Force of Nature (Troubleshooters, Book 11)

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9780345480163: Force of Nature (Troubleshooters, Book 11)

Hard-driving suspense and intense passion are the hallmarks of bestselling author Suzanne Brockmann’s pulse-pounding thrillers. In her tales of daring, danger, courage, and desire, men and women of action fight fiercely, love deeply, and time after time raise the bar for adventure to new heights. Brockmann’s latest novel is no exception.

Florida private investigator and ex-cop Ric Alvarado’s life is spiraling out of control. His beautiful new girl Friday, Annie Dugan, is far more interested in fieldwork than filing, and despite Ric’s best efforts to ignore the attraction, sparks are flying between them. Then one of Ric’s clients turns femme fatale and tries to gun down an innocent man. Thanks to quick thinking and even quicker reflexes, Ric comes to the rescue, only to learn he’s done a very good deed for some very bad people.

Suddenly Ric finds himself deep undercover with Annie, working for notorious crime boss Gordon Burns. One mistake from Ric’s painfully inexperienced partner and they’re both dead.

FBI agent Jules Cassidy’s life isn’t in much better shape. For years the FBI has been trying to prove Gordon Burns’s ties to terrorist activity. Now, thanks to Ric and Annie, Jules has found a way into the lion’s den. But in the course of his investigation he comes face-to-face with Robin Chadwick, the charismatic but self-destructive and closeted movie star for whom Jules feels a powerful attraction. Robin’s in town promoting his latest film–and Gordon Burns is a star-struck movie buff.

With Robin and Jules’s help, Ric and Annie are soon entrenched in Burns’s organization, surrounded by killers who may already have executed an FBI infiltrator. Before long the couple realizes that many more lives besides their own will be at stake if they make a false move. As the heat between them reaches dangerous levels, so do the risks they’re willing to take–in the line of duty, for the sake of loyalty, and in the name of something that runs even deeper.

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About the Author:

Since her explosion onto the publishing scene more than ten years ago, Suzanne Brockmann has written more than forty books, and is now widely recognized as one of the leading voices in romantic suspense. Her work has earned her repeated appearances on the USA Today and New York Times bestseller lists, as well as numerous awards, including Romance Writers of America’s #1 Favorite Book of the Year–three years running in 2000, 2001, and 2002–two RITA awards, and many Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Awards. Suzanne Brockmann lives west of Boston with her husband, author Ed Gaffney. Visit her website at www.suzannebrockmann.com.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

CHAPTER ONE

A Year Later

"I’m going in.”

Ric laughed out loud, which was probably not the best thing to do, given the circumstances. “No, you’re not.”

But Annie only narrowed her eyes at his amusement instead of delivering a smack to the side of his head.

Which, he realized, was something she hadn’t done to him since she was thirteen. Still, he could tell that she was tempted.

“Look,” he tried reason. “I said you could ride along. There’s an unspoken understanding there that you’ll stay in the car.” Of course, they were both already out of the car, standing in this suckhole of a parking lot on the crap side of Sarasota.

At least they were standing in the shade.

Annie, too, tried reason. But hers was laced with attitude. “You can’t go in. And unless Hutch is on his way over . . .”

Damn, but he hated when she called him Starsky, even by omission like that. But this time he clenched his teeth and kept his mouth shut. This was definitely not the time or place to get into The Argument, which went something like: “Oh, that’s right, Ric, you don’t have a Hutch. You don’t want one, don’t need one, even though I’m standing right here, volunteering for the job. No, you prefer to believe— despite years of police work that proved otherwise—that you don’t need any backup whatsoever. You’d prefer to end up lying in an alley again, with the shit kicked out of you. You’d prefer to pee blood. Again.”

Annie’s second day of work as his new office assistant at Alvarado Private Investigations hadn’t been a particularly good day for Ric.

Her third day, however, had included his successful apprehension and delivery to the FBI of the shitkicker’s brother, who was wanted in four states for a variety of violent crimes. Ric had received a twenty-thousand-dollar reward for his diligent, but not particularly brilliant detective work. Twenty thousand. After adding up the time he’d put in, plus expenses, it worked out to just over four hundred dollars an hour, which was sweet. Well, sweet, with the exception of those particularly nasty twenty minutes during which he’d allowed himself to get stomped in order to gain possession of the kicker’s cell phone—which subsequently revealed the location of his even nastier older brother’s girlfriend. And again, it wasn’t Ric’s skill as a detective, but rather the fact that Nasty the elder had just broken the woman’s nose, that had worked to Ric’s advantage. For a slim five percent share of the reward, plus a truckload of revenge, she’d eagerly divulged the wanted man’s whereabouts.

Still, four hundred dollars an hour, however he’d earned it, wasn’t something to sneeze at. And the fact that he’d finally worked a lucrative case that didn’t involve bored, wealthy suburbanites cheating on each other was another reason to cheer.

Yet it was the getting-beaten-up-and-peeing-blood part that Annie brought up over and over again.

Along with the fact that she had been sorely misled by her own asshole-of-a-brother-Bruce—her name for him, not his—to believe that Ric needed an assistant rather than a receptionist. Annie had taken this position, she’d told him, not merely because she needed a job where she could bring along her separation-anxiety-suffering little rat-dog, but because she didn’t want to sit behind a desk all day. Yet all Ric wanted her to do was sit in his office behind a desk, take phone calls, and create—again, her words—stupid office forms.

Of course, the most recent stupid office form Annie had created—in under ten minutes—was an exceptionally well-organized client interview sheet. It was precisely what he’d needed—possibly with the exception of those two little boxes, one that said yes, one that said no, next to the words This client wants to do me.

He’d used her interview sheet with his current client, an extremely well-put-together older woman named Lillian Lavelle, who’d come to his office just this morning.

As Ric now watched, Annie got ready to go inside of Screech’s, the so- called gentleman’s club where a young dancer named Brenda Quinn had last been employed. They had been hired—he had been hired—to find Brenda, who was Ms. Lavelle’s recently deceased daughter’s former roommate. Ms. Lavelle apparently had a photo album that she wanted to give to the young woman.

The entire case was proving to be slightly more difficult than he’d first imagined. He’d taken it just this morning, expecting to be filing it in the “case closed” drawer long before noon.

It was now sunset, pink and orange clouds streaking the western sky, as a cooling breeze blew in off the Gulf of Mexico.

As Ric watched, Annie took off her jacket, tossed it in the back of her car, and ran her fingers through her light brown curls.

“Maybe he won’t recognize me,” Ric said as she fished in her shoulder bag for something.

He deserved the look of scorn that she shot him, because it was a stupid thing to say. There was zero chance in hell that Screech’s bouncer, Tommy Fista, wouldn’t recognize him. Seven years ago, almost to this very day, Ric had jammed his knee into the middle of Tommy’s gargantuan back as he’d cuffed him and read him his Miranda rights. Fista had gone to Raiford Maximum Security for five to seven for assault and battery with a dangerous weapon.

Ric tried again. “I heard he found God in jail.”

As he watched, Annie glanced around the corner at the bouncer. Clearly Fista hadn’t found Jenny Craig in the lockup. The huge man was standing at the door to Screech’s, which was a fairly new establishment, having opened since Ric had left the police department last year.

Still, it hadn’t taken Ric much effort to learn that it was owned and operated by Vitardo Co. Strip clubs in this part of Florida were usually owned either by local scumbag Gordon Burns or his main rival, Miami-based Bernie Vitardo.

“So what’s the best-case scenario?” Annie asked as she applied lip gloss with one finger, leaning down to see herself in her little car’s side mirror. “Tony-the-bouncer takes you by the hand, leads you inside for a joyful hymn and prayer session before sharing—willingly— everything he knows about Brenda Quinn?” She straightened up, smacking her lips together as she put the container back in her bag.

“It’s Tommy the bouncer,” Ric corrected her. This was possibly the first time he’d ever seen Annie with makeup on, and he searched his memory, trying to prove himself wrong. But no. Aside from Halloween back when she was little, he couldn’t think of a single time that she’d gotten dressed up. She hadn’t gone to her school prom. And she’d worn one of Bruce’s suits and ties to her high school graduation. Although, as far as makeup went, what she had on now wasn’t much. It just made her full lips look shiny. More moist.

If that was possible.

Annie Dugan wasn’t traditionally pretty, at least not in a helpless- and-fragile delicate female sense. She did, however, have the fresh- faced, Irish American peasant-girl thing down pat, with big gray eyes and freckles, naturally curly hair, and a wide smile that could, at times, be incredibly sweet.

Her attitude, however, was pure twenty-first-century kick-ass dominatrix.

With the exception, perhaps, of her attachment to her ridiculous little dog, Pierre. Ric would’ve expected a woman like Annie to have a golden Lab. Something large and outdoorsy, capable of playing ultimate Frisbee in the park. Something that galloped. Something friendly named Pal or Lucky.

Not this glorified fuzzball of a quivering rodent named Pierre, that she now hugged and kissed and gave a doggy treat to, all while reassuring it that she’d be right back.

“So what’s the worst-case scenario here?” she asked, plopping the rat- thing back onto the front seat of her car, making sure his travel bowl of water was full before turning her attention back to Ric. “A trip to the dentist with your two front teeth on ice in a Ziploc baggie? Or maybe another few days of pink urine? Gee, that’s always so much fun. Setting my watch alarm to go off every ten minutes so I can check to make sure you haven’t gone into shock from excessive hemorrhaging . . . ?”

Yeah, telling her about the internal-injury thing had definitely been a mistake. At the time Ric had thought it would invoke a little sympathy, maybe make her extend the two-week notice that she’d given him back when she’d quit—on day one of her employment—when she found out she’d be sitting behind a desk.

Time was running out. He had only a few days left to replace her or convince her to stay.

And it was there that she had the unfair advantage.

He wanted her to stay. Rather badly.

“It wasn’t days, it was day,” he pointed out now.

“I’m going in to find Brenda Quinn’s last known address,” Annie told him with that hint of bitch-queen, do-not-cross-me, I-am-determined, you-are-toast that he’d first heard in her voice back when he’d met her, when she was eleven and he was fifteen. Almost twenty years ago. Damn, had they really been friends for nearly two decades? Although he hadn’t seen very much of her in the last ten years . . .

Still, it occurred to him that now, just as when she was little, the best way to deal with her might be simply to let her try. Just hang close to pick her up and dust her off in case she failed miserabl...

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