About the Author
Cherry Adair has garnered numerous awards for her innovative action-adventure novels, which include White Heat, Hot Ice, On Thin Ice, Out of Sight, In Too Deep, Hide and Seek, and Kiss and Tell, as well as her thrilling Edge trilogy: Edge of Danger, Edge of Fear, and Edge of Darkness, and her bestselling Lodestone series. A favorite of reviewers and fans alike, she lives in the Pacific Northwest.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Cherry Adair ONE
Three things happened simultaneously: the soft, warm curve of a woman’s bare ass tucked enticingly against Zakary Stark’s good-morning-happy-to-feel-you erection, the familiar gut-wrenching realization that she was the wrong woman, and the cold hard metal of a gun barrel pressed to his temple.
The tantalizing fragrance of fresh, jasmine-scented female, coupled with the erotic base note of last night’s sex, was obliterated by the sour stench of stale male sweat.
Fuckit. Hell of a way to start the day.
Zak’s heartbeat ratcheted up a notch, and his entire body stiffened in reaction to the threat.
“¡No te muevas!” Pure menace infused the instruction to remain still; the words, spoken in the local dialect and punctuated by another motivational jab a millimeter from his eye, got Zak’s head back in the game.
Zak spoke fluent Spanish, but he wasn’t going to show his hand until he knew what the guy wanted. His gut urged him to get the hell off the swaybacked mattress. Fast. But he wasn’t going to be speedy enough to beat the man’s finger on that trigger.
He processed the situation. While he was all for taking crazy risks in an attempt at kick-starting a spark of giving a shit about life in general, he wasn’t alone. He might not give a flying fuck if he died one way or the other, but Zak suspected the woman probably didn’t hold the same disregard for her life as he did for his.
He was no goddamn hero. Pissed him off to be put in a position where he had to accept that he was going to be responsible either for another woman’s death or, worse, for ensuring that she stayed alive.
Hero or coward. It was a toss-up which would kill him quicker.
The bed was shoved against the wall, and she lay between him and the man with the gun. God damn it. He hated guns. Kathy? Christy? ... the American he’d met in the bar the night before went from limp to tense between one heartbeat and the next as she realized they weren’t alone.
Zak cracked open the eye not pressed into the fragrant curve of her neck and looked through a mass of corn silk blond hair. Fuckit. Not just one intruder. In the murky light of dawn he made out three silhouettes, and heard the shuffle of several more pairs of boots out of his line of sight.
Fatigues. Boots. Weapons. More than an audience. A whole fucking predawn party.
Military? Locals? Guerrillas?
Three crappy choices.
Lips against the woman’s ear, Zak whispered, “Stay still,” and felt the uneven thud of her accelerated heartbeat beneath the hand cupped around her breast. She let out a small shuddering breath and froze as he spoke more loudly to the guy with the gun. “I’m unarmed.”
She unfroze. “¡Él no tener una arma!” she translated urgently in bad Spanish.
Jesus. “He got it the first time,” Zak snarled. “Don’t move, don’t talk.” Don’t be so fucking conspicuous. Impossible. Her lush body was displayed like a delectable smorgasbord, ripe for the taking and within easy reach, on the sex-tangled sheet. Christ, there was nothing more than a sheen of sweat gluing their entwined limbs together.
As if determined to be the independent woman he damned well didn’t need her to be right now, she turned her head so their lips were mere inches apart and said in a furious undertone, “I don’t want to get shot because he doesn’t unders—”
The barrel of the gun gouged a deeper dent in Zak’s temple. “Lady,” he managed between gritted teeth, “shut the fuck up.” He squeezed her breast in warning.
Her entire body bristled. “How dare y—”
“Six of them. Six weapons. Us? Naked. Worth it to you to make a point?”
Zak could practically hear her brain turning over in the brief pause before she whispered tightly, “Fine,” and faced forward again, body rigid.
“Callate.” The guy standing beside the bed was wearing some sort of pseudomilitary uniform, camo pants tucked into heavy boots. A man of few words, clearly, willing to let his gun do the talking. Zak recognized a Russian-made Uzi when he saw one. In full-auto mode, the weapon was designed to put a lot of lead into a small area very quickly. It also had a strip of electrical tape over the grip safety to prevent a sweaty hand from sliding off the rear of the grip assembly and leaving the shooter with a locked piece. The language the weapon spoke was universal: Obey or die.
Despite the erratic thwap-thwap ... thwap of the ancient ceiling fan, the room was hothouse stuffy from the jungle heat of the previous day, and ominously quiet. Everyone staying at the small, seedy hostel-type hotel was probably asleep at this hour. Frankly, he doubted anyone other than his brother would respond to gunfire or yelling. Small-town people in this neck of Venezuela’s woods tended to mind their own business for good reason. No one would come running to aid a couple of gringos and risk getting killed. Chances were they were waiting for their own payout from the takedown.
He carefully uncurled his fingers from the smooth, warm globe cupped in his palm, then slowly raised his hand to show that he was unarmed and compliant. He whispered close to her ear, “Stay quiet, and wait for me to tell you what to do. Then fucking do it. Got it?”
Fine tremors shook her body, but she gave a small nod, which dragged a filament of jasmine-scented silk across his cheek.
Zak suspected he was the one who’d endangered them both, but his task would be a hell of a lot easier and less complicated if she weren’t sex appeal personified—weren’t there in the goddamned hotel room with him.
As far as he knew, there were only three Americans staying in this fleabag hotel just inside Canaima National Park. Himself; his brother, Gideon; and the blonde.
Her bad luck.
Wrong place. Wrong time. Wrong man.
The men had been in the room for approximately two minutes. Long enough to kill them, take them, or rob them. None of which had happened. Yet.
This was too organized to be random. There were more extremely-well-armed men than they’d need if their objective were merely to rob him. No, not a robbery. And he and the woman weren’t dead yet, so, not a homicide either. They weren’t here for the blonde, no matter how good she was at stripping or whatever her dance of choice was. They were here for the Stark brothers. He wondered if Gideon was in the same predicament right now. Zak considered another option.
Big business in Venezuela.
The fact that they wanted him lying down indicated they felt safer with him flat on his back. Naked was a bonus, meant he was even more vulnerable.
The fact that he was still alive told him that they didn’t want to kill him, at least not now; always reassuring.
The fact that they weren’t doing much of anything meant they were waiting for someone else to arrive. He had to act fast. He knew the odds now. Any second those odds would change. And he’d bet his Rolex they wouldn’t improve any.
Hell, might as well kiss his Rolex good-bye.
He heard the shuffle of booted feet changing position out of his line of sight. The ultimate goal was to get himself and the woman away from those weapons alive. He was at a distinct disadvantage, though, lying there with an armful of fragrant, interfering, naked female blocking his exit from the bed. First things first.
The plan of action was to be on his feet for whatever was coming down the pike. “Look,” he said in a reasonable tone, addressing the man’s groin, since it filled his field of vision. “Whatever you want, we can work it out. Let the woman go. She’s got nothing to do with this.” The gun barrel drilled harder into his temple.
“Que te calles, coño,” the man growled. Loosely translated, “Shut the fuck up.”
What the hell could he do with her that wouldn’t get them both killed in the next minute? Zak was used to thinking on his feet. He was a risk taker, a daredevil, a master thrill-seeker. But that was him. Now he had another life to consider. Been there, failed at that.
What else you got, Stark?
“You want money?” He eased his leg from between hers very slowly, and inexplicably felt his dick respond to the silky glide of her firm, smooth thighs clasped around his. Jesus fucking hell, not now. “I’ll give it to you. Just back off. Let me grab my clothe-”
“¡Date prisa, cabrón!” the guerrilla shouted, no longer bothering to keep his voice down. Not a good sign in the quiet of the small hotel. The Uzi never wavered in his grip as he stepped far enough away from the bed for Zak to see greasy perspiration glistening on his upper lip and in the creases of his thick neck. Big barrel of a guy. Buzzed black hair. Camo gear. Handgun in holster on utility belt. KA-BAR knife strapped to his thigh. Not military.
Not officially, anyway.
Christ, what a clusterfuck. The Uzi was pointed at Zak, but it was the woman who had the man’s avid attention. “Hey, buddy”—he got the guy’s eyes back on him—“plenty of dollars and bolos in my wallet. Over there, in my pants.” Which he’d practically ripped off before tumbling the blonde onto the bed the night before.
“¡Me hables una vez más y te corto la verga!” the man shouted, face mottled. He leaned forward, reached out with one meaty hand, grabbed the woman by the wrist, and yanked her unceremoniously off the bed. She screamed like a fucking banshee as she staggered to regain her balance. The guy backhanded her and the scream was cut off mid-decibel.
“Don’t let them—please!” she begged Zak through lips gone white and stiff with terror. The wild tangle of her long blond hair tumbled around her shoulders as she stood there, not sure which way to go. What to do next. Her skin looked pearlescent in the half-light as she gave him a pleading look from tear-drenched eyes. Without breaking eye contact, she whispered, “Do something.”
Still lying on the goddamn bed with a gun aimed at his head, he shot her a hot stare in return. Sympathy wasn’t going to help. Buck up, Barbie. It’s gonna get a helluva lot worse. “Any suggestions, considering the odds?”
“Y-yes, I—” She dragged in a jerky breath and held it. “I can give th—”
“¡Cállate la jeta, traga leche!” The annoyed guerrilla swung her away from him. Zak winced as she crashed into a nearby chair, fell against the wall, then slid to the floor. It happened so fast, he could see by her bewildered blink when she lifted her head that she hadn’t processed what was happening yet. Two men raced to her side, grabbed her upper arms, and hauled her roughly to her feet, groping her everywhere they could in the process.
Everything in him wanted to haul ass across the room and beat the shit out of both of them. But there were four weapons trained on him, two on her, all at close range—he’d be no damn good to either of them dead.
“Easy,” he said calmly, sitting up and raising his arms, palms out. When he wasn’t immediately drilled full of holes, he swung his feet to the gritty floor. “No need to hurt her. She has nothing of value. Just let her leave, she won’t be any trouble.”
“Right. I won’t be any trouble at all,” she assured them fervently, her eyes darting from man to man, then back to him. She dragged in a shaky breath. “Look. I don’t want ... Just take ... Damn it. All I wanted was one night of—” She blushed. She goddamn blushed. “Which was great—but I don’t think I deserve to get the hell beat out of me because I made a bad choice. Not that you were bad,” she hastened to add, “but, well, this situation is ...”
She shot him an annoyed glance. “They don’t appear to speak much English, and you don’t speak Spanish, so ...” She turned to one of the men and said in halting, Rosetta Stone Spanish, “Si vas a disparar, me gustar morir con mi dignidad. Y con la ropa encima.” If you’re going to shoot me, then I’d really like to die with my dignity. And fully clothed. She motioned with her chin to her clothes scattered on the floor.
He’d ripped the scrap of dress off her in his haste to get her naked the second the door closed behind them the night before, and it wasn’t going to do much to cover her even if they let her have it. “Es aquí mis cosas. ¿Yo poder ...?”
“Lady? Last time. Shut the fuck up,” Zak repeated, coldly, ear cocked for his brother. Where was Gideon? His brother was a light sleeper. He must’ve heard the scream if nothing else. Fuckit. Had the men dealt with Gid before coming here?
“I talk when I’m nervous. Which you might agree I’m justified in being,” she snapped. Apparently, realizing she wasn’t going to be able to do anything about her nudity, she behaved like the emperor with his new clothes. Just stood there haughty as hell and as if she were fully dressed. Her chin rose as she gave him a hot look. “The circumstances notwithstanding, stop telling me to shut up. This is my room, and I can say whatever I damn well like in it. You don’t like me chatting? Take a hike.”
Unbelievable. Bare-ass naked and surrounded by military grade hardware, and she still had a mouth on her. He’d liked it last night, but then again, they hadn’t exactly been talking. Standing there sleek and naked, blond hair wild and just-been-fucked sexy, she was escalating an already volatile situation just by looking the way she looked.
“For fuck’s sake. They hold all the cards.” And it would be worse for her if they decided to shoot him and take her. Any way, anywhere, they wanted.
She gave him a fulminating look and snapped her mouth closed. Zak could almost read her thoughts in a word bubble over her head. Fear radiated off her in waves. One of the men holding on to her shifted to hook his arm across her throat. Her pearly skin gleamed in the semidarkness as she struggled to remain on her feet while the two men tugged her this way and that, which they found vastly entertaining as she fought uselessly to get free.
Two dogs with one bone might work after all ... at the least, she’d keep them distracted.
He kept his arms up: Patience. His mother used to say, “You wait until your father gets home. He’ll deal with you.” This was like waiting for the shoe to drop, and for his father to mete out the usual punishment when he eventually got home—be it at seven that night or a week later. The only difference was the amount of blood this shoe was going to take with it.
“Well?” He kept his tone fairly civil. All things considered. “Take what you want, and go. We won’t call the authorities.”
The man closest to him laughed. Besides eye-watering BO, he stank of a several-pack-a-day cigarette habit. “We don’t need your permission, pendejo,” the guerrilla in charge said in slow, deliberate English. “We take what we want.” He jerked his chin to indicate the two men searching the room. One pocketed Zak’s wallet from the bedside table, another helped himself to his watch. The Rolex had sentimental value, but Zak wasn’t prepared to die for it.
The woman cried out indignantly as one of her captors grabbed her breast. Zak decided he’d kill that son of a bitch first. He was stunned that she wasn’t already in full-blown hysterics, but knew it was just a matter of time. “Take it easy. Let the lady go.” He rubbed his fingers together in a universal ...
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