Authors: Sandra Owens
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Suspense
ALSO BY SANDRA OWENS
The Training of a Marquess
K2 Team Series
Crazy for Her
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2015 Sandra Owens
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Montlake Romance, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Montlake Romance are trademarks of
, Inc., or its affiliates.
Cover design by Kerrie Robertson
Library of Congress Control Number: 2014913508
This book is dedicated to the man who has learned to tolerate burnt dinners and being ignored when I’m on deadline: my husband, Jim, who also happens to be my very own hero.
he house appeared normal—the yard nicely maintained, no rusted cars up on blocks, no beer cans scattered on the grass. Maria Kincaid was prepared to drive away if anything seemed suspicious, but the pretty pink flowers in the window boxes calmed her unease. Her pulse raced as she tapped her fingers on the steering wheel with a mix of trepidation and excitement.
“Here goes nothing,” she murmured as she exited her car, dropping the keys in the pocket of her slacks.
It was the end of April and already the afternoon temperature registered in the low nineties, a typical Florida spring day. Heat blasted off the sidewalk, and the silk blouse she’d chosen to wear was already sticking to her skin by the time she reached the door. The choice might have been a mistake, but this visit could turn out to be one of the most important of her life, and she’d wanted to make a good impression.
She put her finger on the doorbell but hesitated. Was this something she really wanted to do? If the man who lived here turned out to be the one, how would it change her life? What if she didn’t like him? She was pretty happy with the way things were now, so why go and mess it all up?
Her purse—heavy because of the law book she’d forgotten to take out—slid off her shoulder, and she shifted it to her other side. Well, she could stand there all day debating the wisdom of ringing the doorbell of a man she’d never met, but if she didn’t do it, she’d never know. The decision made, she put her finger back on the bell just as the door flew open and a teenage girl barreled into her.
“Whoa.” Maria grabbed the girl’s shoulders, stopping her.
“Help me,” she said, her eyes wild and unseeing as she tried to escape Maria’s grasp. The girl’s shirt was torn, and there was a purple bruise blooming on her face.
“What’s going on here?” Maria squinted, trying to see past the girl, but the interior of the house was dark, not a sliver of light showing through the tightly closed blinds. Yet the hairs on her arms stood on end at the sense of being watched.
“He tried to . . . he was going to . . .” The teen burst into tears.
“Who?” Maria gently touched the swollen skin. “Did your father do this to you?” What in God’s name had she walked into?
“He’s not my dad. Please, miss, let me go.”
“Who the hell are you?”
At the accented words, Maria looked up to see a large man outlined by the light shining in through the open door. The sun beat down on her, and a waterfall of sweat flowed down her back. Whether it was the stifling heat or a rush of fear that made her light-headed, she didn’t know.
She did know danger when faced with it, though, and she pushed the teen behind her. “Run!” The girl didn’t have to be told twice, taking off like a racehorse out of the starting gate.
Maria turned to do some running herself when the man’s hand wrapped around her wrist and pulled her inside. Unless this stranger beat him to it, Logan was going to kill her on grounds of stupidity, and he would be entirely justified. She’d spent a large portion of her childhood fending off the unwanted advances of men, and she unleashed every dirty fighting trick her brother had taught her on the man trying to hold her down.
Middle-of-the-night phone calls weren’t unusual. Long accustomed to awakening at odd hours to all sorts of noises, Jake alertly reached for the receiver at the same time he eyed the clock. Had the operation gone wrong?
Maria’s voice was the last one he expected. Just hearing it sent his heart into overdrive. He sat up, as if by doing so he could get closer to her. “What’s wrong?”
She laughed. “Why do you immediately assume something’s wrong?”
One hundred and ninety-three miles between them did nothing to conceal the brittle note of her laughter. “It’s two in the morning for one thing. You should be sleeping. Don’t you have an early class?”
“Dammit, talk to me.”
“I’m in trouble, Jake.” Her voice cracked on his name.
For her, he would step in front of a bullet, but she wasn’t his to protect. She was so far off-limits he might as well be wanting the moon.
He forced the words through his teeth that had to be said. “Then you should be calling your brother, not me.”
“I . . . I can’t talk to Logan right now. I just can’t. Please, you have to come.” The words were punctuated by a sob.
Jackson Kennedy Buchanan, in an attempt to be as honorable as his namesakes, opened his mouth to say no, not happening. “Are you home?” He pulled the phone from his ear and glared as if it were responsible for the decidedly inadvisable question. She’d probably had a fight with a boyfriend and needed a shoulder to cry on.
Maria Kincaid—top-of-her-class law student at Florida State University and weeks from graduating—didn’t get in trouble. Maria Kincaid, the woman her brother had put off-limits by threat of death. The boss didn’t want his sister anywhere near a man known as Romeo to his SEAL buddies.
“No, I’m at a motel. I can’t go back to my apartment.” She hiccupped.
Jake flipped on his bedside lamp, squinting when the light hit his eyes. He stood and walked to the window. “Why not?”
“Jake, honey, come back to bed.”
The woman crooking her finger at him let the sheet fall down to her waist. Rose . . . no, Rosie, leaned over to the nightstand and picked up a condom, then waved it at him with a come-hither smile on her face.
He strode into the bathroom and closed the door. “Why can’t you go home, Maria?”
“I’ll explain when you get here.”
Although he hadn’t agreed, they both knew he would go to her. “I can’t just take off without informing your brother.”
“I know, but you have to promise you won’t tell him you’re coming here.”
Did she have any idea the position she was putting him in? Of course she did, so whatever the problem, it wasn’t good. He weighed the consequences of hiding this from Kincaid against an image of Maria alone and in trouble. The decision took less than a second.
“I promise.” A heavy sigh followed his words. He might as well accept he’d be dead meat when the boss found out.
“I’m at the Bluebird Motel on Highway 27, south of I-10, room four.” She hung up.
Jake was strong. He’d been a SEAL and was now second in command at K2 Special Services, a company his former commander, Logan Kincaid, had started. As K2 accepted black op assignments from the government, sometimes Jake felt like he was still in the military. Along with Kincaid and the others on their team, he still held to SEAL training methods. Before Maria’s call, however, he hadn’t known he was strong enough to crush a phone with his bare hand.
He let the pieces drop onto the bathroom floor, went to his closet, and pulled out the always-packed duffel bag. It would take a little over two hours to reach her if he broke all the speed laws—which he would.
After quickly dressing, he went to the bed and patted Rosie’s bottom. “Time for you to go home, babe. Up and at ’em.”
As soon as he crossed over the I-10 bridge leading out of Pensacola, Jake pulled his backup cell out of his pocket and made the dreaded call. “Yo, boss,” he said when Kincaid picked up.
“Is there a problem with the mission?” Like him, Logan Kincaid answered his phone as alert as though it were high noon.
“No, everything’s proceeding as planned in that respect.” Delta Team was deep in Somalia; their objective was to rescue a tycoon and his wife hijacked by Somalian pirates when their sailboat had been blown off course in a storm.
Jake swallowed hard and prepared to lie to the man he respected above all others. “Thing is, boss, I need some personal time. Don’t ask me to explain, because I can’t. I’d tell you if I could, but it’s not my story to tell. There’s just something important I need to do . . . that I
to do. I know this is coming out of left field, and it’s not good timing. I’ve never asked anything like this before and wouldn’t now if there was any other way. It’s important, boss.”
Shit, he was rambling. He never rambled. Shutting up was the best option.
A long pause. “Is it your mother?”
“No, Mom’s fine. Just trust me on this, Logan.”
“I always trust you,
, but you don’t sound like yourself. I’m concerned.”
You should be.
He clamped his lips together. That he’d used Kincaid’s first name—something he never did—was a mistake. Kincaid never called him by his first name, either. New ground there. “I’ll call Turner to let him know I’ll be gone for a few days. He’s up to speed on the operation.”
“At least tell me where you’re going.”
“I’ll touch base later.” Pretending he didn’t hear the question, Jake clicked off. There was only one person in Tallahassee of interest to Kincaid. If Jake told him that was where he was headed, the boss would be hot on his tail.
No matter what the trouble turned out to be, Kincaid was going to be royally pissed when he found out Jake was the one Maria had called. And he would find out. Nothing stayed secret from the boss for long, and by now, his antennae were assuredly twitching.
What are you getting me into, Maria?
Thank God Jake agreed to come.
Maria pulled the sliver of glass out of her arm and pressed a square of gauze over the trickle of blood. How had she gotten into this mess?
She snorted. Wrong question.
was more like it. Damn her and her curiosity. Why did she have to know everything? Hadn’t some long-dead poet once claimed ignorance was bliss? She should’ve listened.
Holding her arm under the faucet, she let cold water wash over it, and then patted it dry. After pouring peroxide over the wound, she dried it again before applying a Band-Aid. The bottle of Advil was next, and she shook out two—thought about whether it was enough—and added one more.
Maria rummaged through the bag of supplies she’d hurriedly grabbed at Wal-Mart and found the liquid foundation. The cut lip she couldn’t do anything about, but maybe she could hide the bruise emerging on her face. One glance at it and Jake would want to kill someone.
The very reason she hadn’t called Logan. At least Jake would only contemplate murder. Her brother would commit one. Not to mention the fact that he wouldn’t understand why she’d gone searching for a father she’d never met. That one of the men in Lovey Dovey’s stud book, Hernando Fortunada, lived near Tallahassee had seemed an omen and was impossible to resist investigating.
Three of her mother’s johns during the year Maria had been conceived had Spanish names. Using her knack for digging up information, she had found current addresses for two of them: Hernando Fortunada and Miguel Garcia who was now living in San Diego. For Jauquine Cruz, she’d found a death certificate. She’d rather liked that name.
She prayed Fortunada wasn’t her father because, if so, daddy was a rapist. At least that was the conclusion she’d come to after barely managing to escape from the man. Had he raped Lovey Dovey? Maria gave a snort at that ridiculous thought. Her mother had spread her legs for any man with five dollars in his pocket.
And who in her right mind legally changed her name to Lovey Dovey, anyway? Much less insisted her two children call her by the ridiculous name? Visions of grandeur had filled Lovey Dovey’s head after watching a movie about the famous stripper, Gypsy Rose Lee. She’d pranced around for months—a feathery pink boa wrapped around her neck—telling anyone who would listen that she was going to be a bigger name than Gypsy Rose Lee.