Risk It All (Harlequin Romantic Suspense)

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9780373279487: Risk It All (Harlequin Romantic Suspense)
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Trapped in the crosshairs, one couple faces a deadly mission...and a dangerous passion 

 

When a routine case goes bad, private investigator Brooke Rogers is seconds away from death. Until Jared Nash comes to her rescue. The rogue FBI agent is tracking his estranged missing brother when it leads him to the ruthless Russian mobster Brooke's stumbled upon. Now in the arms of her sexy protector, Brooke is on the run for her life... 

 

The woman who thinks herself unlovable has awakened desires in Jared he buried long ago. Nothing can deny their passion. But when the firepower of the mob rains down on them, Jared must choose: follow his duty and save his brother...or follow his heart and save his woman.

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About the Author:

Anna Perrin is a two-time finalist in the RWA Golden Heart contest and sold her third completed romance suspense to Harlequin Intrigue. She studied finance in university but has more fun dreaming up intriguing characters and exciting plots than working with numbers and spreadsheets. Avoiding housework whenever possible, she enjoys hanging out with her supportive husband, two terrific teenage daughters and a menagerie of pets including a temperamental calico and a blue-eyed husky.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

FBI special agent Jared Nash shut off the industrial-grade mower he'd been using on the grounds surrounding the Sidorov mansion. Sweat trickled under his sunglasses while he scanned the sprawling front yard, the dense hedges bordering the property and the quiet residential street beyond. Nothing. No overt signs of trouble at all.

He blew out a frustrated breath. Two and a half long days of staking out former Russian mob boss Dmitry Sidorov in Langeville, a small city east of Columbus, had worn on his nerves. A year ago Sidorov had left Brighton Beach, the Russian mob's unofficial headquarters in the United States, after he had barely survived a spray of bullets. Since then he'd been living a quiet life, no longer involved in anything criminal, at least according to the organized-crime branch of the FBI. But Jared's younger brother, Steve, had mentioned Sidorov despised him right before he had gone missing. Steve's connection to the former mobster was a mystery and the only lead Jared had, so he'd gone undercover to check out Sidorov.

He hefted the mower and dumped it into the open bed of the battered Green Thumb pickup. The truck and equipment, as well as the T-shirt he wore, were courtesy of a local gardening company whose grizzled veteran owner had been more than willing to cooperate, no questions asked, with a federal agent.

Parked next to the truck, a silver Lexus sedan gleamed in the midday sun. Jared had already taken a good look at its briefcase-carrying owner and memorized the license plate so he could check up on Sidorov's visitor later.

Out of the corner of his eye, he glimpsed the hired muscle, Sergei Latschenko, pacing the length of the tennis courts. He had spoken to the guy several times and learned Latschenko had recently quit smoking. Nicotine withdrawal was making him twitchy—and potentially dangerous, because of the Glock 19 semiautomatic pistol he carried inside his leather jacket.

Steering clear of him, Jared retrieved hedge trimmers and rawhide gloves from the truck. The four-acre estate, with its exotic flower gardens and expansive lawns, required a lot of upkeep. His calves and back still ached from hours spent yesterday digging yet another freaking garden and transplanting a dozen hydrangea plants. The lawn-maintenance-worker gig meant he was free to roam the property, but it hadn't allowed him access to the mansion, which was a serious problem. If he couldn't wrangle his way inside, how could he gain more intel on Sidorov?

He'd spent a wakeful night, considering and rejecting scenarios to gain entry to the place. With Latschenko and his gun patrolling the grounds, it was too risky to head inside uninvited. The occupants of the house included Sidorov, his twenty-two-year-old daughter and his housekeeper. The latter he'd met briefly, and he'd noticed her tentative smile and kind eyes. Instinctively, he knew she would be his way in if he could gain her trust.

Early this morning, he'd seen her struggling to carry a huge terra-cotta pot from the shed, so he'd stopped unloading bags of soil from his truck and gone to help. She'd immediately taken pity on his hot, sweaty self and waved him into the mudroom, where she'd handed him a cold can of cola from the extra fridge located there. When the phone in the kitchen had rung, she'd gone off to answer it, her slippers swishing on the tile floor. He'd taken the opportunity to steal into the main-floor office and install a bug. He'd been sorely tempted to flip through the file folders on Sidorov's desk, but decided that was pushing his luck.

Upon her return to the mudroom, the housekeeper had offered him a taste of her Russian cooking after his chores were done. The timing was perfect because he'd overheard Sidorov telling Latschenko they had a meeting across town in the afternoon. After he'd sampled the housekeeper's food, he'd find a way to remain inside, check out the contents of those folders and search the house.

He walked to the perimeter of the property and began trimming a long row of hedges. A few minutes later, his sense of unease returned. He stopped and looked back at the house. In the distance, a shadow moved under Sidorov's office window. Was it a shrub shifting in the breeze or the trouble his instincts had alerted him to?

Striding across the grass, he wished he was carrying his gun instead of hedge trimmers.

Brooke Rogers had no qualms about peering into strangers' windows, but she usually got paid to do so. Today was a freebie for her sister.

Thirty minutes after their phone conversation, Savannah's words still rang in her ears. "Trevor is cheating on me, Brooke."

"What? No way," she'd answered, her gaze skimming the final sentences of the document on her laptop, unconcerned by her sister's pronouncement. Savannah, affectionately called Chicken Little by family and friends, was a pessimist who predicted dire outcomes no matter how innocuous the circumstances.

"It's true. Trevor doesn't love me anymore."

"What makes you think that?" Brooke had stifled a yawn as she'd gazed longingly at the stairs that separated her main-floor work space from the second-floor living quarters of the house she rented. She'd pulled an all-nighter and had promised herself a well-deserved nap as soon as she had emailed this report to her client.

"He's been out late three nights this week, supposedly working, but I'm sure he's being unfaithful. He'll never admit to it, so I need you to get me proof—photographic proof-—to throw in his lying face."

Brooke had winced at her sister's shrill tone of voice. "Didn't you tell me he got promoted at the bank last month? That probably explains his long hours."

"I can't believe you're defending him. You're not usually so trusting."

Absolutely true. Two years of spying on cheating spouses and tracking down deadbeat debtors had made Brooke pretty jaded. An occupational hazard of being a private investigator, she supposed. Was her brother-in-law screwing around? He didn't seem like the type, but she'd learned motivated adulterers were astonishingly devious. She hoped her sister was wrong, because Savannah would be devastated by that kind of betrayal.

What her sister had said next proved she was on the verge of losing it. "I followed Trevor's car to a lavish house in Langeville. I fully intended to make my presence known, but then I just couldn't ring the doorbell and meet my competition in person. I need you to get a photo of him with his rich lover so I can confront him."

She should have talked Savannah out of her craziness. Heaven knew, Brooke had years of practice dealing with her emotional sibling. But would reassuring words be enough to ease her sister's mind? For a day or two, maybe. Then her doubts would return, stronger than ever.

"You know about my miscarriages, Brooke. I can't lose Trevor, too." Savannah's voice had broken, the pain real this time, not a melodramatic ploy for attention, and Brooke knew she couldn't deny her request.

"Where are you?"

"At a coffee shop in Langeville."

Slurping down coffee and stress-eating a sour-cream glazed donut, Brooke had guessed, the caffeine and sugar aggravating her anxiety. "Go home," she'd told her sister gently. "I'll come, but I won't be able to concentrate if I know you're hovering somewhere nearby."

She'd jotted down the address, then promised to call later and give a complete account of her visit.

After quickly emailing the report to her client, Brooke had left Columbus and headed to Langeville's most exclusive residential community.

Her GPS had led her to a gray stone mansion with a multitude of elaborate columns, positioned at intervals along the front, and recessed niches, showcasing statues. On the top floor, a domed solarium let in sunlight from all directions. The impressive house and grounds had her whistling under her breath, but a familiar Lexus in the driveway confirmed she was at the right place. She parked her SUV several blocks down—in case Trevor happened to glance outside—and walked back.

Normally, she'd find a vantage point and rely on the sophisticated lens on her camera to capture details of her target's illicit encounter, but she couldn't be sure she'd wind up with the evidence that would reassure Savannah. No, this time she had to get up close.

Despite serious misgivings, she squeezed through a space in the hedges, then stayed near the cover until the house was only a short distance away. If caught trespassing, she'd have a heck of a time explaining her presence, but she'd made a promise to her sister and she couldn't break that promise. Two years ago, she could have flashed her Columbus Police Department badge, saying she was following up on a complaint from a neighbor, but her career had ended after she'd been shot. She still mourned the loss when she let herself think about it, which was almost never.

She slowed her steps next to a truck loaded with yard equipment, eyeing the house uneasily. Was her brother-in-law meeting with a bank customer? That was the most logical explanation. Anybody wealthy enough to afford this impressive place could demand special treatment and get it—unless Savannah's worries were valid and her husband was giving very special treatment.

The odor of cut grass tingled in her nose as she hurried across the manicured lawn. Spotting a window with open drapes on the far side of the house, she squeezed between several tall bushes, her sneakers sinking down into the rich soil of the garden. Unfortunately, the property sloped in such a way that, even at five feet ten inches, she wasn't tall enough to see inside. Muttering under her breath, she hoisted herself up and braced her left elbow on the window ledge. A quick look inside...and she was exhaling in relief. No sexual frolics were going on in the bookcase-lined room. Her brother-in-law, wearing a gray suit, his steel-rimmed glasses and a serious expression making him look every inch the successful banker that he was, sat on the visitor side of a mahogany desk, leafing through papers in his briefcase. The man behind the desk appeared to be in his late fifties with a hooked beak of a nose and a square jaw.

Clinging to the wall like a gecko caused strain in muscles Brooke hadn't realized she possessed. Her ponytail stuck to her hot neck, and her armpits became damp with perspiration. She lifted her camera and peered through the viewfinder. The stranger's nose made a clean, sharp edge, so she squeezed the shutter. Next she took a picture of Trevor with his papers.

Her supporting elbow and toes screamed in protest, but she blocked out the pain. One more shot with the two men in it, and she was out of here. As if she'd willed it, the older man came around the desk to stand beside Trevor. Excellent. This last photo should get rid of Savannah's suspicions about her hubby entirely.

The man pointed a gun at Trevor's head.

Oh God.

Her elbow gave way and gravity did the rest, dragging her down to the garden below. When her butt hit the ground, the discomfort hardly registered over the shock of what she'd witnessed and the terror of expecting a gunshot to ring out.

Her heart zigzagged like a rabbit in her chest. No shot yet. She dug around in her pocket. Crap. She'd left her cell phone in her car. No way to call 911. She crawled along the back of the garden on her knees, determined to put distance between her and that window, then broke through the bushes, her camera clutched to her midriff.

A low, masculine voice said, "What the—?"

With a sinking feeling, she looked up. In front of her stood a strapping six-foot-plus guy wearing grass-stained jeans and a green T-shirt stretched tight over impressive muscles. Mirrored sunglasses hid his eyes, a baseball cap covered his hair, and dark stubble shadowed his jaw.

"This is private property," he said, stating the obvious. "You're trespassing."

As she got to her feet, she eyed the Green Thumb logo on his T-shirt, which matched the one on the truck in the driveway. The guy was an outside contractor with no vested interest in who came onto the property. So why was he objecting to her presence? Unless he resented her scrambling around a garden he was paid to take care of.

"You have to leave," he insisted sternly. "Now."

The name Joe was stitched on his shirt pocket, and one gloved fist held a pair of heavy-duty, long-handled hedge trimmers.

Joe's bossy manner set her teeth on edge, but he still deserved a warning about what was going on inside the house. The image of her brother-in-law with a gun to his head had drained every drop of moisture from her mouth, so she had to wet her lips in order to speak. "You need to leave, too. It isn't safe here."

His sunglasses stalled on her mouth for a moment, then shifted downward to the camera in her hand. "What are you doing here?" he demanded.

"That doesn't matter. What matters is that I saw a man with a gun."

His body went rigid. "Where?"

"Inside the house."

"Inside?" The location of the gun seemed to surprise him more than its existence. Then he shook his head. "How could you have seen inside the house?"

"I climbed up on the window ledge," she admitted.

"Why?"

She frowned. "I don't owe you an explanation."

"You can answer me, or you can explain yourself to the owner," Joe said. "And before you decide, you should know that Mr. Sidorov is very protective of his privacy and won't be pleased to learn you're trespassing. Especially with a camera."

"Can you forget about my camera and focus on the gun?"

He eyed her skeptically. "You're probably mistaken about what you saw."

"I'm not mistaken," she said, though she wished she was. But the sight of that gun pointed at Trevor's head was an image she would never forget, even without the photographic evidence on her camera. "Can I borrow your cell phone to call the police?"

"I don't have one with me."

"Is it in your truck?" Without waiting for an answer, she headed in that direction, and he fell into step beside her.

"No, it's not in my truck."

Seriously? Who didn't carry a cell phone these days? Or was Joe lying so as not to get involved? "Look, Joe, maybe I was trespassing, but this is a lifeor-death emergency. I didn't just see a gun. It was pointed at my brother-in-law's head."

His expression turned even grimmer. "Who is your brother-in-law? Why is he here?"

"I don't know," she admitted. She wanted to scream with frustration. Her heart was still racing, her stomach sick with fear, as she waited for the report of the gun. She hadn't seen a silencer on the barrel, so she knew if the trigger was pulled, she would hear the resulting shots. The absence of any such sound so far gave her hope. Maybe the home owner—Sidorov—didn't intend to kill Trevor. But, at the very least, he'd threatened him, and she'd feel a lot better when her brother-in-law was out of range of that gun and there were cops crawling all over this place.

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