Five tough operatives fall for a woman they’re supposed to eliminate. When the team discovers Paige Lambert is in fact the Queen of Hearts, they can’t ignore their handler’s orders. Will the Queen of Hearts die for her past crimes or will she end up under the protective custody of the men hired to kill her?
Why the hell did she care about those cards? Why were they so important to her? And if they meant something to her, then what kind of danger had he put himself in? Was Paige Lambert a dangerous woman or a lethal target? He shuddered. Regardless of which, Paige could’ve used his own necktie to finish him off.
She didn’t. He should’ve counted his blessings. He sure gave her plenty of opportunity.
He stared into her mesmerizing eyes, trying to figure out what kind of lunatic would sit down on his lap and grind out a lap dance worthy of a hefty tip while probing for information. Lord, if Jeff Jacobsen ever had a female counterpart, this chick could’ve been his alter ego.
“You need to move,” he finally said.
“Adam, if I wanted you dead, you’d be cold already.”
“If I wanted you fucked, you’d be penetrated and moaning.”
She moved. He did, too.
No second chances here. He didn’t trust himself. In all the years he’d been shuffling from place to place, from one job right on to the next, he’d always carried assurance in himself. He trusted his instincts. With Paige, a woman he’d just met, he couldn’t. She made him weak. Lesson learned.
“A big tough guy like yourself, and you’re afraid of me.” She twirled a lock of hair around her finger. He watched her, studied her like a new language, and decided Paige wasn’t easily interpreted. There were too many dark corners to search for everything she seemed determined to hide.
She arched a brow. The gesture made her appear smug, overly confident.
“I’m not afraid of you, Paige.” That much was true. He wasn’t scared. He was terrified. He’d let her get too close, move too fast, and while he pushed her away, he still wanted more.
“Yes, you are. You’re looking at me like you can’t wait to taste my lips again. So I dare you. Go ahead, Adam. Kiss me. Kiss me and then walk away. See if you can.”
“Two can master this game you’re playing,” he remarked, jerking her against him. “Let’s see if you receive as well as you give.”
He bit at her lips, tasting a riveting dose of uncertainty and loving its spellbinding flavor. Ah, yes, he’d find a way to work this woman if it was the last thing he’d ever do. Unfortunately, she was probably thinking the same thing about him, too.
Callan brought her dinner—two slices of mushroom pizza. She was beginning to think she’d become a prisoner in her own home.
“Sorry it’s cold,” he began explaining. “We went over some new intel, and your microwave must require the expertise of a genius. We couldn’t figure out how to work the darn thing.”
“I can pick off the frost.”
He studied the pizza slices on her bone-white china plate.
“I’m kidding,” she said. “May I use the microwave myself?”
“Unfortunately, we’ve taken over your kitchen for the night. All appliances are temporarily unavailable. We needed the area for our computers.”
“Terrific,” she muttered, taking a hearty bite. “Tell me the refrigerator isn’t one such appliance.”
“No,” he said. “We had to keep the beer cold.”
“I’d kill for a beer.”
“Would you kiss for one?” he asked, dimples claiming his upper cheeks. Callan was a cutie pie, a real good-looking young man, but far too young for her. Prior to life-changing events and life with Ramone, Paige had liked her men young, but this one probably still slept in a cradle with a baby monitor and his pacifier nearby.
She finished chewing the remnants of a mushroom, savoring the texture like she might swallow a jagged little pill. “A little smooching, huh?” She tugged the bottle cap from the plastic water container and said, “We’ll do a little kissing after we do a little drinking.”
“You’re on,” he said, eyeing the bedside clock. “I’ll be right back.”
When Callan disappeared down the hallway, Paige noticed the time, too. It was a little after nine. Maybe she’d have enough time to find out more about their mission. If she could get an Irishman to drink, she could get an Irishman to talk.
If Paige spared a guess, Adam wouldn’t make his way upstairs before midnight. Since he stood out as the man in charge, he was probably the last one to fall in bed and the first to rise in the morning.
She shivered. Did they really expect her to sleep with a total stranger?
“Get over yourself,” she said aloud. “Since when does sleeping with merciless killers bother me?”
“Damn, woman, I like a gal who gets right down to business. But I’m not a killer, for the record.”
Connor. Great. Talking to self? Very stupid. “Like hell you’re not.”
“Call me as you see me. You’ll eventually change your mind.”
“How would you describe yourself?”
“As someone who protects his country and fellow citizens, as a man who seeks justice for horrific crimes committed. That’s who I am.”
“You’re a contracted killer. I know an assassin when I see one.”
“Then you should take a closer look. I’ve killed, but that doesn’t make me a killer.”
“Your employer gives you carte blanche, a license to get rid of people your government officials don’t want standing trial for various crimes they’ve committed. Would you like to know why? I’ll tell you.
“They fear the court of law won’t hand down a punishment great enough. When you hunt your targets, you’re no better than an executioner. You’re looking for a man or woman you fully intend to kill. And when you find them, you become judge and jury.”
“Someone’s filled your head with garbage.”
“No, someone, presumably your boss, has given you a God complex. You don’t care to hear anyone else’s viewpoints. The way you believe is the only way. For all you know, you could be hunting down an innocent person. That makes no difference to you. What matters to you is that you make a decision when the target dies. It’s your choice, and no one can stand in your way.
“You convince yourself it’s okay to pull the trigger because it’s fair. It’s just. It’s an eye for an eye, and that’s the way your system of checks and balances works—you keep score with human life. Then, because you’re you and you’re on some kind of sacred team, you stand here in my face and tell me you’re not a killer.”
Connor took a deep breath. “I’d rather talk about something else.”
“I’m sure you would.”
“So tell me something.” He paused, moved closer. “As you were saying earlier about sleeping with killers, does that mean we all get lucky or just Adam?”
“I was thinking out loud.”
“I like where that train of thought was heading.”
Retrieving a large piece of leather luggage from the top of her closet, she started packing. Jeff stood near the French doors, eyeing the beach. “Tell me about the resort.”
“The Jekyll Island Club is swanky, a throw-back from yesteryear with many of the same upper-class families vacationing there. The old families have been coming to the island for generations. As a business owner, it’s hard to compete. The resort appealed to the upper echelon of society for a great number of years.”
“What about security?”
She looked right through him. “I’m sure you’re aware of Ramone Carpasia’s reputation. I hope you won’t put untrained guards in harm’s way. The rent-a-cops at the club are no match for Ramone. If Ramone goes public for a battle, hotel security won’t stop him. We may not.”
Jeff snickered. “I’m not afraid of your ex, baby. Besides, we’re not facing off with him tonight. We have time to put a plan together. We’ll go out to eat, enjoy a little wine, a little dancing, maybe even a little—”
“Take me off the menu,” she advised him, walking to her closet and throwing a few dresses into her suitcase. At the same time, he strolled over to her dresser, and as luck would have it, he didn’t have to search for the lingerie. He removed the narrow top drawer from the bureau and dumped all the contents into her luggage.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
“I’m making sure you’re prepared.”
She glared at him. “Have I missed something? You’ve been here for about a month. You stare at me like you hate me, threaten me whenever the opportunity presents itself, and now you seem hell-bent on fucking me.”
“Sounds about right,” he said, fingering one of her favorite lingerie items, a thin, royal blue silk negligee with lace cups, thin threads barely holding them in place, a satin tie at the waist, and a transparent skirt.
“I’d rather be married to Connor.”
His head jerked. Winking, he said, “If we were talking a true honeymoon and wedding here, I might choose Connor for you, too. But since we’re trying to keep you alive and secure our target, I’m the man for this job. At the end of the day, you’ll be glad I’m me and you’re you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked, tossing a blouse toward him and watching him fold the soft cotton like the feel of material she’d worn against her skin excited him.
“We are what we are, Paige. Men aren’t that different from women. There are men you fuck, enjoy the hell out of in bed, but you wouldn’t take them home to Mama.”
“I’m not sleeping with you.”
“You didn’t let me finish,” he said. “Those are the men you want standing beside you when you meet an enemy. They have testosterone on their side. It’s what gets them going in the sack, and it’s the same thing you see coming out when a man fights for what he believes in.”
“But you won’t fight for me. You might fight beside me, but you won’t draw your gun for me.”
Moistening his lips, he caught her wrist when she tossed another article of clothing toward the luggage. “If I’m standing beside you, or anyone else, I’m fighting for you. I don’t step into the line of fire without knowing why I’m there and who I’m responsible for protecting. Got it?”
She tried to break his grip. When she failed, her gaze met his.
“We’re working together. For the time being, trust me to guard you.”
She swallowed. “I wonder how many women you’ve led to your bed with similar promises.”
“All of them.”
“And they ended up dead,” she stated flatly.
“So I’ve been known to tell a lie or two.”
“I’ll sleep with both eyes open.”
“Perfect. I knew you were a woman after my heart.”
“Bah! That’s the last thing I’m after.”
He patted her behind. “After you rubbed this all over my hard-on, I know what you’re after. My heart won’t get you off, but I have something that will.”
She grated back the urge to curse him. “God! You are so full of yourself!”
“I’d like to show you why sometime. Maybe I’ll get a chance on our honeymoon.”
“I hope I never get that desperate.”
“You will,” he promised. “I’ll make you wet, Paige, fucking wet. And then I’ll do something about it. That’s not a promise. That’s a no-questions-asked money-back guarantee.”
She picked up her luggage, and he immediately took over, placing his hand over hers until she released the handle. “I won’t be used by you or anyone else.”
“Maybe not, but I’m still going to fuck you. That’s what it’s going to take to make us both happy.”
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