Authors: Norma Jeanne Karlsson
Tags: #Romance, #romantic thriller, #contemporary romance, #Romantic Suspense
Shane’s sitting at the end of an eight-person dark wood conference table in a perfectly tailored navy designer suit, setting himself outside the team in appearance and position. If you can imagine a real life Ken Doll that’s what Shane is—tall, lean, blond perfectly styled hair and dazzling blue eyes. Those stunning eyes lock on mine and an award-winning smile kisses his broad lips. He stands from the table smoothly, approaching me with a promise of a rough hug to follow.
He fulfills his unspoken promise yanking me off the ground in a bear hug. Now I know how Jess felt a few minutes ago when I squished the life out of her. I smile at the equality of our relationships and squeeze him as hard as I can.
“You look great, Kat,” he murmurs into my hair. “Way better than that porn star hooker look you had workin’ a month ago. Felt the need to bleach my eyes after the debrief and seein’ you in those pictures.” He shudders before setting me down.
“At least you didn’t have to fuck like one too,” I snark pushing him back a bit. “And just so we’re clear, I’m done with those ops. I’ve had enough to last me a long ass lifetime.”
“Last one. I swear.” He crosses his heart dramatically before pulling me under his arm and leading me to the conference table.
The door to the room opens behind us and we turn around in tandem to greet our visitor. The man facing us has an inquisitive look on his chiseled face, but drops it as soon as we make eye contact. His eyes are so dark brown they’re practically black. His hair is buzzed short, a russet brown color. He’s tall, probably six feet three inches tall and built like a brick shit house. He’s wearing almost the same outfit as me other than a more masculine form. He’s gorgeous and I have no idea who he is.
Shane drops his arm from my shoulder, quickly returning to professional mode.
“Nick, allow me to introduce Katherine Russell.”
Nick strides toward me, his large hand outstretched.
“Kat, this is Nick Cooper,” Shane continues the introductions.
I nod and grip Nick’s hand once he places his palm in mine.
“Nick’s joining our team. He’s recently left the organized crime team lookin’ for greener pastures,” Shane informs me as Nick releases my hand and offers Shane a stern glare.
“Not lookin’ for greener pastures, Shane. Tryin’ not to end up dead,” Nick says pointedly in a deep menacing voice. Now there’s a bit of tension in the room. So much for a nice welcome home.
“It’s nice to meet you, Nick. I hope you enjoy it over here,” I offer politely trying to diffuse the pressure building in here.
“It’s nice to meet you too, Katherine. I look forward to workin’ with you. I’ve heard great things,” he responds kindly.
“Kat,” he says through a slight smile.
“Why don’t we have a seat and I can read you both in on our op?” Shane suggests motioning toward the table.
I take the seat to Shane’s right, while Nick sits across from me at Shane’s left. We both turn our attention to the end of the table where a screen is projecting Shane’s presentation as the lights dim.
“These are the Bookers,” Shane starts, advancing the slide to the most normal white picket fence couple I’ve ever seen. They look like they belong as a stock photo in a picture frame.
Blonde haired, blue eyed, polo and khaki wearing generic people. Not my usual game.
“Trish and Tony Booker live in the sleepy, affluent Connecticut town of Maybelle.”
The slide advances to various shots of Tony looking like he’s running for political office.
“Tony is a self-employed computer engineer. He enjoys running, golf, poker on Thursdays with his neighborhood pals and church on Sundays.”
The slide advances to Trish looking like June Cleaver.
“Trish is a housewife that spends her days volunteering at the local library for a literacy group, knitting, baking, bridge on Thursdays and church on Sundays, where she’s a bible school teacher for children.”
The slide advances to two children that look like clones of their parents. Creepy.
“These are their two children. Bradford is ten and Annabelle is eight.”
The slide advances to Bradford playing a lot of different sports.
“The boy is an athlete year round. Baseball, football, basketball and soccer all figure into his yearly schedule.”
The slide advances to Annabelle dancing and singing in photos.
“The girl spends most of her time in the arts. Dancing, singing, acting and some gymnastics.”
The slide advances to the family in various family portraits and candid shots around the picturesque town they live in. I study the photos looking for the angle, the mark, something that shows me what’s wrong with them. I don’t see it on film. They’re perfect, which to my trained brain says they must be totally screwed up.
The slide advances to a room full of filthy young girls draped in FBI blankets. Their cheeks are stained from tears and their faces are in various stages of exhaustion and panic. I immediately feel the need to hit something…hard.
“The Bookers are running a human trafficking ring from what our intel has gathered. We don’t have much to go on, so we need eyes and ears. They’ve been at this goin’ on fifteen years without the slightest slip-up or rat. They’re untouchable.”
The slide show stops and Shane slides dossiers in front of Nick and me.
“You two are going in as Nick and Kat Johnson. All of the relevant information and details are in front of you. I suggest you two spend some time together working through your back-story before you head out tomorrow. We’re also in the unique position of having acquired a kid for the two of you. Well kind of. He’ll be the nephew of Nick’s deceased older brother. Jake’s eighteen and just completed his first three months of training. He looks nowhere near that so we’re sending him in with you as a fifteen-year-old sophomore in high school. Jake’s flying in from the training farm now. Should be here in an hour or so. Any questions for me?”
“Timeline?” I ask without looking up from my dossier.
“Unknown. They’re good at what they do. My best guess is a year, maybe more.” Shane sounds wounded as he says it. I look up to see I’m right. I nod in understanding. I just got back and now I’m already gone again.
“Better than my last assignment,” Nick scoffs under his breath.
“Bad one?” I ask quietly.
“You could say that,” he huffs not looking at me.
“Nick ran a small op team in organized crime for ten years. He just got out in December,” Shane explains.
“Jesus Christ. I didn’t know any ops ran that long,” I say shocked. The longest operation I’m aware of in the agency was five years and that was by far the most time an agent had been under.
“They don’t,” Shane says blankly.
Well clearly, they do, but gauging his response, I’ll leave it for now.
“I’ve got another meeting to get to. You have the room for the day so feel free to use it. I’ll send Jake this way once I’ve met with him. I’ll see you later, Kat,” my friend finishes softly.
“Nick, I’ll see you at five,” Shane states professionally before scooping up his black leather document case, squeezing my shoulder and exiting the room.
Leaving me alone with my soon to be fake husband.
“I’ve never worked with a partner before,” I admit sheepishly.
“Me neither,” Nick grunts without looking up at me. “You wanna go through some of this now?”
“Sure.” I shrug off my jacket and get comfortable. Nick does the same, revealing a ripped body beneath his tight white T-shirt. As far as fake husbands go, in the looks department, I’ve hit the jackpot.
“So we met at college,” Nick reads finally looking up at me with his dark eyes.
“In psychology class,” I confirm.
“We went to the University of Kansas and both come from small towns in the state.” There’s a slight chuff to his voice as he reads.
“Is that funny?”
“I have some close friends in Kansas City, so I spend a bit of time in the area. I’m from Chicago originally. You familiar with the Midwest at all?”
“I’m from Sioux City.”
“Well at least they’ve given us some comfort in our back story.”
“That they have. I’ve never used my real name before,” I say a bit surprised.
“With long term ops it helps sometimes. Living by another name for years at a time can wear down your morale.”
I nod. It makes sense.
“I own a securities business and you stay at home now that we have Jake to take care of. Before that you were a pre-school teacher.”
“I’m an only child and your older brother and his wife died in a car crash a year ago. Both our parents are deceased. We have aunts, uncles and cousins that live in our hometowns that we visit rarely,” I continue reading.
I realize that I’m at the end of the page and there’s not much else listed. Our new home is beautiful and our cars are BMWs, a sporty version for Nick and an SUV for me.
here I come.
“We’ll fill in the rest with real details about each other,” Nick says in a softer tone than he’s used up to this point. I look up at his kind face peering across the table at me.
“I guess we need to catch up on years of dating and getting to know each other in a few hours.”
“We’ll learn a lot about each other since we’ll be living together. I’m not too concerned with that. I think you need to lay out some ground rules about this though.”
I furrow my brow and wait for a further explanation.
“We’ll obviously have to be physical and intimate when we’re in public. I’d like to know how you feel about that. What you’re comfortable with.”
After the operation I just finished I’m somewhat blown away. Shane loves me, but it was made clear to me that I did whatever was necessary to win Marco over. I’m not a whore. I keep telling myself that. I don’t know that I believe it, but I keep saying it. All agents make sacrifices to work for the DCA. Mine has, three times now, been to sacrifice my body to get close to my mark. Marco was the last time.
“What are you comfortable with?” I ask, letting him know I don’t need to be coddled by the big strong man.
“I’m comfortable with whatever you’re comfortable with,” he responds coolly.
“Nick, let’s get this out on the table. I just got back from an op where I was basically dressed up and treated like a porn star for five months. I’m pretty comfortable with anything. In this op I fear you’re the one that’ll have more hang ups than me.”
“Did you enjoy your last op?” he asks in a harsher tone.
“Fuck no,” I scoff.
“Then you aren’t comfortable with
. You do your job and clearly, you do it well. I’m not a mark so I don’t wanna put you in a situation that’s uncomfortable for you or puts you in a position where you feel like you’re sacrificing. You set the boundaries,” he instructs. I can tell he was a team leader because he’s leading me. I’m not used to being led on an op. I’ve always worked alone and I’m starting to realize I like working alone.
“Thank you for your concern. I’m fine with whatever we agree upon mutually. I don’t feel the need to set the boundaries. We can discuss them and set them as a team,” I respond professionally.
“From the photos of the Bookers they’re affectionate so we should be on par with them or even surpass them. Holding hands a lot, in each other’s arms, you sit in my lap rather than an open chair when appropriate, kissing lovingly. I doubt there’ll be a need for a steamy make-out session, but there could come the time. How does all of that sound for you?”
“Horrible,” I deadpan.
His gaze widens and I lose my straight face tumbling into laughter. After a moment, he falls into chuckles right along with me. His deep baritone vibrates through the room like a symphony exposing the acoustics of the greatest opera houses in the world. Nick’s voice is sultry, but his laugh is intoxicating.
“I’m fine with all of that, Nick,” I say gaining my composure. “Do you think we should share a room? A bed?”
“Yes. Once we get the Bookers in our home, we need it to look like we’re a normal couple sharing a home, room, bed and life. I’m anticipating people poking around our house to check us out. I’m good on the floor if you’re more comfortable.”
“Nick, if you don’t stop pussy footin’ around me we’re gonna be a constantly fighting couple,” I warn.
“Noted.” He pauses for a moment. “Do you like to spoon?”
I look up from my dossier to see a mischievous grin playing on his succulent mouth.
“If you need me to hold you at night all you have to do is ask,” I tease.
We both snicker again. I think we’ll be fine once Nick loosens up a bit.
“What’s your feeling on pet names?” he asks with a serious face.
“I’ve been called every one you can think of. What do you think a couple like us would call each other?”
“Something awful like Kitty for you and Darling for me,” he says with pure disgust in his voice.
“I think a little puke just came up my throat.”
“We could try the generics of babe, honey, baby,” he suggests with a shrug.
“I’d rather not. That feels almost lazy.”
“I know. Okay, if you were just gonna give me a pet name what would it be?”