. “Stay low. Don’t anger them.”

She nodded jerkily, her eyes locked on his, fear, fear for him, filling them.

“It’s going to be okay, baby.”

She nodded again and when her lips trembled this time, he wanted to kiss them. He wanted to cover them, to ease her past that fear for just a moment. It was a need he couldn’t afford. Kissing Sabella would strip him down to that final, darkened core where hunger pulsed in an eternal need. Just for her.

“Noah—” He put his finger over her lips.

“Nothing will happen to you. I swear it on what little is left of my soul, Sabella. Nothing will happen to you.”

“Rory?”

“Safe.”

She nodded again.

Noah smoothed a tear from beneath her eye then brought his thumb to his lips and let the salty taste of her pain and her fear harden the icy core of rage.

“Who hit you?” He wanted to know who to kill first.

“Sienna.”

And he nodded. He touched her lips with his thumb, touched her hair then drew back slowly as Mike stepped back into the room.

He rose to his feet, the sound of her muffled sob raking over the ice inside him. Hardening it. Colder. Icier. There was no flame. Nothing hot or fierce burning inside him. This was death.

He turned back to Mike.

“So, are we gonna go play, or are you too busy getting blown next?”

Mike’s eyes narrowed before his gaze flicked to Sabella. “When you die, I’m going to stretch her out and come in her mouth. She’ll die swallowing me.”

Noah grunted. “Let’s cut the shit here, Conrad. Let’s get moving.”

He headed to the entrance. He left Sabella behind him. For now. Just for now. And the look he gave Mike was a promise. He would be one of the first to die.

Killing him would be incredibly easy. He’d known that when he first arrived back and saw the drunken abuse the other man had heaped on her. He had trusted his family, his friends, to watch out for the woman who was his life.

As they entered the narrow entrance Noah watched as Gaylen Patrick moved from deeper inside the cavern. His face was flushed. Expression smug.

“Doesn’t take you long to blow, does it?” he observed mockingly.

Patrick glared back at him. “Boy, I’m going to enjoy killing you.”

The monster lifted its head inside him. Icy, murderous determination infused him. It wasn’t a surge of adrenaline. It was a surge of intent. A hard, brutal core of calculated deliberation.

Noah grinned. “Funny. I was thinking the same thing about you.”

 

Sabella lowered her head and fought her tears. Her body ached from the abuse she had suffered. Her shoulders, her legs and hips, her upper back. So far, Sienna hadn’t gone for her stomach.

Was the pregnancy too early for a blow to her stomach to hurt her child? God help her if Sienna learned she was carrying Noah’s child.

The other woman was insane.

Sabella stared across the room as the psychotic imitation of her best friend played with Mike Conrad. Rubbing at his crotch, letting him bury his head in her cleavage. They were all but fucking in front of her. And they had no idea what they had unleashed when they had taken her.

Sabella had seen it though. In his eyes. The flecks of green in the blue were artificial. There was no green in Noah’s eyes. But the blue. The blue had been like ice lit from inside with a cold, brutal flame.

There had been no rage, no fury. Just calculated death.

Those weren’t her husband’s eyes. Whatever had happened to him during his imprisonment with Diego Fuentes had changed him. Changed him in ways that sent a shiver up her spine. Six years ago, her husband hadn’t had that hard core of icy rage inside him. It was there now. There was death in his eyes now.

Sweet Jesus, he was going to kill tonight. She knew it. She had seen it in his eyes. Not that every damned one of the bastards involved in this didn’t deserve to die. They were so confident. They had killed for so long that they didn’t even care if they let their victims see their faces. They were that certain of themselves and had succeeded for so long in these hunts they conducted.

“Poor little Belle,” Sienna crooned in a mimicry of compassion as she moved across the room.

The other woman gripped Sabella’s jaw and jerked her head up. Her green eyes glittered with excitement, with almost maniacal pleasure.

“Poor Rick,” Sabella whispered. “He loved you, Sienna.”

Not that Sienna appeared to care. She rolled her eyes.

“Bastard hasn’t touched me in over two years,” she huffed, her lips thinning. “The only reason he even still lives in the house with me is because I have just enough on him to make him wary.”

She released Sabella’s jaw and plopped down on the cot beside her. Sienna leaned back as Sabella shifted, protecting her side and her stomach by pushing herself farther into the corner of the wall.

“I’ve so wanted to tell you what a weak-kneed little bitch you are.” Sienna giggled. “Crying for your lost Nathan. Haunting that house of his like a damned ghost.” She lifted her nails and checked them carefully before looking up at Sabella. “I fucked him in your bed, you know.”

No. She hadn’t. Nathan would have never fucked another woman, especially Sienna. And Sabella would have known if he had.

But she lowered her head, let the other woman think she had gotten her jibe in.

“You are so fucking boring,” Sienna breathed out in irritation. “Come on, Belle. Admit it. You’re sick because you know I fucked your husband. I’d have fucked your little punk biker, but I bet he doesn’t even have a dick.”

Mike chuckled across the room as he moved to the equipment on the table in the corner.

“I want him to watch while I rape you,” Sienna breathed as Sabella glared back at her from beneath the cover of her lashes. “I’m going to love raping you, Sabella. I’ll laugh and bite you.” Sienna shivered in longing. “I’ll make you scream and beg your Noah to save you.”

“You won’t have the chance,” Sabella told her softly. “He’s going to kill you, Sienna.”

Sienna licked her lips lustfully. “No one has survived a hunt, Belle. Your biker won’t last an hour. Then.” She leaned forward, gripping Sabella’s chin with enough force to bruise. “I’m going to strap on my dildo, and they’re going to hold you down while I gut you. I’m going to rip into that pussy Nathan and that biker thought was so damned good and let him watch while you scream.”

Sabella shook her head. “No, Sienna. You won’t have the chance to hurt me in front of him. You won’t even know when he returns. All you’ll know is death.”

She had seen death in Noah’s eyes. Whatever had happened to him, whatever group he was a part of, they were ready for this, and she knew it.

Sienna smirked, then before Sabella could jerk back, smashed her lips onto hers.

Gagging, furious, Sabella jerked back, and before she could stop herself, she slammed her head into the other woman’s face.

Sienna’s shriek of rage was followed by another blow to Sabella’s face.

Lights exploded in front of her eyes again, the agony of the other woman’s fist to her cheek sending screaming, white-hot pain lancing through her body.

But Sienna jumped from the bed and flounced off to Mike. He was laughing. He pulled the other woman to him and stroked her hair, kissing her abused cheek.

“My poor little slut,” he crooned. “It’s okay. When we’re done with her, you can blow all of us. Suck her blood right from our dicks.”

And Sabella saw the little shudder of pleasure that whipped through Sienna. God. She was insane. Somewhere, somehow, Sabella had missed the fact that the woman pretending to be her best friend was certifiable. It was no wonder Nathan had never seemed to like the idea of their friendship.

She inhaled roughly, tasted the blood in her mouth again, and forced back the sickness rising inside her. Noah would come back. And when he did, he’d make certain tonight was no more than an unpleasant memory.


Chapter 29

They didn’t take him far from the canyon for the hunt to start. The militia members were masked, and they brought him a running buddy. How nice of them.

Chuck Leon had seen better days, no doubt. His face was swollen, his leg had a tourniquet tied around it. Hell, he’d have to take care of this before he returned to the canyon.

“What kind of shape are you in?” he asked the other man as they stood in the middle of a small valley.

Noah looked around. It was bisected by a stream and several deep gullies. He hadn’t seen the other members of the team yet, but with the militia wearing night vision, he knew he wouldn’t.

Cottonwood and pines grew strategically, thick in areas, thin in others.

“Bad shape.” Chuck shifted on his good leg. “They always hunt more than one. They like a quick kill and a challenge. I guess I’m the quick kill, huh?”

There was fight left in him though. His hazel eyes glittered with anger.

“Piece of advice,” Noah told him quietly. “Get rid of the mad. Use your head and watch your ass.”

Chuck shook his head. “We’re going to be sitting ducks out here.”

Noah didn’t say anything more. He watched as other vehicles moved in. There were a dozen vehicles, more than double that in men. A small group. They hadn’t branched out to let anyone into their little pack that they didn’t implicitly trust.

“Do you have a plan?” Chuck grimaced as Noah bent and checked the tourniquet on the other man’s leg.

“I always have a plan.”

“Mind letting me in on it?”

Noah grunted. He didn’t trust anyone with Sabella’s life, especially an unknown agent.

“Head for the gully, jump in, and run north.” One of the team would be close enough to pull him out. “You might live.”

The agent stared at him in disbelief. “You’re kidding, right?”

He stared back at Chuck coldly. “Do I look like I’m kidding?”

“Jesus.” Chuck tunneled his hands through his hair. “Okay. Hit the gully and go north.”

“And don’t stop. This gully runs into another gully and then heads to the main road. If you’re not stopped, just keep truckin’.”

The team might let him pass and head to town for help. Hell if Noah knew what they would do. But he had seen the brush moving, waving a little too hard for the wind blowing through the valley, at the edge of the ravine. There was another sign of the Elite unit in the gully that headed back toward the canyon Sabella was being held in.

That was where Noah intended to head. Let the bastards think he and Chuck were going to make it easy for them. The team would play with them until Noah could get to Sabella and get her out of there. Once she was safe, Noah was going hunting himself.

“Looks like they’re all here.” Chuck’s voice was resigned, but it vibrated with determination now.

He was young, but he was game. Noah nodded as Gaylen Patrick got out of the powerful four-by-four he was in. Night-vision goggles covered his eyes. High-tech rednecks, he thought mockingly.

“Ready, boys?” Patrick chuckled, his thick lips stretched wide, like a maniacal clown as he waddled over to them.

Noah slipped his thumbs beneath his belt and activated the tracker there. He’d waited. He’d been searched, his chaps and jacket removed, but that was okay. He could function without them just as well as he could function with them.

He stared back at Gaylen, the green aura that transposed over the other man from the contacts he wore didn’t take away from the pure evil glittering in the man’s eyes.

“You have a ten-minute head start. Run wherever the hell you want to.” He chuckled. “We like to make things interesting. We’ll give you ten minutes then head out for you.”

Ten minutes. Noah felt the amusement welling within him. Stupid motherfuckers. They were giving him ten minutes?

“We usually give our prey a little longer,” Gaylen announced amid the laughter that echoed around him. “But we just plain don’t like you. So we’re going to make it harder for you.”

Noah looked out over the valley. Half an hour wouldn’t seem like much, unless a man knew the area as well as Noah did. He’d played in the national park, camped in it, hunted in it. He knew it like the back of his hand. Half an hour would have seen him well on his way to the Malone ranch. Ten minutes would see him almost back to Sabella’s location.

“You don’t talk much, do you, boy?” Gaylen observed in amusement. “Savin’ your breath, are you?”

Noah smiled. It wasn’t in amusement, and for the first time, Gaylen was beginning to look just a little nervous.

Gaylen grunted, irritated now as he looked at the face of the watch he wore. “Ten minutes, cocksuckers. Get moving.”

Chuck hobbled at a near run for the gully. Noah stood and stared back at Gaylen as the other man lifted his brow and laughed in his face.

“Watch your back,” he told Gaylen. “Watch it close. Because I’ll be there.”

Gaylen laughed as Noah turned, stared around at the unlit vehicles, and hoped to hell Tehya was able to track some of the bastards with the satellite. They needed proof. Just in case he let one of them live.

Then he ran. Less than ten minutes. He needed to get to the gully and prayed to God the team had had time to get in place.

He could feel the sights on his back. Someone wasn’t going to wait. He could feel it. He dug his feet into the hard clay dirt and pushed harder, running for the gully and throwing himself into it as the first shot rang out.

The bullet sliced across his bicep and stung like hell. The flesh wound was going to bleed like a son of a bitch. He hit the rocky gully hard, the heavy stones that filled the dry ravine bit into his ribs, a barely noticeable pain before he was on his feet and moving along the shallow crease in the land.

He could hear the laughter behind him, engines gunning, the roar of a dirt bike or two. They were fully loaded, technologically advanced, and well planned. They had done this time and time again. This would be their last time.

“Gotcha.”

Nik caught him as he rounded the ravine five minutes later.

“Hold in place. Clint is moving ahead and jumping the gully into the trees as they start moving. Reno is imitating Leon and Macey is pulling him out of harm’s way. We have you covered.”

“I have to get back to the cavern.” He flicked an irritated glance to where Nik was tying off the wound with camo bandaging.

“Weapons.”

A rifle was shoved in his hand then a handgun. He tucked the smaller weapon into his belt and cradled the large one.

“Knife.” Motors were revving as Nik handed over his own Russian-made military dagger.

“They put more guards on the canyon,” Nik told him. “You have five to take out. I can’t cover you there but Jordan and the sheriff are moving on that position. They’re a little behind schedule. Seems there were some added eyes posted at the road leading out here. They had to slip around them.”

“Get that fucking agent out of here.” Noah accepted the information as he heard a horn sound behind them.

Whoops sounded and vehicles were moving out.

“Comm.” Nik shoved an earpiece in his ear, leaving Noah to adjust it.

He could hear the team now.

“Wild card in place,” he said carefully.

His code name, the mission code name, and the source they were after. That source was Sienna, and killing a woman wasn’t a preferred action, but what he had seen in that cavern wasn’t a woman. It was a disease.

“Wild card move and secure ladybird.” Reno’s command came through the earpiece. “All sources in place and pulling from your position.”

“Go.” Nik slapped him on the back, picked up his own weapon and moved out.

Staying under cover wouldn’t be easy. He had to work his way through the shallow gully back to the canyon and then along the cliff wall without being seen. The point was to keep the majority of the militia in the field as a few took out the command center.

Jordan and Noah were the few, and Jordan was running behind.

“Wild card, eye in the sky has you,” Tehya said into the link. “You have two bogies coming up, thirty-five meters to your left, twenty-two to your right. Proceed with caution.”

Noah stayed down, using the vocal directions Tehya laid out as the background chatter and directions given by Reno and Clint pounded in his brain.

“Cycle one down,” Clint reported, his voice filled with glee despite the quiet nature of his voice.

Noah slid out of the ravine under cover of the pine and juniper growing along the bank. The bogies were behind him. On his stomach, he crawled the distance to the next pass, making certain to keep covered.

Once he reached the cliff face he was on his feet, crouched and working his way behind the cover of boulders, trees.

“Bogie in the cliff,” Tehya reported. “I have heat across the canyon, positioned to spy your direction. Use extreme prejudice if needed.”

Kill if needed.

Not yet. He wanted everyone in that cave nice and complacent.

“I need distraction,” he murmured.

There was silence on the line.

“Distraction coming in.” Micah’s voice came across the line. “Be ready to move.”

There was a flash of movement at the mouth of the canyon.

Noah watched as the sentry turned, shifting position and allowing Noah to slip into the mouth of the cave.

“Insertion achieved.” Tehya reported his position to the group.

“Clint, twelve meters to your left, duck and cover,” Kira directed. “Ian, slide that hot ass of yours out of the way, you have a bogie moving in.”

“Hot ass?” Reno’s voice was muffled amusement. “New code name?”

There was muffled laughter in his ear as Noah edged through the narrow entrance and into the natural hall that had been carved through the inside of the cliff.

The contacts adjusted slowly as he made his way toward the command center. He could hear the radio squawking, reports coming in. Like the team Noah was with, each man in the militia hunting party was wearing a personal communications device.

They were tracking two “prey.” Whooping and yelling when they disappeared then cackling in glee as they reappeared.

“They’re giving us a run, boys,” the judge yelled in fanatical pleasure. “Woo-wee. We’re gonna run their asses down.”

“This is taking too long,” Sienna bitched, her voice strident and filled with displeasure. “Gaylen said it would go fast and we could have fun.”

Mike laughed at her statement, but Noah could hear the nervousness in it.

“They usually catch one of them by now,” Sienna snapped. “Come on, Mike. Just hold her down. I won’t hurt her too bad, I promise. I’ll just show her how good I can be.”

There was a whine in Sienna’s voice.

“She doesn’t look so agreeable.” But there was lust in Mike’s voice. “If I do that, Sienna, you gotta help me hold her mouth open while I come in it.”

“Oh yes,” Sienna hissed.

Sabella was silent. He could hear her breathing, hard, rough.

“Oh, I wish that Noah Blake could hear her once we start making her scream,” Sienna drawled.

Noah palmed the dagger Nik had given him with one hand, cradled the rifle in the other arm.

“Jordan and Sheriff Grayson are moving in. Be advised, wild card, you have friendlies coming in,” Tehya reported.

“Sienna, don’t do this. Don’t make Noah kill you.”

He heard her voice then. It struck through his soul with the fear in it.

“Keep begging me,” Sienna panted then. “Oh yeah, Bella, I want you to beg while I eat your pussy and Mike comes down your throat.”

Noah didn’t think so.

He stepped into the cave.

Mike had a single second to whip around with the gun he was holding. Noah let the knife fly, burying it in his shoulder as Sienna screeched and came flying at him.

Sienna was easy. He didn’t even have to put any power in the punch to her jaw and she went down. But when she fell she tangled in his feet and Mike came roaring at him.

He’d torn the dagger from his shoulder, rage burned in his brown eyes, flushed his face. And he could fight. He and Nathan had always sparred together. The other man might have gained some paunch, but he was maddened, enraged. Noah felt the gun at his back slip out to the floor in a distant part of his mind.

Mike’s arms wrapped around Noah, threw him into the cavern wall as he heard Sabella’s cry echo through the stone room.

He took the first blow to his kidney, let Mike land another in his stomach, then he moved. He threw his elbow into the other man’s throat, knocked him back. Mike’s gutter-fighting abilities had improved. He threw a kick back that Noah dodged, but the pure rage in Mike was nothing compared to the cold brutal ice that filled Noah.

He ducked, rolled, gripped the fallen knife in his hand, and as Mike came back at him, Noah wrapped one arm around the other man’s shoulders and felt the crunch, the slice of the blade as it pierced Mike’s chest and ripped into the heart.

Mike froze. His eyes widened as he stared back at Noah.

“Nathan Malone,” Noah whispered back, just loud enough for Mike. “I warned you, years ago. Don’t touch what’s mine.”

Something flickered in Mike’s eyes then. Regret. Fear. He wasn’t certain. Mike’s hand lifted, his lips formed his name as blood dribbled from the corners and he slid slowly to the floor.

Where Noah faced Sienna and the gun she held on him.

“I’ve killed before.” Her nose was bleeding, her green eyes were deranged.

Drugs. He could see it now, saw the evidence of it. Fucking junkie.

“I don’t want to kill you, Sienna.” He was aware of Sabella, pressed into the corner of the wall, watching the scene in fear and pain.

What he had put her through, no woman should have to experience. His death. His return as another man. Seeing everything that she believed was safe and secure in her world falling apart around her.

“But I want to kill you, Noah Blake.” She sneered, sniffed as tears fell from her eyes. “You killed Mike.” She grimaced then screamed. “Where the fuck will I get my coke from now, you son of a bitch?”

He shook his head. “Prison beats dead, Sienna.”

She sneered at that. “And wouldn’t the high-and-mighty fuck-turd Rick just love seeing me in prison. That son of a bitch. He’s going to be next and he just doesn’t know it. You won’t get out of here.” She waved the gun for emphasis.

Noah heard the comm activate at his ear. “Deck be appraised, command center compromised. Take out objects.”

Noah’s lips tightened.

From the radio at the corner the first gunshot sounded.

Sienna’s eyes widened.

“Fuck! Fuck! Where did they come from? Where did they come from?”

Terror filled her face. The gun shook in her hand.

“I’ll kill you!” she screamed back at Noah.

“You have a one-shot chance,” he told her, opening his arms. “Go for it.”

She smiled, coke-bright eyes glittering as she turned the gun on Sabella. Sabella’s fear raged through the room, silent, filled with the rasps of her breath, the terror she was holding inside.

Noah tensed, jumped as the shot rang out and Sabella screamed. And Noah cried out, “Bella.”

He landed against her, driving her back against the wall, tightening in preparation for the bullet that didn’t come.

He jerked around to see Jordan and Rick Grayson in the entrance. Rick’s weapon was drawn, and Sienna lay stretched out on the floor, blood massing beneath her neck.

The sheriff stared down at his wife, his face expressionless, his eyes dead, as he bent and picked up the rifle Noah had dropped. He turned and left the cavern as Noah quickly cut Sabella’s bonds.

“Noah. Oh God. Noah.”

His arms were around her, holding her to his heart.

“I knew you’d be here,” she whispered, her fingers digging into his chest, holding on to him as he closed his eyes against the hard core of agony that resonated inside him. “I knew, Noah. I knew you’d be here.”

He kissed the top of her head as Jordan stepped forward.

“Take her home,” he told his uncle.

Jordan nodded. “Rory’s there too, and Grandpop. I’ll stay with her.”

“No!” She jerked back, stared up at him.

Her eyes were like thunderclouds. He’d never seen them like that. Shock and fear filled them. Her face was paper white. Her body shuddering.

“Don’t you leave me!” She gripped his shirt and tried to shake him, tears falling from her eyes. “Don’t you leave me, Noah.”

His head lowered. He touched her lips with his and knew this woman held the best part of him. The memories of the husband he had been, the man he had been. He couldn’t destroy that. He refused to.

He pushed her to Jordan slowly, loath to let her go. To release her. Knowing that releasing her was the only way to save the memories she held.

“Don’t you leave me!” She screamed the order, eyes blazing, her lips trembling as tears fell and hysteria threatened to overwhelm her. “If you leave me, Noah Blake. If you don’t come back when this is over, don’t bother coming back at all.”

He touched her cheek. Ran his thumb over her lips. “You’re the best part of me,” he whispered. “Always remember that, Sabella. The very best part of me.”

Before she could grab him, hold him to her, he pulled away, grabbed one of the rifles Mike had laid on the table across the room, and left.

Nik was wounded and the militia members were scattering like rats on a sinking ship. It was time to contain them. It was time for death to take its toll, and Noah was the hand that would deal the devil’s deck.

He strode from the cavern, her sobs in his head. He shouldn’t have had to hear her crying for him. It sliced through his senses, through his control, but not the ice that filled him. Every man in the militia Gaylen had brought together had threatened his wife. Risked her life. Risked her world. They wouldn’t have the chance to do it again.

 

Sabella let the tears stop. She pulled out of Jordan’s arms and stared at Mike Conrad’s and Sienna’s dead bodies. The cave stank of death, of blood. She pressed her hand to her stomach, to her child.

“Take me home.”

Noah had left and a part of her knew he wasn’t coming back. She wanted out of here. She didn’t want her child exposed to this scent, to the atrocities that had been committed in this cave, any longer. She swore she could hear the screams of the innocent people who had died here recently.

Sienna lay in her own blood. Her slender body was stretched out on her stomach, her long hair covering her face. Sabella knew she would have to deal with the fallout on this one soon. She had loved Sienna like a sister. Trusted her.

“Sabella.” Jordan said her name softly. “You can’t talk about this.”

She held her hand up, silencing him. “I know the line. I was married to a SEAL. Remember?”

Jordan nodded slowly.

“I don’t know shit,” she whispered tearfully. “Not a damned thing. Now take me home, Jordan. Take me home before I lose my mind.”

From the radio the screams of the dying could be heard. Orders to run, to ambush, curses and cries echoed through the cave as Jordan gripped her arm and they made their way out.

Outside, firelight flickered in the distance. Gunfire. The echo of shots sounded, overly loud, causing her to flinch as Jordan helped her into the black SUV he and Rick must have arrived in.

She stared into the night as she buckled up. She held on and rocked with the vehicle as Jordan raced from the canyon. He was barking commands, though she couldn’t see a radio. She glimpsed an insert at his ear though.

“Nik, get your ass out of there,” Jordan was ordering. “I don’t give a shit if you’re a reincarnated berserker. Haul ass!” Then he cursed.

Nik. Her mechanic. She crossed her arms over her stomach and turned her face to the window beside her. And she cried. As they hit the small dirt road that led back to the main interstate, she let her tears fall, and she let the past go.

Her husband was dead. The man in his place wasn’t coming back. She had seen it in his eyes, felt it in his touch. But this time, Sabella wasn’t alone.

She touched her stomach, closed her eyes. This time, she had a part of that love to hold on to. Their child.


Chapter 30

Jordan took her home.

Sabella waited in the living room, curled up in the same chair she had sat in the day Jordan and Reno had arrived to tell her of Nathan’s death.

She wasn’t crying. Her head was pillowed in the corner of the wingback, Grandpop Rory had wrapped a quilt around her then pulled his chair close to her and held her hand.

For hours he just sat there. Until Jordan and Rory went into the kitchen and the silence stretched between them.

Finally, Grandpop sighed deeply. His age-ravaged face was filled with sadness, with grief, as he patted her hand.

She lifted her eyes to him. Blue eyes. Wild Irish blue eyes. She wondered if she would ever be free of them.

“He loves you,” he said softly. “He always loved you, girl. From the day you showed up here, till the day he came back.”

Her lips parted in shock as he made a little shushing motion. “We’ll not tell them.” He nodded to the other room. “They know, but what we know is between us. Right?”

She blinked back her tears.

“When I lost my Erin, I couldn’t go with her.” His voice became hoarse, tear filled. “I felt her death in every corner of my soul. But I had Nathan and Rory, and Grant, well, he changed over the years, I guess. Someone had to watch over my boys.”

A sob caught and locked in her voice. “He’s not coming back.” And it hurt. It hurt until she was a mass of pain, worse than it had been when she thought he was dead. More all consuming. Ravaging her insides.

He lowered his head. Shook it. Then stared back at her. “He loves you with all his soul. If he’s not coming back, then it’s for you, Bella. Not for him.” He looked to her stomach. “And he left you life. Don’t be bitter, girl. Don’t convince yourself he doesn’t love you. You know better.”

The sob tore free. Grandpop did the same thing he’d done when he came to the house after the notice of Nathan’s death. He rocked her. Wrapped his arms around her and rocked her against the pain before she drew back and shook her head.

She wiped her tears. She had cried for him the first time. She wasn’t crying for him again. Grandpop, in some ways perhaps, was right. Nathan had always had a sharp, very narrow vision of honor. He would leave her to protect her. She had known that ever since she had realized who he was, that he was hiding, pretending to be dead. If it meant her life, or her sadness, he’d take her sadness gladly. Just as she would have.

But she couldn’t pull herself out of the chair. She waited. She waited until the sun rose high overhead. The phone rang and no one answered it. Finally, Rick arrived.

He looked haggard. Years older. Blood stained his clothes and grief etched his face, but his eyes were hollow.

“State and federal agents are on scene rounding everyone up,” he told Jordan. “They’re covering the judge’s involvement in it. He was hustled out of there by the first two agents on scene. The marshal’s dead. They found Gaylen Patrick in a gully, gutted like a fish, and son of a bitch if they didn’t catch Mayor Silbert in the group. Most of the militia is dead. What’s left alive won’t live long. Otherwise there were no other bodies to collect.”

Noah was alive.

“And you?” Jordan asked him. “How much of this will you keep to yourself?”

Rick’s lips tightened. “Sienna and Sabella were kidnapped. Sienna was killed in a rescue attempt. That’s the orders from the feds.” His lips tightened. “What the fuck-ever. Kent doesn’t need to know his mother was a fuckin’ murdering junkie. And I’ll be damned if I can find it in me to give a shit right now.”

Jordan nodded.

Rick turned back to look at her, his shoulders straight, his gaze direct. “I’m damned sorry, Belle. If I’d suspected . . .”

She shook her head. “None of us did, Rick. It’s over. Let’s let it stay over.”

But it wasn’t over. She turned to the mantel and saw the pictures and felt something wither inside her.

“Grandpop. Rory. I want to speak to Jordan alone.”

“Belle.” Grandpop started toward her.

He was stooped and aging, and it broke her heart how he accepted the man his son was, and the deceit of his grandson. Noah, Nathan, he hadn’t told grandpop either. They were losing him all over again.

“Alone, Grandpop,” she whispered. “Just for a minute.”

Rory shook his head as Grandpop sighed. They moved out the front door with Rick. She watched from the wide window as they walked the sheriff to his car.

Sabella turned back to Jordan and walked toward him slowly.

“Where. Is. My. Husband.” She made it simple for him. Said it clearly. Even a simpleton couldn’t mistake the question.

Jordan inhaled roughly. His lips tightened but he stared her in the eyes and he lied to her. “Nathan’s dead, Belle.”

She wasn’t aware of her own clenched fists until she delivered a right hook her father would have been damned proud of.

“Fuck!” Jordan stepped back, shock, disbelief filling his eyes. “Damn, Belle. You hit me.”

“Do I need to ask you again?”

He stared back at her, keeping plenty of distance between them now. He watched her carefully, that edge of Malone calculation in his gaze.

“It won’t change my answer, Belle.”

Her smile was tight. Hard. “Go home. You’re not needed here.”

“Belle.” His protest was low, rough.

He was a damned handsome man, she thought. He resembled Nathan. Just as Rory did. The Malone men were quite simply male perfection. In looks anyway. And he had been her friend. Once.

“My husband has been dead for six years,” she told him. “And he was never the man I thought he was anyway. I don’t need your compassion or your sympathy over another man that never cared enough to stick around either. So leave.”

He started to say something more.

“Get out!” she screamed. “Just go.”

He left.

It took longer to convince Rory and Grandpop to leave. It hurt more to make them go. But finally, the house was silent. She turned the phones off, she locked the doors, and she walked to the mantel. The pictures.

She stared at them, seeing the stranger who had held her and the stranger she had married. They had loved, but they had never known each other, not fully. She had sensed all that darkness roiling in her husband, but he had never shown it to her. And she—she touched his brow in the closest picture. She had been what she thought he needed her to be. She wouldn’t ever be that woman again. Not for him. Not for the man he was now.

As she stared, the fury rose inside her. It bit inside her mind, dug vicious claws into her soul, until she screamed with the rage and the pain that exploded through her.

In one long hard swipe of her arm they crashed to the floor. Glass shattered, flew around her. She pressed her fists to her stomach and let the first sob free. It ripped out of her. It tore through her. It was a howl of agony that echoed through the house and caused the man standing in the doorway to flinch.

Noah felt the ragged pain inside him as though it were his own. Sharper, brighter than any pain Diego Fuentes had ever dealt him.

He watched as she knelt in the middle of that broken glass, lifted the broken frame of their wedding picture, and held it to her breasts as she curled over it.

The sobs were wrenching, torn, desperate, and he couldn’t handle it. He hadn’t been able to handle the pain since the moment he walked from those caves.

He had lost it. Lost control. Lost that icy edge. He had slashed through the militia in a rage so brilliant, so white hot, it had terrified him.

He moved across the room now, still bloodstained. He hadn’t changed clothes. Dirt and blood were caked on him. He smelled of death. Reeked of it. But he hadn’t been able to stay away from her. He hadn’t forgotten the knowledge in her eyes as he walked away from her. Heard her last desperate cry in his ears.

She had known. All along, his Bella had known who he was. And still, she had loved him. She had waited. She had cried and she had fought for him in every way that she knew how.

He bent his knees and crouched down in front of her, staring at the past, destroyed in front of his eyes.

Her head lifted, tears streaked her pale face, fury burned inside her.

“Six years,” she sobbed accusingly. “Six fucking years. Where were you?”

He stared at her, at the pictures, and he knew the truth for himself. “Nathan truly died, Sabella. The only part left living was his love for you.”

Not he was dead. Or her husband was dead.

Sabella heard the quiet acceptance in his voice, the resignation. And in part, he was right. The man he had been had changed. Changed drastically, but he was still the man she loved.

“But that part of him is here,” she whispered. “Has always been here.”

She couldn’t stop the sobs, the tears, the agony. “And that part was alive inside me. No matter the name, Noah, no matter who or what you want to call yourself, that part of you has always been with me.”

His hands hung between his bent knees, his hair was tangled, dusty, and fell over the savage angles of his face like a fall of worn silk.

His eyes were wilder, darker than they had been before he disappeared. His face sharper. His brows were the same. His lower lip a little thinner. But he was still her Irish. He was still her husband.

He looked at the pictures and finally lifted another of them together. He held it out to her. “This man,” he said gently. “Nathan Malone didn’t know the darkness, Sabella. He didn’t know the hell other men could inflict. He didn’t know the monster that lived under his own skin.”

She shook her head.

“Listen to me, baby. The man you married didn’t kill first. He didn’t go after blood on a mission. He pulled his punches, he tried to be fair. Until he was forced to spend nineteen months pumped up on hell’s own mix of drugs. All he had to do was break his marriage vows to find death. To escape it. All he had to do was fuck whatever they brought him, and he would have known peace.”

Shock and disbelief brought her mind to a stop.

Noah sighed heavily. “I was a SEAL, but I was also one of the few used for extreme high clearance missions. I knew things. They thought if they could force me to break my vows, then the rest of my honor would fall by the wayside.” He shook his head at the thought. “They brought women that looked like you. That could mimic your pretty Southern accent. But I always knew. I knew; I would look at them and in my head, I’d come here.” He looked around the room, his expression heavy, filled with pain. “I saw through your eyes. I felt your pain. Your love. And went mad from the agony. But you were seeing through me too, weren’t you, Bella?”

Bella. He called her Bella. Not Sabella, rife with hunger and pain. But Bella, as he had called her before.

“I knew,” she whispered tearfully. “I called Jordan, and he lied to me.” Her lips trembled. “And you lied to me, Noah.”

He shook his head. “I never lied to you.”

“You told me you were dead,” she cried out furiously. “Stared me in the eye, and lied to me.”

“Bella. Nathan Malone is dead.” He caught her shoulders, shook her.

“No!” she screamed back. And she couldn’t hit him. She wanted to, and she couldn’t.

“Look at me,” he yelled. “Look at me, Bella. What happened killed the man you loved. All that’s left is this. The man you see now. The name I carry now. Anything else is not possible.”

“No!” She pulled away from him, stumbled to her feet, and shook with the rage pounding through her. “The name might be dead, but you are not dead. You weren’t just a SEAL,” she cried. “You weren’t just a friend, or just a son or a grandson or brother. You weren’t just a warrior.” She clenched her fists, pressed them to her stomach as the agony welled through every cell of her body. “You are my husband. My lover. And you hid that from me, Noah. I had the dark passion you hid from me while we were married, and I saw the ferocity of the man who would protect me in those mountains. It doesn’t matter if your name is Nathan, Noah, or Hey Fucking You, you are my lover. My soul. My heart. And by God, you are not dead. Because if you were.” Her lips trembled. “If you were, then I’d be dead. Don’t you know that? Don’t you see that? If the man that loved me was gone, then I’d be ashes now. Not standing here screaming at a moron with more pride than good sense.”

Noah felt his heart unclench. He felt something dark, something nearly rabid in his soul, finally shudder as it eased. He rose slowly to his feet and stared back at his wife, seeing all that strength. Seeing the woman who had always watched him with what he knew now was a touch of amusement. Because she had known, he had no idea that she was so much more than he realized. But she had always known him. Had always sensed the darkness. Had always sensed the pride that he had in overabundance.

“You always knew,” he said then. “Didn’t you?”

“I always knew you,” she cried angrily, swiping the tears from her face and staring at him scathingly. “Big tough SEAL. You would walk into this house as though nothing existed in it until you entered the door. Lord of your domain. The big warrior who could fix everything.” She sniffed. “How often did you have to fix anything?”

He never had. Sometimes, he swore she had to think of things to do, and he had accused her more than once of hiring people to fix things he was certain should have needed fixing.

“Bella.” He shook his head. “You were always my soul.”

“Except for eighteen months.” She sneered. “Where were you?”

“Recovering. Retraining.”

“Alone.” Her finger poked into his chest, dug in. “Without me.”

Without her.

God, his hands were shaking. He was staring into her face and he wasn’t looking at a woman willing to forgive and forget.

Noah swallowed tightly. Had he waited too long? Christ, no. He couldn’t consider that. He hadn’t waited too long. Made mistakes, yes. She would forgive mistakes. She would have to.

“I love you, Bella,” he whispered.

The look she gave him caused him to wince. Feminine fury, disbelief, and intolerance. Fuck.

“Why?” she snapped. “Why did you wait?”

“Because I was a mess,” he said simply. “A hard-on-packing, ignorant fool too fucking scared to have his wife see him weak,” he snarled. “Is that so fucking hard for you understand?”

“Weak, my ass,” she yelled back. “You were probably a son of a bitch railing and growling at everyone and everything in sight.”

His lips almost twitched and he should have been raging now.

“You think I wanted to rage at you?” he bit out instead.

“It was my right.” She was back in his face. “Do you hear me, Noah? My fucking right to put up with it. And to do it gladly. You bastard!” He caught her fist, stared at it. His eyes narrowed.

“Sabella, you’re not allowed to hit,” he reminded her carefully, staring into her bruised little face, her thunderous gaze.

God, he loved her. Wanted to go to his knees and thank God for her.

“Are you staying?” Her chin lifted. “If not, get the hell out now.”

“Yes!” They were nose to nose now, anger flipping and flaring around them rather than contained as it had always been in their marriage. “By God, you’re not getting rid of me.”

Nose to nose. He’d never gone nose to nose with her. He had brooded, hid in the basement. But maybe he liked this better. Because the arousal was suddenly bursting, burning, whipping through him like the storm raging in her eyes.

“Did I say I wanted to be rid of you?” Hoarse, furious, her voice caressed his senses as nothing else ever had.

“It wouldn’t do you any damned good if you did,” he bit out. “But Malone stays dead, Bella. It’s Blake. Period.”

Her eyes narrowed. “The team you’re a part of? Is that why?”

“We’ll talk why later.” He gripped her arms, jerked her to him. “This is us, Bella. Me and you. He stays dead. Do you hear me?”

She knew her husband. She knew that look in his eyes. This was for their safety, not for his pride.

“The name stays dead,” she amended. “But the man.” Her lips trembled. “The man you are is my soul.”

Two tears ran down her bruised face again. Sienna had died for those bruises. Man or woman, nothing, no one, would risk what was his again.

He cupped her tender cheeks and felt the pressure behind his eyes, the lump in his throat.

“My Bella,” he whispered. “My heart died for you. Every day, every minute. Every second that I thought you believed I was another man. Every second you believed I was dead.”

And her smile lit him, from the inside out. A tremulous, vulnerable smile. “I always knew who touched me,” she whispered. “Only you, Noah. Only you can touch me.” Then she touched his cheek, her fingertips touched his lips. “But you really need a shower first, sailor boy. You reek.”

The laugh that tore from him shouldn’t have surprised him. The surge of love, of pure joy that ripped through him, should have been uncertain, should have been rife with the fears he knew had consumed him for so long. That Sabella couldn’t accept the man he was. That she might regret. That she might see him without those rose-colored glasses he thought she wore.

He realized now, she had never worn the glasses. He had. Deliberately. Because of pride. Because of that fear inside him that he’d lose her. And losing her was his greatest fear.

“Shower with me.” He picked her up, cradled her in his arms. “I’ll wash your back.”

He moved through the broken glass, took the stairs easily, held her to his heart.

“We’ll talk terms later.” She snuggled against him.

“What terms?”

“Marriage terms, Mr. Blake,” she informed him. “Our baby isn’t being born without a marriage. Don’t even consider it.”

Smug satisfaction filled her as he came to a blinding stop in their bedroom. He could feel his eyes widening, feel the panic that bit at his chest.

“What did you say?”

Her smile was female, triumphant. Loving.

“Our baby, Noah. When I went to the doctor yesterday, she told me. Antibiotics and birth control don’t mix, and I just didn’t think.”

He shook his head. “A baby?”

Their baby? Jesus. She was pregnant?

She cupped his jaw, kissed his lips, and whispered, “Our baby, Noah. I’m pregnant, with our baby.”

He set her slowly on her feet.

“I can’t wait to shower.” His cock was pounding. So hard it was brutal. The engorged length felt bruised. Desperate.

“Shower,” she whispered, caught his hand, and led him to the bathroom.

Mindless, in shock, he could only follow. He’d follow her, no matter where she led him.
 

Chapter 31

He was alive. And he was hers.

Sabella stood beneath the shower, staring up at him. She couldn’t stop touching him. His face, his wet hair, his scarred chest, his powerful thighs. The heavy, thick erection that bobbed out from his body. Luscious and wide, dark and delectable.

She let him wash her hair. It was something he had always done years ago. Washed it slow and easy, threading his fingers through it as he conditioned it, kissing her brow, holding her to him. Then he washed her body.

She almost cried as he kissed the bruises on her cheek, whispered how sorry he was. Didn’t he know? It was worth it. It was all worth it to have him with her, to have him alive and touching her.

“I dreamed of you,” he whispered against her lips, holding her face between his hands as the water fell around them. “Every time I closed my eyes, Bella, I saw you as you were the day I left. Teasing me. Laughing at me. I saw you tempting me to take you, one more time, and I ached until the ache nearly destroyed me.”

“I touched you in my dreams.” She touched his lips, caressed his beard. “I kissed you, I held you.”

“You saved me.” His head lowered and the kiss he gave her was more than lust this time, it was more than hunger. It was a homecoming, and her breath caught at the sweet heat of it.

His lips loved hers, made love to them. They stroked and caressed as his tongue licked and slid over hers, tasting her, sinking into her, until Sabella felt lost in the wonder of it.

This was her husband. He hadn’t died. He had been wounded. Perhaps hiding. But the man who loved Sabella Malone was still there, and he was still living proud.

“Bella, if I don’t do you soon, my brain is going to explode.”

His hands were clenched at her waist, his expression tight, honed with the lust he did nothing to hide now.

Well, the dirty talk was new, but she liked that. And she had a feeling that like the naked lust that slipped out of control, the vocalization of it had just been hidden before as well.

Her hand slid down his chest until she could curve her fingers over the thick, iron-hard shaft.

“Hmm. How are you going to do me?” She looked up at him from beneath lowered lashes. “All those threats you’ve made over the past weeks, maybe I should be wary?”

His gaze flared, blue back lit by a fiery blue flame.

“I don’t make threats. I make promises,” he warned her, watching her now with a sensual intent that had her body humming.

He shut off the water before reaching outside the shower and dragging one of the large bath sheets from the towel rack.

“I think you’re all talk,” she breathed out before rasping her teeth over her lower lip and giving him a look that promised she belonged to him. As long as he belonged to her.

He didn’t say a word. He dried them both off. The look in his eyes warned her though. Warned her that the promises that had slipped past his lips over the past weeks were going to be kept.

Her rear clenched at the thought, her juices spilled from between her thighs, creating a hot, sensual, sexy feeling that she couldn’t escape. Didn’t want to escape.

Her husband had always made her feel this way. Like a woman, desirable, earthy, willing to be pleasured. Waiting to be pleasured. But so eager to pleasure in return.

She watched as he dried her. Watched as he knelt in front of her. For just a second, the barest second, his fingers splayed over her lower stomach and his lashes flickered over his eyes.

She wished she could see his eyes. Wished she could see the same hopes and the wellspring of paternal pride she knew he would be feeling. They had always wanted children. But they had always wanted to wait until he would be home more to see their baby grow.

Those thoughts became swamped then. Pleasure whipped through her like lightning gone wild. It sizzled over her nerve endings, attacked her fingertips, her toes, her hard nipples, and the burgeoning knot of her clit.

And he was just kissing her. Kissing the rise of her mound, just above her clit, feathering his breath over her clit and sending erratic, ecstatic impulses of pleasure racing over her flesh.

Her fingers dug into his wet hair as his hands pressed against the inside of her thighs, parting them. Callused hands caressed the flesh there, tested the muscles, came so close to the weeping center of her body that her breath caught. Though he didn’t actually touch her with his hands.

“You’re teasing me to death,” she breathed out roughly.

His only response was a muttered “mmm” as he kissed her clit and nearly threw her into climax. And oh, she needed her climax.

“I love your bare little pussy.” He lifted his head and stared up at her with wicked dark blue eyes. “It gets so wet, your flesh so silky.”

She shivered at the sound of his rough voice.

“I could come real easy too,” she panted, parting her legs further and flushing furiously as he parted the folds of her pussy and just looked at her.

His gaze was almost a physical caress as he stared at her pussy then licked his lips hungrily.

“I’m gonna eat you first,” he growled. “Eat you like candy, Bella. Lick all that sweet, wet sugar and listen to your cries fill my head.”

She was going to melt all over him just like hot, wet sugar if he wasn’t careful. His voice, so rough, so ruined, but that hint of lyrical Irish lurked just beneath the surface.

He straightened, his hands running over the curves of her butt, up her back, curled around her until the tips of her breasts rasped against his chest hair.

She loved that thin sexy growth of curls. Loved the heat and the caress of it against her skin. She shivered, a moan passing her lips at the need that welled inside her. Tipping her head back, she luxuriated in the stroke of his lips over her neck, against the bruises on her face.

“I love you, Bella,” he whispered at her ear, and wrung a cry from her throat as she held on to him, tried to pull him beneath her skin, or burrow beneath his. Which she wasn’t certain.

“My husband.” Her arms wrapped around his neck as his lips took the kiss they both craved.

It was intense, driving, primal, and hungry as he lifted her and carried her to the bedroom. It was a kiss that wiped the past away and left only the future, the present. It was a kiss that tore past boundaries. It was a kiss that opened them both to all the emotions that swirled unchecked between them.

The darkness. Hungers as yet untapped. Eighteen months of brutal memories and dark fantasies. Years of aching loss, and the memory of tender love.

It swirled between them, rocked them, fed the lust surging and gripping until they were eating at each other as Noah fell to the bed with her. Lips and tongues, teeth and hands, they were consuming, hungry, desperate.

They needed. The stark, vicious pain that had consumed her when she thought he wasn’t returning to her still blazed through her soul. The thankfulness, love, the sheer brutal desperation for this one man, back in her arms, drove her.

Drove her until she was sobbing. Until she was holding him, passion edging into such an intensity of emotion that she could let it free. Sob against his chest as she kissed him, loved him, whispered her need.

“Ah Bella.” And he held her. His voice was thick with the same emotion as his arms tightened around her. “Never again, my love. I swear it. Never again. I won’t let you go again.”

She hit his chest. His shoulder. Struck out first in rage, then in need.

“Baby, you gotta stop hitting me.” He gripped her wrists and stretched them above her head as he came over her. “Hitting’s against the rules.”

“So is dying,” she cried. “If you can die on me, then I can hit you when you come back.”

His lips quirked. “If you won’t hit any more, I won’t die any more.”

“Don’t joke about it,” she gasped, fear almost paralyzing her. “Don’t you dare joke about it.”

He kissed her chin.

“I’ll make you forget about it.”

His lips moved over her collarbone, like rough silk, a caress that shouldn’t have stolen her mind, but it did. It moved through her. It sent flames racing across her flesh and had her stretching, arching closer, as his lips lowered.

His lips covered a nipple. Sucked it inside his mouth and electric heat shot to her clit. Sabella gasped, arched. She felt his moan vibrate on the tender peak, and her gaze shimmered from the waves of excessive heat rising inside her.

“Oh. I like that.” She strained against the hold he had on her wrists. “Oh yes, Noah. Just like that. It feels so good. So good.”

He was working her nipple in his mouth, his tongue rasping, his teeth scraping around it as he consumed her, devoured her.

“I want to taste your candy, Sabella,” he breathed, moving down her abdomen. “All that sweet sugar building on your pussy. I love your pussy. I could eat you for hours. Make a fucking meal of you.”

He released her wrists and his head moved between her thighs, his tongue raking through the narrow slit and gathering her juices to it.

He licked, sucked, probed with his tongue and filled her with his fingers. She writhed beneath him, twisted, hungry, desperate as he moved again.

“Stay there.”

She stayed, watching as he went to the leather bag he had brought here days ago and left beneath the side table.

He grinned as he picked it up, opened it, and withdrew a small bottle of lubrication.

Sabella’s breathing picked up. She knew what was coming. She could feel it. Her butt clenched in anticipation and in excitement.

“Roll over,” he ordered her.

She turned slowly as she heard the bag thump back to the floor.

“Raise your ass for me.”

She lifted to her knees, her fingers curling into the comforter as he moved behind her, one hand stroking over her butt cheeks as a murmur of approval passed his lips.

“This is the prettiest ass in the world.”

Sabella moaned as he pressed a kiss at the top of the cleft. His fingers moved between her thighs, eased through the thick, heavy juices that had collected there.

When he touched the hidden entrance beyond, she lost her breath. Nathan had never taken her there before, during their marriage. He had playfully threatened but had never actually gone this far.

He was tired of waiting. She was tired of waiting.

As he caressed her, prepared her, she felt the wildness of hunger building inside her. As if this act would finish something, complete something. As though the submissive position, the need he was building in her, connected them as she had never imagined possible.

He eased her slow and easy. Lay beneath her and licked at the drenched folds of her pussy as his fingers parted her rear, stretched it, prepared it, send a blazing heat burrowing through her body.

Sabella became lost in the hunger.

Pleasure swelled through her as he licked, sucked at her clit then plunged his tongue inside the clenching muscles of her pussy. His fingers worked inside her rear, easing, lubricating her heavily as his other hand caressed, patted, then began landing on the cheeks of her ass in a series of subtle little slaps that had the flesh heating wickedly, erotically.

Sabella never imagined she could enjoy this. Never imagined she could let herself be immersed in her sexuality, in Nathan’s, to the point that she forgot everything. That she needed nothing but the increasingly lustful caresses that her husband gave her.

She was clawing at the blankets when he moved from between her spread thighs. Perspiration dripped from her, dampened her body as sexual tension sang through her system in a rising clash of impulses.

“Christ, I fucking love eating your pussy.” He came over her. “I love fucking that tight pussy, Sabella. But this. This is going to blow us out the roof.”

The head of his cock tucked at her ass.

The gentle strokes of his fingers inside her ass moments before, easing the muscles there as he built the lust burning in her pussy, had relaxed her. Tension whipped through her body, but the tiny opening flared open over the heavy crown of his cock.

Pleasure-pain tore through her as he eased back and forth. He worked the thick length inside her as one arm curled over her hips and his fingers moved over her clit.

Feathery strokes that had her crying out, pushing back.

“There, baby. Take that dick,” he whispered. “All the way inside you, Sabella. I’m dying for you, baby. Dying for this. Give me all of it. All of you.” His voice broke. “All of you, Bella. My sweet Bella.”

She screamed as the head of his cock passed the tight, tense ring of muscles inside her rear. The blinding flash of pleasure bordering on pain nearly had her coming. She creamed instead, covering his fingers with more of her juices as she felt his cock slide in, all the way, filling her, stretching her.

It was primal. Primitive. Sabella couldn’t understand the sensations, the emotions whipping through her, but the acceptance as well as the penetration opened something inside her.

She had always trusted her husband. But until now, she hadn’t realized that trust hadn’t gone soul deep. He hadn’t known her as she knew him. Until now. Now, he would know her. In life. In death. She would never hide from him.

Noah laid his head against Sabella’s, fighting to breathe. Just to breathe. He couldn’t move yet, if he did, he would lose it. He’d pump inside her and lose his soul to her before he ever had a chance to chain hers as well.

God, it was fucking beautiful. He closed his eyes, feeling her muscles flex around him, but he felt something more. Intimacy on a scale he had never known with her before. A knowledge, a certainty, that this one woman was everything, every part of him. The bond he felt inside his own soul all these years had never been complete, and he had been too damned man-stupid to realize it. Until now.

Until this. Until she gave him an entrance inside her that was more than physical. This.

He shifted, moved, and heard her cry of pleasure. This was total acceptance. Total trust. And knowledge.

They were both stripped to the bare bones now, his cock moving inside the sensitive, nerve-rich depths of her rear, and she was taking him, open for him and begging for more.

“Beautiful Bella,” he sighed, lowering his head to kiss her shoulder, her neck. “My Bella.” His voice broke again.

Fuck. He was dying for her. Broken and being reborn inside as he filled her. As she filled his heart, his soul. He could feel the emotions pouring into him, easing the ragged wounds, his fierce pride, his hidden fears.

He moved inside her, easy at first. So easy.

Leaning back, he spread her rear cheeks apart to watch. To watch as he took her, sinking inside her pink flesh and delving into fiery bliss.

“More. More,” she begged, she pleaded. She was screaming out for him and the sound of her pleasure tore through the need for slow and easy. It tore past control, slammed through hidden fears, and he took them both to places he knew they had never reached before.

He rubbed around the hard, swollen bud of her clit. Sweat dripped from his hair, his face, as his hips thrust, stroking his erection deep, hard and she pressed back, crying for him. Crying for more.

“More. Oh God. Noah. Yes. Yes. Take all of me.”

“My Bella.” He groaned her name, shafting harder, his hips pounding against her ass, his balls slapping against her wet flesh as he felt the need to come clenching around his testicles, whipping up his spine.

Sabella exploded first. She tightened, surprised cries, curses, prayers falling from her lips as he felt her fly headlong into ecstasy. And he followed her. He plunged deep, shoved two fingers inside her pussy and set her off again as he felt his cock explode.

His semen filled her. Fierce, shuddering jets of cum spurting inside her, tearing from his soul rather than his balls as he cried out her name.

“My Bella!” His head fell back on his shoulders. One hand clenched her hips, and he didn’t lose himself inside her. He gave himself to her. All of her. Spilling and groaning her name until he collapsed over her.

 

She was asleep when he came to himself. Lying next to her, wrapped around her, he saw her hand, her left hand, ringless against his chest. His left hand was wrapped around her, and he could feel the missing weight of the bond that burned inside him.

He slid from her slowly, grinning as she grouched and flopped on her back, her hand on her stomach almost protective as she continued to sleep.

He strode through bedroom and bathroom first, looking for her wedding band. She had been wearing it the day before when she left with Rory. He remembered her wearing it. But she hadn’t had it on at the caves.

He walked to the kitchen and checked her purse. Organized little Sabella. There it was, tucked into a zippered compartment, the little ring shining bright as a band tightened around his head.

He moved back upstairs, picked up his pants, and pulled his wedding band free before fitting it back on his finger. The outside of the bands were plain. Just gold bands. Sabella hadn’t wanted frills for them. Inside was the Celtic vow, “forever.” Go síoraí.

Inside his were the words “Forever, my soul.” Matching vows. Matching hearts.

He lifted her hand and slid her ring back in place.

His wife.

He tangled his fingers with hers, staring at the sight of her pale, creamy flesh against his own.

His wife.

His gaze drifted to her flat stomach.

His wife and his child.

His hands were shaking as he touched her stomach. Shaking so hard the shudders worked through him, making it hard to breathe, to think.

Jesus. They made a baby!

He stared in shock at her stomach. Then in awe.

He spread his hand over her stomach and felt the tightness in his chest fill his throat, lock behind his eyes.

Then he watched in disbelief the little bead of moisture that dropped to her stomach, shimmered against it.

Tears?

He blinked and another fell.

He felt the slam of emotion. Love, regret, pure blinding God-thanked reverence filling him as he lifted his eyes to his wife’s face, to see her watching him, tears sliding down her darkened cheeks.

The bruises would fade, but this moment in time would always fill his memories.

“Go síoraí,” he whispered, the old lilt to his voice almost, almost, normal as he reaffirmed his vow to her.

“Forever, Noah,” she whispered tearfully, her hand covering his on her stomach, her breath hitching in joy. Not in pain. “Forever, my love.”

 

Epilogue

Four months later, on a blazing September day, Noah pulled his pickup into the graveled driveway of his grandpop’s cabin and stared at the vehicles gathered there with a sense of throttled fury. Grant Malone was there.

“This wasn’t our agreement,” he said coolly, glancing over at her.

The bruises were long gone, but his memory of how close he had come to losing her wasn’t. She sat beside him, her hand on the tiny mound of her stomach as she stared out the windshield thoughtfully.

She finally turned to him, and he saw the determination in her gray eyes. “It’s time, Noah. Grandpop called this meeting, Noah. There’s things he wants us to hear. And we’re going to hear them.”

“With him there?” He stabbed his finger to his father’s ranch truck. “No, Bella. No way. No how.”

He hadn’t visited his father, hadn’t made good on his threat to reach out and enter his nightmares, and he would be damned if he would hold a civilized conversation with him now. He’d asked one thing of him. Protect Sabella. His wife had spent six years with only Rory standing between her and the world. And her own stubborn strength. He wouldn’t forget that.

It was all he could do to bite back his curse. He couldn’t curse in front of the baby when it came so he might as well start practicing now. Right?

Something softened inside of him as he looked down at her stomach again. She was barely showing, but their baby was there. His guts shook at the thought again and everything inside him seemed to explode in a riot of sensation. Even now. Four months later.

He blew out a hard breath and stared back at the vehicles. Rory was there, and Jordan, Grandpop, and Grant. Grant, not Father, and sure as damned hell not Dad.

“This wasn’t part of the marriage rules,” he gritted out, thinking about the page-long list they had fucking negotiated before she would marry him.

Negotiated, like a damned lawyer squabbling over pennies. She’d made him so fucking hot he’d had her right there on the kitchen table. Hell, he was hard again just thinking about it.

“Yes it was,” she answered calmly.

“Where?” He turned on her, his hands clenching on the steering wheel, no longer afraid she would run away crying if he raised his voice a little bit. “Where the hell was it?”

“The part that stated Sabella was always right.”

He snapped his teeth together and turned back. Fuck. He’d forgot about that one. The last one. He was going to negotiate the hell out of it at the time, but he’d been too busy trying to get under that silky skirt she was wearing.

“You cheat.” He turned on her, nose to nose now. “We renegotiate.”

“Too late, you signed it and you sealed it with marriage vows. You’re stuck, Mr. Noah Blake.” Her lips curled in satisfaction, but her eyes were dark, her expression assuring him she was very well aware of how difficult it would be to face his father now.

She laid her hand on his arm. “Grandpop is old, Noah. Whatever’s waiting on us in there means a lot to him. Give it a chance. Maybe you’ll have some answers instead of the questions I know burn inside you.”

Why had he deserted Sabella? Not why hadn’t he been a fucking father to him. Why had he cheated on his mother? Why hadn’t he claimed Rory and given him a home? God, why had he turned his back on Grandpop and stolen everything the old man tried to work for?

So many questions that he had actually put behind him the day he faced Grant Malone in the convenience center four months before.

“Fine.” He gave his head a hard shake. “It won’t change anything.”

“All I ask is that you hear Grandpop out. Not Grant,” she promised him. “I love you, Noah. Some things, we need closure on. If not for us, then for our child.”

Closure. He blew out a hard breath before he got out of the truck and strode around to the other side. He lifted Sabella from the high cab, setting her easily on her feet as she leaned her head against his chest for just a second.

“You owe me for this,” he muttered. “That’s definitely one of the rules. If I have to give in to Sabella knows best, then Sabella gives me head. Period.”

“I always give you head,” she said, laughing.

“Yeah, but I want special head.”

“There’s a special way to do it?” Her eyes lit up.

He loved that about her. She was always ready to play or get down and dirty.

“We’ll discuss it,” he grunted. He’d tease her until she begged to suck his cock. That was special to him.

He kept his hand at her back as they moved to the rough boards of the porch. He loved touching her. He touched her every chance he had, because he could, because she was his.

Jordan had made it easy on him. And whoever the hell backed the Elite Ops seemingly hadn’t even blinked at the situation. Noah was on backup on the few missions they had gone out on in recent months. They were still waiting for information to see where the fallout on the militia had gone. But even then, Noah would pull back. The name Malone might be dead to him, but he was a husband, a father, and he wasn’t risking that again. Not like he had before. Another of Sabella’s rules.

His job wasn’t low risk, but it was lower than it could have been. And maybe he should have read the whole Elite Ops contract. There was no resignation, there was no opting out, but there was a stated waiver once the operative reached what they considered noncombatant age or was deemed unable to effectively complete or conduct missions. They were then moved to backup or technical ops.

Elite Ops would always own whatever job he did, but they didn’t own his soul. Sabella owned his soul.

Grandpop was waiting. The door opened and they stepped into the small living room. Grant was sitting on the couch. Jordan and Rory in chairs that faced it. There were two more chairs to the side that Noah knew had been pulled from the bedrooms.

Grant sat with his head down, his hands clasped between his knees. Jordan’s expression was somber, Rory’s eyes gleamed with fury.

“What’s up, Grandpop?” Sabella asked, kissing the old man’s cheek as Noah moved in behind her.

Grandpop held Noah’s gaze. Noah had gone to him the day after he returned to his wife. They’d held each other as Grandpop cried, slapped his shoulder, and then they had walked to the grave and Noah had seen the truth there.

The gravestone had simply said “Nathan.” Nothing more. Grandpop had never believed he was dead.

“Grant has something to tell his son.”

Noah’s gaze moved to Rory.

Grant lifted his head as Noah glanced at him, and a shock of disbelief filled him. Tears filled Grant’s eyes, and knowledge. He knew. The same expression Grant had had the day Noah had held him pinned to the cooler in the convenience store. Grant Malone had known who he was.

“Who told?” he growled.

“I knew,” Grant whispered. “I knew the minute I saw you.” He shook his head and a tear slipped free. “I knew when Dad didn’t have your stone engraved. I knew when I heard Sabella had a lover.” He shook his head. “I knew.”

“Doesn’t change anything.” He held Sabella to him, trying to harden himself. Trying to tell him it didn’t matter.

Grant shook his head. “It has to matter.” He looked at Sabella’s small abdomen and another tear slipped. “It has to matter, Noah.”

He lifted his eyes back to Noah. “Thirty-five years ago, I married a woman I didn’t love. She married me for the money I could bring to the ranch. You know that. I married her because I wanted to build a legacy for the sons I intended to have. I got the ranch, but by the time my first son came, I knew the danger we all faced.”

Nathan knew about the loveless marriage. Before Tammy Malone’s death, she hadn’t exactly been silent about the fact that she only married an “Irish cur,” as she called him, to save the ranch her father was losing.

“We had you,” Grant whispered. “The militia started targeting me then, Noah. I was Irish. They didn’t want me here, but they couldn’t kill me either. Killing me would break the agreement I had with Tammy’s father. And he was one of them. But they could hurt you. Dad.” He looked at Rory. “My other son.”

Noah stilled.

“I made sure they knew I didn’t have anything that they could destroy me with.” He swallowed tightly. “Dad knew.” He nodded to Grandpop. “We both made sure you and Rory, and Belle, were protected. You know he did, Noah.”

“You took everything he had!” Noah snarled. “Don’t lie to me now.”

“No.” Grant shook his graying head. “We made it look that way. We let everyone believe that.” He swallowed tightly. “Rory’s mother died because they thought, rightfully, that she mattered to me. I had to pretend she didn’t.” He shook his head. “Even your mother didn’t know because she was best friends with some of their wives and I couldn’t risk my son. Neither of my sons.” He swallowed tightly. “I let them think I didn’t care. I let them think there was no way to hurt me, and I skated by. I stayed quiet. I ran my ranch and looked for ways to hurt them that wouldn’t come back on me.” He rubbed at his face with his hands. “I sent pictures of the hunts to the FBI. And those agents died. Finally, I went to Jordan.”

Noah turned to his uncle. Jordan nodded slowly. “This is why we brought together a team no one could tie to an agency. We had more than four dead agents. There have been six total. Every time we sent someone they were identified. We couldn’t figure out how. Until Sienna.”

Because she had hacked her husband’s computer files. Because she knew how to watch, how to listen, and how to deceive.

“Between her and the federal marshal and judge, no agency could get anyone in close enough for proof.”

“That was eight years ago. You were engaged to Belle,” Grant whispered. “I did my best, Noah, to protect her. Grandpop would make the mortgage payments when we had to do something. He would let his buddies know I was being a bastard that refused to help. It nearly broke him.”

“You should have sold out when I wanted you to,” Grandpop argued.

“We would have lost everything, Pop, you know that. Everything I tried to build for my boys. For my grandchildren. Everything we saved all those years would have gone down the drain.”

“Poor and happy ain’t that bad, boy.”

It was obviously an argument they had had often.

Grant could only shake his head as Noah let himself ease into a chair, pulling Sabella to his lap. He couldn’t let go of her. A lifetime of what he thought he knew was exploding in front of his face.

He hadn’t known his wife. He hadn’t seen what was evolving in the town and with his father. His vision had been so narrow, his focus on the SEALs, his career, on loving Sabella, and little else.

His “death” had shown him how little he had lived, how little he had known.

“You didn’t tell me,” he whispered.

“You were one of the things I was trying to protect,” Grant bit out. “For that.” He pointed to Sabella’s stomach. “Your future. Your wife and your children. Nothing else mattered to me, Noah. I loved you, and I loved Rory, and I did my best. Not good enough, I admit, but my best. And I prayed Dad could do the rest.”

And Grandpop had.

Noah shook his head.

“I’m not asking for forgiveness, or for acceptance,” Grant whispered. “But I want to know that baby, Noah. I want to be called Grandpop. I haven’t been called Dad since you were a boy, and I’ve lived with that. But I want to be a grandfather, just as bad as I wanted to be your father.”

Silence filled the room then. Grandpop stood behind him, his hand settling on Noah’s shoulder.

“The world is never what we think it is, Noah.” He repeated the words Noah had heard so many times. “There are layers, son. And layers. This is just another.”

“But it’s always love,” Sabella whispered and pressed her hand against his where it rested over their child.

“Nathan Malone doesn’t exist anymore,” he told his father, thinking of him as a father, despite the practiced determination not to.

“But Noah Blake does,” Grant stated. “And Sabella Blake is a gentle, compassionate woman. Everyone knows that. If Grant Malone needs to pretend, hell.” He shook his head. “Everyone knows he’s damned strange anyway. And I’ve been inconsistent enough over the years that it won’t be remarked on too much. I’m getting old. Rory is close to Noah Blake and his wife. No one will question it.”

And that was the truth.

Noah’s lips kicked up at the corners.

“Rules,” he murmured, and Sabella gave a rude little amused sniff.

“There’s always rules.” Grant nodded.

Noah frowned as everyone watched him expectantly.

“Noah,” Sabella’s voice was warning, knowing.

Noah cleared his throat. “I’m always right.”

Grant frowned in confusion. Sabella shook. He had a feeling it was silent laughter.

“Noah is always right,” he stated. “That’s the rule.”

“Right about what?” Grant’s frown deepened.

“Whatever I want to be right about, dammit,” he growled. “Hell. Noah Blake doesn’t have a damned father. He’s an orphan.” Grant winced, paled before he could continue. “But if Nathan Malone’s father needs a surrogate son.” He shrugged. “I married his wife. I drive his truck. Hell, I guess I can claim his dad.”

At that moment, feathery soft, he felt it. His gaze jerked down to where Sabella held his hand to her stomach, then to her eyes.

He felt it.

She smiled. Her eyes filled with love, with the future. With forever.

Their baby had moved. Right there, against his hand, as though in agreement. So soft he hadn’t been certain, not really sure until he looked in her eyes.

“Forever,” he whispered.

And her eyes shimmered with tears. “Forever.”

When he turned back to his father, he thought, maybe, just maybe, there were a few less flecks of green in his eyes. A bit more of the sapphire Irish eyes that were his legacy. He thought, maybe, he could get to know the father he had never known.

He held his hand out to his father, watched the other man blink back his tears, and they shook on the rule, and the future.

Finally, a future. Six years late. A lot of stubborn pride and too damned much time lost. Noah Blake wasn’t a stupid man. He wasn’t losing more time. He wasn’t losing more love. Noah Blake would snatch back everything Nathan Malone had lost and give it everything he had.

The future.

Copyright © 2008 by Lora Leigh

***

Discussion Questions:

1. It's over! Waaah! What are your final thoughts? Were you shocked to realize Sienna was in fact the Big Bad?

2. What are your hopes for the series going forward?

***

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Lora Leigh is the author of Live Wire, Forbidden Pleasure, and Enigma, among many others. Writing is her passion, her peace, and her lifeline, and she can often be found daydreaming and plotting and planning with the varied characters that fill her imagination. When she isn’t writing, she tends her flower gardens, watches horses romp outside her home, or spends time with the family and pets she fills her life with. She lives in the rolling hills of Kentucky.

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