Authors: Kim Baldwin,Xenia Alexiou
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Suspense, #Lesbian
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“In a change of pace from her previous novels of suspense, Kim Baldwin has given her fans an intelligent romance filled with delightful peeks at the lives of the rich and famous...the reader journeys into some of the hot dance clubs in Paris and Rome and gets a front row seat to some very powerful sex scenes. Baldwin definitely proves that lust has gotten a bad rap.
Focus of Desire
is a great read, with humor, strong dialogue and heat.” –
“With each new book Kim Baldwin improves her craft and her storytelling.
…has heated action and vibrant depictions that make the reader feel as though she was right in the middle of the story …fast moving with crisp dialogue, and effective use of the characters’ thoughts and emotions...this reviewer could not put the book down. Baldwin outdid herself with
...her best storytelling to date. I highly recommend this thrilling story.” –
Independent Gay Writer
“A hallmark of great writing is consummate characterization, and
does not disappoint…Captures the reader from the very first page…totally immerses and envelopes the reader in the Arctic experience. Superior chapter endings, stylishly and tightly written sentences, precise pacing, and exquisite narrative all coalesce to produce a novel of first-rate quality, both in concept and expression.” –
Midwest Book Review
“Nature’s fury has nothing on the fire of desire and passion that burns in Kim Baldwin’s
Force of Nature
! Filled with passion, plenty of laughs, and “yeah, I know how that feels...” moments, Force of Nature is a book you simply can’t put down. All we have to say is, where’s the sequel?!” –
“‘A riveting novel of suspense’ seems to be a very overworked phrase. However, it is extremely apt when discussing…
. Look for this excellent novel.” –
is a...fierce first novel, an action-packed thriller pitting deadly professional killers against each other. Baldwin’s fast-paced plot comes...leavened, as every intelligent adventure novel’s excesses ought to be, with some lovin’.” –
This is a Work oF FicTion. naMEs, characTErs, PlacEs, and incidEnTs arE ThE ProducT oF ThE auThor’s iMaGinaTion or arE usEd FicTiTiously. any rEsEMBlancE To acTual PErsons, liVinG or dEad, BusinEss EsTaBlishMEnTs, EVEnTs, or localEs is EnTirEly coincidEnTal.
: J.B. G
Hunter’s Pursuit Force of Nature Whitewater Rendezvous Flight Risk Focus of Desire
The authors wish to thank all the talented women at Bold Strokes Books for making this book possible. Radclyffe, for her vision, faith in us, and example. Editors Jennifer Knight, Shelley Thrasher, and Julie Greystone for making every word the best it can be. Graphic artist Sheri for an amazing cover. JLee Meyer for taking the author photo. Connie Ward, consulting publicist and first-reader extraordinaire, and all of the other associates who work behind the scenes to make each BSB book an exceptional read.
We’d also like to thank our friends and first readers Jenny Harmon, for your invaluable feedback and insights, and Sharon Lloyd, whose keen eyes seem to catch every typo and careless omission.
And to the readers who encourage us by buying our books, showing up for personal appearances, and for taking the time to email us. Thank you so much.
Co-authoring a book with someone who lives on another continent can create some unique challenges, but Lethal Affairs was a labor of love from start to finish. My dear friend Xenia, thank you for entrusting me to help bring your stories to life on the page. I’m honored.
For Marty, for always going above and beyond to support my writing. You rock.
For my Father, your love and encouragement knows no bounds.
I also have to thank a wonderful bunch of friends who provide unwavering support for all my endeavors. Linda and Vicki, Kat and Ed, Felicity, Marsha and Ellen, and Claudia and Esther. You are family, and near or far, I hold you always close to my heart.
There are so many people who believed in my ability to do this that I literally don’t know where to start or who to thank first.
Kim, thanks for having faith in me and in this series. Claudia, for being my rock, and for telling me as long as I can remember that I’m a born storyteller. Dorien, Esther, Nicki, Miriam, Ro (Zus), for your constant encouragement and enthusiasm. Maria, for helping Manny sound so authentic. Dennis, for your dedication and endless supply of patience. And most of all, my family, for their support and for being my number one fans.
For my sister Anastasia. Thank you for always believing in me. Ε¯σαι η καρδι¬ μου.
weat dripped from Domino’s forehead into her eyes, making it difficult to focus. She’d been cooped up in this stifling room across the street from his hotel for four days, sitting at the curtained window with a view of Hamad Omar Hasan, the founder of an extremist group making life difficult for the American and U.N. Forces in his native Kuwait. Legal authorities had located him but didn’t have enough evidence to arrest him, so the Elite Operatives Organization had the task of neutralizing him.
Though exhausted from the heat and lack of sleep, she watched his every move through a telescope. Years of training enabled her to shut out all distractions that might compromise the operation. This first time in the field she was strictly surveillance, so she had to notice everything. It was fourteen hundred hours—two p.m.—Hasan’s usual nap time. He was lying on the couch today, though.
One of his men stood in front of the window to look out on the street, his long-standing hourly ritual.
Domino followed his gaze down three floors. Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar was busy with tourists seeking handbags and rugs, colorful woven fabrics, or some type of handmade curio or piece of jewelry from one of the thousands of vendors and shops. The noisy midday traffic stirred up a haze of dust that covered everything.
A dark, four-door, late-model Audi stopped in front of the hotel. Most vehicles in the city were either rundown or older models of onceexpensive cars, so this one stuck out. The guard in the window spoke into his cell phone while he continued to stare down at the street. The driver of the car appeared to be on the phone too. Was the son of a bitch finally leaving the hotel room?
The guard awakened his chief, then another of his men wrapped his turban—black, the same color as his beard. Since the owner of the car hadn’t come up, Hasan must be going down. Domino took out her cell and dialed. “Take your positions. Rabbit leaving the hole.” The three Kuwaitis headed for the door.
Letting go of the scope, she pulled a long robe over her clothes and wrapped the
around her face. Once on the street she climbed into the back of a nondescript, older car, one of her own behind the wheel, also dressed appropriately. A Muslim woman could not enter the car of a Westerner without drawing attention. The third EOO operative was a few cars ahead.
Years of training, pain, and no personal life all led to this moment. She was to keep low, follow the target, and update the others. No one would notice a local woman.
They drove for almost an hour in heavy traffic, the male operator cursing at their frequent stops to let people cross. Domino tried to stay focused. In the city of Esenyurt, the other operative in the car ahead called. Hasan was about to get out.
They stopped, too.
Never lose the target
. She grabbed a couple of transparent plastic bags next to her, filled with fruit and vegetables, got out, and caught up with her quarry as he exited the car. The street was jammed because of the open-air market.
A rivulet of sweat ran between her breasts. How did women endure such heat dressed in these things?
Stay focused and you won’t feel the heat.
The target appeared to be there for the market. She followed him, ignoring the stench of the dense crowd and overripe fruit. At one stall, he leisurely picked out the ripest watermelon, which one of his men then carried. They strolled on and finally entered a small Turkish café, which promised air-conditioning, coffee, and
. Hasan sat inside the café’s large front window and peered at the passersby.
In the welcome shade behind a column of a nearby mosque, another good vantage point, Domino made the call. “Café Lokum, end of the market. Rabbit appears to have settled.”
Less than ten minutes later, the window of the cafe shattered. One of the other EOO ops had fired from the balcony across the street.
The first bullet missed completely. One of Hasan’s men jumped in front of his boss and took the second in his ear, which oozed blood before he dropped. How had the other operative missed?
It happens. Keep your focus.
Someone fired another shot, from her left, and her confederate fell off the balcony to the street.
Fuck! Is he dead?
The shooter was screaming in Arabic something about Allah.
Hasan had more men on the street.
Now Hasan and his remaining man opened fire from inside, and they apparently didn’t give a damn who got hurt or killed. Civilians started to go down, and people screamed as they scattered for cover behind the market stalls. A woman shot in front of the café lay on the dusty ground, her toddler crying in her arms.
Amid the shots, Domino focused on the little girl trying to free herself from her dead mother’s weight. She would walk right into the middle of this.
Assess and resolve.
Only two of them remained now, fighting God knew how many, and she didn’t have a gun. One of Hasan’s guys was firing nonstop at the other EOO operative, and the little girl wandered toward the line of fire.
Domino shook herself into action and retrieved the knife strapped to her calf. In a crouch, she silently hurried toward the shooter who’d killed the other operative, still firing from behind a tree. The adrenaline pouring through her filled her ears and drowned out even the sound of the guns. Her heart jackhammered so loud she wondered whether it might give her away.
The knife in her right hand would be fast and quiet. Behind the shooter now, Domino grabbed his hair, pulled his head back, and cut cleanly through the carotid. He dropped like a stone. Without hesitation, she sheathed her knife and hid his MP5 submachine gun under her robe, then started toward the café through the flying bullets and panicked civilians.
She still had an operative on his own who must be running out of ammo. They had yet to accomplish the mission, and she had to prove herself.
Don’t hesitate. You can do this. Remember your training.
Though concentrating on the café window, she saw the little girl on her knees, back beside her dead mother, crying while bullets flew over her head. The sight propelled her through the gunfire and past the Turkish police, who were busily trying to arrest every local Turk and Arab. She had to act, now.
Don’t overthink. Overthinking makes you hesitate. You hesitate, you go home in a box.
Domino crept to the back of the café, intending to work around to the front as quietly as possible. But there she spotted the toilet window. She jumped with the submachine gun slung over one shoulder, hung on to the window frame, and pulled herself up. Once in the men’s room, she put her hand on the door handle.
Failure is not an option
. She took a deep breath and shut out everything in her head, until she could no longer hear the shooting in the next room or the cries of the little girl or the shouting of the people.
Swinging the MP5 up into position, she pushed the door open. Hasan and his man were hiding behind an overturned marble table, shooting at whatever moved. She pointed the gun around the wall and pulled the trigger, then stepped out, exposed. She fired until she couldn’t hear them shoot back.
Hasan and his guard were limp, piled on top of each other on the floor, surrounded by hundreds of shells, their blood all over the place. Or was that watermelon…or both?
In a haze, she rushed back to the toilet, dumped the MP5, and shed the robe and hijab. She had to look like a lost, scared American tourist because men in robes had done the shooting. If she wore Muslim clothes, the police would question her before she made it halfway through the market.
She lifted herself up the way she had come in and was hanging from the window on the outside, about to let go, when a man shouted and pointed in her direction. He was forty feet away, yelling in Arabic for her to stop.
” He wore a robe—another of Hasan’s men—and he held a rifle.
Cursing inwardly, she released her grip and dropped, and when she faced him, he fired. The bullet hit the wall beside her head, and she grabbed the knife strapped to her calf. From a crouch, she threw it in his direction.
They both watched in silence as the blood started to spread across the front of his robe. He tried to lift his rifle in her direction but an instant later was on the ground. She ran to his limp body and dislodged her knife from his chest. About to push her hair out of her face, she froze at the sight of his blood on her hand—a hand that seemed foreign.
More gunshots sounded from the near distance. Domino drowned out the noise and her surroundings and wiped her hands clean on his robe. She pulled out her cell to call the remaining operative. “Rabbit’s down,” she said without emotion.
awn was still an hour away, so relatively few souls were already at work in the sleepy seaport capital of Malta on this cool June morning. Bakers, of course, and vendors at the open-air market, and fishermen returning from another night of casting their nets into the warm azure waters of the Mediterranean. In the Co-Cathedral of Saint John, five priests prepared for Sunday morning mass.
The massive sixteenth century cathedral was Valletta’s most important historical monument. Its lofty baroque interior and priceless art brought in tourists and had inspired Sir Walter Scott to proclaim it the most magnificent place he had ever seen.
As the eldest of the priests replaced votive candles in the chapels, he stopped occasionally to admire the ornately carved stone walls and the inlaid marble tombs of knights that comprised its floor. Stooped and balding, except for the fringed crown of gray around the back of his head that he now scratched at absently, the monsignor had been at St. John’s for thirty of his sixty-four years, longer than any of the others.
In the nave, the monsignor looked up to admire Mattia Preti’s masterpiece, the vaulted ceiling with its vivid scenes from the life of Saint John painted directly onto the plaster in fresco. He was drawn to the scaffolding around one scene and the intense concentration of the woman at work there.
Like most priests, he was a good listener in the way most people are not. He’d heard tens of thousands confess their sins and so was wiser than most in the nature of men and their ability to hide what was in their heart. And he had grown adept at hearing beyond words, at understanding from someone’s sighs and silences, postures, and expressions what they loved, or dreamed, or feared, or needed to confess.
But the young American was an enigma. He had tried on several occasions to strike up a conversation with her about her life or her work and had found her always well-mannered, almost uncommonly polite, but guarded. And her answers to his questions seemed practiced. Never spontaneous.
He had learned she was thirty-three, unmarried, and that she never knew her parents. She traveled a lot and loved her work, she said, particularly when it involved cathedrals, and she told him her time at Saint John’s had been very rewarding.
And she certainly was a dedicated and capable artisan, always there even before he was, working tirelessly, often late into the night. And the result of her painstaking efforts thus far, in the neighboring scenes, was breathtaking.
But there was much she wasn’t saying. Intense, he thought. Very earnest
He wondered why such an attractive young woman always appeared so lonely. Vowing to try again soon to draw her out, he resumed his preparations for mass.
Luka Madison paused to unzip the top of her navy coveralls, shrugging out of the sleeves to tie them around her waist. Beneath, she wore a black, long-sleeved T-shirt and jeans, both molded to her fivefoot six-inch frame. Comfortable sneakers completed the ensemble. Standing for long hours, day after day, seldom bothered her. She was in excellent physical condition, trim and athletically toned but not overly muscular, with dexterous hands used to long labor.