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Authors: Carla Swafford

Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary

Circle of Desire

BOOK: Circle of Desire
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Circle of Desire
The Circle [1]
Carla Swafford
Avon Impulse (2011)
Rating:
****
Tags:
Romance, Contemporary

She Knew How To Fight But Not To Love ...

As the top assassin at The Circle, a shadowy group of mercenaries, Olivia St. Vincent can hunt down anyone. She's been trained since she was a teenager to kill without feeling, to interact with men without love. But when she's kidnapped by the enigmatic leader of a rival organization, she learns she's been lied to for years. She never worked for the good guys.

Collin Ryker believes the sultry woman he's abducted knows more than she's telling about The Circle and its plans for complete domination. Over time, as they work together, Olivia's tenacity and vulnerability captivate him. But if he isn't careful, Collin will fall into the biggest trap of all: caring for a woman who can betray him to his greatest enemy.

Review

"I loved the honesty in her character and in Ms. Swafford's portrayal of a woman who has been taught to kill and survive using any means necessary." -- Romance Book Forum
  

"[T]his couple discovers that in their line of work a trip to the bedroom may be just as dangerous as a gunfight." -- RT Bookreviews - 4-1/2 stars (Fantastic. A keeper.)

“Exciting and breathtaking. Carla Swafford is an up-and-coming author not to be missed!” (Sherrilyn Kenyon,
New York Times
bestselling author )

From the Author

Excerpt used with permission

As soon as [Collin] walked into the suite, he knew something was wrong. The whirl of an electronic device starting up filled the room and a small green light bounced off the wall and then disappeared. He guessed it was now dancing on his back.
      "Olivia, what the hell do you think you're doing?" He raised his hands and slowly turned around.
      Feet spread apart, dressed in black with a sporty red trim jacket, she held the sniper rifle they'd recently returned to her and forwarded to the hotel in several containers. He'd been impressed by its microcomputer, perfect for shooting in any kind of weather. Presently she had one eye to the night sight. Damn, the woman was stronger than he gave her credit for as she was holding, elbows out, an eighteen pound rifle and it barely moved.     
     "You do know from this close of a range my torso would disintegrate into a hundred thousand tiny pieces, spreading blood and me everywhere in the room."
      "Like I care," she spit with menace. Her hand trembled and the barrel wobbled.
     "Can we talk about whatever has set you off?" He hadn't expected her to become so angry about his turning her down.
     She shifted the rifle against her cheek, probably easing up a tight muscle. "I thought this job was too easy. What was the real reason I'm here? Have you worked out some type of trade with Jason?"
     Damn! He didn't need this now. The sun was peeking around Camelback Mountain. They needed to get out of there.
     "No. You'll have to trust me." He was a crazy f
ker as all he could think about was how damn good she looked holding that rifle.
     "Oh, that makes a world of difference. Not!" She made another adjustment of the pad next to her cheek. "You get me all hot and bothered and then ignore me. You never finish what you start and I can't--" As she crumbled to the ground, Rex caught the rifle.
     "Motherf
ker! What were you thinking? You're going to f
k around until she kills you? Bloody hell! There wouldn't be anything left for me to pick up." Rex started breaking down the rifle, slapping each part into the shaking hands of one of his men.
     Collin knelt next to Olivia, pressing two fingers to the artery in her neck. His heartbeat matched hers as it continued to speed up.
     "What did you shoot her with?" Collin asked as he smoothed her hair out of her face.
     "The same as you did before. Twilight." Rex sneered.
     "Damn, she's going to be pissed again. We can't keep knocking her out." Collin scooped her into his arms. "Let's go. Thank goodness we've got a private plane back."
     "I'm all for dumping her out over Texas." Rex followed leaving the clean up for his crew.
     "Now what has Texas ever done to you?"

 

C
IRCLE OF
D
ESIRE

C
ARLA
S
WAFFORD

 

Dedication

To my husband

 

Chapter One

O
livia St. Vincent typed the ammunition data into the keypad on the sniper rifle and then nestled her cheek against the stock’s custom-fit pad. She waited for the information to be processed and her target to come into view.

Keeping her attention on the boardwalk outside the open window, she caressed the silencer attachment and sighed. Powerful and lightweight compared to others, the rifle was her favorite and the only one of its kind. She wasn’t sure how The Circle got their hands on the prototype, and she knew better than to ask. She’d used it twice in the last eleven months and had no complaints.

She inhaled the fresh salt air coming in and watched the few early joggers trotting along the boardwalk next to Elliot Bay. Almost the whole length was visible from the empty fourth story apartment. A strong wind picked up and splattered water off the windowsill onto her hands and the rifle even though she sat a good three feet from the opening. She grabbed a soft cotton cloth and stroked off the liquid. It had rained for ten days straight since she’d arrived in Seattle, and only twenty minutes ago had it stopped. To the north, a break in the clouds showed deep blue sky. A miracle. Good grief, she couldn’t wait to get back home to Atlanta.

One moment, she was running her fingers across black metal, enjoying the bumpy finish. In the next, she was aiming at her target, taking a deep breath and then releasing it, relaxing, holding her trigger finger steady. He’d crossed the street and started down the boardwalk. Five foot eleven with a well-proportioned torso, he always wore the same dingy sneakers with orange Day-Glo stripes.

She squeezed her eyes shut for a few seconds and inhaled. Time to concentrate on the job. The Circle had given her orders to eliminate him, and she was programmed to follow. Later she’d hear he was a child molester or a killer like herself. Why she should care one way or the other, she wasn’t sure. Maybe knowing helped her sleep at night. Not that it would matter otherwise; she was a killer and good at what she did. She never really had a choice.

She waited as he’d jogged a little past the half-mile mark. His feet pounded in a steady rhythm as the early morning light glistened on shifting muscles. Like clockwork every day, he hit the pavement at sunrise, jogging down the same area. Only thing about predictability, it could be deadly.

The area around him was clear, no one nearby. He turned down a short pier. Only a few feet more and he would be at the mark. She cleared her mind and inhaled, holding her breath for the fraction of a second. She squeezed the trigger. The jogger’s body continued straight ahead, propelled by the bullet’s trajectory, and then he toppled off the edge of the pier and splashed into the water as his god-awful shoes tumbled across the boardwalk. Perfect shot. That was why they sent her.

Once she pressed a couple buttons on the gun’s microcomputer, she scooted away from the tripod and stretched with arms up, bending her back, getting the kinks out. Her back popped. After an hour in one position, it was no wonder her body protested, no matter how much she worked out. She shook her head when the image of the body landing in the water tried to resurface. Think of the good she carried out. Her job eliminated those who preyed on the weak. She performed as a tool for the greater good.

Yes. That was it. She was a tool.

Thinking of tools, she smirked at the gun. The usual brutal recoil dampened by the hydraulic system always surprised her. The rifle worked like it should with little firing signature, a thump of air and only a small amount of flash at the end of the barrel. The suppresser did its job. Unless someone stared directly at her open window and caught the small flare, nothing gave away her location.

Damn! If she’d been a man, she would have a hard-on now. She loved her gun. Objects she could control. People were a different factor.

As she closed the window, a warm breeze caressed the fine hairs on her arm. She shivered. Yeah, she was ready to relieve the pressure that had been building up inside. Playing the waiting game and finishing the job always sent her seeking the only outlet from all the tension. Others used alcohol or drugs to forget for a little while what they’d done. Sex with an anonymous handsome stranger was her drug of choice. Someone clueless about what she did for a living. Someone who held her as she used them for release.

She looked out the window at the crowd gathering at the end of the pier. She jerked her gaze away. Concentrate on anything but the finished job. Think of the gun she loved to control. Think of the power she held. Think about sex. A strong, hard, hot male body always helped. Think about getting away and planning the next job.

She reached out and caressed the two marks she’d made on the butt of the rifle.
Time for a third
. Her fingers shook; tears threatened her composure. Drawing her hand into a fist, she took a few deep breaths and then with well-practiced precision broke down the rifle and placed the sections into her luggage. Another tremor started at her hand and vibrated down her torso, before she knew it her whole body shook. Why couldn’t her body cooperate? She’d done worse, been worse. Taking several more deep breaths, she closed her eyes and imagined a swing on a long porch, pushing against the wooden floor with a bare toe. Back and forth. Finally, the shaking stopped, and she swiped at her forehead, surprised by the sweat she found there.

She glanced at her watch. Time to get her act together and pick up speed. By the time the authorities responded to a passerby’s 911 call, she needed to be on the road, heading to I-90 and Denver. Unless someone noticed the spray of blood before he landed in the water, they would be clueless that he’d been hit by a sniper until they dragged the body out of the water.

Inside ten minutes, she sauntered out of the fingerprint-cleaned apartment, pulling a rolling safari-chic suitcase behind her while clutching a large tote on her shoulder. The black linen pants, tailored black silk blouse, and auburn hair piled on top of her head shouted business trip.

The clouds in the blue sky had separated allowing the sun to peek between the breaks. Emergency vehicles zoomed by and their echoing sirens bounced off the buildings. They headed toward the boardwalk further down the street as a small crowd pointed at the water.

About the time she walked the block and half to the parking deck and threw the luggage into the trunk of her rental, her cell phone vibrated.

“Yes, sugar booger.” She loved irritating the hell out of her handler.

Jason Kastler thought he was God’s gift to women, and she took every opportunity to remind him his good looks were good only for one thing, to play a Romeo, an operative who seduced women for information. Whenever he walked into a room, women watched his every move as if he was a walking sex toy. He hated it when she reminded him that men stared too. With his sun-kissed blond hair, vivid blue eyes, and six foot six frame, he needed someone carving off his massive ego.

“Sugar booger? Christ, woman, can’t you be the least bit respectful?” His growl revved her engine.

Good looking
and
an orgasmic-inducing voice. It really was a shame. She could use him at the moment, though it would never happen. He liked to be the one in control. One thing about her, she always relished being the one on top.

“Respect is earned, doll. The job’s done, and I’m heading to my next assignment’s location. I already have a plan. Should take me a couple months to set up. I just need to scout the area,” she said, ready to move on.

She tossed her purse to the passenger side and then slammed the driver’s side door. Wasting no time, she had the cell phone plugged into the radio’s speakers before cranking up the car. The state of Washington had a hands-free cell-phone law and ironically, considering her job, she followed all the traffic laws. The last thing she needed was to be pulled over for a minor infraction and be caught with the sniper rifle and numerous other weapons hidden on her person and in the rental.

“Change of plans . . . Theo wants you to return to the office. We have a ticket waiting for you at the airport.” He was smiling. That light tone shouted his enjoyment in frustrating her.

She shut her eyes for a moment, anxiety curled in her stomach; he knew how much she hated flying. Not counting the up and down of the plane, the arranging for her arsenal to be shipped across country without her was a pain in the ass. The roar of the plane’s engines didn’t help the defenseless feeling.

Being ordered off an assignment by Theo was a bad sign. She avoided any face-to-face with him as much as possible. Hell, she’d worked hard for her freedom and for the last couple of years he rarely required her presence. So this meant something bad. Last time he’d made the demand, it had taken her a week to recover. He wasn’t an easy man to please, and she no longer cared about satisfying his perversions. From the orphanage to the streets to Theo’s control, there was always somebody waiting to use her, to take advantage of her. No more. She wouldn’t go back to being that girl, begging for kindness and love. She squeezed her eyes closed, blocking out the images. No more. She dreaded being that needy little girl again. Tears welled up, threatening to spill.

Inhale. Exhale. Worrying wouldn’t help. She struggled to regain her usual calm, steady façade. She took several more deep breaths, hoping it stopped the feeling of panic engulfing her. Pressure applied by her fingertips on the corner of her eyes pushed back the tears.

Olivia knew it was useless to argue. Operatives never won arguments against Circle handlers; disagreeing too much could be unhealthy. People had been known to disappear.

“Okay. Tell me which airline.” She took another deep breath.

As he spit out the instructions, she turned the car toward a local UPS store and made her plans. Two hours later she boarded the plane, and all her weapons, including her gun, were on their way in several parts to her home in Georgia.

She settled into her first-class seat. After questioning the flight attendant, she learned the plane was full for the nonstop flight to Atlanta. She hated it when the seat next to her was used. No elbow room. Not that she was tall—a mere average height of five foot five—or big—roughly a hundred and twenty pounds. She didn’t like strangers rubbing against her and often took the window seat, not for the view since she usually pulled down the shade, but so she could lean against the wall of the cabin, putting as much distance between her and the next seat. First-class seats were wide enough she could even pull her feet up beside her, but she always loved more room.

Pretending to stare out the window, she waited for the rest of the plane to load. One drawback to first class was having every man and woman file by, staring at those seated in the more expensive rows. Bloody hell, wouldn’t they hurry up? She hated the closed-in feeling, the helplessness, the sitting and waiting, the curious looks. Couldn’t the freaking flight attendants help the tourists place their handhelds into the overhead compartment, so everyone would quit staring at her?

Closing her eyes for a few seconds, she mentally shook herself. What good was it to be short tempered, bitchy? Sure, crowds made her uncomfortable. Too many people pressing in, too many staring, guessing at what she did for a living. Was murderer written on her face, her clothes? She hated feeling like this. Add in her unexpected meeting with Theo, and she was certain she would go crazy.

When she was about to scream in frustration, the last person walked through. Whoever had the ticket for the seat next to hers hadn’t arrived yet. Maybe she’d be lucky, and the seat would remain open. She rarely slept well the night before a hit, and it would be wonderful to stretch out.

The attendant pulled on the door and stopped when someone shouted from the walkway.

Olivia dug her nails into the armrests. Shouting always grated across her nerves. She always expected the worse. Had she screwed up and the local yokels or the big boys were after her? When she heard laughing, she realized whatever happened didn’t involve the law. People rarely laughed when the authorities showed up.

“Sorry, my flight was late coming in. I almost didn’t make it,” a deep voice said.

She looked up. Oh, yes, this was what she needed. The man was a good six-one, possibly two, and the Armani suit showed off his wide shoulders perfectly.

He glanced toward the empty seat the attendant pointed to and then he looked at her. Those mysterious dark eyes punched the breath out of her. Set in an angular face with a small dimple in the chin, his eyes appeared almost amber, glowing with such a life force. His lips etched full but still masculine and begged to be licked. Oh, she liked the look of those lips. His nose was manly, not crooked from fighting but not a picture-perfect narrow one either.

Yeah, she liked the package in front of her. Now if she could remove the wrapping to see what lay underneath. Her body had been humming ever since she’d completed her mission. With those gorgeous eyes and his athletic body, she was more than willing to put him through his paces.

Maybe being stuck on a plane for five hours wouldn’t be so awful after all. This stranger she wouldn’t mind touching or have him touching her. She reached out and introduced herself.

“Hi, I’m Olivia Roth.”

“Joe Murphy.” He held her hand for a second longer than necessary.

Her grin spread wider. Oh, yeah, this was going to be a whole lotta fun.

By the time the tires bounced and rolled on the tarmac at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Olivia already had Joe inviting her to dinner that evening. She felt primed and ready to give her new friend a good time. Since taking a stranger home with her was out of the question, she worked her wiles until he told her he was staying at the Marriott Marquis.

Then she remarked, “Isn’t that a coincidence? I’m staying there too.” She liked how his eyes glimmered when she said that. To him, she was a lone woman on a business trip, easy pickings for a one-night fling.

She ducked into the women’s restroom at the airport and called reservations. The Marquis happened to be her favorite hotel, and they had room. When she stepped out, her gaze zeroed on Joe, leaning against the wall nearby; his eyes drank in every inch of her. Oh, yes, he was exactly what she needed.

BOOK: Circle of Desire
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